“Without your match, there is no flame”

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Released 14 June 1982, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was the first of Pete’s solo albums I bought (on 21 November 2001), after exhausting The Who’s studio output. It’s amazing to think back on how nervous I was about dipping my toe into his solo catalogue!

Pete has been my favorite bandmember since February 1994, long before I became a serious fan, because I felt a soul connection to him from the first time I read about him. All these years, he’s remained my fave rave, unlike how I’ve had three different favorite Beatles. But solo work was uncharted territory, as much as I adored his voice and everything else about him.

What if I hated it or just couldn’t get into it? I had to start with an album I’d heard overwhelmingly positive things about on my estrogen Who lists instead of something only completists or hardcore fans would want.

For a long time, I was extremely conservative re: my musical tastes, preferring a small group of favorite artists over a huge, constantly-changing list. If I weren’t familiar with an artist, I’d be so nervous about committing to an entire album beyond greatest hits or songs I already knew from the radio.

And then I listened to Chinese Eyes, and was so impressed I proceeded to buy Pete’s entire solo catalogue within about a year and a half. The one album I couldn’t find in used record stores, White City, I got on eBay.

Chinese Eyes reached #17 in New Zealand, #26 in the U.S., #32 in the U.K., #33 in Norway, and #41 in Australia. Always one for brutal honesty, Pete later said he should’ve won a Stupid Title of the Year Award for this album. I can only imagine the baying mob coming to cancel him if he released it today!

Pete also released a companion video, featuring music videos of seven of the eleven songs. Unlike the record, the video was out of print for years. Pete put the videos up on his website in 2000, and they’re now available all over the Web.

Some of the themes in these songs crop up in Horse’s Neck, a rather strange short story collection Pete published in 1985.

Most critics excoriated this album, calling it pretentious, overthought, intricately meaningless, “an ambitious failure,” overindulgent, “a mess of contradictions,” convoluted, “nearly impenetrable,” and a whole host of other negative appellations.

Committed fans, however, have always loved it. I chose this as my first of Pete’s solo albums because it was so highly recommended by other ladies in the fan community. And speaking of ladies…

When Pete officially started his solo career in 1980, with Empty Glass, he was quite surprised to pick up a huge amount of two new kinds of fans—women and gay men. While he never stopped doing more traditional hard rock songs, going solo gave him free range to do a lot more songs channelling his sensitive, gender-atypical side.

Can you really picture Roger belting out a song like “And I Moved,” “Somebody Saved Me,” “Stop Hurting People,” or “Was There Life”? Even in The Who, Pete tended to sing the more tender, sensitive songs like “Sunrise,” “Blue, Red, and Grey,” “Our Love Was,” and “Cut My Hair.”

Pete had to do these songs solo instead of giving them to the band. They’re so deeply personal, only he could’ve done them justice. Despite priding myself on being so gender-defiant, I’m with the majority of female fans (both of The Who and Pete’s solo career) who adore songs guy fans typically trash.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks on the 2006 reissue:

“Stop Hurting People”
“The Sea Refuses No River”
“Prelude”
“Face Dances, Pt. #2” (#15 and #105 on two different U.S. Billboard charts)
“Exquisitely Bored”
“Communication”
“Stardom in Acton”
“Uniforms (Corps d’Esprit)”
“North Country Girl” (written by Bob Dylan)
“Somebody Saved Me” (also a bonus track on the reissue of Face Dances, as a live Who performance)
“Slit Skirts” (probably the best-known song)
“Vivienne”*
“Man Watching”*
“Dance It Away”*

My favorite songs are “Stop Hurting People,” Uniforms,” “Somebody Saved Me,” and “North Country Girl.” Unusually for my collection, this album was made in my lifetime!

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs

To mark DDAD 2019, I decided to showcase ten of my favourite songs. One of the many reasons I’ve been a Duranie for almost eight and a half years is because of the wonderful lyrics. So many of their songs are like poetry.

1: “The Seventh Stranger,” last track on Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983). Where to start! Every line is like pure poetry. I’ve used the line “like splinters of ice” in my own writing, and titled a chapter “Trading in His Shelter for Danger.”

2: “Secret Oktober,” B-side of “Union of the Snake” (1983). It’s like an avant-garde, surrealistic poem. I really want to use some of the lines as part of chapter titles.

3: “My Antarctica,” sixth track on Liberty (1991). While Liberty is one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard (even worse than Extra Texture), this is one of two standout gems. So romantic! I titled one chapter “Heat Beneath His Winter.”

4: “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” third track on Rio (1982). It’s so beautiful and romantic. I have a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares,” and called the first part of a book “Angry in His Nightmare.”

5: “Perfect Day,” third track on Thank You (1995), an album of covers. This was originally a Lou Reed song, and one of the album’s standouts. It reached #28 in the U.K. Lou said, “I think Duran Duran’s version of ‘Perfect Day’ is possibly the best rerecording of a song of mine. I’m not sure that I sang it as well as Simon sang it. I think he sings it better than I. If I could’ve sung it the way he did, I would’ve. It wasn’t from lack of trying.”

6: “To the Shore,” fourth track on their eponymous début (1981). More beautiful surrealistic poetry! It’s a shame this lovely song was left off the U.S. repackaging of their first album, replaced with the single “Is There Something I Should Know?”

7: “Out of My Mind,” fourth track on Medazzaland (1997). The video is so deliciously macabre, making the lyrics even better and taking them in such a wonderfully dark direction. It reached #21 in the U.K. and #14 in Italy.

8: “Beautiful Colours,” recorded 2005 but not officially released on an album or as a single. I love the line “Life isn’t standard-issue, it’s customised.” I’ve used riffs on that line a number of times in my writing.

9: “Palomino,” seventh track on Big Thing (1988). Absolutely gorgeous, lush poetry!

10: “Come Undone,” sixth track on The Wedding Album (1993). Officially, it’s their second eponymous album, but just about everyone calls it The Wedding Album because of the cover art with photos of the bandmembers’ parents’ weddings. The song reached #2 in Canada, #6 in Italy, #7 in the U.S., #9 in Ireland, #13 in the U.K., #16 in New Zealand, #19 in Finland and Australia, and #42 in Belgium and Germany.

This was the song that flipped the switch and made me a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011. Someone named it as one of their most romantic songs, and I looked up the video and ended up watching it over and over. This song made me come undone!

A contemporary makeover that failed

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Released August 1985, Streetfighter was The Four Seasons’ first studio album since commercial bomb Helicon (1977). By this point in the band’s career, songwriter Bob Gaudio knew it was probably a lost cause to recapture the fan base who’d long since moved on. Instead, he turned his attention to crafting a record in tune with popular sounds.

This was always his aim, listening to contemporary songs and trying to translate that style into his band’s unique voice. This approach was golden during the Sixties, though it notably failed in 1969’s Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. During the Seventies, this approach was hit or miss, though it most notably succeeded with a huge comeback in 1975.

Towards this end, Bob turned to former co-writer Sandy Linzer for help. Together, they’d produced a number of big hits in the Sixties. On Streetfighter, Linzer co-wrote five of the eight songs. Surely such accomplished songwriters, with such a keen ear for currently popular sounds, could craft another great comeback for The Four Seasons.

What was popular in 1985? Lots of synths and electronic beats. As a proud Eighties kid, I can’t complain about that unmistakable sound, but it’s not exactly one most people associate with The Four Seasons. As much as I dislike people who rant about a band or artist daring to try a much different style instead of spending their entire career remaking the same album in different iterations, something’s a bit off here.

In my review of Helicon, I used an analogy of a writer who earned fame for historical fantasies, then tried her hand at steampunk, alternative history, and contemporary urban fantasy. Some fans might only be interested in the subgenre she established a name for herself in, while others will eagerly follow her into those other, somewhat related subgenres of fantasy and historical.

The Four Seasons’ career followed a similar trajectory. As different as records like GILG, Who Loves You, and Helicon were from their familiar sound, they nonetheless were underpinned by the same general style and voice. They’re obvious Four Seasons’ records.

Now imagine that writer decides to try sci-fi because it’s really trendy, and she wants to capture a new fan base. While her new genre bears some similarities to fantasy, in that it imagines other worlds, it’s a lot further from typical fantasy than steampunk or any other subgenre.

Still, there are enough hallmarks of her usual style to pull it off fairly well. Her natural voice is a bit buried under currently popular styles, but she doesn’t come off as entirely trying to be a completely different writer.

That’s exactly how Streetfighter feels. There are enough touches of the band’s established voice and style, but they’re starting to fall by the wayside. All those synths and electronic beats bury some great songs and make them sound too much like those of any other Eighties act who didn’t achieve longterm popularity.

None of the singles charted, and the album was a commercial bomb. It seemed obvious The Four Seasons were over as anything but an oldies circuit band, but Bob Gaudio was determined to try one more time to craft a popular record that would earn them a new fanbase.

Track listing:

“Streetfighter” (one of their quintessential songs, perfectly capturing Frankie’s musical image as a tough guy with a heart of gold)
“Veronica”
“Moonlight Memories”
“Book of Love”
“Did Someone Break into Your Heart Last Night”
“Commitment”
“Once Inside a Woman’s Heart”
“What About Tomorrow” (my fave track)

A somewhat mislabeled reunion

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Released January 1981, Reunited Live, in spite of what the title might suggest, is a reunion of some of the latter-day Four Seasons, not either of the two classic era lineups. Nick Massi, Tommy DeVito, and Joe Long appear nowhere in this 1980 Garden State Art Center concert, though Bob Gaudio did play keyboards.

Present instead are Don Ciccone (guitar and vocals), Jerry Corbetta (keyboard and vocals), Gerry Polci (drums and vocals), and Larry Lingle (guitar and vocals). Absent from the latter-day lineup are Lee Shapiro (keyboards) and John Paiva (guitar). Probably because this is a reunion of a later incarnation of the band, their Seventies material is featured much more heavily. The Sixties songs all appear as medleys, not full songs.

Thanks to venerable L.A. ear surgeon Victor Goodhill, Frankie’s otosclerosis was healed by this point. Dr. Goodhill used bones from UCLA’s bone bank to make a new stapes bone for each ear. The hearing in one ear went from 35% to 98%, and a year later, the second operation brought the other ear up to 87%. With most of his hearing restored, Frankie was able to sing most of the lead vocals on this record.

While there may have been some studio sweetening, this is a great live show, showing this incarnation of The Four Seasons in top-notch form. They were never a live band like The Who, but I don’t think anyone would expect their stage presence to markedly differ from their studio style. What you hear is what you get.

It’s also great to hear Frankie singing again, live no less, so soon after the miraculous restoration of his hearing. These songs show him in peak vocal form, in comparison to how he lip-syncs all his shows these days (though that’s the topic for another post!).

Track listing:

“Who Loves You”
“Our Day Will Come”
Medley of “Save It for Me,” “Rag Doll,” “Dawn (Go Away),” and “Let’s Hang On!”
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”
“Fallen Angel”
“Silver Star”
“Slip Away”
“December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”
“Swearin’ to God”
“My Eyes Adored You”
Medley of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Workin’ My Way Back to You,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Opus 17”
“Spend the Night in Love” (#91 in the U.S.)
“Heaven Must Have Sent You (Here in the Night)”
“Grease”
Medley of “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)”

Happy 35th birthday to Colour by Numbers!

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This was one of those albums I got because I saw it in the $2 vinyl stack, and I wanted to indulge my Eighties nostalgia (the same reason I bought Rio in 2007, little dreaming I’d become a Duranie three and a half years later). I ended up really liking this album on its own merits. Unfortunately, the first Culture Club album, Kissing to Be Clever, which I also got in the $2 stacks, didn’t impress me so much.

Their début album may be spotty (with a lot of songs sounding too much alike, too close together), but this their sophomore album absolutely hits it out of the park. It’s a quintessential Eighties album I highly recommend to everyone who loves that decade.

Released October 1983, the album hit #1 in the U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand; #2 in the U.S., Spain, and Norway; #3 in Sweden and The Netherlands; #4 in France and Switzerland; #6 in West Germany; #9 in Italy; and #17 in Austria.

Track listing, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Karma Chameleon” (one of the most overplayed Eighties songs, right up there with “Hungry Like the Wolf”) (#1 in the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland; #2 in both Germanies; #3 in Austria; #4 in Italy; #5 in France)
“It’s a Miracle” (#4 in the U.K.; #13 in the U.S.; Top 5 in Canada)
“Black Money”
“Changing Every Day”
“That’s the Way (I’m Only Trying to Help You)”
“Church of the Poison Mind” (#2 in the U.K. and Ireland; #4 in Australia; #5 in Canada; #9 in Belgium and New Zealand; #10 in the U.S.; #11 in Norway and The Netherlands; #12 in Italy and Austria; #13 in Sweden; #23 in both Germanies; #43 in France)
“Miss Me Blind” (#5 in the U.S. and Canada)
“Mister Man”
“Stormkeeper”
“Victims” (#2 in Ireland and Italy; #3 in the U.K.; #4 in Australia; #7 in New Zealand; #11 in Belgium; #18 in Switzerland; #39 in both Germanies)
“Man-Shake”*
“Mystery Boy”*
“Melting Pot”*
“Colour by Numbers”*
“Romance Revisited”*

Critics by and large loved the album, giving it extremely high ratings. Colour by Numbers has been certified quadruple platinum in the U.S., triple platinum in the U.K., and platinum in Hong Kong; diamond in Canada; and gold in France.

The album is still well-regarded today, both as one of the best albums of the Eighties, and an overall fantastic pop album. It’s hard to pick a favourite song, since they’re all so good!