Saturday, March 29, 2014

Geffen Records: Ways To Be Wicked

Our final look at Geffen Records takes us back to 1985 self-titled album by the cowpunk band Lone Justice. I remember listening to the cassette version of this LP quite often in my car back then. Lone Justice was formed in 1982 by vocalist Maria McKee and guitarist Ryan Hedgecock. In a short time, they became the darlings of the musical elite and well known and established artists were attending their shows in Los Angeles.

One of those was Linda Ronstadt who alerted David Geffen about their talent, and Lone Justice was signed to Geffen Records. When in town, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers frequented their shows as well. Additionally, Petty and Mike Campbell contributed their composition “Ways to be Wicked” to cut for their debut album. To round out their involvement, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mick Campbell added their respective talents to record.

Although “Ways to be Wicked” was their second single, it performed as their first. Geffen initially released “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling); however, the company pulled the single in deference to “Ways to be Wicked” in April 1985. In June, Geffen rereleased “Sweet, Baby, Baby” a second time in June 1985.

While I loved it, “Ways to be Wicked” did not perform to anyone’s expectations – the label’s, the band’s, or even mine. What I thought was a great song with a lot of grit, the public felt otherwise. “Ways to be Wicked” peaked on the Hot 100 at 71 and on the album charts at #29. For our final look at Geffen Records, “Ways to be Wicked” serves as our Saturday Bubbling Under Feature.

Art Promoff & the author; 1985 Pop Music Survey Convention in Atlanta
As I close out our look at Geffen Records, I wish to dedicate this entire past week to my friend Art Promoff. During the greater portion of my time in popular music radio, Art was the National Promotions Director for Geffen. Not only was he a business associate, he was a friend. Tragically two days before Art’s 45th birthday in 1996, he passed away. The world lost a man who loved music and life. Art, we all miss you.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Geffen Records: Here Comes The Feeling

The band Asia might be best known as a “super group” of the second generation prog rock bands. Asia was a synthesis of key players from Yes, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Bassist John Wetton was looking to collaborate with some of the key progressive rock players in a new project since the 1974 breakup of King Crimson. It took seven years, however, for a lineup to gel and the band Asia began to fall into place in 1981.

Steve Howe, the guitarist from the classic version of Yes, was brought in along with a more recent Yes alumnus, keyboardist – Geoff Downes. While Asia would be enjoying the fruit of their labor, Downes was also participating in the production of Yes’ 90125 album – a masterpiece in itself. After the collapse of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, drummer extraordinaire, Carl Palmer was also added to the group.

Initially, John Fleischman who had performed with Journey was selected to be the lead vocalist, but he bowed out because he felt that Wetton actually had the better voice. The band was signed to Geffen and their self-titled debut album was a colossal success. The album remained in the #1 slot for nine weeks and was a quadruple platinum release in the US.

A total of six songs from “Asia” were pushed to radio, but only three singles proper were issued: “Heat of the Moment,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and “Sole Survivor.” “Sole Survivor,” while not a Top 40 hit, charted at #10 on album radio and its “B” side, “Here Comes the Feeling,” peaked on AOR radio at #40. This classic Asia tune not only serves as our tribute to Geffen Records, it is our Friday Flipside as well. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Geffen Records: A Million Miles Away

Although formed in 1978 and having recorded for two nationally distributed labels (Planet and Geffen), the band would only have one near miss: “A Million Miles Away.” In fact its appearance in the movie “Valley Girl” and its subsequent popularity spurred the band to rerecord “A Million Miles Away” for their only album on Geffen – “Everywhere but Once.”

Not only am I featuring the song as part of my series on Geffen Records it is also my Thursday Repeats and Threepeats selection, as “A Million Miles Away” was originally released on the independent label Shaky City Records in 1982. The single was issued in both 7 and 12 inch versions.

The popularity of “A Million Miles Away” intensified as the song was included in the movie “Valley Girl” where the band appears to be playing it live. Because of this attention, The Plimsouls rerecorded it for inclusion on “Everywhere but Once.” Released in 1983, “A Million Miles Away” placed at the #11 spot on the album radio charts; however, it failed to generate much interest from the mainstream public. Its dismal peak during the summer of ‘83 was at #82 on the Hot 100 chart.

I loved this song and played it as an album cut at WCIR in Beckley, WV; however, it failed to gain any momentum in our market. Prior to disbanding, the band released one further single: “Oldest Story in the World.” By 1984, front man Peter Case was a solo artist and his excellent debut album was also released by Geffen. These two albums were the sum total of Case’s and The Plimsouls’ contributions to David Geffen’s empire.

The Plimsouls’ sound probably had many influences, but one that comes to mind when listening to “A Million Miles Away” is The Byrds. The 12-string electric guitar and the licks that sound like Roger McGuinn’s work are a dead giveaway. Chances are you’ve never heard this cut by The Plimsouls, and if you had, it’s been nearly like “A Million Miles Away.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Geffen Records: (Just Like) Starting Over

Everything seemed to be going right for John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the fall of 1980. While John had taken off five years from the music business to help raise his son Sean, he continued to write songs and record demos in his home studio. After a sailing trip earlier in the year, John told Yoko that it was time to get back into the studio and record a new album.

The result was “Double Fantasy,” which was a concept album of a husband and wife conversing with each other through song. One of John’s songs would start the album and it would be followed by one of Yoko’s. This was the format for the entire LP from start to finish; however, the critics initially hated it. Lennon picked the first single to be “(Just Like) Starting Over,” as it was his first record since 1975’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” that sported his version of the Leiber, Stoller, and King classic, “Stand By Me.”

The single was released on Geffen Records in the US on October 20 and it began its climb up the charts until it peaked at #6 in December. It was the second single release for David Geffen’s fledgling label. For “(Just Like) Starting Over,” Lennon channeled the styles of Elvis and Roy Orbison with his vocal delivery. It didn’t appear that the single would rise above the #6 slot and the album to #11 – that is until December 8, 1980.

You may not be able to remember where you were between 10:30 and 11:00 PM that evening, but I do. I was working the night shift at WEMM in Huntington, West Virginia. During the evenings, my girlfriend would drive me to the station and take my car to run errands until about 9:00 PM. At that time, she would return to work on her homework in the staff break room while I finished out my shift.

The UPI teletype was located in the break room and she came into master control to tell me that the machine (which had alarm bells) was ringing like crazy. When I pulled the wire copy, we learned that John Lennon had been shot in New York and had been rushed to the hospital – no further details were known. Within a half-hour or so, we learned via the same manner that Lennon had died.

Somewhere I have the wire copy from that evening and a special John Lennon audio tribute that UPI had sent down the phone lines to its stations. That next day, I went to the National Record Mart to buy “Double Fantasy” and any other Lennon album I could find, but only walked away with “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and The Beatles’ compilation “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” as the store had already sold out of many of the other LPs. Strange, I never noticed until now the similarities of those two albums’ titles.

Needless to say, Lennon’s untimely death propelled the single and album sales through the roof. “(Just Like) Starting Over” began climbing the charts again and spent five weeks at the #1 position. “Double Fantasy” followed and was the #1 album for eight weeks. It also won the 1981 Grammy for “Album of the Year.” It is unfortunate that John Lennon’s life had to be snuffed out at the age of 40 – that a great talent had to be taken – and that only through his death would these recordings receive the accolades they deserved.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Geffen Records: Planet P Twofer

Day Three of our look at Geffen Records bring about a twofer from the Planet P Project. The brainchild of Tony Carey, Planet P was an experimental outlet for Carey who was signed at the time to Rocshire Records. Earlier the same year (1983), Carey had a near hit with “I Won’t Be Home Tonight” and he was the opening act for Night Ranger’s tour that spring. I saw both in concert at the Charleston (WV) Municipal Auditorium. We had great seats, but I don’t remember much about Carey’s performance.

Accented by German musicians, Planet P Project moved away from Carey’s pop sound into a new wave/electronica vein. The band’s debut album was its only Geffen release. By 1984, both Carey and Planet P moved to MCA where he had a modicum of success with “A Fine Fine Day” and “The First Day of Summer.” Although other singles were released by Planet P, the band never became a household name.

In 1983, Geffen released two singles from the debut album “Why Me?” and “Static.” “Why Me?” was Project P’s biggest single. While it made it to #4 on the Album Rock charts, it only inched up to #64 on the Hot 100. The opening synthesizer always reminded me of the beginning of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”

Both Carey and Planet P had a following on AOR radio and Geffen released “Static” as the follow-up to “Why Me?” “Static,” however, failed to chart in the Hot 100, but it received enough album play to place at the #24 spot on the rock charts. Good stuff from a little known band from the 80s.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Geffen Records: In Your Eyes

Probably the best concert I’ve seen was Peter Gabriel and Genesis in November 1974 with the “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour at Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque. My appreciation of this show was compounded by a small hall, good seats, fantastic musicianship, and always great theatrics from their then lead singer Peter Gabriel. As we embark on day two of our look at Geffen Records, Peter Gabriel’s third North American single from his quintuple platinum album “So” is today’s feature.

As a medium-fast tempo ballad, “In Your Eyes” doesn’t have the edge of some of his previous hits such as “Shock the Monkey” and “Sledgehammer.” Near its fade, Youssou N'Dour sings a portion of “In Your Eyes’” lyrical content in the West African Wolof language.

“In Your Eyes” had two lives – the initial being its 1986 release when it charted at #26. Three years later, Gabriel’s masterpiece was reanimated by its appearance in Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything . . .” While it was featured twice during the film, the iconic moment is where John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler is holding a boom box playing “In Your Eyes” outside of the window of Ione Skye’s character Diane Court.

With the popularity of the movie, WTG re-released the single in 1989 under license from Geffen. The second release nearly made it to the Top 40 by charting at #41.

“Say Anything . . .” Trailer

The boom box scene was also utilized in the trailer for “Say Anything . . .” Even those who haven’t seen the movie will be familiar with this scene which has often been copied in television.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Geffen Records: Harden My Heart

It’s the fourth week of the month and as always, I feature selections from a particular record label for seven days. I was contemplating what I would feature this week and Geffen Records popped into my mind last Thursday. Many excellent recordings were released in the 1980s on David Geffen’s independent label; however, not all were hits. This week we’ll feature some of my personal favorites.

Geffen was one of the three labels I tried to amass as many recordings in various forms and still have a good collection of LPs, 12 inch singles, and 45s that I gathered in the 80s. Some of the albums were limited Quiex II vinyl releases, which was a better grade of vinyl that Warner Brothers issued to radio and others.

I’ve always been fascinated with the business of music and even at eight years of age I was arranging my record collection by labels and their subsidiary companies and labels they distributed. I know of one other person that did this as well. I stopped doing it when Sire Records changed distribution from Polydor to ABC – and then I realized it was futile to keep doing this.

As for this week’s feature label, it was the brainchild of David Geffen who also started Asylum Records in the early 70s. Geffen released its first single during fall 1980 with Donna Sumner’s “The Wanderer.” It was followed up by John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which was on the charts at the time of his death. More on that cut as well as my personal recollection of the night of his death on Wednesday.

Although an independent label, Geffen was initially distributed by Warner Brothers. When the arrangement with Warners ended in 1990, Geffen sold his label outright to MCA. In 1999, Universal Music Group (formerly MCA) purchased Polygram and Universal spun Geffen, A&M, and Interscope into a single division where the brand resides today.

Today’s feature comes from a Portland area band – Quarterflash and their first single “Harden My Heart.” The band was led by the wife-husband team Rindy (vocals and sax) and Marv (guitars) Ross. Both album and single were released in 1981.

For an unknown band, their debut did quite well as the album charted at #8 and was certified platinum. “Harden my Heart,” a song they had previously recorded under the name Seafood Mama, was a colossal hit making it to #1 on the album charts and #3 on the Hot 100. The song is a staple of ‘80s themed radio even to this day.

I saw Quarterflash at Concord College (now University) while they were getting ready to embark on their second tour. They were fantastic live and great people to meet. The highlight of the show was when they were getting ready to perform their current release “Take another Picture,” and all the band members snapped a succession of Polaroid photographs of the audience. They then tossed these out into a screaming crowd during the performance of the song. Somewhere I have my personal photos from the show, but don’t ask me in which box they currently reside.

Rindy Ross and the author holding the platinum LP with the rest of Quarterflash and some contest winners. My apologies for the out of focus picture.

I was very pleased that Geffen honored me with a platinum album for adding the single as well as its follow-ups “Find another Fool” and “Right Kind of Love” out of the box. When I met the band, I had them autograph the paper on the back of the platinum album. This was the only Geffen award I received during my radio career. I hope “Harden my Heart” brings back some positive 80s vibes for you.