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Monday, March 31, 2008

iPhone playing a Charly Garcia tune on top of a CD rack. March 2008.
iPhone - 8 Gigabytes of Memory
(Apple -not the Beatles one-, 2007)

Once again, the consumers are moving towards the magnetic control of the big corporations, even thought their products look friendly and useful at the beginning, and they have the coolest features to stay connected, even when we might not have too many people to connect to.

First, it was the expensive and overrated compact disc format, claiming it sounded way better than vinyl and cassette, and forcing us to digitize our senses and forget about the wonderful warmths of analog recording. Then, by 1998, the MP3 format claimed it was more efficient to keep your songs in your computer, not in your shelves. Lots of people sold their CDs and they're about to become history. A piece of the past. Just like cassettes.

In 2001, the iPod, an MP3 player created by Apple, shook the world being just a small hard drive with an audio card and a screen. Better than a discman? yes. better than listen to vinyl? fuck no. It's not the same and we rock and rollers know it. Eventually, an iPod that could be a cellphone would be created. So Apple created the iPhone. A cellphone that plays music? Awesome, 8 Gigs will hold approximately 1400 songs (or more, I am very picky with audio quality so i tend to have them ripped on 192 Kbps) and I will be able to listen to them while I browse the internet, take pictures, text message and even check the stock market. The iPhone is at this moment the most advanced cellphone in the world; but at it's $400.00 retail price, available only at the Apple stores and the AT&T retailers in the U.S., it might be a rip-off for music lovers and freedom fighters. You definetly would want to buy a protection plan to cover the potential damage of drops, sit-ons, water, toilet falling... yep, my other cellphone got wet on a rainy night and died; that's why I decided to upgrade to an iPhone, even thought it had more to do with an annoying and stubborn AT&T associate who wouldn't help me replacing my cellphone since I didn't buy a protection plan.

Back to the iPhone: I can't add music from my work computer if I already synchronized it on my home computer (lack of options here). I can't create my ringtones without buying them off iTunes (one dollar for a 15 second yell?). iTunes controls my iPhone the same way it controls the iPods. An iPhone can't sow the seeds of love from one pc to another; some mp3 files ripped on variable bitrate tend to stop during playing and even if you decide to buy music from iTunes, the quality of the Apple designed mp4 format is lame and, the icing of the cake: the iPhone can't play Windows Media Files, so iTunes must convert them for you.

Seems cool? Not exactly if you can't share your music with other people unless you buy the CD and make a copy... but hey, that's piracy. You might as well go back to your old cellphone or any other media player. One that can share. The record labels, the electronic manufacturers and the artists won't starve, believe me.

I got the iPhone because of the conveniance of having a cellphone and an mp3 player, plus an internet browser and a wireless card that can detect local networks (that's really really good if you're travelling abroad and don't want to blow your paycheck in connection charges) ; but somehow I see it a little bit fragile and desperately looking for upgrades. The first weekend of usage, it crashed on me and no matter how much i tapped the glass, the damn thing wasn't responding at all. I had to reset it with another PC which, oh, forgive me Mr. Jobs, wasn't the one I used to put my songs in it so I had to erase them. I added a few for the road and later, at work, I re-erased them and refill with my usual favorites (see? hazzle.)

The iPhone will keep the recording industry happy for a while until somebody develops a cellphone with cool features, where you can transfer your mp3 files to your computer back and forth. Just imagine this: a Microsoft cellphone that updates the status/ cover of a song connecting to a music info service. You like the song? buy the CD from right there. Too expensive the damn piece of plastic? See if there's any used available. See? Options. People want options, not features.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Second Sono Radio Vinyl Hour! Brought to you by Empresa Sono Radio, S.R.L. and Evoca.

This time I picked some very obscure tracks. So obscure even the obscure couldn't find right away. Let's take a look at the playlist:

  1. Dimitri From Paris: "Live Jazz (Masters At Work Mix)" Dimitri from Paris, that DJ who sometimes offers us masterpieces like "Sacre Francais," gets the MAW percussion treatment. Great tune for warming up and get ready for a full night of heavy dancing. Workout! From the This Is Your Life Maxi Single of 2004.

  2. Dregs: "Cruise Control" Featuring Steve Morse, the current guitar man of Deep Purple. This is a single from 1982.

  3. David Lee Roth: "Coconut Grove" It's very rare to find DLR being this smooth and meditative. From his EP Crazy From The Heat, 1984.

  4. Paul Davidson: "Rhinestone Cowboy" From a promo single of 1976.

  5. Ali Thomson: "Live Every Minute" From a promo single, 1980.

  6. Crusaders: "Street Life (Short Version)" Great FM tune, found on a compilation vinyl called Star Fire or something like that, released in 1980. They cut the tracks shamelessy.

  7. Spandau Ballet: "Only When You Leave (12" Mix)" From the 1984 Maxi Single

  8. Dennis Brown: "Foul Play (Mono)" From a promo single of 1981.

  9. Miami Sound Machine: "Bad Boy (Dub Mix)" From the 1985 Maxi Single.

  10. Falco: "Rock Me Amadeus (American Mix)" From the 1985 single

  11. April Wine: "Tonite (Mono)" From a promo single of 1979.

  12. Wet Willie: "Everything That You Do (Will Come Back To You)" From a promo single of 1976.

  13. M/A/R/R/S: "Pump Up The Volume" from the Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack of 1986.

  14. Pat Metheny: "Daybreak" From New Chautauqua, 1979.

Hope you enjoy and discover these artists of the past and make them of the present.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Me da pena ver cómo el entorno de los Beatles se va reduciendo conforme pasan los años. Murieron Mal Evans en el 76, Derek Taylor el 97 y ahora Neil Aspinall. Una de esas noticias que verdaderamente nos dan en el alma. Los que conocemos la historia Beatle sabemos de la importancia extrema que tuvo Aspinall en el desarrollo y evolución de la banda. De guardaespaldas y chofer a jefe de Apple Corps. Venció muchas batallas para mantener a los Beatles a flote (como las que libraron contra Allen Klein y EMI) pero perdió dos: una contra la sinónima Apple (la de las computadoras y el elefante blanco llamado iPhone, no la fundada por los Beatles) y la otra contra el cáncer. Sin haberlo conocido en persona o visto muy a menudo en fotos, sabemos que Aspinall se lleva consigo la experiencia de haber estado ahí, en el ojo del huracán llamado Beatles.
Murió Neil Aspinall, el verdadero 'quinto Beatle'

Agencia EFE
Lunes, 24 de marzo 2008

Neil Aspinall, amigo de los Beatles desde la infancia y ex jefe de su discográfica Apple Corps, ha muerto a la edad de 66 años, informaron hoy los supervivientes del mítico grupo, Paul McCartney y Ringo Starr, en un comunicado divulgado en Londres.
Aspinall, que falleció de un cáncer en el Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center de Nueva York, era considerado por muchos en la industria musical como el verdadero 'quinto Beatle', apodo que también tiene el productor de los Beatles, George Martin.

'Todos sus amigos y seres queridos le echarán mucho de menos, aunque siempre guardarán los más cariñosos recuerdos de un gran hombre', dicen McCartney y Starr en la nota, difundida por Apple Corps también en nombre de Yoko Ono y Olivia Harrison, viudas de los otros dos Beatles, John Lennon y George Harrison, respectivamente.

Asimismo, los firmantes agradecen 'los consejos y la fiable administración' de un 'amigo leal' que ha dejado un 'legado de largo alcance para las generaciones venideras'.

El comunicado no precisa la fecha del deceso, si bien el periódico británico 'Mail on Sunday' publicó este domingo que Paul McCartney había viajado a Nueva York para estar cerca de su viejo amigo.

Aspinall nació en 1942 en la localidad galesa de Prestatyn, adonde huyó temporalmente su familia por los bombardeos de la aviación alemana sobre Liverpool, la ciudad del norte de Inglaterra que fue cuna de los Beatles.

El antiguo ejecutivo, que fue al colegio con McCartney y George Harrison en Liverpool, trabajó como chófer y guardaespaldas de la banda, a la que transportaba en una furgoneta a los conciertos antes de que alcanzara la fama.

A medida que creció la popularidad de los 'cuatro fabulosos', Aspinall pasó a ejercer de representante y confidente del grupo hasta 1968, cuando se convirtió en el gestor de Apple Corps.

Aunque aceptó ese cargo 'sólo hasta que encuentren a otra persona', acabó dirigiendo la discográfica desde 1970 hasta el año pasado, cuando abandonó el puesto.

Como jefe de Apple Corps, Aspinall produjo 'Beatles Anthology' (1996-1996) y '1' (2000), entre otros discos de gran éxito.

Pese a sus escasas dotes musicales, el 'quinto Beatle' llegó a participar en los coros de 'Yellow Submarine', una de las canciones más famosas del grupo, y tocó instrumentos de percusión en otro conocido tema, 'Magical Mistery Tour'.

Neil Aspinall deja una esposa, Suzy, y cinco hijos que le acompañaron hasta su último momento.

Bitches Brew

(Columbia, 1970)

Algunas personas han escrito que la idea de hacer Bitches Brew fue de Clive Davis o de Teo Macero. Eso es mentira: ninguno de los dos tuvo nada que ver con el proyecto. Como siempre, es el intento de unos blancos de atruibuir a otros blancos un mérito sin justificación, puesto que el disco presentaba un concepto musical rupturista, muy innovador. La conocida intentona de reescribir la historia cuando un hecho importante se ha producido. Lo que hicimos en Bitches Brew nunca podrá nadie escribirlo para que lo toque una orquesta. (...) Bitches Brew se vendió más deprisa que cualquier otro de mis álbumes y de él se vendieron más ejemplares que de cualquier otro album de jazz de la historia. Todo el mundo estaba excitado porque muchísimos jóvenes fans del rock compraban el álbum y hablaban de él. Por lo tanto, era bueno. (Miles Davis - la Autobiografía, Miles Davis y Quincy Troupe, 1989)

En junio de 1999, la Sony Music relanza el álbum original de Miles Davis que marcó una división en la evolución musica; y CacaoRock, obviamente, celebra esto. Davis es el músico más prolífico, variado e inteligente que puedan encontrar en el género de Jazz, aunque a él no le guste mucho que lo encasillen ahí. En su biografía, Miles cuenta sobre el proyecto Bitches Brew. Muchos creían equivocadamente que la idea había venido del productor Teo Macero, pero la idea de fusionar rock y jazz le había estado dando vueltas a Miles desde que escuchó a James Brown y el sonido Funky bien cochino de Sly and The Family Stone. Se dió cuenta que la vanguardia venía de ahí y consideró a todo lo que había estado tocando antes como "tradicional". Si, ahí había que alborotar un poco el ambiente. Miles era un líder con una rebeldía que le salía por la trompeta, tanto como por la piel negra.

Si de alborotar se trata, entonces a no leer ni una partitura, sólo agarrar unas cuantas ideas y repetirlas usando el mayor virtuosismo posible de la banda: Chick Corea, Larry Young y Joe Zawinful en el piano eléctrico, Jack DeJohnette en la batería, Benny Maupin en el clarinete bajo. Tocando un estilo totalmente nuevo, fusionado con el funk y el rock. Tenía que ser tan nuevo que ni siquiera se pensó en tocar la música estructurada en pentagramas sino más bien, editarla posteriormente para obtener un resultado coherente en un disco. Fue una de las primeras post-producciones dramáticas en la historia del Jazz y algo en lo cual Davis se sentiría orgulloso posteriormente, al afirmar que él cambió la música popular cinco o seis veces. Una de esas veces fue el Bitches Brew. Los puristas del Jazz lo condenaron pero al ver cómo vendía, quizás decidieron darle una chance.
Este álbum no inició lo que después se llamaría Jazz Rock, sino más bien lo reconfirmó, lo hizo un disco imprescindible e inició una nueva generación de músicos que sintieron en él su influencia máxima: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, etc. A Miles le encantaba crear escuela. Davis no celebró que el hijo directo de este álbum, el Headhunters de Herbie Hancock, lo haya superado en ventas en 1973. Davis siguió innovando, creando, experimentando, hasta que en 1975 dejó la trompeta y no la volvió a coger sino hasta 1982.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Aren't you cute, Naomi?

Mulholland Drive (Milan, 2001)


Angelo Badalamenti, the italian-american composer of most of David Lynch film's scores, has something to prove in this album of dark new age music. He can dismember his music out of Lynch's work and create something completely unique, even when the two most beautiful women ever put together on a film are on the album cover. Badalamenti uses very simple melodic lines and doesn't fool around when he wants to sound scary and uncomfortably familiar. He knows he's representing dreams into sounds, and those dreams aren't the usual ones but Lynch's.

Laura Harring and/or Naomi Watts are the lead ladies in a plot so complicated it'd be impossible for me to describe it, you must be the judge and at some point, the narrator. As in the music, you take the lead.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Twelve Inch Mixes (Chrysalis, 1986)


Éramos unos de tantos que creíamos que Spandau Ballet era solamente "True" y quizás esa canción que estaba en el mismo disco llamada "Gold". Pero Spandau Ballet, en verdad, era más que un grupo de cinco chicos simpáticos y bien vestidos. Cargaron en sus hombros el peso de la New Romantic Wave, y brindaron al público excelentes temas de alta calidad. Fueron, en la modesta opinión del editor de esta página web, la mejor y más representativa banda de los ochenta.

Recuerdo una vez que estaba en la tienda de mi viejo amigo Jorge Cox, presidente del club de Fans de Elvis Presley en Perú. Por alguna razón llegamos al tema de Spandau Ballet y de la música New Romantic de los 80. Yo ya estaba por decir que me parecía uno de los mejores grupos de la historia cuando Cox me dijo: "Casi todos los homosexuales que vienen a la tienda preguntan por Spandau Ballet". Yo, cobardemente, me quedé callado. Recordé el verano del 95 en que compré una colección de videos de SB y me dí con la sorpresa de que efectivamente, eran más cabros que Sylvester. Mis amigos se burlaron de mí y me señalaron con el dedo. No negué mi admiración por la banda, y ahora quiero rendirle tributo a este grupo de músicos, homosexuales o no, elogiando el disco más importante y bueno de toda su discografía, The Twelve Inch Mixes. Para los que ya conocen el famoso The Singles Collection, déjenme afirmar que Twelve Inch Mixes lo supera tremendamente porque las canciones son más largas, más bailables, más entretenidas que los singles per se. ¿Suficiente con eso? Veamos un poco de la historia de SB.

Diario de Spandau

1979 fue un año innovador para la escena musical británica. Durante aquel tiempo, la industria musical inglesa englobaba un gran número de estilos y géneros musicales. La industria incluía: la escena Punk, que por aquel entonces estaba en su última fase debido a la separación de los Sex Pistols; la escena Underground que puso a Joy Division en primer plano, junto con Adam Ant, y un nuevo grupo conocidos como los Simple Minds; la escena New Soul/Reggae en la que el grupo The Police bombardeaba el mercado con grandes superventas; la escena Mod que regresó gracias a grupos como The Jam, con los llamados "dandies"; y finalmente, para seguidores de la escena de la música negra, un gran número de bandas se estaban abriendo camino a través del circuito de los clubs. Mientras tanto, en algunos clubs londinenses más pequeños como Billy's, The Blitz, Le Beat Route, y Le Kilt, un nuevo fenómeno musical estaba generándose: el New Romantic.

El Nuevo Romanticismo, desarrollado en contraposición a la filosofía Punk, usaba la música como un medio de escapismo más que como una plataforma socio-política. Otra diferencia más obvia entre los dos géneros musicales era la estética adoptada por los fans y los seguidores. La apariencia desaliñada y desastrada reflejaba las actitudes nihilistas y anarquistas prominentes en el movimiento punk como respuesta social. En el otro bando, los Nuevos Románticos (también conocidos como los chicos del Blitz) prestaban una gran atención a su apariencia, incluyendo los detalles más minuciosos. Eran rápidamente identificados en las calles de Londres con sus ropas de influencia victoriana, y sus increíbles peinados que comprendían los detalles más intrincados. Teniendo en cuenta las notables diferencias entre el Punk y el Nuevo Romanticismo, ambos movimientos surgieron sorprendentemente de raíces similares: ambos eran un producto de la clase trabajadora. Fue precisamente en uno de los típicos barrios de clase obrera de Londres (Islington), en el que 5 compañeros de colegio decidieron formar una banda la cual, junto con Duran Duran, Classic Noveaux y Visage, se convertiría en una de los exponentes y pioneros de esta nueva ola de romanticismo. Ellos serían conocidos por todo el mundo como Spandau Ballet.

Spandau Ballet nació en 1979, desarrollando a lo largo de 1980 una de las más importantes campañoas de evolución y consolidación que un grupo sin discos pueda llevar a cabo, y convirtiéndose directamente en una de las bandas pioneras del movimiento de los nuevos románticos. Integraban el grupo Gary Kemp (guitarra, sintetizador, autor de todos los temas), Martin Kemp (bajo), Steve Norman (guitarra, saxo, percusión), John Keeble (batería) y Tony Hadley (voz solista). Los cinco estaban dispuestos a dar la banda sonora para las actividades futuristas y neo-románticas de los night clubs. Al principio tenían como Manager a Steve Strange, quien posteriormente fuera líder de Visage. Los Spandau Ballet al principio se rehusaron a promosionar sus conciertos de otra forma que no fueran las pasadas de voz, rumores y comentarios, creando una imagen elitista que los llevó inclusive a ser presentados en un documental para la TV sobre la escena londinense de inicios de los 80. Tras actuar en todos los clubs socialmente destacados de londres, el grupo se convirtió en el centro de la moda musical en St. Tropez, reafirmando su potencial de nuevo en Londres con un gran concerto en el barco H.M.S. Belfast, anclado perpetuamente en la torre de Londres. Pueden hacer referencia de los inicios del grupo los videos de To Cut A Long Story Short (las cárceles de la torre de Londres) y el de Chant No 1 (sobre la tensión y nicotina que se respiraba en los clubs donde tocaban). Tras ello, crearon su propio sello discográfico Reformation (nombre de una de las canciones de su primer Lp) y a mediados de 1980, en una maniobra inteligentísima, firmaron por Chrysalis Records para la distribución del material. Tamaña distinción la de un grupo desconocido; de tener un sello propio, sin ningún álbum publicado, y que Chrysalis le dé un contrato de distribución. El éxito de la banda estaba, por tanto, asegurado.

El primer single, To Cut A Long Story Short fue, entonces, número 5 a finales de 1980. Spandau era una de las formaciones más importantes del pop inglés con su primer LP, Journeys To Glory (número 5) y los singles The Freeze (número 5), Musclebound/ Glow (número 10). La fuerza de Spandau Ballet y su mejor momento llegaron en 1982 con el álbum Diamond y los singles Chant No 1 (I Don´t Need This Pressure On) (número 3), Paint Me Down (número 30) (ambos lanzados el año anterior antes que el Lp). Chant No 1 usaba una sección de viento de color, los Beggar and Co., que hace de este tema el mejor del grupo. Les siguen los singles Instinction (número 10), She Loved Like Diamond (ningún puesto registrado) y el Single y maxisingle Lifeline (número 7). Cabe mencionar que Diamond se lanzó como un álbum normal y como una caja de los singles de 12 pulgadas; anticipo, probablemente, a la obra maestra que estamos comentando.

Un bombardeo de hit singles puso a los Spandau Ballet a trabajar en lo que sería su LP más exitoso, True, cuya canción título alcanzó el número 1 y es considerada por algunos como la mejor balada de los 80; si no la más representativa. True dio además el single Communication (número 12) y Gold (número 2 y el primer single de los Spandau que llega a ser registrado en Billboard, en el puesto 32. La versión 12" es infinitamente superior y magistral, con una introducción de piano y percusión realmente estremecedora).

Para el álbum Parade (1984), Spandau Ballet ya estaba consagrado en Inglaterra, pero no tanto en Estados Unidos (la crítica fue muy dura con ellos). El single Only When You Leave, anticipo al Lp, alcanzó el puesto 3 en Inglaterra, pero en Estados Unidos solo llegó al puesto 32. No, El publico norteamericano no tenía un buen gusto en ese momento, definitivamente. Los singles del Parade siguientes fueron I´ll Fly For You (9), Highly Strung (15) y Round And Round (18). Con una lista así de singles, pues era el momento de soltar un "Grandes Éxitos" y lo hicieron en el momento oportuno, en 1985. Dicho álbum recopilatorio reunía todos los singles nombrados, exceptuando Glow, y se llamó The Singles Collection. El éxito de la banda ya pasaría al culto con The 12 Inch Mixes, un verdadero disco de oro para los fans de Spandau Ballet e imprescindible para cualquier colección de música de los 80.

Después de esta pausa recopilatoria, vendría un nuevo disco, el Through The Barricades (1986); esta vez iniciando un nuevo contrato con el sello Columbia. Dicho álbum dio los singles Fight For Ourselves, Through The Barricades y How Many Lies; iniciando el declive creativo de Gary Kemp y de la fuerza interpretativa del grupo. Para el álbum Heart Like A Sky (1989) solo se produjo un single, Be Free With Your Love. Este álbum está, lamentablemente, descatalogado por la Sony Music.

Aunque al principio fueron vistos como un producto pre-fabricado (léase unos Backstreet Boys o New Kids On The Block de 1980), Spandau Ballet demostró con un buen conjunto de discos y singles ser una banda de primer nivel. Eran chicos guapos, pero no eran tontos, porque sabían a donde iban y qué estaban haciendo. Una estrategia como la que usaron para hacerse conocidos no la piensa cualquier marketero discográfico. Su música, su actitud y su forma de encarar al público son una verdadera muestra de respeto hacia éste.

¿Por qué razón debo tener este disco, me refiero, a Twelve Inch Mixes?

Primero, porque probablemente sea la mejor banda de New Romantics de los 80, y la más sólida. Segundo, porque sus canciones son pegajosas, entretenidas, muy bien cantadas y brillantemente arregladas. Spandau Ballet fusiona elementos netamente pop con ritmos próximos a otros elementos y estilos dispares, proejemplo el Jazz Funk y el Funky; mostrando una sólida línea que armoniza la fuerza de la percusión con la técnica de los sintetizadores. La guitarra de Gary Kemp no es una guitarra virtuosa, pero su ritmo es vital para todas las canciones del grupo. Su hermano Martin, al bajo, podría ser el. más técnico del grupo; pero eso está bien difícil de definir porque en Spandau Ballet no hay uno que opaque a otro. Todos están trabajando en equipo y cohesionadamente logran buenísimos resultados. No se arrepentirán al comprarlo aquí.


The Twelve Inch Mixes (Chrysalis, 1986)


We were some of the most people who thought Spandau Ballet was only "True" and maybe that other song included in the same album, the one called "Gold."

But Spandau Ballet was, truly indeed, way more than five good looking and well dressed boys. They carried on their shoulders the weight of New Romantic Wave in the early eighties, and they gave their audience excellent tunes of high end quality. Honestly, they could have been the most representative pop band of the Eighties.

I remember this one time at the late Jorge Cox's record store in Lima, Peru. Jorge was the president of the Elvis Presley Peruvian Fan Club and we used to talk about music a lot while we listened to records with him. For some reason I mentioned the Spandau Ballet subject, while discussing the 80's New Wave sound. I was about to mention that Spandau was one of the best bands in all history -in my humble opinion- when Cox told me: "Almost all gay men who come to my store ask for Spandau Ballet." Of course I didn't say the phrase, cowardly.

I remember summer of 95, when I bought a VHS tape full of Spandau Ballet videos and I was surprised to see them while listening to them. Certainly, they were as gay as Sylvester. My friends made fun of me and pointed me with their finger, calling me Homo. I didn't deny my admiration for the band then, and now I want to pay tribute to this quintet of men, gay or not, praising their most important record of their discography, the essential Twelve Inch Mixes.

Those who know their also impressive Singles Collection, let me affirm that Twelve Inch Mixes surpasses it dramatically, having it's songs longer, way more danceable and entertaining than the singles per se. Enough with that? Let's see a little bit about SB's history.

Spandau's Diary

1979 was an innovative year for the British Music Scene. During that year, England's music industry engulfed a huge number of musical genres: Punks on withdrawal due to the Sex Pistols' disbanding, the Underground scene that put Joy Division on the spot along with Adam Ant and a new band known as Simple Minds; the New Soul/Reggae scene with Police bombarding the music market with big numbers in sales; the Mod scene returning thanks to the dandies of the Jam and, finally, a lot of black musicians having their ways opened in the Club circuit. There was space for something else: In some smaller London Clubs like Billy's, The Blitz, Le Beat Route and Le Kilt, something new was being generated: The New Romantic.

This phenomenon, developed against the Punk philosophy, used music as a way of escapism more than a socio-political platform. Another difference, way more obvious, between the two genres was the look adopted by the fans: The wore and tore look reflected the nihilistic and anarchist attitudes in the Punk fans as a social answer. On the other corner, the New Romantics, also known as the Blitz kids, took care a lot about their appereance, including the smallest details. They were quickly spotted on the streets of London with their Victorian-influenced clothes, and their amazing hairstyles that featured the most complicated details.

Considering the big differences between Punk and New Romantic, both movements emerged from the same roots: both were a product of England's working class. It was precisely in one of the typical working class London neighborhoods (Islington) in which five high school mates decided to start a band that, with acts like Duran Duran, Classic Noveaux and Visage, would become in one of the best exponents and pioneers of this NR wave. They would be known all over the world as Spandau Ballet.

Spandau Ballet was born in 1979, developing all along 198o one of the most important evolution campaigns that a band without a record deal could carry, and becoming one of the pioneers of the New Romantic movement. Members were Gary Kemp (composer, guitar, synths,) his brother Martin Kemp (bass,) Steve Norman (sax, percussion, guitar,) John Keeble (drums) and Tony Hadley (lead vocals.) They were eager to give the Night Clubs and their futuristic-new romantic activities the soundtrack these places needed. At the beginning they had Steve Strange (who later would become the leader of Visage) as manager. Spandau Ballet, at the beginning, refused to promote their shows any other way than rumours and word of mouth, creating an elitist image that made them featured in a TV documentary on the London Scene of 1980. After performing in all high end clubs in London, they became famous in St. Tropez, and consolidating their potential in London, playing a gig on the H.M.S. Belfast, permanently anchored on the London Tower. The videos for "To Cut A Long Story Short" (about the dungeons of the London Tower) and "Chant No 1" (about the Night Club's tense scene) can make reference on the group's beginnings.

After that first step, they created their own label, Reformation (like one of the songs of their debut album) and, on the summer of 1980, in a very clever maneuver, signed a distribution deal with Chrysalis Records. Such a distinction for an unknown band, having their own label, no albums published, and having Chrysalis securing a contract. The success was assured, then.

The first single, "To Cut A Long Story Short" was number 5 at the end of 1980. Spandau Ballet was one of the most important bands of british pop with their debut album, Journeys To Glory (number 5) and the singles "The Freeze" (#5) and "Musclebound/Glow" (#10). The strenght of SB and their best moment arrived in 1982 with the Diamond album and the singles "Chant No 1" (#3) and "Paint Me Down" (#30), both of them released one year earlier. The Beggar and Co. horn section was featured on "Chant," making this theme possibly their best song. More singles coming: "Instinction" (#10), "She Loved Like Diamond" (uncharted) and the maxisingle "Lifeline" (#10.) It's important to mention that Diamond was released as a standard album and as a 12" mixes box; anticipating the album we're supposed to review here.

This success put the band onto work on what would be their biggest album, True, which title song reached the number one spot and it's definetly the best ballad of the eighties, if not the most representative. True also gave "Communication" (#12) and "Gold" (#2 and the first Spandau single registered on the #32 spot. The 12" version is infinitely superior, with a chilling piano and percussion introduction.)

For 1984's Parade (1984), Spandau Ballet was already consolidated in England, but not so much in the U.S. (critics trashed them really bad.) The single "Only When You Leave" reached #3 in the U.K., but in the U.S. only reached number 32. U.S. audiences didn't have good musical tastes around that time, possibly. The next singles were "I'll Fly For You" (#9), "Highly Strung" (#15) and "Round And Round" (#18). With a singles list like this one, it was about time for the mandatory "Greatest Hits" record and they did it with The Singles collection. The Twelve Inch Mixes collection was a truly gold album for SB's fans and a must-have for any 80's music collection. This meant also the end of their record deal with Chrysalis.

After this "compilation pause," another new album would come out, the regular Through The Barricades (1986), starting their contract with Columbia. That album gave the singles "Fight For Ourselves," "Through The Barricades" and "How Many Lies," and the creative penmanship of Gary Kemp started to decline, along with the performanceship of the band. By 1989, the album Heart Like A Sky just gave out one single "Be Free With Your Love," and the album did so poorly that it's currently out of print.

Even thought at the beginning seen as a prefabricated plastic product out of the 'burbs (meaning Backstreet Boys or New Kids On The Block of 1980), Spandau Ballet proved to be a first class band with a good bunch of records. They were handsome, but they were no fools since they knew where they were going and what exactly they were doing. A strategy like they used to become popular was nothing like what was done before; it was risky, cocky and no manager would have agreed to go along with. Their music and attitude showed real respect to their audience.

Why should I own Twelve Inch Mixes?

First of all, because this one is the best example of New Romantic Music of the eighties. Second, their songs are fun, catchy, well sung with a correct British accent; and their arrangements and production are superb. Spandau Ballet fusions pop elements with rhythms close to dispair elements, like funk and jazz, showing a solid line that harmonizes the strenght of percussion with synth's techniques. Gary Kemp's guitar isn't a virtuoso one, but his playing is vital and holds all the bands' tunes. Martin Kemp, on bass, could be the most mechanical one in the band, but even that is also hard to define because nobody actually clouds anybody in the band. All of them worked as a team, together, cohesively, making amazing results. You wouldn't regret buying it here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Golden Greats (Liberty, 1967)

Congratulations to the Ventures, the instrumental rock and roll quartet from Tacoma, WA, for being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among legends like Madonna and John Mellencamp. We are reprinting this article about our favorite compilation of theirs.

Way before Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and whoever you want to name in the Guitar Hall of Fame, there was an instrumental band called The Ventures from Tacoma, Washington. Their sound featured the most amazing electric guitar playing ever put on rock and roll records up to 1961 (with the exception of Chet Atkins if you don’t consider his style rockabilly). The Ventures created the surf tribute to song and inspired a whole new generation of guitar players into putting energy and raunchiness in their solos. Don Wilson & Bob Bogle played the axes with Nokie Edwards on Bass and the late Mel Taylor on drums.

Way more popular in the U.K. and in Japan than in the U.S. -they really know what is to not to have good weather-, The Ventures have an immense discography, and EMI America hasn’t reissued all of their U.S. releases on CD yet; maybe because it would take at least 100 CDs more to do so and to invest in forgotten bands is non profitable. It is expensive to put out the full catalog of the Ventures on the shelves, so EMI might as well leave them out of the game as they did with Les Baxter (having his material out of print is just a plain crime.)

But one thing is for sure: The Ventures sound way better on LP than on CD, like the digital era wasn’t exactly created for their brilliant, crude, loud analog sound. Maybe not having albums like Golden Greats on CD is a blessing disguised as a curse. Hear what I mean:

Honky Tonk

Golden Greats is 29 minutes of pure surf instrumental rock and roll, no questions asked and no bullshit included. Maybe it’s played too perfectly and that might sound "outdated" for some listeners who aren’t used to simple and right-to-the-point rock music. Don't expect any complicated solo guitar work, but beautiful, whistable melodies made by exceptional craftsmen. You could feel the serious guitar playing on their tongue-in-cheek attitude. They were playing hits of the day with amazing skill and gusto. Copying? No, celebrating. In 1960 the Tornadoes released a song called “Telstar” and the Ventures improved it, added a Moog organ played by Leon Russell and put it on an album called The Ventures Play Telstar, The Lonely Bull And Others. Not only that, they accelerated Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and turned The Champs’ “Tequila” into another guitar-driven beach party tune. “Honky Tonk” is nothing more than 12 bar blues but it can give the goosebumps to anybody with ears (listen to it here), and “Let’s Go” is a crowd chant guided by a rock band that wants more and more from the listener, inviting them to dance. One of the best surf tunes ever written, "Pipeline" gets the Ventures treatment and the end of side A leaves us wondering what did just hit us.

The Ventures’ greatest hit ever was “Walk, Don’t Run”, a song they recorded in 1959 before any record deals, and in this Liberty LP we find their 1964 version. Here it's surfier, faster, cooler and more exploratory, boosted on bass by Edwards. “Wipe Out” trashes the original version of the Surfaris and puts the listener right there in Maui. “Out Of Limits”, originally from Ventures In Space, pushes the sound of their Mosrite guitars to unsuspected limits, linking their sound with Sci-Fi experimentation a-la "Twilight Zone."

The band's sound was big on record as it was on stage, but they never reached the kind of popularity they truly deserved as an influential instrumental rock band. Unfortunately, singers are more appealing to the general public, especially in an industry where voices (and looks in the last 25 years) are the prime reason to buy a record. It didn't matter to The Ventures, having guitar players like George Harrison, Joe Walsh and Jeff Baxter citing them as major influences. Their sound never compromised to any trends and kept a sincerity and strenght their big fans felt identified with.

The Ventures knew how to sell a record and Golden Greats, just like some of their other albums, features on the cover a beautiful blonde girl on a gold bikini, right out of a James Bond flick and one of the sexiests album cover ever. There was a time when having a hottie on your record wasn't sexist, or bold or raunchy, just natural.

This LP is the perfect compilation for those who have a portable record player to take to a beach party, and it’s a brief crash-course of sixties guitar playing: an introduction of way more interesting sounds than the ones we listen to nowadays. There was a time when The Ventures were on the top of the charts with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and many others now forgotten. May this record be a gate for a new playground of old sounds for our ears.

By the way, enjoy it on YouTube and then buy it!

Golden Greats is out of print. Fortunately, there's so much of the Ventures out there to listen to, we can't waste our time mourning the absenty of this masterpiece on CD. The only thing we can do is get the LP and enjoy it. With luck, somebody from this current generation will be amazed of those amazing, incredible, excellent sounds of the past on vinyl.



Thursday, March 6, 2008

Momento humorístico por cortesía de Enciclopedia de la Vida Animal, Editorial Bruguera, 1978.