Songs You May Have Missed #734

Toy Matinee: “Last Plane Out” (1990)

Producer Patrick Leonard, having earned Warner Brothers Records around half a billion dollars by co-writing and producing Madonna albums such as True Blue, Like a Prayer and I’m Breathless, was asked by label chair Mo Austin “What would you like?”.

He replied, “I just want to make a record”, meaning a record of his own material.

Patrick Leonard

The result was Toy Matinee, the one and only album by the band of the same name–possibly the best band ever to have released only one record.

Leonard collaborated with bassist Guy Pratt, singer/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert, drummer Brian MacLeod, and guitarist Tim Pierce–most of whom had previously worked together on Madonna albums.

Probably because of this previous musical collaboration, the collective gelled into a band, felt like a band, and played like a real band immediately in a way that astounded producer/engineer Bill Bottrell.

Kevin Gilbert

Leonard, being a fan of progressive rock and jazz fusion, had previously sprinkled Madonna songs with largely unnoticed touches of the influence of such artists–“sneaking a lot of stuff by people”, as he described it.

For example, the outro of “Like a Prayer” has a bass line that mimics Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report.

“Cherish” features a shuffle beat in the style of drummer Bernard Purdie, played by Jeff Porcaro. Both Purdie and Porcaro are Steely Dan session alumni.

And the lead track from Toy Matinee, “Last Plane Out”, opens with a conspicuously nimble-fingered, too-good-for-pop acoustic intro that owes a debt to Gentle Giant.

Bill Bottrell

Bottrell’s production helped create an album that straddles the worlds of mainstream, “accessible” music and something more ambitious by reigning in the proggier tendencies of the session aces in the room.

All this and so much more is explained by the band themselves in this short documentary about the making of an album that once filled cutout bins and is now a hard-to-find cult favorite fetching top dollar.

“Last Plane Out” was one of two single releases from the LP, both of which peaked at #23 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

The band never cracked the Pop top 40 and the album only managed a peak US chart position of #129.

There are no true band photos to share here because, being session players with other commitments, the guys who recorded the album never toured it. Kevin Gilbert assembled an entirely new band that performed the material on several short tours.

If only Toy Matinee could have had a career, not just an album.

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The Day Disco Died: Remembering the Unbridled Chaos of “Disco Demolition Night”


On this day in 1979, a fun MLB promotional event quickly devolved into the most infamous and controversial event in disco history.

In the late 70s, dance-oriented disco was one of the most popular musical genres in the United States. Seminal films such as Saturday Night Fever and Disco Godfather greatly influenced the music scene, while artists like the Bee Gees, ABBA, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Donna Summer became repeated record plays for many.

While disco provided a fun, novel outlet and style of dress to many people, it sparked major backlash from fans of rock music. Critics at the time often feared that the rise of the disco would quickly lead to a decay in rock after disco albums dominated the 21st Grammy Awards in 1978.

When Chicago’s WDAI-FM switched from rock to disco and DJ Steve Dahl got fired in 1978, the moves sparked a paradigm shift. Quickly hired at rival Chicago rock station WLUP and playing off the publicity surrounding his firing, Dahl created a mock organization called “Insane Coho Lips” consisting of his group of anti-disco listeners…

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Songs You May Have Missed #733

Alice Cooper: “The Quiet Room” (1978)

I wanna pull on your coat about another unfortunate music trend: the distillation in contemporary culture of the music of artists of past eras into a song or two.

Journey has become, for many under tha age of 30, “Don’t Stop Believin'”. The great career of Neil Diamond is summed up in the three minutes and twenty-one seconds of “Sweet Caroline”. Styx is reduced to “Renegade” and “Come Sail Away”. Johnny Cash? “Ring of Fire”.

And Alice Cooper is known by too many young music fans solely for “School’s Out”.

One day this blog will seek to remedy that properly.

In the meantime, give me a minute on my soapbox to tell you Alice had a span from 1975-78 in which he charted inside the top twenty no less than four times with ballads. These were:

“Only Women” (#12 in 1975)

“I Never Cry” (#12 in ’77)

“You and Me” (#9 in ’77)

“How You Gonna See Me Now” (#12 in ’78)

That’s four consecutive Alice Cooper albums with a ballad as the lead single–all top 20 hits

Far from the one-dimensional shock rocker the decades have folded him into, Alice Cooper should be reappraised as one of the foremost purveyors of pathos of the latter half of the 70’s.

If that don’t suit you, that’s a drag.

1978’s From the Inside LP, which Alice co-wrote with long-time Elton John sideman Bernie Taupin, is a concept album inspired by Alice’s battle with addiction. If it’s not one of his best albums it’s certainly one of his most personal and self-reflective.

The single “How You Gonna See Me Now”, is the heart-tugging deliberation of a man forced to spend time away from his family and wondering if he’ll be welcomed back when his time of institutionalization ends. A man questioning whether the pieces of his life will still be there to put back together.

Taupin’s lyric is deliberately ambiguous enough to lend itself to interpretations of criminal incarceration, a stint in rehab, or a stay in a sanitarium. It’s a tender, affecting and these days very much overlooked song.

“The Quiet Room” is another animal. No such ambiguity here. The protagonist is clearly, in the jargon of the day, in an insane asylum. And the material plays to Alice Cooper’s performative strengths, alternating in schizophrenic fashion from tender verses to unhinged choruses.

Alice Cooper is a brilliant singer actually, and sings in a variety of voices when a song calls for a variety of moods (or even multiple personalities on songs such as “Years Ago” and “Ballad of Dwight Fry”).

Okay so this may or may not send you back to listen more closely to Alice Cooper’s 70’s records. My main point is: the guy was a versatile and talented songwriter, one of the era’s best, and there’s a heck of a lot more to him than “School’s Out”.

Recommended Albums #87

Brave Combo: A Night On Earth (1990)

I grew up, more or less, on classic rock and bubblegum pop. Then Brave Combo saved me.

There’s nothing wrong with classic rock, as I’m sure you’d agree. And there’s nothing wrong with saccharin pop either, as I’m less sure you’d agree.

But there’s a risk, as you reach a certain age, in succumbing to taste lock, which I’d define as a loss of elasticity of musical appreciation.

Like older bodies often don’t stretch unless there’s a concerted effort to make them stretch, our music appreciation can be, uh, hamstrung by an unwillingness to broaden our palette beyond what we’ve always liked.

Although I came to love many types of pop and rock from a young age–from hard rock to progressive to folk to British Invasion to 70’s singer-songwriters to recently-labeled “yacht rock”, it was all pretty much guitar-based music.

Then a CD handed down from my older brother changed all that.

Brave Combo’s A Night On Earth opened my ears to music that was led by a clarinet…an accordion…a saxophone (and not the toothless, smarmy Kenny G kind).

The guitar in Brave Combo’s music–band leader Carl Finch’s guitar– was often just keeping the rhythm. The leads were given over to instruments less often associated with rock and pop.

And the songs were nothing short of a concise musical tour of the world.

In a sense, my appreciation for music is divided into pre-Brave Combo and post-Brave Combo eras, because ever since they smashed open my brain I am able to listen to almost anything without prejudice; without the instrumentation being an impediment. I’m open to all styles of music since coming to love this band, since hearing this album in particular.

A Night On Earth was the equivalent in musical terms to the moment Dorothy opens her front door to see full-color Oz replacing bleak, black-and-white Kansas.

Mind you I hadn’t grown up under a rock. I’d been exposed to classical music. And jazz. But I appreciated them as something other than “my” music.

Brave Combo was a rock band. In fact, they almost seemed a punk band. I mean, I’ve never heard a polka as subversive as “Do Something Different”.

Yes, I said “polka”.

If that frightens you then I should warn you this album contains hora, tango, traditional Italian music, Afro-Cuban salsa, Brazilian choro, and Tex-Mex.

It’s all over the place. But it’s not “World Music” in the Peter Gabriel sense.

Although World Music maven David Byrne hired Brave Combo to entertain at his wedding, these guys don’t treat non-Western musical styles with reverence

They attack them with a vengeance.

There is no purism or musical snootery here. It’s just party music played with daring and consummate skill in styles representing the world over.

It might not take on first listen. I confess that the CD I received from my older brother ended up in the hands of my younger brother–until I visited him in New York a couple years later and he happened to put it on and all that clarinet-led goodness finally sunk in with me.

I asked for it back.

Then I never missed a Brave Combo album release or concert opportunity for the next two decades.

Since the departure of Bubba Hernandez the band has become more of a polkacentric affair. But this classic lineup, with Bubba playing bass, singing the Spanish-language tunes and keeping the Latin sounds to the fore, offered the greatest musical diversity.

This is the band that saved me from taste lock.

Listen to: “A Night On Earth”

Listen to: “Don’t Ever Dance With Maria”

Listen to: “Do Something Different”

Listen to: “Dulcecita”

Listen to: “Laura”

Listen to: “Linda Guerita”

Listen to: “Saxophone, Why Do You Weep?”

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