Patricia “Rain vs. Sunshine”

Patricia is the brainchild of multi-media artist Jacolby Satterwhite, and this is not so much a song, as it is a meandering sketch, which I mean in the best possible way. It’s a beautiful one, truly evoking an air of lonely, nighttime streets in downtown NYC, in the eighties. Part of what creates that specific feeling, is the incorporation, of the hook line from Taana Gardner’s 1981 dance/club classic “Heartbeat”, in the most delicate, and desolate fashion. This is “Quiet Storm” for solitary space aliens.

Valerie Carter is worth remembering…

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In the nascent days of cable tv in the ’70s, when it was known around these parts as “Cablevision,” acquiring content was a challenge. At least I assume it was, because to my kid eyes it seemed like they were showing the same cruddy movies every single day with little to no variation. As a result I thought this cable thing was overrated and just plain sucked. Then, out of the blue, something happened that radically altered my opinion. A movie came along that I loved so much that I wanted to see it all the time and their inability to fill the air with massive amounts of new stuff meant I could. The movie in question: the now bonafide cult classic of suburban teen ennui and Matt Dillon’s film debut, 1979’s Over the Edge. It felt like an epiphany. It was the very first time I’d seen “myself” in an actual movie. The kids were the same age as me and my friends, they looked like us, talked like us and and got up to the same stupid, semi-illegal stuff we did to kill time (although we never went through with the plans to burn the school down like the kids in the movie did because we were all talk). Anyway, I loved it.

Over the course of the film, tension between the kids and the adult authority figures grows until it ultimately explodes into a violent and deadly confrontation.The closing scene shows the aftermath with the kids who were caught and arrested for their part in the mayhem being taken away on a school bus heading to “The Hill”, some juvie-reform school type place. The sun is going down, streaming through the bus’s windows onto the faces of the kids, and though it’s by no means a happy ending, the scene is imbued with hope. And that’s solely down to the song soundtracking it, Valerie Carter‘s languid, gorgeous cover of The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” The scene and the song literally meld together as one and the whole thing is kinda perfect.

The Five Stairsteps were a family group featuring 5 of the 6 kids in the Burke family, and they enjoyed great success in the R & B charts. They only ever managed to land one song in the pop Top 10, but oh man, was it a good one. Released in 1970, “O-o-h Child” was and is an incontrovertible classic (hear it here). With its urgently sunny horns and hopeful core message, it remains the perfect listening salve for anyone having a hard time. Yet somehow, in 1977, Valerie Carter made this seemingly perfect song even better.

While most of Valerie’s career was spent singing back-up for people like James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Christopher Cross throughout the ’70s and ’80s, she did record two promising solo albums during that time. Her first and best, Just a Stone’s Throw Away, featured her version of “O-o-h Child” as its lead track. Unlike the original, the mood on Valerie’s is not one of horn-fueled urgency but of tentative consolation. The song unfolds slowly as her warm and soaring voice gradually ascends, its full power unleashed in the climactic last verse. The whole thing exudes a soulful ’70s Southern California sun going down vibe and features an especially handsome and breezy guitar solo in the bridge. I hate the word sublime, but you know what, the whole thing is utterly sublime. And, true confession, it is not only my favorite cover version ever but one of my straight up favorite songs of all-time.

The best way to describe her career is as one of those woulda/coulda/shouda situations. After the aforementioned releases ( in 1977 and 1978), it was literally crickets in terms of her solo output; she didn’t release another album until 1996. Her time in between was spent touring with James and Jackson and singing on other people’s records, her most famous vocal turn appearing within soft rock flamingo Christopher Cross’s self-titled debut album, which sold 5 million copies and was the Grammy Album of the Year in 1980. While a lot of people were exposed to her beautiful, soaring, full of longing voice on the album’s duet “Spinning” they didn’t necessarily register that it was her, Valerie Carter, masterfully lifting it off the ground ( and she totally does, listen below), they were just, you know, playing the Christopher Cross album and basking in its west coast sunset glow ( by the way, it’s a pretty nice glow and no one should be embarrassed for liking it, so go on then, bask).

Valerie Carter passed away on March 4th of 2017 at the too young age of 64. It appears the last years of her life were challenging as she battled substance abuse issues, got arrested twice as a result in 2009 and was ultimately sent to rehab.

She was an incredible singer, in possession of a truly transcendent voice, just a wondrous artist that never got the appropriate due in her lifetime, yup. Anyway, I wanted to acknowledge her upon her passing, to try and explain how f-ing awesome I think she was. Not sure if I’ve conveyed that convincingly or with the appropriate force. All I know is both “O-o-h Child” and “Wild Child”, the title track off her second album have acted as literal lighthouses in a storm for me during some absolute crap times. And when life feels like too much, I can’t think of another voice I’d rather hear.

Listen to “O-o-h Child” 

Listen to “Wild Child”

By the way, Jackson Browne wrote a song about Carter in 1980 which pretty much sums it up and says it all: it’s called “That Girl Could Sing.”

Mr.Husband “Riding a Lightning Bolt”

There are so many beautiful things about this loving nod to the Beach Boys, and Big Star, it’s hard to know where to begin, but we’ll keep it simple. Gorgeous tune. Swoon-worthy vocal hook. Beauteous guitar crescendo in the bridge. To summarize, it’s the living embodiment of a California sunset, and nearly impossible to take off repeat.

Swimming Girls “Tastes Like Money”

Like a pop-infused “Heaven or Las Vegas”, the first single from Swimming Girls, is one lush, and heavenly wall of sound, with a languorous, and handsome little chorus that is nearly impossible to evict from your head once you’ve heard it.

Bono loves Billy…

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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 ultimately 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 ’80s weirdo pop maestros, Associates and 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 forward to Billy’s posthumous biography, “The Glamour Chase”by Tom Doyle from 1999.

No one sounded like Billy. It’s generally acknowledged that 1982’s Sulk, 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, 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. This is not to say there weren’t moments of genuine jaw-dropping beauty along the way, it’s just that the standard established with Associates proved impossible to maintain as his post-band career moved forward.

Check out the links below to hear Bono read his forward to Billy’s bio book aloud and listen to Billy himself do his thing with Associates and on his own. 

Oh and here is a hoary old U2 classic for comparison. I totally can totally hear that Billy Mackenzie spirit in this epic, stadium gargantuan monster thing…and I love it.

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.

This is Asha Lorenz…

 

Can’t remember how I stumbled upon Asha Lorenz a couple of years ago, but no matter, she’s been a pretty staggering discovery in these parts. For the past year, I’ve had her songs both solo, and with her band Fish (now known as Sorry, I believe), bookended in a playlist with Au Pairs, X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene solo stuff, as well as some Shara Nelson, and Martina Topley-Bird …don’t know why, she just sounds so right surrounded by those straight to the heart, intense, moody, and sometimes screamy beauties. There’s a DIY quality, to both her solo work, and her band stuff, and a genuine timelessness: it’s all pretty exceptional. The tracks above are an overview of old, and more recent things, and there’s loads more to explore on her Soundcloud page, so definitely encourage you to check it all out.

It’s I, Smiley Culture…

Lord, these two songs are so damn great. David Emmanuel was better known as Smiley Culture and  responsible for the pair of classics above; 1984’s “Police Officer” and 1985’s “Cockney Translation”. Both are brilliantly infectious and feature some truly clever and pointed social criticism in their colorful, candy-reggae wrappers. They respectively managed to hit #’s 12 and 71 in the UK charts, 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 search the web for more)…but right now, want to just look up and acknowledge these forever amazing confections.

Koalas “Home Heart”

Admittedly one of the first things that came to mind upon hearing this was T’Pau’s “Heart  and Soul” ( 80’s cheese classic), which is no bad thing. And the crooning at the end of the track brought to mind Simon LeBon ( Duran Duran) saving prayers ’til the morning after. And so to summarize, this is a pretty fine slice of fat 80’s style synth pop, that tips it’s hat to all the right places, and faces.

Blessings from the Beach Boys…

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Here’s a geeky question for you. Ready ?…because I’m telling you it’s really geeky. Okay, so what would your “dream band” sound like ? The one that would encapsulate everything you love in the musical universe in every way ? Vocals, sound, songs, everything. I love hearing people’s answers to this because they are often weird as hell, simultaneously awesome and distressing. I’ve spent (too) many waking hours pondering this question and know without question that my mythical band would involve ’70s era Chaka Khan or Gladys Knight fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973. It shouldn’t surprise that I’m still waiting for this unicorn to arrive. Okay, I had a false alarm a few years back when Laura Mvula first came onto the scene. She had the voice and there were some Brian Wilson-esque flourishes production-wise on her debut LP both of which were enough to raise my childish hopes for a second…but no, as sweet as it was in parts, it just wasn’t it. And so, in the interim, I’ve had to make do with other stuff . Maybe “make do” is a bad way to put it as there have been a whole lotta beautiful, singular songs that have surfaced over recent years by a new generation of artists that have been touched by that Wilson genius ( not just Brian’s but Dennis’s too). Songs that proudly wear their Pacific Ocean saturated hearts on their sleeves.

Here’s a playlist called, “Beach Boy-esque” and I ask that you forgive me on that title. It’s been in my iTunes with that name for ages because basically, that’s what every song in it is. It’s full of tracks that have that influence, that feel, that signature Wilson thing and is suitable for both extended driving excursions or solitary sessions of introspection in your room (where else). There are some truly beautiful things out there so have a listen and hey, if anyone out there has any recommendations, I wanna know a.s.a.p. !

The Beach Boy-esque Playlist:

p.s. The playlist doesn’t include Lewis Taylor’s The Lost Album which is basically the sound of a one man British-Soul-Beach Boys. This is because I insist you listen to the whole thing. It is ridiculously, mindblowing-ly gorgeous.

Wavy ID “Every Day”

This is peculiarly hypnotic, as in, was compelled to play it roughly 5 times in a row after first listen. It’s a mournful, lush thing that absolutely smacks of 1985, with an early Prince-style synth, and Green Gartside-esque vocal ( he of Scritti Politti)…yet despite that, it sounds like a demo, so there you go.