Friday, July 30, 2010

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: The Power Station - 33 1/3

Duran Duran played at a faux sophisticated James Bond edge in their new romantic era peak, so when it came time for the inevitable solo projects a natural combo was to see two of the Taylors (bassist John and guitarist Andy) team up with the 007 of rock - Robert Palmer (I'm assuming Roger Moore is not a great rock singer). Roping in producer Bernard Edwards assured deep grooves and a killer backbeat delivered by his longtime drummer Tony Thompson (Freak Out!). Originally intended as a one-off project with a rotation of singers, the project took on a life of its own when Palmer was made front man and they scores two Top 10 hits as a result. Taking their name from the New York recording studio they were in, The Power Station electrified Duran starved record audiences in 1985. And led a certain British blue eyed soul crooner down a path that was - wait for it - simply irresistible.

I was watching Saturday Night Live when they announced that The Power Station would be on. Had no idea who The Power Station was, recognized 3 of the 4 in the still image they showed on tv though. So on they came, playing "Some Like It Hot" and at some point in the song the two Taylors groove out and sandwich Palmer at his mic stand and I thought "They look a little...friendly..." Over time (and an inescapable presence on Top 4o radio) "Some Like It Hot" grew on me. That splashy Latin influenced percussion, Andy Taylor's spiky guitar solo and Robert Palmer's bald faced sex metaphors ("You want to multiply, are you gonna do it???") became da shizzle fo real. Little did I know this would be my first exposure to what I consider the single greatest drum performance ever - Tony Thompson kicks so much ass on this album it's ridiculous.

First song you're gettin' it on, next you're dealing with a dangerous woman. It really is James Bond! I didn't dig this tune until I saw it performed on Live Aid. As quickly as I had been surprised by the formation of Power Station I was equally shocked when I tuned in to find out Robert Palmer had been replaced by Michael Des Barres. At the time I rejected the Des Barres version for being a hollow replacement. Watching now, I can see Des Barres was a decent fit. A bit more Jagger swagger than the suave Palmer but good enough (Palmer had left the band to record his breakthru solo album Riptide). How sad that both these singers are no longer with us. Oops, just looked up on wikipedia that Des Barres isn't dead. Sorry bro.

Robert Palmer liked to button up in his fancy suit and groove to some soul. Anchored by a classic 80s funk soul groove (having Bernard Edwards produce helps) Palmer gives this track bite. Edwards was an awesome musician, having produced and performed with Chic, Diana Ross and a host of other greats. Tragedy seems to follow this band around with the exception of the two Taylors, Edwards died suddenly just before a Power Station reunion got off the ground in the mid 90s.

4. Communication

The plan was for Palmer to sing just this song, what would be the third (and least successful) single from the record (thank you wikipedia!). Personally, I loved this jam and thought it was the best combo of the group's funk/soul/rock/pop elements. The way the rhythm section of Thompson and John "pretty boy" Taylor lock in is impressive. To think, without "Communication" there never would have been an "Addicted To Love", "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" or "Simply Irresistible". We would have been robbed!

And now for the tune that really got me hooked on The Power Station. I've heard their cover of the T Rex classic described as "clunky" and "needless" but truth be told, I like PS' version better. It rocks harder with all band members firing off. Andy Taylor dominates with his buzz saw guitar lick, while John Taylor holds down the fort. Meanwhile, Bernard Edwards inserts some supreme bass popping for extra flava. Naturally Robert Palmer blazed through his bitten vocal, yet all these peeps take a back seat to Tony Thompson. If this album has my favorite drum performance of all time, this song is the pinnacle of killer drumming. Thompson hammers down the beat and displays a rare sense of power throughout. Tony Thompson is like a drum God hurling his stick at the unrepetant drum skins of awesomeness. Tony Thompson is like a nuclear explosion captured in a titanium bottle and shipped to the South Pole where his awesomeness can be let out and heard from a safe distance. Tony Thompson does't do push ups, he pushes the world down. Oh wait, that last one was Chuck Norris. He was so good he almost replaced John Bonham for a Led Zeppelin reunion (and did appear with Zep at their horrid Live Aid set). When I heard he had passed away in 2003 and if I remember right wasn't even playing drums (for some reason I think he was working with tires or insurance, probably wrong), I was truly saddened.

Interestingly, "Get It On" is the most identifiable song from the Des Barres era. The DB version of the group performed this one at Live Aid and also on Miami Vice. It's hard for me to believe this version was originally intended to back ex Playmate Bebe Buell aka the mother of Liv Tyler. Turns out John "bangs in the face" Taylor was dating Ms Buell at the time. Which is not to say that John Taylor was banging Bebe Buell in the face. I have no knowledge of that. I was referring to his hair!

A side note, Bebe Buell is one of those names that repeatedly pop up in rock history. She has been with several rock stars in addition to Taylor and Tyler, a list that includes Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren.

And now the moment you've been waiting for, the Michael Des Barres version of "Get It On" from their appearance on Miami Vice!

Maybe the only real weak link on the record, "Go To Zero" kinda goes there. It starts off OK with "Hey hey something something something Go To Zer-o" and then I forget the rest. Usually fast forwarded this one. Hmmm. What to muse on with this space? That I saw Andy Taylor perform live in '86 and he sucked? That John Taylor's "Do What I Do What I Do" is catchy in an annoying way? That I hated how Robert Palmer's "You Are In My System" was on the radio every half hour for a brief period of time? How about this: I really liked the album cover art of the "electric girl", even copied it for a high school art project at the time. I know, I'm a dork ;)

Thanks again wikipedia, I didn't know this was an Isley Brothers song. It's funny, Robert Palmer's voice sounds so different on this track I often wondered if one of the other band members sang it. And it brings about another question that has bugged me for decades - why wasn't this song performed at Live Aid? Doesn't it sound like a theme song for the event?

A nice ballad ending to an energetic album. Haunting and probably the track that is most remiscent of Duran Duran itself. It seemed the end of the Power Station after this song because the other releases were so low profile that I didn't know they existed until recently. The Des Barres version of the band recorded a song for Schwartzenegger's film Commando which I had no clue of despite seeing that move like twenty times. And the reunion album Living In Fear from 1996? Didn't know it existed until I saw it in a $2.00 used CD bin. I thought it was some compilation disc so I skipped it.

And that was all she wrote for The Power Station. Too bad they couldn't hold it together in the 80s when it counted but these guys had day jobs so it wasn't meant to be. The project seemed to make the biggest difference to Andy Taylor, after the freedom of this band and his solo hit "Take It Easy" he left Duran Duran for like 20 years. No more rhythm parts, time for a solo!

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