Friday, August 20, 2010

R.I.P. Michael Been (1950-2010)

Michael Been, lead singer of The Call, passed away yesterday after suffering a massive heart attack backstage at the Pukkelop Music Festival in Hasselt, Belgium.  He was only 60 years old.

At the time, Been was working as a sound engineer for his son's band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but his greatest fame came as the frontman for a band that more than one critic described as an "American U2."   While always respected from within the music industry (Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson and even Bono himself were counted among their fans), The Call never quite reached the level of commercial success that their potential seemed to warrant.  They touched the brass ring a few times, however: bolstered by heavy airplay on MTV, 1983's classic "The Walls Came Down" reached the lower rungs of the Top 40; during the 2000 Presidential Campaign, candidate Al Gore used The Call's 1989 single "Let The Day Begin" as his theme song.

Been also dabbled in acting, most notably playing the role of the Apostle John in Martin Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ.

Among my circle of friends, The Call did achieve their rightful status as superstars.  I was only a sophomore in high school when "The Walls Came Down" hit the airwaves, but from the start it found a home on my short list of all-time great songs.  With its hummably insistent riff (da-da-da-DA, da-DA-da), great lyrics, and four-note guitar solo, the song became a favorite among not only my clique, but most everyone I know who has ever heard it.

The album from which it came, Modern Romans, is as good an introduction to the band as you'll find.  Side One is nearly perfect, with "Walls," "Turn A Blind Eye", "Time Of Your Life" (Been does a scarily accurate Jim Morrison on that one), the title track, and the stark "Back From The Front," its a flawless setlist.  Side Two starts to show evidence of The Call's fatal flaw: they tended to load their LPs front-heavy with the best material, with the weaker tunes closing out.  Rather than mixing the filler in to allow context to bring the best out of it, this approach tended to underscore the lesser songs.  The lone exception was 1986's Reconciled, which found that proper mix (although it still led with its strongest track, "Everywhere I Go.")

When they hit their mark, however, no other band could hold a candle to them.  They released eight albums in total, calling it quits after 1990's Red Moon.

In honor of Michael Been, I've chosen the clip for "The Walls Came Down."  (The clip cannot be embedded here, so please follow the link to YouTube when you click on the image below.) You'll spot The Band's Garth Hudson guesting on keyboards here, and you'll be singing the riff in your head for weeks. Goodbye Michael. You will be missed.


  1. Wow. I loved this song when it came out. Haven't heard it much over the years, but whenever I have, I've found myself singing along (especially at the end). It's infectious, it's irresistable, and it is a true New Wave classic.
    I find the critics' comparisons to U2 inapt, particularly regarding the vocalization. What makes this song inherently magnetic is the vocal delivery, impassioned but not overblown. If you imagine Bono's emotionally overwrought song stylings in lieu of Michael Been's cool vocals, this song likely would have been fodder for the dust-heap. Or we'd just all be damn sick of hearing it.:)