Ruby Tuesday: Freiheit, “Tears Are A Girl’s Best Friend”

Back in 1989, when Cameron Crowe rounded up John Cusack, Ione Skye, and John Mahoney and produced one of the greatest teen romances of all time (duh, of course we’re talking about “Say Anything…”), he also found time to compose a rather memorable soundtrack as well. The film’s money shot, of course, belonged to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” but songs from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Replacements were used to great effect as well. Hiding way, way at the end of the soundtrack album, however, was a song that I fell in love with about as hard and fast as anything I’d heard in awhile: “Keeping the Dream Alive,” by Freiheit…or, as they’re more commonly known in their native Germany, Münchener Freiheit.

I didn’t know the first thing about Freiheit when I discovered “Keeping the Dream Alive,” but, damn, that song was such a gorgeous, sweeping ballad of ELO-sized proportions that I immediately knew that I’d have to seek out more of their material. As it happens, there wasn’t anything else to seek out…well, not in the U.S., anyway. Not long after, however, the band’s debut American release, Fantasy, found its way onto shelves and, almost immediately thereafter, into my collection. To this day, I’m still surprised that it never scored much in the way of success; it’s a highly enjoyable pop album that owes as much to Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus as it does Jeff Lynne. The only real explanation I’ve ever come up with is that it’s a bit heavier on synths and electronic drum beats than the kids were listening to at the time, but it still features heavily in my regular playlist even in 2007.

Unfortunately, Fantasy remains out of print in the U.S., and since that was the only Stateside release of the band’s career, Freiheit’s profile remains woefully low on our shores. Even the usually helpful All Music Guide gives them short shrift, with the bio in their entry simply reading, “This German band (orig. Munchener Freiheit) played power-pop music from 1982 to 1988.” That’s it. Talk about your inglorious retrospectives!

If you’re curious about the band, there are several import best-of collections available via Amazon, but you should be prepared to find them almost completely free of English-sung material. If you don’t speak German as fluently as the members of Freiheit, however, here’s a song from Fantasy that you might appreciate a bit more:

Freiheit – Tears Are A Girl’s Best Friend

Ruby Tuesday: Novo Combo, “Welcome Innervision”

You might remember the band Novo Combo from their modest MTV hit, “Tattoo,” which was from the band’s self-titled debut album on Polydor. But you may not recognize anything from their followup album, Animation Generation, that came out one year later (1982, for those of you keeping score). And after Animation Generation, the band unceremoniously split up. But after doing a Lost Bands feature on, I interviewed lead vocalist Pete Hewlett and was re-introduced to Novo Combo’s music.

“Welcome Innervision” was the first song I heard off of Animation Generation, once upon a time when you heard new music on the radio that was worth a damn. And I remember almost driving off the road because not only was this a great song, but the guitar solo by axe man Carlos Rios (who was making his Novo Combo debut) was one of the best I’d ever heard. In fact, it’s still one of the best I’ve ever heard, 25 years later.

Novo Combo’s two albums are out of print, but I managed to find copies of both. So for your listening pleasure, I give to you “Welcome Innervision.” And I trust that you’re sitting at your computer and will not drive off the road.

Novo Combo — “Welcome Innervision”

Flashback Friday – “Gone!”

Title: Gone!
Date of Creation: Sometime around May 1992, I’d have to guess, since it would appear to be the first tape I made after graduating from Averett College. (Accordingly, the last tape I made before graduating was entitled Going, Going…)

Side 1:

“Main Title,” James Horner (Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Over the years, I’ve gotten less and less apologetic about declaring “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” to be my favorite film of all time; accordingly, I barely cringed at all when I recognized the initial strains of James Horner’s score for the film’s main title sequence. Not that I didn’t enjoy hearing it; I just immediately thought, “Oh, God, I’ve got to explain why I put it on here.” But then I realized that, no, actually, I don’t have to explain a goddamned thing. I love this score. Somehow, however, this disc managed to get purged from my CD collection, but hearing this track again makes me want to buy it back.

“That’s The Way It Stays,” Little America (Little America)

I know this was released on Geffen Records, but I always got the impression that the band’s success was rather regional. I don’t know that I ever heard their songs on the radio or saw videos for them; I just know that one of my oldest friends, Jeff Castelloe, forced their music down my throat while I was working music retail, which is how I came to hear them and learn to love them. And what’s not to love, really? It’s just good, catchy pop-rock with a bit of jangle. (And, yes, that IS a scan of the cassette rather than the CD; ever since they reissued the band’s two albums as a 2-fer, you can’t find a decent .jpg of the self-titled debut by itself.)

“Never Will Forget You,” The Candy Skins (Space I’m In)

These guys just couldn’t make a wrong move, as far as I was concerned…I’ve got every album they put out, and I enjoy them all…but it was this debut that sold me on them. It’s really one of those records where every song had the potential to be a hit single, if only the right people had been listening. Unfortunately, they weren’t. But at least the cool people were. And that’s why we covered them in our list of The Best Albums You’ve Never, Ever Heard (Well, Probably Not, Anyway).

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The Best Albums You’ve Never Ever Heard (Well, PROBABLY Not, Anyway)

Okay, music fans, correct us if we’re wrong, but unless you’re one of those wannabe hipsters that only buys this week’s buzz album, we’re guessing that somewhere in your collection, you’ve got an LP, a cassette, a CD, or even an 8-track that you picked up on a whim, fell in love with, and absolutely love to tell people about… and your introduction usually begins, “Look, I know you’ve probably never heard of this person/these guys, and I don’t know why it didn’t sell a million copies, but, seriously, you’ve got to hear it.”

Maybe they’re a local or regional band who never made the big time. Maybe they did make it to a major label, but the musical climate wasn’t right…or the label didn’t bother to promote the album…or, heck, maybe the band broke up five minutes after the record was released. Whatever the case, far too many great albums have ended up selling far too few copies, which is why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to try and rescue some of these all-too-unheralded releases from obscurity. We’ve also managed to get in touch with almost all of the artists whose albums we’re praising in this piece – the lone exception had the very good excuse of having died, but we did, at least, get in touch with one of the producers of his album – and asked them to answer a quick Q&A for us. So not only will you (probably) be introduced to several new albums, but you’ll also feel like you know a little bit about the person or persons responsible for recording them.

Here’s just one example:

The Argument: Your New Favorite Band (Self-released, 2000)

Recommended If You Like: Ben Folds Five, Barenaked Ladies, Toad the Wet Sprocket

The critics can go on and on about how quirky bands don’t last long unless they’re named Barenaked Ladies, and about how songs like “Inflatable Amy” are downright laughable…and, hey, the Argument’s lead singer, Scott Simons, can even say he’s “embarrassed” by his former band’s self-released debut. But when you burn an album into your iTunes and, even seven years later, you can’t stop listening to it, there’s a higher power at work – or, then again, maybe Simons and his band mates had something special that not enough industry types recognized. (Personally, I’m going with the latter.) This West Virginia quartet toured so much in a van pursuing “the dream of being rock stars” that, eventually, their van and their will both stalled with an empty tank. While the album is out of print, its endearing combination of pop, rock, jazz, soul and every other influence under the sun showcases a solid group of musicians who could string melodic hooks and harmonies together as well as anyone. – Mike Farley

Notable Tracks – “Grudge,” “Disappear,” “The Ballad of Ernestine Jackson”

Our interview with Scott Simons of The Argument can be found here.

Check out The Best Albums You’ve Never, Ever Heard (Well, Probably Not, Anyway) in its entirety by clicking here…then feel free to come back and offer up some of your own favorite unheralded albums!

Come Dancing! (Seona Dancing, that is…)

Fans of “The Office” will no doubt recall David Brent’s settlement-financed single – a cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – but were you aware that Ricky Gervais himself was actually a member of synth-pop duo in the ’80s? True story…and God only knows how it’s taken this long to appear on my radar, given that I’m such a massive fan of ’80s synth-pop to begin with.

The band was called Seona Dancing…that’s pronounced Shawna Dancing, ta very much…and since you’re probably still wondering, no, this isn’t a joke. You can go to and find the band’s two singles available from several different vendors…or check out this photo here, from their unofficial MySpace page:

(That’s Ricky on the right.)

And even more oddly, the songs – which can all be downloaded at no charge here – are rather good. Personally, they remind me a bit of B-Movie. But for a few twist of fates here and there, we might well be listening to “More to Lose” or “Bitter Heart” on Flashback Lunches today.

Don’t hold your breath for a reunion tour, though. It’s clear from that this clip that Gervais can’t look back on these days without cringing.

Lost Bands: Gangway

Gangway’s one of those bands who, as far as people in the States are concerned, can’t really be described as lost…because they were never found in the first place! And I don’t mean that in a “their albums didn’t sell well” kind of way; I mean their albums never got released here at ALL. Hell, I’ve never even heard one of their studio albums; all I have is a best-of disc called Compendium, which plays like all your favorite bits by the Pet Shop Boys, the Lightning Seeds, and…well, basically, any band you can think of that incorporates lush keyboard sounds into their pop songs.

There are a couple of fan sites dedicated to the group (like this one), but they don’t appear to have their own website…possibly because they broke up in 1998. Nor do they have a MySpace page, not even an unofficial one, which is somehow even more odd, given how many folks tend to put up fan-run pages for their favorite artists. They do, at least, have a Wikipedia entry, which indicates that, in 2006, guitarist/songwriter Henrik Balling and lead singer Allan Jensen staged a reunion show at a small bar in Copenhagen for all of 125 people. (Oddly, keyboardist Torben Johansen was present in the audience but, the entry implies, did not participate in the performance.)

None of the band’s albums appear to be in print – or, if they are, they’re only available in Denmark (and since I can neither speak nor read Danish, I may never know) – but, for now, you can at least enjoy this video by the band on YouTube.

Conveniently, it’s for one of my favorite songs on Compendium. It’s called “My Girl and Me,” and it features such brilliant lyrics in its chorus that it’s inexplicable that it didn’t get released in the States:

“My girl and me / We hang around in bars / And we’re usually drunk / But we’re never too drunk to fight / Like cats and dogs all night.”

That’s genius.

Lost Bands: The Origin

When the Origin released their self-titled album on Virgin in 1990, it was with decidedly little fanfare…but if you were to take a gander at the cover now, you’d probably think, “Dude, these guys are totally trying to look like Toad the Wet Sprocket!” Seriously. I mean, here’s the cover…

…and here’s Toad:

Am I right?

In fact, it ‘s probably just coincidence, given that The Origin actually appeared at almost the same time as Toad; they just didn’t have the luxury of scoring a major radio hit to prolong their career. They did, however, have some great songs. Their debut featured songs like the pumping piano of “Growing Old,” the charming “Everyone Needs Love,” and the nice orchestration on “Who Would’ve Known.” Fans of the band, few though they may have been outside their home base, were therefore excited about the possibility of a follow-up, even though they feared that the lackluster sales of the debut might well result in the band being a one-album wonder. 1992′s Bend was almost like the work of a completely different band, however…and while I mean that in a good way now, if I’d made the same comment at the time the album was released, I probably wouldn’t have meant it that way. The group seemed less interested in ruling the charts and more interested in being themselves, tackling everything from funk to folk, though still maintaining the same melodic sensibilities. Of course, it sold accordingly…which is to say, not very well at all…but it’s still worth hunting down if you can find it.

The Origin broke up without releasing a third album, and you’d think that I’d just end this here…but, instead, I actually discovered more about the band while writing this piece, and it’s so interesting that I wanted to include it here.

I knew that the band’s de facto leader was named Michael Andrews…but what I didn’t know is that in the Origin’s original, pre-Virgin line-up was Gary Jules, who came to prominence a few years back for his cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World.” And to move from mad world to small world, it turns out that, not coincidentally, Michael Andrews not only played the spooky piano on the song, but he also did the entire score for “Donnie Darko,” the film in which Jules’ TFF cover received such tremendous attention. Andrews also was a major contributor to Brendan Benson’s One Mississippi and Jason Mraz’s Waiting For My Rocket To Come In, and he’s also the leader of the Greyboy Allstars, who can be heard on the soundtrack to “Zero Effect,” which Andrews also scored.

So that’s what Michael Andrews is doing…but if anyone knows what anyone else from the Origin is doing nowadays, drop a line or leave a posting.

Lost Bands: Gunbunnies

Like so many disaffected teens with a jones for new music, I spent some time working in music retail…and one of the many bands I discovered during this era (1989 – 1994, with some time off to attend college) was the Gunbunnies. Signed to Virgin Records back in the days when the label was flooding stores with promotional copies of albums by their new artists, we scored both cassette and CD promos of their debut album, Paw Paw Patch, and it’s clear Virgin had high hopes for these guys.

Their single, “Stranded,” was picking up quite a bit of college radio airplay, and the critics were loving the fact that the album was produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson (Big Star, the Rolling Stones, the Replacements). Plus, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Chris Maxwell, had put together 10 songs that could hold their own with bands like Guadalcanal Diary, House of Freaks, and the like…and although he had a highly competent band behind him, Maxwell was practically a one-man band; he played guitar, harmonica, trumpet, and electric sitar on the album!

Poised for success…? Yeah, not so much.

The Gunbunnies disappeared after Paw Paw Patch…and I mean really disappeared. Not only was there no follow-up album on Virgin, there was no follow-up, period. Maxwell didn’t even go solo; he just vanished.

Well, okay, he didn’t vanish vanish; if can be trusted (and they usually can), he left music altogether for about five years, then returned to play bass for They Might Be Giants and to do some production work for artists like the Lunachicks…but, of course, that’s if this is the same Chris Maxwell. Can anyone confirm or deny…?

Toy Matinee, “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge”

What’s there to say about Toy Matinee…? They came quick and didn’t stay long, and during the brief period they existed, their most impressive feat as a band was securing Julian Lennon to contribute guest vocals to their lone, self-titled album.

Sounds woefully unimpressive, no…?

Well, the thing is, the two guys who made up Toy Matinee were Patrick Leonard – who produced Madonna’s True Blue, Roger Waters’ Amused To Death, Jewel’s Spirit, and Elton John’s Songs from the West Coast, among many others – and Kevin Gilbert, who’s written songs for Sheryl Crow, engineered Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, and played keyboards for Susanna Hoffs.

So, basically, it didn’t matter what Toy Matinee did; they had plenty of other avenues to fall back on…which is good, given that Toy Matinee did precisely jack.

In 1990, no-one was looking for the second coming of Steely Dan. Too bad, since that’s exactly what “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge” was. Arguably the best song on an album full of consistently solid pop-rock tracks, it tells the tale of one Jenny Ledge, who was “tempted by half-Elvis, half man-about-town, and a life of ease.” Great song, but one woefully out of place at its time of release. Check out the video…

…and if you like what you hear, go yell at iTunes to make the album available for download so you can hear the whole thing.

Lost Bands: Pleasure Thieves

Another one of those bands that seems to ring a bell only with former record store employees who used to snake any and every promo disc that came in, the Pleasure Thieves released one album on Hollywood Records – Simple Escape – in 1992…and not much else. (Further research shows that they did a cover of the Who’s “Boris the Spider” for the soundtrack to Arachnophobia, but, honestly, probably even less people own that than do Simple Pleasure.)

Lead singer Sinjin-William Dolan…and, no, I don’t know what kind of name Sinjin-William is, either…sounds almost like Neil Diamond at times with his husky voice, and the music’s very synth-heavy; neither were attributes that would’ve led any band to success in the early ’90s.

The group vanished so far into oblivion that they have no website, no MySpace page, nothing…but in a bizarre post-script to the band’s career, the band’s song “Blue Flowers” – a highlight of the album – was discovered by a DJ in the Phillipines and became a hit there…in 2002!

If anyone has any idea if the band or Dolan went on to record anything else, please leave a posting.

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