Category: Life

Things I Think: My Favorite Songs from the 1980’s

It’s been a while since I posted a blog article on “Things I Think”, so I decided to go back and revisit a bunch of my favorite songs from the 1980’s. I’ve listed a bunch of them here, in no particular order of favorites.

These songs all remind me of growing up in the MTV generation. A time when going to the store to buy an album and then running home to listen to it alone in your bedroom was an experience. If you didn’t listen to an album in its entirety from first song to last (even if the hit was song #3) you weren’t doing it right. You listened completely and as you did, you made sure you read every lyric, liner note and thank you that was written on the sleeve. NO exceptions!

So grab an Orange Julius and Bavarian pretzel and put the quarters for Pac Man and Dragon’s Lair to the side for later. Here’s my list with a little commentary on why each song was so special to me. Let’s have some fun with this!

Ready? Let’s go.

“Africa” by Toto (From the album, Toto IV – released in 1982)

There are very few songs from my era as a teen that I will listen to whenever it comes on the radio, and this is one of them. Let’s be honest, how may writers do you know who can put the line, “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” into a song and still make it fucking cool? The song is from the band’s Toto IV album, which won six Grammys, including Album of the Year. It is the band’s first and only #1 song (“Rosanna” was also a monster hit but only reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100).

“Kiss On My List” by Hall & Oates (From the album, Voices – released in 1980)

“Kiss on My List”; along with The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”, were the first two songs I vivdly remember listening to as the 80s began. The only reason the latter song didn’t make this list is because it was released in 1979. “Kiss On My List” was Hall & Oates second #1 song (“Rich Girl” was their first; four years earlier). I still remember listening to it on the radio in the summer of 1981, when I recorded my own “Weekly Top 40” countdown on a beat up cassette recorder. Of course, this song was always #1.

“She Dont Know Me” by Bon Jovi (From the album, Bon Jovi – released in 1984)

“Runaway” was a big hit and, of course, there would be a ton of other songs to follow, but this song from the band’s debut album will always be my favorite. The very first concert I ever saw was on June 16, 1984 when Bon Jovi (on their very first tour) opened for The Scorpions in Allentown, PA. It was a magical day. This track is also the only hit that wasn’t written by Jon and Richie Sambora. It was actually penned by Marc Avsec, who also wrote the song, “Ah! Leah!” Because it wasn’t written by the band, it was essentially dropped from the set once Slippery When Wet became a smash in 1986.

“Cum on Feel The Noize” by Quiet Riot (From the album, Metal Health – released in 1983)

It was during the summer of 1983. My Dad was driving me and my siblings along a rural stretch of Pennsylvania back road when the drums kicked in on the radio, and my immediate instinct was to yell, “TURN IT UP!!!” “Cum on Feel The Noize” (actually Quiet Riot’s verion of a Slade song from ten years earlier) was the first song that, as a teen, I said was “my song”. A roaring combination of guitars, vocals and groove.

“If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (From the album, Different Light – released in 1986)

I’ve loved these ladies ever since their 1984 debut, All Over The Place. They collaborated with artists like Prince and even opened for Queen on their 1986 Magic Tour. This was a tough one for me, because there are actually two Bangles’ songs from the 80’s I adored. And although I loved “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian,” my favorite track from their album, Different Light, was their infectious cover of Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants”.

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart (From the album, The Best of Rod Stewart – released in 1989)

I may take some heat for this one, but that’s ok. As far as the 80’s go, “Young Turks,” “Infatuation,” “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” “Forever Young,” and “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” all spoke to me. But THIS track, actually a cover of Tom Waits 1985 song, wins the day. I just love Stewart’s arrangement; particularly the guitars in the bridge and the squealing hammond-synth sound as it goes back into the chorus. Gives me chills every time. On a side note, check out Waits intriquing, original version of the song, which sounds nothing like it.

Say It Isn’t So” by The Outfield (From the album, Play Deep – released in 1985)

When you think of the 80’s, most folks gravitate toward The Outfield staple, “Your Love” from their 1985 debut album, Play Deep.  Others will consider the anthemic, “Since You’ve Been Gone” from their 1987 album, Bangin’. For yours truly, I’m going with the first single from Play Deep, and my first exposure to The Outfield – “Say It Isn’t So”. I love the intro to this song and the infectious harmonies of Tony Lewis and the late John Spinks. Do yourself a favor – fast forward to 1:50 of this video and listen to them harmonize on the bridge portion of the song. Especially the line, “I see right through you”. Killer!

“Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper (From the album, She’s So Unusual – released in 1983)

Rob Hyman from The Hooters wrote this song with Cyndi, and when I interviewed him about it, he told me Cyndi’s inspiration for the song and title came from when she was reading TV Guide and noticed the 1979 film “Time After Time” was coming on. The song orignally was much faster, but the two ended up slowing it down to the masterpiece it became.

“And We Danced” by The Hooters (From the album, Nervous Night – released in 1985)

Speaking of hooters… well, The Hooters, this is another track that makes me wanna move. This song reminds me of summer time, and I’ll never forget the first time my neighbor, Mike, exposed me to this band out of Philadelphia. Thanks, dude!

“I Can’t Hold Back” by Survivor (From the album, Vital Signs – released in 1984)

This track holds a special place for me. The entire Vital Signs album, actually. This was one of the first videos I remember seeing on MTV when it finally went mainstream, and a song that spoke to a fifteen year old kid who was looking for love. It was also one of the very first songs I ever learned how to play on guitar. The Vital Signs album I owned then is still with me to this day, and is now signed and framed on a wall in my office. Needless to say, it’s sentimental.

“Heat Of The Moment” by Asia (From the album, Asia – released in 1982)

It was June of 1982. I was in seventh grade music class sitting in an ungodly hot room during one of the last days before summer vacation. As an end-of-year gift to the class the teacher, Mr. Brobst, allowed students to bring in some of their albums to listen to while we cleared out our desks. That was when a classmate named Danny put this album on the turntable. As needle met vinyl and the crackling hum and hiss began, it was the first time I heard that now infamous guitar riff and opening line: “I never meant to be so bad to you. One thing I said that I would never do …” I don’t think I have to say anything more.

“(You Can Still) Rock In America” by Night Ranger (From the album, Midnight Madness – released in 1983)

Gotta give kudos to Mike again for introducing me to these guys way back when. Every Friday night during the school year required a mandatory visit to the mall. And it was on one of these occassions, as Mike’s mother was chauffeuring us over in this super-huge station wagon, that Mike dropped Midnight Madness into the cassette deck. If you could’ve seen my eyes when the first sounds of this track came through the speakers, they were as wide as saucers. It was something I had only heard glimpses of with Boston and Thin Lizzy, but it was also something else. Something insatiably magical.

“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles (From the album, Everything  – released in 1988)

I couldn’t end this list without giving another shout out to The Bangles. “Eternal Flame” was released as a single in 1989 and would go on to become the band’s second #1 hit (“Walk Like An Egyptian” was first). Without a doubt, this is my all-time favorite Bangles song. But when I hear it now, some thirty years later, it’s almost melancholy, because it reminds me of the end of the 80’s.

By 1989, I was already two years out of high school. The Friday night hang outs at the mall; the pep rallies and bonfires; and the cruising of the strip in my souped up ’74 Torino were over. All the friends I had grown up with were either half way done with college, entering the workforce or joining the military. As for me, I was still struggling to determine where I fit in with the big mystery called life.

The days of childhood innocence were over, but this song will forever hold a special place in my heart because, at least for me, it officially says “goodbye” to that decade.

Whew! Ok, there’s mine. Let’s hear some of yours! Drop a line in the comments below!

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Under A Neapolitan Sky – Chapter Three

With the official release of my debut novella, “Neapolitan Sky” just two weeks away, I’m putting the call out to anyone who writes or blogs and would be interested in doing a review/write up of the story.

Due to publishing commitments, I won’t be able to offer this for everyone. But if you’re interested about doing a review / Q&A for your website and can commit the time to reading the 151-page story and helping me get the word out, I can send you a PDF version of the book to review.

In case you missed it, here is the synospis of the story:

“Dreams of becoming a professional writer are abruptly put on hold for college student Nica Mitchell following the unexpected death of her mother and her father’s cancer diagnosis.

Forced to return home when he’s hospitalized after encountering a near death experience, Nica learns her father has been keeping a dark secret. Something in between the stages of life and death that, when revealed, will change her life forever.”

I’ve also created a trailer for the book, which you can see below:

The official release date for Neapolitan Sky is Tuesday, May 8th. If you’re in the Bethlehem, PA area, I’ll be doing a signing on Saturday, May 26th from 1-3 p.m. at The Moravian Book Shop , located at 428 Main Street, Bethlehem, PA 18018.

If you’re interested in helping me spread the word about Neapolitan Sky, please let me know by filling out the form below. If you don’t write but would still like to help, you can share my author page on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. I appreciate any help you can give! Watch for more suprises in the coming weeks, including some giveaways.

Under A Neapolitan Sky – Chapter Two

“Dreams of becoming a professional writer are abruptly put on hold for college student Nica Mitchell following the unexpected death of her mother and her father’s cancer diagnosis.

Forced to return home when he’s hospitalized after encountering a near death experience, Nica learns her father has been keeping a dark secret. Something in between the stages of life and death that, when revealed, will change her life forever.”

The synopsis is just a small taste of my brand new novella, Neapolitan Sky, which I’m excited to announce will be released on Tuesday, May 8th!

Over the course of my writing career, I’ve interviewed hundreds of artists, musicians and authors; co-authored three children’s books and have written more than 2,000 articles for this blog, Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! I can honestly say that this was the most challenging and creatively satisfying thing I’ve ever done.

It was exciting to see this story go from a blank document to template to final draft. In between, there were more than a dozen test readers who provided feedback and input; multiple late night re-writes and edits to enhance the flow of the story and the final review from the publisher.

Now, I’m super-excited to share with you the book trailer for Neapolitan Sky:

This short trailer gives more clues into the story. Each photo and video has something deeper to say. The trailer also includes a little cameo by yours truly.

Neapolitan Sky will be available online at all of the major outlets. You can even call your favorite bookstore and have them order it for you.

I hope you’ll be along for the ride on May 8th!

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – The Final Chapter

“Put out the spotlights one and all. And let the feeling get down to your soul.
The music’s so loud you can hear the sound. Reaching for the sky, churning up the ground. It’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. It’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll dream.”

~ Paul Rodgers (Bad Company)

I don’t think there’s a better set of words to describe my experience these last four days. A surreality from day one that culminated in a euphoric explosion of emotion when our band performed on stage at the legendary Whisky A Go Go.

My last day at Rock Camp was similar to the three previous days. Upon our arrival, Bobby, Craig, Tom, Rik and I immediately dove in and polished up our Night Ranger song, “When You Close Your Eyes”.  After three or four passes, including a few without vocals, I was confident we were ready. That is, until we entered the jam room with Jack Blades, Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy.

As the sound tech is hooking up my guitar, I see Brad walk over and point me out.

“Who’s doing the guitar solo — you?”

A tidal wave of fear swept over me, and at that moment I was extremely grateful to have used the bathroom before we walked into the rehearsal room. Our plan was always to let Brad do the solo. None of us had even bothered to learn it. Thankfully, Brad obliged.

As a guitarist, it’s one thing to hear Brad perform on the records, but when he’s standing right next to you — on stage — and you can fully immerse yourself in his savage virtuosity, it’s mind blowing.

Shortly after our final rehearsal, the buses arrived and took us all over to The Whisky.

To try to put into words the feeling of walking into that venue with a guitar in your hand is nearly impossible. I found myself thinking about all the other bands who did the exact same thing — Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses. Then to stand on those hallowed steps as the time came to have your name introduced over the PA — MAGIC.

Our performance was incredible and I credit it all to our amazing counselor, Craig Goldy, and his confidence in us. We had an opportunity to get a keyboard player perform with us at the last minute and Craig nixed it. He wanted Tom and I to be able to transpose those keyboard parts on guitar, and we did.

One of the things Craig kept saying to us during our short time together, and something I’ll take with me always, was this:

“You’re better than you think you are.” 

To get to share the stage with Craig during our final performance was just as good as standing there with the guys from Night Ranger.

Finally, the time had come for our performance with Jack, Brad and Kelly. As a fan of this band since their days as Rubicon, and getting to double the guitar intro to “When You Close Your Eyes” with Brad was life changing.

After our performance, I stood upstairs just soaking in the vibe. It was a roller coaster ride of musical emotion. Of course there were flubs, and for a moment, I thought about what it might have been like if we had an entire week to rehearse. But in the end, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We were five strangers who had to learn three songs in four days and bring them to performance level– and we DID it!

As the time came to say goodbye, I embraced Bobby and Rik. As an East Coast dude, I already knew our chances of performing together again was nil. But this band and experience will stay with me long after the music ends.

Sadly, in the confusion of the evening, I didn’t have the chance to properly say goodbye to Tom and Craig, who had slipped out of sight and into the cool Hollywood night.

“Maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be,” I thought to myself as I stood on the corner of Sunset Blvd outside of The Whisky.

That’s a true rock and roll ending.

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 3

It’s all about the music

“Someday, I hope to feel as happy as I did as a kid when the teacher wheeled in the big TV during class,” was something I always used to say.

What’s been happening this weekend has surpassed that feeling a hundredfold.

Yesterday, our band, “Foreo-Speed Ranger” (Get it? Foreigner–Reo Speedwagon–Nigh… ah, never mind). The name’s not really important. What is important is the music. It always has and it always will.

Let’s try this again.

Yesterday, our band spent much of the morning going over songs for our performance with Foreigner’s Jeff Pilson and Bruce Watson, and in preparation for our first live show at The Lucky Strike in Hollywood, CA.

“No pressure,” a voice inside of me says. “You may have taken a break, but you’ve been performing in bands for years. Including a 30-minute set in front of 6,500 people at one of America’s biggest music festivals.”

As the five of us were polishing each one of our Foreigner and Night Ranger songs, we suddenly realized we needed to have a third song in our back pocket. That was when the familiar question all new bandmates ask each other when they first get together:

“What song do you want to do?”

There were watery suggestions to do something from AC/DC, The Black Eyed Peas, The Doors and Bob Seger, but none of them seemed to fit.

Then our guitarist, Tom, started noodling around on something that parted the sea. It was this amazing riff I knew I’d heard before. But there was something else about it that seemed oddly familiar. It was the way that he was playing it.

“What is THAT?” someone asked.

“It’s a Bob Seger song. One that Thin Lizzy covered.”

Be still my heart.

The song fit the band like a glove.

Next up, was our performance of “Dirty White Boy” with Foreigner. Another surreal moment for me as a musician, because Jeff Pilson (who’s also been with Dokken and Dio) is one of the all-time greats. Not only is he a killer bassist, but the guy can play guitar, keyboards and a bunch of other instruments. He’s also an incredible vocalist.

I thought if I could just stand next to him, maybe some of that mojo would rub off on me.

As if all that wasn’t surreal enough, this day was still not over. Before we knew it, we were loading up the van to take us back to the hotel. Only a short time to get something to eat before our ride over to Lucky Strike.

As I entered the venue and strolled down the ramp toward the stage, the childhood memory reappeared. And in my mind, a teacher is rolling into class the most beautiful, state of the art television you’ve ever seen. This would be the first chance to stand on a stage in front of strangers and perform with four guys I met only a few days ago.

Butterflies began to build when I considered what was going to happen, but I brushed them all away. I’ve been down this road before.

But then I thought about something else.

Still on deck – Night Ranger and The Whisky.

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 2

Dave Amato and Me

I am sitting in my hotel room high above Universal City at 10:45 p.m. pondering the events of the day.

For those who many not know, REO Speedwagon is my all-time favorite band, and today, my band got to perform the song “Tough Guys” on stage with Kevin Cronin and Dave Amato.

We chose “Tough Guys” from the list of songs to perform with REO simply because it wasn’t the typical “Roll With The Changes” or “Ridin’ The Storm Out” that we assumed most other bands would be doing. It was upbeat and rocking, with some cool little guitar harmony part that our counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio) had taught us.

One of the sticking points in “Tough Guys” is an unusual chord progression that happens really quickly after the guitar solo. It’s a musical break where the guitar plays an Em – C progression. If you’re not careful, you’ll fly right by and miss perhaps the most important part of the song.

As a band that had formed less than 24 hours ago, we butchered that progression more than a dozen times before we were finally able to play the song straight through without a hitch.

Prior to jamming the song, Kevin and Dave did an hour long Q&A session where people from the audience could ask them about their music and career. One of the campers asked Kevin how the band keeps things fresh after playing their catalog of hits hundreds of times.

Here’s where fate stepped in.

Kevin said that the band always tries to change things up a little every night, and that one of the things he always looks forward to was performing “Tough Guys”, because there’s a quick little section in the song ( Em – C ) that breaks up the monotony.

At this point, I turned around to my fellow bandmates with a sly smile. They all nodded in agreement.

An hour later, our band stood side by side with Kevin and Dave on stage and watched as their eyes lit up when we told them we were doing “Tough Guys”.

There simply aren’t enough words to describe the feeling I had standing on that stage playing with those guys. It was a moment that was gone before it even started, but as a kid who spent hours locked in his room learning every song from their “Hi Infidelity” and “Wheels Are Turnin'” albums, it was a dream come true. Then afterwards, to have Kevin give us kudos for remembering the Em-C chord progression was something even more special.

In the end, we were the only band out of fifteen that performed “Tough Guys” with REO Speedwagon.

Although still high from our triumphant performance, we knew there as no time to rest. We still had a Foreigner and Night Ranger song to learn.

The Foreigner song would be a no brainer.

And then came the hardest decision of the entire camp. Which Night Ranger song to do?  Our decision would be the song that we’d perform with the band on The Whisky A Go Go stage in just two days.

The list of songs to choose from included Night Ranger hits like “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “Sing Me Away,” “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and “Sister Christian” as well as a few cover songs by Damn Yankees and AC/DC.

For me, there was really only one song I wanted to do — and I was beyond excited when the band all agreed as well.

For those of you who can’t make our show Sunday night, here is the song we’ll be performing with Night Ranger at The Whisky on Sunday night.

Saturday is going to be another busy day. We’re starting off with rehearsal, followed by a visit from Jeff Pilson and Bruce Watson of Foreigner for a Q&A and jam session. We’ll then be playing our very first show at The Lucky Strike on Hollywood Boulevard.

Tonight we sleep. Tomorrow, we rock!

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 1

“Hello. My name is James Wood. It’s nice to meet you,” I said, extending my hand to the three other guys in the room. It was the first time I’d met Bobby, Tom and Rik. The three guys who would form a band with me to perform at The Lucky Strike and world-renowned Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood this weekend.

If my middle-aged brain remembers correctly, it was thirty years ago next month when I formed my very first band. This after many years of guitar lessons, months of starts and stops, and high school dreams fueled by teenage angst and worldwide musical domination.

Back then, bands like Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Whitesnake and Dio were on constant repeat on my boom box. And now, in just a few short days, not only would I be jamming with the guys in REO and Foreigner, but I’d also be taking the stage with Night Ranger to perform at one of music’s most famous venues in front of a massive crowd. The same stage that regularly housed legendary bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen and countless others.

No pressure.

By the time I arrived at the camp’s studios at 1:30 p.m., our as of yet unnamed band was already behind the eight ball. We’d learned last week that we wouldn’t have a keyboard player (a pretty big deal if you had “Roll With The Changes,” “Keep on Loving You” or “Sister Christian” on your “let’s try” list), and our original counselor, Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Foreigner) had to drop out of camp at the last minute due to illness.

But it wasn’t until I made my way through the registration line and into Studio D (which would be our home for the next four days), that reality really struck.

Inside the room, already jamming, were counselors Michael Staertow (guitarist for Lou Gramm), Chris Wyse (bassist for Ace Frehley, The Cult) and Steve Ferlazzo (keyboards for Avril Lavigne and now Richie Sambora and Orianthi).

Oh, man.

Before long, our new counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria) made his way into the studio to join them. I was fortunate that I had to wait a bit for my tech (yes, you get one of those here at camp) to set up my guitar. I used that time to subconsciously absorb these guys wailing.

After the open jam formalities had ended, everyone made their way off to begin rehearsal in their own studios. That’s when Rik, Bobby, Tom, Craig and I started talking about which songs we wanted to do.

Since the guys from REO Speedwagon would be coming to jam with us on Friday, we looked at our list of songs to do —and unanimously decided on this one:

After about four passes at the song — where I must say I held my own– it was time to break for camp introductions.

David Fishof (executive producer) welcomed campers to the event and then introduced the all-star array of counselors, which also included Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake), Tony Frankin (The Firm, Blue Murder), Matt Starr (Mr. Big), Tanya O’Callaghan (Dee Snider, Ronnie Wood), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper) and Monte Pittman (Madonna).

We then returned to our studio for some more rehearsal time, where Craig gave us some cool little solo ideas to use that would help bring the song to life. I’m thinking by now we’re around 85-90% of having a song nearly ready to go — and it was only Day One!

There were several master classes to choose from this night, and I decided to attend the one called “Stories From The Road”, where a group of counselors talked about their careers with some of the all-time greats.

l to r: Michael Staertow, Chris Wyse, Steve Ferlazzo, Rudy Sarzo, Tanya O’Callaghan

The final event of the evening was a welcome dinner followed by an open jam with the counselors. Song performances included everything from The Cars, Eddie Money and AC/DC to Aldo Nova, Ozzy, The Beatles and Loverboy.

As the van took us back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but think about that 15-year-old me sitting up in his bedroom practicing all of these songs. And I think that’s when the true impact of what was about to occur over these next few days finally began to sink in.

Not gonna lie. I thought about getting up on that stage on Sunday night and f#cking up. But you know what? I don’t care. I came all this way to learn from and jam with the best, and here I am.

The streets of Hollywood are where it all began. The music I grew up with. The music that made me want to pick up a guitar and play. The music I love.

And in just a short time, I’m going to claim a small piece of those streets for myself.