Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nervous Nights For All You Zombies - The Rise Of The Hooters

For a couple of years during the mid 80s, the Philadelphia based pop-rock band Hooters found themselves flirting with the edges of genuine rock superstardom, only to fade from the spotlight almost as quickly as they had arrived. But though one monster album and a handful of hit singles have been enough to give them a lasting place in the collective memories of most who witnessed and absorbed the 80s era of popular music, there is much more to the Hooters’ tale.

At the core of the Hooters were the songwriting team of Eric Bazilian (vocals/guitar/mandolin) and Rob Hyman (vocals/keyboards/hooter), who had played together previously in an outfit called Baby Grand. Baby Grand had recorded two low key albums on the Arista label but broke up late in 1978. Bazilian and Hyman continued to work together and then formed the Hooters during 1980, recruiting John Lilley (guitar), Bobby Woods (bass) and David Uosikkinen (drums) into the line-up. The band took their name from the nickname of Hyman’s keyboard-harmonica instrument, also known as a ‘melodica’, which would contribute to the Hooters signature sound (I wonder how the ‘Melodicas’ would have worked as a band name). Their rootsy blend of pop and folk-rock, laced with ska and reggae influences, quickly gained them a strong following in their home city of Philadelphia, and before long across the U.S. East Coast. They released a single during 1981 titled ‘Fightin’ On The Same Side’ (featuring the B-side ‘Wireless’ which was a dedication to the memory of Bob Marley), and followed this up with a live single release in early 1982 of an April ‘81 performance of a song called ‘All You Zombies’.

Whilst continuing to establish a strong live following and writing songs for a planned Hooters’ album, Bazilian and Hyman worked with Cyndi Lauper during 1982 on her debut album ‘She’s So Unusual’. They worked as arrangers, musicians and backing vocalists, and also wrote Lauper’s future #1 hit ‘Time After Time’. The multi-platinum #1 album was produced by Rick Chertoff, who had played with Hyman and Bazilian in Baby Grand.

In 1983 the Hooters released their debut album ‘Amore’ on the independent Antenna label. The album featured an early studio version of ‘All You Zombies’ and the band’s earlier single ‘Fightin’ On The Same Side’. During its initial run ‘Amore’ sold over 100,000 copies making it one of the biggest selling independent releases in the U.S. during 1983. When it was eventually released on CD twenty years later, the album also included a live version of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ (originally featured as the B-Side to the group’s 1987 single ‘Johnny B’), and the track ‘Man In The Street’ which was the very first Hooters song to receive airplay on commercial radio. Bassist Rob Miller was on board during this period but was replaced by Andy King during 1984.

With Bazilian and Hyman’s key involvement in Lauper’s album, and the warm reception offered the album ‘Amore’, the Hooters were signed to a major record deal with Columbia Records in July 1984. Their major label album debut ‘Nervous Night’ was released in the first half of ‘85. The lead out single was a re-worked version of ‘All You Zombies’, a powerful song that borders on an epic album track, which features brilliant lyrics tying Biblical references to contemporary socio-political issues. ‘All You Zombies’ was only a minor hit on the U.S. Hot 100 (#58), but regular airplay pushed it to #11 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. It also broke the Hooters in Australia, debuting on the charts during August ‘85, and eventually peaking at #8. ‘All You Zombies’ was backed by one of my favourite music videos of the mid 80s, featuring the band playing in an industrial complex intercut with stark imagery relating to the song’s themes.

As both single ‘All You Zombies’, and album ‘Nervous Night’ were finding their feet on the charts, the Hooters found themselves as the first band to appear on the Philadelphia concert leg of the historic Live Aid event in July 1985. The follow up single ‘And We Danced’ displayed a more high energy and upbeat side to the Hooters sound. The song peaked at #21 in the U.S. and became the Hooters’ biggest hit in Australia, climbing to #6 in late 1985. The band again came up with a clever promo video, that featured them playing at a local drive-in theatre venue. ‘Day By Day’ was released in late ‘85 and soon became the Hooters only U.S. top 20 hit (#18), surprisingly only reaching #55 in Australia in early ‘86. The popularity of the first three singles helped push the album ‘Nervous Night’ to a high of #12 on both the U.S. and Australian charts (eventually going on to sell over two million worldwide). The album yielded one more top 40 hit in the U.S., with ‘Where Do The Children Go’ (#38) featuring backing vocals from Patty Smyth (see previous Scandal post). The Hooters were named by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘Best New Band Of The Year’ for 1985, as well as a swag of other awards.

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