56. Vitamin Z
The album that did it for me was "Sharp Stone Rain". Plus I loved lead singer Geoff Barradale's vocals on the Alan Parsons Project's album "Gaudi". They made some tasty synth-heavy bubblegum back in the eighties. Barradale's singing is really breathy and distinctive, and it's a shame they didn't record any more than two CDs.
57. Wall of Voodoo
Again, a one-hit wonder. You will certainly know "Mexican Radio". What I really love about this band is that everywhere you looked, there was something dinstinctive about the band. Stan Ridgway's vocals are an incredibly original talk-singing, and on stage he's a hoot to watch. But when he left the band, there was still a lot. Great songwriting and fun vocals by replacement Andy Prieboy. Instead of a drummer, they used a drum machine, with Joe Nanini providing stunning percussion alongside the driving fake beat. And guitarist Marc Moreland had a novel Ennio Morricone sound, as a cross between surf guitar and western country.
But the band also had a cool visual style - a weird takeoff of new wave fashion and Mexican day of the dead imagery. I love so many of their songs: "Spy World", "Factory", and "Far Side of Crazy" to name a few. Why isn't their penultimate "Seven Days In Sammystown" on CD? It's a crime as big as the of the strange absence of the J. Geils Band's "You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd".
58. The Wallets
If you grew up in Minnesota in the eighties, you danced to "Totally Nude" at every sock hop. They were our ultimate party band, and the band's recorded work doesn't hold a candle to their live show. Lead singer Steve Kramer played the accordion, and jumped around like a maniac to songs like "(You Sure Make Me) Feel" and "How To Keep Time To Music". They had a saxophone and new wave synths too, and sounded like an insane polka band. Think "Brave Combo", or "Leftover Salmon", for two obscure references. In retrospect, not an important band, but exteremely imporant to my coming of age.
59. Willie Murphy
In college, I lived down the street from the "400" bar, and I regret that I was too busy studying to listen to many bands there. Willie Murphy was the house fixture, and played blues piano every Thursday night for years. He either played smash-fisted solo blues piano, or invited his band "The Bees" or the "Angel Headed Hipsters" and they would tear up the joint.
Then in 1988, he recorded a CD called "Mr. Mature" which was a bizarre synthezier pop record. It won the Minnesota best blues album of the year, proving that none of the judges ever listened to it. Even today, sometimes I will get on the grand piano and play his song called "Fairy Tale", and sometimes I cry.
One of my favorite bands of all time. And to me, what makes an outstanding musician is the ability to keep producing a huge pdy of work that changes and improves on itself over time. Richard Thompson, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel, Joe Jackson, The Pogues, and even U2 are some examples of this idea for me. It's easy to make one great CD, but ten of them? Twenty? Skylarking did it for me. I loved "Dear God", and can play it on the guitar. The whole album is incredible, from the concept to the backstory to the strings and instrumentation to the performance. Proof there is a god (the hit song notwithstanding), and she is beautiful.
Oh yeah! THe song *made* Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But my first cassette of theirs was "Stella", and it was a rather scary mix of synthesizers, tuneful songs, and dark imagery. Their songs "Stalakdrama" and "Domingo" frightened me. But not in a goth way - this was a new powerful music for me. The idea that a truly unique voice could create a song unlike anyone else... a vision that couldn't be truly understood except by the performer. But you could still dance to it - hell yes, I could dance to it.
Oh shoot. I forgot about "Farm Accident", and it's too late to stick them in the "F" section where they belong. I hope it's not too late, because I would play their CD to my friends, or sing a version of "Mark Trail" on my guitar, and I would make instant converts. A local folk band, nothing special, but like the "Beat Farmers" or "Brave Combo". The band's name sounds scary, doesn't it? There is no reason to be afraid... it's just a forgotten Minnesota band. The way one day I will be a forgotten Minnesotan. But maybe I leave something behind on this earth as beautiful and wonderful as the music that I've treasured all throughout my life. I hope you've enjoyed these recent posts as much as I've enjoyed typing them. And if I've turned even one single person onto even one obscure band, then I think it was time well spent. Keep listening!