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Mr. Mister Tag


Life is full of happy accidents — I was in the midst of setting up an interview with Gary Wright via his publicist and mentioned to him that former Mr. Mister vocalist Richard Page (Wright’s current tour mate) had a new solo album out. Wright relayed to his publicist that Richard was willing to speak with me if I had interest in talking to him. Interest? You’d better believe that I was interested.

As the lead vocalist/bassist for ’80s pop/rock quartet Mr. Mister, Page found incredible (although short-lived) success when the band released their second album Welcome To The Real World, an album that went straight to number one, lodging two number one singles, “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie” in its wake. Go On…, the follow-up to Real World, failed to match the success of their previous album, and the band’s follow-up release Pull was shelved and never officially released (although we’ve got some news on that one that will make you smile).

After a period of recording silence, Page made his return in 1994 as the vocalist for producer Patrick Leonard’s Third Matinee project, an excellent yet sadly ignored follow-up to Leonard’s previous Toy Matinee release. Page made his official solo debut two years later with the release of Shelter Me, an album that showcased the continued lyrical growth that had been previously displayed on the Third Matinee album Meanwhile (and musically, his solo releases have evolved from the sound that many were familiar with on the Mr. Mister albums, embracing a more jazzy/adult contemporary vibe). Another recording break would follow, with Page focusing in on songwriting and enjoying life with his family.

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There’s something terribly wrong with me right now. Just like everyone, there are points when I get a song stuck in my head that I just can’t get rid of. But right now I have a medley stuck in my brain which apparently only comes out when I’m singing in the shower (thankfully). It goes like this: “I’m gonna take you by surprise and make you realize / Amanda / I’m gonna tell you right away / I can’t wait another day / Amanda / I’m gonna say it like a man and make you understand / Amanda / I love you / You know it’s you babe / Giving me the courage and the strength I need / Please believe that it’s true / Babe, I love you.” Every morning for at least the last two weeks I’ve found myself singing some ungodly blend of Boston’s “Amanda” and Styx’s “Babe.” And I don’t even know why. I don’t remember hearing the tunes lately and it’s not like they are my favorite songs. Why couldn’t I just be singing a medley of “Danger Zone” and “Who’s Johnny” instead?

Here’s another week of Bottom Feeders where we chat about songs that reached no higher than #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the ’80s. We have a mess more of M to continue with this week, so stream away and enjoy.

Millions Like Us
“Guaranteed for Life” — 1987, #69 (download)

I mentioned a few weeks ago how this song got me buying ‘80s CDs again. I can state for a fact that before I started writing this up I had heard this song only once — back when I was listening to my whole collection from start to finish. The number of plays column on iTunes is at 0 which means it’s never shuffled to it and I’m 100% sure I’ve never pulled this out on my own. I knew nothing about the group and with a generic (and pretty bad) name like Millions Like Us a google search doesn’t turn up anything and the 45 only said the song was written by the group.

So, I went out and got the CD. If I had just listened to it a little bit I probably could have figured it out, but when I first heard this song, I thought it was a soulful young black man. But no, Millions Like Us is more like Go West — two soulful middle-aged white dudes. The singer is John O’Kane and the other guy goes by the name of “Jeep”. And that still tells me virtually nothing about the band. The track is pretty damn good though.

Maybe eight or ten years ago, if you’d wanted to make some pretty decent money on a minimal investment, all you had to do was find a CD copy of Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw’s 1984 solo debut, Girls with Guns, at a yard sale or in the used bins at your local strip mall record store (you remember them, don’t you?), then turn around and put the copy on eBay.  I once saw a one go for upwards of $200, and it made me longingly recall the time I saw a $10 used GwG at the Keystone Music Exchange and didn’t pull the trigger on the purchase.  And my fists shake with rage at the memory once again.

“Lonely School” was the second single off the record, a follow-up to the album’s more raucous title track, and it’s notable for containing just about every element that Shaw hated in Dennis DeYoung’s music, the primary reason he left Styx.  It’s a keyboard-heavy tune, for one thing; the guitars (Shaw’s stock in trade) mainly provide bits of color here and there, until the solo break after the second chorus.  There are key changes aplenty — into and out of every chorus, to be exact — which serve to adhere the verses to the chorus with a kind of musical Elmer’s or Scotch tape.  The background vocals —”ooh’s” and “ah’s,” mostly, give the overall track a kind of Mr. Mister-ish feel (a full year or two before any of us had heard of Mr. Mister.  Then again, I’ve never seen Tommy Shaw and Richard Page in the same room.  Hmmm …).

(Oh, and ignore the tom-tom percussion that opens the song; no one in rock should be allowed to use the things, with the exception of Neil Peart, who makes them sound like a hailstorm, a headhunter block party, and the march of an advancing army, because he’s Neil-fucking-Peart.)

In truth, “Lonely School” lacks any obvious full-on rawk bombast, the kind Shaw was exposed to daily in Styx and would absolutely master with Damn Yankees (“High Enough,” anyone?  Huh?  No takers?  Bummer).  Indeed, one might be tempted to wonder what’s so powerful about this particular ballad.

In one word: potential.

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Are you ready to rock?! Wait, no, that’s not right, let me try that again…are you ready for some melodic rock?!

The whole reclassification of early ‘80s arena rock as “melodic rock” – there is even a Melodic Rock web site, which is rather popular – is really rather amusing. The implication, of course, is that the category exists in order to separate the melodic rockers of that era from the non-melodic bands…of which there were none. Basically, unless you were a thrash band (Metallica, Anthrax) or an SST band (Husker Du, Minutemen), you were playing melodic rock. Perhaps the fans prefer to call it melodic rock – and make no mistake, the phrase is a fan-driven phenomenon – because they felt that the previous nicknames for the genre, like arena rock, or, God forbid, classic rock, carried a negative connotation with them. They’re not wrong, but rechristening an entire decade’s worth of music as melodic rock doesn’t really change the way any of it sounds.

The new label, however, has proven to be more forgiving than mid-‘80s AOR program directors were in terms of whom is allowed into the secret club. Only now will like-minded rock fans dare to discuss Purple Rainbow – Joe Lynn Turner and Tony Carey in the same band, yo! – and Los Angeles studio rats Mr. Mister in the same breath. Mr. Mister certainly had the chops that their more hard-rocking contemporaries possessed, but the soft rock one-two punch of “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie,” from their 1985 album Welcome to the Real World, sealed their CHR fate. When the band decided to show off those chops on their 1987 album Go On…, the public were even less forgiving than the AOR program directors. Poof, Mr. Mister is finished, and the studio rats scattered to various projects ranging from XTC to the Rembrandts to King Crimson. And that’s just the drummer.

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Mr. Mister – I Wear the Face (1983)
purchase this album (Amazon)

Well, well, well. If it isn’t Mr. Mister.

First things first: I have to give credit where it’s due here — if it weren’t for the impassioned words of our pal Kurt, who favorably compared the Misters to XTC in an old Chartburn, I might never have realized I had a copy of this fossil on my shelf. In fact, I probably would have gone the rest of my life without listening to it again.

Wait, did I say “give credit”? I think I meant “lay blame.”