Friday, December 31, 2010

HAPPY 2011

G'day to everyone in Adelaide - Happy New Year.
This post brought to you by someone preoccupied watching Ben Folds and the WASO in concert on DVD.

Peace, happiness, and love to all.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It Was 70 Years Ago Today

The management (and staff) of one here at Retro Universe raise a celebratory glass onion to the great John Lennon. Still shining on like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Matter Of Time

Greetings and salutations to those of you who may recall this particular Seagull from another time called the past, and another place called Retro Universe. Though I may have been grounded in recent times, rest assured I remain committed to continuing the journey I commenced via this blog some 2.5 years ago. When the rest of the world allows time, and I summon up the energy, I shall take to the nostalgic airwaves once more and pilot this blog into reaches of the Retro Universe not yet explored.

Stay tuned....because if you leave me you know I'll only come too ;)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Journey - The Arrival

The next stage of Journey’s odyssey would see the band at the peak of their commercial powers. As a matter of course, whenever an artist makes that transition from a cult act, in this case prog-rock purists, to commercial rock giants, a certain portion of their fan base will be alienated. In addition, stuffy, elitist rock critics will come out of the woodwork to level charges of being a sell-out. Long time prog-rock giants Genesis, and Yes, would resist the lure of the ‘mainstream’ a little longer than Journey, but both would encounter a similar backlash from detractors, eager to voice their collective disapproval at the perceived bastardisation of an art form. Fortunately, any such undercurrent of criticism likely remains largely unnoticed by those riding the prevailing wave of success. In Journey’s case, any pangs of artistic guilt were doubtless assuaged by the American public’s almost universal embracement of their music - none more so than their 1981 album ‘Escape’.

Former Queen engineer Mike Stone came on board to co-produce the album with Kevin Elson, and the brief was clear - radio friendly, melodic rock of the highest order. Jonathan Cain’s recruitment paid dividends from the get go, the form Baby collaborating with Steve Perry to pen the sleek power ballad ‘Who’s Crying Now’. The track, layered with Cain’s crisp keyboard fills, Schon’s shining guitar solo, Valory’s bubbling bass riff, and Perry’s impassioned vocal pleas, was destined for every FM playlist in North America. By August of ‘81, ‘Who’s Crying Now’ had cracked the U.S. Hot 100, and within two months had stopped any thought of tears by peaking at #4 (OZ#65/UK#46). It was the first major strike into what would prove a rich vein of rock gold for Journey. Any lack of faith in Journey’s ability to go the distance was quashed by the release of their follow up single, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, released late in ‘81. An almost gospel style undercurrent added to the tracks uplifting rock anthem creed, resplendent with shimmering layer upon layer of inspired vocals and instrumentation. When you hear ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ there’s nowhere to hide to avoid its surging energy, and if you’d been a regular FM listener or viewer of MTV in late ‘81/early ‘82 (in the U.S. at least), it’s doubtful you could have avoided the tracks airwave blitz. ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ soared to #9 Stateside (OZ#100/UK#62) and more over established a lasting appeal that just went on and on and on, permeating beyond the music charts, and into the hearts and minds of a generation. The track has cropped up repeatedly in motion pictures and television over the ensuing decades, but for mine its most notable pop-culture reference came via an episode in season four of ‘Family Guy’ (that show is freakin’ sweet). Peter, Quagmire, Joe, and Cleveland belt out a passionate rendition of the song, with Cleveland (voiced by Mike Henry) outshining Steve Perry’s original vocal gymnastics by stretching the elastic of his vocal chords two octaves higher on the prolonged ‘whooaaaooooaaaaaa’ at the end of the chorus. Proof of its longevity can also be found in recent digital download figures, across the globe, which still place it firmly amongst the most popular commercial rock tracks of the last thirty years. No doubt, the song writing team of Steve Perry, Jonathan Cain, and Neal Schon are still enjoying the regular royalty cheques.

If the first two singles, ‘Who’s Crying Now’, and ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, had been the sole highlights from the ‘Escape’ album, it could still have been considered a runaway success, but the commercial highpoint was yet to come. By late ‘81, the ‘Escape’ album was running free atop the U.S. charts (UK#32), and the marketing machine had kicked into top gear. Journey took on an almost ubiquitous standing in popular American culture, anything from live concert MTV specials, through opening for the Rolling Stones on their North American tour, to television commercials, but perhaps the highlight (or lowlight depending on your perspective) came when the band sold the rights to their music and (heavily pixellated) likenesses for use in two video games (including the title ‘Journey Escape’ for the Atari 2600 - ah, the Atari 2600, those were the days). Blatant commercialism aside, Journey returned to the music charts in January 1982 with the made for radio power ballad ‘Open Arms’. The track’s opening moments feature Jonathan Cain’s delicate keyboard work blended seamlessly with Steve Perry’s earnest vocals - I mean, this track was custom built to tug at the heart strings (or possibly induce nausea if you’re not so inclined to give over to “sentimental rubbish” as former Babys’ front man John Waite apparently considered it). The typical rise to the chorus crescendo is carried out flawlessly, and evidently ‘Open Arms’ tugged on many a heart string, peaking at #2 on the U.S. Hot 100 in the early months of ‘82 (OZ#43). The nostalgia laden ‘Still They Ride’ repeated the power-ballad dose, but fell short of repeating the chart performance of its predecessors (US#19). The band did explore some harder edged rock territory on the ‘Escape’ album, including the title track, and the pulsating ‘Dead or Alive’ (which had a bit of AC/DC about it). Overall though, ‘Escape’ epitomised the sound of the American A.O.R. or melodic rock style, and with sales eventually topping nine million, Journey had staked a firm claim as genuine commercial rock Hall of Famers.

The band’s members were also finding time to look beyond the confines of the group dynamic. Guitarist Neal Schon struck up a partnership with keyboard guru Jan Hammer (he of the ‘Miami Vice’ theme) on two albums, ‘Untold Passion’ (11/81), and ‘Here To Stay’ (2/83). Meanwhile, Steve Perry hooked up with the future Mr. Footloose Kenny Loggins, on his US#17 hit ‘Don’t Fight It’ late in 1982.

Journey’s decade long odyssey had taken them from obscure prog-rock tributaries to a torrential river of commercial returns and popular (if not always critical) acclaim. The band returned to Fantasy Studios in late ‘82, once more with the Elson/Stone production team, to face the challenge of recording a follow up to the mega-successful ‘Escape’ album. Any doubts about Journey’s ability to live up to the hype were blown away in an instant by the opening salvo of the new album’s lead track (and first single), ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’. Cain’s piercing keyboard hook stings your aural sense into an immediate response, and before you can catch your breath, a second wave led by Neal Schon’s hypnotic guitar riff, and matched with a pulsating rhythm track, comes crashing over the top. If the entire track had comprised just those instrumental elements, I would be satisfied, but 25 seconds in vocalist Steve Perry enters proceedings and elevates ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’ from the merely superb to a status of sublime (pity the accompanying video didn’t match those heights of creative genius). The chorus hook is surely one of the most infectious to have ever been offered up to the pop-rock gods. By mid ‘83, ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’ had crashed through the borders of the U.S. top ten (#8), but inexplicably teetered on the brink of obscurity here in Australia (OZ#93).

The ‘Frontiers’ album climbed quickly up the U.S. charts, peaking at #2, and for the first time Journey cracked the British frontier and set up an outpost at #6 (OZ#80). The Jonathan Cain penned ballad ‘Faithfully’ (US#12) echoed the quality of ‘Open Arms’, but lacked that indefinably quality to send it over the top. Overall, Cain took on a more prominent presence on ‘Frontiers’, both in terms of song writing and the instrumental balance. ‘After The Fall’ (US#23) was formulaic pop-rock at its most blatant, but was a decent enough offering, whilst the album’s fourth single, ‘Send Her My Love’ (US#23) once more showcased Steve Perry’s brilliance in belting out emotion charged lyrics. Personally, I would have held back one of the power ballads in favour of releasing the robust rock of ‘Chain Reaction’.

After a relentless two year train of touring, promotional appearances, writing, and recording, by late ‘83 Journey were doubtless in need of a sabbatical, so they decided to go their separate ways, for a time. Neal Schon thought it might be fun to join a hard rock acronym, so he hooked up with Sammy Hagar (see previous post), bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve to form HSAS, and record the album ‘Through The Fire’ (US#42), which boasted a soft metal version of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ (US#94). Steve Perry had yet to explore his vocal talents as a solo artist, and in April of ‘84 released his debut album ‘Street Talk’. The lead single was the heartfelt soft-rock ballad ‘Oh Sherrie’, written for Perry’s then girlfriend Sherrie Swafford (who was featured canoodling with Perry in the primo promo clip). In commercial terms, ‘Oh Sherrie’ picked up where Journey’s recent success had left off, peaking at #3 on the U.S. Hot 100, but Perry went where no journey had taken him before to a high of #5 on the Australian charts mid year. Produced by Perry himself, the ‘Street Talk’ (US#12/OZ#70) album offered plenty in the way of sentimental power ballads, much in the vein of the Journey’s modus operandi. The quality of ‘Oh Sherrie’ shone through as being a cut above the rest of the album, but the follow up singles, ‘She’s Mine’ (US#21), ‘Strung Out’ (US#40)’, were palatable enough in that predictably formulaic, soft-rock kind of way. The fourth single, ‘Foolish Heart’ (US#18/OZ#52), deserves a tick, if for no other reason than the crystalline keyboard track by co-writer Randy Goodrum. As ‘Foolish Heart’ was climbing the charts in early ‘85, Steve Perry lent his sublime vocal talents to the U.S.A. For Africa project on ‘We Are The World’.

Whilst Journey didn’t reconvene as a unit during ‘84 and ‘85, they did maintain a presence on the charts, via a couple of tracks that had been pushed off the final track listing for the ‘Frontiers’ album. ‘Ask The Lonely’ was included on the soundtrack the box office bomb ‘Two Of A Kind’, but it was the finely crafted ‘Only The Young’ that returned Journey to the U.S. top ten in early ‘85 (#9). The track featured on the soundtrack to the motion picture ‘Vision Quest’, which of course also featured Madonna’s soppy ballad ‘Crazy For You’.

After more than two years apart, Journey decided to reform in early ‘86 to record a new album - though for Perry it wasn’t a clear cut decision, as he had already begun work on his second solo album. Perry opted to place the tentatively titled ‘Against The Wall’ project on indefinite leave, but the overwhelming success of ‘Street Life’ lent Perry an added confidence, and presence back at Journey headquarters. Perry took a lead role in proceedings, and among the fallout was the firing of long time Journey rhythm section Ross Valory (bass), and Steve Smith (drums). The band carried on essentially as the trio of Perry, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain, though Randy Jackson (bass - The Jacksons), and Larrie Londin (drums - professional journeyman) were recruited to augment the line-up. ‘Raised On Radio’ was released in May of ‘86, on the back of the lead out single ‘Be Good To Yourself’. Journey fans would have breathed a sigh of relief at the realisation that Perry and co. had lost none of their verve, as ‘Be Good To Yourself’ (US#9) was every bit as invigorating as the likes of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’. Having already mastered an established winning formula, there was no reason for Journey to head off into radical new territory with ‘Raised On Radio’, and by and large the album remained on solid, and well-trodden commercial ground. The searing guitar riffs, killer keyboard hooks, melodic melodrama, and Perry’s vocal dexterity are all on offer in abundance on tracks like the silky smooth ‘Girl Can’t Help It’ (US#17), the ardent pleas of ‘Suzanne’ (US#17), and the late night feel of ‘I’ll Be Alright Without You’ (US#14). ‘Raised On Radio’ (US#4/UK#22) may not have recaptured the level of pandemonium surrounding ‘Escape’, but with four top twenty singles, and multi-platinum sales, Journey had proven they’d lost none of their commercial edge during their sojourn.

The core trio hit the tour road, along with Jackson, and Mike Baird (drums), but it soon became clear that Steve Perry wasn’t willing to go the distance on this one, and by early ‘87 he had pulled the tour bus over to the side of the road and hopped off. That spelled the end of the tour, and with no lead singer, Journey had effectively reached the end of the line - though no official announcement was made that they had split for good. Steve Perry took an indefinite leave of absence from the music industry to focus on his health, and personal issues. Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain opted to continue their collaboration via the band Bad English, put together by Cain’s former crèche-mates John Waite, and Ricky Phillips, of The Babys (see future post on Babys/Bad English). Drummer Deen Castronovo completed the spelling of Bad English in 1988, and the ‘super-group’ of sorts went on to considerable commercial success with their own brand of melodic soft-rock. Meanwhile, Columbia Records saw no reason why the Journey coffers should close, and released a best selling compilation album in 1988 (US#10 - the very album that introduced me to the band’s brilliance, as it’s no doubt achieved for millions since). A three disc box set, titled ‘Time 3’ or ‘Time Cubed’ (US#90), followed in 1992, chronicling the band’s evolution over a fifteen year period. Meanwhile, three key members from Journey’s formative years, Gregg Rolie, Ross Valory, and Steve Smith, teamed up with vocalist Kevin Chalfant, and guitarist Josh Ramos, to form the rock outfit The Storm - they scored a #26 on the U.S. charts in 1991 with the power ballad ‘I’ve Got A Lot To Learn About Love’, but by 1993 The Storm had broken…up. After his stint with Bad English, Neal Schon decided to adopt a more disciplined approach to his musical grammar, and hooked up with brothers Johnny (vocals), and Joey Gioeli (guitar), Todd Jensen (bass), and Dean Castronovo to form the hard rock outfit Hardline in 1992.

In 1994, Steve Perry emerged from his long period of seclusion with the album ‘For The Love Of Strange Medicine’. The lead out single, ‘You Better Wait’, proved that Perry had lost none of his vocal vitality, and its expertly sculpted rock melody was enough to push it to a high of #29 on the U.S. Hot 100. I’ve not heard the rest of the album, which achieved a peak of #15, but it’s likely that, in commercial terms at least, its struggle to attract the same level of attention as Perry’s ‘Street Life’ was symptomatic of a shift in the musical landscape post-grunge. Meanwhile, Perry’s former bandmates had been considering reigniting Journey’s flame, but it took until the firing of long time manager Walter ‘Herbie’ Herbert, for Perry to agree to terms. In 1995, the band’s ‘classic’ line-up of Steve Perry, Neal Schone, Jonathan Cain, Steve Smith, and Ross Valory reunited to work on an album of new material. The resultant ‘Trial By Fire’ (which featured striking cover art) hit stores in October of ‘96, and debuted at #3 on the American charts just two weeks later. Doubtless, there were throngs of long time Journey fans who still had an insatiable thirst for the band’s pop-rock blend, but after a decade of estrangement, the quintet came up short in recapturing the exquisitely crafted quality of their best work. The lead out single, ‘When You Love A Woman’, was the stand out exception, and its heartfelt qualities charmed enough listeners to push it to a high of US#12. A proposed support tour was placed on indefinite hold following a hip injury to Steve Perry, and the subsequent delays led to a falling out between the singer and his bandmates. By 1998, Steve Smith had opted out of the whole debacle, and the remaining members reportedly put an ultimatum to Perry about resolving his health issues. Perry refused to yield to their demands, and in May of ‘98, he announced he was splitting with the band permanently. Aside from some sporadic production, and soundtrack work, Steve Perry has largely withdrawn from the music industry, with ongoing health issues a concern. Though in 2005 he met with his former band on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to unveil a star in Journey’s honour.

Schon, Cain, and Vallory were then faced with the unenviable task of finding a replacement for Perry’s vocal vigour. Quality high tenor rock vocalists are a rare commodity, but the trio found what they were looking for in the form of former Tall Stories singer Steve Augeri. Over the ensuing year, the revamped Journey line-up (with Bad English drummer Deen Castronovo drafted to replace Smith) finally completed their tour commitments, and then set about recording material for a new album.

Perry was a hard act to follow, but Augeri delivered a commendable performance on the 2001 release ‘Arrival’ (US#56). The key Journey characteristics were present, with Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain once more serving up a palette of pop-rock polish. The arrangements were solid, the melodies half-way memorable, the lyrics heartfelt, but ‘Arrival’ was never going to capture the hearts and minds of millions as ‘Escape’ had done twenty years previous. Over the ensuing decade, Journey have soldiered on in union with many of the so called ‘dinosaur rock’ acts of the 70s and 80s. Augeri stuck around for the band’s thirtieth anniversary tour in 2005, and the subsequent album release, ‘Generations’ (US#170 - on which the whole band took a turn at the microphone), but he was replaced in 2006 by Arnel Pineda. Journey proved that they could still muster mass appeal with the release of their 2008 album, ‘Revelation’, which debuted at #5 on the U.S. charts, and their ensuing summer tour (which also featured Heart and Cheap Trick) proved to be one of the highest grossing of the year. The creative combo of Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain may have passed their commercial heyday, but as the driving forces in Journey, they have continued to prove they are still a force to be reckoned with behind the wheel. The Journey goes on and on and on….

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Journey - The Embarkation

Recently, I stumbled upon the opening moments to the Jim Carrey comedy ‘Yes Man’. The film overall, like my stumble, was a largely forgettable affair, but what struck a chord with me was the choice of Journey’s surging rock anthem ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’ as the musical accompaniment to the opening titles (and as the lead character’s - Jim Carrey - ringtone). It prompted me to think just how frequently Journey’s music crops up on motion picture soundtracks, and how enduring their hyper-commercial brand of album oriented rock (A.O.R.) has proved to be - at least within North American territories (and associated contemporary cultural/artistic endeavours). That particular train of thought transported me to a station of contemplation that greeted me with this question - why had the highly popular Journey juggernaut been consigned to the periphery of commercial appeal here in Australia? Journey notched up no fewer than 17 top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1979 and 1987, with six of those singles scoring a top ten spot. The rock quintet also racked up a dozen platinum certified albums, with worldwide sales in the tens of millions. But by stark contrast, as a collective, the band never cracked the Australian top forty, with either single or album releases. 1982’s ‘Open Arms’ represented the peak destination for Journey, hitting the #43 mile marker on the Australian charts, but other hook laden classics languished in the lower reaches of the top 100 - ‘Who’s Crying Now’ (OZ#65) in 1981, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ (OZ#100) in 1982, and the aforementioned ‘Separate Ways (World’s Apart)’ (OZ#93) proved to be a world apart from Australian turntables in 1983. The only Journey album to make a foray into Australian chart terrain was the appropriately titled 1983 release, ‘Frontiers’ (OZ#80). So, what factors could possibly have explained such a disparity of appeal.

I’ve previously alluded to the significant dichotomy of stylistic trends that have occurred over the years, particularly between the U.K. and U.S. scenes. But the Australian music buying public had already proven themselves to have a marked affinity with the A.O.R. offerings that arrived on mass from the States during the latter part of the 70s, and throughout the 80s. The likes of Survivor, Asia (see previous posts), Styx, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Loverboy, and Toto (see future posts), had all enjoyed moderate to high levels of commercial success down under. So could it have been lead singer Steve Perry who hit a wrong note with Australians? Perry’s vocal styling was aligned pretty closely to those of his FM rock contemporaries, Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Bobby Kimball (Toto), and Dave Bickler (Survivor), largely debunking that theory. And the fact that Perry’s own rock ballad ‘Oh Sherrie’ powered to #5 on Australian charts during the second half of ‘84 puts paid to any residual doubts about his vocal appeal. There was no shortage of label support here either, with CBS (Columbia) a major player both in marketing and distribution muscle - though whether there was an in house decision not to push Journey’s cause in Australia is unknown to me. Perhaps the disparity of commercial popularity could be explained by the fact that the Australian market was crowded with a myriad of differing styles and trends, with only so much available bandwidth for the A.O.R. style, and Journey just happened to be one of the acts to be squeezed off the air, in terms of radio airplay. I have to admit to not being that aware of most of Journey’s early 80s material at the time of its release - with the possible exception of ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’. It wasn’t until their ‘Greatest Hits’ package had been on the shelves for some time that I eventually picked up a copy, and realised, to my chagrin, just what I had been missing out on. For those who like to indulge in conspiracy theories, rumours have abounded since that a renegade faction of Australian based REO Speedwagon fans conspired against their Journey rivals - but to be fair that rumour is without any anecdotal foundation, and has only ever been expressed via this blog - in fact via this particular paragraph. In all honesty, I am so much at a loss to explain Journey’s lack of commercial yield in Australia, that I felt compelled to throw up a piece of nonsensical conjecture purely as a lark. Still for those people with an irrational interest in REO Speedwagon conspiracy theories, it may well register a hit or two for my blog via search engines.

So it remains quite the anomaly, that one of the heavy hitters of the A.O.R. movement, Journey, remained but a glimpse in the corner of Australia’s musical vision. And it’s an anomaly that seems to be without obvious cause or catalyst - but then again that is very often the case with anomalies. So, that just leaves me the task of exploring the story behind Journey’s decade long, um, journey.

During 1973, a group of already seasoned musicians came together in San Francisco to form a new ‘supergroup’ - at least of the minor leagues variety. Former Santana road manager Walter Herbert enlisted two ex-Santana members too form the core of the new outfit - guitarist Neal Schon, and Santana co-founder Gregg Rolie (keyboards/ vocals). Rolie had been a key member of Santana, having handled vocals on several of their biggest hits, including ‘Evil Ways’, and ‘Black Magic Woman’. Schon had joined Santana in 1971 at the ripe old age of 17, but by 1972 both he and Rolie had parted ways with Carlos’ crew. For a brief time Rolie left music off the menu altogether, and opted to open a restaurant with his father in Seattle, whilst Schon continued to hone his craft in local Bay Area bands. Another Bay Area band at the time, Frumious Bandersnatch (inspired name), was managed by Walter Herbert, and boasted the talents of ex-Steve Miller Band bassist Ross Valory, and guitarist George Tickner. Following their demise, Herbert suggested Valory and Tickner join forces with Schon and Rolie. Initially operating as The Golden Gate Bridge, the new fellowship were yet to decide on a firm moniker, and an impromptu naming contest was held by San Francisco radio station KSAN-FM. But it was a suggestion by one of the band’s roadies, John Villaneuva, that led to Journey finally being decided upon - an appropriate tag given the journeyman like nature of its members.

One minor detail had yet to be addressed, and that was to enlist the services of a fulltime drummer. Journey’s first shows, which included their debut gig at San Francisco’s Winterland on New Year’s Eve 1973, featured stop-gap sticks man Prairie Prince (of The Tubes - see previous post). In early ‘74, the band found their new goalkeeper in the form of British journeyman Aynsley Dunbar. Dunbar has already racked up substantial frequent flyer points with the likes of John Mayall, Jeff Beck, Mothers of Invention, Lou Reed, and David Bowie. With almost a years gigging, and substantial pedigree of personnel, Journey were offered a recording deal with Columbia late in ‘74. Journey’s early stylistic positioning lay somewhere between the provinces of prog-rock, and jazz infused rock, which aligned them with the likes of contemporaries Genesis, Yes, Ambrosia, and Jethro Tull. Their eponymous debut album, released in April ‘75, offered up just seven tracks, mostly instrumental treks, but with an average track length of over five minutes. The band was clearly positioned within the prog-rock, jazz fusion genres, and their relatively narrow bandwidth of commercial appeal was reflected in sales (US#138). Still, Journey had their niche and had established a reputation as a consummate live act, with a penchant for seemingly ceaseless solos, but it was the band’s relentless live schedule that contributed to the departure of guitarist George Tickner later in the year.

The remaining members of Journey opted to continue their mission as a quartet, and in April ‘76 released their sophomore album, ‘Look Into The Future’ (US#100). The meandering, jazz inflected prog-rock style was a little more focussed, but still lacked the sharp commercial punch to register a hit on the charts. A problem area identified by the band themselves was the lack of a powerful lead vocalist, though the group’s other members all made concerted attempts to strengthen their vocal credentials in support of Gregg Rolie. Next up was the album ‘Next’ (US#85), issued in February of ‘77. The album offered some clearer signals that Journey were looking for a shift toward a more commercial direction, evidenced on the overtly hard rocking ‘Hustler’. Both band, and manager Walter Herbert, arrived at a crossroads, and came to the conclusion that a fulltime lead vocalist was needed, both to serve as a focal point for the band’s sound, and also to free up Rolie to focus on keyboard duties. In June of ‘77, Robert Fleischmann was added to the mix, but the new recipe failed to gel, and within a couple of months Journey were on the look out for another singer. Over the preceding few months ex-Alien Project vocalist Steve Perry had been making overtures towards both band and management, offering his vocal services. On the strength of a demo tape, and the recommendation of a Columbia executive, Herbert contacted Perry and offered him the job as Journey’s new front man. Perry’s debut gig with the band was on the last of a three night run at the Old Waldorf (salad) in San Francisco. The recruitment of Steve Perry would prove to be the catalyst needed to transform Journey into a commercially viable vehicle with five star performance.

The band also enlisted the services of Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, with a view to overhauling their in-studio sound. During late ‘77, work was completed on Journey’s fourth album, ‘Infinity’, a set that would represent a marked shift in style, and fortune, for the band. No longer promenading purveyors of prog-rock, Journey had been reborn as savvy exponents of sleek, radio friendly pop-rock, with Steve Perry the conduit through which the band would channel their newly fashioned craft. With the release of the ‘Infinity’ album in January of ‘78, Journey finally laid to rest their jazz-fused, prog-rock heritage, and emerged with an overtly melodic, commercial pop-rock formula. Tracks like ‘Wheel In The Sky’, and ‘Lights’, finally offered up an appealing enough invitation for programmers to add Journey to FM playlists. In addition to his stridently dynamic tenor vocal talents, Steve Perry also proved to be a key song writing ally for both Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie. ‘Infinity’ offered up a wall to wall mix of tight, melodic, and polished pop-rock, replete with pristine vocal harmonies, and infectious guitar/synth hooks. By year’s end, ‘Infinity’ had achieved in excess of a million units sold, Journey’s first platinum certified album, and knocked on the door of the U.S. top 20 (#21). With the moderate success of the single releases, ‘Wheel In The Sky’ (US#57), and ‘Lights’ (US#68), it appeared Journey had finally discovered a pathway to popular appeal.

But not everyone was happy with the band’s strides toward star status. Drummer Aynsley Dunbar left the band late in ‘78, in the midst of a marathon support tour, though some sources cite conflict between Dunbar and new vocalist Perry as being a major contributing factor. Whatever the exact reason(s), the split was acrimonious to say the least, and as is the nature of these things, mutual litigation was initiated in subsequent years. Dunbar, who later played with Jefferson Starship and Whitesnake, was replaced by ex-Journey drum technician Steve Smith. Smith did more than just tend to the tom-toms, and had studied formally at the Berklee School of Music, in addition to stints behind the skins with Focus, Ronnie Montrose, and Jean-Luc Ponty. Smith proved to be a complimentary element to the band’s new chemistry, and came on board just as Journey were about to hit the fast lane to fame and fortune.

The alchemic process continued on 1979’s ‘Evolution’, the title an apt reflection for the musical metamorphosis Journey had undertaken. With the April ‘79 release of ‘Evolution’, Journey reaffirmed their commitment to the polished pop-rock prescription, with Roy Thomas Baker once more helming production. The band’s live tour venues were also now reflecting their newly crafted arena-rock sound, with the band now a firmly entrenched headliner across the States. Journey were also firmly entrenched as a staple on FM radio playlists, and following the promising performance of the lead out track, the Boston-esque ‘Just The Same Way’ (US#58), the band scored their first foray into top twenty territory with the Perry penned smouldering rocker ‘Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’ (US#16). With a sell-out tour and saturation airplay as a backdrop, the ‘Evolution’ album produced a bountiful harvest of multi-platinum sales throughout 1979 (US#20/UK#100), and elevated Journey to a new level of prominence on the North American music-scape.

Following the release of the compilation set, ‘In The Beginning’ (a selection of material from their first three albums), Journey continued their march to the top with the March 1980 release of ‘Departure’. The album had been recorded during late ‘79, with the production team of Geoff Workman and Kevin Elson working with the quintet on further refining their already razor sharp commercial sound. The Perry/Schon songwriting partnership really came to the fore across the album’s twelve tracks. ‘Departure’ kicked off with the hyper-kinetic ‘Any Way You Want It’, a song that announced the surging energy of the album from the get go. ‘Any Way You Want It’ was yet another booster rocket of a hit (US#23) that would help propel Journey into the pop-rock stratosphere. The follow-up single, the sultry and seductive ‘Walks Like A Lady’ (US#32), proved that this sleek rock machine still had more than one gear to select. The album balanced high energy racers like ‘Where Were You’ against obligatory A.O.R. power ballad offerings like ‘Good Morning’, and throughout Journey offering up a bounty of hypnotic hooks, coated in a shimmering pop-rock sheen. ‘Departure’ duly delivered its cargo of radio friendly rock to #8 on the U.S. charts, and the band embarked on their biggest tour commitment to date, by the end of which founding member Gregg Rolie had announced his own departure.

Rolie’s reason for giving up his seat onboard the Journey train was cited as being primarily tour related exhaustion. It was also evident that Rolie’s role within the band had also diminished in terms of song writing and vocal contributions. The band’s mammoth 1980/81 tour also resulted in the release of the live set ‘Captured’, the double album’s peak of #9 on the U.S. charts indicative of the surging popularity of Journey at home. Though Rolie didn’t stick around to record the one studio track included on the live set, ‘The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love)’ (US#34 - with Stevie ‘Key’s Roseman filling the keyboardist void), he made a key recommendation to the rest of his band concerning who his potential replacement might be. Keyboardist Jonathan Cain was the man identified by Rolie as being the perfect fit for Journey. Cain was already a proven pop-savvy performer of the highest order, having established his pedigree with the recently dissolved outfit The Babys (see future post). His addition to the Journey crew, as both player and songwriter, would prove the decisive step in elevating the band to the pinnacle of the U.S. pop tree.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pilot Of The Airwaves Revives The Radio Star

The management here at Retro Universe are proud to announce the arrival of The Ultimate 80s Radio Show, hosted by Ultimate Bart, which kicked of to much fanfare and suitable salutations on Wednesday 17th February. DJ Ultimate Bart shall be reliving some of the highs (and lows) of the magnificence that was the 1980s via hit after hit after hit streamed live to your laptop, desktop, or whatever top you see fit to use. He shall also be regaling you with some tidbits from Retro Universes own cavernous vault of music trivia and scintillating anecdotes.

You may avail yourself of this most excellent entertainment via the link on the left hand side of this page, and be sure to check out Ultimate Barts personal blog here:

So drink deeply from the rich waters of 80s music brilliance!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Where's the Light Switch?

Today's post is a spur of the moment affair, which is the kind of affair I don't usually indulge in. My posts are more often given over to pain staking research and planning, and the resultant material verbose and some might say meandering in nature - to be kind to myself. But it occurred to me not five minutes ago that this is my blog, therefore I make the rules - and if I want to flaunt those rules by being impetuous then I'm damn well going to do so (after 500 posts I think I've earned it). The catalyst behind this mode of self-rebellion, was my listening to the George Harrison song 'Beware Of Darkness'. It's a song that has, over many years, offered me solace, and a compass of reason when the haze of self doubt, and the fog of depression blankets my mindscape. Everyone has at least one song that provides a sanctuary from whatever external, or internal, maelstrom is raging. 'Beware Of Darkness' is one such port in a storm for me.

The song is lifted from George Harrison's post-Beatles' opus, 'All Things Must Pass', which provided the vehicle via which Harrison emerged from the creative shadows of his former Fab-mates, Paul McCartne
y, and John Lennon. Many would later cite the #1 album, 'All Things Must Pass' as the high watermark for George Harrison the ex-Beatle. Commercially, that's no doubt the case, but later albums such as 'Dark Horse', '33 1/3', and 'Cloud Nine', all stand up strongly to the rigours of post-Beatles carping by critics. Besides, to many, including myself, George Harrison became a creative and spiritual entity (and inspiration) far beyond his role as Beatle George. At any rate, on a triple album's worth of material - that featured the brilliance of 'My Sweet Lord' (charges of plagiarism aside), 'What Is Life', and another personal favourite 'Isn't It A Pity' - it is 'Beware Of Darkness' that still shines brightest for me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hard At Play In A Perfect World

Riding on the wave of a multi-platinum album, and a string of top ten singles throughout ’83/’84, it was hard to envisage that Huey Lewis & the News could ascend to greater heights, but the ensuing two year period would prove to be the commercial zenith for the band (though critical praise for their work would be less forthcoming).

Bones Howe had already helmed production on three U.S. chart toppers during the late 60s, ‘Windy’ by the Association, and two #1s for the Fifth Dimension, ‘Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In’ and ‘Wedding Bell Blues’. By the mid 80s, Howe had turned his skills to motions pictures, though in a capacity as music supervisor and sound designer. He heard about a proposed film project for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment company, the basic plot of which involved a teenager travelling back in time to 1955 and meeting his own parents as teenagers in the process. The proposed film turned out to be ‘Back To The Future’, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and one of Howe’s directives as music supervisor was to come up with a selection of songs, some contemporary, and some circa 1955. When Howe came on board, the decision had already been made by the film’s creative team that Huey Lewis would be a good choice to provide a couple of songs for the film’s contemporary settings. Zemeckis and Spieberg both sat in with Lewis to view some of the film’s dailies, the rough cuts of the film shot to date, so as Lewis could get a feel for things. In a further ironic twist of the whole Ray Parker Jr. ‘Ghostbusters’ litigation, the producers were using ‘I Want A New Drug (Called Love)’ as an interim overlay to the rough cut sequences played back to Lewis. The song ‘In The Nick Of Time’ immediately sprang to Lewis’ mind as being perfect, but negotiations fell through on that one, and it ended up on being used on the soundtrack to the Richard Pryor comedy ‘Brewster’s Millions’ - so it was back to the future…err…drawing board.

Over the ensuing weeks, Lewis kept working on developing a song titled ‘Back In Time’ with several others from the News. Meanwhile, shooting continued on the film which brought further pressure to bear on Lewis to come up with something suitable. A scene had been written into the film where the character of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) auditions with his band in a Battle of the Bands style contest, with the winner to play the local high school dance. The inside joke was that his band would be playing a Huey Lewis song, and Huey himself was to play the part of a high school teacher who turns the band down. Lewis had only completed a basic melodic outline of the song (written with Johnny Colla and Chris Hayes), and so in the scene as shot, McFly and his band deliver a basic instrumental track only, with Lewis’ character cutting them off with the classic line, “Sorry guys, I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”, just as McFly is about to sing. Lewis and Co. managed to deliver the finished version of ‘The Power Of Love’ in time for the film’s post production team, and Zemeckis decided to place it as musical accompaniment to Marty McFly’s frantic skateboard to school near the film’s opening. According to Bones Howe, some of the people involved in the creative process didn’t like ‘The Power Of Love’, and actually identified ‘Back In Time’ as the potential hit record. As it turned out, ‘Back In Time’, as fine a pop-rock song as it was, was relegated to the film’s closing credits, and it was ‘The Power Of Love’ that received star status on the film’s soundtrack.

How anyone could have doubted ‘The Power Of Love’ would be a hit I do not know, but shortly after its release, which was timed in with the premiere of ‘Back To The Future’, the song commenced its steady acceleration up the charts toward 88MPH, or #1, whichever came first. A promotional video was shot which featured Huey Lewis & the News performing the song, appropriately enough, at their favourite venue Uncle Charlies. Meanwhile, time travelling Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) pulls up outside in his DeLorean car, with optional temporal displacement extras. Huey Lewis & the News didn’t need money, nor fame, nor a credit card (a subtle reference to the band’s earlier name) to ride the train all the way to #1 with ‘The Power Of Love’. The song was fairly bursting at the seems with infectious hooks, and boasted a killer guitar solo from Chris Hayes that Marty McFly would have been proud of. By late August ‘85, ‘The Power Of Love’ sat atop the U.S. charts, supplanting ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears, following suit in Australia a month later (UK#9), and shot Huey Lewis & the News to new and dizzying heights of commercial success (the song also garnered Academy Award and Grammy nominations).

It’s fair to say that expectations for the next Huey Lewis & The News album were high, but fans would have to wait nearly a year for its arrival (unless they could borrow Doc Brown’s DeLorean). In between writing and recording material for a new album, Huey Lewis found time to provide backing vocals on old mate Nick Lowe’s 1986 hit, ‘I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock & Roll). Though three years had elapsed between album releases, the exceptional mileage gained from the ‘Sports’ single releases, coupled with the interim global #1, ‘The Power Of Love’, gave the impression that Huey Lewis & the News hadn’t been out of the spotlight at all.

Huey Lewis & the News washed ashore again in August of ‘86, with the chart debut of their latest single, ‘Stuck With You’, the lead out single from their forthcoming album, ‘Fore!’. Rumour has it that the band had struggled to come up with material that they felt would satisfy expectations for their new album. Guitarist Chris Hayes told Rolling Stone magazine at the time, that he’d received a call one day from manager Bob Brown, with a request to come up with a hit tune to release as the first single. Hayes recounted that in between caring for his heavily pregnant wife, he popped into the studio for a few hours and came up with the music for ‘Stuck With You’, a bright and breezy slice of melodic pop-rock. The band’s most ardent credits judged the song as syrupy, populist tripe, but I’ve formed the impression over the years that some critics have a standing brief to deride an artists material, no matter the quality, if that artist experiences a prolonged run of success - in Australia it’s referred to as ‘the tall poppy syndrome’. ‘Stuck With You’ may have been radio friendly fodder, but it was a finely crafted song, delivered with exemplary production values - lifted from the same page of the Huey Lewis & the News songbook as ‘If This Is It’. The promo-clip followed the basic narrative of the lyrics, with Huey Lewis and presumably his wife, confronting the reality of their differences through a tragic event. That tragic event just happened to be the two of them being tossed overboard from their row boat, just about twenty metres off shore, and somehow being washed up as castaways on a desert island, supposedly hundreds of miles from civilisation. But suspension of disbelief aside, the saving grace is the band’s innate sense of humour throughout, from quite an amusing prologue, through to each of the News arriving on the island by some very unconventional modes of transport, and of course the song’s cheery, bouncy feel just wouldn’t sit right without a happy ending. Schmaltzy I know, but all good, clean fun. ‘Stuck With You’ eventually washed ashore at the prestigious #1 addreyess on the U.S. Hot 100 (OZ#2/UK#12).

The source album, ‘Fore!’, met with mixed reviews, some critics judging it as lacking some of the authentic ‘working band’ feel of its predecessor. That it may have been, but lacking in radio friendly hits it most certainly wasn’t. The follow up single, ‘Hip To Be Square’, was a high energy rocker with ambitions to be a working class anthem - of sorts. It’s entirely plausible that the song was a subtle thumbing of the nose by the band at critics, who all too readily were labelling them as staid, and middle of the road. I stand to be corrected, but I’d also venture to say that it’s the only U.S. top ten single (#3/OZ#17/UK#41) to feature backing vocals by an N.F.L. team. The San Francisco 49’ers were enlisted both in studio and to appear in the promotional video - which featured a macro-style filming technique that could have led to bouts of nausea for viewers.

Back in 1981, Huey Lewis’ publisher approached songwriter Bruce Hornsby with a view to Lewis & the News recording the Hornsby penned song ‘Let The Girls Rock’. Bruce Hornsby, and his brother John, turned the Lewis deal down, but Lewis and Bruce Hornsby struck up a friendship along the way. By 1986, Bruce Hornsby and his backing band, The Range, had hit the big time with their album ‘The Way It Is’ riding high on the U.S. charts, on the back of its US#1 title track. The Hornsby brothers, Bruce and John, had written more than enough material to fill their album, and one of the left over tracks was ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. The song essentially tells of one man’s shot at self redemption. With Huey Lewis & the News recording a slightly edgier version of the Hornsby original. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ had just enough rungs to reach #1 on the U.S. charts during March of ‘87 (OZ#48), incidentally replacing Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ in the process, and became the band’s third American chart topper inside of eighteen months. With an almost constant presence on the airwaves, and a relentless touring schedule, it was a sure bet that the ‘Fore!’ album would reach #1 in the U.S. (OZ#3/UK#8), and it eventually went on to notch up triple platinum certification. The straight up guitar rock of ‘I Know What I Like’ (once more featuring backing vocals from the 49’ers) replaced ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ inside the U.S. top ten mid year (#9), but it was the fifth single release from ‘Fore!’ that rates as my personal pick of the pop-crop. ‘Doin’ It All For My Baby’ (US#6) was, lyrically, a lovey dovey serving of sentimentality, but it was packaged within an enchanting time capsule full of soulful 50s doo-wop charm. Adding to its appeal was a brilliant concept clip, that cast Huey and the lads as a bunch of Scooby Doo-esque characters who just happen to crash their van on a stormy night nearby a spooky old castle. Lewis has the misfortune of being crushed underneath the van whilst attempting a tire change, so the rest of the band decide to check out the mansion in the hope of getting a bite to eat, as you would under such traumatic circumstances. Lewis’ corpse is discovered by the local neighbourhood grave diggers (played by Colla and Hayes) who resolve to recover the body, no matter the means. Meanwhile, our intrepid rockers arrive at the castle and are greeted by a Lurch look-alike (Cipollina), but despite their shock, like all good Scooby Doo devotees, the lads overcome their sheer terror and go inside for a looksee. Lewis plays the role of the castle’s master, and resident Dr. Frankenstein (ably assisted by hunchback Hopper), who is earnestly trying to manufacture his very own bride. Early signs are promising for the good doctors latest escapade, whilst Lurch shows his own flare for the macabre by decapitating the News and placing their still living heads into jars. Test tube microphones and two headed guitarists abound in this high jinx comic caper, with the punch line being Huey Lewis’ corpse is revived as a virtual Frankenstein’s monster, the funny part being the bride’s repulsion when Lewis’ true form is revealed. Yes I know, your sides are splitting at the notion of such hilarity, but this was truly the golden age of music video, and whilst ‘Doin’ It All For My Baby’ may not have reached the heights of ‘Thriller’, it was an agreeable little jaunt. All up, the ‘Fore!’ album had yielded five U.S. top ten hits (six if you count ‘The Power Of Love’, which was included on some overseas pressings), and regardless of any critical derision, Huey Lewis & the News could rightly lay claim to being one of the most commercially popular acts on the planet.

In a perfect world their universal popularity would have continued, but 1988 spelled the beginning of the end for the band’s stellar run of commercial success. After another two year sojourn between album releases, Huey Lewis & the News resurfaced in July of ‘88 with the lead out single from their fifth album. ‘Perfect World’ (penned by ex-Clover member Alex Call) was another prime cut of classy pop-rock, that gave no indication that Huey Lewis & the News were going to stray from their winning formula. Replete with crisp, infectious guitar riffs, crystalline keyboard chords, and a ballsy brass backing (provided by regular News supplement, the Tower Of Power), ‘Perfect World’ marked a near perfect return to the charts (US#3/OZ#19/UK#48), and I recall the same day that I saw the promo video for the first time (which featured the band playing atop a huge mound of garbage), I was off to the record bar to purchase a limited edition yellow vinyl copy of the single no less. But what was this? Beneath the bouncy pop-rock façade, ‘Perfect World’ served up a bit of a sermon on social conscience that was to permeate throughout its source album, ‘Small World’. But where as ‘Perfect World’ had the pop sheen to get away with it, Huey Lewis & the News opted for a less travelled stylistic road to traverse the rest of the album’s journey. The change in direction included detours into jazz-rock and American roots music, but the band had pretty much painted themselves into a corner with their previous work, and their attempt to venture into new musical styles didn’t please everyone. The title track was released as the follow up single but smallish sales greeted ‘Small World’ (US#25) in late ‘88, and the slide continued with the third single, ‘Give Me The Keys (And I’ll Drive You Crazy)’ (US#47). For all the flak they copped from critics, the only thing I can hear that Huey Lewis & the News were guilty of with the ‘Small World’ album, was trying something a little bit different. As a stand alone work, ‘Small World’ has plenty to offer, from the zydeco zing of ‘Bobo Tempo’, to the reggae inflected ‘Better Be True’, but it wasn’t what the band’s adoring public had come to expect from them. Still, a high of #11 on the U.S. charts (UK#12/OZ#20) and platinum sales are nothing too be scoffed at.

As the 90s dawned, Huey Lewis & the News faced the same challenge as all of the 80s pop greats - could they adapt and survive in the ever evolving popular music environment. It took until April 1991 for that question to be answered in the form of the album ‘Hard At Play’. In the interim, the band had taken more than a couple days off from the road, and shifted label stables from Chrysalis to EMI. The lead out single, ‘Couple Days Off’, signalled a return to what Huey Lewis & the News, the ‘working band’, do best - good time, high energy rock and roll music. Bluesy guitar licks and a surging bass/drum line pushed ‘Couple Days Off’ to the door step of the U.S. top ten (#11/OZ#39). The resurgence in form continued with ‘It Hit Me Like A Hammer’ (US#21), which I purchased at the time on the short lived cassingle format. Co-written by Lewis and old Clover cohort Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, ‘It Hit Me Like A Hammer’ also showed the band hadn’t forgotten their roots in soul/R&B, and their harmonies sounded as pure as ever. ‘Hard At Play’ (US#27/UK#39/OZ#62) would doubtless have pleased long standing fans of Huey Lewis & the News, and had it been released several years earlier, it may well have spawned several top ten hits with songs like the beautifully crafted ‘We Should Be Making Love’, and the rollicking ‘Time Ain’t Money’. But as with most enduring artists, the sands of cultural evolution had finally overtaken Huey Lewis & the News, and the band were on the verge of being rendered an anachronism.

Well, if you’re gonna go out, why not go out in style - and on your own terms. In 1994, Huey Lewis took a leaf out of their own songbook, and went back in time to inspire their seventh album. ‘Four Chords & Several Years Ago’ (produced by Steward Levine and released on Elektra), was an unabashed homage to the music and artists that had inspired them as fledgling musicians twenty years previous. The lead out single, ‘(She’s) Some Kind Of Wonderful’ (US#44), was a polished take on the soul classic originally recorded in 1967 by Soul Brothers Six (and taken to US#3 by Grand Funk Railroad in 1975 - see future post). The second single, ‘But It’s Alright’, a cover of the 1966 US#22 hit for J.J. Jackson, marked the last foray to date by Huey Lewis & the News into U.S. Hot 100 territory (#54). The album ‘Four Chords & Several Years Ago’ (US#55) no doubt spoke volumes to regular listeners of the News, but by 1994 you would have been hard pressed to find a reference to Huey Lewis & the News in the classifieds of most music related publications.

Following the completion of a well received support tour for ‘Four Chords’, bassist Mario Cipollina parted ways with the group (replaced by John Pierce), their first change in personnel in fifteen years. The compilation ‘Time Flies’ was released in late ‘96, offering a ‘best of’ selection from the group’s Chrysalis years, along with four new tracks, including the single release ‘100 Years From Now’. The band kept an active, albeit low, profile during the late 90s, but resurfaced with an album of newly recorded material in 2001, titled ‘Plan B’ (US#165). The album was a selection of band favourites, both their own material, and covers, and it marked the final contribution from long time guitarist Chris Hayes. Though chart activity for the band was a thing of the past, Huey Lewis had experienced his own ‘Back To The Future’ moment in 2000 via his work on the Bruce Paltrow directed film ‘Duets’. Lewis played a lead role as the character Ricky Dean, a professional karaoke hustler, who reconnects with his estranged daughter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Lewis and Paltrow performed ‘Cruisin’ (a 1979 US#4 hit for Smokey Robinson) as a duet, and the song returned Lewis to #1 on the Australian charts early in ‘01 (#1 U.S. Adult Contemporary chart).

Huey Lewis & the News have continued to play to sell out houses across the U.S. over the ensuing decade, and in December ‘04 released the live set, ‘Live At 25’. Lewis occasionally wanders into a recording studio, but by and large he and his band have returned to their bread and butter - as a ‘working band’ of some repute. Huey Lewis & the News may never have been the darlings of the music press, but their commercial returns (particularly during the 80s) were rivalled by few - the power of love is indeed a curious thing.