Saturday, September 28, 2013

An Eclectic Avenue Playlist: Meat Loaf & Jim Steinman Edition

Over the top production & instrumentation; operatic, choral, sometimes Broadway-style vocals. Clever lyrics with word-laden, wild images & sexual innuendo. The latest hit from a teen pop sensation? No, we’re talking about the partnership of Meat Loaf & lyricist Jim Steinman. From the classic album Bat Out of Hell through the present day, they’ve created some of rock’s most iconic songs. Since Meat Loaf is currently doing a six-week run of shows in Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino celebrating his career, let’s pay tribute with a little Meat Loaf/Steinman playlist:

1.     Bat Out Of Hell – the title track from the 1977 album has it all, the amazing vocals, great guitar work and an epic wall of sound, courtesy of producer Todd Rundgren.

2.     Paradise By The Dashboard Light – also from Bat Out Of Hell, the famous ode to one night of lust leading to a lifetime of regret. Originally recorded with singer Ellen Foley, but later performed by Meat Loaf with a variety of other artists, including Karla DeVito.

3.     You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth – a poppy, catchy sing along that starts with a spoken word intro (recorded by Steinman & Marcia McClain) “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” One of the best tracks on Bat Out Of Hell, and clearly influenced by the work of producer Phil Spector.

4.     I‘d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) – from Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993), the song that brought Meat Loaf (and Steinman) back into the spotlight, and led to successful tours and more album releases.

5.     Read ‘Em & Weep – from Dead Ringer (1981) – from the follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell, a typically cool Steinman lyric and a fine vocal performance by Meat Loaf highlight this tune, which later became a hit for Barry Manilow.

6.     Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad – Perhaps the biggest hit from Bat Out Of Hell, and an AM radio staple for much of the 70s.

7.     Dead Ringer For Love – a duet with Cher from Dead Ringer, the video for this one has “VH1 Classic 80s” written all over it. Oh, and the song features the memorable Steinman line “Rock & Roll and brew. Rock & Roll and brew. They don't mean a thing when I compare 'em next to you…”

8.     Bad For Good – recorded by Steinman as the title track to his own 1981 album, it was later revived by Meat Loaf for Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster is Loose in 2006. The very definition of “over the top,” but a fun track, with guitar work by Brian May of Queen.

9.     Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are - from Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell. A long title for a mournful, reflective power ballad that runs about ten minutes on the record. Classic Steinman song structure & lyrics.

10.   Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through – another song from Steinman’s Bad For Good album that Meat Loaf later recorded and released on Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell.

11.   I’m Gonna Love Her For Both Of Us – along with the Cher duet above, this song was one of the singles released from Dead Ringer, an album that was successful, but didn’t quite reach the sales heights of Bat Out Of Hell.

12.  Nowhere Fast – Originally recorded by the Steinman created group Fire, Inc. for the 1984 film Streets of Fire, Meat Loaf’s version is on Bad Attitude (1985). Ironically, Meat’s version may be a bit more restrained than the original!

Bonus Tracks:
13.  I’d Lie For You (And That’s The Truth) – from Welcome To The Neighborhood (1995) – This tune wasn't written by Steinman, but this Diane Warren penned song is certainly patterned after the Steinman style in both vocals & production.

14.  Loving You’s A Dirty Job But Somebody’s Gotta Do It – Bonnie Tyler & Todd Rundgren. Not a Meat Loaf song, but this duet features Rundgren (who did work on all three Bat Out Of Hell albums) and Tyler, who had hits with several Steinman compositions, including Total Eclipse of The Heart. This duet can be found on Tyler’s 1986 album Secret Dreams & Forbidden Fire.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"History Of The Eagles" Soars

The Eagles flew out from the shadows of serving as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band to become rock superstars. They had a string of hits, including “Take It Easy, One of These Nights, and Take It To The Limit.” They hit their peak with 1976’s Hotel California, one of the most successful rock albums of all time. Then the cracks started to show, as internal conflicts, too much partying & the pressures of fame began to unravel the band. The group broke up in 1980, but resurfaced in 1994 with an MTV special, album & eventual tour called Hell Freezes Over. They’ve reunited on and off ever since. The two part documentary History of the Eagles charts their meteoric rise, fall & eventual reunion. 

The film is filled with great behind the scenes footage, photos & performance clips from throughout the group’s career. In addition to interviews with current & former band members, there are also appearances by Ronstadt, Jackson Browne & Bob Seger. Part One traces the band’s beginnings through their split in 1980, and Part Two charts the road to their reunion and comeback. The band (including Don Henley, Glenn Frey & Joe Walsh) is remarkably candid about the good times & the bad times that occurred during the group’s heyday. The guys are open (and intense & emotional) about their opinions, and sometimes (especially in the case of the often prickly Frey) don’t always come off in a positive light. And it’s interesting to see what former members like Bernie Leadon & Don Felder (who wrote a tell-all memoir about his tenure in the band) have to say about their time in the group.

The Eagles, whose Greatest Hits, Vol 1., 1971-1975 was named the best selling album of the 20th Century by the Recording Industry Association of America, have an amazing body of work and History of the Eagles reminds us of their enduring legacy of classic songs. But it also gives us a glimpse of the band’s current lineup, which now includes Felder’s replacement, guitarist Stueart Smith. There's also footage of the group working on their most recent disc, 2007’s Long Road Out of Eden. I wish there were some complete vintage performance clips featured as extras, but there is a bonus disc included (on both the DVD and Blu-ray versions) with an hour’s worth of performances from a 1977 concert at the Capital Centre, though it’s not the complete show.

Director Alison Ellwood has done a remarkable job with this film; the three-hour plus running time of the documentary gives her ample time to really tell the band’s story, though Part One is a good deal longer than Part Two. This is a fascinating chronicle of the rise, fall (and return) of one of rock’s most memorable groups, and if you’re a fan of the band, enjoy ‘70s rock or the country rock genre, the film is essential viewing. The movie originally aired on Showtime, but is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. Here’s a link to the trailer for the film: and a vintage performance of “Take It Easy” :

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kurt Baker's Excellent "Brand New Beat" is Power Pop at its Best

Regular readers of this blog know of my fondness for power pop music. Well, thanks to the syndicated radio series Little Steven’s Underground Garage, hosted by Steven Van Zandt, I’ve discovered another artist who’s a prime example of the genre. Little Steven’s show always showcases a “Song of the Week,” and he recently featured Kurt Baker’s “Weekend Girls,” a tuneful blast of pop rock sunshine. It led me to check out Baker’s 2012 release, Brand New Beat. It’s a fantastic album that will appeal to fans of 70s & 80s artists like The Cars & Elvis Costello. The album kicks off with the rocking “Hit The Ground,” and from then on it’s track after track of power pop excellence on songs such as the electric “Partied Out,” the fine ballad “She’s Not Sorry,” and the bright summer love tale “She Can Do It All.” You’ll hear echoes of Marshall Crenshaw, Cheap Trick, The Beatles & The Beach Boys in the sparkling harmonies, catchy lyrics and jangly guitars, on songs like “Everybody Knows" & the all out rocker "Qualified." There’s even a touch of the pop punk sound of The Ramones, another group Baker cites as an influence.

The production & arrangements are excellent, and the band (including producer Wyatt Funderburk on Guitar & Bass, Kris Rodgers on Keyboards, Geoff Palmer on Rhythm Guitar and Adam Cargin on Drums ably backs Baker on every track. The sound of vintage pop rock is captured perfectly on this great disc. Brand New Beat is a terrific set of “pure pop for now people,” to borrow the title of a Nick Lowe record. This is a great release by an artist whose music deserves to be heard. If you’re a power pop fan, a classic rock fan, or enjoy any of Baker’s influences, this Portland native (formerly of the band The Leftovers) will have your toes tapping and your hands clapping. Baker also has several EPs available, including 2012’s Want You Around and his awesome debut, Got It Covered (2010), a fantastic set of covers featuring the artist’s own power pop favorites, including terrific versions of Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind,” Rick Springfield’s “I’ve Done Everything For You” and The Vapors “Turning Japanese.” Highly recommended.

Here are links to videos for “She Can Do it All,” & “She’s Not Sorry” from Brand New Beat, and “Cruel To Be Kind” & “I’ve Done Everything For You” from Got It Covered.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Celebration of Batman's TV Adventures

A book that celebrates the campy Batman TV show? If you’re part of a certain age group, your first exposure to the Caped Crusader was likely the original broadcasts (or syndicated reruns) of that action-filled, pop art 1960s seriesThe show originally ran from 1966-68, and starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The show amped up the humor quotient, but young viewers didn’t care as they loved the fights between Batman and Robin and the colorful villains like The Joker and The Penguin, the numerous Bat-gadgets and the cliffhanger style endings, leaving our heroes in the grip of a seemingly inescapable death trap at the end of Part 1. Adults enjoyed the satirical aspects of the show, the tongue in cheek dialogue, and the gallery of famous guest stars who were featured as villains, including Julie Newmar as Catwoman & Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. And in a sort of reverse synchronicity, the comics published by DC at the time began to reflect the style of the TV version of Batman.

During the original run of the series, Bat-mania was a bona fide cultural phenomenon. But the fad started to fade during the show’s second year, and even the addition of Yvonne Craig as Batgirl for the third and final season couldn’t halt the declining ratings. After the show’s cancellation, the comic book Batman returned to his darker roots courtesy of writers like Dennis O’Neil & Steve Englehart and artists like Neal Adams & Jim Aparo. While the show gained new fans in reruns, some people looked down on the series and scorned its spoofy tone. In the 1980s and 90s, groundbreaking graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Year One and Tim Burton’s films brought the onscreen character closer to its original persona, and the TV show seemed like a distant memory that many chose to deride. DC all but disavowed the show.

A book called Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays On Why The 1960s Batman TV Series Matters seeks to change all that. It’s a group of articles by comic book professionals, writers and journalists who see the TV series as a valid interpretation of Batman, and look to honor its contribution to the Dark Knight’s history. It’s an enjoyable read for fans. There are articles on the unique style of the series, a comparison between the TV episodes and the comics that inspired them, and a look at the 1966 feature film version of the show. Some of the standout pieces include: long time comics writer Chuck Dixon’s “Known Super-Criminals Still At Large: Villainy in Batman,” Robert Greenberger’s “Bats in Their Belfries: The Proliferation of Batmania,” and Michael Johnson’s “Gotham City R&D: Gadgetry In Batman.”

The essays are written with obvious love and appreciation for the show, and its lasting impact on the Batman's legacy. Dixon (who wrote a lot of  “serious” Batman stories in the 90s) admits to dismissing the series at first, then coming around to recognize its charms. Guides to the show’s episodes and its music are featured as appendixes. I grew up watching reruns of the series, and while I’m a fan of the “darker” Batman, I also appreciate the TV show on its own merits. I absolutely loved it in my younger days, and I appreciate it on a whole new level as an adult. This book brought back a lot of great “Zap! Pow! Bam!” memories. I mean, who didn't love that awesome Batmobile!? Or Ms. Newmar as the sexiest Catwoman ever?

Interestingly enough, the series has never been released on home video, though the 1966 movie version of the series is on DVD & Blu-ray. There’s no doubt that, love it or hate it, the series was influential, and this entertaining book is a great way to look back at the history of the show. Recently, DC Comics has begun to license collectible items related to the series, and is even publishing a new online and print comic called Batman ’66 featuring stories in the style of the show. The writer is Jeff Parker, best known for Marvel’s retro superhero series Agents of AtlasGotham City 14 Miles is recommended for comic fans, classic television fans & Batman fans. Here are links to the trailer for the 1966 feature film version of the show:, and the series' opening titles: remember like the Caped Crusader says “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

A well known blogger at 2013's ComicConn with his new car :)