Feminist Funk: Ray Parker Jr.’s Woman Out Of Control/Sex And The Single Man

Though ‘Ghostbray parker jrusters‘ is probably still paying a lot of Ray Parker Jr.’s bills, he’d certainly paid his dues before he got the call (apparently only after Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham turned down writing the theme song).

A decade earlier, Ray had played guitar on some great albums of the ’70s (Stevie’s Talking Book and Innervisions, Rufus/Chaka Khan’s Rags To Rufus,  Harvey Mason’s Funk In A Mason JarMarvin’s I Want You, Leon Ware’s Musical Massage), not to mention sessions with the likes of Boz Scaggs, Barry White, Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock and Bill Withers.

He also enjoyed a few big hits as part of Raydio before going solo in ’82. Either side of ‘Ghostbusters’, he put out two interesting albums which are now released as a good-value two-fer by Cherry Red/Soulmusic.com.

Though he’s never going to go down as one of the all-time great solo acts, Parker Jr. has one of the most recognisable guitar styles in black music and a very cool, understated vocal style. ’83’s Woman Out Of Control unleashes a kind of feminist funk with various tracks unashamedly taking the laydeez’ side in the battle of the sexes, creating something pretty original. ‘Electronic Lover’ and ‘Invasion’ also rock the kind of psych-synth-funk sound that Prince and his contemporaries were tapping into at the time.

85’s Sex And The Single Man, the post-‘Ghostbusters’ album, ups the stakes with a lot more fuzz-toned lead guitar and also some weird synth-pop fun on ‘Girls Are More Fun’ and ‘I’m A Dog’. ‘One Sided Love Affair’ is an amusingly-shameless ‘Hello’ rewrite and there’s some cracking Cameo-style funk/rock on the title track.

‘Men Have Feelings Too’ demonstrates more of his rhythm-guitar mastery. I was going to say that his playing sounds very Prince-influenced but it’s the other way round; check out this masterclass for the evidence.

The albums were only minor hits – apparently Arista boss Clive Davis wasn’t blown away by their modest chart placings and was slow to return Parker Jr.’s call when contract-renewal time came around. While it’s true that there’s nothing as immediate or hook-laden as ‘Ghostbusters’ on these two records, they’re definitely worth reappraising and make nice companion pieces to Miles Davis’s You’re Under Arrest, Cameo’s She’s Strange, Prince’s Purple Rain and The Time’s Ice Cream Castle. Ray’s still going strong too, playing festivals and turning up on the occasional session.

P.S. Apparently Parker Jr. has been subject to an out-of-court settlement regarding the similarity of ‘Ghostbusters’ to Huey Lewis And The News’ ‘I Need A New Drug’. Judge for yourself…

RIP Chris Squire (Updated)

In my recent piece on Chris’s sad passing and bass style, I put forward my half-arsed theories on his ’80s tunings. I stand corrected, as the excellent video below shows. The whole thing is worth watching, but he gets into the issue of his five-string bass at around 12:10 (and also rattles off a nice demonstration of the ‘I’m Running’ riff). Needless to say, his approaches to the five-string bass and bass tunings in general are as original as all his other musical ideas. Enjoy.

No Brown M&Ms: Great Backstage Riders Of The ’80s

brown-milk-chocolate-m-m-1-poundYou know you’ve made it in the music biz when your gig rider raises eyebrows. The rider: a contract drawn up by the promoter stipulating a band’s concert requirements including ‘dressing room extras’ – food, drink and drugs to you and me. And, if the general tenor of the 1980s was extravagance and exuberance, many artists’ backstage demands were no different.

Here are five corkers:

5. Howard Jones

He had barely registered a hit and was only undertaking a modest college tour of the UK, but his backstage demands included ‘eight pounds of brown rice, six large aubergines, three pounds of courgettes, three green peppers, one head of garlic, three pounds of fresh tomatoes, twelve mixed yogurts and twelve bananas.’ He also requested that security not have ‘guns or dogs’, that the dressing room possess a ‘sweet-smelling ambience’ and that he must have ‘physical contact with the audience’. And you thought he was just a slightly vapid though ultimately harmless pop guy…

4. Van Halen

They famously often requested ‘large bowls of M&Ms with the brown ones taken out’ but their legendary 1984 Monsters Of Rock show at Castle Donington also required ‘eight litre bottles of Jack Daniels, eight litre bottles of brandy, eight litre bottles of vodka, 16 cases of domestic beer and a worldwide selection of cheeses’. Those boys knew how to partay. And were also rather fond of continental cheeses.

3. Iggy Pop

Late great musician/writer Ian Carr once described seeing Miles Davis come offstage and collapse into the arms of two specially-placed roadies as soon as he was out of the audience’s sight, but that’s nothing compared to The Iggster’s post-show routine. His rider for a 1983 UK tour stipulated ‘it is absolutely essential at the end of the show that there is a nurse in attendance with two cylinders of oxygen and masks’. I wonder if maybe Iggy wanted the ‘nurse’ for a bit more than ‘oxygen’…

2. David Thomas

The portly Pere Ubu frontman demanded meticulous sandwich preparation for a University of London show in the early ’80s: ‘A sandwich is defined as three pieces each of meat and/or cheese, one-inch thickness of lettuce, a half-inch thickness of onion, mayonnaise, two slices of three-quarters of an inch of tomato, all between two thick slices of wholemeal bread. NO BUTTER. AND I WILL REPEAT: NO BUTTER OR MARGARINE. PERIOD.’ It’s as if punk never happened.

1. Aerosmith

The Bad Boys From Boston didn’t leave anything drug-related to chance when putting together their backstage rider for a particularly blitzed tour in the early ’80s. The stand-out clause read: ‘No snow, no show’! Well, at least they were honest. Allegedly, of course…

A tip of the hat to Simon Garfield’s excellent book ‘Expensive Habits‘.

Live Aid: 30 Years Ago Today

live aidWith barely a mention in the media or press, Live Aid is 30 years old today. I was a very excited 12-year-old pop fan on Saturday 13th July, 1985. The weather was hot and sunny and the whole nation seemed united. On the morning of Live Aid, my dad drove us up to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street where I bought cassettes of Level 42’s A Physical Presence and Scritti Politti’s Cupid And Psyche ’85 in preparation for the day. The streets were almost deserted. We got home around midday, turned the telly on and settled in the for afternoon.

That was then but this is now, as ABC sang. So how does the music from that day stand up in 2015?

Though many of New Pop’s architects/johnny come latelies got in on the act, it was the older artists who – for better or worse – made the biggest impact on the day (Queen, Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Status Quo, Dylan, Led Zep, Dire Straits, The Who, Bowie, Jagger). Apart from Led Zep and Dylan’s hilariously dodgy turns, Live Aid reminded people that the oldies were still hungry and could still cut it live, and the event arguably ushered in the mainstream success of Peter Gabriel, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson.

mick jagger tina turner

Many of the youngsters fudged it: Spandau were shown up by their lack of musicianship and quality material, Adam Ant chose the wrong songs, Sade were dull, Style Council were shrill and under-rehearsed, Duran were hamstrung by LeBon’s famous vocal boo-boo, Paul Young and Alison Moyet cornily rehashed some very old soul-revue moves and The Thompson Twins sounded out of their depth despite backing from Madonna and Nile Rodgers. Perhaps surprisingly, U2, Madonna, Howard Jones, George Michael and Nik Kershaw might just have been the best Pure Pop ambassadors on the day with some engaging performances and solid musicianship. Post-punkers such as Sting, Elvis Costello and The Cars were merely functional. But maybe the biggest disappointment of the day was the lack of black superstars (Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie, Miles?), female solo artists and Second British Invasion popsters (Culture Club, Eurythmics, Tears For Fears, Frankie Goes To Hollywood).

david bowie

Naysayers claim that most of the acts appeared simply to further their careers. Well, yes, surely that was a factor for the younger artists but it’s a crushingly cynical view. Anyway, did you buy ANY music as a direct result of seeing Live Aid on the box (Queen’s Greatest Hits doesn’t count)?

I just enjoyed it for what it was. Anyway, most of my favourite pop acts didn’t get anywhere near Live Aid (Scritti, Jacko, Propaganda, Level 42, Prefab) and never would. It’s hard to really complain when the event has raised over £150 million.

So three cheers to Bob Gandalf, as Joss Stone memorably called Geldof. Let me know how your Live Aid went.