Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Corey Hart - Boy In The Box (1985)

The 80s are known for the two Corey's...but there was a third. He's forgotten now, yet there was a time when a young man revealed he wore sunglasses at night and a nation followed his every word.

When Corey Hart had his monster hit "Sunglasses At Night" it fit in perfectly with early MTV - he had the clean looks girls liked, he was creating a superficial trend and there were enough synths to blend in with New Wave. In '84 I saw him as the opening act for Hall & Oates where he revealed himself to be an energetic pop rocker with a handful of decent material (the ballad "It Ain't Enough" was good and I think there was some song about the radio). But hey, I'd be lying if I said I thought this kid had a future past that. He was going to be a one hit wonder, his fate seemed inescapable.

Just don't tell that to Corey Hart. He cheated fate. Hart spiked up his hair, flipped up his shirt collar and moved into an exclusive club: the two hit wonder.

1. Boy In The Box

"Boy In The Box" is a distinctly 80s sounding song that I didn't really understand. I took it to be like he was comparing the intro of his second album to the spring action of a jack in the box. Like he's the jack in the box who's jumped out to entertain us. Except he's not a toy, he's flesh and blood! Corey wants us to know even though he's an entertainer, he's a person with feelings too. Facing fame and the pressures of stardom with the innocence of a boy, and the world of pop music is the box trapping him. Dance boy, dance!

2. Komrade Kiev

How funny that we can look back at the Cold War as a simpler time. We knew who our enemies were, they were geographical nation states that were easy to define. Russians, the USSR, Communism, we were raised to believe these were the ultimate evils of the universe. Still a bold man, we'll call him Corey Hart,questioned that kind of blind allegiance. Or at least that's how I took Komrade Kiev, where Corey goes on about the similarities between him and Russian folk until the chorus orders him to "Shoot Komrade Kiev!" Funny enough, the hooky chorus to this song is probably the catchiest thing I've heard from Hart, this phrase often pops in my mind when I see 80s movies where Russia is the bad guy. Like that Arnold Schwartzenegger movie Red Heat.

3. Never Surrender

And it was here where Corey Hart landed his second major pop hit. This St Elmos Fire sax blaring anthem to self reliance. Even though it was played everywhere, I didn't feel like this was that great a song. Maybe it was the watery keyboards in the intro and aforementioned sax that stood out? Or that line "And when the night is cold and dark / you can see, you can see light"? Maybe it was the dramatic music video that made Hart seem like the star of a lost John Hughes movie? Watching this clip again, I didn't notice how much Hart looks like a young David Dacovneney - I don't know how to spell the guy's name, you know that actor that was in the X Files and went to rehab for sex addiction? He looks like that guy. Or to be more period accurate, a dark haired Emilio Estevez. Those two guys look nothing alike,I don't know why I'm elaborating on this point anymore. Anyway, "Never Surrender" was a smash hit and I started to like it once I had the record. Never Surrender! (see fist pumped into the air).

4. Sunny Place - Shady People

You ever notice how when someone has a hit song on their next album they sing a lot of songs about trust issues? Or business deals? Or L.A.? "Sunny Place - Shady People" seems like the obligatory song for that. I'll also use this to throw in my Hart To Hart reference. Stephanie Powers, I wonder what ever happened to her? She was a pretty woman with an awesome acting name.

5. Eurasian Eyes

Throw lack of privacy in that stack too. Actually, "Eurasian Eyes" struck me as a moody ballad that had the word "Eurasian" thrown in to make it seem more interesting than it was. These your-eyes-haunt-my-soul sort of songs were commonplace back in the day. Still does a good job of reinforcing his image as a tortured romantic. Eurasian eyes stop staring at my spiky hair, can't you see that I'm never surrendering!

6. Everything In My Heart

It was "Everything In My Heart" that motivated me to buy this record way back in '85. A pretty simple love song yet so effective, I remember liking the percussion and on this track. Had that type of snare drum sound that went "Boom!" Also enjoyed the earnest vocal of Mr. Hart as well. There used to be this tv program on a local independent tv station called California Music Channel where this dorky guy would play music videos for half an hour. We didn't have cable tv, so CMC was a key to my getting a daily music video fix and it came on after I got home from school. It was on this station I got into songs like A-ha's "Take On Me" or Simple Minds "Sanctify Yourself". When I snapped up this disc from the $2 rack a little over a week ago, I looked forward to this cut the most. It's still good stuff.

7. Silent Talking

Not to be confused with the Yes song of the same name. I'm starting to get the feeling Hart likes to juxtapose opposites - sunny places, shady people and talking that's silent. My favorite part of this U2 styled pop rocker is the chorus which says starts every line with the phrase "Do you want..." because for some weird reason I hear "Screw you..." So instead of hearing "Do you want I say goodbye to me" or "Do you want I say hello" I hear "Screw you I say goodbye to me" or "Screw you I say hello." Which makes the song sound better to me as well.

8. Waiting For You

After playing the tortured romantic all day Hart recognizes its time to change the pace. Here Hart is the playful faithful guy, telling his lady of the 80s that she's not alone 'cause he's right beside them. It's a filler track for sure, but it has an important role in showing Corey Hart isn't all frowns.

9. Water From The Moon

Another common 80s songwriting theme that never truly resonated with me - water and the moon. I get its supposed to be mystical or what have you, it's just not a theme I dig. Like this is something about the mysteries of the universe and he draws his I don't know teeny bopper appeal super powers from water from the moon and maybe you could too or who knows. All I know is for non Christian rock artists getting into these Sun and Moon metaphors was a way to get kinda spiritual without alienating anybody. Again, love the percussion on this cut it has that slapping electronic drum sound that reminds me of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing".

"Never Surrender" kept Corey Hart in the spotlight until he tried to get more mature on his next outing. I only bought the singles to that one, there was "I Am By Your Side" and a sleepy cover of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love". And then Corey Hart disappeared from view, sort of like the two Corey's themselves. Now seems like a good time to look at wikipedia to see what happened after that.

Holy crap, Corey Hart had quite the career in his native Canada. 26 Top 30 singles? Had no idea he was considered for the role of Marty McFly in Back To The Future, guess I'm not too far off in the Brat Pack comparisons. And now he lives in the Bahamas writing songs for Celene Dion.

Good for you Corey Hart. Sure your career peak was that of a shallow teen heartthrob, but you wrote your own stuff that was genuinely catchy with a personal point of view. You really have talent. Thank you for showing us that you can...Never Surrender!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

That New Car Smell


The Cars is one of those bands where I didn't realize how much I missed them until they released new music. The original unit split somewhere around 1988 with leader Ric Ocasek moving into producing and swearing off reunion offers. Now Ocasek and the original band (sans the late bassist/vocalist Ben Orr) have reformed and released a new disc Move Like This.

All the things you remember about The Cars are in place: Ocasek's quavery singing, New Wave synths flashing here or there, synthetic hand claps, jerky beats, and a refreshing sense of energy. The songs are new with hooky melodies that recall past glories (such as the "Drive" like "Soon") yet come across as fully realized in their own right. The surging mid album double play of "Sad Song" and "Free" is as good as it gets for new music to an old guy.

Midnight Madness - Randy Savage Edition

I didn't get into watching pro wrestling until about eleven years ago. Even as a non fan in the 80s and 90s, I knew who Macho Man Randy Savage was. He was the guy with the "Oooh Yeah" speech pattern who was with the beautiful Miss Elizabeth. The man who insisted I "Snap into a Slim Jim". As I started watching wrestling I went back and rented dvds of past Wrestlemanias I saw the greatness of the Ma-cho-Man Randy Savage. His death a week ago was a huge loss to anyone who enjoyed his performances or donned a pair of shades to say "Oooh Yeahhh Miss E-liz-a-beth!"

Ain't That Tough Enough? - Getting a kick out of the new version of WWE's Tough Enough hosted by Steve Austin. Out of every reality tv show I've ever seen, nobody does a better tribe has spoken contestant elimination than Stone Cold Steve Austin. Some one who convincingly talks trash at the contestant while he gives them the boot? That's tv gold.

Nashville Star - Is what American Idol morphed into in the final round leading up to Scotty McCreery's victory over Lauren Alaina. AI got off to a great start but as the tweens started up their voting blocs and the more interesting performers got winded the cleancut apple pie teenagers won out. Not to take anything away from McCreery's win, he was easily the most consistent singer on the show and I enjoyed his performances (particularly "Gone" and "Always On My Mind"). But after faithfully watching every ep this year I was indifferent to the finale. Except for hearing James Durbin wail with Judas Priest. That was cool!

The X Factor - I'm kinda psyched about X Men: First Class even if it looks like a cheap attempt to continue the series with less expensive actors.

Brand Tyler Kicks Into Gear - Steven Tyler released a so-so solo song which is still significant 'cause if he gets a big hit I think it's bye bye Aerosmith.

A Hickey From Kenickie Is Like A HallMark Card... - Jeff Conaway died which is sad for any fans who remember Grease or Taxi.

You're The Voice - I don't know why I can't get into The Voice, all the magazines are proclaiming it's better than American Idol. Something isn't grabbing me, I watched the debut and that's all I've bothered to see.

Top Jimmy - Jimmy Fallon is on a roll with his guest appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, appearing as a live action hero in the SNL short The Ambiguously Gay Duo and now performing his Neil Young imitation alongside David Crosby and Graham Nash.

Neil Young with Crosby and Nash: Party In The USA - Show Clips - Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Let'sPick A Winner


For a couple of years the only music video channel I had was CMT, watching it taught me I didn't completely hate Country music. Or at least Modern Country aka 38 Special with steel guitar and twang. Funnily enough, the Country artist I got the most into was not quite modern Country but instead bluegrass all stars Alison Krauss and Union Station.

I've become a fan of their work and have some of their discs. Their music reminds me of a gently babbling brook in the woods with a serene feminine voice floating above like a cloud of marshmellows filled with match sticks and Americana. After '07's Lonely Runs Both Ways album the band went on break while Ms. Krauss teamed up with Golden God Robert Plant for a Grammy winning duets album. The dynamic duo tried to record a followup which they said lacked inspiration which leads up to now, the return of Alison Krauss and Union Station.

So here they are, for better or worse sounding like they never took a break. You can always count on these guys for tasteful performances on strong material. Still it's hard to not feel pushed down, turned around,apprehended and led down town - you know, restless, because there's no growth here. Creatively they've plateaued. The only song that had me say "Wow" was "Miles To Go", that song was killer. Krauss's soft plaintive delivery wins everytime. "Dust Bowl Children" has a bit of depression era kick / relevance with Dan Tymynski singing lead.

The rest of the album sounds fine, just not memorable. While I could have gone for some new development in their music, Paper Airplanes can still stick a landing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chuck Versus The Shark

Chuck has been my favorite tv show for the past few years. I've learned to enjoy every episode like it's going to be the last because Chuck has been permanently on the cancellation chopping block as far back as it's first season. And going into season 4 I was very psyched when I read this round would be guest star heavy with Linda Hamilton (Terminator) and Timothy Dalton (James Bond!). I was ready for another set of frothy spy comedy fun that Chuck does so well.

While the guest appearances paid off well (Dalton in particular was killer) the season overall felt a bit choppy. Some of the fun seemed to get lost as Chuck and crew got locked into saving his Mom from the evil Volkoff conglomerate. The tone was more grim. And the pulling in of all the supporting cast into Chuck's spy world(Morgan, Awesome, Ellie) took away part of the double life shuffle I enjoyed in seasons past.

The lightness and fun returned with the wrap up of the Volkoff story line, but then there was a slight feeling of "been there, done that" in his spy hijinks. I thought maybe I was judging my favorite show too harshly, even as characters would unconvincingly change direction at the drop of a hat (Robin Given's shift from ruthless hardass to selfless savior at the very end of her arc, or Vivian Volkoff's shift from naive righteousness to evil mastermind in training for example).

Monday's season finale summed up season 4 nicely. The first two thirds went all Empire Strikes Back on the Chuck crew. Sarah was dying, Chuck was stripped of the intersect and his latest new foe revealed as a CIA insider. The drama palpably ramped up until the last commercial break when Chuck gets Sarah the antidote. After the break, the tone shifted to such a light feel I thought maybe we were watching a dream sequence. It was such an abrupt change I was like "Huh?" And to end the show with Morgan getting the intersect? Aw crap, my favorite show had jumped the shark and landed in After MASH.

Chuck has been renewed for season 5 and final season. I'll definitely watch, but I got that sinking feeling like the best ideas are all used up. Though if they give the intersect to Jeffster, I may have to check out.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Too Much Salt Intake


Angelina Joilie - Jolie? I think it's Jolie, I'm going with that. She once again plays a woman with identity issues in the movie Salt. The set up: CIA agent Evelyn Salt is accused of being a Russian double agent raised from childhood to be an assassin. She is here to kill the Russian President. The CIA immediately turns on her and Salt finds herself on the run. Is she a double agent or a victim of some spy plot? Can she rescue her missing husband? And just how big are Jolie's lips?

The director Phillip Noyce I remember from Patriot Games, the sorta Jack Ryan sequel that Harrison Ford starred in. Patriot Games was one of my favorite action movies of the 90s, a good mix of personal and political drama and slam bang action. Salt reminded me a bit of Patriot Games in it's slick energized feel and the adrenalized action is pretty kickin. I also liked how the movie gets a little uncomfortable in the middle section, keeping me guessing which way Salt was gonna go.

To bad the ending was lame, the last half hour had me going "huh?". It took me out of the movie and cut my score for it in half. And then the final scene sealed the deal by going another step wayyy to far by hinting at a sequel. Please pass on the Salt.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Don't Call It A Comeback...

Why is it Duran Duran permanently considered to be in come back mode? I don't get that. They consistently perform at about the same level each album, why are we so desperate for a return to the Double D's glory days? They've released so many albums since the 80s. Yet we can't let them go. We don't want to admit it, but Duran Duran does things that keep us wistfully nostalgic. Because deep down in places you don't want to talk about at parties, we want them to come back. We need them to come back.

Oh yeah, their new song "All You Need Is Now" isn't too bad.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Movie Of The Year

Navy Seals. Charlie Sheen. Fighting Terrorism. A movie 21 years ahead of its time. In 1990, who knew?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Foos Day

and a half

Back & Forth Documentary:

Fuse Tv Takeover:

Hey look, the Foo Fighters are back! They've flooded the media with their first album in about 3-4 years with their new effort Wasting Light. I'm a big fan of the Foos and as blasphemous as it is like them better than their "parent" group Nirvana. Maybe that's because even with all of their alternative rock posturing to me they are at heart an arena rock band. Fired up, inoffensive, catchy and slightly formulaic rawk.

Like the best of arena rock bands, Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters know how to update and tweak their sound each time out to keep things fresh. The time off did Grohl some good as Wasting Light is their most consistent sounding disc since 99's There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Every song on Wasting Light has a strong guitar riff and hooky chorus. Bringing in Nirvana Nevermind producer Butch Vig brings back that classic album's punchy feel. Original guitarist Pat Smear returns giving the Foos that "Molly Hatchett" effect of having a butt load of axe slingers ready to lay down the law. Guest appearances by Pixie Bob Mould and ex Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic have the rare effect of enhancing the music instead of distracting (a lot of guest appearances to me have that "special guest star" effect when it happens). Having Novoselic, Grohl and Vig in one place is a big deal in the post grunge world.

Maybe that's the artistic growth here, Grohl no longer has to run from his association with a rock legend. His lyrics seem darker than ever here ("Rope" seems to use a hanging metaphor and another song is called "Miss The Misery")and at one point seems to address the ghost of Cobain himself (with the Novoselic assisted "I Should Have Known"). As uniformly great as Wasting Light is, my one problem with the album is there isn't a stand out track. The Foos can usually be relied on to deliver at least one stand out anthem per disc ("The Pretender", "Best Of You", "Learn To Fly" and "Everlong" come to mind). None of these songs hit me that way (though "Alandria", "Miss The Misery", "Dear Rosemary" and the single "Rope" get close). That's pretty much my only quibble with this album.

To go with the new album is a band documentary Back & Forth. As far as rock and roll band docs go, it's kinda dull. Dave Grohl himself is always game for a good interview, yet after watching I didn't feel like I got any more insight into the band than if I just read Wikipedia. And to be honest, other than thinking Grohl rocks I haven't been that interested in the band's personal history. It wasn't a total waste of time, I learned they've had the same bass player since the second album (Nate...I forgot his last name. Still, I thought the side men kept switching from disc to disc but guess that was just the guitarist slot.) I vaguely recalled the drummer drama between the 1st and 2nd albums and it was nice to see Grohl openly take some responsibility for that mess. And it kind of confirmed that the One By One album was lacking (well, at least that they recorded it twice). But yeah, nice to watch as a fan just not very deep or revelatory.

Better was their takeover of the FUSE channel where they funded some aspiring video makers to create clips for the songs on Wasting Light. While there was a definite repitition of themes among the vids (chasing, boy meets girl and weird stuff happens, people being taken over by a mysterious black force like Spawn) and lacked the presence of the band, the videos had that creative fire that recalls the early days of MTV. And the hour long interview with Toure' was more fun to me than the documentary. Particularly when Grohl took exception to Toure's insinuation that rap was more socially relevant than rock (though to be honest, I side with the interviewer on that one) Grohl's irritation was better than anything from the documentary. And a final interview between the band and Mark Hoppus where they rip on each others videos was pretty good. I even learned what a Leighton Meester was...I think. Is that who I was watching?

I've often had to sit through a launch of many a popular artist who I thought was just OK or worse in recent years. It's nice to see it happen for a band I like.