Category: Lost 80’s

Pop Art : Look What I Made You…

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Back in the 80’s “screenshots” had to be done manually. As in you had to literally take a picture of the tv screen with the image you wanted to capture, with a camera. With actual film. And then have that film developed at the One Hour Photo store. I know this because I spent a horrifying amount of time doing it. Pictures of my personal “rock gods” in magazines were not enough, oh no, there were specific images I just needed to have, to own, to be able to look at whenever the hell I wanted not just when MTV let me. And with that I began recording videos off the aforementioned MTV, on our suitcase sized VHS player, and embarking on regular photo sessions with my favorite videos. Of course I did this when no one was home as there was no way I could really explain why I was doing it. “Well Mom, I like Simon LeBon’s mouth in the “Hungry Like the Wolf” video and I want a picture of it, like, in action…so uh, do you think you could pick me up a roll of film when you go shopping later ? Mom ? “. No, best to keep it to myself, acquire my own film, and document my video stills in secret.

One day as I was thumbing through my “Hungry Like the Wolf” photos, the bulb of inspiration lit up and I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to make something with these ?”.

And so out came the glue, acrylic paints, and markers, and born into the world was the “fine” work you see above. I know what you’re thinking, you can literally hear Simon singing “do-do-do-do, do-do-do, do do do, do do do do doooo” just by looking at it. Note how powerfully the 80’s style arrows accentuate the scene.

The photo manipulation soon morphed into doing actual drawings of my beloved idols. These drawings were also a secret. Upon completion, I showed them to no one. They were private. Just between me and the subject/victim as in “This is how much I love you Genesis era Phil Collins, with your long hair and beard, enough to painstakingly render your visage in my secret sketchbook, and accentuate your rakish charm”. 

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“Thanks for capturing my true essence Luv”

Soon after I took things up a notch and drew Sting in multi-colored crayon…I’m uncertain what motivated this medium choice.

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If you visit the Deviant Art website, the insanely vast, and endless home for both inspired and WTF artwork, you will be face to face with literally thousands of portraits, and pieces of Fan Art, featuring every celebrity you could possibly imagine. The Beatles. Hendrix. Jennifer Aniston. Harry Styles. President Lincoln. Stephen Hawking. It’s endless. Well, at some point, someone launched an Instagram account where they reposted very particular examples of those drawings, that uh, didn’t turn out quite right. You know, like a portrait of John Lennon where one of his eyes is looking right, the other looking left.

The point of the feed was, of course, to laugh at these “failed” attempts, to mock the “ineptitude” of their execution, how far off the mark they were. And I used to look and laugh too…but oddly I also found them to be incredibly moving. The overwhelming expression of love I thought I could see in every pair of crossed eyes, off kilter mouth, or Picasso-esque facial feature would occasionally bring me to tears. I understood it, yep. Adoring someone so much that you hunkered down, concentrated, spent hours, days, maybe even weeks, expressing your Big Love on paper or canvas, with true heart on the sleeve earnestness, and soundtracking the whole project with your subject matter’s music playing in the background for added authenticity. Obviously in order to draw Phil Collins, the divine strains of “Misunderstanding” needed to be wafting through the room for it to turn out “right”

If you google “bad fan art”, you can bear witness to some truly mind-blowing portraiture. It’s okay to laugh, but take a step back, look within your soul, and try to remember that some of these things were created with genuine, reverential, uncontrollable love…yes, sigh, I am clearly speaking from tragic personal experience as evidenced above…but even as a spectator, I can tell you, I felt more emotion looking at “cross-eyed John Lennon” than I ever did looking at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.

And hey, Simon, Phil, and Sting, I know I strayed from you as the years went by but I hope you can see that I really did love you once. Thanks for being my Mona Lisa’s.

P.S. And YES, I would LOVE to see any youthful, pop music themed works of art you were uncontrollably inspired to create, so send them my way if you feel so inclined  with an explanation and maybe I’ll share them here.

Send ’em to : hope@pickinguprocks.com

 

Glorious Plastic Love Rubbish: A Love Note

“My songs are like Bic razors, they’re for fun, for modern consumption. People can discard them like a used tissue afterwards. They can listen to it, like it, discard it, then turn onto the next. Disposable pop.” 

Freddie Mercury speaking in interview circa late 70’s.9af6df87fe2902b04376683f5379ebc4--s-punk-s-style

I love that quote. Can totally imagine Freddie delivering it, and adding a “do you understand Darling?” with a flourish after he says it. It describes the true core essence of pop music…buuuut of course some songs are more disposable than others. I mean, there are very few people on earth who would label the average Queen song as disposable (although, we could ostensibly nominate “Body Language”, and I’m pretty sure Freddie would agree). Fact is, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and ” some girl’s mothers are bigger than other girl’s mothers”…which lands us here. One of the great things about the 80’s and early 90’s was that any crazy piece of whatever could end up in the chart. No matter how off the wall, cheesy, unapologetically ludicrous, drowned in lush earnestness, or buried in chocolate coated jellybeans and sprinkles something was, if it had a chorus, an eye-catching video, or a picture sleeve it had the potential to become a hit, especially in the UK. Throughout the 80’s especially, there ran a seemingly endless stream of shameless tunes in garish colors, that if they weren’t pop songs would have been action figures, anime characters or bowls of multi-colored, sugared cereal. There were twisted-tacky euro-tastic anthems ( the earnest WTF*ckedness of Falco’s “Sound of Musik”), frothy fat-synthed joys with anonymous female vocals literally built for the radio ( Maisonettes “Heartache Avenue”, Rah Band “Clouds Across the Moon”), and belligerent teenage girls, chanting homemade slogans, and giving you the finger ( Shampoo, Annabella of Bow Wow Wow). It was all cheese to the core, but like really, really good cheese.

Screenshot 2017-09-30 23.36.15“A bip bam-boogie and a booga-rooga, my cassette’s just like a bazooka”. HELL YES IT IS GIRL.

We no longer have to live in the vacuum of coolness. As a result of streaming, and YouTube, we now live in a musical world without context. There is no need to hide in the closet anymore. If you like trashy pop music, you can like it openly. You can love it out loud. You don’t ever have to start a sentence with ,”I know it’s cheesy/bad/lame but I really like (insert song you hate yourself for liking here)”. You can say, “know what, I f*cking love Mambo No.5″ …actually no, don’t say that, because in no universe is it okay to like that song, but anything else you got, OKAY. Take ownership, you are free.

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No, it will never be okay to like this song.

And with that here is a Spotify playlist featuring the aforementioned wonders plus a some other equally magnetic pop things from back in the day when the charts were truly the wild west. And hey, I’d love to hear what your favorite cheese tune is, and why the hell you like it. I promise I won’t tell anyone.

 

 

Momus “What Will Death Be Like”(1987)

Please enjoy this seven minute acoustic ballad by eccentric musical genius Momus from 1987, featuring an endless stream of death references from history, myth, literature, film, and real life (circa 1987 that is, shout out to then potential nihilists Reagan and Gorbachev). How he’s managed to make this laundry list of darkness, and fatalism sound wistful, romantic, and melodic continues to boggle my mind to this day. It’s disconcerting… and utterly beautiful.

The System That Started it All…

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I was working my very first summer job at the “One Hour Photo Lab” wearing a blue lab coat the first time I heard the System. Just doing my ordinary shift, mixing a huge vat of film developing chemicals ( not fun), with the radio on when “Promises Can Break”, their new single off the “X-Periment” album came bursting out of the junky boombox we had there. The song was soul, yeah, but it was fueled by a fat synth, so it sounded kind of different, modern. It also featured a dizzying hook, and downright swoon-worthy ascending vocal line. I was instantly in love. I went and bought the album from which it came, “X-Periment”, the very next day and discovered that track was the tip of the iceberg, and that the whole thing was full of tunes with lush electronic heartbeats, and every one sounded like a single.

The band itself consisted of David Frank, Mic Murphy w/assistance from Paul Pesco, and their singular, hard-earned moment in the sun came with their 4th album, “Don’t Disturb This Groove” whose title track was a mega-hit, and is still justifiably beloved today (with over 2 million Spotify plays and counting, not bad). Now while that album is pretty fine, the bands charms and gifts shine the brightest on the aforementioned “X-Periment”, and it’s follow-up “The Pleasure Seekers”. Both feature plush, melodic, electro-soul pop of the highest order, all melodic, edgy, anxious, and emotional, and are absolutely worth seeking out.

And with that let’s raise a glass to these guys, the true pioneers of electro-soul, they still deserve a lotta love , and all of our ears.

Have a listen/look at these sweet things:

And here are the “X-Periment” and “The Pleasure Seekers” albums on Spotify if you wanna go deeper:

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Bono loves Billy…

I wonder sometimes how it feels for Ian McCulloch, of Echo & the Bunnymen seeing Coldplay soar to global domination using the Echo sound blueprint so flagrantly. Chris Martin has always openly acknowledged his worship, and the two have worked together,  struck up a friendship, and so on, but as Ian spoke so often back in the day of being the “greatest band in the world”, I’ve always wondered if it secretly irked him seeing Coldplay rise to such extreme heights, serving up their more palatable version of the Echo sound.

That scenario always brings to mind for me, the creative connection between 80’s weirdo pop maestros, the Associates and the the universal behemoth that is U2. Billy MacKenzie was the eccentric, outrageously gifted singer in the aforementioned Associates, and with the exception of the geekier music fans of a certain age, it’s pretty unlikely that the average U2 fan has heard of him, or his band…yet there is a pretty distinct, and clear influence of Billy onto Bono, which the latter has spoken about in the most reverential and loving terms, going so far as to provide the foreward to Billy’s posthumous biography, The Glamour Chase”, by Tom Doyle from 1999.

No one sounded like Billy. It’s generally acknowledged that “Sulk”, from 1982, the third Associates album, was the peak of their artistic achievement, and it is without a doubt their most consistently pleasing record. It’s plastic operatic pop, all over the top yearning, and crooning, and chorus’s.

Billy was a victim of his own gift. His voice was so otherworldly, and transcendent, that providing a suitable, and ideal background for it to shine, was a challenge. Fact is, once he began his solo career post-Associates, the quality of the songs on offer were not equal to the quality of the voice, making for some spotty releases ( which is a tribute to how great the Associates were of course). This is not to say there weren’t moments of  true jaw-dropping beauty along the way ( check out “Baby” above), just that the standard established with the Associates , proved impossible to maintain as his career, post band, moved forward.

Check out the links above to hear Bono read his foreward to Billy’s book aloud, and listen to Billy do his thing with the Associates, and on his own ( his live rendition of “God Bless the Child from ’84 is ridiculous), and listen to them rubbing up against U2 ( just 1 quick example). There’s a lot of love in what Bono is saying, and no matter what you think of him ( Self righteous ? Pompous? Insufferable?), his reverence for this glorious boy is pretty beautiful…and you can still hear it to this day, every time he opens his mouth to sing to the enormous crowds at these U2 shows, which is the coolest thing of all.

It’s I, Smiley Culture…

Damn, these are so great. David Emmanuel was better known as Smiley Culture, and was responsible for couple of absolutely classic singles, in 1984 and ’85  : “Police Officer”, and “Cockney Translation”. Both are brilliantly infectious, and feature some truly clever, and pointed social criticism in their colorful, candy Reggae wrappers. They managed to hit #’s 12, and 71, in the UK charts, respectively, but falling short of # 1 is no reflection on their enduring wonderfulness: they are just pop, pop, pop, both of their time, and timeless. Smiley died under mysterious circumstances in 2011 ( lots of info around regarding this , so encourage you to take a look)…but right now, want to look up, and pay tribute to these amazing confections.

 

Colourbox “The Moon is Blue” ( 1985)

Colourbox were an unusual, esoteric pop band that were on the 4ad label, and put out a grand total of 1 full length album, in 1985. It was a absolutely a pop record, with proper songs, and ear candy, but it also had an electronic tinge, and featured some nascent sampling experiments. It was unquestionably different, and sounded nothing like the other stuff that was big at the time ( that being Duran Duran, Culture Club and the like). The band consisted of Martyn, and Steven Young, who later went onto to fame, as part of M/A/A/R/S, creators of the massive “Pump up the Volume”, and a vocalist by the name of Lorita Grahame.

I stumbled upon them after reading a review of this song back in the day, their new single from summer of ’85, and bought it solely based on the positive review, without hearing it. When I did, I just fell in love, and couldn’t stop playing it. It sounds like the Ronettes in outer space, a big lush, melodic, and desperate waltz. And so here’s to it, 32 years later, and still a gorgeous thing.

Colenso Parade “Fontana Eyes”(1986)

Colenso Parade were a post-punk band from Ireland, who only ever released 1 album,”Glentoran” (1986). And from that they culled one of the most glorious, and not as famous as it should’ve been, singles of the 80’s, “Fontana Eyes”.

The song is built around references to “Pan & Fontana”,  a still beloved, paperback horror anthology book series, that was extremely popular in the UK, in the early sixties, and has apparently become a real cult thing over the years.

And so, this song. Lush piano, stuttering drums, sinewy vocalizing : it’s just one big, fat, epic beauty.

And in case you were curious about the line,”God put my eyes in with smoky fingers”, that is repeated throughout the song, and what it means, well, I remember reading an interview a million years ago, where the singer was saying, that the line refers to that classic horror creature/ghost/ zombie look, of having big, black circles around the eyes, you know, like the kind you’d read about in those books. “Smoky fingers”. Perfect.