Bottom Feeders: The Rock End of the ’80s, Part 7

So, I took at least an inital recommendation last week to listen to some Blue Oyster Cult and spun the record the vast majority said to listen to – Mirrors.  The whole first half of the album is pretty awesome – I think my favorite being “The Great Sun Jester”.  And while I understand that this isn’t quite reminiscent of their overall sound, it probably was a perfect start for me and my tastes in music.  There’s another artist below that I don’t know much about but to be honest, I’m looking forward to the recommendations a lot less than with BOC.

So lets finish up the letter B today as we listen to more songs that hit it big on the Billboard rock charts but failed to cross over to the Hot 100.

Box of Frogs
“Back Where I Started” 1984, #14 (download)

Box of Frogs was a group formed by three members of the Yardbirds, Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith and Jim McCarty. The vocalist was John Fiddler formerly of the British Lions. “Back Where I Started” features Jeff Beck on guitar as well. And what can you say about the song except for – hello! “Spirit in the Sky”.  The new Yardbirds still play this one in concert.

Billy Bragg
“Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards” 1988, Modern Rock #20 (download)
“She’s Got a New Spell” 1988, Modern Rock #16 (download)

Well, Popdose seems like the exact right place to learn about Billy Bragg and that’s what I need right now as I don’t really know anything about him. Many of my buddies love him and he comes up in conversation quite often but all they get from me are nods that I know the name. Other than these two songs, I don’t know if any other Billy Bragg song has ever been heard by my ears and that’s despite thinking both these tunes are really cool. These tracks bookend his 1988 release Workers Playtime.

The Brandos
“Gettysburg” 1987, #34 (download)

The Brandos were a decent rock group formed in New York in 1985. Their debut album featured “Gettysburg” which would be their only charting song. The album is excellent and got critical praise but they got caught up in the ass end of the music business and couldn’t release a follow up until 1992.

Honor Among Thieves was released in ’87 on Relativity Records. In ’88 they left the label and signed with Geffen which didn’t go so well. They managed to move on from that deal to RCA in 1989 right before the label went through an overhaul. That shift led to them being dropped and the band scrapped the album they had made and started over, which led to 1992’s Gunfire at Midnight. Unfortunately by that point it seemed their window for a true hit was closed.

John Brannen
“Desolation Angel” 1988, #21 (download)

Here’s a great song from country/roots rock singer John Brannen. This was from his debut Mystery Street. He’s often compared to Bruce Springsteen which is pretty obvious even if you just listen to this one song.

The Breaks
“She Wants You” 1983, #39 (download)

The Breaks were a short lived band from Memphis featuring siblings Susanne and Pat Taylor. They released one album on RCA before moving on to other projects. This was the first of two singles released on the album. Oh, and Susanne was a total cutie in some photos and smokin’ hot in the video.

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
“Little Miss S” 1989, #38, Modern Rock #14 (download)

This has always been an interesting song for me – a little poppy for a song about a party girl-drug addict. The song was one of many songs written for actress Edie Sedgwick, including “Edie (Ciao Baby)” by the Cult, “Femme Fatale” by The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” among others. It was the third single from Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars.

Martin Briley
“Dangerous Moments” 1985, #31 (download)

Martin Briley is considered a one-hit wonder thanks to his #36 hit “The Salt In My Tears”. “Dangerous Moments” is actually the better song of the two, the first single and title track off his third solo record. Dangerous Moments would be hit last album until 2006 when he released It Comes In Waves. In between he focused his efforts on songwriting and has credits with many other artists.

The Broadcasters
“Down in the Trenches” 1988, #48 (download)

The is one of those tunes that someone needs to put on a summer mix tape. It seems like a perfect top-down highway drivin’ song, doesn’t it? The Broadcasters were made up of a few members of the rockabilly group Finn & the Sharks. When that group parted ways, The Orwells formed – later to switch to The Broadcasters before releasing their album 13 Ghosts. After they got sued by another band called The Broadcasters, they changed their name to match the album – 13 Ghosts, but never made it past that point as a group. Read the full story on their MySpace page.

The Danny Joe Brown Band
“Edge of Sundown” 1981, #12 (download)

Danny Joe Brown was the lead singer of Molly Hatchet. He left the group in ’80-’81 to form his own band. “Edge of Sundown” was off their only album – Danny Joe Brown and the Danny Joe Brown Band. In a weird twist, guitarist Bobby Ingram later went on to front Molly Hatchet, forcing the original members of the group to perform under a different name. How weird the world works at times.

Jackson Browne
“Cut It Away” 1983, #37 (download)
“Lives in the Balance” 1986, #33 (download)
“World in Motion” 1989, #4 (download)
“Chasing You Into the Light” 1989, #9 (download)

Singer, songwriter, political activist, boyfriend of Daryl Hannah – Jackson Browne had a lot going for him. Most of his singles in the ‘80s hit the Hot 100 at least up until the point where he was no longer relevant in the popular music scene.

“Cut It Away” was from his last big hit album, Lawyers in Love and is the best of the tracks here, but pardon me, it sounds a whole lot like a Billy Joel song.

“Lives in the Balance” was the title track from his 1986 album and is noted for being used prominently in Miami Vice.

World in Motion was his final album of the decade and included both the watered down title track and “Chasing You Into the Light”.

Jimmy Buffett
“It’s Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet” 1982, #32 (download)

I’m not really a fan of Jimmy Buffett but this song was always intriguing to me as it doesn’t really fit with the carefree beach-rock sound that I as a casual listener am familiar with. This is more of a straight-forward rock song – one of two singles from Somewhere Over China. I still like the Hot 100 hit, “It’s My Job” much better, but this is a solid track.

The Bunburys
“Fight (No Matter How Long)” 1988, #8 (download)

Back in the original series we talked about how undervalued the Traveling Wilburys were and here’s another supergroup that didn’t get as much exposure as you would expect. Hell, in fact I had completely forgotten about this one off single from the 1988 Summer Olympics album.

The Bunburys are Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees. There was actually one album called The Bunbury Tales released in conjunction with the Bunbury Cricket Club. The album features individual contributions from these two artists as well as Elton John, George Harrison and others.

Glen Burtnick
“Little Red House” 1986, #40 (download)

Here’s a pretty boring song from a guy who’s changed the spelling of his name no less than three times over the years. In the ‘80s he was Glen Burtnick, then Glenn Burtnick and by the time he joined Styx in 1990 he was Glen Burtnik. No matter how you spell it there’s nothing remotely interesting about this single from his debut solo record, Talking in Code.

Kate Bush
“Love and Anger” 1989, Modern Rock #1 (download)

I’m not sure I’ve ever really gotten Kate Bush. She’s a great songwriter, but as a vocalist I’ve never liked her style. It’s certainly unique, so combined with solid songs like “Love and Anger” I guess I see why she was so loved throughout her career but she just doesn’t do much for me.

Jon Butcher Axis
“Life Takes a Life” 1983, #26 (download)
“Don’t Say Goodnight” 1984, #24 (download)
“Stop” 1985, #31 (download)

Jon Butcher
“Goodbye Saving Grace” 1987, #7 (download)
“Holy War” 1987, #25 (download)
“Wishes” 1987, #42 (download)
“Send Me Somebody” 1989, #7 (download)
“Might As Well Be Free” 1989, #38 (download)

Jon Butcher (solo or with the Axis) probably should have been bigger than he ended up being as he was a pretty damn good ax man. Unfortunately, he got compared way too much to Jimi Hendrix for the obvious reasons that even he recognizes as inevitable but maybe a bit unfair. But ultimately it was that most of his songs had flaws in them.

Many of them didn’t showcase his guitar very well at all mainly thanks to poor production, but something like “Life Takes A Life” suffers from the sucky keys (or are those simply keyboard effects through Butcher’s guitar?). “Don’t Say Goodnight” has that annoying electronic buzz in the background the entire song and harmonies that aren’t quite where they should be. “Stop” has a great riff but pedestrian lyrics.

After 1985’s Along the Axis, Butcher went “solo” and released Wishes in 1987 leading with “Goodbye Saving Grace” which sounds a lot like a much less sensual version of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo”.

And do I really have to say anything about a dumb chorus like the one in “Wishes” of “If wishes were horses…/then dreamers would ride.” Then there’s “Might As Well Be Free” where he doesn’t seem to be able to sing fast enough to keep up with the pace of the music.

Okay, so I’m not making a real good case for him being bigger, am I? But as a guitarist he was damn good. It’s almost one of those cases where I just wish he would have had some outside writers give him some good tunes. Where the fuck were you Diane Warren?

David Byrne
“Make Believe Mambo” 1989, Modern Rock #11 (download)
“Dirty Old Town” 1989, Modern Rock #8 (download)

David Byrne’s ’89 disc Rei Momo is pretty brilliant. It’s a huge departure from the Talking Heads featuring Mambos, Salsas, Cha-Chas and many other styles of dance. It could really be the soundtrack to Dancing with the Stars. In my mind I kind of remember “Dirty Old Town” being much poppier, but either way it’s an absolutely fabulous song.

Quick Hits
Best Song: David Byrne, “Dirty Old Town”
Worst Song: Jon Butcher, “Wishes”

Also appeared in the Hot 100
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (2): “What I Am”, “Circle”
Martin Briley (1): “The Salt In My Tears”
Brtiny Fox (1): “Long Way To Love”
Jackson Browne (6): “Somebody’s Baby”, “Lawyers in Love”, “For A Rocker”, “Tender Is the Night”, “For America”, “In the Shape of a Heart”
Lindsey Buckingham (2): “Trouble”, “Go Insane”
Jimmy Buffett (1): “It’s My Job”
Bulletboys (2): “For the Love Of Money”, “Smooth Up”
Glen Burtnick (1): “Follow You”
Kate Bush (1): “Running Up That Hill”

  • WHarrisBullzEye

    I first joined the Billy Bragg fan club with his “Back to Basics” album, but it was seeing him perform “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward” on “Late Night with David Letterman” that made me a fan for life. There's a fantastic 40-track compilation of his best work that I'd highly recommend: “Must I Paint You A Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg.” It's only $14.99 on Amazon, and it even includes a few tracks from his Wilco collaborations. I've also got to include a link to the interview I did with him in 2008, as I feel like it's one of my best:

    I love that Brandos album, too…so much so, in fact, that I interviewed Dave Kincaid about it for one of my early “Hooks 'N' You” column. He didn't mention anything about a Geffen deal, but he offers a great deal of insight into what the band had to deal with during their RCA trials.

    Lastly, I just wanted to observe that Jackson Browne's “Chasing You Into the Light” was a staple of my playlist during my first year at Averett College, in Danville, VA, and it's still one of my favorite singles from Mr. Browne.

  • kbot

    Great post. I never paid much attention to Billy Bragg until the Mermaid Ave colab with Wilco. Better late than never.

  • Malchus

    Jon Butcher. Awesome! I don't know where you found the tracks from “Wishes,” but I'm stoked. Had that LP in college and I've had a hard time finding it digitally. I actually loved the song, “Wises,” dumb chorus and all. At a time when all any rock act was singing about was getting laid and the hardship of life on the road, it was a nice change of pace.

    “Lives in the Balance” is one of Jackson Browne's finest songs. Period. The song is still topical, which is very, very sad. I remember hearing in an interview with him, long after the album had run its chorus, that Browne produced a video for the song that he paid for with his own money because the message of the song was too important to him. I've always admired that. Great album, too.

  • coffeefortwo

    If you're curious about Billy Bragg and like the two song you posted here, Workers Playtime is actually a great place to start. As an album, it has the added benefit of being very cohesive. It's one of those great break-up records, like Blood on the Tracks or Achtung Baby. It's immediate predecessor, Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, is also very good and has a similar sound. Plus it contains what may be his strongest overall single, “Greetings to the New Brunette.”

    Thanks for moving into the Rock and Modern Rock charts, by the way. As much fun as the bottom 60 of the top 100 posts were, THIS is the music that I listened to through that decade. You've already given me a lot of “Oh yeah, THAT song” moments.

  • David

    I'm fairly sure if you gave a listen Billy Bragg's “Sexuality” from the early 90's you'd recognize it. It was a staple on the Modern Rock stations of the era.

  • RLB

    The chant in that Bunburys song is reminding me of something by Oingo Boingo. FWIW (very little, I know.)

  • smf2271

    Great week, probably my favorite yet so far in this series. Billy Bragg is certainly an acquired taste, but I've acquired it, and I agree, Worker's Playtime is a great place to start. I'm also quite fond of 1997's “William Bloke,” even though I think many of his fans thought that album was over-produced; I argue that you can't expect him to keep putting out the same album over and over again.

    “Little Miss S” has always been my favorite track on that Edie Brickell album, though the whole thing is great. I remember buying it for “What I Am” and then hearing Little Miss S which was second on the album and being *so sure* that it was going to be the second single as be just as big a hit. For some weird reason they decided that the acoustic ballad “Circle” should be the second single, and that stopped the momentum cold.

    Susanne Taylor – I don't know, I can't get past the hair. It's so 1983, even for 1983.

  • kingofgrief

    Personal Holy Grail of the Week: “Don't Say Goodnight”. I used to see the video on my round of syndicated shows and expected to see Top 40 action (alas). I dunno what all that malarkey is about annoying electronic buzzes or harmonies in the wrong place: this is Lost '80s Rock GOLD, my friend.

    I bought the “She Wants You” 7″ cold for .49 at the Record Factory in Sharpstown Center, figuring it was cheap enough to take the risk on. My first (and last) thought: Scandal, though not unenjoyable. (I even remember the flip: “Keepin' the Love Alive”.) I've seen it on CD before, but always as part of a multi-disc set that I couldn't justify the price for, as it would be one of only two or three cuts I didn't already have repeatedly. Still, this collection might be worth it for that Cock Robin remix.

    I'm now listening to “Little Red House” and not feeling particularly bored. Again with the malarkey!

  • SteveC

    I really like Billy Bragg when he cranks it up and rocks out, so I'm partial to his “Don't Try This At Home” album with “Accident Waiting To Happen” being a mainstay in my playlist.

    Also, has a boatload of his concerts to wade through if are so inclined.

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  • Gman

    I remember seeing Jon Butcher Axis open for someone in the 80s (probably Cheap Trick) and he was a great guitarist. although he didn't help the comparisons to Hendrix by playing Amazing Grace (ala Star Spangled Banner).

  • Old_Davy

    Jon Butcher Axis! I loved that first album and have been looking for a CD of it for years. Is that a vinyl rip you posted (Life Takes A Life)? It sure sounds clean.

  • ozarkmatt

    So, I'm assuming with “Goodbye to You” all over MTV, RCA decided they needed a new wave/rock band with a cute lead singer that didn't dress too slutty matched up with a quartet of guys with skinny ties and proto-mullets.

    At least Scandal got a shot at a second album. But I guess those are the breaks.

    (Ha ha, I slay me . . .)

  • steed

    Yeah, too clean for a vinyl rip – it's from the Greatest Hits CD.

  • steed

    Malarkey smarcky!

    I've always wondered how songs like “She Wants You” end up on a comp like that. Happy to see it there, but it seems relatively out of place.

  • brettalan

    I adore Billy Bragg…my favorite album of his (and my number two album of the 80s behind Graceland) is definitely Talking With The Taxman About Poetry. “Levi Stubbs' Tears” is absolutely brilliant.

    I think you still have my Gmail address (and if you don't, it's, um, easy to figure out as it matches my screen name here) so if you'd like me to send you a few mp3s, just let me know.

    I will be very interested to see if I agree with you on “Dangerous Moments” being better than “The Salt In My Tears” as the latter is a big favorite of mine. Also like his “I Feel Like A Milkshake” which has been covered by Peter Tork.

    For some reason I find _Danny Joe Brown and the Danny Joe Brown Band_ to be hilarious as an album title.

  • kingofgrief

    This collection offers a more logical context, but it's out of print and there's no way I'm paying 50-100 bucks for the damn thing. (Lots of choice Bottom Feeders and lower-40 goodies here, though.)

    More observations:

    “It's Midnight and I'm Not Famous Yet” might have stumped me in a blind taste test. A few more listens and it could very well overtake “Come Monday” as my favorite Buffett song.

    As raging a Talking Heads fan as I am, I could never grasp the bulk of Byrne's post-Heads career, though I love his extracurriculars while the band was still active (Catherine Wheel, Knee Plays, Bush of Ghosts). The best thing he's done as a free agent was “Lazy”, his 2002 collab with the UK electronic act X-Press 2.

    I have the Bragg collection that BullzEye mentioned, but I've never listened to it. I bought it super cheap and figured it might be useful for the show some day.

    I can't fault you for not taking to Kate Bush, but if you ever want to be schooled, just ask my missus.

  • eddie_w

    Love “Lazy” as well, and, like you, it's my favorite thing of his post-TH (although his cover of Whitney's “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” is pretty fun too). Nice to see another fan of that song out there.

  • kingofgrief

    I've always said that “Lazy” gives one an idea of what Speaking in Tongues would have been two decades after the fact. I'll have to give an ear to his Whitney cover…I like what he did with Crystal Waters' “Gypsy Woman”.

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  • Rugby4NeilMat

    The best version of any song named Dirty Old Town

  • Spud Bro

    I know everyone's moved on, but I finally got around to listening to “Edge of Sundown” by Danny Joe Brown and the Danny Joe Brown Band. It brought back some very strong memories.

    For a brief period, probably while it was flirting with the charts, the video for this played more than a few times on MTV. (I don't know what kind of rotation it was in, but I saw it multiple times, and laughed at how long the little chyron for the band was)

    And, yes, that is a hilarious album title.

  • Kennymeola

    Who ever the guy that did the review on Jon Butcher, was wrong !, That album  was bad to the bone period …..and as a guitarist ,Jon Butcher was and will always be great,Tone and Sound……. wise.. Man!….and ! maybe the reviewer should  check his hearing ,cuz there aint no flaws in JB’s Songs…..Why ! cuz The Dogmann said so !!!…….

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