Monday, March 4, 2013

The Starstruck Jo Kennedy

During my teenage years there were a number of songs that, though I loved them at the time, seemed to fade to the periphery of my mind as 20s became 30s became…well, you get the idea.  But these songs never disappeared, as there would continue to be fleeting moments of a tune, a lyric here, a chorus there, and I would be lured back to thinking about how much these tunes meant to me, the energy, the vibrancy they embodied.  And over time I’ve tracked each and every one (well most) to obtained as pristine a copy as I could locate.  A lot of these songs have been by Australian (or Kiwi) artists, and occasionally I’ve managed to stumble across a compilation of rare hits, or a reissue of a seemingly long lost album.  One such uncovered treasure, which took me nearly 20 years to happen upon is the track ‘Body And Soul’, by female vocalist Jo Kennedy.

In 1982, the Australian motion picture ‘Starstruck’ was released in cinemas across the country early that year.  Australian cinema was in a healthier state in the early 80s, well healthier than it is in the 20teens.  Directed by Gillian Armstrong, it was a quirky musical, with more comic than dramatic moments.  Essentially the plot of the film centres around a search for fame and fortune as a singer, as pursued by the character Jackie Mullens, and her cousin Angus, both of who frequent the pub owned by her family.  Angus enters Jackie in a talent competition called the ‘Wow! Show’, and if she wins not only will it be her big break into showbiz via a showcase performance at the Sydney Opera House, but she can rescue the family pub from closure with the $25,000 prize money.  Needless to say she wows the judges and audience, and her dreams of being discovered come true, with a detour or two along the way.  Jo Kennedy played the role of Jackie Mullens, who breaks into song frequently throughout the film’s numerous musical numbers - she’s not the shy retiring type.  The two standout musical numbers are a performance of ’Body And Soul’ all the regulars at the family pub, and ’Monkey In Me’ during the New Year’s eve concert/talent show.  Most of the movie’s charms lay in the musical numbers, though there are sufficient laughs from the many and varied eccentric characters along the way.  Along with the Angels’ Graham ’Buzz’ Bidstrup as band director, and producer Matk Moffatt overseeing Jo Kennedy’s performances, the music coordinator on the film was one Phil Judd, ex of New Zealand music legends Split Enz.  Judd’s band at the time, The Swingers (see future post), also appear in several of the film’s music sequences, including performing the title song during the end concert sequence.

But the Split Enz connections didn’t end with Judd’s involvement.  The song Jo Kennedy sings to take out the talent competition, ‘Body And Soul’, was written in the non-cinematic world by one Tim Finn.  Originally titled ‘She Got Body, She Got Soul’, the track appeared on the 1979 Split Enz album ‘Frenzy’.  The Jo Kennedy adaptation also featured vocals from, then Mondo Rock front man, Ross Wilson.  The film ‘Starstruck’ enjoyed moderate box office success, and was spruiked on Countdown by Molly Meldrum - it was a rarity for contemporary Australian popular music to be featured in a big screen vehicle.  Jo Kennedy also appeared on Countdown, helping to propel the Mushroom released ‘Body And Soul’ to a chart high #5 in mid ‘82 (spending 19 weeks on the charts).  The follow up single, ‘Monkey In Me’ didn’t climb higher than #76, but saw Jo Kennedy sit comfortably on the charts for another 22 weeks.  The soundtrack to ‘Starstruck’ also impressed film goers and music aficionados sufficiently to elevate the album to #13 nationally during mid ‘82.

As featured in the film, enjoy the video clip for ‘Body And Soul’ by Jo Kennedy.

In The Nick Of Time

From time to time, whilst rummaging through a mountain of pop classics, I’ll rediscover a gem that’s been hiding away for longer than it should have.  One such nugget of delicious pop is the 1978 hit ‘Hot Child In The City’, recorded by one Nick Gilder.  After sampling the smooth, soulful song, I decided to dig a bit deeper into the career of the artist behind the hit.  What follows is the result of that casual investigation.

Nick Gilder was born in London during 1951, and at age ten emigrated to Vancouver, Canada.  His teenage years were spent attending a technical college, but a love of music saw Gilder move towards a career in a band.  In 1971, he formed a band with friend and guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (not of Thunderclap Newman or Wings fame) under the cheeky title Sweeney Todd.  The glam rockers enjoyed limited success in their native Canada, but in 1975 released their eponymous debut album (CA#14) on the London Records label.  The release of the Sweeney Todd single, ‘Roxy Roller’ (written about groupies), initially met with little success.  Around the same time both Gilder and McCulloch left Sweeney Todd, due to the well worn path of internal bickering, and the duo decided to try their lucky across the border in the U.S., setting up base in Los Angeles.

Gilder and McCulloch signed to the Chrysalis, which saw the potential in some of the power pop songs the duo had penned together.  The period coincided with their former label London Records releasing the single ‘Roxy Roller’ again, with a new vocalist, but using the original backing track.  Suffice to say when Chrysalis got wind of it they slapped an injunction on it, effectively banning further airplay of the single, but not before the Sweeney Todd version had charted in Canada during 1975.  Chrysalis then had Gilder record a new version of the song for U.S. release, whilst a completely new version was released in Canada by a new Sweeney Todd lineup.  A good recipe for lawyers, but the whole episode did little sales for any of the versions of ‘Roxy Roller’, though the Nick Gilder version did chart in Australia in early ‘77 (#29), following on by an original Gilder track, ‘She’s A Star (In Her Own Right)’ (#71) had flirted with chart success a few months earlier in Canada - both tracks lifted from Gilder’s debut solo album ’You Know Who You Are’ (including re-recorded Sweeney Todd material & produced by Stuart Alan Love).  But it wouldn’t be long before Nick Gilder would become a star in his own right, and people would know who he was.

During 1977, Gilder and his label attempted to arrange acclaimed Beatles’ producer George Martin to oversee production on Gilder’s sophomore album.  When schedules couldn’t be aligned, producer Mike Chapman (Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Smokie) stepped in to fill a breach.  Chapman had already enjoyed massive success producing acts in Britain, and was about to have his stamp of production dominate the U.S. charts.  All of the tracks for the album ‘City Nights’ (CA#13) had been written by Gilder and his song writing partner Jimmy McCulloch.  Initially the pair felt the album track ‘All Because Of Love’ should be the lead out single, but the suits at Chrysalis felt another song should be chosen, and for once they made the better judgment call.

The song they chose was a sultry, slow burning pop-rock track whose subject matter was a lot darker than the mood of the track might suggest.  Singer Nick Gilder explained the theme of the track ‘Hot Child In The City’ to Rolling Stone magazine.  Essentially it told the tale of runaway teenage girls, sold into prostitution and drug use, as relayed from the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles night life, all told through the medium of ‘an innocent pop song’.

‘Hot Child In The City’ was released in mid ‘78, and by late June regular airplay had pushed the song into the Billboard Hot 100.  But the single, in the nature of its sound, would prove a slow burner up the U.S. charts.  It would take all of 20 weeks for ‘Hot Child In The City’ to find a home atop the Billboard Hot 100, during the week ending 28 October 1978 (the longest ascent to #1 in the history of the Billboard charts to that time).  Interestingly, the song it replaced atop the charts was ‘Kiss You All Over’ by Exile (see previous post), another in the production stable of Mike Chapman, who was just about to dominate the U.S. charts in similar fashion to the U.K.  Nick Gilder’s stay at the summit was brief, as the very next week Anne Murray’s ‘You Needed Me’, offered a more innocuous subject matter in place of ‘Hot Child In The City’.

The success of ‘Hot Child In The City’ went further than a #1 hit, as at the time it became the biggest selling single in the U.S. for the Chrysalis label, and remained so until overtaken by Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ in 1980.  It also went to #1 in Gilder’s home country Canada (OZ#18), but chart success eluded Gilder in his native Britain.

The follow up single (I’d like to see you follow that), ‘Here Comes The Night’ (CA#21/US#44) predictably made only a fraction of the chart ripple that its predecessor did.  Gilder went back into the studio in early ‘79 to record his next album, but when ‘Frequency’ (CA#79) was released listeners had already tuned into another frequency.  Although, the single ‘(You Really) Rock Me’ (CA#35, US#57, OZ#95) did rock the upper reaches of the charts, albeit fleetingly.  Predictably, Gilder and his label Chrysalis parted ways following the lacklustre sales of his last album.  Casablanca Records offered a recording lifeline in 1980, and the album ‘Rock America’ (co-produced by Gilder) surfaced later that year, along with the singles ‘Wild Ones (Feeling Electric)’ (CA#22) and ‘Catch 22’ (CA#26).  Gilder recorded two more albums during the 80s, 1981’s ‘Body Talk Muzik’, and a 1985 eponymously titled set, which realised the last charting singles for Nick Gilder, ‘Let Me In’ (CA#50), and ‘Footsteps’ (CA#95), in his native Canada.  Gilder continued to write and record music, and a number of his tracks have been recorded by artists such as Bette Midler and Pat Benatar.  The 1984 hit ‘The Warrior’, recorded by Scandal featuring Patty Smyth (see previous post), was co-written by Gilder.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Smash Heart Of Glass

1979 saw the disco movement at its peak, and conversely also about to be pushed over that peak and crushed beneath the weight of the opposing ‘new wave’ and ‘post punk’, movements.  New York outfit Blondie were one of the flag bearers for the ‘new wave’ movement, and so it seemed a little counter intuitive for the six piece outfit to offer up what was, for all intents and purposes, a disco song.  But therein lay the genius of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri, Nigel Harrison, Frank Infante, and Clem Burke.

Written by Harry and Stein, and lifted from the band’s multi-platinum 1978 album ‘Parallel Lines’ (US#1, OZ#2, UK#1) the single ‘Heart Of Glass’ (OZ#1/US#1/UK#1) would not only challenge the (arguably) vacuous disco scene, but single handed hijack the genre.  The album was produced by prolific control room operator Mike Chapman (see previous posts The Knack, Racey), and the glossy production shone throughout on other hits such as the no nonsense rocker ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ (OZ#39,UK#5) and the more sultry ‘Picture This’ (OZ#88/UK#12).  But it would be ‘Heart Of Glass’ which would indelibly stamp its signature beat and rhythm line on the minds of every commercial music listener of the era, indeed beyond.  The success of ‘Heart Of Glass’ also in part owes something toward the music video, shot in the famous Studio 54, and featuring the iconic image of Debbie Harry centre stage.

More on the evolution of Blondie, and solo career of Debbie Harry, but for now enjoy the irresistible lure of ‘Heart Of Glass’ (the 'Studio 54' version and Top of the Pops, featuring Chris Stein as a 'disco Beatle')

Handle With Care

I don’t consume as much commercial radio as once I did, but  I still find that it’s sometimes ‘better than the stereo’ (see previous Members’ post).  Though I still have an appreciation for some of the contemporary fare on offer, I do have a penchant for the aural timewarp served up by classic hits radio  One such nugget of commercial gold that recently jogged the memory, and put a smile on my dial, was ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’ by Glass Tiger, a song that first hit the airwaves in Australia almost 27 years ago.

It’s safe to say that Canada has produced more than its share of successful popular music acts, particularly during the 1980s (see evidence contained within previous Retro Universe posts - eg. Men Without Hats, Rough Trade, Chilliwack, Martha & the Muffins etc.).  One such Canadian act to break internationally was the Ontario based pop-rock quintet Glass Tiger.  During the summer of ‘84 (not so long after the summer of ‘69), a young band from Newmarket, Ontario found themselves in Toronto performing as the opening act for Culture Club.  Less than a year previous, the quintet of Alan Frew (vocals), Sam Reid (keyboards), Al Connelly (guitar), Wayne Parker (bass), and Michael Hanson (drums), had put a band together, originally called Tokyo.

Such was Tokyo’s reputation as a vibrant live act, that soon a bidding war broke out between record labels, eager to sign the band.  By 1985, Capitol (Manhattan) had brokered a deal and obtained the signatures of five talented musicians.  But before proceedings went any further, the quintet renamed themselves Glass Tiger.

The lads soon found themselves working alongside acclaimed producer/songwriter Jim Vallance (worked with Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart to name a few).  By mid ‘86, the collaboration had a collection of eleven pop-rock gems, ready to be unleashed upon the pop music world.  The brightest of the gems lifted from the ‘Thin Red Line’ album was a lively little track called ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’.  In addition to the tight, surging sounds of the core quintet, and the guest vocals of Canadian rock superstar Bryan Adams, the song also featured a bold, bombastic brass backing, which elevated it beyond a straight out pop-rock piece, and imbued it with a soulful edge.  Both single and album rocketed up the Canadian charts, ‘Thin Red Line’ setting a record at the time in Canada for notching up the fastest gold accreditation on the Canadian charts by any debut act.

Like so many Canadians before them, Glass Tiger also broke into the massive U.S. market just across the border.  ‘Thin Red Line’ surged into the US Top 10 (OZ#77), and set up camp at #1 in Canada (where 4 x Platinum sales were achieved).  The fuel behind the rocket like performance came via the initial single ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’, which established itself in a very memorable #1 on the Canadian charts, #9 in Australia, and #2 in the U.S. (it ranked as the #42 biggest Billboard hit for 1986).  The band filmed two music videos for ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’, one for the Canadian market, and one for international release.  It’s safe to say that both, when viewed retrospectively, have a certain cringe factor, mostly provided by all manner of mid 80s hairstyles, but then that’s also part of the nostalgic appeal.

‘Thin Red Line’ yielded four more charting singles, the mellow ‘Someday’ (OZ#97, UK#66, US#7, CA#14), ‘Thin Red Line’ (CA#19, OZ#91), ‘You’re What I Look For’ (CA#11), and ‘I Will Be There’ (CA#29, US#34).  Needless to say, Glass Tiger dominated the Juno’s (Canadian music awards), for both 1986 and 1987.  The band hold the honour of winning ‘Single of the Year’ awards in two consecutive years, for songs released from the same album (‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’ and ‘Someday’).  Glass Tiger also notched a Grammy Award nomination for ‘Best New Talent’, and went on a jaunt around Europe in support of Tina Turner during 1987.

Like so many before them (and since) Glass Tiger found matching the monumental success of their debut album a bridge (or riff) too far.  But in their sophomore album ‘Diamond Sun’ (CA#1), the band at least managed to remain near the toppermost of the poppermost on the Canadian scene.  The double platinum 1988 album yielded for Canadian hits; ‘I’m Still Searching’ (CA#2), ‘Diamond Sun’ (CA#5), ‘My Song’ (CA#19 - featuring Irish band The Chieftains), and ‘(Watching) Worlds Crumble’ (CA#27).  Only one of the hit singles quartet managed to crack the U.S. Billboard charts (‘I’m Still Searching’ - US#31).  Soon after the release of ‘Diamond Sun’, one of the Glass Tiger cubs, drummer Michael Hanson, left the group.  But Glass Tiger didn’t shatter, and opted to carry on as a quartet.

What may have seemed a simple mission, turned into a three year odyssey, at it took Glass Tiger that long to write and record the 1991 album ‘Simple Mission’.  The first single lifted from the set re-established the band’s Canadian chart credentials, with ‘Animal Heart’ pulling the heartstrings at #4.  The love them continued with ‘Rhythm Of Your Love’ (CA#8), both singles helping to land ‘Simple Mission’ at #1 on the Canadian album charts.  The albums third single, ‘My Town’, was a beautiful crafted Celtic styled duet with rock legend (and sometimes producer Jim Vallance cohort) Rod Stewart.  ‘My Town’ shone with appeal that took the single to #8 in Canada, and #33 on the British charts.  Not that Glass Tiger needed any rescuing at that point, but the fourth single ‘Rescued (By The Arms Of Love)’ (CA#8) rounded out a classy quartet of single releases.

It’s surprising then that ‘Simple Mission’ proved to be the last full studio release from the Canadian outfit.  In 1993 a ‘best of’ compilation, titled ‘Air Time’, reinfused Canadian airwaves with the best Glass Tiger had produced during the previous seven years.  But aside from the new single ‘Touch Of Your Hand’ (CA#34), and limited touring, the 90s has seen the last of Glass Tiger, the band effectively going on a long hiatus for the remainder of the decade.  Singer Alan Frew (solo albums) and the other core members worked on other projects.  By the mid 00s, Glass Tiger, like so many of their contemporaries, couldn’t resist the lure of reforming.  A retrospective album, ‘No Turning Back’, belief its name and invited listeners to turn back to a golden era for the band, who also hit the tour circuit, reminding themselves and nostalgia seeking audiences just how good they really were back in the day (resulting in a ‘Live’ set).

According to the band’s website, Glass Tiger are still performing, albeit on  an infrequent basis.  And doubtless several generations are enjoying the experience.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's A Kind Of Magic

In mid 1982, blues/rock guitar impressario Steve Miller cast a spell over the Australian charts with the silky smooth 'Abracadabra', lifted from the Steve Miller Band album of the same name.  For two weeks the song weaved its magic at #1 and held at bay the roar of Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger' (see previous posts), in the process helping to push the source album to #5.  The U.S. became spellbound also by 'Abracadabra', which ascended to the summit of the Billboard charts for two weeks during September of '82, delivering Miller his third American chart topper ('The Joker' - 1973, 'Rock 'N Me' - 1976).  The U.K. managed to resist the track's charms, but only after it had levitated to #2.  The accompanying music video was a highlight, not only of my teenage years, but of the entire MTV generation.

The follow up single 'Keeps Me Wondering Why', though a personal favourite of this author, didn't manage to ride the wave of success 'Abracadabra', which remains the high water mark of singles chart success for the Steve Miller Band

More to come on the Steve Miller Band.