Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's A Wild West Showdown At Martini Ranch

Martini Ranch were a studio project conceived in 1982 by Los Angeles based duo Andrew Todd Rosenthal and Bill Paxton - yep that’s right Bill Paxton - the actor. Martini Ranch has been variously described as avant-garde pop with a twist of new wave pop and jazz fusion elements for good measure. Their influences not surprisingly ranged from Oingo Boingo to Devo to B-52’s - quite a cocktail of musical eclecticism. Don‘t make the same mistake as I almost did and confuse Andrew Todd Rosenthal with Andy Todd of The Chills and later Republica.

They released a their debut album in 1988 titled ‘Holy Cow’. Take one look at the cover art and you have to assume there’s a certain amount of tongue in cheek to this project. But humour aside Martini Ranch does offer up a solid melodic basis in their work. I found that to be the case on the single ‘Reach’ which I found to be so catchy I purchased it on vinyl 45 - not for the comic value but for the song itself. Yes there’s an eccentric aspect to it but at its heart is a solid rock/pop song. I’ve not heard the entire album but it contained a number of quirky and eminently danceable rock/pop numbers - and this was 1988 so why not build on the foundation laid by the likes of Oingo Boingo, Talking Heads, Thomas Dolby etc. I mean who said rock music has to be serious. Martini Ranch did stop short of going to Weird Al Yankovic’s extreme.

The group drew on a wide range of contacts within both music and film industries to contribute to the album, from members of Devo and B’52’s (Cindy Wilson) to actors Bud Cort and Judge Reinhold. Track titles give and insight into the eclectic mix on offer; stand outs include ‘Hot Dog’, ‘Fat-Burning Formula’ and ‘How Can The Labouring Man Find Time For Self-Culture?’, the last featuring three members of Devo (Bob Casale, Alan Myers and Mark Mothersbaugh).

The promo video for the single ‘Reach’ was suitably quirky but yet had that Hollywood sheen that stamped it a cut above the pack. It was directed by none other than James Cameron - talk about a Hollywood heavyweight. Cameo appearances in the video came from Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Jenette Goldstein, Judge Reinhold and Adrian Pasdar. It was a favourite of mine from that year and yes it probably did influence me a bit in going out to buy the single. Sadly, it didn’t influence too many others and neither single or album found a niche on the mainstream charts for Martini Ranch. Judge Reinhold is credited with the ‘Good, Bad & Ugly’ style whistle on ‘Reach’.

The second single ‘How Can The Labouring Man Find Time For Self Culture?’ (very Devo-esque) was also backed by an all-star promo video accompaniment featuring Anthony Michael Hall (who starred with Paxton in 'Weird Science') with cameos from Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton of ‘Terminator’ fame - there’s that James Cameron connection again.

Post Martini Ranch actor/musician Bill Paxton went on to star in a number of hit films, the biggest of course being ‘Titanic’, but ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘Tombstone’ also feature in his extensive filmography. Paxton has also kept his hand in the music biz contributing to a 1993 album by Seattle Men’s Chorus and New Order’s 2005 album ‘Item’. Andrew Todd Rosenthal has continued to be a prolific song-writer, worked in marketing at Del Fi Records and tried his hand at acting and sound editing. In between times he has recorded as one half of M.O.T. (Members of the Tribe).

The following YouTube clip is the full version of the promo-vid for Reach. Following it is the clip for 'How Can The Labouring Man'. This is the way music videos were meant to be made. Enjoy!

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