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).
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?”
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.
Those who played along when I ran Popdose’s “Name That Tune” roughly a decade ago (*pauses, kneels over, takes a breath when he contemplates that those days were nearly a decade ago*) may see similarities with some of these theme shows that I’ve been doing lately. Yep, I’m recycling, but hey, it’s been ten years or so. I’d like to think that the statute of limitations has long since expired.
Much like the previous shows, I now have at least two more shows’ worth of ____ and ____ material already at my disposal, thanks to my awesome (read: much more knowledgeable) Facebook friends. I am not afraid to admit that the themed shows are better because my friends’ song suggestions are better than mine.
Many of the artists making their Dizzy Heights debuts this week, well, embarrass me, because they should have been played weeks/months ago. See if you can guess which ones I’m talking about: Adam & the Ants, Capital Cities, Death Cab for Cutie, Elle King, Joan Jett, John Mellencamp, The Ramones, Voice of the Beehive, Walter Egan, and XTC. That’s right – nearly all of them.
Time for another edition of Take Your Child to Work Day, though curiously, my employer is not celebrating it this year.
The kids have been itching to do another show, and they’re bringing all of the big hitmakers with them. Demi Lovato, The Weeknd, Muse, Grace VanderWaal and Panic! At the Disco all return to rub elbows with Selena Gomez, P!nk, Portugal. The Man, Charlie Puth, The Chainsmokers, Fergie (God help me), Julia Michaels, and a certain mega female pop star whose name I’m afraid to mention. Listen as the kids re-enact their favorite internet memes, with varying degrees of success. Though it turns out Garrett can do an awfully good Schwarzenegger impression, and his Tommy Wiseau isn’t bad, either.
I am not kidding when I say that I have over 150 suggestions for this theme that I can use in future shows. And that’s now; when the time comes to do a sequel show, I will have even more.
The show’s title speaks for itself: these are songs with numbers in their titles, run through my strange Midwestern Angiophile filter. Lots of early MTV material here, but at the same time, lots of stuff from other eras as well.
Bands making their Dizzy Heights debut this week include Wire, Stereophonics, Robert Plant, Bob Marley, Brewer & Shipley (had to do it), The Clash (!!!!!), George Thorogood, Jack White, The Plimsouls, Prince (!!!!@%^&*@%^&$), and one band that I would like to keep secret until the very end. But that’s enough clues about what lies ahead.
Opening this show up to the “world” (my Facebook friends) is easily the smartest move I’ve made so far. It’s gotten me out of my lane and opened up the format a hundredfold, and taking requests has given my friends a vested interest in the show’s turnout. It doesn’t hurt that my friends have delivered some phenomenal suggestions as well.
This week’s show: adjectives, one word only. There are lots of those, as it turns out, and I now have TONS of leftover songs, so if I didn’t play your song this time, I will most likely get to it next time.
Lots and lots of acts making their Dizzy Heights debuts, including a couple of shockers: 10,000 Maniacs, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Blondie (!) The BoDeans, The Cure (!!!!), Fairground Attraction, The Housemartins, Kerli, Patsy Cline, Skunk Anansie, Sloan, and a female pop superstar whose name I’m afraid to mention for fear the Web Sheriff will come for me.
Programming Note: Dizzy Heights will be on vacation the week of March 29, returning on April 12.