Friday, January 31, 2014

THE HISTORY OF MUSIC #2: Men at Work Part 1

Business as Usual
(CBS) 1982

For some reason, saxophones were completely acceptable in the 1980s. Socially, musically, thematically, perhaps inexplicably they were completely, totally acceptable to have in your band and on your records. Just ask the Psychedelic Furs or Romeo Void—hell, ask The Boss! You can certainly ask Men at Work. M@W gave us plenty of woodwind to think about and offered us some very typical 80s cover art on their debut album, Business as Usual.

The record cover leaves little to be desired. Black and yellow and white. Not quite as colorful as a Culture Club cover. Perhaps CBS was trying to save a little money on production costs. They certainly didn't expect these Aussies to break as big as they did, even as they had them out on the road supporting Fleetwood Mac. Break they did, however.

Business is full of catchy pop songs that capitalize on two central themes of 80s music: reggae and alienation.  Colin Hays' deadpan vocal delivery, and the Scotsman's rolling Rs helped define the band as quirky and endearing and certainly played up their image as zany Aussies.

"Who Can it Be Now" was a smash hit, as was "Be Good Johnny" with it's title sung repetitively as Colin's voice strained. "Down Under" was of course the monster hit. Only Tull could rock a flute as hard. Even if they were accused (and found guilty) of stealing it from an Australian nursery rhyme, that flute line remains an iconic part of '80s popular music.

The Business album also contains a standard android-themed song, "Helpless Automaton". "Down By the Sea" is a great tune, but it never would have cut it as a single and, wisely, it wasn't released as one.

The Men went to work on a follow up, releasing Cargo a year later. However, earning "Best New Artist of 1982" accolades was the kiss of death according to Colin and they never could duplicate the chart-topping success of their debut. Men at Work continued on over the decade in various incarnations. Greg Ham took his own life in 2012. His friends, including Hays, believe the major cause of his unhappiness stemmed from the 2009 copyright infringement suit brought against the band for the song "Down Under".

Men at Work also enjoyed the honor of having a photograph of them cut out of a magazine and taped to the inside of my locker in 7th Grade, although it is almost certain that they were unaware of this. 

Business As Usual (CBS) 1982
Cargo (CBS) 1983 
Two Hearts (Sony) 1985
It's a Mistake (Kiosk) 1997
Brazil (Columbia) 1998



Read more at the History of Music Blog!

THE HISTORY OF MUSIC: #1: A Flock of Seagulls

How awesome is this cover? Very.
A Flock of Seagulls (Jive) 1982

Haircuts aside, A Flock of Seagulls, is an underrated band. Wait, hold on a minute, I know what you're thinking (or shouting loudly): "Are you out of your ever-loving mind?" Perhaps, but please hear me out. Haircuts and pop culture references aside, what do you really know about A Flock of Seagulls? Let's review. You may remember the relentless heavy rotation of the "I Ran" video in MTV's infancy when the budding network didn't have a whole hell of a lot of videos to choose from. You are no doubt familiar with the ad lib made by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction: "You, Flock of Seagulls, you know why we're here?" You might have even see the Bands Reunited episode on VH1 in 2004 which sought to reassemble the original flock. But haircuts, pop culture references and VH1 TV shows aside, what do you really know about A Flock of Seagulls? I mean really know about them?

No, I'm serious, these guys made a good record.
That's what I thought. Now I am not here to educate anyone on the career of these  synthy Liverpudlians. My only point is that they are actually an underrated group and not so deserving of the joke band status that has been tossed to them like so many crumbs on the pier. Their 1982 self-titled debut album, Flock of Seagulls is actually, surprisingly enjoyable. Paul Reynolds is an ace guitar player and the ten songs on this record are catchy, danceable pop tunes that stand right up with some of the best of that genre in that time. The album's opener is the straight up hit "I Ran", sometimes listed as "I Ran (So Far Away)", but there are deeper cuts. "Space Age Love Song" has a simple beat, sparse guitar and occasional video game synth blasts. "Modern Love is Automatic" has a great guitar line reminiscent of also often overlooked Magazine from Manchester. "Telecommunication" likewise is a great pop song in a time when the word telecommunication had a somewhat futuristic ring to it. The bouncy pop of the instrumental "D.N.A." is rather infectious and "Messages" features a propulsive bass line and a one word chorus that bears repeating. The album isn't completely without fluff. "You Can Run" sounds like a weak Gary Numan track sung by a less confident Howard Devoto.

Interestingly, allegedly, the record is a "concept" album concerning the invasion of an alien species through television sets or some such rubbish as that. Anyway, now that I have totally convinced you that A Flock of Seagulls is an underrated band, go buy this record in whatever futuristic format suits your fancy. You won't be disappointed (not a guarantee).

Admittedly, this photo does not support my argument.


Modern Love is Automatic / Telecommunication EP (Jive/Arista) 1981
A Flock of Seagulls (Jive/Arista) 1982
Listen (Jive / Arista) 1983 (Jive/RCA) 1986
The Story of a Young Heart (Jive/Arista) 1984
Dream Come True (Jive/Arista) 1986
The Best Of A Flock Of Seagulls (Jive/RCA) 1987
We Are the 80s (Jive/Legacy) 2006


Read more at the History of Music Blog!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I don't usually like to make a habit of promoting the projects of my friends (just kidding, that's about half of what I do here), so let me make no exception here and ask that you check out this Kickstarter link for a chance to support an indie film that was co-written (with Brett Haley) by chum, and one-time Reglar Wiglar film critic, Marc Basch.

Click it. Read it. Give it.

Saturday, January 04, 2014


OK people, that wraps up the 20th Year Anniversary business. Here is the Idiotorial from the last print edition. From RW #21, 2005:


Reglar Wiglar: I like that shirt.
Chris Auman: Oh, this old thing?
RW: Yeah, where'd you get it? CA: Thrift store.
RW: It really looks good on you.
CA: Really? Thanks.
RW: So why a self-interview for this issue's Idiotorial?
CA: Besides the fact that no one else wanted to do it, -you mean?
RW: Right, besides the obvious reason.
CA: Well, I just don't think Reglar Wiglar readers ever get a chance to see me as a person. They never get a glimpse of who I really am. All they get to see is a really fantastic magazine and they never really see the genius behind it.
RW: Maybe they don't want a glimpse.
CA: They don't, you're right, but why should it always be about them?
RW: Excellent point.
CA: Thank you. You're a really good interviewer by the way.
RW: Thanks, man. You're cool to say that.
CA: You're cool too.
RW: I guess were both cool! (mutual laughter) Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Ok, before this gets anymore narcissistic, let's get to the point.
CA: Why don't you ask me what's been happening with the Reglar Wiglar lately?
RW: All right, what has been transpiring with the magazine as of late?
CA: Nice, I like the way you kind of reworded that, made it sound better. Anyway, I'm glad you asked that question. There's been a lot happening, how'd you put it, as of late?
RW: Yes.
CA: A lot of changes. Sweeping changes that are directly affecting the way we run things around here.
RW: How do you run things around here?
CA: Into the ground usually. (mutual laughter)
RW: That was really funny. Anyway, what kinds of sweeping changes are we talking about here?
CA: Well, for instance, I fired the entire staff?
RW: That's a big sweeping change.
CA: Yes it is, and it was quite a shock to those people who were fired, which was all of them. RW: What was their reaction?
CA: Most of them were relieved I'd say, but there were a few...
RW: I can just imagine who, the usual suspects, huh?
CA: I know, right? Some people were all like, "Fire us? You don't even pay us," and I was all like, "Pay you? You don't even work here, technically," and they we're all like, "F this" and "F that" and a lot of "F You!" and a few punches were thrown and I think someone's glasses got stepped on and got crushed.
RW: That's horrible.
CA: Yes, it was.
RW: What prompted your decision to fire everyone?
CA: It wasn't my decision. Let's get that straight and on the record. This decision came down from upstairs.
RW: So you had no choice?
CA: None whatsoever.
RW: So you're kind of like the victim in all this.
CA: I am very much the victim, but to be fair, I was pretty sick of looking at a lot of those people anyway. I was sick of looking at all of them actually. So when the boys upstairs at Giganta Corp. sent word down that they were dissolving the magazine, well, let's just say, I was game.
RW: Wait, let me get this straight, are you saying you were glad they were going to shut down the magazine?
CA: Yes.
RW: I'm shocked.
CA: Yes, the whole "shitty zine that nobody cares about" genre had gotten a bit stale for me. I'm quite bored with it really. I've been wanting to move on to greener pastures for awhile now?
RW: And start another magazine?
CA: And be a farmer, actually, raise cows or sheeps or llamas or something, bears, I don't know, what do you do on a farm?
RW: Grow stuff.
CA: Sure, maybe something like that. Maybe I'll grow chickens or something. That's always been my dream really.
RW: Wow. That's so noble.  
CA: I should stop, I'm boring you.
RW: No, not at all. I find this all very fascinating, please continue.
CA: That's it actually, farming.
RW: Oh. OK Anyway, so that's it, huh? No more issues.
CA: No, actually, I guess I forgot to finish my story. The boys upstairs initially wanted to discontinue publication of the magazine but they had a change of heart.
RW: Tax write off?
 CA: Bingo. But for that to work, they said we needed to cut back on distribution, they said we needed to cut back on quality and that we needed to have fewer advertisers.
RW: Cut back on advertising! Is it even possible for the Reglar Wiglar to attract fewer advertisers?
CA: You wouldn't think so, but we'll see. I think you'll be surprised at the lack of effort we can inject into a project when we put our minds to it. I think we're really going to take this thing underground.
RW: Further underground?
CA: Oh, yeah, that's the beauty of being underground, the Reglar Wiglar will still exist, it just might be impossible to actually find. For example, Reglar Wiglar #22 might be one copy written on a cocktail napkin left on the table at a Wicker Park bar some night. Issue #23 might be some graffiti written on the wall in the men's room at Millennium Park.--"Blow me" it might say. #24 might be stuck inside a fortune cookie or written on a blimp. You'll just have to keep your ears and eyes peeled for it.
RW: If you care that is.
CA: Right, if you even give a shit.
RW: Well all right. This has been an incredibly gratifying experience. I totally enjoyed interviewing you. I've really learned a lot.
CA: Thank you. You really blew my mind with some of the questions your were asking. They were pretty amazing.
RW: Well thanks, I appreciate it.
CA: Hug?
RW: Sure, why not.