In my somewhat expansive record collection, there are quite a few LP’s from the 1980’s. I can’t help it—that’s my era. I turned 16 in 1980. Admittedly, some of the records are awful, maybe with a gem hiding in there someplace. I have an LP that I hang onto because of one short acoustic guitar solo that just moves me.
So with the recent passing of Alex Chilton, I took time to explore the band Big Star (see prior post) and other artists that have been tagged with the Power Pop genre. Research in this area has led me all over the place, and one accidental destination was the discovery of singer/songwriter Tommy Keene. Many point to 1984’s “Places That Are Gone” EP as his definitive work, but eBay and my local record shops have yet to yield a good copy of that—so I procured an unopened copy (on LP) of “Songs From The Film” circa 1986.
Right away I was assaulted with the 80’s recording style that tries so hard to obliterate any sense of humanity in the music. Morbid drum sounds, particularly the snare, which sound processed and synthetic—memories of a sad scene from Miami Vice where Crockett has chucked the peach-colored blazer and is sulking on his boat. The guitars are so wet they are drowning—there is no attack, no character. The lead vocal has suffered a similar fate and is often veiled by the instrumental effects—it’s just too much. It was side two of the LP before I remember hearing a quiet passage, any sense of dynamics at all.
Yet through the murkiness I heard some interesting songs, some unique vocal melodies, some aggressive chord changes and some harmonies supporting what could have been (but just weren’t quite) compelling arrangements. The 2nd song on side two (As Life Goes By) had some texture and the last song was by far my favorite (The Story Ends) where we finally catch a break from the Cheese Wiz snare drum sound. This LP was born of a major label and big time producer (Geoff Emerick, who worked with just about everyone including The Beatles), but the 80’s synth-slop-craze had almost all of them high as a kite.
It’s kind of fun to churn through some of the 80’s records, and when you peel back the sludge there are often some wonderful songs embedded below the surface—Tears for Fears, a-ha, Martha Davis, Missing Persons, etc. This can go on endlessly and creates a prime opportunity to dig through and re-explore the old LP’s. But for me it can be hard—those early drum machines and over-used synths wear me out in a hurry. They should grab all of the talent from that era and call “DO-OVER!!”
More on this once I get my copy of “Places That Are Gone.”