2016 blind spot choices

I've decided to continue with Ryan McNeil's 2016 blindspot blogathon. Other LAMB bloggers are also participating, so it should be fun. The idea is you select 12 films you've never seen before and write about a film each month.
My list is not varied in terms of decades. All of the selections tie in with an 80s music project I'm doing on the blog. I've tried to pick films that have soundtracks that look intriguing or films I missed by acclaimed directors. I realize some of these films are lowbrow entertainment and not necessarily masterpieces, but sometimes that's what you need.

I took the liberty of borrowing a header banner another blogger created, hope that's alright! Anyway, feist your eyes on the 12 films:

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) (Michael Apted)

Valley Girl (1983) (Martha Coolidge)

The Killer (1989) (John Woo) (Review)

Sid and Nancy (1986) (Alex Cox)

One from the Heart (1982) (Francis Ford Coppola)

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) (Paul Schrader)

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) (William Friedkin)

Weird Science (1985) (John Hughes) (Review)

Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) (Adrian Lyne) (Review)

Streets of Fire (1984) (Walter Hill)

Betty Blue (1986) (aka 37°2 le matin) (Jean-Jacques Beineix) (Review)

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) (Stephen Herek)

What do you think of my choices? Have you seen these films?

Best songs of 1980 (part 4)

Album: The River by Bruce Springsteen 

While the album is overlong, the title track The River is a timeless classic that deservedly still gets played on the radio. Hungry Heart was an uncharacteristic venture into pop. Rolling Stone ranked it at number 253 on their list of the greatest albums of all time.
A record I want to explore further, and so will his fans with the December 4th release of The Ties That Bind: The River Collection (2015), which includes a wealth of unreleased material.
Listen to:
The River
Hungry Heart
Point Blank

Album: Scary Monsters and Super Creeps by David Bowie

Both a critical and commercial success, Bowie would reach out to a new wave audience while also continuing to experiment. Described as "one of the decade's quirkiest pop albums". The music video for Ashes To Ashes is one of the most iconic of the 80s, the lyrics revisit Bowie's Major Tom character from 1969's "Space Oddity". The best three track run on any album, track 3-5.

Listen to:
Ashes to Ashes
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 

Album: Diana by Diana Ross 

These songs make you want to dance. Nile Rodgers, who wrote the guitar part for Get Lucky (2013), also showed his talent on Diana (1980). "Upside Down" still holds up as a great song and "I'm Coming Out" is good too, regardless if you are straight or gay.

Listen to:
Upside Down
I'm Coming Out

Album: Glass Houses by Billy Joel

A good album, just not as strong as his late 70s work. Most of the singles are very enjoyable. A little more rock based than piano.

Listen to:
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me
You May Be Right
Don’t Ask Me Why

Album: Unmasked by Kiss 

I'm not familiar with Kiss except their greatest hits. Apparently many Kiss fans dislike this album, I only listened to the singles. Unmasked marked a major departure musically for the band and received mixed reviews. The album's songs have been largely ignored in live performances, with the exception of "Shandi". I like the comic book sleeve.

Listen to:

Album: Nothin' Matters And What If It Did by John Cougar (aka John Mellencamp)

I'm not quite sure why he used a different name. He claims these are "stupid little pop songs" which must have angered the record company. I like the Springsteen vibe in the track I shared, very catchy. There are some nice finds in the singer's catalogue if you do a little digging.

Listen to:
Ain't Even Done with the Night 

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

What do you think of this music, any favorites? Did I miss any songs from these albums which you think deserve praise? As always, comments are welcome.
Next Thursday, I'll tackle a few 1980 albums by British bands, including The Cure and Joy Division. Stay tuned!

2015 Blindspot series: Patton (1970)

A WW2 epic which won 7 Oscars. The opening is what the film is best remembered for, with General Patton walking onto a stage with a huge American flag behind him, delivering a quotable speech to the (hidden) soldiers in the audience. At this early point, it’s already clear Patton is passionate about making a difference in World War II, and wants to empower others to do their best. We are made to feel like we are the soldiers he is addressing, which adds to the power of the scene.

George C Scott gives an Oscar worthy performance as General George S. Patton Jr, he spreads fear wherever he goes, among his group of soldiers, and as a tactician in the battle with the Germans. The film follows Patton during his North African and European campaigns from 1943-1945, celebrating the army as a war machine, yet justifying controversial independent thinking. We witness realistic battle scenes in Tunisia and Sicily. Apparently the film is fairly accurate as to what really happened.

General Patton perceives himself as a poet, war historian, and reincarnated soldier and is man essentially born in the wrong century. Patton says he’s nothing and “in the dog house“ if he’s not part of the war effort. He lives for the excitement of war. Unfortunately he also has a big mouth and has an old-fashioned tendency to strike out at shell shocked soldiers who he considers cowards, which gets Patton into trouble with his superiors. Yet you could also look at his instilling discipline as motivating the soldiers to rise above their condition. At times, Patton cares more about personal glory than the fate of his soldiers, which causes friction. In a memorable supporting role, Karl Malden plays Patton’s second-hand man, he is both a friend and an advisor. The story is not only told from the allied side, the Germans are also attempting to get one step ahead and figure out Patton’s strategy, so part of the film is subtitled.

I will say the film is a little overlong and while George C Scott does his best with the material he’s given, the screenplay is slightly heavy-handed in some places, spelling out Patton’s strengths and weaknesses. Even so, I like that the filmmakers don’t simply praise Patton as a war hero, which a lesser war film might have done.
Questions what is right and wrong for those in high ranks during a war. Should you push your men to the extreme in order to gain an advantage over the enemy, or is the well-being and survival of the soldiers most important? Many would agree with the latter, yet if it’s the difference between winning or losing a war, it’s a tough decision. In some ways, the battles themselves are secondary to the character study of Patton.

Also worth noting is the award-winning screenplay co-written by an up-and-coming Francis Ford Coppola, as well as Jerry Goldsmith’s impressive war appropriate score. The Main Theme gives you a taste of the soundtrack.

Won 7 Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

In 1986, George C Scott reprised his role in a made-for-TV sequel, The Last Days of Patton. The movie was based on Patton's final weeks after being mortally injured in a car accident, with flashbacks of Patton's life.

Agree or disagree? Have you seen Patton (1970)? As always, comments are welcome 

Amy - An Intimate, Beautiful, And Heartbreaking Documentary

This is an article contributed by writer Helen Sanders

Grainy, amateur footage shows a group of young teenage girls sitting on the narrow stairs of a London flat. They are chattering, self-consciously licking lollipops. “Happy birthday, Lauren!” they squeal. An off-key chorus of ‘Happy birthday’ begins. Quickly, one voice rises above the rest. The others fall silent as the incredible sound pours forth, and the camera jerkily swings round to film the source. Grinning, doing a hammy Marilyn Monroe impression, a high-cheekboned, happy-looking fourteen year old girl with a mass of glossy black hair finishes the song with a sophisticated vocal flourish.  It’s Amy Winehouse, of course. This is the first scene of an ambitious, emotional, and intimate documentary which mixes amateur footage, interviews, photographs, and Amy’s own words in an in-depth look at the tragic, talented Ms Winehouse’s short life. It’s gripping viewing even if you aren’t a fan of Amy’s music - if you’re a Winehouse aficionado, it’s an absolutely essential watch.

‘Tender’ is a word often used to describe a project of this kind. It’s not entirely out of place here, but it also implies a kind of whitewash, and this is by no means a whitewash. Amy’s life unrolls before us in all of its glorious, tawdry brilliance. ‘Amy’ was directed by Asif Kapadia, who by all accounts went to obsessive lengths to tell his subject’s story. The amount of personal footage he’s managed to obtain of Amy’s life is astonishing, as is the trust which he apparently inspires in those who were closest to her. Her childhood friends (Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, who stuck by Amy throughout her life) and early manager, Nick Shymansky took what appears to be a ‘vow of silence’ following the singer’s tragic death. Indeed, Shymanksy only gave a curt two minute talk (under duress) to Amy’s own father while Mitch Winehouse was writing his posthumous book about his daughter - yet Shymanksy opens both his heart and his archives to Kapadia. The result is a fascinating biopic. Kapadia wisely lets the story tell itself - his own presence is never felt within the documentary as a whole. Instead, the viewer feels as though they are standing within Amy’s inner circle, watching her story occur before their eyes. By the end of it, the viewer has developed a close relationship with the troubled star, and is emotionally wrung out by witnessing the traumas of her life.

Early Signs?
Knowing what is coming, it is all too easy for viewers to try and draw conclusions about Amy’s character from discussions of her early life. As her early career starts to develop, we see a smiling Amy shake a bag of weed at a camera her friend is holding. "You're doing this on camera? Really?" her friend says, dubiously. She and her mother speak of her childhood naughtiness, and of her mother's exhaustive inability to tell her "No". It’s all too easy to make judgements with hindsight - but thus far this is nothing out of the ordinary for a talented creative. Certainly the potential for self-destruction is evident - Amy is periodically depressed, volatile, and prone to wildness - but she is nothing particularly unusual. Only her talent makes her situation incredible - and it is this which will ultimately lead to her meteoric rise and tragic downfall.

Enter the man who many Winehouse fans consider to be the ultimate villain of the piece - Blake Fielder-Civil. Amy is a young, bright singer just beginning to forge her way in the music business under the novice management of Nick Shymansky - who comes across as an endearing if bumbling presence in Amy’s life. Then Blake comes along. Blake has since denied that he was responsible for the later turbulence of Amy’s life, but the evidence presented in the documentary paints their relationship as disturbingly volatile - a case of mutually assured destruction. We see photographs of her in a London park with him, worryingly skinny, her shorts falling down her bare-boned pelvis. Then he leaves her for his ex girlfriend. This is considered to be something of a breaking point by her old friends. She is discovered in a state of crisis - drunk, bulimic and filthy. They book her into rehab - but her father insists that she is fine. A recurring theme within the documentary is the impossibility of forcing someone who does not want to recover to give up substances. This is the first instance - and it's a pivotal one. From her initial breakup with Blake came Amy’s astonishing ‘Back To Black’ album - but Nick is not sure that it was worth what followed. He believes that she should have gone to rehab then and there, and wishes that he and her friends had convinced her to. “I think that was a moment we lost a very key opportunity...she wasn’t a star, she wasn’t swarmed by paparazzi. We could have just fucked Back To Black off...She’d have had a chance to have be dealt with by professionals before the world wanted a piece of her”, he says. 

Fame And Decline
But Back To Black is released - an outpouring of her trauma and pain after Blake leaves her. And success swiftly follows. Suddenly, Blake is back on the scene. He films their lips as they kiss. There’s something disturbingly voyeuristic about these scenes - but worse are the concert scenes in which she is frenetic, slapping at her face, tugging at her shorts while the crowd’s mood turns ugly. Blake’s voice speaks calmly of how he introduced her to crack cocaine and heroin. She is sent to rehab - but Blake insists he goes with her. One of her doctors states that he did not want her to get clean, because then she would leave him and "the gravy train" would end. She goes through damaging cycles of recovery and relapse. At the Grammy’s, after winning a much-coveted award, she tells the stalwart Juliette that “This is so boring without drugs”. She’s hounded shamelessly by the media.

Amy And Mitch
Much has been made of Blake, but if this documentary has a villain, it’s Mitch Winehouse. He has since hit out against the documentary, but in all fairness it never explicitly demonises him, and allows him to tell his own story. We see Amy struggling with constant harassment by the press and paparazzi - and we see Mitch continually inviting the media into his clearly very sick daughter’s life. While she is in St Lucia, trying to escape from media pressures, Mitch brings a camera crew to film her. He insists that she have her photograph taken with some tourists, despite her evident distress at having her privacy invaded. He persuades her to continue with a tour which she clearly dreads. Ultimately, she is bundled into a plane while passed out drunk, and wakes up on a tour she does not wish to do. The drugs and alcohol which ultimately kill her are seen by her as a way out - a way in which to get people to stop demanding things of her. It's a terrible, tragic situation - and one which Mitch seems immune to. The final chapters of Amy’s life have a ring of inevitability about them. There’s a brief resurgence when she gets an opportunity to turn to her true passion - jazz - but the industry swiftly demands that she continues with the old, painful, money-making material. We all know the end of Amy’s story, and it’s hard to watch - but nobody who has witnessed this poor, talented, exploited woman’s journey will be able to switch off without that final closure.

Have you watched Amy? As always, comments are welcome

Best songs of 1980 (part 3)

80s Thursday continues with a look at four important albums from 1980. Hope you enjoy the selections!

Album: Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

(I've read unflattering things about Lennon's turbulent personal life, yet he definitely showed his best side in his music. Double Fantasy, which was a bitter sweet album due to Lennon's tragic murder, includes several timeless classics. Won Album of the Year at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards)

Listen to:
(Just Like) Starting Over
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) 
Watching the Wheels

Album: The Game by Queen 

(Most people know these songs. The album has filler tracks, yet the best stuff stands the test of time. For some Queen fans, it marked the end of the road, for the first time the band used a synthesizer and guitars were less domineering. The pop sound was different to what Queen were doing in the 70s. In my case, I enjoy both the 70s and 80s material)

Listen to:
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Another One Bites the Dust
Play The Game
Save Me

Album: Back in Black by AC/DC

(Features some of AC/DC's most popular songs. Amazing guitar riffs. Following the unfortunate passing of lead singer Bon Scott, AC/DC regrouped and hired Brian Johnson to take his place. The song Have A Drink On Me was a tribute to Scott. Johnson's vocal style was similar and did not diminish the power of their music. Back in Black remains the best-selling album ever released by an Australian musical act)

Listen to:
Back in Black
You Shook Me All Night Long
Hells Bells

Album: Boy by U2 

(Showed early promise. I Will Follow is the standout with its signature U2 sound)

Listen to: 
I Will Follow

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

What do you think of this music, any favorites? Did I miss any songs from these albums which you think deserve praise? As always, comments are welcome

The Hunger Games: A look back

This is an article by writer Helen Sanders.

Hunger Games formed the foundations for five-star franchise
The heat is rising around the release of Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2. Due out on November 20th, this is, according to media reports, one of the most anticipated films of fall 2015. So with fascinated fans eagerly awaiting Katniss Everdeen’s final act, it seems the perfect time to reflect on the movie which started it all off – The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games history
Originally aimed at older teens and young adults, the Hunger Games literary series, like the movies, in fact drew much wider appeal. First published in September 2008 by author Suzanne Collins, ‘The Hunger Games,’ immediately garnered critical and popular success, with literary legends like Stephen King weighing in behind the book. The first Hunger Games outing on paper quickly rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and managed the feat of staying on this list for three consecutive years. With the next instalments enjoying similar success and a solid fan base developing, the books were obvious candidates for the big screen treatment. This transition occurred in March 2012 with the much heralded release of the first film.

Hunger Games back story
Poverty, deprivation and of course hunger may not seem like a sound basis for a movie aimed predominantly at teenage audiences, but this is exactly where the Hunger Games story begins. Heroine Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) lives in an impoverished community called District 12. It is part of a futuristic nation called Panem, situated within what remains of North America. District 12 is the poorest of the districts, and Katniss Everdeen’s family seems to be fairly close to the bottom of the economic pile within it. Katniss’s father has tragically died and her mother has sunk into a deep depression. This leaves Katniss responsible for the household which includes her younger sister, Primrose. With no regular income the family is living in dire economic circumstances and struggling to pay its way.

Following an uprising some years previous, these districts are paying their debt to the wealthy Capitol as punishment for their rebellion. As a result, each district must annually offer up one young boy and girl aged between 12 and 18 – who are referred to as ‘tributes’- to participate in a contest called the Hunger Games. The ‘game’ is a survival challenge where each ‘player’ is expected to kill the other contestants and overcome the harsh environment in which the contest is based. Only one winner will prevail – the rest will never come home.

Hunger Game- Katniss steps forward
Participants are chosen through a process called reaping which essentially involves picking names out of a hat. Primrose Everdene (Katniss’s younger sister) is selected but Katniss courageously volunteers to take her place. Katniss may be down in terms of life’s pecking order but she certainly isn’t out. In spite of or perhaps because of her tough upbringing her community believes she has the potential to win the games – something which has never been achieved by a resident of their district.  District 12’s male participant is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) a nervous young man who seems ill equipped for the contest. He is the son of the local baker and is portrayed as less than generous to a starving Katniss in flashbacks throughout the movie.

Hunger Games- the contest
Katniss and Peeta are transported to the Capitol where they meet their rather unreliable mentor- Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Haymitch is initially unsupportive but does come good in the end, teaching Katniss a valuable lesson about the importance of getting people to like her. This, he says, is the key to success within the games and is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for the abrasive Katniss. Meanwhile, Peeta is struggling with training and seems to be giving up. In order to fight back he infers to the pre-games audience that he is in love with Katniss – a sentiment she does not take kindly to.

Despite being aware of the purpose of the games from the outset of the movie, the reality is still shocking. A large number of contestants are slain almost immediately – a canon fires each time one dies to update the remaining participants. Katniss’s survival skills stand her in good stead but we see her fate constantly manipulated by the game makers, introducing new elements and even changing the rules. Her relationship with Peeta blossoms though for her it is very much a partnership of convenience and they are told that two winners will be allowed, as long as they come from the same district. This rule is overturned at the climax of the games leaving Katniss and Peeta with a difficult dilemma.

Hunger Games- the sensation
There are many underlying messages within the Hunger Games movie. Man’s brutality to man, the dehumanization of other humans, the revelry found within other’s suffering and the far reaching potential of reality television are all themes which the story touches on. Yet there are many films in this vein which have not reached the starry heights of The Hunger Games box office success. What Hunger Games delivers is a heady mix of high quality production values, accomplished direction (Gary Ross) and an attractive and engaging cast. The exquisite cinematography highlights the contrast between dark and dismal District 13 and the upscale steam punk Capitol, reminding the viewer of the gulf which exists between these two communities.  It is the perfect storm of movie variables which has attracted a committed band of movie followers. On release weekend in the United States it hauled in an eye-watering $155 million- out performing even the most optimistic forecasts. Its stars have also reaped the rewards with Jennifer Lawrence in particular now a household name in no small part due to her Katniss portrayal. This is a franchise which has gone from strength to strength and with audiences expected to once again surge for the final forthcoming outing it looks like the odds will be ever in its favor. 

Are you a fan of The Hunger Games franchise? As always, comments are welcome

Best songs of 1980 (part 2) (heavy metal)

80s Thursday continues! 1980 was a crazy good year for heavy metal, many classic metal albums and songs were released. This post is not exhaustive, as it's impossible to include everything from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Hopefully I've found the best stuff. AC/DC is for another day, when I do rock. Enjoy the music!

Album: British Steel by Judas Priest 
Listen to:
Breaking the Law (my favorite song by the band, very catchy)
Metal Gods
United (a stadium anthem, I can imagne the crowd singing along to the chorus)
Living After Midnight

Album: Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden 
Listen to: 
Strange World
Phantom Of The Opera 

Album: Ace of Spades by Motörhead
Listen to:
Ace of Spades

Album: Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne 
Listen to:
Crazy Train
I Don't Know
Mr. Crowley (the intro and guitar solo are top notch)

Album: Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath 
Listen to:
Neon Knights
Die Young

Album: Animal Magnetism by Scorpions
Listen to:
Make It Real
The Zoo

Album: Wheels of Steel by Saxon 
Listen to: 
Wheels Of Steel
Suzie Hold On

Album: Scream Dream by Ted Nugent
Nugent's highest charting studio album in the US. I'm unsure if this is metal per se, but I think the sound fits with that tag.
Listen to: 
Wango Tango
Scream Dream

Album: Lightning to the Nations by Diamond Head
Listen to:
Am I Evil
The Prince

Album: On Through The Night by Def Leppard
Listen to:

Album: Women and Children First by Van Halen
Listen to: 
And the Cradle Will Rock
Everybody Wants Some!!

Album: Metal for Muthas (compilation of NWOBHM tracks)
Listen to:
Sanctuary by Iron Maiden (non-album single)
Captured City by Praying Mantis

Album: Angel Witch by Angel Witch
Listen to:
White Witch

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10)
(part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

What do you think about this music, any favorites? Did I miss any heavy metal songs from 1980 that you think deserve praise?

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) and a discussion of why 80s music is great

I’ve decided to start a regular weekly feature 80s Thursday, in which I will (at first) share music from the year 1980. For the 80s project, I’m allowing all genres, pop, rock, metal, punk, reggae, hip hop, funk, disco, jazz, ambient, folk, country, world music, movie scores, game music, musicals, TV themes, etc, etc. The main thing is it has to be something I like. I won’t rank the songs at this time, but maybe in the future. In this post, I will discuss the attraction of 80s music and its strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with my assessment. At the bottom of the post, I have shared a few highlights from Empire Strikes Back soundtrack from 1980. I hope you follow along and feel free to share your thoughts!

Each decade has its charm and newness. I love music from the 1980s. Obviously it’s a very nostalgic decade now and its influence is evident in albums by contemporary bands. You may have noticed I recently had fun compiling a retro 80s playlist with music inspired by the 80s sound.

Some complain 80s music is cheesy, shallow, with a plinky-plonk sound and ridiculous outfits and haircuts. That the music is style over substance with its focus on MTV music videos, and a departure from the long, intricate guitar solos from the 70s. Yet the 80s also offered many innovations, new bands and an abundance of music which still holds up today. Looking back, maybe the 1980s was equally as important a decade for music as the 1970s. For me, the 80s is the best decade for pop music and is more accessible than the albums from the 70s.

If you compare 80s music to the 2010s, you will notice there were far more big songs and important albums. Why is this?
There are a number of theories and I don't claim to have all the answers. The rise of the internet and file sharing services such as Napster, Spotify and YouTube make it difficult to make a lot of money from making albums these days. There are people who claim the album format is dead because of people's shorter attention span and the possibility to just buy certain songs on iTunes. In the past, there were fewer distractions, no smart phones or facebook. Not only for the listeners, but also those making the music in the studio.
Before the 2010s, bands sold more units. In the 70s and 80s you had to buy the full album in order to own the songs. There was more incentive to make a career of it because you could make big bucks, and the bar for quality was also higher due to record companies spending more money on the product. The music had to be great to break through and compete with other great music. I sometimes wonder hypothetically if today’s stars would be famous, if they competed with other artists in the 80s, or if they would have been minor attractions. It's impossible to know for sure because they might have had better producers. Another reason 80s hits seem to be more recognizable and powerful than today is because the band’s had more time on their hands to create the music. There was a higher focus on production and arrangement, sometimes entire orchestras were brought in. It was a time of innovation, bands like The Smiths, Metallica, and Iron Maiden brought a new sound.

The 80s was the decade of the synth. The early 80s was a time when keyboards and synths became cheaper for musicians to own, due to more efficient microprocessing designs and competition among keyboard manufacturers had diversified the industry. As Theo Cateforis writes in his book Are We Not New Wave?, "one could basically buy a basic synthesizer for roughly $200" in 1980. Whereas in the early 70s the first popular retail synthesizer cost $1,500, a daunting investment for fledgling rock groups.

Fairlight CMI (pictured above) was a synthesizer that changed how you could make music, but was also expensive. Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Jean Michel Jarre were among the first artists to use it on their albums. Jan Hammer used the CMI to compose the original soundtrack of the 1980s TV drama Miami Vice.

Andy McCluskey of OMD explained to Trouser Press: "Someone who's been playing a synth for 10 minutes can easily sound as good as someone who's been playing for years, provided the ideas are there".
Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode likewise emphasized the importance of ideas over skill: "In pop music nowadays you don't need technical ability, you need ideas and the ability to write songs. That's the main thing"
What McCluskey and Gahan appeared to be suggesting was a paradigm shift, one wherein a whole new wave of amateur music makers could find their way to pop stardom via the synthesizer's new level playing field. Trouser Press ran a feature in the May 1982 issue entitled "Roll Over Guitar Heros: Synthesizers are Here", which explored the instruments newfound popularity.

The change of the billboard top 100 could be a reason for the decline in popular music. In the past, the best popular music charted. Today, a lot of bland music of only reasonable quality manages to top the charts, and we are lucky if we get twenty great songs in a year. Whereas in the 70s and 80s you got over 100 classics each year. In a Forbes article named Where Have All The Rock Stars Gone? , the writer discusses the changes in the music industry and that some high school kids now prefer listening to older bands such as Led Zeppelin.

You could say the 1970s and 1980s was a time when the best guitarists, best bass players, best drummers, and best singers showed their skills. In the 2010s, there’s a feeling the most talented musicians may not be on the billboard charts anymore and the music is no longer about great musicianship and longevity. Of course, there was also overlooked talent in past decades which was not on the billboard.

In the 80s, the record labels gave the artists a budget, while todays band’s in many cases have to do the self-promotion themselves, which both limits their earning and takes away time to make the music. Today many record labels have closed down because of free music on the internet, so the artists are on their own and therefore we see a lot more "homemade" music.

It takes months or years of hard work to learn to play an instrument well, you can't do it overnight. In the 70s, bands were given time to grow as artists by the record companies whereas today the musicians are expected to make a splash immediately, and they may not be ready to deal with the fame that accompanies that.

Talent is clearly a factor and bringing that talent to the masses. Perhaps the talent scouts of yesteryear had more understanding of musicianship as it wasn't just about fame and appearing in a talent show, but about the product.
In terms of bands, producers, songwriters, composers and singers, many great artists were at their peak in the 70s and 80s. Originality attracts attention, and today’s popular music seems to lack a new direction, and goes for a copy-paste culture of influences. For some reason the contemporary talent is not given the opportunities by record companies like in the 80s.

Prince has been around for a long time and talked to The Guardian in 2015 about changes in the music industry.
He says there’s no danger in modern music: “When was the last time you were scared by anyone? In the 70s, there was scary stuff then.” He suggests that the blame for any malaise lies not merely with the record companies – “accountants and lawyers stepped in while producers were in the studio, they started looking for things that they thought would work, so dozens of rock bands come out every week and you can’t even name them” – but also a lack of jazz-fusion bands. The latter, you have to say, seems a fairly unique interpretation of the situation.
“Well, I don’t think people learn technique any more. There are no great jazz-fusion bands. I grew up seeing Weather Report, and I don’t see anything remotely like that now. There’s nothing to copy from, because you can’t go and see a band like Weather Report. Al di Meola, the guitar player, he’d just stand in the centre of the stage, soloing, until everyone gives him a standing ovation. Those were the memories that I grew up with and that made me want to play.”

Musician Rick James spoke in an interview that the rise in sampling in the 90s was partly due to "the government taking music programs out of school. In the days when I was going to school, you could take trombone, saxophone, guitar or drums. You were taught theory and harmony, and all that kind of stuff, composition. Now the kids don't have any of that. So all they can relate to is the old Gs and the old timers to guide them. I think maybe that's why they sample so much"

You’d think with the advancement of technology that music had a bright future. I often wonder how it's possible for the music to sound better in the 80s despite using old equipment. Some say the musicians and producers got lazy and are too reliant on computer software to create the music, yet it is still odd that they can’t make the music sound as great today as it did in the 80s. It probably has to do with the importance of ideas, or lack thereof, as mentioned above by Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode.

Obviously it’s tough to be objective as a number of artists and tunes are linked to my childhood and probably are not important to other people. For this weekly feature, I will attempt to include iconic music that people are familiar with, and also less famous tracks that I think deserve more recognition. I hope to blog on the years 1981-1989 in the future.

With the new Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens out in December, let’s start off with the soundtrack for Empire Strike Back (1980), a great score from a time when John Williams was at the height of his powers.

The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)

Han Solo and the Princess (Love Theme)

Yoda and the Force

Yoda and the Force (excerpt) (from Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens - Trailer #2)

Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)

Are you a fan of 80s music? Which is your favorite album from the year 1980? Do you remember when Darth Vader was on the front page of magazines? 
Do you agree 80s music sounds better than today's music, and if yes, why is that, with the advancement of technology? Is today's music disposable?

Viewing recap October

Spectre (2015) (Sam Mendes)
If I had to rank the Daniel Craig Bond films, Spectre would be third, with Quantum of Solace in fourth. A critic said Sam Smith's Bond theme is "good enough, but not a classic", and that's exactly how I would assess the new film. Entertaining and with exciting moments, yet everything feels just a bit watered-down compared to Skyfall (2012), the emotions, the jokes, the villain, the dialogue, everything is just not as strong as what Skyfall delivered. The only thing that was at the same level as Skyfall was the cinematography. Even though the surveillance plot idea was a relevant one in this day and age, Christoph Waltz as the villain disappointed, and his dialogue was uninspired.
Spectre steals aspects from past Bond adventures, and in most cases I felt what it was stealing from had more charm. I was surprised Monica Bellucci's character is merely a cameo. Spectre is a good time while it lasts, yet by paying so much homage, the new film is a pastiche, and lacks a strong personality of its own. Daniel Craig is convincing in the action scenes, but the action and stunts were more distinctive this year in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, which was perhaps the best Bond movie of 2015.
Rating 6.5/10

45 Years (2015) (Andrew Haigh)
A film that has things to say about relationships, which I won't spoil here. We follow a couple in the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary. Skeletons in the closet are revealed and this changes things. The wife played by Charlotte Rampling gives arguably the best performance of her career and is in most of the scenes. Yet if I had to be critical the storytelling was heavy-handed in how often the filmmakers remind us of the conflict at hand. Many scenes are variations of the same message, and it could have been a bit more balanced with a greater focus on the husband. The last 10 minutes are far more subtle and ambiguous than what comes before, A film that is very realistic, very British, and I empathized with what was happening. I even teared up at one point. The cinema I saw it in was packed with over 50s who I would say are the target audience. 45 Years makes us reflect on our own life and how we interact with our close ones. How much do we hold back and is it a good or bad thing to do so?
Rating 7.5/10

Sicario (2015) (Denis Villeneuve)
Think I'm in the minority as I was a bit underwhelmed. Thriller about war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico. Emily Blunt is convincing, her eyes show the fear of new situations. Benicio Del Toro is mysterious and interesting as Alejandro and you want to learn about his past. The memorable scenes have to do with violence or torture. Has a few exciting scenes such as the opening and by the border, but is too slow-paced and dull for a thriller. I was often bored by a story with so little substance and hardly any characterization. A lot of scenes could have been shortened without losing anything, for example the aerial shots.
Enemy, Prisoners, and Incendies were interesting outings by the director, but Sicario is an overrated movie with nothing new to say. Worse yet the cops in the car scene appear to enjoy torturing the captive, Josh Brolin smiling.  You could say the movie is deliberately unpleasant due to the subject matter, but I guess it just wasn't for me. Perhaps a film I need to rewatch to connect with. There’s a twist near the end that explains what came before. Benicio Del Toro's quotable dialogue and performance is what I'll remember.
Rating 6.5/10

My Own Private Idaho (1991) (Gus Van Sant)
An early Keanu Reeves film I had heard of but never seen until now. About street hustlers. Has some visual tricky that surprises, such as the magazine covers that suddenly start talking, and the barn that crashes to the ground when a character has an orgasm. It’s also the only film I’ve seen that deals with the condition narcolepsy, which River Phoenix’s character suffers from. Unfortunately a lot of the dialogue was mumbled and difficult to hear.
The story, despite comparable to Shakespeare, was for the first hour quite dull. The search for his family members, and whether the two guys were lovers or friends, were the aspects that seemed to drive the story forward.
The last 20 minutes were the most emotionally involving, quite a powerful and sad turn the movie took. Slightly saved by the ending, the first hour lacked urgency.
Rating 6/10

They Live (1988) (John Carpenter)
The acting is cheesy, but you kind of forgive it for that, because it was made in the 80s. I love the ideas that were put into the story, that the US government is the implied villain and treating its citizens with disdain. Contains a fun fight scene at about the hour mark and the pulsating soundtrack was perfect for the mood of the film. Even though you could question if the main character is worthy of our empathy, considering his actions in the bank. At that point he had very little knowledge of the situation so his behavior seemed foolhardy.
Rating 8/10

The Thing (1982) (John Carpenter)
Rewatch. I liked it more on second viewing, yet I still think it’s overrated. The special effects are great, but the story is very similar to Alien (1979). Many rate it higher out of nostalgia, I’m of the opinion the plot is clichéd.
The Norwegians are hunting an infected dog in the opening scene on Antarctica, and yet the US crew are too dumb to see that the dog might be a threat and decide to bring back a corpse from the Norwegian camp.
For me, the scariest scene is about 80 minutes into the movie when they test the blood and the guys are tied up, and unable to escape.
Favorite quote: “Maybe we’ll just warm things up a bit around here…”
Rating 7/10

Rabid (1977) (David Cronenberg) 
Starts promisingly, the opening 15 minutes had me hooked. Soon turns into a simplistic epidemic horror movie that goes from one kill to the next, with little to no character development.  Which is a pity because plastic surgery gone wrong and its consequences is a great idea. The movie is only surprising during the first kill. The lead played by model Marilyn Chambers kind of reminded me of Natasha Henstridge's seductive character in Species (1995).
My favorite scene was in the train, when the commuters couldn’t get out, and was similar to a claustrophobic scene I mention above in my mini-review of The Thing.
Having to use your wipers to clear off blood from the windshield is certainly unpleasant for the driver. The director would only get better from here. Perhaps my appreciation of the film will grow a bit once I read about the subtext.
Rating 6/10

The Howling (1981) (Joe Dante)
The opening when she goes into the adult video store and sits in the booth was the best scene. The Howling will forever be compared to An American Werewolf in London (1981), and it does feel like a less memorable werewolf movie. I'm not a big fan of jump scares and there's quite a few. The writers take a jab at self-help books.
Rating 6/10

The rest of the horror I recently watched you can read about here:

Horror movies reviewed (part 1)

Horror movies reviewed (part 2)

Horror movies reviewed (part 3)

TV watched:

Middlemarch (1994) (BBC TV Mini-Series)
A captivating retelling of the classic British period drama written by George Eliot. The actors do the material justice, especially Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea and Douglas Hodge as doctor Lydgate were the stand-outs. A big cast, but handled in a way so I was able to follow the story and cared what would become of all the townspeople. Obviously certain aspects of the story are somewhat dated now as it was written in 1874, but there are dilemmas which you can mirror yourself in even today. The setting is believable and the classical soundtrack fits well.
Rating 8.5/10

What do you think about these films? As always, comments are welcome


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