Today’s edition of BHYH may be the most eclectic we’ve done yet. In the mix we’ve got a powerhouse of a power pop band based out of Chicago, a richly diverse soundtrack to a early ’80s NYC film that was almost forgotten, a throwback to 2000s screamo that reminds us of wasted youth, a side project from a Kansas City staple rooted in pop sensibility, and a vintage offering from an actor you may be surprised could croon so well.
PEZBAND, “I’M LEAVIN'” (AND OTHERS)
The best kept secret about Chicago rock ‘n’ roll is that most of the best bands get their start in the suburbs. Based out of Oak Park on the city’s west side, Pezband were part of the mid to late ‘70s scene that found Cheap Trick, Off Broadway, Names, and countless other Beatles-inspired pop rock acts packing bars from Champaign to Rockford. Following an appearance on The Today Show, Jane Pauley stated “this is the sound everybody will be talking about” for the impending ‘80s.
That sound was christened “power pop” (a term coined by The Who’s Pete Townshend). It was big hooks, heavy guitars, and the sweetest harmonies all laid out in punchy tunes clocking under three minutes. It was the intersection of radio-ready rock and the emerging punk sound, and Pezband were one of the slickest outfits on record. Their original run consisted of three albums and a gangbusters EP, Thirty Seconds Over Schaumburg that showcases the smoldering live firepower residing in this four piece. In 2019, band leader Mimi Betinis recruited original producer John Pavelac to remix their 1980 swan song, Cover To Cover. Mike Gorman’s “Meika” is a stand out track from the band—name checking Chicago’s famed “State street that great street” in an assorted tale of a one night stand with a “French woman in American clothes.” And while not available on Spotify, the blistering “I’m Leavin’” and dreamy “Please Be Somewhere Tonight” should be included on any power pop playlist. — Mike Vanderbilt
DOWNTOWN 81, OST
During one of Kino Lorber’s numerous sales this year, I picked up a blu ray of a film I’ve had on my radar for quite some time, but hadn’t yet pulled the trigger. That film is Swiss photographer Edo Bertoglio’s Downtown 81, which chronicles a sort of “day in the life” of a fictional artist portrayed here by the legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat. The film isn’t a biopic, per se, but does feature a laundry list of real artists and musicians who were flourishing in early ’80s NYC — including Basquiat’s actual band, Gray. The time period along with the late ’70s is of course most well-known for the beginnings of New York punk and hip-hop culture, but what gets left out in a lot of I Love The ’80s-type conversations is the burgeoning (and ultimately, fleeting) no-wave scene. Showcasing all these, the film is great not only because it recounts a time when these different, new, and interesting musical styles were coexisting, but also because it shows us how they happened to intersect and, in essence, began to feed off of each other.
The film itself is a strange straddle between the real and the magical, giving Basquiat a bit of a hero’s journey to endure; the film starts as he’s discharged from the hospital, soon afterwards he climbs into the convertible of a strange, beautiful woman, traverses various NYC clubs and recording studios meeting several different types of characters (ranging from street artist Lee Quiñones and Fab Five Freddy to experimental musician Arto Lindsay), and later he encounters Debbie Harry as a rough-looking bag lady. Upon acquiescing Deb’s request for a smooch on the lips, Basquiat watches as she magically transforms into a princess/genie, promising to grant his every wish. It’s cute.
But hey, this is a music recommendation! Like I mentioned, this soundtrack is a melting pot of cultures, featuring the likes of James White and The Blacks, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Tuxedomoon, DNA, Suicide, The Plastics. Lydia Lunch, and Vincent Gallo. It’s a wonderful representation of pre-MTV New York, a time when art, music, and fashion were richly immersive, and one could move freely between the milieu. — elbee
Alesana, On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax
The emo/screamo music scene that thrived when I was a teen was something I resisted for a long time. I first observed it through my best friend. He immediately clicked with what he was hearing on Silverstein’s Arrivals and Departures, and eventually that led to a subscription to Alternative Press.
I on the other hand was listening to ’80s metal. Why? Because all those sleazy Sunset Strip rockers were horny like me. Sure, Kip Winger’s lust for 17-year old girls was a tad problematic, but he understood my pain.
I began broadening my music taste in late 2008. I was an emotionally broken white boy, so I went to the place everybody else with depression was going, Hot Topic. I bought a copy of The Devil Wears Prada’s Plagues and the album I’m putting a spotlight on today, Alesana’s On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax.
Some of the more memorable tracks on this album like “Ambrosia”, “Apology,” “Tilting The Hourglass,” and “This Conversation is Over” are very definitive for this 2000s screamo scene. People my age hear these songs and sadly think about how much time they wasted refreshing their MySpace homepage in the hopes of finally seeing the new messages notification. It’s our soundtrack of wasted youth.
So many feelings course through my body when I revisit this album. Everything from relief that I survived being a teenager to fear that I’ll wake up and have to do it all over again. Check this album out or better yet, revisit whatever music defined your high school years and applaud yourself for surviving the hormonal warfare. Maybe pour one out for the homies who died shortly after you graduated. One day you’re tossing your caps in the air, next thing you know you’re looking at them in their casket at the visitation.
Looks like I’ve completely reverted back to my emo phase. If anybody needs me I’ll be writing poetry while wearing a To Write Love On Her Arms hoodie. – Emilio Amaro
BRANDON PHILLIPS AND THE CONDITION, “CONTRITION”
Brandon Phillips is perhaps best known to the world at large as the frontman for long-running Kansas City rock ‘n’ rollers the Architects. That band grew out of the Gadjits, Phillips’ former band with his brothers Zach and Adam, a ska act who released albums on Hellcat and Thick back in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
While the Gadjits were poppy mod ska, the Architects are a full-force rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse, equally endebted to the likes of AC/DC and ’77 punk. However, Phillips is a man of many tastes and talents, and while the Architects are on hiatus, he’s started not one, not two, but three new acts. There’s the indie dance of Other Americans, the EDM of Mensa Death Squad, and what might be my favorite, Brandon Phillips and the Condition.
Originally conceived as a way for Phillips to take off his guitar and sing and dance as he moved about the stage, the band is equal parts power pop and soul. The group creates songs that are incredibly danceable and feature massive sing-along choruses. They’re a melange of every band from a cinematic party scene from the ’60s to the ’80s, where you’re like, “Who are they and when can they play my town?”
Otis Day & the Knights. 4 Out of 5 Doctors. Marvin Berry & the Starlighters. The Commitments. Bands with verve and soul and — most of all — a sense of fun. They’re not above pulling out a cover of Ivan Neville’s “Why Can’t I Fall in Love” or breaking out a flute on “Sunrise” in order to keep you on your toes.
However, while the ska pop of “C.A.R.D.I.A.C. A.R.R.E.S.T.” is an absolute jammer, I can’t help but recommend the note-perfect Elvis Costello lift that is “Contrition,” which manages to sound like an outtake from This Year’s Model, while also managing to outrock Declan Patrick MacManus with guitar playing straight off the Rhino D.I.Y. comp, Shake It Up! It’s just what you need to perk yourself up off the couch and move again. — Nick Spacek
ANTHONY PERKINS, “MOONLIGHT SWIM”
When people think of Anthony Perkins, they invariably conjure up images of him running around wearing a wig and a dress, slashing naked women in the shower. While he was quite compelling as the psychopathic serial killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, there was so much more to him as a performer.
It seems hard to believe but when he first came to prominence in the film, Friendly Persuasion, starring opposite Gary Cooper, he was a bona fide teen idol. Girls were drawn to his shyness and his awkward smile, not to mention his intensely dark, boyishly handsome looks. He made such a splash as Cooper’s son in the film about peaceful Quakers enduring the harsh realities of the Civil War, that he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
As a matter of fact, when the studio got wind of how impressive he was during the daily rushes of the film, they started grooming him to be a “James Dean” type. It was around this time that he started to gravitate toward music and believe it or not, he could croon.
According to Dangerous Minds, in 1956, the actor made an appearance on the Goodyear Television Playhouse on NBC in a role where he had to sing. His voice was so remarkable, he caught the eye of a recording executive who signed him to Epic Records. Back in the day, artists didn’t really get to pick the material that went on their albums. Usually, songs were penned by lyricists under contract to the label.
Around 1957, Nick Noble released a song called, “Moonlight Swim,” written by Ben Weisman and Sylvia Dee. Weisman had the distinction of writing or co-writing 57 songs covered by the King himself, Elvis Presley. Noble’s version of the very catchy Hawaiian sounding tune, made it to 37 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. However, Perkins decided to cover it and something magical happened. Believe it or not, the thespian who would play dark and frequently disturbed characters later in his career, had a voice that would melt butter. “Moonlight Swim” landed at 24 on Billboard’s chart. While he did better than Noble, it would be his one and only commercial hit. That didn’t stop him from releasing three more LPs.
Since Perkins’ first love was the stage, it isn’t surprising that he chose to sing songs from several musicals. On his 10” self-titled vinyl, he lent his dulcet tones to “Tonight at Eight” which is from the Broadway show, She Loves Me. Like other artists of the era, Tony chose to cover Frank Sinatra in the wistful, and dare I say swoon worthy, “Polka Dot and Moonbeams.” Yes, he’s no Chairman of the Board but he brings a subtle schoolboy yearning to this tune that is frankly, very appealing.
His other vinyl offering, From My Heart, I am proud to say was part of my collection in the ’80s and ’90s. I found it in a vintage record store in Pennsylvania and wore it out. “The More I See You,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” and “Swinging on a Star” were some of my favorite classic cuts on this effort. On A Rainy Afternoon was another album that I owned, and man, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” used to make me wish that he would be singing that song to me.
On a side note, Elvis recorded the song, “Moonlight Swim” for the Blue Hawaii soundtrack in 1962. The album went to number one on the charts with a bullet. Personally, I would have loved for Anthony Perkins to continue his musical career but in a sense, his legacy lives on thanks to YouTube and other music sites. For the record, if I would have been a teenage girl in the 50’s, I would have loved to have gone on a “Moonlight Swim” with him… — Susan Leighton