Tag Archives: Reprise Records

Rocks In The Attic #722: The B-52’s – ‘Cosmic Thing’ (1989)

RITA#722The B-52’s fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, has just been reissued for this year’s Record Store Day – Black Friday event. It’s a nice little release, on rainbow-coloured vinyl to match the album’s cover art.

Cosmic Thing marks a point of transition in the B-52’s career. Up to this point, they had been a quirky new-wave act, a cross-breed of surf-rock and thrift-store aesthetic. They looked and sounded like they had walked out of a John Waters film, and aside from a #1 single in Canada, they had barely troubled the pop charts.

In 1985, the band lost original guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS-related illnesses, and drummer Keith Strickland took over guitar duties. The last album they recorded with Wilson, 1986’s Bouncing Off The Satellites, reached #85 in the US album charts – a new low for the band – and you might have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s days were numbered.

A new record contract with Reprise led to the band’s resurgence, and they delivered Cosmic Thing in June 1989. With production duties shared between Nile Rodgers (6 songs) and Don Was (4 songs), the album sounds bigger and slicker than anything they had put out previously, and commercial reception was similarly positive.

The album reached #4 in the US, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Singles Love Shack and Roam both reached #3 in the US Billboard Top 200, and the more ubiquitous of the two, Love Shack hit #2 in the UK, and took the top spot in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

One has to wonder what level of influence Nile Rodgers had on the guitar sound of the album – his clean, funky guitar tone is all over the record (although he only plays on one track), and Love Shack benefits greatly from the production of Don Was, sounding more like a madcap Was Not Was offcut than the more two-dimensional output of the B-52’s first four records.

The B-52’s will always make me smile. They’re a fun band anyway, but two reasons specifically stand out for me. Firstly, vocalist Kate Pierson has one of the best female singing voices of the 1980s. Powerful, raucous, and lush, it’s hard to imagine R.E.M. crossing over into the mainstream as effortlessly as they did without her contributions to 1991’s Out Of Time (on Shiny Happy People, Near Wild Heaven and Me In Honey).

The other reason I love the B-52’s is for one of the best male singing voices of the 1980s – Fred Schneider. Fred’s campy, over-enunciated hollering over the band’s work is truly unique and has provided much amusement over the years as I’ve walked around the house randomly shouting “Funky little shack…FUNKY little shack.”

Hit: Love Shack

Hidden Gem: Dry County

B-52's & Wilson, Cindy & Pierson, Kate & Strickland, Keith & Sch

Rocks In The Attic #661: Dean Martin – ‘French Style’ (1962)

RITA#661It is 1962. In the conference room of Reprise Records, Hollywood, California, we find the label’s founder, Frank Sinatra, discussing Reprise’s release schedule with various members of the Rat Pack.

Frank Sinatra: Okay boys, what are we going to put out next for Deano? It’ll need to be something good.

Dean Martin: Let’s just do what we always do, Frank. I can record some numbers with the band. Joe Public will lap it up.

Sinatra: That ain’t gonna cut it, Deano. The kids need something new, something different.

Sammy Davis, Jr: What if he does a country record, Frank?

Martin: Yeah Frank, what about country? I love Country!

Sinatra: No, not classy enough. No record label of mine is going to release hillbilly music.

Peter Lawford: What about rock and roll, Frank? The kids go crazy for that stuff. Look what it did for Elvis!

Martin: Yeah Frank, what about rock and roll? I love rock and roll!

Sinatra: No, not classy enough. Presley’s a degenerate. All it got him was a stint in the army. What’s the point of making records if it’s just going to get you shot.

RITA#661aJoey Bishop: What about the blues, Frank? Joe Public’d freak out for a blues record.

Martin: Yeah Frank, what about the blues? I love the blues!

Sinatra: No, not classy enough. He’s Italian-American; he ain’t no half-blind ni…

Davis, Jr: [clears throat]

Sinatra: …er, I mean, he’s not right for that audience. C’mon, there must be something we’re missing…

The room falls into a hush, as they look to the ceiling for inspiration.

Sinatra: …something new…something different…something with a certain…je nes sais quoi…

Martin: [looks at Sinatra and raises an eyebrow]

Hit: Le Vie En Rose

Hidden Gem: C’est Magnifique

Rocks In The Attic #615: Eric Clapton – ‘Unplugged’ (1992)

RITA#615In 1992, mild-mannered Somerset accountant Russell Chives was asked to perform his Eric Clapton impression for a group of friends at a dinner party in West London. He reluctantly pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave them a rendition of Wonderful Tonight, which everybody enjoyed through the fog of red wine.

Among the guests that night was MTV executive Chad Frame who saw something in Chives. Eric Clapton, a recovering alcoholic, had died the previous year; his passing overshadowed by the death of Queen’s Freddie Mercury and subsequently reported on page 7 of the tabloids (it’s true, nobody knows you when you’re down and out). Frame thought Chives’ impression of Clapton was good enough to show to the station and asked if he’d be interested in coming in for an audition.

Chives arrived at Frame’s London office and was greeted by a room full of executives. After he ran through his Clapton impression, Frame pitched the room his idea. He wanted to launch a range of albums featuring the work of deceased musicians performed by sound-alikes. The first release: a blues album featuring Russell Chives as Eric Clapton. If this proved successful the plan was to launch auditions to find performers for a synth album of Liberace songs, and a reggae album of Roy Orbison’s hits.

On 16th January 1992, Chives arrived at Bray Studios in Windsor to perform the album to a select group of accountant friends. In order to cover any mistakes that he might make, Chives was backed by a team of accomplished musicians – including guitarist Andy Fairweather Low and oddball percussionist Ray Cooper.  The group strolled through a lengthy set, featuring blues staples and a handful of Clapton originals. The audience was respectful and even applauded with pity when Chives attempted a version on Clapton’s Layla but got the tempo completely wrong.

The album eventually saw the light of day in August 1992. The five months between recording and release had been a heart-wrenching time for Chad Frame. In order to cut costs, he made the mistake of ordering the album cover to be pressed at a printing plant in Bosnia, where a brutal civil war was starting to emerge. As a result, there were many quality control oversights.

Chives’ one original song on the album – a biting critique of West Country racism (“Would you know my name, if I saw you in Devon?”) – was incorrectly listed as Tears In Heaven, but worst of all Chives’ name was left off the cover altogether. The record was supposed to be credited to ‘Russell Chives as Eric Clapton’ but printing plant employees misread Chives’ name as a Serbian insult, understanding it to be a practical joke from their Croatian colleagues.

The resulting double-album went on to sell 26 million copies worldwide and won three Grammy awards. MTV aired a film of the performance which resonated with a yuppie audience largely ignorant of Clapton’s recent death and who couldn’t quite remember if he had always dressed like an accountant from Somerset.

At the behest of a cocaine-fuelled Chad Frame, Russell Chives changed his name officially to Eric Clapton and signed a twelve-album deal with Reprise Records. His mediocre output from 1994 onwards is now viewed by historians to be the lasting cultural legacy of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Hit: Tears In Heaven

Hidden Gem: Old Love

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