The love-as-a-drug metaphor doesn’t get anymore potent or direct than on the classic 1970s soul hit “Stoned Out Of My Mind” by the Chi-Lites. Led by the honey dripping tenor-falsetto of Eugene Record, who wrote most of their tunes, Chicago’s own sweet soulsters likened a bad relationship with a femme fatale to a drug or drinking binge. The results were a propulsive, horn-laden classic that made it to #2 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1973.
“Stoned” was such a quietly influential classic, in fact, that when Paul Weller was at the height of his Soul & R&B obsessions with The Jam he chose to cover it for the B-side to the band’s last single, “Beat Surrender,” in 1982. The result was a a more suave take on the original with Weller’s lowered pitch and cool to the point of almost lounge-y delivery giving the song a completely different yet pleasingly smooth vibe.
The Chi-Lites’ original has more grit and funk and The Jam’s cover more polish and finesse. Take your pick — either version is about as good of a “love is a drug” song as there is in the pop canon.
This old Big Country song from their remarkable Steeltown album way back in 1984 has been going through my head on repeat to start 2017. The late, great Stuart Adamson certainly had a way with a socially conscience anthem.
Aside from the more charismatic elements of the subject it definitely reminds me of someone today. Can’t quite put my finger on it but it’ll come to me, I’m sure…
When the great comic actor Gene Wilder passed away on August 29th at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s it felt just as though a favorite eccentric uncle had died. (The New York Times obituary is here.) For those of us who grew up in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s Wilder left an indelible impression. If you enjoyed funny movies in the least (and really, who doesn’t?), Wilder was one of the joys of the cinema during that period, all the more so because there was nobody before or since who quite possessed his unique blend of neurotic mania and soulful mensch-ness. Even when Wilder was portraying a character a little bit naughty, like Leo Bloom in the original The Producers, the unpredictable Willy Wonka of chocolate factory fame, a descendent of Victor Frankenstein compelled to pursue the same macabre obsessions as his infamous grandfather or a wrongly convicted con alongside his great comedy partner Richard Prior in Stir Crazy, Wilder always seemed to juxtapose a sweetness with his delightfully manic outbursts.
After studying acting at the Old Vic in England and the HB Studio in New York, the Milwaukee-born Wilder first came to wide attention with a small but impactful role in Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn’s seminal Bonnie and Clyde (1967), interrupting the film’s otherwise grim narrative with a burst of humor as a rather eager and happy hostage. But his major breakthrough came a year later in Mel Brooks’ all-time classic, the hysterically funny The Producers. As the nebbishy and neurotic Leo Bloom, Wilder was perfectly matched with the bigger-than-life, morally bankrupt has-been theater producer Max Bialystock, played to the hilt by the peerless Zero Mostel. Amidst the side-splitting opening sequence, as Bloom is abruptly initiated into Bialytsock’s crazy world when he comes to do the producer’s accounting books, it is Bloom who conceives of the idea of raising much more money than needed for a production so bad that it is doomed to close on opening night, thereby allowing the surplus cash to be kept. Bialystock runs with it, coercing Bloom to be his accomplice. They then find a fantastically wretched play called “Springtime for Hitler” and the rest is cinematic comedy history.
His next major role was as the title character in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though not a major hit at the time it became a cult classic with some likening it to a latter day Wizard of Oz, a film that works as both a kids’ movie and something more profound, and Wilder’s influence can be seen throughout in his unique bits of improvisation and inspiration. Johnny Depp was good in the remake but it’s hard to think of anyone other than Gene Wilder as the definitive Willy Wonka, especially when delivering his unexpectedly poignant song, “Pure Imagination.”
He was drafted again by Brooks, as a last minute replacement no less, for 1974’s screamingly funny Western satire, Blazing Saddles. Against type, Wilder played a laconic gunman with a drinking problem given renewed purpose by his fast friendship with the town’s besieged new black sheriff, played by Clevon Little. As if that wasn’t enough comedy gold, that same year Brooks and Wilder collaborated on the brilliant Young Frankenstein, a masterpiece that was Wilder’s concept and that he co-wrote. Filmed in beautiful black and white as an elaborate sendup of 1930s Universal-style horror, Young Frankenstein became a classic in its own right with an unparalleled ensemble cast — including Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars and newcomers Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle — and pitch perfect direction and screenplay. It stands as one of the great collaborative movies of all time and is arguably both Brooks and Wilder’s best work.
1976 saw a magical bit of good casting as Wilder was paired with Richard Pryor for the first time in Silver Streak. Alongside the wonderful Jill Clayburgh in this very good, very funny comedy-thriller about murder and mayhem aboard an LA-to-Chicago train, the two men made cinema history as the first bi-racial comedy duo and audiences loved their unlikely, yin-yang chemistry. As a result, Wilder and Pryor would make three more films together, 1980’s excellent prison comedy Stir Crazy(directed by Sidney Poitier!), the underrated See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and finally Another You in 1991 when Pryor was already greatly diminished by multiple sclerosis.
Wilder found another impactful partnership when he met Gilda Radner on the set of 1981’s Hanky Panky. The two became comedy royalty when they married in 1984. But the relationship ended tragically when Radner passed away in 1989, a victim of ovarian cancer. This loss inspired Wilder to establish an early detection center in Los Angeles, as well as co-founding Gilda’s Club in New York City, a non-profit support group for cancer patients and their families that now has branches throughout the United States (where it is now known as the Cancer Support Community) and Canada. Wilder found love again when he met Karen Webb while working on See No Evil and they married in 1991. They remained together until his death, a much longer if less romanticized relationship than his union with Gilda Radner, so spare a thought for Ms. Webb at this sad time as well.
Though Gene Wilder had largely retired from acting since the early 1990s, instead concentrating on writing, the importance of his best work grew over the years as his special films became part of the greater pop cultural and comedy firmament. That makes it extra difficult to lose such an original actor who got the laughs because he played his characters so truthfully, one who was always so audaciously alive and vibrant on screen. For those of us who grew up with his movies it feels as if we’ve lost a very funny older friend, one we could turn to for a guaranteed laugh no matter how the world was treating us. But we must also remember that Gene Wilder lived a wonderfully full life, was a truly good man and left a massively joyful contribution to the world that survives him via his films. And if we’re being just a little sentimental, it’s not hard to imagine Gene reunited with Richard and Gilda and Marty and Peter and Kenny and Madeline someplace special, cutting up with them all again, his explosive, utterly contagious laugh ringing out through the ether in the company of fine old friends.
Third up in January we return to those indispensable Rolex tool watch roots by offering this fantastic circa 1984 Rolex ref. 5513 Submariner, one of the all-time classic Vintage Rolex with one of the earlier appearances of the famous gloss/white gold surround dial. Last of the plastic Rolex Subs, this 5513 is in Excellent overall vintage condition and the beautiful dial is Near Mint (and that’s only because I’m a real tough grader!).
This dial is extremely glossy and has developed a lovely patina to the original Tritium luminous plots. Better yet, the hands actually match the dial plots in tone, something that is really hard to find on these gloss/WG 5513s due to so many of the handsets being replaced over the years. Simply stunning patina on this Sub!
Also cool is that the original bezel insert is a late Fat Font version not the more prevalent thin style from the late 80s. And this great Sub also comes on its original 93150 Heavy Oyster bracelet with correct 580 ends, the true business partner of any late Submariner with it’s purpose built diver’s flip lock clasp and wetsuit extension, two innovations pioneered by Rolex.
Adding to the overall value, this great Rolex has also just been fully serviced and so is ready to rock and roll for many more years, whether you’re on land or sea. Strap it on and see where this classic Submariner takes you. With a dive watch this tough yet stunning, it’ll likely be straight to the top.
As time passes, it becomes clearer that Peter Gabriel was a victim of his own massive success. After being a cult figure as leader of the pre-Phil Collins/pre-Top 40 Genesis, immediately after leaving the group he produced some of the more intriguing and idiosyncratic music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. His uniquely theatrical, art house style seemed to find its climax in the catchy but weird “Shock the Monkey” and its improbably popular video coming right at the dawn of the MTV revolution circa 1982. Surprisingly, though, Gabriel had something even bigger up his sleeves. Just a few years later, in 1986, he unleashed the bona fide mainstream smash hit album So, which featured a plethora of hit singles & videos, including the omnipresent all-time number one most-played MTV video, “Sledgehammer”. Produced by then-U2 helmsman du jour Daniel Lanois, it’s no hyperbole to say that So became a touchstone for a generation. Its pop culture impact was confirmed when a young John Cusack used the hyper-romantic “In Your Eyes” to woo Ione Skye via boombox in the archetypal 80s teen coming of age story, Say Anything. To the uninitiated it seemed an improbable success. But the cleverness of Gabriel was that he was perfectly attuned to the demands of MTV, having been an often-flamboyant performance art innovator for years with a penchant for the dramatic and offbeat that perfectly suited the new visual taste-setting medium. The fact that he was well ahead of the musical curve in terms of both digital production and the use of “world music” influences — see the incredible vocal solo by Senegalese singer Yousou N’dour on the aforementioned heart-melting “in Your Eyes”, for example — also seemed perfectly aligned to the prevailing zeitgeist in which David Byrne and Paul Simon were incorporating African and South American vibes into their standout 80s work, as well.
But all that radio/video play and overwhelming success led to burnout on Gabriel, as the once outside artist became a mainstream pop superstar. To be honest, I listened to so much Peter Gabriel back in the day that I took about fifteen years off from his music. But I’ve been coming back to it lately and damn if it doesn’t hold up well. And not only in that “old friend you haven’t seen in a long time” way either. No, it’s of its time for sure but definitely among the best of that time. So here are three pre-So tunes — since everyone’s heard every cut off that album so damn much — that I think are worth revisiting.
“Solsbury Hill” from Peter Gabriel I [Car] (1977):
All about Gabriel’s trepidation and hopes after splitting from Genesis, 1977’s “Solsbury Hill” from his debut solo album would have been his one-hit wonder… if he hadn’t gone on to have so many other big hits. The spiritual and optimistic tone of the lyrics highlight PG’s very good, slightly raspy Rock voice and the sterling musicianship in the service of the appealingly folksy-but-not-cloying song construction serve notice that this is a mega-capable songwriter. At the time it could have gone either way. But in retrospect the lovely, ultra-catchy “Solsbury Hill” was not a one-time flash but Gabriel’s opening salvo, laying down a marker that he was an artist to be reckoned with.
“Family Snapshot” from Peter Gabriel III [Melt] (1982):
After 1978’s perhaps overly arty and abstracted Peter Gabriel II [Scratch] failed to build upon the success of “Solsbury”, Gabriel really found something extra for his third studio effort in 1980. Nicknamed “Melt” for the disturbing Hipgnosis cover art, Peter Gabriel III is strong from beginning to end and features standout tracks with troubling psychological overtones like “Intruder”, “I Don’t Remember”, “No Self Control” and “Not One of Us”. Prefiguring Gabriel’s increasing human rights activism, an amazingly beautiful political anthem to slain South African civil rights leader Stephen Biko closes the album. “Games Without Frontiers” was the de facto hit, although in more of a cult fashion than a chart-topper. And perhaps its rather heavy handed metaphor about nations acting as children has not aged as well as the rest despite its undeniable angular catchiness. So for me the exceptionally creepy “Family Snapshot”, which not implausibly imagines a Lee Harvey Oswald-like character motivated by his loveless childhood, is the standout track. Continue reading →
There is nothing particularly revolutionary about the Hoodoo Gurus but they were one of the most purely fun bands to emerge from the often gloomy 1980s music scene (Depeche Mode they are not). Hailing from Australia and featuring a distinctly surf & garage influenced brand of guitar rock, the Gurus pumped out catchy hit after catchy hit for college radio even if they never quite hit the big time Stateside. The main asset for the HG’s was their chief songwriter and inimitably adenoidal, ever-so-slightly kitschy singer David Faulkner and his well-penned half sincere/half ironic tributes to 60s Americana, Australiana and disposable pop culture in general.
Perhaps the one essential album would be their extra strong sophomore effort, 1985’s Mars Needs Guitars, but really there are one or two great tracks on pretty much every Gurus album. So much so that I’d recommend tracking down the now out-of-print 2-disc CD compilation, Ampology. Because sometimes all you want to do is hear the hits and Ampology distills down the HG’s prodigious output to its essential pop-rock essence just as any well-chosen greatest hits collection should.
Not really a hard rock band but definitely a band that rocks hard without taking itself too seriously, the Hoodoo Gurus are well worth rediscovering and just in time for summer’s tasty waves and beach cookouts, as well. Soon enough you and your mates may well find yourselves singing “Like wow-Wipeout!” at the end of a pleasantly sunburnt day.