Headpins – Head Over Heels (1985)
After two solid hard rock albums, this third offering seemed to be an attempt to soften the sound with a few more keyboards most likely with an eye to scampering up the charts. I don’t know whether it worked – I don’t think this album even got a release in Australia. I only knew about Headpins through ads in Kerrang magazine back in the day and as a life-long fan of female fronted bands, I was always on the lookout for their albums. This one kind of disappoints compared to the first two, but I’m surprised this wasn’t a hit due to the fantastic single ’Stayin’ All Night’ – you don’t get much more 80s radio-friendly rock than that tune, my friends. The early to mid-80s was a time when calling something radio-friendly actually meant it was pretty good. My old work colleague, Luke, used to always remind me that current music isn’t designed for me, being the old fuck that I am, but seriously, what does radio-friendly mean these days? That it’s shit? Hey, I’m just curious – send answers on the back of a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Don’t know what that is? You’re part of the fucken problem. Ha ha. Anyway, this is still a good dose of 80s melodic rock and, like I said, only disappoints when compared to the previous couple of Headpins albums. Gotta give props to vocalist Darby Mills – this woman should be mentioned in the same revered tones as people like Anne Wilson coz when it comes to a powerhouse bluesy rasp, Darby fucken rules the roost – she is friggen killer. Not sure what happened to her after this album, whether she left or got fired, but the next Headpins album was going to be with another singer called Chrissie Steel, but band leader Brian ‘Too Loud’ Macleod died of brain cancer before the album came out so it was retitled as a Chrissie Steel solo album.
Frank Zappa – The Man From Utopia (1983)
Anyone around my age who digs Frank Zappa, it’s a fair bet that it’s because of Steve Vai and his stint in the David Lee Roth band. I hadn’t heard of Frank Zappa let alone been in to his music before Roth’s Eat Em and Smile came out in ’86. For me, Vai never topped his performance on that killer record. But I’m happy to say that record kept me on the lookout for anything Vai did previously and it lead me to this, which was the first Zappa album I bought. I remember seeing it at Greville Records for a decent price in the late 90s – the absolutely amazing cover art was a total standout. It’s done by Tanino Liberatore and based on the RanXerox art that he used to do for Heavy Metal magazine. I eagerly flipped it over to see if Vai was on it, and sure enough, he was. I probably still would’ve bought it for the artwork alone, though. Musically speaking, I guess Zappa is an acquired taste – this didn’t blow me away straight off, but repeated listens allowed things to make sense. On face-value the lyrics seem puerile, but that’s the genius of Zappa – he’s fucking with expectations of what songs should be. The dichotomy of the stunning musicianship and the humourous and seemingly immature lyrics is what really makes Zappa’s stuff work. It’s not for everyone – every time my wife hears me playing this she asks me “What are you listening to?!” in a scolding tone, ha ha. Check out ‘The Dangerous Kitchen’ for an example of one of the polarising tracks on this. I shouldn’t like this song – it’s definitely not one for rocking out to – nary an air drum or air guitar to be had – but there’s something about it that I love – definitely the most non-musical and/or experimental song that I rate, coz I usually hate that shit. I usually hate humour in music too, but there’s something about the way Zappa does it that draws me in. It’s like he doesn’t do it to be popular, he does it for his own enjoyment and to say a ‘fuck you’ to the establishment. The man’s a genius and that’s all there is to it.
Billy Idol – Flesh for Fantasy 12” (1984)
Produced by Keith Forsey. Man, Billy was on FIRE in ’84. I first heard this song when I got the ‘Choose 1985’ album for Christmas in 1984 and I wasn’t a fan of it back then. I think the laid-back tempo and sleazy sensuality of the song was a bit much for an 11 year old kid who had discovered pop music through Michael Jackson’s Thriller and previous to that was vibing on Austrian folk music, ha ha. By the late 80s it had become a firm favourite, though. All the hallmarks of great 80s rock are here, replete with synthesised hand-claps and pulsating production. A huge importance to Billy’s sound was, of course, the great Steve Stevens on guitar, and he gets his props by getting pictured on the back cover with Mr Broad himself. Name me one other solo performer that has allowed that to happen – “oh no, I couldn’t possibly share the limelight; it’s all about MEEEEEE.” What a team and they look fucken cool as! The music video from this is a favourite of mine with, once again, all the great hallmarks of what made 80s videos so good: artificially constructed indoor sets of high-rise buildings, a dance troop of men and women in figure-hugging black, smoke machines, a Roland GR-707 Synth-Guitar! And then Billy – no-one did the 80s as good as Billy. Yeah, he’s a cartoon character, but who doesn’t love cartoons? Well, the ones from the 80s, anyway. I reckon he wrote this song to play up to his idiosyncratic stage moves – this has fisting moments all over it…hmmm, that didn’t come out right…air fisting? Air punching? You know when he punches the air to accentuate a part in the music? Yeah, it’s got moments like that all over it. Whenever I listen to this I find myself doing a lot of, ahem, air punching. Killer bass line and smooth guitar rhythm, too, make this one of the great pop songs of the 80s. Of all time, even.
Written by Karl Mautner.
Read more of Karl’s entertaining and insightful thoughts on classic albums at the Rise of the Rat Facebook page, and Karl’s own Instagram page.