Posts Tagged ‘Fire Inc.’

Thanks, Jim Steinman

April 21, 2021

Looking at the listing of works by Jim Steinman, who died two days ago, leaves me feeling as if I missed out. I truly know so little of what the man did as a writer, musician and producer. He remains one of the large blank spots in my musical awareness.

There’s a reason. My memory tells me – and bits and pieces of what I’ve read over the past few days confirm – that Steinman came to mass awareness with his writing and production of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album Bat Out Of Hell and the resulting 1978 single “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.”

By the time the single came out, I was in the working world, and I crammed my radio listening into what I could catch in the car as I drove from one reporting assignments to another and whatever I could catch at home on an aging stereo system my folks had found for me in a second-hand store. Still, I heard “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” occasionally, and I liked it, even if I found it a bit bombastic.

(A lot of other folks liked it, too: It went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 31 on the magazine’s easy listening chart.)

But “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” – the follow-up singles – didn’t grab me. And as I listened less and less to pop music in the late 1970s and early 1980, I missed whatever came next for Steinman.

Then, in 1984, I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

I missed a lot of Steinman’s stuff, and maybe I should go back and dig into it, but I at least found two pieces from the man’s work that will always be a part of my life, and for that, I thank Jim Steinman.

Here’s the official video for “Nowhere Fast” and a clip with the last minutes of the film that includes “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” both credited to Fire Inc.

Two From Ellen Aim & The Attackers

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 28, 2008

I continue to be ambivalent about the movie Streets of Fire.As I wrote here some months ago, when I rented the movie a few years ago, it didn’t seem nearly as good as it did when in came out in 1984. Yet, this morning, I did my normal Thursday morning casting about at YouTube and took a look at the video for “Nowhere Fast,” the movie’s opening song. And as I watched, I found myself being sucked in again to the story of rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), on the verge of being kidnapped – as the song ends – by Raven, the character played by Willem Dafoe.

I pondered the pull of the scene for a moment, and then realized – to paraphrase a sign in someone’s election headquarters – “It’s the music, dummy!” Jim Steinman’s mammoth production still thrills me. I know some find his work overbearing, and it’s true that his 1980s version of the Wall of Sound didn’t always make for great listening on the radio or at home. But in a film – in particular, in this film – it worked well.

I may have to head over to the movie rental site and have them send me a DVD of Streets of Fire. It’s been a few years since I looked at it, and – even if it’s not quite as good as I thought it was in 1984 – it may not be as lacking as I thought it was in 2001. Anyway, here’s the scene of Ellen Aim & the Attackers performing “Nowhere Fast” from Streets of Fire.*

I thought that, as long as I was digging around, I’d also post the ending sequence of Streets of Fire. It includes the other big number from the film, “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” performed after Ellen Aim has been rescued from captivity by her old flame Cody (Michael Paré), who then heads down the road with Amy Madigan’s McCoy. (The clip includes the closing credits, backed by the Fixx’s “Deeper and Deeper.)

*Both videos had been deleted since this entry was first posted. The best videos now available appear to be official videos released by the studio. Note added June 12, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From The Movies

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 25, 2008

Every time I watch the Academy Awards – and that’s pretty much every year – I think a little bit about “What if?”

For a brief time in college, I dabbled in film, taking several workshops and classes and hanging around with others who did the same. I wrote a lot of short films, many of them adaptations of short stories, some of them originals. I also wrote some music for film: themes, background music and songs, written with certain projects in mind and then shelved when those projects either didn’t happen or went another way.

I thought I might actually make a living at one of those crafts in the context of filmmaking. And I might have. But I had absolutely no idea how to get from the thought of making a living in film to the actuality. So I never went that direction and became a journalist instead. I still did some other writing, more when I was teaching than when I was working at newspapers, and I still wrote songs and other music from time to time. But the movies and I have never been more than friendly strangers, not the friends I once thought possible.

I don’t regret that my path never went that direction. If it had been intended to be, I would have found my way there. But I admit that once a year, when I watch writers and songwriters collect their cherished statues, I wonder what might have been if I’d had even half a clue about what the first steps in such a path should have been.

A Baker’s Dozen of Songs From Movies
“Between Trains” by Robbie Robertson from The King of Comedy, 1983

“Songs to Aging Children Come” by Tigger Outlaw from Alice’s Restaurant, 1969

“Don’t It Feel Good To Be Free” by Edwin Starr from Hell Up In Harlem, 1974

“We Have All The Time In The World” by Louis Armstrong from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969

“Look What You’ve Done To Me” by Boz Scaggs from Urban Cowboy, 1980

“Love Theme (A Time For Us)” by Nino Rota from Romeo and Juliet, 1967

“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from Revolution, 1968

“Route 66” by Manhattan Transfer from Sharkey’s Machine, 1981

“Nowhere Fast” by Fire, Inc., from Streets of Fire, 1984

“Child of the Universe” by the Byrds from Candy, 1968

“Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and a Woman)” by Francis Lai from Un Homme et Une Femme, 1966

“The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff from The Harder They Come, 1972

“Midnight Cowboy” by John Barry from Midnight Cowboy, 1969

A few notes:

A recent visitor said that among the lost treasures he’d like to hear were Jennifer Warnes’ deleted album on Reprise and the Robbie Robertson track “Between Trains” from the soundtrack to The King of Comedy. I don’t have any leads on the Warnes album, but as soon as I got the note, I wandered to the shelf where I keep my soundtracks, pulled out The King of Comedy and ripped an mp3 of “Between Trains” from the vinyl. Joining Robertson in the studio were – among others – Richard Manuel on background vocals, Garth Hudson on synthesizer and famed session drummer Jim Keltner. It’s a good track.

Some time ago, I posted Joni Mitchell’s version of her “Songs to Aging Children Come,” noting that it had been performed in the movie Alice’s Restaurant by Tigger Outlaw. I said, “Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing.” That still holds true, having had Outlaw’s version pop up as I listened to songs from movies last night.

The Hell Up In Harlem soundtrack by Edwin Starr is pretty good, with Starr giving fierce readings of some of the songs from Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell. The gospelly “Don’t It Feel Good To Be Free” was the B side to one of the singles released from the film and was a pretty good track on its own.

The Quicksilver Messenger Service song was one of several rock songs used to back Revolution, a 1968 documentary on the counterculture of the late Sixties. The film’s description at All Movie Guide reads, in part: “Primarily filmed in San Francisco, this documentary features a series of interviews with those who call themselves hippies, or in some way identify with hippies. The countercultural revolution is revealed in discussions about sex, drugs, philosophy and lifestyle. Casual nudity and marijuana use is the main activity of one group. A nun who has left the order reveals her decisions to join the counterculture. Others decry the dehumanization of the modern industrial world, choosing to lead a hand-to-mouth existence. Communal living, psychedelic shows, love-ins and diverse fashion statements accompany the hippies who are many things to many people. All share a feeling of human togetherness and a live-and-let-live philosophy as they cope with the rapidly changing spectrum of social and political events in their lives.” Other groups whose music was used in the film were Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and Mother Earth.

“Nowhere Fast” was one of two Jim Steinman epics in the soundtrack to Streets of Fire, the rock and roll fable that came out in 1984. Overblown and overproduced? Yeah, probably. But I still like it. Every time I hear it, I find myself for a day or two with “Godspeed, godspeed, godspeed, speed us away,” running through my head.

“Child of the Universe” is a decent Byrds track that got swallowed up by the movie Candy, an atrocious 1968 film based on the “erotic” novel of the same title by Terry Southern. The book was one of those passed around surreptitiously in junior high with little notes inside the cover alerting us to the pages that had the hot stuff. The song – written by Dave Grusin – also wound up on the 1969 album Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. The movie, available through at least one standard on-line service, is essentially unwatchable.

John Barry’s instrumental theme to Midnight Cowboy might be the best thing on this list although the preceding track, Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” is a great recording, too, and was, I think, one of the first reggae records to get much attention outside of Jamaica.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1984

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 19, 2007

Well, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984 here in Minnesota.

Oh, not George Orwell’s 1984, although I could chatter politics for some time and I do have my societal concerns. No, the 1984 I have in mind is Les Steckel’s 1984.

“Les Who?” I hear many of you mutter out there in the cyberworld. ”What record did he release? Did it make the Top 40?”

I’ve mentioned at times my passion for spectator sports. I follow most of the major sports fairly closely, with the exception of professional basketball. I watch a little of that, but not nearly with the regularity or interest with which I follow baseball, football and hockey. Of them all, my favorite sport and team – as measured by the emotional impact of the team’s performance – is professional football and the Minnesota Vikings. And as we sit just past the middle of September, with the autumnal equinox four days away, the NFL season is two games old, and it feels like 1984.

That was the year that Les Steckel took over for the retired Bud Grant as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and promptly led the Vikings to a 3-13 record. It wasn’t the worst season in the team’s history; in 1962, the team’s second season, was a hair worse at 2-11-1. And the uninspiring performance of the team in its first two games this season and the seeming disconnect from reality of the coaching staff (insisting on starting a second-year quarterback who is clearly not capable, right now, of playing that key position well enough to win) leaves me feeling like it’s 1984 all over again. I may be wrong, and I’d like to be wrong. But I think it’s going to be a long season here in the land of longboats and horns.

Luckily for me, in 1984, I was unable to see the vast majority of the Vikings’ games, as I was in graduate school in Missouri. That means that I watched the St. Louis Cardinals (still a few years from their flight to the Arizona desert), who were 9-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 8-8. The only Vikings game I saw all season was their 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay in early November when I was visiting some friends in northwestern Iowa.

Other than the Vikings’ performance, 1984 was a pretty good year. Grad school was fun and challenging, and I had a good nucleus of friends with whom to spend the free time I had. Nothing particularly stands out about the year, which is good, in retrospect. It was a quiet time. One thing I do recall is my stunned admiration in January when Apple announced the introduction of the Macintosh with a legendary commercial during the Super Bowl.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from a quiet year:

“Valotte” by Julian Lennon, Atlantic single 89609

“Countdown to Love” by Greg Phillinganes from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Crow Jane” by Sonny Terry from Whoopin’

“Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Columbia single 04715

“Jungle Sweep” by Jimmie Spheeris from Spheeris

“Daddy Said” by Nanci Griffith from Once In A Very Blue Moon

“We Belong” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 42826

“On the Wings of a Nightingale” by the Everly Brothers, Mercury single 880213

“Bobby Jean” by Bruce Springsteen from Born in the U.S.A.

“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan from Real Live

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141

“If This Is It” by Huey Lewis & the News, Chrysalis single 4283

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Julian Lennon single isn’t much of a record to me, even though it reached No. 9 on the charts; I preferred his “Much Too Late For Goodbye,” which went to No. 5 early in 1985. As far as Julian himself goes, I tend to agree with the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which notes that the younger Lennon should be “commended for daring even to whisper after the echo of his formidable father.”

At the time Streets of Fire came out, I was writing occasional movie reviews for the Columbia Missourian, and I gave the film a pretty good review, based partly on the film itself and partly on the music. I looked at the movie a few years ago, and it has not aged well; it seems silly now. But the music is still pretty good, if maybe not to everyone’s taste. The Greg Phillinganes track, “Countdown to Love,” is a sprightly doo-woppy piece, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” was one of two bombastic Jim Steinman productions used in the movie, kind of a Great Wall of Sound production that featured, among others, Roy Bittan of the E Street Band on piano. Overblown, yes, but fun.

“Jungle Sweep” is from the album that Jimmie Spheeris completed work on hours before he was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 1984. It was released by Sony in 2000 but was pulled back by the company shortly after that.

The Everly Brothers’ track was the single from their album EB ’84, a pretty good reunion album. The single was written and produced by Paul McCartney.

‘You Ain’t Never Caught A Rabbit . . .’

October 13, 2010

At last, we come to the end of this particular line: Today, we look at the final six selections in my Ultimate Jukebox, the last six of the 228 records I’d have set to play in my living room, if – as I wrote much earlier this year – my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven.

If I were fool enough to start this project all over again, I’m sure that the list of songs would be very different. I imagine that about half of the records that showed up here would show up here again. The others? Well, over the past nine months, I’ve frequently heard a record on the radio or during random play on the RealPlayer and wondered why I didn’t choose it for the UJ. I didn’t keep track of those moments, but had I done so, I estimate that they were frequent enough to replace half of the tunes I put into the UJ.

One constraint I might ignore on a second go-round is length. I set a limit of 7:30 for a record, knowing that a 45 could handle that much, and I hit that limit with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” (I came close, relatively, with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and Buddy Miles “Down by the River” and maybe a few others that don’t come to mind right now.) If I were to do the project over, I’d ignore that limit and include longer pieces.

Some of the worthy longer pieces that come immediately to mind are the Side One suite on Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, the Allman Brothers Band’s performance of “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, “Beginnings” by Chicago from Chicago Transit Authority, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Leon Russell’s take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” from The Concert for Bangla Desh and Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” from his self-titled album. I suppose those and a few others might show up in a complementary project. We’ll see.

When I wrote the second installment of this project, I mentioned Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” as the final two records trimmed to get to 228. And I said that one of the selections set for this final installment was there on probation, as it were: If something else along the way seemed more compelling or more deserving, there was one record that I would pull out of the list to make room.

Well, as good as a lot of the records I thought about along the way might have been – and “Baker Street” came to mind several times – that final record has come off probation and remains in the Ultimate Jukebox:

While Willie Mae Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” – written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – was recorded in 1952, it was the next year when the record did its damage on the air and in the charts: “Hound Dog,” according to All-Music Guide, held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for seven weeks in 1953.

Thornton’s version was the first recorded of the oft-covered song, with the session taking place at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles on August 13, 1952, according to Wikipedia. The session was in fact produced by Leiber and Stoller themselves “because their work had sometimes been misrepresented, and on this one they knew how they wanted the drums to sound.”

Wikipedia notes that Johnny Otis was supposed to produce the session, but Leiber and Stoller wanted Otis on drums. Evidently in exchange, Otis received a writing credit on all six of the 1953 pressings, Wikipedia says. The first release was on a 10-inch 78 rpm record, according to Wikipedia, but there’s no indication when the 45 rpm releases first came out.

And although I’ve included a player for the song above, I could not resist offering this video – I think it’s from 1965 – of Big Mama Thornton performing “Hound Dog” with a band that includes guitar legend Buddy Guy.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 38
“Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, Peacock 1612 [1952]
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54188 [1969]
“Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” by Elton John from Honky Château [1972]
“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Big Tree 16069 [1976]
“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the soundtrack to Streets of Fire [1984]
“Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, Island 858028 [1994]

In one of the last posts before I decided to put together the Ultimate Jukebox, I wrote about the mournful and beautiful “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” and its impact on me no matter when or where I hear it. It’s an exercise in nostalgia, not only in its lyrics but in its arrangement, with its decidedly old-school chorus in the introduction and choruses (a description borrowed from a comment left by jb, the proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’). Wonder makes the unlikely combination work, as he has done so many times through his career. And whenever it comes on the radio or the player, if there’s not a twinge of regret for all the things left behind, well, you’re at the wrong blog.

One of the amazing things to me about the early Elton John – from say 1970 through 1976 – was his ability to take the frequently opaque lyrics of Bernie Taupin and craft songs around them that made them sound cryptically wise or at least reasonable. I mean, after hundreds of listenings, I’m still not sure what the lyrics to “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” mean:

And now I know
Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew
But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City

Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through
And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you
I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light

Wikipedia says that the lyrics were inspired partly by Ben E. King’s recording of “Spanish Harlem” and partly by Taupin’s having heard a gun go off near his hotel during his first visit to New York City. Okay. In any case, they sound good, and John crafted around them one of his better melodies. Add the production of Gus Dudgeon, and you have an album track that hangs around, sounding better every time it pops up in the player.

Paul Evans of the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide didn’t much care for England Dan & John Ford Coley. He called “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” “ingratiating, smug and coy” and labeled the duo’s body of work as “truly repellent,” capping his review off by saying that they “sound like oafish bores [not “boars,” sorry] breaking their backs to be ‘sensitive.’” Well, okay. I’ll acknowledge that “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” isn’t going to be on everyone’s good list. But I don’t hear those flaws when I hear “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” which was the duo’s biggest hit (two weeks at No. 2 and one week atop the Adult Contemporary chart). I hear the summer of 1976, which was a reasonably good season. I was taking some post-graduate courses at St. Cloud State, I had a steady girlfriend whom I saw most weekends, I had friends for evenings downtown or at one of our homes: Life was good. Along the way, I occasionally heard “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” coming through the speakers at home, in the car and – early in the morning before the place got too noisy – in the snack bar at Atwood Center. And the record has become a reminder of a pretty good summer, and that’s good enough for me.

A while back, I came across the movie Streets of Fire as I walked the remote up the channels. As I almost always do when that happens, I watched the rest of the movie. And I made a note at Facebook about it, calling it a bad movie. I was corrected by my blogging pal Jeff, who keeps house at AM, then FM. He called it a guilty pleasure, and I guess that’s a better label. Either way, I do like the movie, and I still love the soundtrack, especially the two Jim Steinman epics that open and close the movie. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” is the closer, with the studio group Fire Inc. providing the backing and lead vocals coming from Holly Sherwood with other vocals from Laurie Sargent, Rory Dodd and Eric Troyer, according to Wikipedia. One notable name on the roster of Fire Inc. is that of Roy Bittan, piano player for the E Street Band. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” spent five weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 80.

When I started this project, I devised a way to split the 228 records I had selected into random groups of six, and each week, I listed that week’s six songs chronologically. Back in Week One, the first song listed was The Mamas & The Papas’ “Look Through My Window.” This week, the last song listed – the last entry in this project – is Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window,” a record that went to No. 25 in 1994. I guess that confluence is fitting, as what I’ve tried to do in these thirty-eight weeks is provide a window into the music that moves me and in doing so, a window into me as I’ve been shaped by music over the years. As I thought might happen, I’ve probably learned as much about myself as has anyone else who’s read my words and listened to the tunes offered here over the past eight-plus months. The mystery of how some songs attach themselves to our lives is one I’ll be exploring for the rest of my days. I doubt I’ll ever completely know how some songs – “Cherish” and “We” come to mind in my case – become major pillars of our internal lives and how others like “Come To My Window” – a good record to me, but nothing more than that – are perhaps the equivalent of artwork hung on the internal walls supported by those other, more vital records. In the end, I doubt I’ll find a perfect answer, and I suppose it might be better if all that remains a mystery. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening.