Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Obsession by Michael Des Barres

Most people are aware of Animotion's big hit (to the extent that they could fairly be called a one-hit wonder) "Obsession" from November of 1984.  What is actually not known by very many is that Animotion were actually covering the song; it was written by Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight and recorded at least a year earlier.  As near as I can tell, the single was only ever a promotional release in the US (so I don't know exactly how you were to get a hold of it as a general consumer) although there was a UK 12" release that appears to be a general release, and it was also on the soundtrack of the big flop of a movie A Night in Heaven starring the guy from The Blue Lagoon as a college aged stripper who has a fling with his professor, who's own marriage is struggling, blah, blah, blah.  The movie was a big flop, hardly made any money, neither critics nor audiences liked it, but it did give us...

Brian Adams' hit song "Heaven"—a full year and a half before it was added to his own mega-hit album Reckless and was re-released as a single.  And, of course, the original version of "Obsession."  Which, when I discovered this, I had to hear immediately, of course.  At first, compared to the much more famous Animotion version, it sounded odd and weird, but it grew on me quickly.

This video below isn't the original version.  Oh, it's the original songwriter and performer, but this is a completely re-recorded version.  Instead of being a duet with Holly Knight—which it was the first time around—it's with Teal Collins Zee, otherwise known from the Austin, TX music scene as part of the country music band Mother Truckers (originally from Marin County CA, apparently.)  Seems like an odd choice, but she does a good job.  I really like this remake by the original artist.

As an aside, there are lots of versions of this song out there.  It's been covered many times, and is clearly an important component of mid-80s pop culture.  For some more overtly synthpopy versions than Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight's original, check out the version by The Azoic, Electric Six or Glitch Factor.  For weird, creepy versions, check out versions by Golden State or Karen O.  And there are even heavy metal versions (Terminatryx) and other pop-rock versions (Just Kait with School Boy Humor) and even a pseudo-chiptunes version of it by Detour Zero.

And, of course, don't miss the Animotion version.  I like the "extended" version (which on my old cassette tape was just the album version) which has a minute and a half or so of guitar solo outro.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

So Electric by Lifelike

Ok, no... this is clearly my favorite synthwave song that I've heard yet (probably closely followed by either "Early Summer" or "Elevator of Love" by Miami Nights 1984... but that gives me something else to post later.)

Lifelike is a French artist (with a German last name) which seems to be particularly common in the synthwave movement.  But this song is just brilliant.  And whoever it was that thought of adding the William Powell dialogue and the Xanadu dance scenes is a genius.  Olivia Newton-John was still pretty hot in 1980, wasn't she?  And holy cow, that's Gene Kelly on roller skates there!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Under Your Spell by Desire

Thanks in part to the popularity of shows like the Netflix original Stranger Things, a formerly quiet movement in electronic music called "synthwave" is starting to get mainstream attention.  It had also been featured in the soundtrack to 2011's move Drive although that wasn't quite big enough to have come to my attention, at least.  "Under Your Spell" by Desire is from the Drive soundtrack.  Prior to that, Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack seems to have foreshadowed the growing importance of the genre.

Synthwave, basically, sounds like 80s music soundtracks.  It's not just like the odd retro-sounding, analog synth-using synthpop band; although a few tracks kind of lean that direction.  Most of the artists operating in this space do not have any vocals, and write instrumentals.  Their official music videos either feature very old-fashioned 80s-looking video game graphics, or pictures of cars that were popular in the 80s like old Lamborghini Countachs or Ferrari Testarossas, or 80s style Trans Ams.  Much of it is kind of downtempo, although certainly not all of it.  It's not as extreme a version of nostalgia-indulgence as the chiptunes genre, where the main instrument is literally the musical chip from an old Sega Genesis or Nintendo NES or something like that, but at the same time, the idea that this is all some kind of "lost" 80s music soundtracks is integral to the genre.

This selection is one of the more stand-out tracks; my exploration of synthwave recently has convinced me that most tracks are not.  Rather, they best serve when linked together and played in the background rather than listened to as if they are really "hit single" capable.  To get a good sense of the genre, search up youtube for synthwave.  Most of your hits will actually be big sets of a bunch of songs put together into a single video—and this is probably the best way to listen to it, actually.  While there's lots to choose from, I got my initial sampling of what the genre meant in particular in the "Best of Synthwave and Retro Electro" in two hour and a half long parts, and "Best of Synthwave - Enjoy the Summer Mix" in three hour and a half long mixes.

But in the meantime, here's "Under Your Spell" by Desire.