Posts Tagged ‘Dire Straits’
Me and my pal Adam take a deep dive into Chicago (the band) but not Chicago (the city). We also take a run at Sha Na Na, the Woodstock 1994 PPV broadcast, David Foster, Loose Joints and more.
Adam: “Feeling Stronger Everyday” by Chicago is an awesome song and a current “ear worm”!
A: Listening to Chicago’s Greatest Hits, I am again reflecting on just how different this music is from what I first learned to be Chicago. I wonder what the change was due to? Clearly, there’s a producer’s hand in the way that 1980s music sounds: “Hard Habit to Break”, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry|, etc.” It’s a cleaner, sanitized 1980s sound, I guess: synths and piano, big drums. Cetera’s voice sounds like it’s gone through a mixing panel in some way. The early stuff sounds like people singing into imperfect microphones. This is like Toto’s “Africa”. Going to look up the answers to my questions…
A: Least surprising answer ever: David Foster was the producer to relegate the horn section and crank out the power ballads.Oh course it is now that I listen to it.
A: So let’s say you’re in Chicago, and it seems like your time has past. You’ve been dropped by Columbia and then, this new Canadian producer comes along. You put out this song, your biggest seller of all-time, vastly outselling anything to that point with a sound so different from the band’s sound. This power ballad tripe is the thing you’ll be known for forever, leaving little kids perplexed by who the hell the Chicago guys on the Greatest Hits album were. with that in mind, this song rocks…
C: Chicago had a totally fucked career arch. Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about the band but a great example of a 1960s/early 1970s outfit being totally modified to appeal to the two most lucrative demos of the 1980s: (1) aging baby boomers. (2) little kids. In other words, you and I plus our parents. Their 1980s songs aren’t necessarily bad but are really a weird microcosms of sounds made to not alienate anybody: the fake atmospherics of 10cc, the big ringing choruses of a Def Leppard or Twisted Sister, the inoffensive vocals of a Christopher Cross. All half baked with platitudes as not to spook any listeners since, y’know,, “Saturday in the Park” was a bit too edgy in a ’72 callback. Who the (eff) knows just WHAT the members of Chicago were doing in the park when it felt like it was the goddam 4th of July?!?
C: Is it fair to suggest Lighthouse were the Chicago of Canada???
C: Another theory: If Peter Cetera sung “November Rain” instead of Axl, could that have been an early 1990s Chicago track rather than a Guns N’ Roses track? Think about it. Stylistically and production-wise, “November Rain” and “You’re the Inspiration” aren’t that different.
C: Know the track “Stay the Night”?
C: This sounds like 1980s Chicago trying hard to sound like early 1970s Chicago but they’ve just been totally castrated by the era. A very hollow, half-baked song.
“Street Player”, on the other hand, is awesome! A total “makes sense” disco crossover. This totally works and doesn’t sound forced at all. This isn’t the Stones’ “Miss You” at all. Chicago meant it and they did it. Simple.
C: Personally, I think there’s a ton of disco that is wildly underrated artistically speaking. I’m largely just blowing smoke since I don’t know a ton about the era but a song like Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” is just great. I think the Nile Rodgers/Daft Punk tune from a couple of years ago made people revisit a lot of these old dance floor hits, which is cool. It’s glue for a lot of semi-weird stuff that hit the Top 40 and/or got notice pre- and post-. Yes, Chicago included but also Talking Heads, some Blondie, a very specific Stones period, Bowie (at times), New Order (if you think about it), early techno, beat-heavy NYC rap from 1982, 1983, 1984, Public Image Ltd, music from video games, etc. For sphere of influence, overall, I’d like to hear people talk less about Kraftwerk and more about disco.
C: This is another favourite of mine in the same “convo”: “Love is the Message”. This was a pretty massive hit but still a bit of a WTF for the Top 40. Just an absolutely fantastic tune and so expressive for an instrumental. The awesome horn-filled chorus. Speaks volumes with zero words.
A: That [“Stay the Night”] song and video are irredeemable. Awful.
A: I had no idea “Street Player” was that song! The bomb! Amazing. Disco Chicago!
A: I like disco. At least some of it. It’s funk sped up, mixed with classical arrangements. “Get Lucky” was a perfect song. I love that tune! Last year, we welcomed a new guy on-site at work by playing “Get Lucky” as many times as we could before he said something. We got to 12 plays in a row before he said something.
A: Have I told you how much I like the War on Drugs album?
C: Yeah, I know we’ve talked about it a bit. There’s some mid-period Dire Straits and Petty in there, right?
A: I signed up for Apple Must over the holiday. Actually listening to the album, not just under the pressure. Yes. Love Over Gold-era straits! I’ve figured out that I’m a bit of a hypocrite or at least inconsistent about derivative music. The Sheepdogs? Rip-off artists. But when it’s done in the same spirit of the music, it’s more palatable. The Black Crowes are amongst my favorites and are so Zeppelin. On … Money Maker, it’s unmistakable. And yet, it bothers me when it’s lazy.
C: That’s a great topic!! What do you think of Roxy Music? I love their weird 1972-1975 intro (but not in a snobby “Oh, they were more interested in the Brian Eno days” type fashion). I quite like their easy listening “More than This”/”Avalon” era stuff too. Bryan Ferry is the coolest.
A: Have I also told you how much I hate the term dad Rock? Fuck that. How dismissive is that. We called it classic rock. We were reverential. They’re dismissive.
C: Ever seen [Roxy Music’s] cover of “Like a Hurricane”? Strangely effective. Repurposed with hand drums, synth, sax and back-up singers.
A: OK, getting back to Chicago. According to the radio ads, Chicago has sold more than 100 million album. And I was talking to my mom (who loves Chicago and introduced us to it as kids) about the change in Chicago’s sound. She says “you know what, I’ve never noticed the difference before.” What???
C: Oh mom!
A: She also prefers bubble gum Beatles to serious artist Beatles. She was there at the time. Didn’t like their turn as much as we love it now.
C: Did you see some dude from Sha Na Na died recently? That was a weird band. Kind of the Village People crossed with The Stooges? Very strange they were one of the last bands to play at Woodstock. They represent something I’m very interested in in music: the point when revivalists emerge, people start celebrating the past. Sha Na Na: playing Woodstock and playing 1950s “classics”, sorta tongue in cheek but not really. We weren’t alive to verify but can only imagine they were a total WTF for the long hairs at the time. Stoned hippies, I assume, didn’t want to hear what was happening “down at the Hop”.
A: Bowser? And when they played “At the Hop” at Woodstock, they were dressed as 50s greasers and everything!
C: It’s like they were trying to kill the 1960s by bringing back the 1950s. I feel like I need to watch Woodstock again. Saw it as a little kid (didn’t make sense), maybe again in early 20s (liked some of it but just seemed old) and maybe 7-8 years ago when I was exclusively listening to Kinks, Zombies, Van Morrison, Animals, surf, Pet Sounds, etc. Seems like w/o that movie, the entire trajectory of 1960s music would’ve been remembered differently. Gimme Shelter put the dark spin on things but Woodstock had just about everything. The freaky stuff, mud, drugs, violence (the Who pushing Abbie Hoffman around, etc). It will never stop being mythologized. In a class w/ Kurt Cobain, 2pac and Biggie, the “assassination” of John Lennon.. shit that transcends music in the culture.
C: Curious… do you remember the PPV airing of Woodstock 1994? At 16, that seemed really important culturally. A moment. In retrospect, it wasn’t really. Later, got the double cassette from the BMG Record Club.
C: Aside: I listened to the Marc Maron podcast with Richard Thompson recently. RT went silent when Maron asked about Knopfler. I get It’s been suggested a lot over the years that Thompson copped Mark’s style. Even though RT greatly pre-dated him. Quite strange. A good listen if you can carve out the time. Not super familiar with Thompson but seems like somebody I’d dig if I gave it a chance.
A: I was at camp for Woodstock 1994 and I remember seeing stuff about it in the paper. Love Woodstock. Got the four disc box set when it was released. Price Club CDs. Best deals around for good stuff.
I asked my friend Adam (via Facebook) if he liked Neil Young. What happens next will SHOCK you…
Cam: Do you like Neil Young?
Adam: Yes very much but not as crazily as others. Only seen him twice. “A Man Needs a Maid” acoustic at Massey Hall was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Adam: You ask me questions at times were I can’t adequately answer on an iPhone.
Cam: I was going to ask you to tweet me your ENTIRE thoughts on the Beatles next.
Cam: I’m not a massive fan but I like him. I have this morbid reaction every time he plays Toronto… balking at $80 tickets to see him play his latest song cycle about the electric car or whatever. And then finding out he dies a week after filling the ACC. Similar feelings about Leonard Cohen.
Cam: Is there a particular album or three you’re into?
Adam: Harvest Moon is a slice of perfection for me. straight through. A certain place and time I remember well. That album, then. Getting it, and listening to it all the time. The harmonies. Oh, the harmonies. James Taylor is on there. I had a Nicolette Larson phase, who sang all the harmony on “Comes a Time” (also great, I could go on) and then had her own hits with “Rhumba Girl” and “Lotta Love”. She died early, which was super sad, especially since she’d done an album of lullabies that I had found. but I digress. Nicollete Larson, James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt all do harmonies on the album. It makes me happy all the time. It makes me want to sing along. It’s simple and perfect. “One of These Days” is one of the best songs he ever wrote, and the live version of it from Neil Young: Heart of Gold is something else. How he talks about the letter he’ll write to his old friends, how he feels about them, it’s really beautiful and stirs emotion in me every time.
Adam: My first album was Decade. A great starting point. “Out on the Weekend” and “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and “Tell Me Why” are the shit. Watch this. Greatest thing ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Pf0RkL6lN4. Chrome Dreams II was a fantastic album. I was lucky to see him do the tour live at Massey Hall. Frst half acoustic (people need to shut the fuck up). Second half electric. Awesome.
Adam: Also saw him at the ACC with Wilco opening. Most notably, my first Wilco show. Neil did a really good “Cortez the Killer” if i recall. Show highlight for me. Lowlight is always “All Along the Watchtwoer” because I can’t stand that song, though he wails. Deceptively. you forget that about him because of how soft and gentle he is, then he fucking goes off.
Cam: I like your comments very much. Harvest Moon is interesting because it comes on the heals of “Neil Young in the 1980s” which is almost entirely experimental, “message albums” or both. “Neil in the 1980s” is definitely a massive Rolling Stone article in its own right. I’ll need to go back and give Harvest Moon a deeper listen. There’s something about “Unknown Legend” that rubs me the wrong way, although I think for no real reason. Maybe the concept of desert highways freaks me out a bit.
Cam: You’ve mentioned Tweedy in a few times in past. Seems like for you, he’s one of the few new (i.e. ONLY been around for 25 years) artists who kinda sorta carries the mantle for Bob, Neil, etc? I think I’ve suggested it before but definitely give the War on Drugs’ “Baby Missiles” a listen if you can carve out a few minutes. If only because it kinda sounds like Dire Straits, Petty, Bruce and all that shit squished together. Via Philadelphia somehow. It’s a great song but I guess only time will tell if this guy/these guys are their own thing or a merely vaguely interesting soundalike.
Cam: OK, I’m putting “Journey Through the Past” on my iPod. One thing I really like about Neil is that he’s such a curmudgeon but his lyrics and songwriting is incredibly earnest and when he wants to be, very universal. I’d like to see make one more really vastly acclaimed (and listened to) album before he splits. Maybe his Time Out of Mind? I dunno. He’s got kind of a “Neil being Neil” thing going for the casual observer at this point.
Cam: Strangely, my introduction to Neil was CSNY’s “American Dream”. Primarily, the video. I guess we were around 10 when that came out and I thought it was by somebody akin to Weird Al since the song and video were (apparently) parody. I think for a while, I thought it was Genesis since they had that video with all the puppets in it and… well, I was young and foolish, I guess. It’s interesting to watch the video now and see how prominently Oliver North and Gary Hart factor into it… two fellas that NOBODY ever talks about anymore (let alone sing about). It kinda bothers me Nash is in there poo pooing the “American Dream”. Dude, you’re from Blackpool. Git outta there!!! Git!! Git!!
Cam: I know you never “did” Pearl Jam. What about when Neil was jamming with those guys? I think that Mirrorball album was a bit like “the emperor’s new clothes”. The coolest mainstream band of the day with the baddest mainstream legacy artist. The single “Downtown” was pretty weak and had inane lyrics: there’s a place called downtown/where all the hippies go… downtown/let’s go downtown.
Cam: Just writing this out reminds me of that Seinfeld where George is trying to solve the downtown “riddle” by dissecting the Petula Clark song, famously resulting in the humiliation of a mail room clerk.
Cam: Deer Tick is another new(ish) band that I like to put in iPod playlist with Wilco, Steve Earle, Bright Eyes, the War on Drugs, etc…. kind of real fake country rock, I guess. Not sure I’d draw any parallels with them and Petty, Bob or any of those guys. The Replacements yet. I love the persistent organ on this tune.
Adam: My Other first Neil album was Live Rust. Holy shit, that album blew my mind. His early output is so over the top impressive.
Adam:The opening to “Comes a Time”!!
Cam: Yeah, I certainly gravitated more towards “noisy Neil” when I was a litte guy. I like when he took Sonic Youth on tour and went through “gratuitous noise” phase but it always sounded different when he’d freak out with Crazy Horse because it was coming from a more “bar band” sensibility than pandering to critics or “edgy alternative types”. He could go from noise freak outs, straight up country rock, jamming with Booker T and the MGs and then when he wanted to do something MOR and mainstream, he could drop a Harvest Moon and completely nail it.
I recently reconnected with a high school friend via Facebook, fueled by some past CompletelyIgnored.com pieces. The conversation veered from Dire Straits (within a broader musical universe), the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, ghostwriting, re-casting the Traveling Wilburys, people’s expectations of U2, Roy Orbison’s legacy and how Steve Winwood used to be really popular amongst little kids.
For the sake of this transcript, he shall be “Snake” and I shall be “Fox”.
Here is the conversation…
Snake: Last night, I was watching the Everly Brothers playing with Chet Atkins and friends, wondering how it was that neither Mark Knopfler nor Dire Straits are in Cleveland. It’s a very short arc of thought. I’m a Rolling Stone junkie, but the most I care about RS covers are when they don’t put a legendary and recently deceased musician (Clarence) on it.
Fox: Dire Straits probably would be remembered completely differently if it wasn’t for the “Money for Nothing” video. Rightly or wrongly, he’s always going to be “that guy with the head band who hung out with animated movers” to a lot of people.
Snake: I hate getting nerdish on this like i used to have about Gary Carter being left out of the HOF for seven years inexplicably. Look at the body of work he (ed. either?) put out in the 80’s. His Prince’s Trust presence (he and Clapton on guitar, Elton on keys, Collins on drums)….see, here I go. i think it’s because Dire Straits broke up after the ’92 tour, and his early solo stuff leaned too Celtic at times and was a little underwhelming to have broad commercial success. Perhaps I’d also question who he influenced musically.
Fox: Ooh, here’s another theory: did Mark Knopfler get overshadowed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from late 1970s to early 1990s? Think about the similarities! Both appeared mid/late 1970s, hard to classify (not “classic rock”, not New Wave but enjoyed by hard rock fans, some punks, little kids, critics, etc.), moved seamless into the MTV era by using innovative videos to distract from the fact their singers were weird looking. Petty got the eventual long-term recognition, maybe because he was American and Knopfler wasn’t?!? Parallel: Carlton Fisk overshadowing Gary Carter. Fisk made the HOF in his second year while Kid had to wait six. Makes no sense on paper based on their stats. I’d suggest this was largely fueled by the conscious/subconscious impact of the visual of Fisk waving that ’75 WS home run fair (a series his team DIDN’T EVEN WIN!!) in countless MLB video packages. The true crime is Ted Simmons arguably had a better career than either of them and he was off the ballot in his first year, collecting a scant 3.4 per cent of the vote. Check it: http://bit.ly/1dNH92n
Snake: I resented all the defacto glamour that Fisk got because of that homer. Maybe because Gary played the first part of his career in Montreal? But he was me clutch in New York and was a better defensive catcher.
Fox: Yeah, I think the Carter/Montreal thing was a factor. Similar rationale maybe explains why Dave Winfield was a first ballot HOFer and Andre Dawson took eight tries before he got in? Anyway, I’m working on a kick-ass Bob Boone / The J. Geils Band analogy. Will advise.
Fox: I had no idea Knopfler wrote Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”. Would’ve been (strange) if Dire Straits had done that tune instead (shudder)
Fox: I know. Hadn’t thought of that in a while. Haven’t ever heard him sing it. I imagine it as a pretty straight forward straights tune that has a long instrumental finish. Like a bonus track from making movies.
Fox: Best line from the Wiki entry: “Mark Knopfler considered that they were not suitable for a male to sing“… no (guff)
Snake: He also produced Dylan’s Slow train and played a bunch on Infidels. “Sweetheart Like You” and “Precious Angel” are two or my favorite Knopfler riffs. Knopfler should also get actual points for being part of the Jerky Boys (ed. -style) prank call tape. I gotta hire you first guy! Mark, Mark Knopfler!
Fox: (Darn), forgot about those! Cant recall if I promoted my former blog The Reset Button on Facebook? A recast Travelling Wilburys with Knopfler in the Harrison role?
Snake: Ric Ocasek? That’s Elvis Costello now.
Snake: Check out a song called “When the Beatles hit America” by John Wesley Harding. Very cool line about it sounded a lot like ELO…
Fox: Hmmm. I think you need somebody more obscure in the Jeff Lynne role. less famous than everybody else… but still massively popular within the context of THEIR ELO. Nick Lowe?
Snake: Was reflecting last night while rewatching Rattle and Hum that (it) was the first rock and roll I found myself that I didn’t know if my parents would like. I remember getting the cd single of “Angel of Harlem” at the Towne and Countrye Music World. And then wanting to know who Charles Manson was, and what the hell that meant about stealing the song from the Beatles. It propelled me down that path. Getting the Wilburys tape at 11 was equally significant. A devoted Beatlemaniac, Dylan disciple, and worshiper at the alter of rock and roll.
Snake: Ryan Adams? Though too antisocial.
Snake: Have you watched the Harrison movie? There’s great footage of them messing around in the kitchen writing. Then recording. They were just hanging out.
Snake: How about Tweedy and Jim James?
Fox: Like the Jim James suggestion. Physically, that could work and he’s got that “oh ya, the guy from THAT band” thing going on. I’ve never gone too deep with U2 beyond hearing the singles really but I’m assuming Rattle and Hum is kinda vexing for the fans? They were in basically a no win situation following up The Joshua Tree so whatever they did would seem secondary. But still, does anybody really care about any of those songs anymore? Aside from “All I Want is You” (think that was that album?!?) which was one of the latter singles from the album and yet the one with the biggest legacy. From y’know, weddings ‘n (stuff).
Fox: Will definitely try to track down that Harrison footage. Seems like one of the few legit “super groups” that was at all authentic. And pound-for-pound, has to be the best from a critical/commercial perspective.
Snake: Good call. I remember reading that while The Joshua Tree was massive here and Rattle… a let down, in England, it was the other way around. It really was no win for them. Black and white was kind of pretentious and I recall people thinking that it was kinda naive that they were discovering all this music that had long been around. I don’t feel that way. They were reverential and clearly raised on rhythm and blues. It’s absolutely worth watching. Jim James also works as an Orbison replacement. Because of the high voice.
Fox: In fairness, every video during that era was (A) either black and white (B) shot in an empty arena or bar. Often… both! See: Simply Red “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. Basically, it was essential to have at least one janitor in your video. Unrelated, is there a reason nobody under 55 ever talks about Roy Orbison? I mean, seriously. Best voice, awesome songs, weird image, died young… seems like it’d be a natural for hipsters to namedrop in lieu of Johnny Cash or even Willie Nelson.
Snake: See also that Roy Orbison and friends video, Black and White Night. Empty stadium is a great call. I picture a Bon Jovi video. “Hey let’s save money and record the sound check!” Roy wasn’t cool. At least, I didn’t think he was so much. Maybe the high voice. Johnny have the finger and wore black. Willie smokes weed. Roy had the shades. But was he blind? I feel like he fell into the golden oldies hole of the 70s/80s. Rock and roll fans got bored of their heroes until they got older. I don’t feel like country goes out of style for country fans. Roy also was very one dimensional. Those other guys are outlaws. Roy was the odd man out of the Wilburys too. They just loved him and wanted to be around him. Fanboys.
Fox: Also, in hindsight. think how strange it was that in 1987-1990, music being marketed to little kids (i.e. us) included Roy Orbison, Steve Winwood, Willburys, the Rolling Stone “Steel Wheels”. These were bands that had been around over 20 years already and still in the Top 40. You’d NEVER see that today for a rock band with maybe the exception of the Chili Peppers and (I guess) Foo Fighters.
Snake: It was the baby boomers kids. That was just the pop music at the time. All the heritage acts that came up with new material of any value got their exposure. Remember that the industry likes predictability. They were marketing at us via our parents. Or am I makin this up as I go.
Fox: Yeah, Roy was soft-spoken, quite effeminate, quite possibly blind (or going for a blind look). Remember the “tough” Roy Orbison single “I Drove All Night”? He still sounded wildly precious over top that bad 1980s production (a great song BTW… and obviously, a black and white video)
Fox: Just saw the IMDB for the Harrison doc. Wow, totally missed that. Never heard of it. Was it “a big deal” when it came out? Normally pretty clued into this stuff.
Fox: You’re also right about marketing to baby boomer kids via actual baby boomers. I mean, record execs were all “hey, the keyboard player from the Spencer Davis Group… these eight-year olds are gonna eat this (stuff) up!!!”
Fox: Ha! Maybe he’s cooler than I thought. The missed opportunity for his publicist was “In Dreams” appearing in Blue Velvet. Between that, Nick Cave covering “Running Scared”, Wilburys and Mystery Girl plus that b+w special, he was on the comeback. And then he died.
Snake: It’s really wonderful. Can’t say enough good about it. Doesn’t feel like Scorsese. Kinda like no direction home. If you subscribe to Beatlemania as the one true religion (or if you just thought George was awesome) watch it. Was on the box when it came out and I got the DVD for my birthday. There is a lot of insight into that in the movie. You’ll eat it up.
Fox: Will definitely check it out. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a music doc and really know nothing about GH besides the basic and the Weird Al parody “This Song is Just Six Words Long”.
Snake: I remember the first time I heard “Roll with It”. He was so cool. Plus back in the high life was a great album. He was really young with the Spencer Davis group and was still young and hip in the 80s. He had an album called arc of a diver in the early 80s with a great song called night train. Think too about how the boomers would love the whole concept of back in the high life. Also, a great great cover of that tune by Warren Zevon. Love Winwood.
Fox: I had Back in the High Life and Roll With It. Both on cassette from Columbia House!!! My Winwood arch…. 1986-1989: love him when I was 9-12…. 1990-1993: quit music fandom to become a full-time sports nerd… 1994-2001: MLB goes on strike, get really into indie rock, pretend that I never knew Winwood existed (much less owned the albums)… 2002-present: get burned out on indie, listen to only 1960s music for two years, read somewhere Jimi Hendrix was scarred (senseless) of Windwood’s musical chops, realize the Spencer Davis Group were awesome.
Snake: He was a fascinating guy. It’s awesome.
Snake: That’s a wonderful arch. Very funny.