Monday, April 22, 2013

REPOST - New Wave for the New Week #18: Divinyls

Sad news today that Christina Amphlett, former lead singer of Divinyls, passed away at age 53 from complications of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.  In her honor, here is a repost of the New Wave For the New Week entry I wrote for Divinyls on July 13, 2009.  R.I.P., Christina.

Cover of "Desperate"Cover of Desperate
Some bands are fated to toil away in obscurity making wonderful music, to have their only taste of mainstream success come in the form of a song so unbefitting it's almost comically sad. Such a fate was that of Australia's Divinyls.

To most people, if they even remember that band name at all, the one song that they know is the shock-hit "I Touch Myself," which was their only visit to the American record charts, climbing all the way to #4. It's an OK, if too-purposefully titillating, single - but for that to be all Divinyls would be remembered for is a disservice to a solid band with a number of very good records under their belt.

Based from the start around the duo of Christina Amphlett and Mark McEntee, Divinyls first made noise in their native land around 1980. Their first release, an EP of music created for the movie Monkey Grip, included two wonderful singles. "Boys in Town" and "Only Lonely" got the band noticed quickly, both charting in the top 20 in Australia. Both songs were included on their debut album, Desperate, the following year, along with their third single and this week's entry, "Science Fiction."

The band continued their Australian success with two more albums and a few more charting singles, including "Pleasure and Pain" (1985) and "Hey Little Boy" (a 1988 reworking of The Syndicate of Sound's 1966 garage stomper "Hey Little Girl").

Despite their growing reputation and a fair amount of play on MTV, their breakthrough seemed like it would never happen until that 1991 smash. Another record followed with little publicity, and Amphlett and McEntee went their separate ways.

This week, enjoy Divinyls as they should have been remembered with their entry in the NW4NW series, "Science Fiction," which was named one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time by APRA (Australian Performing Rights Association).

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Saturday, April 13, 2013


Harry Kalas, longtime Phillies broadcaster, wa...
For me, the voice of Harry Kalas is what a Major League Baseball game is supposed to sound like.  As a kid growing up in the mid-to-late '70s, just starting to learn the Grand Old Game and its rich history, Harry and his Whiteness, Richie Ashburn, were my teachers as well as my fellow Phillies fans.  In the days before every sports broadcaster mimicked the ridiculously hyperbolic ESPN SportsCenter style or did their damnedest to look and sound just like Bob Costas (looking at you, Joe Buck), Kalas stood out among his peers not because he constantly drew attention to himself, but rather because he was clearly a fan who enjoyed the game as much as the fan sitting at home watching or listening to him. He just happened to be a fan blessed with one of the most fantastic voices in broadcasting history.

There was probably no one better suited than Harry to be behind the mike through those many years of awful Phillies teams in the mid-‘70s and late-‘80s.  Somehow he made us feel with each new season – with each new game – that this collection of ragtags and oddballs really could just possibly win. And when they did, no one was happier than Harry. To hear him transform from measured professional play-by-play announcer to overly excited fan as a particularly remarkable play unfolded, you could not help but be swept along for the ride. Harry’s voice would rise sharply in both pitch and volume when reciting his famous home run calls: “Long drive! Deep right center field! Way, way back! It’s outta heeeeeere!”  He became the neighborhood boy on the pick-up field trash-talking the opposing team when one of their batters was whiffed: “Struh-Keem-Out!”  And, he was the grandfather figure to many a fan in his later years, happily crooning his wobbly versions of “High Hopes” in an effort to lift the Phillies to one more win.

It's hard to believe today marks 4 years since we lost Harry, shortly before a game against the Washington Nationals.  There was no one like him, and he is deeply missed.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Annette's Got The Hits

Annette Funicello passed away today at the age of 70, reportedly from complications brought on by the Multiple Sclerosis she has battled since the late 1980's.  It's easy to pigeonhole Annette Funicello as the wholesome teen starlet from a simpler time, and certainly she was that, but even more she was a pop culture phenomenon.  She was the first bona-fide child star of the TV era, as the 12-year-old who outshone even Cubby on the original Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950's; hers is he image that comes first to mind when swinging '60s beach parties are imagined, celebrated, or lampooned; I first knew of her as the kind-of-cool TV mom who made Skippy peanut butter sandwiches for all the neighborhood kids in those 1970s commercials. She was the model that corporate entertainment still tries to emulate when concocting each next teen idol: she sang, she danced, she acted, she did TV and she did movies, only she did it all without being a prefab creation.  She had a natural ease in front of the camera and real talent.

It may surprise you to learn that my record collection includes two Annette Funicello albums (!), both from 1964. Annette On Campus is a definite oddity, in which she leads two separate singing groups, The Wellingtons and The All American Chorus, cheerleader-style through a collection of the era's college fight songs; Annette at Bikini Beach is a fun romp through a number of (appropriately enough) beach-y tunes, including the excellent semi-title track "Bikini Beach" and a personal all-time favorite "The Monkey's Uncle," on which she joins forces with The Beach Boys in an absolutely irresistible hook-laden pop confection (bubblegum music for the pre-bubblegum era?).  Sure it's true that I do not own these unironically, but part of Annette's charm was that she always seemed to understand just how corny the material she was regularly handed to perform was, even in her most earnest moments.   

In the early 1980s, before they doubled the d and replaced the c with a k, California punks Red Cross penned a tribute of sorts to the ultimate girl-next-door.  In honor of Ms. Funicello's passing, I offer their surf-punk homage, as well as "The Monkey's Uncle."  I think you'll find by listening to them back-to-back, though they were created in different generations, in the pantheon of teenage goofy fun they are surprisingly not too far apart!

R.I.P. Annette.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Gidget Goes To Hell

Finally, we've got some sunshine around these parts and - dare I say it - warm(ish) weather! With the last snowfall as recent as two weeks ago, it was very nice to actually go jacketless this afternoon. Baseball season is underway, and summer is right around the corner.  WOO HOO!

Summer brings with it it's own soundtrack, and we all have our favorite summer songs.  I was overjoyed a couple days ago to find - finally - uploaded to YouTube the impossibly rare video clip for Suburban Lawns' 1980 debut single and New Wave summer classic, "Gidget Goes To Hell."  Directed by Jonathan Demme (!), the clip was aired during the infamous 1980 season of Saturday Night Live.

Suburban Lawns have always been a favorite of mine (click here to read their entry in this blog's old New Wave For The New Week series), and while the actual single has been in my collection for many years, I literally had not seen this video in, well, three decades before stumbling across it last week.  Here it is for your listening and viewing pleasure, every bit as wonderful as I remembered it. Turn it up and welcome the summer!