Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Pet Shop Boys part 1


The 80s was the time when many Synth-Pop duos from the UK had successful international careers. The longest lasting of those are the Pet Shop Boys. They were formed in London in 1981 and their latest album came out 2 months ago. There will surely be more to come.


The Pet Shop Boys are Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Neil came out publicly in 1994, while Chris never said that he's gay, but also he never denied it. Chris has lived together with his personal assistant Peter Andreas for about 5 years. In 1994 Peter died of AIDS-related causes. The album Alternative was dedicated to him. Also, Chris wrote and sung the song Postscript for him. We usually do these presentations chronologically, but, for a change, let's start with Postscript:

I believe in ecstasy
The times we've had, you and me
Friends we've met along the way
Partied every night and day
And I know we'll meet again


Tennant worked as an editor for the UK edition of Marvel Comics and then he worked as a news editor at Smash Hits, a British Pop magazine. A few months before that, he had met Lowe, a student of architecture at an electronics shop in London. They became friends and they created the Pet Shop Boys.

The Pet Shop Boys have sold more than 50 million records worldwide and are listed as the most successful duo in UK music history by The Guinness Book Of Records. They have been awarded 3 Brit awards and have been nominated for 6 Grammies. They have 42 singles in the UK Top 30, with 22 Top 10 hits, including 4 at #1.

Their first single, West End Girls, was originally released in 1984, but failed to make much of an impact: it only made #121 in the UK and #81 in Canada. However, when PSB changed labels the following year, they re-recorded the song with a different producer. This time they hit paydirt: the song was #1 in the US, the UK, Canada, Finalnd, Norway and New Zealand, #2 in Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland, #3 in Spain and Belgium, #4 in the Netherlands and #5 in Australia and Austria. They were now a big time act.


Also from their first album, Please, came good singles Love Comes Quickly (about the inevitability of love, even for those who shun it), Opportunities, subtitled Let's Make Lots Of Money (a criticism of the money-hungry capitalism prevalent in Thatcher's Britain) and Suburbia (inspired by the Brixton riots and Penelope Spheeris' film of the same name). Then in 1987 came their 2nd album, Actually, which was their most successful in the UK. Although it'd just missed the top (it peaked at #2) it became 3x platinum in the UK alone.

The first single off this album is one of their best and also one of their most successful. As great things often are, it was written in just 15 minutes, with no visions of greatness in mind. It's A Sin tells us how religion (Catholicism in particular in this case) introduces the feeling of guilt by condemning all that is pleasant (especially of the sensual variety) as sinful. It made #1 in most European countries and #9 in the US.


Their next single, What Have I Done To Deserve This, was a collaboration with the legendary Dusty Springfield. My favorite British female singer of the 60s was defeated by breast cancer in 1994, only 59 years old. She had a tough personal life: she was bipolar, prone to drug addictions and self-harm. She was a lesbian, trying to deal with the restrictions of being one in that era. She never had phony relationships with men and in her interactions with the press she was as straightforward as can be: "many other people say I'm bent, and I've heard it so many times that I've almost learned to accept it ... I know I'm perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don't see why I shouldn't." By the standards of 1970, that was a very bold statement. 3 years later, she added: "I mean, people say that I'm gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I'm not anything. I'm just ... People are people ... I basically want to be straight ... I go from men to women; I don't give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can't love a man. Now, that's my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition ... They frighten me."

We'll give Dusty the space she deserves when the time comes. For the moment, let's listen to the collaboration, which was #1 in Ireland, #2 in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden, #3 in Canada, #4 in Germany and #5 in Switzerland.


Their next single from their album Actually (seriously, if you only can afford to buy one PSB album, buy this. Or their greatest hits.) In the same album was another stunning song: Rent. It's about a kept boy: "I love you, you pay my rent". It too was a Top 10 hit in the UK and elsewhere.


A couple of years later, the PSB wrote songs for and co-produced the album Results, for none other than our Liza (please don't ask who's Liza!). The album made #6 in the UK and #13 in Spain. There, Liza reveals her own fabulous version of Rent:


As a bonus, here's Liza's hit single from this album, a #2 hit in Ireland, #6 in the UK and #7 in Spain. It's from Sondheim's 1971 musical Follies and it's called Losing My Mind:


Meanwhile back, the PTB performed on a TV special and included their version of Always On My Mind, which had already been a hit for Elvis Presley and Willy Nelson. Their performance was so well-received that the duo decided to record the song and release it as a single... And the single caught fire: it was #1 in the UK, Canada, Germany, Spain, Finland, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland, #2 in Ireland, Austria and Belgium, #3 in South Africa and Norway and #4 in the US.


Back to Actually: the 4th and last single from the album was also to be their last #1 in the UK. Heart was also #1 in Germany, Ireland and Switzerland.


Domino Dancing was in their 1988 album Introspective. It was Latin flavored and the video is full of eye candy. A big Top 10 hit all over Europe (highest position: #3 in Germany) and #18 in the US.


More on the Pet Shop Boys tomorrow.

Monday, 30 May 2016

TV Themes & Statistics


Today's TV theme, at #8 in our list, belongs to a series that debuted in the US in 1981 and went on for 7 seasons, till 1987. It won 3 Golden Globes and 26 Emmies and had 30 more major awards wins and 108 major awards nominations. It's called Hill Street Blues.


The show revolutionized the concept of cop drama: Instead of a wondercop central character surrounded by sidekicks with no other function than to show how clever and important the hero is, the show had a dozen main characters of equal screen importance, whose personalities were fleshed out and whose lives both inside and outside of the police department were given apt attention. Instead of a "crime of the week" storyline, various interconnecting storylines were happening at once; some would be concluded within the episode, while others would be developed through a series of episodes. Instead of studio (floor) cameras and mainly medium shots in studio scenery backdrops, the series employed handheld cameras and long shots in natural surroundings. All these may appear mundane now, but that was not the case in the early 80s. The show originally had low ratings, but with the studio's support, excellent word of mouth and the awards that started happening, the ratings picked up. They were never spectacular though, but this was a prestige show for NBC, so they let it run for 7 years.

The series theme was written by Mike Post, who has also written the theme songs for The Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I., L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Law & Order and many others. Post said that when he was writing the theme, he first wanted the music to match the gritty visuals he was shown. He then decided to instead do the opposite, to create a theme that was beautiful and serene, that "took you away" from what you were seeing. The theme won a Grammy and made #10 in the US Hot 100 in 1981. Here it is:


Now to our statistics: In this week's list, the US is very comfortably leading Greece by almost 5:1. Greece itself is leading Germany by more than 2:1. Russia is in 4th place, very near Germany and comfortably ahead of France which is 5th. Canada is 6th, the UK and Portugal are tied in 7th place, while Argentina and Croatia are tied in 9th. Portugal appears in the Top 10 for a 2nd week in a row, while Argentina and Croatia are newcomers. Also dropping in for a visit during the week were Azerbaijan, Brazil, Cyprus, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. Happy to see you everybody!

As for the all-time list, there has been some movement, but not in the first two places. The US is always at the top and Greece is immovable at #2. Germany has established itself at #3, while Russia has broken free of Ireland and stands alone at #4. The UK has had a few visits this week and caught up with Ireland, which was completely inactive: they both tie at #5. The rest are the same as last week: Canada at #7, France at #8, Cyprus at #9 and Spain at #10.

My random song choice of the day was a surprise #2 hit in the UK in 1981. Laurie Anderson, an American experimental performance artist, composer, musician and film director, originally released the single O Superman in a limited quantity, but big demand of the single in the UK led to the single being re-released in enough copies to meet the demand.

Anderson started dating Lou Reed in 1992, and was married to him from 2008 until his death in 2013.


 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Morrissey


A few words on Steven Patrick Morrissey, known as Morrissey, because he hates his first names. He is known to his friends as Moz, Mozza and Mozzer. He was born in Manchester, England, England in 1959 of working-class Irish-Catholic parents and his first foray into the Arts was a book he wrote about his idol, called James Dean Is Not Dead, which was published when he was in his early 20s. It was this book that impressed Johnny Marr, who sought to meet him in order to ask him to write songs together.


I know that a lot of people don't like Morrissey. He has poor social skills, a very dark and particular sense of humor that is misunderstood more often than not and the unusual imagery that he uses in his writing varies from the magnificent to the ridiculous. He's very vocal and not very diplomatic with his opinions, be it politics, art or animal rights.

Morrissey's sexuality has been the subject of much speculation and coverage in the British press during his career. In a 1980 letter, he described both himself and his then-girlfriend as bisexual, although he added that "I hate sex". During his years with The Smiths, Morrissey professed to being celibate, which stood out at a time when much of pop music was dominated by visible sexuality. Marr said in a 1984 interview that Morrissey "doesn't participate in sex at the moment and hasn't done so for a while".

In 1997, he revealed that he had abandoned celibacy and that he had a relationship with a Cockney boxer. That person was revealed in Morrissey's autobiography to be Jake Walters. They lived together until 1996. In an interview in March 2013, Walters said, "Morrissey and I have been friends for a long time, probably around 20 years." Morrissey was later attached to Tina Dehghani. He discussed having a baby with Dehghani, with whom he described having an "uncluttered commitment". In his autobiography, Morrissey also mentions a relationship with a younger Italian man, known only as "Gelato", with whom he sought to buy a house around 2006. In October 2013, Morrissey released a statement through his semi-official website, which said, "Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course ... not many." The man's statements were even more confusing than those of Bowie: like Bowie he kept using different labels on himself, in order to avoid being labelled. It's more creative than "no comment", I must say.

His first solo album, in 1988, was called Viva Hate (because of course it was). It received critical acclaim, went to #1 in the UK and was a big hit in many countries. It went gold both in the US & in the UK. Its first single was Suedehead, a song about a "good lay" that turned stalker-ish on the way:

You had to sneak into my room just to read my diary
It was just to see, just to see
All the things you knew I'd written about you

The song made #2 in Ireland and #5 in the UK. Here it is:


His next single is probably my favorite solo hit of his: Everyday Is Like Sunday is full of trademark Morrissey doom and gloom. A group of people are stranded on a beach waiting for the nuclear holocaust. Morrissey sings the phrase "Come, Armageddon! Come!" with such relish, that makes the end of the world bearable.


The Last of the Famous International Playboys was another big hit for him: #3 in Ireland, #6 in the UK and more importantly #3 in the US Modern Rock chart. It's about a guy whose idols are the Kray twins, vicious London gangsters in the 60s. Ron Kray was gay. Part of the lyrics are:

Ronnie Kray, do you know my face?
Oh, don't say you don't

(..........................)

I never wanted to kill
I am not naturally evil
Such things I do
Just to make myself
More attractive to you
Have I failed?


His 1991 single, Piccadilly Palare had a similar chart run: #5 in Ireland, #18 in the UK & #2 in the US Modern Rock chart.

The song was about male prostitution around the Piccadilly area of London. The title of the song refers to the slang language polari, first used by male prostitutes in the 19th century and then taken up by gays in the 1960s to disguise sexual activities which were illegal in the UK until 1967.

Off the rails I was and off the rails
I was happy to stay
Get out of my way
On the rack I was
Easy meat, and a reasonably good buy
A reasonably good buy

The Piccadilly palare
Was just silly slang
Between me and the boys in my gang
So bona to vada, oh you
Your lovely eek and your lovely riah
We plied an ancient trade
Where we threw all life's instructions away
Exchanging lies and digs my way
'Cause in a belted coat
Oh, I secretly knew
That I hadn't a clue


After more singles with unusual titles such as We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful and You're the One for Me, Fatty, in 1994 Moz released his 4th studio album, Vauxhall And I, which became his 2nd solo #1 in the UK. It also made #5 in Ireland, #12 in France, #13 in Sweden and #18 in the US. The album, produced by Steve Lillywhite, is considered one of his best. The single The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get was one of his biggest hits (#8 in the UK, #1 in the US Modern Rock chart and the only one of his singles to chart in the US Hot 100, at #46. It's about a relationship that's closer to war than to love.


We skip over a couple of albums to go to my favorite album of his, You Are The Quarry in 2004. It made #1 in Sweden, #2 in the UK, #3 in Ireland, #5 in Norway, #7 in Germany, #8 in Finland and #11 in the US (his highest charting album there, in a tie with 2009's Years Of Refusal). Once again the Moz didn't shy way from provocative titles: The World Is Full of Crashing Bores, All the Lazy Dykes and America Is Not the World are 3 of the songs included here. We won't be dealing with these three however. The four singles off this album are all exceptional.

Irish Blood, English Heart is about the singer's dual heritage. It made #3 in the UK.


My favorite is First of the Gang to Die (#6, UK): a gang member's short life is presented with tenderness and desire by Morrissey:


The next single, Let Me Kiss You was recorded both by Morrissey, as well as by Nancy Sinatra. Both versions made the UK charts. It's about making love to someone whom you fear is not physically attracted to you.

So, close your eyes
And think of someone you physically admire
And let me kiss you

Morrissey's version:

Nancy Sinatra's version:

Finally, I Have Forgiven Jesus (a bold choice for a title), is all about Moz's complicated relationship with religion. It would be his 4th Top 10 single in the UK from one album, a feat that he has not achieved, before or since.


Morrissey is still making good music: his latest album, with yet another provocative title, World Peace Is None of Your Business, came out two years ago. I'm sure that he'll continue making music, which some will love and some will hate. Whichever the case, he certainly won't go unnoticed. He never does.
 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Smiths part 2


In another first, The Smiths released a compilation album, Hatful Of Hollow, just months after their debut album. It was filled with great songs.


The cover photo (above) featured the fabulous but otherwise unknown Fabrice Colette and was taken by Gilles Decroix. In it were non-album singles and B-sides, as well as songs from their first album in different versions, taken from BBC Radio 1 studio recordings. Here's the first one, of a song that we posted yesterday in its original version, What Difference Does It Make?:


I'm very attached to this album, since it was the first Smiths' album that I ever bought. In vinyl, of course. What Difference Does It Make? is the 2nd track, so let's go back to the opening track. William, It Was Really Nothing was the band's 5th single overall, peaking at #17 in the UK and #8 in Ireland. It was released in two different versions, with different sleeves and different B-Sides. Both B-sides were superb songs, in fact they were even superior to the (still great) A-side! We'll get to both these songs later, as for William, It Was Really Nothing, it's about Morrissey advising a male friend not to get trapped in marriage. Typical Morrissey advice, I would say.


Let's check out the two B-sides now: Firstly, let's talk about How Soon Is Now?. Possibly my favorite Smiths' song, as well as the favorite of many others: the reaction to it as a B-Side was such, that a few months later it was released as an A-side of a new single, that made it to #24 in the UK and #5 in Ireland. Also made #36 in the US Dance chart. Anchored by Marr's terrific guitar work, Morrissey's lyrics were never gloomier:

I am the son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

There's a club if you'd like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die

When you say it's gonna happen "now"
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

The song has been called the Stairway To Heaven of the 80s. Judge for yourselves:


The other B-side was Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want. An earnest plea for wish fulfillment from a guy that hasn't had much luck in his life. It's short and sweet and not as world weary as most of Morrissey's work. It has been covered by numerous respected artists and has appeared on the soundtrack of many films.


To return to the clearly homoerotic songs, You Handsome Devil is one of those. The lyrics veer towards cheesy, but in a fun way:

A boy in the bush
Is worth two in the hand
I think I can help you get through your exams
Oh, you handsome devil

Oh, let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head on the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say

I crack the whip
And you skip
But you deserve it
You deserve it, deserve it, deserve it
And when we're in your scholarly room
Who will swallow whom ?

To be honest,"let me get my hands on your mammary glands" makes me wince every time. A good song though.


Their 4th single (right before William, It Was Really Nothing) was Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, #10 in the UK & #11 in Ireland. It contains the intriguing line: "What she asked of me at the end of the day Caligula would have blushed". It's one of Morrissey's best vocal efforts.


Their second studio album, Meat Is Murder (the title, as well as the title track inspired by the fact that Morrissey as well as Marr are dedicated vegans), was their only studio album to go to #1 in the UK. It contains the song That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, a ballad inspired by an 'intimate friendship' with a journalist. Also, it was a response to journalistic mockery of Morrissey's songwriting that dwelt "on the unhappy side of life".


Their third album, The Queen Is Dead, peaked at #2 in the UK. A very good song off it is Bigmouth Strikes Again, a song chronicling Morrissey's rocky relationship with the press corps.


It's There Is a Light That Never Goes Out, however, that is considered to be the best song in the album and for many the best Smiths' song ever. It's about a guy that was kicked out of his house and spends a fateful night with a guy that he's infatuated with. Here's how it goes:

Take me out tonight
Where there's music and there's people
And they're young and alive

Driving in your car
I never never want to go home
Because I haven't got one
Anymore

Take me out tonight
Because I want to see people and I
Want to see life

Driving in your car
Oh, please don't drop me home
Because it's not my home, it's their
Home, and I'm welcome no more

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die

And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine

Take me out tonight
Take me anywhere, I don't care
I don't care, I don't care

And in the darkened underpass
I thought oh God, my chance has come at last
(But then a strange fear gripped me and I
Just couldn't ask)


Before their last studio album, the Smiths released yet another compilation called The World Won't Listen. It too peaked at #2 UK. As their previous compilation, it mostly contained non-album singles and B-sides. My favorite track from this one is the single Panic. For a band that depends on DJs to play their songs, it takes a lot of courage to put out lyrics such as:

Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life


From their last studio album, Strangeways Here We Come (which also peaked at #2 in the UK), I choose the epic ballad Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, a song that brings forth memories of solo John Lennon.


The band broke up in 1987 amid personal and musical disagreements. Although they were offered loads of money to regroup, like the Beatles, they never did.

Tomorrow we will deal with Morrissey's solo career. Till then, enjoy yourselves.