Tag: 1986

Drivin N Cryin – Scarred but Smarter

ARTIST: Drivin N Cryin           scarred

TITLE: Scarred but Smarter




OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Scarred but Smarter, Count the Flowers

LINEUP: Kevin Kinney, Tim Nielsen, Paul Lenz

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from the neo-Southern rocker / folker band shows promise, but is hit and miss.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Kevin Kinney’s songs were either driving rockers, or crying folkie tunes, which is how the band got their name. Kinney formed this Atlanta band soon after arriving in the city from Milwaukee and soon after got this album released after a lot of local buzz.

There’s some definite ace material here, like the title track, but Kinney’s rapid fire vocals dilute the songs power – they make it seem that the tracks blur by and they don’t sit with you since they rush onward. The sound is tinny as well – without the sonic depth the songs seem flat.

There’s enough good stuff here for fans to enjoy it, and for novices to pick and choose. After this album, they’d sign to Island and start on their road to kinda-sorta fame.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Kinney worked at a futon company and sewage treatment plant while working on his songs and forming the band.


GRADE: B-: If he’d have slown down is delivery a bit, then this album would be better. Still, not bad.



Janet Jackson – Control

ARTIST: Janet Jackson                              Janet_Jackson_-_Control

TITLE: Control


CHART ACTION: #1 US, #1 R&B, #8 UK

SINGLES: What Have You Done for Me Lately (#4 US, #1 R&B, #3 UK), Nasty (#3 US, #1 R&B, #19 UK), When I Think of You (#1 US, #3 R&B, #10 UK), Control (#5 US, #1 R&B, #42 UK), Let’s Wait Awhile (#2 US, #1 R&B, #3 UK), The Pleasure Principle (#14 US, #1 R&B, #24 UK), Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun) (#59 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: That’s seven of nine tracks right there.

LINEUP: Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Spencer Bernard, Monte Moir, and other session players

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After two sentimentally goopy pop albums, Janet Jackson breaks away from the family dynasty and asserts herself.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Track one is all about taking control of one’s self and career. Track two is about asserting one’s self as not taking sexist crap from men. Track three is about putting that bad boyfriend in his place. Janet Jackson has basically flipped the bird, strongly, towards anyone doubting her.

Working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jackson and the producers constructed a mid-80’s soundtrack for women’s empowerment. Yes, there are love songs (and those slow ones get treacly), but the dance numbers shine, and Jackson uses the strengths of her voice, and Jam and Lewis’s production, to get the message out there.

The production is of the time, but the message is still of our time. The only bad thing is the sequencing, putting the two slow jams at the end allows the record to run out of steam.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She had two solo records in the early 80’s before she broke away from the family management. Those are better left in the dust.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A Japanese bonus track.

GRADE: A-: The downgrade is for the closing two tracks.

Beastie Boys – License to Ill

ARTIST: Beastie Boys                                   220px-Licensed_to_ill

TITLE: Licensed to Ill


CHART ACTION: #1 US, #2 R&B, #7 UK

SINGLES: Hold It Now, Hit It (#55 R&B), The New Style (#22 R&B), Paul Revere (#34 R&B), Brass Monkey (#48 US, #83 R&B), (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party) (#7 US, #11 UK), No Sleep till Brooklyn (#14 UK), Girls (#34 UK)


LINEUP: Ad-Rock, MCA, Mike D. Kerry King famously played guitar on No Sleep till Brooklyn

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Fun, if problematic, debut long player album from punk group turned hip hop force.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After “Cookie Puss”, the Beastie Boys went through huge changes, as they decided to turn themselves from a snotty punk band to a snotty hip hop outfit. After a couple of singles and soundtrack appearances, they and Rick Rubin released this opus, which introduced hip hop to snotty suburban bros (ok, maybe not introduced, but made it OK for them to like).

So many great samples, so many great production moments, so so many great one-liners, and yet, it’s problematic. It’s hard, now, to listen to this at times, with the many references to violence and the rampant misogyny. But, were those references tongue in cheek? Maybe so.

I’m going with the tongue in cheek answer. It’s partly a product of the times, a parody at times of the culture of suburban white kids, and dang the rhymes are great. Even now, my best friend and I will bust out “Got six girlies in my Lincoln Continental” when we’re feeling fresh.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The move to hip hop was the impetus for Kate Schellenbach to leave the band, as there was no room for her anymore.


GRADE: A: It’s got rhymes like Abe Vigoda.

Sonic Youth – Evol

ARTIST: Sonic Youth                                Evol




SINGLES: Starpower


LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Leaping to SST, new drummer in two, Sonic Youth moves past noise for noise’s sake into sculpting songs out of their chaos.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Shelley, former Crucifucks’ drummer, joined Sonic Youth in time to record this album, and his presence and steadiness helped fuel a transformation in the band. No longer were they content to make noise and horrific soundscapes – Sonic Youth was going to reach you through songs that utilized their noise, not fight against it.

Though this started a bit with “Death Valley ‘69”, it really hit home with songs such as “Tom Violence”, “Starpower” and “Madonna, Sean & Me” (also called “Expressway to Yr Skull” or “The Crucifixion of Sean Penn”). The chaos is there, but there’s melody there, and recognizable song forms.

Sure, they don’t give up the noise (side two still has a couple of cuts that the melody is still a mystery), but this is a big leap forward for a band who wanted to reach more people than the 50 no-wave folks in NYC.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mike Watt played bass on “In the Kingdom #19”, a Lee Ranaldo story-song about a car accident.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD had a B-side, their cover of a Kim Fowley tune.

GRADE: A-: This is the beginning of Sonic Youth’s journey into the pop-culture landscape.

Steve Earle – Guitar Town

ARTIST: Steve Earle                              Guitartown

TITLE: Guitar Town


CHART ACTION: #89, #1 Country

SINGLES: Hillbilly Highway (#37 Country), Guitar Town (#7 Country), Someday (#28 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left

LINEUP: Steve Earle, Bucky Baxter, Richard Bennett, Ken Moore, Emory Gordy Jr., Harry Stinson. Reno Kling, Michael McAdam, Paul Franklin, John Barlow Jarvis, and Steve Nathan also pitched in.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from country singer-songwriter puts him directly in the spotlight as country fans look for something new.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Country music fans who wanted something more than just the latest country-pop dreck were enthused by this record, for good reason.

Earle’s songs and arrangements all had a strong retro-country feel, and his storytelling broke out of the sentimental goop and onto something that was real, and seemingly well-worn. The title track had a great line in “Got a two pack habit and a motel tan”, which really describes life on the road.

Country music with a rock attitude was nothing new, but it was dormant until Earle came on board (though Dwight Yoakam was close). This record helped alt-country be a thing, for real.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had released some singles before this album, but they barely charted, if that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A bonus track from a live show.

GRADE: A: For the songs, and the attitude.

Prince – Parade

ARTIST: Prince         220px-ParadeLP

TITLE: Parade


CHART ACTION: #3 US, #2 R&B, #4 UK

SINGLES: Kiss (#1 US, #1 R&B, #1 Dance, #6 UK), Mountains (#23 US, #15 R&B, #11 Dance, #45 UK), Anotherloverholenyohead (#63 US, #18 R&B, #21 Dance, #36), Girls & Boys (#21 Dance, #11 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Under the Cherry Moon

LINEUP: Prince, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin and some help from others in the Revolution (Brown Mark, Bobby Z, Dr. Fink), Sheila E and others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pop-funk and pop-dance record combines elements from his last few albums with success.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first thing I wondered about this album is the sequencing. Putting two of the strongest songs in the middle of side two, and making the entire first side deep cuts for the most part seems idiosyncratic, but that’s Prince for you.

There’s definite elements left over from Around the World in a Day, with its psychedelic leanings. He combines those with some of the spare funk he trotted out in the early 80’s and came up with another new Prince sound.

Of course, “Kiss” takes over the album, and overwhelms the other songs, though “Anotherloverholenyourhead” is almost its equal with a strong hook and a sense of fun. It’s a strong album in the string of strong records Prince put out in the 80’s.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Oh, it’s also the soundtrack to his turkey of a film Under the Cherry Moon. You probably didn’t see it. And double oh, Prince uses the band Mazarati (led by Brown Mark, his bassist) as his backing musicians on “Kiss”. Didn’t help their career.


GRADE: A-: People really forget about this album, for no reason.

The Smithereens – Especially for You

ARTIST: The Smithereens                              220px-Smithereensespeciallyforyou

TITLE: Especially for You


CHART ACTION: #51 US, #5 UK Indie

SINGLES: Blood and Roses (#14 Mainstream), Behind the Wall of Sleep (#23 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Strangers When We Meet, In a Lonely Place

LINEUP: Jim Babjak, Pat DiNizio, Dennis Diken, Mike Mesaros. Suzanne Vega duets on a track, and other studio musicians help now and then.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After a couple of EPs the Smithereens record an album totally influenced by the Beatles and 60’s British rock, yet original sounding.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Blood and Roses” seemed to be a go-to song for movie producers around 1986 and 1987, and that song got the Smithereens noticed and this album some commercial play. When people bought it, they were introduced to a band that could pull off writing 60’s style songs with a modern flair. It was magic.

Everything from the songs, the production, and the sequencing were nearly perfect. The tracks were all unique, and ranged from French-ballads, to melodic rock-and-roll, to lovelorn duets. The pacing of the album also makes it easy to listen to from front to back.

It was made for the vinyl age, as the band and Don Dixon understood the best sequencing for that medium. It’s one of the touchstone rock albums of the 80’s – a standout in the midst of hair metal and cool UK pretty boy dance music.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They released two EPs before this album. One is so-so, but the second (Beauty and Sadness) should really be out there in full. Two tracks show up on a lot of compilations but they miss the sublime “Tracey’s World”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. “White Castle Blues” was a bonus track on cassette and CD, and they added another bonus later.

GRADE: A+: I keep thinking of a track I’d leave off, and I can’t. Even “White Castle Blues” works as a coda to the perfect album ending track.


Chumbawamba – Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records

ARTIST: Chumbawamba                   Chumbastarving

TITLE: Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records




OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, not here, no way.

LINEUP: Harry Hamer, Alice Nutter, Boff Whalley, Mavis Dillon, Lou Watts, Danbert Nobacon, Dunstan Bruce, Simon Lanzon

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First record from the anarchist band / collective is a broadside against celebrities and corporate greed, in a very 80’s style.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to this album, you can somehow hear how this group of in your face anarchists got a hit single. They do have pop sensibilities and musical chops.

Listening to this now, it’s very dated. The first part slams all of the celebrity benefits and calls out Freddie Mercury (for playing at Sun City), Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Cliff Richard.

For the second side, it takes aim at Unilever and Coca Cola for investing in South Africa and taking advantage of the poor and indigent around the world.

It’s good for a curious listen, but really, not much else unless you want to study the political messages of 80’s anarchy.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This isn’t streaming, but you can find it on You Tube.


GRADE: C+: Definitely of a time and place, just not this one.

R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant

ARTIST: R.E.M.                                    220px-r-e-m-_-_lifes_rich_pageant

TITLE:  Lifes Rich Pageant



SINGLES: Fall on Me (#94, #5 Mainstream), Superman (#17 Mainstream)


LINEUP: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: REM changes its sounds and style in many ways – making a crunch harder-rock album with clear vocals.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After several years of similar sounding songs (jangly guitars, mumbled vocals), REM breaks out of its box, and revs up their rock-and-roll influences.

On many songs, Peter Buck’s guitars roars with power chords and feedback and Bill Berry hits the drums with fury. The biggest change is Michael Stipe’s vocals. For the most part, they’re clear and you can hear every word. The meaning and lyrics are still oblique, but you can pick out what he’s saying. Only on a couple tracks does the band soften and slow down, and even on “The Flowers of Guatemala” Buck’s guitar gets loud and insistent at the end.

Track-for-track, this is their strongest record since their debut and creates a sound that would carry REM into the future.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Because they’re REM, the track list of the back of the album is all mixed up and the closing track on each side isn’t listed.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, one with bonus tracks and another with demos for their 25th anniversary.

GRADE: A:  A fantastic record and a welcome change of pace.


Sting – Bring on the Night

ARTIST: Sting                                      bring-on-the-night-2

TITLE:  Bring on the Night




OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably the entire album if you’re a Sting fan, the songs at least…

LINEUP: Sting, Daryl Jones, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Omar Hakim, Janice Pendarvis, Dolette McDonald

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sting remakes / remodels some tunes from the Police and his first solo album into jazz / fusion explorations. It works on some levels, but you have to be somewhat hep to jazz.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you like jazz, and liked the Police and Sting’s solo work, then this would be the perfect album for you. Taking the raw material, and performing them with some jazz hotshots of the time (Sting moves to guitar to allow Daryl Jones to play bass), there’s new life brought into these tracks.220px-stingnight

It really is brilliant on some levels. The opening track, a medley of “Bring on the Night” and “When the World Is Running Down…” features a great keyboard solo from Kenny Kirkland and a rap from Branford Marsalis, while Jones’ bass moves all over the fretboard.


However, (yeah, there’s a however), some of the tracks, the more maudlin ballads, don’t really work in this idiom. They really sound more like puffed up 80’s tracks than a true remake of the song. I don’t know if anything could really save “Children’s Crusade” for me, though.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, this was an import only on vinyl, and it took a while to be released in the US


GRADE: B+:  Most of this works, especially if you’re a jazz fan.