Tag Archives: 1980s

“Home By The Sea” Is A TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Written By Genesis

Genesis has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but a pleasure nonetheless. I’m not sure how you feel about Genesis, but I have an odd fascination with the band. In fact, I think I love them. It’s not like I really had a choice in the matter, I grew up in the 1980s thus the band is encoded in my DNA. My love for the sappy, syrupy Phil Collins-era eventually led me to the darker, stranger stuff generated in the 1970s when the band was led by Peter “Shock the Monkey” Gabriel. I can (and do) defend a lot of bands, but Genesis has always seemed indefensible, even to me.  Having one of the periods most famous drummers and then using the then-fashionable drum machine on your records? Egregious.

But amid the  puppet music videos, the drum machines, and embarrassingly earnest love ballads, Genesis never really stopped being a prog-band at heart. Even long after Gabriel had vanished from the band Genesis would tuck weird (and lengthy) progressive rock songs onto their albums. These songs no doubt confused the average pop fan who bought their records for the radio singles. Worse, however, these progressive artifacts always seemed to bring the band’s albums grinding to a halt (even though many of these songs are quite good). I find it interesting that a faction within Genesis fought the good fight to keep the band weird even as they were churning out mega-pop hits like “Invisible Touch.”

"Spoooky"

“Spoooky”

As the 1980s wore on, Genesis evolved away further and further from Gabriel’s version of the band replacing his cold theatricality for Collins’ affable charm. And yet, even as they basked in the neon glow of the mainstream (read: MTV), the band continued to make strange music that the public enjoyed.  I’m not 100% sure, but I have the feeling that the majority of people consuming Genesis’ music were oblivious to the darker nature of some of the bands output. I am no exception. The best Genesis songs, in both the Gabriel and the Collins era, are the ones that strike a balance and perfectly merge the band’s bizarre oddball sensibilities with more mainstream pop music. For my money, the best peanut butter and chocolate mix of the two sides of Genesis is the 1976 album A TRICK OF THE TAIL, which was the band’s first post-Gabriel album. If you find the Phil Collins stuff to be too poppy and the Gabriel stuff to be too stuffy/overblown, I implore you give A TRICK OF THE TAIL a listen. It’s the best album the band ever released, mostly because Gabriel was gone and Collins had yet to fully commit to being a pop idol.

Anyway, a few months back, I became obsessed with “Home By The Sea” off the band’s 1983 album GENESIS. For most people, myself included, GENESIS is the record where pop finally won out over the progressive side of the band.  I always remembered if for it’s pop hooks.  It was these same hooks that led me back to reevaluate the album. After hearing “That’s All” on the radio for the 10,000th time, I gave GENESIS another listen.

It was just as I remembered. The album is loaded with hooks, but among the tracks one stood out. “Home By The Sea” isn’t just a good song for this period of Genesis, it’s a good song period.  It’s so good, I found myself humming it all day long. I hummed it while brushing my teeth, driving to work, making a cup of coffee, riding in an elevator, and staring up at the ceiling while I waited to fall asleep. In short, I was haunted by the song.

Home By The Sea cover front

The more I thought about the song and the lyrics (the ones I could remember) I realized that despite being catchy, “Home By The Sea” is a dark, strange song. I decided to read the lyrics and re-listen to the song. When did, I was immediately struck by something incredible: “Home By The Sea” is a fucking Twilight Zone episode! Well, not really…but kinda. The song is about someone sneaking into a house, presumably with ill intent, and getting accosted by ghosts!

“Coming out the woodwork, through the open door

pushing from above and below

shadows but no substance, in the shape of men

round and down and sideways they go

adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair

then as one they sigh and moan”

These ghosts are lonely and force this person to stay with them as they relive their lives. The song talks about pictures coming to life and while it all could be a metaphor for holding onto the past (or growing old), on the surface this is a creepy ghost story of a song.

“Images of sorrow, pictures of delight

things that go to make up a life

endless days of summer longer nights of gloom

waiting for the morning light

scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame

things that go to make up a life.”

I’d heard this song on the radio countless times over the years growing up and none of this had ever occurred to me. During my re-listen of GENESIS, I discovered that the song is actually part one of a two-part suite of songs, the other being “Second Home By The Sea.” That second half is a fantastic near-instrumental (Collins sings a bit of “Home By The Sea” at the very end) that adds a sense of grandeur to the ghostly tale. Combined into one, “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” is over 11 minutes long which probably explains why it is broken apart (which feels like label interference). But taken as a whole I find these songs to be incredibly powerful.

It’s important to remember that this song(s) appears on the same album as “Taking It All Too Hard.” I can’t think of a greater tonal shift than the leap from “Home By The Sea” to “Taking It All Too Hard.” Sure, the songs don’t appear back-to-back, but the fact that they inhabit the same album is very strange. Not ghosts coming out of the walls strange, but strange nonetheless. That GENESIS reaches such sublime heights while also spiraling so low seems like proof that the band isn’t very good. However, I actually think the opposite. I think it takes real talent and chutzpah to be both on both ends of the creative spectrum on the same record. Straightforward radio pop and a mini-prog suite about ghosts? Amazing. Like something from The Twilight Zone. 

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“Grass” by XTC

“It would shock you, too/the things we used to do on grass…”

Though Andy Partridge is the lead-mad genius of British New Wave rocker XTC, my all-time favorite song by the band was written and sung by Colin Moulding.  The lighthearted, easygoing bassist was very much the McCartney in XTC.  His songs are guided more by the heart than the more cerebral, neurotic songs written by Partridge.  Of the two, Moulding is very much the one who comes across as an average bloke, the sort of guy you could have a beer with down at the pub.  That’s not to say Moulding was incapable to complex, witty, psychedelic numbers like Partridge.

xtc-grass-virgin

Moulding’s song “Grass” off the band’s 1986 album SKYLARKING is my favorite XTC song for a couple of reasons. For one, its surreal, psychedelic sweep is beyond splendid. The song opens with a sweeping string arrangement and chirping bird sounds (the album does anyway, the single version doesn’t have the sound effects). Lyrically, the song is both about having sex in a field and having sex while under the influence of marijuana.  The song is loaded with delightful double-entrees that are cute and not skeevy like I’m making it sound.  While it’s by no means high poetry, I’ve always enjoyed the cheeky, very British, wordplay of “Grass.”

“Grass” was written and recorded in the late 1980’s, at a time when it was pretty uncool to like The Beatles. Sure, there were bands like Tears For Fears mining The Beatles pop territory, but it was done in a most un-Beatle way. “Grass” was a desperate stab at a much-needed American hit single.  The song got XTC a hit in the States, but not in the way the band predicted: DJ’s ignored “Grass” and made the song’s b-side “Dear God” a surprise hit instead.  Produced by super-producer Todd Rundgren, the song never got it’s due in my opinion.  I think “Dear God” is a very good song, but by no means as representative of XTC and what the band stood for as “Grass.”

A great way to start Spring, enjoy “Grass”:

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WORLD PSYCHEDELIC CLASSICS #5: WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR?

One of my favorite parts of a new Tarantino film is the soundtrack.  I’m not sure how the legendary director finds time to be an expert on obscure cinema and pop music, but his films always feature interesting songs.  Besides reinventing classic hits of yesterday, Tarantino has an amazing knack for digging up forgotten gems by artists I’ve never heard of.  The Luaka Bop label does something similar, releasing a staggering assortment of amazing re-issues from grossly overlooked musicians from across the globe.

who_is_william_onyeabor_album_cover

WORLD PSYCHEDELIC CLASSICS #5: WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR? is a fantastic record.  Actually scratch that, it’s a mind-blowing record.  It’s the kind of thing that sounds too good to be true: the greatest cuts from a reclusive Nigerian funkmaster, recorded at the height of his power in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.  There’s a whole thrilling behind-the-scenes story behind this re-issue but it’s really too involved to get into here.  If you’re interested I highly suggest you check out this article on the subject at NPR’s website.  The short version is: you’ve never heard of William Onyeabor because he quit the music business to be a crazy religious zealot.

But I’m not as concerned with the man as I am with the music.   I’ll let his God pass judgment on William Onyeabor’s soul; his funk on the other hand, I can pass a fair amount of judgment.  When I first heard WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR? I thought it was a brand new album and not a re-issue.  The music sounds like a fresh, contemporary take on classic 1970’s funk.  Onyeabor’s music, while being very much rooted in funk, has a generous helping of psychedelic flourishes.  These psychedelic flourishes, along with a keen sense of innovation, is what sets this music apart from other funk recordings of the period.  The only modern equivalent to Onyeabor’s sound that I can come up with is Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips.  Imagine the more playful Flaming Lips tunes covered by Funkadelic and you’re on the right path to reaching Onyeabor’s sound.

The songs are long-form grooves that ebb and flow into glorious Technicolor flourishes.  Onyeabor has a gentle, self-assured voice that helps take the sting out of his strange, droning lyrics.  The best example being on “Atomic Bomb” in which he professes that he’s going to explode like the titular bomb.  The proto-electronica/trance of “Good Name” becomes all the more hypnotic with his “nobody, nobody, nobody” chant.  While Onyeabor’s vocal-styling may not be earth-shakingly innovative, it’s really the only part of his music that isn’t.

I can totally understand how this music was overlooked globally when it was initially released—Onyeabor was clearly ahead of his time.  Check out the opening of “Let’s Fall In Love,” sure it’s rooted in late 1970’s disco but there’s a cold, computer-like quality clearly predicts the coming rise of techno music.  The layers of synthesizer and saxophone meld into something strange and beautiful.  It staggers my mind this guy was making music like this in the year 1983.  The level of sophistication on display all over WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR? makes one wonder what would have happened had Onyeabor continued to make music? There nine tracks, taken from eight albums, paint a fascinating what-if? scenario.

Definitely take a moment to listen to “Let’s Fall In Love” and “Atomic Bomb.”  Let the songs wash over you, and keep in mind that these songs, as fresh as they sound are over 30 years old.

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