1981: Nine Great Alt Albums And One Album By The Who

Preceded by lists for 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 – 1989, my semi-regular series examining ten of my favorite alternative albums of a given year continues with 1981. 1981 wasn’t as abundant of a year for alternative music for me as the previous years I’ve written about have been. It took a bit of scraping to get a list of ten. In fact, I could only find nine that I knew and liked well enough, so I’m including an album by The Who to bring the list to ten.

One artist on this list would move into the mainstream soon enough and another was about to achieve super-stardom. However, I consider them both alternative enough to be included. There are two debuts and four second efforts on this list.

As always, this is my list, your results may vary.

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10) Talk Talk Talk – The Psychedelic Furs A friend and I bought tickets to see these guys in concert just because we liked their name. Right after buying the tickets, that friend picked up one of their albums and listening to it we knew we made the right decision. This isn’t that album, but it’s also really good. It is their second release and it features Pretty In Pink in its first incarnation. It became the band’s signature song when it was re-recorded and slightly altered for the movie it inspired.

Favorite track: Into You Like A Train

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9) Ghost In The Machine – The Police Yes, I know these guys were pretty popular by the time this album came out. It went to number 2 in America. Yes, I know that really does take them out of the alternative category, but I still think they had that alt vibe. Certainly with their next album, Synchronicity, they would become rock superstars. This album is a little on the dark and moody side with stand out tracks including Invisible Sun and Spirits in the Material World.

Favorite track: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

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8) Pleasant Dreams – Ramones The opening track had the Ramones declaring We Want The Airwaves in order to keep rock alive. Well, they never did get those airwaves. The music industry just never gave the Ramones their due. The album includes the song The KKK Took My Baby Away, which has been long rumored to have been Joey writing about fellow bandmate Johnny stealing his girlfriend. However, this rumor has been disputed.

Favorite track: Sitting In My Room

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7) Face Dances – The Who Hey, the way I look at it, if I can only find nine alternative albums for a year and there’s a Who album available, put it on the list. This was the legendary rock band’s first studio release after the death of Keith Moon. There were those who thought the band should have folded and, in my opinion, that thinking led to the unfavorable reaction to this record. Sure, the steady beat of Kenney Jones couldn’t hope to capture Moon’s mania, but there are still some pretty solid tracks on this one. And it has the best opening track since Who Next’s Baba O’Riley.

Favorite track: You Better You Bet

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6) Solid Gold – Gang Of Four I love the guitar work of Andy Gill. He is one of my favorite guitarist of all time and Solid Gold, the band’s second album, gives listeners plenty of his edgy, staccato, feedback-laden rhythm and lead guitar. Cheeseburger, If I Could Keep It For Myself, Paralysed, and Outside The Trains Don’t Run On Time are all cool songs. Lots of social commentary on this album.

Favorite track: He’d Send in the Army

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5) Magnets – The Vapors More than one-hit wonders to me, The Vapors only managed to produce two albums. This is their second effort and it’s pretty dark. It explores themes ranging from cult leaders to oppressive governments to police brutality to the assassinations of the Kennedys. There ain’t no Turning Japanese on this one. The album cover was illustrated by Where’s Waldo? artist Martin Handford.

Favorite track: Magnets

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4) Of Skins and Heart – The Church This was the debut album by this band out of Australia, which was more on the rocking and New Wave side than subsequent releases. It’s a very good first album with some great tracks including For A Moment We’re Strangers, Too Fast For You, and the epic Is This Where You Live. These guys would quickly become one of my favorite bands of the 80s.

Favorite track: The Unguarded Moment

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3) Pretenders II – The Pretenders It makes absolute sense to call this one Pretenders II, because it is the prefect follow up and companion to their self-titled debut album. It’s a continuation of the band’s tough (The Adultress, Bad Boys Get Spanked) and tender (I Go To Sleep, Birds Of Paradise) songs. There are also some straight up excellent rocking pop songs (Talk Of The Town, Day After Day). It wouldn’t be long after this release that the Pretenders would come to the attention of a wider audience.

Favorite track: Message Of Love

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2) Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash – The Replacements This is the second debut album on this list and it’s one of the best debuts ever. These Minneapolis rockers were in their raw, sloppy, hardcore phase. But there was still some excellent song writing going on, most notably of the track Johnny’s Gonna Die, songwriter Paul Westerberg’s lament about his rock hero, Johnny Thunders, was living too recklessly to live long. He didn’t.

Favorite track: I’m In Trouble

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1) My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno/David Bryne This is an endlessly fascinating album. Eno and Byrne who had worked together producing excellent albums by Talking Heads, took a break between Talking Heads albums to work on this project. It is a brilliant combination of found sounds, ambient and World music with electronics and voice sampling used as vocals. It is mesmerizing. Several musicians included Chris Frantz, Prairie Prince, and Robert Fripp lend a hand in the production of this landmark album.

Favorite track: The Jezebel Spirit

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The Most Marvelously Monstrous Monster Models

 

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Photo credit: Boy’s Life Magazine

Here at Warehouse Find I’ve written about favorite toys of my youth (Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces, GI Joe, Jarts, and Shogun Warriors), but I haven’t written about model kits from those days so long ago. I must admit I didn’t build many models back then. I still don’t, even though I have at least half a dozen just waiting to be worked on.

No, my older brother was the model-builder in those days. And he had some of the coolest model kits to ever be made. I’m specifically talking about a popular line of model kits featuring monsters and scenes of the macabre.

In the 1950s, TV stations in America began playing the old Universal Studios horror classics, giving those great old, scary movies new life. Kids all over the country discovered the greatness of horror filmdom’s golden age. Aurora Plastics Corporation had been making model kits for close to ten years; when, in 1961, they hit upon the brilliant idea of capitalizing on those horror films’ new-found popularity. They would issue a line of model kits based on those monsters.

Their first was Frankenstein’s Monster. He was soon followed by Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature, and the Phantom of the Opera. Those would be followed by other famous Universal monsters. Later came the giant monsters: King Kong, Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. (Click here to get more information on these great monster models.) They were a roaring success with the young-uns!

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By the time I was a sentient kid, it was the 1970s. (I turned six in late 1970.) My older brother had found the 70s’ versions of Aurora’s monster models. Those models jumped on the “kids like things that glow in the dark” phenomena. They reissued their original kits with a second set of selected parts that could glow in the dark! It was a cool idea, but it didn’t always translate well.

It was evident I was in my budding years of a lifetime of pedantry, because even at that tender age I thought the glowing pieces that were hands and heads made sense on Dracula and the Phantom, but on the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Creature? And why would Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Phantom have glowing shoes? Godzilla having a row of glowing fins on his back was cool and it made sense, but his having a glowing head, hands, feet, and a tail was silly.

Well, no matter. The models were excellent. I was so envious of my older brother’s collection.

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Photo credit: eBay

Years later, in the 1990s, another set of reissues of some of those models hit the market, this time they were put out by Monogram. They were part of the Luminators model kit series, models made of transparent plastic in neon colors. You could send away for a black light that would make those kits glow in the dark. But they didn’t look so good otherwise. I bought a set (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Phantom, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy) anyway.

I put Dracula together first, without painting him. He was a bright yellow collection of plastic that vaguely resembled the great monster. It just wasn’t very impressive. Then I remembered the lesson taught to me by the original series of Jonny Quest in the episode The Invisible Monster: Paint will make it visible.

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Photo credit: Bill Jones

I took the old vampire apart and began anew. This time I would paint him. But it wouldn’t be the last time.

I put the other sets together, painting the parts as I went along. I had a limited palette consisting of only a few colors of model paint. Those paints were oil-based enamels that didn’t mix very well to create a greater variety of colors. Still I did my best and I thought I had done pretty well. I even showed them off to a few people, including my older brother. I put them proudly on display in my room and then didn’t think about them much again.

Until.

Until I made a visit to Chris Mars’ house. Chris Mars is the original drummer of the legendary Minneapolis rock band The Replacements. He is also a very talented artist. His paintings, although disturbing, are fantastic. He is also a good friend of my best friend, Dave. Chris was out of town and Dave was house-sitting when he invited me over for a couple movies and beers.

Let me tell you guys! Chris Mars has a very cool house. His being an artist and into old movie monsters made his house particularly interesting to me. He had all kinds of monster memorabilia, some of which he created himself. And there, in his living room, was his set of Aurora monster models. They were painted so exquisitely, I was positively awestruck.

I’m also an artist. I’m mainly a cartoonist, but I can do portraits and I’m not bad at illustration. I like to think I’m pretty good at the cartooning and portraits. That I’m a decent artist. But looking at Mars’ monster models put me to absolute shame. I felt embarrassed by the models of which I had held such pride.

Chris Mars, without being there, had shown me that I didn’t have to use model paint. He clearly didn’t and he worked with a far greater palette than I had. So, soon after my visit to the artist’s home, I was taking apart those five monsters, breaking out the acrylic paints I’d had since art school, and repainting. And I don’t think I did too badly.

More reissues were released and I picked up several of them. Of the ones I worked on, I started out doing them the right way. From the start. Those turned pretty darn OK, too.

Below are pictures (not the best quality) of the models I’ve completed. The first five are part of the Luminators reissues and they look much better painted.

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Look closely at Dracula’s right knee. You can see where the cape broke when I was taking it apart to repaint. This and the next four were the models I repainted after seeing Chris Mars’ collection.

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It was clear to me that this was the Monster from The Bride of Frankenstein, so I “muddied” it up a bit to match the look in the movie.

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A later version of the Wolf Man was more accurate to the movie versions by Lon Chaney Jr., but this one is still an awesome pose. I love the skull!

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It’s been suggested that this Phantom is based on James Cagney’s portrayal of the character as part of the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957).

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Cagney or…

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…Chaney? I think it might be based on Cagney.

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This is not Boris Karloff’s Mummy. It’s Lon Chaney Jr’s from The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944).

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This is the first of the non-Luminators reissues I worked on.

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Other modelers have Ann facing away from Kong. I think, judging by the look on her face, it makes more sense to have her looking at her giant simian captor.

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Sorry about the poor focus of Rodan’s face. This broke as I was trying to get the picture. The overall design makes it prone to breaking this way, besides when put together Rodan’s face is positioned so far down it’s barely visible.

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Ghidorah is just a damn cool monster!

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And finally! The King of All Monsters!

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Another Example Of The Weirdness Of The 1970s

The 1970s was a weird decade. Well, I suppose every decade has its weirdness, but the ’70s definitely had its own special vibe. The fashions were pretty tacky. Even the most straight-laced looks just seemed slightly askew. Wide lapels, bell bottoms, platform shoes, ponchos, and everyone seemed to have long hair. Everyone except Telly Savales, that is.

And there were all those catch phrases pulled from popular television series. “Sit on it!” “Kiss my grits!” “Up your nose with a rubber hose!” “Dyn-O-Mite!” “Nanoo nanoo!” “Who loves you, baby?”

So many catch phrases.

There were mood rings. You could own a pet rock. You could track your bio-rhythms, while you read your daily horoscopes, which were so very important in the ’70s. (Of course, you know bio-rhythms and astrology are just a bunch of nonsense, right?)

It was also possible for a comedian to make a good living on just one joke. Remember Raymond J Johnson Jr? Mr. Johnson was a character played by Bill Sulga and he made a career out of telling people they didn’t have to call him Johnson. “You can call me Ray. Or you can call me Jay. Or you can call me Johnny…”

Now that’s comedy!

There was another person who gained world fame in that weird decade by using his one joke that consisted of essentially physically assaulting people. He was a comedian from England who, in the early ’60s, started working as a lighting technician in Australian television production. He soon made his way to performing characters on camera and became popular with fans. In 1970, he began co-hosting a children’s show and soon after came his “partner” in comedy – Emu.

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The man was Rod Hull. He began working with an unusual looking bird that was simply called Emu. Emus are large flightless birds found in Australia and are quite similar to ostriches. The feathered friend was a puppet made to look as though Hull was carrying it, while he operated its neck and head.

Emu had a foul (pun!) temper and it didn’t take much to set him off. Emu would savagely attack people, creating what has been called a kind of gleeful havoc. I mean that bird would really go after people. Often times, Hull, Emu, and the victim would end up in a heap on the floor. Emu’s attacks were startling and looked quite violent while, Hull, acting as a kind of wildlife expert, would appear to be futilely attempting to control the angry bird.

And it worked. People thought it was hilarious. Including those who were on the receiving end of the attack. And that was the key, I think. If those who were attacked reacted badly, Hull might have found himself in court or with a broken arm, which actor/comedian Billy Connolly did seriously threaten to do once and, thus, avoided being attacked. However, most victims played along. Some even had fun with it.

In 1974, Hull took this act to Saturday morning kids’ programming in America. He was a regular on the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. That’s where I first saw Hull and his maniac bird. And the routine was funny. And it’s really just one joke!

Hull was able to keep getting laughs from that one joke into the 1980s. I just saw, and this is what prompted me to write on this topic, Rod Hull and Emu’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from 1983. I gotta tell ya, Hull was fearless. He was told, by the production staff, to go easy on Johnny and to not go after Richard Pryor, who was also a guest on the show. But Hull (and Emu) understood the comedy is not in going easy. An attack is funny. An all out assault that puts Carson face down on his desk and Pryor on his back on the couch is hilarious! And to their credit, both victims were laughing through the whole bit. Click here to see what I’m talking about. And you can read an excellent behind the scenes account of that Tonight Show appearance here.

Yep. A lot of weird stuff occurred in the ’70s. And I’m kinda glad it did.

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A Cover Of One Of The Classics

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Classics Illustrated comic books were the industry’s balance to all those EC Comics that were leading America’s youth into delinquency in the 1940s and 50s. While EC was exposing kids to the macabre in a more visceral sense, Classics Illustrated attempted to do so with a more literary approach.

You can see that in this month’s great comic book cover. Especially so in the way Mr Hyde is depicted. The inner self that Dr Jekyll releases through the use of an experimental chemical compound is shown to be more foreboding and dark than being pure, unbridled, Hedonistic evil. There’s no appearance of the monster in this Hyde. In fact, this Hyde looks more worried than anything else.

EC, on the other hand, certainly would have monstered it up had they produced a version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story. In fact, Classics Illustrated had two earlier versions of this cover (here and here) that did have a more monstrous Hyde. But, I really like the subtly of this version of the cover first released, as far as I can tell, in 1953. (Classics Illustrated‘s practice of frequently reissuing their titles, sometimes with new cover art, and vague date listings in their indicia make it difficult to be certain when these comic books were published.)

The art was done by Mort “Mutz” Kunstler. Mutz really uses the under lighting of his subjects to great effect. I also like his sense of realism. As I said, it is subtle and has a more sophisticated appearance than the previous two covers by Classics Illustrated, or anything by EC. It’s high brow art for those kids watching Howdy Doody.

I think it’s a great cover.

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Mars Ain’t The Kind Of Place For St. Paul Kids

The legendary Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue & 7th Street Entry might just be the best nightclub in the world. Well, I can’t say that for sure, because I haven’t been to many other nightclubs and I haven’t been to First Avenue for a couple years now. And I’m not certain about how the club was before I started frequenting it in the mid-80s, but from what I’ve learned from my elders, it was a pretty damn cool place when it opened in 1970 as The Depot right on through its name changes (Uncle Sam’s then Sam’s finally First Avenue) and to today.

I do know its better than at least one nightclub in New York City. Actually, maybe I don’t. I’ll try to make that clear in a moment.

It was the early 90s when two friends of mine (John and David) and I went on a road trip out East. A week-long, whirlwind trip driving through several states and in and out of Canada. We didn’t stay very long in any one place. We were on the move. We had plenty to see.

The main plan was to go to a record store in Lowell, MA. It was called RRRecords and it was David’s choice of destination. But, along the way there and back, we figured we might as well check out a couple other places of interest. Toronto, Niagara Falls, Boston, the Atlantic coast, and New York City made the secondary list of destinations. We ended up scratching Boston off the list to extend our time in NYC.

Our visit to NYC was the longest stay in any of our points of interest. We spent a day and a half in the Big Apple. The first evening, we shuttled in from Newark, NJ, where we had our motel room, to catch a few sites and reconnoiter for our planned full day assault the following day. That evening we had a couple beers at a bar called Downtown Beruit, had a slice or two of authentic NY-style pizza, and went up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

The plan for the next day was to go into town in the morning and spend the entire day seeing as many of the sites as we could. We rode the subway, walked through Central Park, laid on benches at the base of the World Trade Center, visited the Guggenheim gift store (the museum was closed), and valiantly searched for public restrooms. You’d think a city that size would have more public restrooms. 800 million people and only one restroom for public use. (That’s professional hyperbole, folks.)

The plan for the evening was to find a nightclub and stay until closing (5am) and then find some other place to hang out until the first shuttle brought us back to Newark.

John was the main planner of the trip, so he busied himself scouring the free weekly papers for an interesting club at which to spend the night. He found one that touted itself as consisting of five or six stories of dance floors, each offering different genres of danceable tunes. Sounded cool to us.

We worked our way over to the part of town where this club was situated and along the way we stopped in several of the excellent specialty shops New York had to offer. And in these shops were stacks and stacks of cards and flyers for nightclubs, all offering some special deal if you brought that card with you: Free cover or a free drink, something like that. The clubs were just begging for our business. The club John had found was right in there begging along with the rest of them.

So, we got to this multi-floored haven of entertainment, but it wasn’t quite opening time yet. Just along side the club was an empty lot, so the three of us sat there, our backs leaning against the building. In the corner of the lot, about 30 feet from where we sat was a sizable pile of rubble. It was a pile of bricks, busted up cinder blocks, broken bottles, cans, twisted rebar, and a few tires. There was something else about that rubble pile: It was crawling with rats. Quite a few.

Occasionally, a rat would skitter its way along the base of the wall in our direction. We’d toss a few rocks or broken bottles or bricks, whatever was handy, in its direction and that would send it scurrying back to the pile. It was kinda fun. I don’t think we actually hit any of the critters, but we did get one to jump pretty high.

The three of us had made it a point to do our best to not look like tourists on this trip. We didn’t even bring cameras. We wanted to blend in. However, John and I each had a shopping bag containing items we had purchased that day. We figured we’d just check them in at the coat check once we got in this magical club.

But the wheels in John’s head were turning and he hit upon an idea that would keep us not looking like tourists and save us a couple bucks.

“Jim,” he said.

“Yeah, John,” I replied.

“No one in their right mind would think of approaching that rubble pile covered in rats, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, wouldn’t that make it the perfect place to hide these bags. There’s no food in them, so the rats wouldn’t be interested and we wouldn’t have to pay the coat check.”

“John, I think you have something there.”

And that’s what we did. We threw rocks at the pile and scared off the rats. We then dropped our bags into the center of an old tire and quickly retreated, letting the rats guard our goods. We then went around to the front door as opening time was upon us.

Several bouncers came out and set up barricades to keep an open area at the front and help direct the customers into the club. The doors opened. No one was allowed in. The three of us weren’t the only ones waiting and more people began to gather. No one was allowed in.

Two “club kids” sauntered up to the doors and in they went. The crowd continued to gather and wait as a few more “club kids” arrived and were ushered right in.

The bouncers just stood and acted as though we weren’t even there.

And still we waited.

There were far more people waiting outside than had been allowed into the club. There were plenty of paying customers waiting to get in and spend their money, but still we waited. It was getting ridiculous.

Remember, this was the early 90s. The Disco hey days of Studio 54 were long gone, but the bouncers picking the “right” people to go in attitude was still in play. “Hey! You guys are begging for business! We have your free cover offers! Let us in!”

I’m not sure how long we put up with this, but eventually John and David turned to me and said, “Screw these guys! If we leave now we can catch the last shuttle back to Newark. Should we go?”

“Yep. Screw these guys.”

John and I retrieved our stuff from the rats’ nest. John made me grab my own bag, even though he got to the pile first and could easily have grabbed it himself. Thanks, John.

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Under the eyeballs is where we sat with the rats.

I haven’t mentioned the name of the club, because over the years my certainty of the name has faded. I had thought it was called Mars, but I wasn’t sure. However, it turns out my memory is correct.

Last month, a friend of mine spotted a short video biography of musician/DJ Moby. In it Moby takes viewers on a tour on NYC and shows what had become of some of his favorite places. One of those places was a nightclub which, in 1989, was where he got his first job as a DJ. It was called… Mars! In the video, you can see the wall we sat by waiting for the club to open. You can’t see the rats, though.

I was able to find a Facebook group page populated by people who either worked or hung out at Mars. The picture I’ve posted of the club from those days comes from that page and seeing it confirmed that that was the club. I recognize the “medallions” on the doors.

Before I sign off, I do have a question for those Mars bouncers.

Do you know what the bouncers at First Avenue & 7th Street Entry do with the gathered crowd waiting to get in when the club opens its doors?

They let the people in.

Packing Peanuts!

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The Year Is 1977. The List Is Ten Alternative Albums From That Year.

The world was witnessing the early stages of Punk Rock in 1977, sounding the death knell of Disco. OK, maybe not that dramatic, but the music listening public was seeing the first main wave of Punk albums being released in 1977. Seven of the ten albums I will list are debut releases. 1977 was fertile ground for new recording artists.

One of my entries might not be considered alternative, but it is difficult to categorize. Besides, this is my blog and I can include what I want. Also, the first reggae album I’ve ever ranked is included in this list.

So far I have done lists for 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986-1989. And, as always, this is my list, your results may vary…

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10) Equal Rights – Peter Tosh Right off the bat is the first reggae album to be featured in one of these lists. I like reggae, but I don’t listen to it often and I don’t have many albums of that music from Jamaica. But, I do have this one. The opening track (my favorite) was co-written by Bob Marley and was originally recorded by The Wailers, but I prefer Tosh’s version. I also prefer Tosh’s voice to Marley’s. This is a nice, relaxing album about the need for equal rights and justice with a little religious undertone throughout.

Favorite track: Get Up, Stand Up

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9) Spiral Scratch – Buzzcocks The first debut release on this list is an EP by one of my favorite bands to emerge from UK’s Punk scene. Four pretty raw blasts of Punk energy featuring Howard Devoto on vocals. Devoto would not be with the band for long, but he did help set the tone and direction the band would take in his absence, when Pete Shelley would take over lead vocals.

Favorite track: Boredom

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8) Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick Maybe not exactly alternative, this debut album by the power pop rockers from Illinois is awfully hard edged when to compared to their albums that followed. They address pedophilia (Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School), serial killer Richard Speck (The Ballad of TV Violence), and the suicide of a friend of the band (Oh, Candy). It also features their excellent power ballad Mandocello.

Favorite track: Hot Love

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7) Pink Flag – Wire 21 tracks on this first studio release by these British art punkers. Wire demonstrated that Punk didn’t have to follow any rules. They went where their art took them, including into some very catchy pop (Mannequin). More than half a dozen songs clock in at less than one minute!

Favorite track: 12 X U

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6) Rocket To Russia – Ramones This is the third album by the original punk rockers from New York, so they’ve been showing those Brits how to do it for a while by 1977. A couple excellent covers (Do You Wanna Dance? and Surfin’ Bird) along with plenty of classically twisted Ramones originals (Cretin Hop, We’re A Happy Family, and my favorite track) make this a must-own for any fan of alternative music.

Favorite track: Teenage Lobotomy

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5) Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols A tighter collection of songs than you might expect from the kings of the UK Punk Rock scene. This is the only official studio album released by the Pistols and that seems completely proper considering the volatile nature of this band. This album set the template for a great number of lesser punk bands to follow. It has plenty of kick ass tracks including Holiday in the Sun, Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen and EMI, the band’s screed against their record label and the music industry itself.

Favorite Track: Pretty Vacant

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4) The Clash – The Clash Another debut album, this one is by what would become known as “the only band that matters.” It’s the US version of which I am more familiar, so I’m kinda bending the rule here, because, technically, that version was released in 1979. Oh, well, the US version is being used here because it’s the Punk thing to do and it does contain my favorite track. There are plenty of good songs on this one: Janie Jones, White Riot, Career Opportunities, and (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais to name a few.

Favorite track: I Fought the Law

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3) Talking Heads: 77 – Talking Heads Yep, another debut album. New York’s Talking Heads took a more artful approach to the Punk Rock sound. David Byrne’s unusual and detached vocals preside over a really tight band. They explored and embraced a kind of quirky worldview both lyrically and musically. (Can you explore a worldview musically? Oh, well, it sounded good when I wrote it.) And there’s a sense of fun to this album that is missing from much of the alternative music of this time.

Favorite track: Psycho Killer

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2) Low – David Bowie Part of his “Berlin Trilogy,” Low is my favorite album by Bowie. Much of the music was written with the intent of being used as the score for Bowie’s film debut, The Man Who Fell To Earth, but the director didn’t think it worked. The second half of the album consists of mostly instrumental tracks. Very moody.

Favorite track: Sound And Vision

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1) In The City – The Jam Heavily influenced by my favorite band The Who, how could this debut album from the UK’s top Mod rock band not be number one on my list? Filled with forceful, brash, and blaring rock songs with power chords aplenty, The Jam quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite bands. The Jam were also influenced by 60s garage rock and the Motown sound, mixing all of it to become one to the UK’s most popular acts. They even cover the Batman Theme!

Favorite track (Tie): In The City and Art School

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The Good Life With Good Neighbors

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Tom Good had a midlife crisis at age 40 and decided to drop out of society, if not the neighborhood. Tom wanted to work at the job of life itself and leave the 9-to-5 drudgery and consumerism behind. So he, along with his understanding wife Barbara, turned their middle-class home and yard into a suburban farm. He was determined to be as damn near self-sufficient as possible.

I’m talking about the wildly successful British sit-com The Good Life (1975 – 1980). It was called Good Neighbors in the United States when it premiered on PBS in the early 80s. There had been an American sit-com with the same name a few years earlier and the presenters wanted to avoid confusion.

I remember seeing ads on PBS at the time, touting a new “Brit-Com” that would be debuting soon. It had a scene from the second episode, I believe, showing Barbara (Felicity Kendal) smashing the glass out of their greenhouse so Tom (Richard Briers) could convert it to a chicken coop. (Yep, they were going to keep chickens, too. And pigs. And a goat.) She was wearing a scuba mask to prevent glass shards getting in her eyes. Tom told her she looked utterly ridiculous and she called him “Honey Tongue.”

I think it was my mom that convinced me to start watching the show. Before long I was smitten. Sure, Barbara was cute as a button and awfully sexy at the same time, so that helped peak my interest. But, I wasn’t just smitten with Barbara. The show had wended its way into my heart. (If you tell people I said I have a heart, I’ll deny it!)

The Goods lived next door to the Leadbetters: Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry (Paul Eddington). Tom and Jerry (that sounds familiar) had both worked for the same plastics company that manufactured toys for breakfast cereals. They both started on the same day eight years previous. Tom was more talented, but Jerry knew how to play the game. Jerry rose to the executive level while Tom languished working with younger men, who would soon rise to the executive level as well.

Margo Leadbetter plays the lovable foil. She’s prim and proper. Very conservative. She has difficulty understanding why something is funny. She’s a snob, but she truly cares for Tom and Barbara. Well, Barbara. She tolerates Tom.

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The two couples represent different ends of the economic spectrum. The Leadbetters are affluent and love their luxuries. The Goods are damned poor, but they love their life and their freedom from the trappings of middle class society. Despite these differences, they are friends. Fast friends. In fact, although Tom likes to think he and Barbara are self-sufficient, the Leadbetters come in very handy from time to time. Margo and Jerry come through for their friends even while being embarrassed by them. And, on more than one occasion, Jerry reminds Tom of the reality of dealing with society, not matter how dropped out they think they are.

The show is also genuinely funny. Particularly the episode titled The Wind-Break War, in which Margo’s new wind-break for her backyard keeps ending up in the wrong place for the Goods. A frustrated tradesman finds himself trapped in this battle of miscommunications between neighbors. The viewers are sympathetic to his plight, but we’re still laughing. Cooler heads prevail and the homemade wine pours. Innocent flirtations between couples come close to not being so innocent. And Margo gets the last laugh.

28 episodes plus two specials (one a command performance for the Queen) are all that there is. In the old days of American television that would be one season. But through those episodes the audience comes to know and love four very real characters. We struggle right along with Tom and Barbara, through a difficult harvest to a roof with a hole in it to the runt of the pig litter and to not having anything worth stealing. And we feel pride when the Goods brush themselves off and push on.

The Goods (and the Leadbetters) live the good life.

Packing Peanuts!

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