Saturday, April 28, 2012

Greg Kihn, Twitter and the Nature of the Music Industry

Greg Kihn is following me on Twitter.

Yes, that Greg Kihn.   And at this moment, certain melodies are crackling through your head.  Mine, too.  "Our love's in jeopardy.  Baby."  And how about this one:  "They don't write 'em like that anymore."

It must be because I post a lot on Twitter about music.  And, of course, here on Vinyl Voyage we have a day dedicated to the 80s and the Greg Kihn Band appears several times.  But still, seeing that name there in the notification got me a little nostalgic.  Remember the "Jeopardy" video?  I distinctly remember seeing it for the first time.  I turned fifteen in 1983 and it freaked me out a little.  The wedding.  The bride turns into a skeleton.  The guests turn into zombies.  And then a creature from hell breaks through the floor and Greg Kihn kills it with some guitar-shaped piece of wood.

Now that's a video.

I checked out a little about Greg Kihn.  That's the thing I have enjoyed most since starting Vinyl Voyage Radio over a year ago:  getting reacquainted with music and artists.  When Greg Kihn hit it big in 1983 with "Jeopardy," he had already been making music for several years.  In fact, Kihnspiracy, his 1983 album which spawned that hit, was his 9th album.  And he has released at least seven albums since then, the most recent being a box set anthology entitled Kihnplete

Today, Greg Kihn is a popular DJ on a classic rock station in San Jose.  He still plays music; his Kihncerts have been popular for the last 11 years.  This year he'll be playing with Steve Miller and Pat Benatar.  Too bad this lineup isn't coming to the Chicago area.  I'd be there in a heartbeat.

In addition to the DJ gig and his music, Greg Kihn has also written several novels.  Most in the horror genre with a little music mixed in.  Probably something to do with that "Jeopardy" video, I imagine.

But all of this highlights the fickle nature of the record industry.   Upon revisiting Kihnspiracy and other releases, it is clear that "Jeopardy" and "The Breakup Song"---two of his biggest hits---are not his best.  They are good songs, to be sure (As a matter of fact, I just heard "The Breakup Song" the other day on the radio and found myself singing along on the drive to work. It also appears in the movie Let Me In).  But there are others--others that never got into rotation on FM radio.  Not being a musician myself, I can only imagine that this is probably the most frustrating thing about being a musician, especially in today's climate where digital downloads of hit singles are what the industry pushes, not whole albums or songs that some guy in a suit thinks can't make it into the pop-dominated airwaves. And that's a shame. Talent does not automatically bring success. 

For example, the Greg Kihn Band released Rockihnroll in 1981.  That is the album with "The Breakup Song."  But there are other songs on that album that never got the airplay they deserved, most notably "I Can't Stop Hurting Myself."


"Jeopardy" made it to the #2 spot in 1983. "The Breakup Song" reached up to #15 in 1981.  But "I Can't Stop Hurting Myself" never made an impact on the charts.  Yet, that song is the better of the three, in my opinion.  It seems to me that some of the best songs written never chart.  I recently explored that in a video podcast of Frampton's "Lines on My Face," perhaps one of his best songs ever.  Yet, it too, never charted.  Journey's quintessential 1981 release Escape produced several hit songs, but the best, such as "Still They Ride" and "Escape" never made it. Instead, we were subjected ad nauseam to "Open Arms."  A good song, to be sure, but that distinction is relative when compared to the other tunes on the album.  And you can't summarize Todd Rundgren's entire career with his only top-ten hit song, "Hello It's Me."

The same can be said for Greg Kihn, and "I Can't Stop Hurting Myself" is a testament to that.

The Greg Kihn Band is all over YouTube.  Check them out.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised; especially if your only exposure to the band was through "Jeopardy" or "The Breakup Song."

More information about Greg Kihn can be found at his website.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Frampton Comes Alive! Vinyl Voyage Video Podcast

A few weeks ago, my friend Tom Flannery posted an article about Peter Frampton on his blog.  He unabashedly proclaimed that "Frampton kicks ass" and that the "young punks can learn a thing or two from the bald guy."

"I used to stand in front of my mirror," Tom writes, "tennis racket as a guitar, and sing along to 'Lines On My Face'. I was 17."

That post got me a little nostalgic for Frampton.

A few years ago, I checked out Frampton Comes Alive! from the library and burned it onto my computer.  I'm not even sure I listened to the album then; I just thought it was something I should have.  However, I now wanted to listen to Frampton as it was intended to be: on vinyl and loud.  So, I found a copy at a local record store.  I listened to the whole thing, something I don't think I have done for decades.  Yes, decades.

And, I must say, listening to the album again as a 43 year old, I am impressed that Tom Flannery stood in front of a mirror and sang along to "Lines on My Face" when he was seventeen.  Before reading Tom's post, I couldn't even place the song.  But now as I guy in my forties that song has a certain resonance that would have been lost on me in my teens.  And what's amazing is that Frampton wrote that song when he was just twenty-three.

Lines on my face,while I laugh lest I cry
Speed city dirt and gritty waving me goodbye
So many people,my family of friends
Trying so hard to make me smile until this heartache mends

That is my favorite song on the album.  But, that is speaking as a 43 year old.  As a kid, that was the song you had to get through in order to get to "Do You Feel Like We Do?"

The album holds up well.  Surprisingly well.  Although Frampton may have lost some rock and roll cred by the late 70s, this guy could rock. 

Thanks, Tom, for sparking an interest once again in a classic album.  Frampton Comes Alive! and "Lines On My Face" are featured on this Vinyl Voyage video podcast:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gypsys, Tramps and ...White Trash?

This month's Adventures in Vinyl features K-Tel's classic 1972 compilation, Believe in Music.  This album has some iconic 70s tunes, including my favorite Cher song, "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves."  That song was the first single from her 1971 album, originally entitled Cher.  However, the song was so popular, the album was renamed and re-released as Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves.  I remember this vividly.  My parents had a reel-to-reel player and recorded their albums to tape.  Music was always playing in our house.  And Cher (along with Sonny, too) was in constant rotation.

This song was written by Bob Stone and was originally titled, "Gypsys, Tramps and White Trash."  Someone with a better ear for music suggested he change the title.  And he did. 

In 1971, Cher performed the song on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour

You can hear this song and many others this month on Adventures in Vinyl.  The episode can be heard at 11 am (ct) Saturdays and 4 pm (ct) on Sunday.  It can also be heard throughout the week.  Check the schedule here.

Adventures in Vinyl:  The only radio show dedicated to the lost art of the K-Tel record compilation. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Next on the Turntable: Believe in Music from 1972

On this month's Adventure's in Vinyl, we are going to the early years of K-Tel.  In fact, this is the oldest K-tel album I have.  It is Believe in Music and it came out 40 years ago, which is obvious from the garish cover void of any sense of the songs contained on the vinyl.  But that's okay, in 1972 K-Tel was still developing it's iconic look.

This album has my favorite Cher song:  "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves." It also has the 70s favorite, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)."  This, of course, is one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time.  Although Looking Glass released two albums, nothing would not come close to the success of that song.  I recently came across a picture of the band.  Not what I expected:

The album also has a song by Rick Springfield.  Yes, that Rick Springfield.  The one who sang about "Jessie's Girl" in the 80s.  The song on this album is "Speak to the Sky," off of his debut album, Beginnings

Believe in Music was released in late 1972 and contains hits by Rod Stewart, the O'Jays, Five Man Electrical Band and Eric Clapton.  And get this:  Donny Osmond is on the album twice.  Double the Donny.  Here is the commercial:

Adventures in Vinyl is the only radio show dedicated to the lost art of the K-Tel record compilation  The show can be heard on Vinyl Voyage radio on Saturday mornings, 11 am (central) and Sunday afternoons at 4 pm.  It also streams several times during the week.  Click here for the complete schedule.