No talkie bits this week. First day of school for the kids, birthday celebrations, picking the boy up at camp, blah blah blah.
This idea is definitely a one-shot thing, at least in its current form. I went after song titles that were two words, each starting with the same letter. And I went A to Z, almost literally (with apologies to the letters Q and X). Of course, I broke my own rules twice, when I used a song with an ampersand (hey, it was the letter U, I got desperate), and in one instance, I used a title that was the same word twice, which is not alliteration but repetition (again, letter Y, got desperate).
Multiple people asked me to use “Disco Duck.” And believe me, I thought about it, then thought better of it.
Artists making their Dizzy Heights debut this week: Ben Folds (solo), Burning Sensations, Elvis Costello (WHAT), The Go-Betweens, The Go-Go’s, Guided by Voices, k.d. lang, The Kinks (this cannot be happening), Neurotic Outsiders, Stone Poneys, Tasmin Archer, and Tom Petty. Seriously, thank goodness for Tom Petty, or I don’t have a ‘Z’ song.
Bands coming back for another tour of duty: Basement Jaxx, Franz Ferdinand, The Housemartins, The Jezabels, Joe Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Propaganda, The Rolling Stones, Squeeze, The Ting Tings, The Trashcan Sinatras, and Tribe. Speaking of Tribe, I pull a segue that my 1993 self would high-five.
This was originally supposed to be one show featuring songs with colors in the title, but about 600 suggestions later, it was clear that the colors needed to be split up into their own shows, and even then there is enough material to do multiple shows of the primary colors, and maybe the secondary ones as well.
I chose to start with blue so I can play a song from Tom Bailey’s solo album Science Fiction that stabbed my inner lovestruck teenager in the heart. From there, I went, well, everywhere, but there is a thread of melancholy that goes nearly from start to finish. Blue is more than just a color, I guess.
Artists making their Dizzy Heights debut this week: Billy Idol (wait, what?), The Charlatans, David Gilmour, Electric Light Orchestra, Fine Young Cannibals, Gus, Michael Johnson, Peter Murphy, Real Life (wait, WHAT?), The Smithereens (I have no words), The Undertones, and Yaz (even fewer words).
Credit where credit is due: if Jeffrey Thames doesn’t do his 1988 Classic Club Special for KPFT in Houston, then this likely doesn’t exist. Not for a few more years, anyway.
The beat mixes I recorded during my salad days in Athens were mostly train wrecks. You press Record, mix until you run out of tape, and hope for the best. There were usually one or two segues per side that turned out unlistenable. But now, thanks to MixMeister Express, I can make them all nearly perfect! Well, as long as the remix editor does his job. *points bony finger at Terence Trent D’Arby’s editor*
Speaking of which, here’s the track listing. My guideline was to include songs that were released as singles in 1988, even if the album on which they first appeared came out in 1987 (or even 1989). I will be the first to admit, though, that a couple of songs break that rule, including the very first song on the mix. I had to include it, though – it’s just too good.
1. Eric B. & Rakim – Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness)
2. George Michael – Monkey (Jam & Lewis Remix)
3. Sinead O’Connor – I Want Your (Hands on Me) (with MC Lyte)
4. Prince – Alphabet Street
5. Terence Trent D’Arby – Wishing Well
6. Scritti Politti – Boom! There She Was
7. Duran Duran – I Don’t Want Your Love
8. The Cure – Hot Hot Hot!!!
9. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Peek a Boo
10. M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up the Volume
11. Bomb the Bass – Beat ‘Dis
12. Bryan Ferry – Limbo
13. When in Rome – The Promise
14. Information Society – What’s On Your Mind
15. Depeche Mode – Strangelove ‘88
16. Book of Love – Tubular Bells
17. Peter Schilling – Different Story (A World of Lust and Crime)
18. Front 242 – Headhunter
19. Red Flag – Russian Radio
20. Camouflage – The Great Commandment
21. Erasure – Chains of Love
22. OMD – Dreaming
23. Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind
The words ‘first album in two decades’ are normally, and rightfully, met with extreme trepidation. Songwriting is a sport, and those who don’t continuously hone their craft will lose their edge, and with that, their spot on the roster (the roster in this analogy being a radio station’s power rotation). Tom Bailey, former Thompson Twin and Babble member (the status of his electronic project International Observer is unclear), doesn’t care about the roster spot at this stage in his career; indeed, his new solo album Science Fiction (his debut solo album, if you can believe that) appears to exist solely for funsies, with the added benefit of giving Bailey new material to play when he goes out on tour.
And this new material will fit right in with Bailey’s back catalog in a live set, to the point where it’s tempting to imagine how different the Twins’ fortunes might have been if this album had come out in the place of the band’s critically maligned 1987 album Close to the Bone. It’s not only much better than that album – it’s arguably better than their previous, and last hit record, 1985’s Here’s to Future Days. It may lack the killer one-two punch of “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “King for a Day,” but not by much, and the remainder of the album is far more consistent.
The opening song (and title track) sets the tone up front. Bailey made the album on his laptop, and it has suitably modern-sounding instrumentation. The song’s chord structure, a variation on Into the Gap track “Sister of Mercy,” gives the song a new-but-familiar vibe. This is a note Bailey strikes several times throughout the album, splicing the essence of one of his older songs into a new composition. “Bring Back Yesterday” bears little resemblance to “King for a Day” until the chorus kicks in, and then Bailey’s vocal phrasing draws yet another line between past and present. (Bailey, for the record, doesn’t hear a similarity between the two. I can’t help but hear one.)
The album’s first single is “What Kind of World,” and in another world (think the one where this album actually did come out in 1987), it’s a Top 10 hit, possibly bigger.
All of Bailey’s songwriting weapons are on display here, from the casual theft of a ‘70s California staple, a la the Twins song “Lies” lifting the bass line to “Low Rider” (in this song’s case, the victim is Santana’s “Oye Como Va”) to the Alannah Currie-esque backing vocals in the second line of the chorus, to that gargantuan wordless hook in the third line of the chorus. “Whoa whoa-oooo-whooooooooa!” That is vintage, none-more-Bailey right there.
For a band that crashed the charts courtesy of the Big Pop Hit, though, some of the Thompson Twins’ finest moments are the darker, introspective songs, and Science Fiction has a couple of those as well. “Blue” is one of the most heartwrenching songs Bailey’s ever written, with a simple melancholy string line serving as the hook/dagger. This, paired with album closer “Come So Far,” gives the second side of Into the Gap a run for its money in terms of downbeat factor.
For all of Bailey’s accomplishments after having not written a pop song in 20+ years, though, there are times when the lyrical assistance of his ex-wife Currie is missed. Bailey’s lyrics aren’t terrible, but they’re terribly basic, missing that extra level of nuance that the best Twins tunes sported. “Diamond rings, and all those things / They never sparkle like your smile”? As simple (and sweet) as that line is, Science Fiction doesn’t have a moment like that. He seems more focused on getting through the lyrics, rather than coming up with a line that rivals its musical counterpart.
This would explain why there is a song called “Work All Day” (a lazy song title that should never be used again, ever), which features the refrain “Don’t tell me to hold your gun,” with the sound of a gun cocking as a percussive effect. If there’s a duff track here, it’s this one. It comes late in the album, though, and it’s followed by “Bring Back Yesterday” and “Come So Far,” which suggests that even Bailey knew that the listener’s palate needed to be cleansed when the song was over.
That Science Fiction is the work of a man who hasn’t even tried to write a pop song in 20 years is unthinkable. Many of Bailey’s ‘80s-era peers have been trying to write songs this good as far back as 1984, and here he is, 34 years later, besting them at the top of their game. They must be furious.
Started this show late last Saturday after spending the entire day driving back home from Wisconsin. I only had a handful of song ideas. And then BOOM. The show was basically finished before I went to bed.
That has never happened before.
Today’s word class is the preposition! There are TONS of songs that start with them, and I’ve included 25 examples here. And I’m going to do something a little different. I’ve tried keeping my set lists secret, but I was asked to list the bands played, and that seemed harmless, so here we go.
Making their DH debut: Billy Squier, Fleetwood Mac, Green Day, INXS (wait, WHAT?!), Joseph Arthur, The Outfield, Propellerheads, Tin Machine, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Veruca Salt, and The War on Drugs.
Coming back for another tour of duty: Blur, The Boomtown Rats, Cheap Trick, Daft Punk, Depeche Mode, The Divine Comedy, Kirsty MacColl, R.E.M., Robbie Williams, Roxy Music, Simple Minds, Sugarbomb, The Tubes, and Underworld.
Big, super-ultra-mega show this week, as there are scores of song titles that are also questions. And of course, what do I do but practically lead off with a song that I’ve already played. I keep a list of songs played to prevent this very thing from happening, but here we are.
I also also lucky enough to secure a couple of liners/bumpers/whatever those in the biz call them from Dizzy Heights-friendly artists. I’ll give you a hint: one of them, like Jim Kerr, is a fellow Scotsman.
Tons of artists making their DH debuts this week, including The Lonely Island, Jesus Jones, a (killer) brand new song from former Thompson Twin Tom Bailey, Zebra, The Three Degrees, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Tower of Power, Monaco, Love Spit Love, Ben Folds Five (wait, what?), Band of Horses, and Travis (wait, WHAT?).
Under normal circumstances, an artist re-recording songs from their past with an orchestra is a ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’ sort of move, a cynical attempt at giving the fans something “new” while barely lifting a finger. In the case of Midge Ure, Ultravox frontman and co-writer of Saint Bob Geldof’s Band Aid benefit single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the idea of an orchestral album isn’t a question of when, but rather why it took this long for it to happen. Ultravox’s music drips with melancholy – hell, they had a violinist in the band – making his entire catalog fair game for an orchestral album. The question then comes down to, “Well, shit, which songs do we choose?”
When “The Incredibles” hit theaters in 2004, it was arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time (and remains at or near the top of the list to this day). Between the pulse-pounding action sequences and the family story at its core, Brad Bird’s Pixar debut was a game changer on a number of levels. When years had passed without a whisper of talk regarding a follow-up, it made sense. After all, walking in the shadow of that film is a fool’s errand, and yet, everyone still wanted them to try. And here we are.
Once I started soliciting song suggestions for shows, suggestions for show ideas soon followed. When two friends of mine who had never met sent the same idea within a matter of hours (maybe days), that felt like a sign. Songs that name-check famous people. There are tons of those!
Here’s the funny thing, though: there are indeed tons of those and their suggestions were so good and so varied that I only had a handful of them. Leave it to your friends to remind you just how much you have left to learn about whatever it is that you think you know a lot about. This was an exercise in humility, to be sure.
Bands making their Dizzy Heights debuts this week: Van Morrison, The Replacements, MIKA, Gorillaz, Mojo Nixon, Eurythmics (!!!), Donna Summer, Bananarama, and Barenaked Ladies. And I’m pretty sure you know exactly which songs I played from each artist.