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Back to the 80s: Mannheim Steamroller Christmas - Kickin' it Old School
12.18.14 (3:27 pm)   [edit]
Each holiday season, I do special issues recalling memorable Christmas songs, television specials, commercials and movies from the 80s. This issue will focus on some Christmas songs and the special Christmas album they came from. Some past holiday issues on songs have included "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders , Wham!'s "Last Christmas ", "Christmas Time" and "Reggae Christmas" by Bryan Adams , the first A Very Special Christmas album from 1987 , "Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band-Aid and "The Twelve Days of Christmas" by Bob & Doug McKenzie .

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas was released in September of 1984. Mannheim Steamroller ChristmasThis was the sixth studio album by the band founded by Chip Davis in 1974, but their first Christmas album. It helped Mannheim Steamroller to find international fame, revolutionized the genre and has gone on to become one of the most popular holiday albums of all-time. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas actually made it to #50 on the Billboard 200 album chart that year which is unusual for not only a Christmas album but an instrumental one at that to make a mark on the pop charts. Christmas eventually went on to sell over 6 million copies!

A great description of the Mannheim Steamroller is "symphonic pop" using many classical instruments along with modern electronics to create a unique and distinctive sound. The album includes many contemporary and instrumental interpretations of holiday favorites. The best example of this is on the album's tenth track, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen". They did not create an official video for this song, but you can at least listen to it here...


Most of us are used to that iconic sound now, but back in the mid-80s it was quite innovative and ground-breaking. My favorite song by them is the final track on that first Christmas album, a version of "Silent Night" entitled (in German) "Stille Nacht". Though restrained and unassuming, I find it extremely moving and poignant. There was a promotional video made for this song, so here is "Still Nacht" by Mannheim Steamroller...


No words, but still so stirring yet peaceful. Four years later in 1988, A Fresh Aire ChristmasMannheim Steamroller released their second Christmas album called A Fresh Aire Christmas to similar success. My favorite track from this album is "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". A Fresh Aire Christmas has also sold over 6 million copies! So they have two 80s albums that sold over 6 million making Mannheim Steamroller the only act with two Christmas album to sell 5 million or more. They have released nine studio Christmas albums now and have topped 2 million sales on four of them which is more than any other act as well. Quite an impressive accomplishment! And best of all, it all started with Mannheim Steamroller Christmas back in the 80s.

If I do not get another chance, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and all the best in 2015. Thank you reading and for supporting our continuing effort to keep the 80s alive and relevant. Hope we bring a little extra joy to your holiday season and that we can be the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.

That'll tie a ribbon on this holiday issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading. You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column or the links in the left column to find any topics you are looking for (like Christmas) or browse other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also join the thousands who follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Check this out: I love this gif of that mean ol' Grinch. It's difficult not to just keep watching it. "It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right."

Grinch head screwed on too tight


Quote of the day: "I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasure is in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense, and the familiar climax and ending." -Mr. Fred Rogers



 
Back to the 80s: Christmas 1982 & My First Radio Cassette Player/Recorder - Kickin' it Old School
12.12.14 (1:17 pm)   [edit]
Originally published on Retro-Daze.org :

As you know, I can't get enough 80s nostalgia already, but Christmas is an especially nostalgic time for me. Here I share a personal photo snapshot that takes me back to Christmas of 1982...

Old School Christmas 1982


Before we go any further, please check out the pajamas! Yes, I am not ashamed to say those are E.T. pajamas I am wearing. The film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial had been released in theaters in June of 1982 and became a pop culture phenomenon. The movie became the biggest blockbuster to date remaining the top box office grossing movie for six straight weeks and holding either the #1 or #2 spot until January. It holds the honor of being the highest grossing film of the entire 80s decade. They put E.T. on everything from books, to bikes, to cereal boxes, to dolls, to lunch boxes (had one of those, too), to an Atari video game , to pajamas and so much more. So seeing those PJs takes me right back to 1982.Panasonic RX-1230

Also in this picture, you can see the present that I had just unwrapped... the Panasonic RX-1230 AM FM Stereo Cassette Player/Recorder! Oh yes, my very first and very own radio with cassette player/recorder. Up to this point, I had a transistor radio and my parent's stereo. We had a separate cassette player/recorder, but my only way to record songs on the radio was to hold the cassette recorder up to the speaker which, needless to say, did not provide the highest quality of recordings. Now I could record my favorite songs right off of the radio.

Anybody who had these old cassette recorders will remember the process of simultaneously pressing the RECORD with the PLAY button Record & Playat the precise moment you wanted the recording to start. This would often include waiting for a commercial to end or a long-winded radio DJ to stop talking over the beginning of a song. It brought joy and rapture any time you could get a clean radio recording of a favorite single with as little talking as possible at the beginning or end of the song. That brings me to Casey Kasem and his "American Top 40" radio show.

"American Top 40" was heard in the fifty states and around the world every week on great radio stations like the one I was listening to on my Panasonic RX-1230. Casey KasemI would sit poised with a finger on the record button and play button listening to Casey introduce each of that week's Top 40 pop singles (as determined by Billboard magazine) deciding if I needed to record it or not. I would also often handwrite each week's list in a spiral notebook (which I wish I still had) for reference. Casey would mix in some trivia, anecdotes and, of course, the long-distance dedication which all added to the overall experience. Casey Kasem (who, as an awesome side-note, additionally provided the voices of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo and Robin on Super Friends) became synonymous with the radio countdown. Though he retired from the countdowns back in 2009 and I hadn't listened to one in many years, after his sad passing back in June of this year, I found myself fondly remembering Casey Kasem and his Top 40 countdowns. Especially in the early 80s, much of my musical tastes were influenced by listening to Casey count down the hits. I would get multiple upgrades to my stereo equipment over the years, but what awesome memories I still have of listening to Casey Kasem on my first Panasonic. "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Taping my favorite songs off of the radio would lead to making my first mix tapes. I consider myself a master of the lost art of the mix tape, but that is a topic for a different day. Cassette TapesYou could never have enough blank cassette tapes ready to record on. I can still remember the smell when you crack open the wrapper on a brand new blank cassette tape. Memorex. Maxell. Sony. TDK. Hitachi. Scotch. JVC. Tightening them up with a pencil. Writing the song list in such tiny print on the inside of the cover. Choosing each song and its order with care and purpose. Almost nothing beats an awesome mix tape. It all really started for me after I received that Panasonic RX-1230 for Christmas in 1982.My Prince 1999 cassette

The extent of my music collection prior to that included mostly 45 rpm records, but now, in addition to recording songs off of the radio, I was able to buy some real music of my own. My very first cassette I chose to start my collection was 1999 by Prince. I am proud to say that I still have this original cassette (pictured here) though I seem to have lost the case over the years. Prince's 1999 became his breakthrough album after being released in October of 1982. If my memory is correct, my Mom bought 1999 for me shortly after Christmas that year, probably in January of 1983. I listened to the first three tracks on side 1 of this cassette countless times partly because it was my only cassette for a while and mostly because I loved those songs. The album's title track "1999" was first, followed by one of my all-time favorites "Little Red Corvette", then followed by the quirky "Delirious" all of which would reach the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. I just tried it out to see if it still played and I am surprised it still works and wasn't worn out from over-use. As I hold this 32-year-old cassette in my hand right now, I can't help but be flooded with memories of my Panasonic RX-1230, my very first AM FM Cassette Player/Recorder, and Christmas of 1982.

I can't thank them enough because my parents gave my brother and me a wonderful Christmas each and every year. This included much of what we put in our letters to Santa and so many warm memories. I decided to share the picture above and this one of many special recollections. The E.T. pajamas. My first radio/cassette recorder. Casey Kasem. Prince's 1999. Christmas joy. All of that from this one snapshot from 1982. I thought nothing could be better than being a kid opening presents on Christmas morning, but I have learned that it is only exceeded by watching your own children open presents on Christmas morning. All the best to you this Christmas season and hope you are all creating awesome holiday memories like I have from the 80s and every other decade of my life.

That'll wrap up this special holiday issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column or the links in the left column to find any topics you are looking for or browse other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also join the thousands who follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Check this out: As mentioned above, this is so true...

Back in the days...


Quote of the day: "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to." - Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street



 
Back to the 80s: Interview with Nick Van Eede of Cutting Crew - Kickin' it Old School
12.03.14 (2:15 pm)   [edit]
As I still feel the need to say each time, I am so delighted that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Nick Van Eede

This time that awesomeness is Nick Van Eede. He is the co-founder, lead singer and songwriter of the band Cutting Crew. They are likely best known for their hit single "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" which thrust them on to the pop charts and radio airwaves in late 1986 into 1987. The late Kevin MacMichael was the other co-founder and played guitars with Colin Farley and Martin "Frosty" Beadle joining on bass and drums respectively. Cutting Crew received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1987. Find out a little about him, the band, their hits, what he is up to now and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Nick Van Eede...

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? When and how did you get your start in the music industry?

Nick: I played guitar and sang since the age of about 11. I was so lucky to go to a very cool and progressive working class rough and tough high school but still given so many opportunities to write and sing my own material. I wasn't really ever in a cover band as such as I always had enough songs knocking around that were good enough to play in front of 20 people and then 200 people and then 2000 people.

I started in high school bands and then on to the pub band called The Drivers which almost had a cult-like following in the south of England where we lived, and ended up getting a record deal in Canada in 1982 or 1983. These days were undeniably the happiest days of my life even compared with the amazing success we had with Cutting Crew a few years later. It was sweaty, sexy, crazy and, playing in a three-piece band, I got to play guitar every night loud, proud and bad!Cutting Crew

Q: How did Cutting Crew come together as a band? What were your goals/intentions for the band when you were first starting out?

Nick: Following on from The Drivers in Canada, we were touring on the East coast and whilst through Nova Scotia I had what would be a life changing moment, when I met Mr. Kevin MacMichael. He was the guitarist in our support band, Fast Forward, and after some hilarious misunderstandings and faux pas, we became good mates and promised that if either of our bands split up in the future that we would get in touch to see if we could cobble something together. Although Kevin was Canadian (he had been playing in a Beatles cover band for years called Spice which was very well known and loved in that part of the world), he was essentially a Brit living in North America as everything he adored was English and especially from Liverpool.

He eventually moved over to England in 1985 and arrived famously at the airport with ONLY his trusted Larrivee acoustic guitar and hand luggage; that was him moving abroad to start a new life in Europe with Nick... and that really sums up Kevin as well. Cutting CrewI had already written four songs and it's like you wait all your life to meet somebody as a partner whether it be in marriage and having kids or exactly the same in the music business. Kevin and I just sparked immediately. Suddenly we could write songs in half an hour and with his incredible ear for melody and simpatico to my words and chords, the songs almost fell together effortlessly.

We had no real musical goals as such but we did set ourselves a deadline. That was... give it two years and if nothing else happens at least let's have a great time... and we sure did!!!

Q: How and why was the band name Cutting Crew chosen?

Nick: A lot of people ask why we called the band Cutting Crew and it was simply that as Kevin and I were putting it together (and even when Frosty and Colin joined), all we were doing was recording demos, writing and looking for management and record deals! We never really played a proper gig as that band until everything went crazy. Of course as musicians collectively we probably had done 2,000 gigs in our various lineups but as this particular band we were purely in the studio recording and writing. A cutting crew... boring, eh?? Nick Van EedeWhat we did find hilarious was that the tag "Crew" in musical bands back in the early 80s implied urban dance stuff and when we were excitingly looking for our first-ever single hitting the charts we would eventually find it in the urban dance section in the record stores!

Q: Cutting Crew's debut single, "(I Just) Died In Your Arms", would go on to be the band's biggest hit. You are credited as the song's writer. Please take us back to when the song was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? What inspired it?

Nick: Of course this song will always be my calling card and passport and, even though it has dwarfed every other thing I've ever done in my life in the music business, I'm incredibly proud of it. Like many massive hits, it was written in about half a day with the next day to tidy up the lyrics; but more remarkable is the fact that I demoed it with all the strings and keyboard parts and just about the entire structure surviving, on a small four track recorder, all in about two days. I got my landlord, Pete Birch, to sing the harmonies and I piled on about eight tracks of guitars; which when Kevin arrived months later, he had to unravel. You should have heard the cursing and laughter as he tried to make one guitar part out of my lush cacophony.(I Just) Died in Your Arms

The song tells a story about what you should NOT have done: about caution and not running back into a relationship. Basically, be careful and trust your instincts and it was written the following morning after a splendid all-nighter with my ex-girlfriend, after she had stomped on my heart, months earlier.

The band's debut single, "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" was released in the summer of 1986 in the UK, but not until March of 1987 in the U.S. I remember that summer that it was played on the radio almost constantly. It raced up the pop charts and spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May of 1987. It also charted on the Mainstream Rock, Adult Contemporary and even on the Dance charts in the U.S. while reaching the top 5 in at least four other countries. Here is the music video for "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" by Cutting Crew...


Q: When you recorded "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" did you have a feeling it was going to be something special? Could you have ever anticipated the incredible reaction this single would have? Not just in the UK , but in the U.S. even more so?

Nick: In these heady days of The X Factor, it is even easier to be tricked into thinking that the process from A to Z of getting an uber-hit is a fairly straightforward affair if you surround yourself by enough money and experts. Cutting CrewAnd it's easy to be churlish and unkind about the youngsters coming through, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that from the moment I had written "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" to the moment it was number one in America, there had to be about 10 implicit things all lined up at exactly the same time, at exactly the right time in your life and at exactly the right time in the current climate of music in the universe. From writing the song to getting the right players to getting the right producer to getting the right studio to getting the right mix to getting the right photographs all to emerge at exactly the same time as Branson is launching his U.S. Virgin Records label. To have an MTV-friendly video and to have an image to the band that seemed to fit the 80s. And FINALLY that very hard-to-pull-off trick of being transatlantic and conquering both sides.

I do remember when we were recording it at Chipping Norton Studios in Oxfordshire that people were continually popping their head into the control room and asking... What the hell is this? Who is this band? What's the name of the song?? There was definitely something in the air, definitely.

The final nerve-jangling story in the process is that the song had been a big hit in Europe and the Far East, a full year before its American release. Then the American record company was convinced that it would take a remix to beef it up a bit for American radio. I thought what a great idea and then thought about slashing my wrists since I had waited 20 years to get a hit which has already proved itself half way around the world and then the biggest market in the world wants to fuck with it and make it even better?!?!

However, the story has a happy ending as we decamped to A&M Studios in Hollywood and the impeccable Shelly Yakus built a mountain of mixing equipment and spent days tweaking and shifting and improving whilst Kevin and I sat beside him sweating and drinking and drinking and sweating and drinking. Then, presto, an American number one! (With now apparently well over 3 million plays on U.S. radio so far and counting!)Broadcast

Q: What do you feel makes this song so special, loved by so many and allowed it such long lasting durability?

Nick: It's a great title, isn't it? Seems to conjure up all kinds of images and also you can read into it what you want; which I can assure you is what has happened over the years. Also, I think crucially it survived on the radio because, even though it was from the 80s, it was based around a guitar band and a rock band and the sounds have not dated much. I don't mean that synth-pop is bad or we were doing anything clever or special, it's just that sonically the guitars drive it and it seems to have a sort of timelessness to it; and dare I say a sort of majesty!

All these years later, you have to respect that when we play live we have to give our very, very special fans exactly what they want but it's also so easy to give it a slight twist to keep me and the audience intrigued and interested. You can see our latest live version on YouTube and I'm sure it will not disappoint.

Q: How did things change for you personally and for Cutting Crew after this song's incredible worldwide success?

Nick: I remember singing the lead vocals for the album and my pregnant girlfriend standing in the control room looking at her watch. Cutting CrewMy daughter Lauren was born exactly the same time as the release of all the madness, success and demons. I tried my best to keep some kind of sense to the family life as well as balancing it with constantly being away; we effectively toured non-stop for three years and flew around the world twice. Suddenly we could pay the bills; suddenly you could buy that guitar you had always wanted. I remember Frosty our drummer being given about three drum kits for free as endorsements and then still secretly playing his old Premier kit every time we weren't on TV or doing photographs... perverse, eh??

We played the Budokan in Tokyo. We played the first show in Taiwan where they allowed the audience to stand up (honest). We were nominated for a Grammy and sat next to you to U2; and went to Prince's party in New York and Versace's in the Hollywood hills. It was the 80s and there were a lot of chemistry lessons and a lot of sitting up all night talking absolute shite.

Q: I am a big fan of your next hit single, "I've Been In Love Before". Again, please take us back to when the song was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? How long did it take to write? Any interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating this hit?

Nick: Over the years, so many people made the effort to tell me that "I've Been In Love Before" is their favorite Cutting Crew song, or at least their favorite of our hits. I've told the story many times to young writers that one of the best tricks ever to get a new rush of blood and the juices flowing is to get fresh equipment or new sounds into the studio. Of course that is so much easier done these days as you can access just about any sound on the planet through your computer, but back in the mid-80s I bought myself a Drumolator drum machine and a Korg POLY 800 keyboard. Ask any of us old guys and they will stifle a laugh as these made an essential 80s kit and were at the bottom end of the market, frankly. I was broke. I pressed pattern 01 on the drum machine and pattern 09 on the Korg and wrote and demoed "I've Been In Love Before" with lyrics, structure, guitar lines and arpeggios in about four hours... onto my trusty Tascam 4-track.I've Been In Love Before

The song was recorded in a converted church in Manhattan, New York and was probably one of the most pleasant and easy tasks of the entire first album, as the recording of the rest of Broadcast really was a pain in the royal ass. It was produced by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero and just came together really smoothly and has a lovely warm embrace and lilt to it. Frosty grooves brilliantly on the drums and Kev's guitar playing is so haunting and melodic.

We found an old acoustic guitar with nylon strings in the loft apartment we were renting in Tribeca. He thought it was a good omen and so insisted on playing it on the track and there it survives forever, slightly out of tune but full of charm and on a song that so far has over 4 million plays on the radio. Good call, Kevin.

"I've Been In Love Before" became the second major hit single from the Broadcast album peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and also reaching #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart. As I mentioned before, this is personally my favorite Cutting Crew song. Here is the music video for "I've Been In Love Before" by Cutting Crew...

 


Q: Other than maybe "Everything But My Pride", Cutting Crew was not able to repeat the success of Broadcast and those hit singles. Were you surprised or frustrated that Cutting Crew would not have another major pop hit in the U.S.? Do you have any explanation why the audience did not continue to react the same way to your later releases?

Nick: It's funny how time heals or at least you see things differently as the years pass, but I have to admit that I was extremely confused and sometimes bitter at the way I thought things might have worked out after having given a record company their first #1 and Grammy nominations but ending up with absolutely no power or say in anything really, as our second album was recorded.Cutting Crew

The unique thing with Cutting Crew's career was that it all took off immediately within months; far too soon for any real planning and preparation and then, because the album was so successful and caught everybody a little by surprise, every territory seemed to want their piece of the action. And once the USA decided it wanted to fashion the album and all the videos (we shot two different clips for "I've Been in Love" and "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" for Europe and the U.S.) into an MTV-friendly format, then the whole album project lasted about two and a half years.

In the end, we shuffled back to England and recorded The Scattering album which I believe is our finest work by far (so many really killer songs)! But by then we had moved management and were being knocked back by the record company month after month after month and eventually the album finally came out after effectively a year in the wilderness (check out the song entitled "Year in the Wilderness" on The Scattering album).

But this is all personal stuff. What was really happening was that the musical world was inevitably changing as it does every seven or eight years and the world of the 80s and its big hair and shoulder pads and canyon reverbs and swirling choruses was giving way to a much cooler urban groove-based sound; goodbye Cutting Crew, goodbye Mister Mister, goodbye Foreigner and welcome Soul II Soul, Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack and frankly, to my ears, an invigorating change.

Cutting Crew had one more minor hit before the decade ended. "Everything But My Pride" didn't make the Billboard Hot 100, but it did make it all the way to #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1989. Another nice ballad, here is the music video for "Everything But My Pride" by Cutting Crew...


Q: Please describe the circumstances leading to and surrounding the band's ultimate break up in 1993.

Nick: By the time we got to record our third album, Compus Mentus, Frosty and Colin had already moved on and we were recording with session musicians at Jimmy Page's old studio on the River Thames, called The Mill Studios. It didn't have that honest band sound but we still wrote really strong tunes and some of the songs ("Frigid as England", "Sweet Auburn") stand up today alongside anything we ever recorded. And then one day later that year (1993) in Hamburg, Kevin and I mimed to our latest single "If That's the Way You Want It" as a support slot on a TV show for three fat ladies with pink hair and matching pink poodles (they are apparently really famous in Germany). I looked at Kevin and he looked at me; we hugged and we knew that was the end of Cutting Crew...for then at least.Cutting Crew

Q: How do you personally deal with and keep the 80s alive and in perspective? What do you remember best about the decade of 80s music?

Nick: I mentioned before that my previous band The Drivers hold the fondest memories for me as it all seemed so simple and hand-to-mouth and honest and the first-time-ever standing on a stage where you could not move an inch for beautiful young things singing every word to every song you sang. All songs I'd written. This was the 80s too... this was 1980 to 1983.

But of course the explosion of Cutting Crew changed my life forever and I would sound ridiculous and churlish if I said that there weren't incredibly dizzy heights and some sensational experiences and memories but it all happened so very quickly and, as I was the lead singer and writer of the band, I found that I was in demand all the time for radio and TV (aahh poor, poor Nick) so somehow just seem to have missed some of the fun! Especially when I talk to the band and roadies and friends... (Or is it just my memory failing ha ha).

Speaking as a Brit, it is the decade that is referenced so often over the past 30 years; of course the 60s will always be the greatest decade as it spawned so much talent and so much radical change. The 80s (like every era) has a legacy of some quite cheesy and cringeworthy stuff, but if you choose carefully you'll find some of the greatest melodies and arrangements and vocal and guitar performances you'll ever hear. I wish engineers and producers had thrown away their reverbs and sampled drum sounds, but I guess every decade has its bad habits (like we now have the dreaded auto tune and God knows what else). As Elton and Gloria said, I'm still standing and I will survive!

Q: Please tell us about where your music career has gone since the 80s. Also, how about Kevin MacMichael?

Nick: Within a year of Cutting Crew splitting up, Kevin hooked up with Phil Johnstone, who was the keyboard player with Robert Plant and Hey Presto, joined up with Robert's band for the recording and touring of the excellent Fate of Nations album.Kevin MacMichael & Nick Van Eede Robert and Kevin became kindred spirits with their shared love of artists like Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley and Leon Russell. It was a strange experience to see Kevin playing with this iconic (and much adored by me) artist like Robert Plant. Kevin was a complete Fender guitar man and when I turned up to the small VIP/invited showcase gig in south London one night, there he was proudly ripping into Led Zeppelin riffs with his new Gibson gold top. Look out Jimmy!

For the first time in my life since I was 18, I wasn't in any kind of set-up that obligated me to gig or record. There was no management or record deal and I loved it. I know it's a well-used cliche, but I really did enjoy being able to spend much more quality time with the family especially my daughter Lauren. She was born within months of the explosion of Cutting Crew and had grown up alongside a Dad always on the road or at least overseas. I moved to Toronto and hooked up with my old mate Terry Brown. We put together with attorney, Greg Stevens, a production company called Vis-a-Vis and our first signing was the brilliant MIR from Halifax, Nova Scotia (anybody spot the geographical link?). This band wrote the best damn songs and was so unique in their sound. I helped fashion the songs, Terry produced and Greg did the law. Eventually I flew them to Bahrain to play in a club with me for six weeks in order to get the songs routined for any upcoming record deal. Then back to London where we showcased in front of record companies there. Close, but no cigar.

I wrote and produced with Katey Brooks and Cathy Burton, two excellent girl singer-songwriters who are carving out brilliant careers in the UK. I was really enjoying learning my gear in the studio and trying to keep up with the intense forward motion of recording techniques and technology. I'm still a bit of a purist at heart when it comes to writing and recording, as I will always believe the song is at the heart of the type of music I write.Kevin & Nick

In 1999, I signed a very special publishing deal with Sony and relocated to the east coast of Barbados where I stayed for four years and lived alongside my neighbor Eddy Grant who lived two cane fields away. These were very, very special times in my life where I was able to see myself more clearly and basically get off the merry-go-round for a while. I swam and boogie-boarded every day and got myself into good shape and felt that I really was finally living and enjoying some of the rewards that I'd earned through all the success then chaos and eventual disappointment of the Cutting Crew years. Steve Hogarth of Marillion flew out to live with us for a month and I penned with him a song for his brilliant band. "Map of the World" was born out of some melodies I had alongside the song title; this combined with a few bottles of local rum concocted to form a really cool song. You can find it on their Anoraknophobia album.

Then one day I received the hammer blow. I got a phone call from one of Kevin's mates in Canada to say that Kevin had lung cancer! He'd taken a fall in the snow, cracked a rib and the x-rays revealed a pretty bleak image. Within three days, I was beside him up in Canada and flew back and forth about five times to be with him and share in helping with that heavy burden. He was a courageous bugger and we shared lots of laughter and intimate secrets over those last months. The most un-together, random genius I've ever met, tided his life, put his albums in alphabetical order, did a full inventory of his possessions then left us. The funeral was held (typically?) in the middle of a complete white-out snow storm but, even then, you could not move inside the church as it was packed to the hilt. I miss him as my best friend and of course also as my fellow collaborator and life adviser. You sometimes don't realize what somebody truly meant to you until they're gone and he really did fill the void after my Dad died as the older, wiser man, in my life.

Q: In 2005, you reformed Cutting Crew with all different band members joining you. What made it the right time for you to bring Cutting Crew back? What were your goals and intentions this time around?

Nick: It didn't take long after we had said goodbye to Kevin that I realized there was a ton of music inside me and the songs started to seep out. Grinning Souls was recorded in Canada alongside all Kevin's old haunts and I'm convinced his spirit was spinning around the studio, as there were many magical moments where guitar parts or chord changes seemed to come from nowhere; and all were very, very Kevin in style.

Flying back to England with a new album, we toured Germany for a few months with Jamie Robinson, who played guitar on the album; he flew in from Canada and was a delight to work and play with. He was an exemplary musician and good friend, however logistics meant that it was time to form a proper British based band and within a few months the line-up was established: Dominic Finley on bass guitar, Tom Arnold on drums, Sam Flynn on keyboards and Gareth Moulton as my new guitarist. This time around it was a chance to form a band that was obviously very strong musically but I wanted it to be harder. I wanted it to be more intense and I didn't want any sequences tying the set down to bar lengths with no freedom to jam and twist and turn within a song... as it was back in the 80s. I finally had my rock band and it was as hard-edged and fun as the old days with my beloved Drivers.

We played songs from the Grinning Souls album, we played songs from the old Cutting Crew albums and invented some delicious cover versions of Alanis Morissette, REM and even ABBA. This all culminated in a full TV performance on Germany's Rockpalast: a career-defining moment capturing me playing in my brilliant band with songs from the past and present.

After that project was complete, I realized that I had become best friends with Gareth Moulton and his multi-talents, very dry sense of humor and well-honed drinking ability. Relax, Take It EasyWe forged a very special relationship and he and I are basically the core of Cutting Crew now whenever we play live. An old-fashioned spark. I never ever thought that after losing Kevin I'd find a new friend who could share knowledge and teach me life and also play f'ing great guitar.

I'm definitely not one of those people who fastidiously has to do a certain number of hours writing or recording every day. In fact, I'd say I'm pretty lazy in that department but I do trust in the muse not ever deserting me totally. I've learned that my creativity comes in bursts and usually at the most inappropriate times. All this said, I continue to be lucky, as I penned a co-write on Mika's enormous (9 million sales) Life in Cartoon Motion album (the song was "Relax, Take it Easy" a big hit in Europe). I also co-wrote for Pixie Lott a song called "I'm Coming Home" which she sang as a duet with Jason Derulo. So my songwriting profile in the publishing world is pretty healthy, sometimes accidentally, may I add.

Q: What can you tell us about your upcoming album to be released early in 2015 and your plans for the future?

Nick: I have an album of 10 songs recorded, mixed and mastered. Hilariously, the album has had about six working titles so far. Nick Van EedeAs I mentioned before, I am a Gemini and I exercise my right to change my mind often and inadvisably! The album's name has oscillated between Avec, Add to Favourites, Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven, Gallivant and As Far as Eye Can See! However, regardless of what the f#ck we call it, this is the best album I've recorded in 20 years. Alongside Gareth, I put together a bunch of musicians who had impressed me over the years or alternatively I had just met the month before at a gig. I then added four brass players, two female singers and this album sounded like no Cutting Crew album before. The full recording band lineup is: Gareth Moulton on guitar, Joolz Dunkley on guitar and keyboards, Jono Harrison on keyboards, Nick Kay on bass guitar, Martyn Barker on drums, Tom Arnold on percussion and organs, TJ Davis on vocals, Angie Brooks on vocals, Gary Barnacle on saxophone, Jack Birchwood on trumpet, Nik Carter on saxophone and Mak Norman on bass guitar.

I discovered an old retro style studio in the middle of the fields in rural Sussex here in England called Yellowfish; a box of delights with Hammond organs, Farfisas, Wurlitzer's and a sensational feng shui and vibe. The live room enabled us to set up a nine-piece band all at once with good sight lines so that we could record with honesty, warts and all, and achieve that frisson of nine people playing totally live, off the floor! I'd been listening avidly to classic Van Morrison, anything that Warren Zevon recorded (or said), tracks from Ry Cooder and Jackson Browne and I wanted to get that sense of rawness and scruffiness but with tons of heart and emotion.

I'm old enough and ugly enough to not have to kid myself or anybody around me that this collection of songs, the way we recorded it and the sound that was achieved (by our engineer Ian Caple) is evoking superlatives that I've not received for many a year. All being well, it should be released in February of 2015 so you can decide for yourself and I hope you do agree with some of my comments. The song list is:
"Till the Money Run$ Out" / "Looking For a Friend" / "Berlin in Winter" / "Kept on Lovin' You" / "San Ferian" / "Already Gone" / "The Biggest Mistake of My Life" / "(She Just Happened to Be) Beautiful" / "Only for You" / "As Far as I Can See".

Q: What else is Nick Van Eede up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise?

Nick: Well, not that it really means that much, but it is the 30th anniversary of the formation of Cutting Crew in 2015 and I will have been published or signed to some record label consecutively for the past 35 years. Nick Van EedeI'm not sure if that's a statistic I should be proud of or not. The music business has changed beyond recognition over the past ten years and it is totally for "the good" but does demand a whole lot of new skills to be learned and applied. Now the modern, world-shrinking, social media is quite mind-blowingly powerful and anything that takes the money out of the fat-controlling record companies' coffers is okay by me. Publishers are great; they work hard and pay you what you earn; record companies however are now so corporate, so bloated that it's almost impossible to deal with them. Of course this is a generalization and of course there are brilliant individuals in that world... and I know there are excellent smaller labels, but I can completely see why bands/artists of 18 years old or 56, design and make their own CDs and sell them with a handshake and an autograph at the end of gigs. It is the old-fashioned way that has come full circle and I applaud it wholeheartedly!

My life today in the music business is fairly unique, I think, as I don't really go out and gig with Cutting Crew weekend on weekend. Instead, Gareth and I have played at the brilliant Rewind Festival for the past five years here in the UK with mates like Nik Kershaw, Wang Chung and Go West; I am also a member of the SoulMates band out of Germany. It's a multi-member lineup that has allowed me to play countless sensational gigs from Finland to Italy, alongside Chaka Khan, Greg Lake, Chris Thompson, Randy Brecker, Kim Wilde, Victor Bailey, Roger Hodgson, Bobby Kimball, Paul Carrack, Katrina (of the Waves), Jack Bruce (RIP), Bill Evans, Roger Chapman... the list is endless. Here, we sing original songs written for the show, share verses in each other's hits, jam and fall over too frequently at the end of the night! These shows can be in 40,000 seat football stadiums with a full symphony orchestra and choir or in front of 50 people at Angela Merkel's birthday party. (Honest). Without doubt, the biggest gig I ever did was with this set-up, when I sang with Bobby Kimball of Toto and Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann Band under the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin at midnight on New Year's Eve in front of a quarter million people on the street and 60 million people on live TV. We sang and played "Hold the Line", "Blinded By the Light" and "(I Just) Died in Your Arms". I think it's out there on YouTube somewhere.Nick Van Eede

Q: What does 2015 offer you?

Nick: 2015 will be a re-launch year for me. We will release the new album. I will fly to South Africa for three shows for the first time in my life and there is a 10-day British tour in April. That's just for starters as I am currently in deep talks with an exciting U.S. management team. I'm writing songs with an uber-talented and beautiful songstress from Germany named Shary Osman (look out for this lady as I foresee big things for her and hopefully with one of "our" songs). Singing and writing songs is all I've ever done as a day job since I was 20 years old and when, in 2009, I was rushed into hospital for three pretty serious heart operations, one can sometimes wonder if that's the end of the line for getting up on stage and doing your thang... but everything seems to have healed over very nicely, thank you.

I do see things much more clearly now as an older soul. I was born in 1958 in an old rural farming village in Sussex, England and it's been my privilege to have lived an absolutely charmed life, carved out of lots of hard work and some good fortune; it recently became apparent that the only men that I've ever truly loved (my dad, my brother Gary, best uncle Ern, dear Kevin) all have died (sometimes suddenly) and robbed me of much that is dear to me. However, I am, and always have been surrounded by beautiful, strong, enduring women (my mum, my wife Nikki and my daughter Lauren). They "keep me honest", like, I hope this interview has been too.

I am so pleased that Nick was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. To keep up with him and Cutting Crew, please visit the official website at www.cuttingcrew.biz/ You can also check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CuttingCrewOfficial/ and on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/The_CuttingCrew/ Be on the lookout for the new album and we wish him all the best in his new endeavors. I want to take this occasion to again thank Nick Van Eede for his contributions to 80s pop culture especially through Cutting Crew and, even more, for going back to the 80s with us here for a little while as well.

That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. There is a link to a summary of all of my 80s issues in the left hand column below the Archives and you can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else can see and thinking what no one else has thought." -Albert Szent-Gyorgi, bio-chemist and 1937 Nobel Laureate in Medicine



 
Back to the 80s: Top Songs from the 80s with DANCE/DANCING in the Title - Kickin' it Old School
11.06.14 (1:30 pm)   [edit]
Top 10 lists used to be a regular feature here on Kickin' it Old School. Interviews have sort of dominated my content lately and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have. One of my more popular lists is an old one of my Top Dance Scenes from 80s Movies . I still have many Top 10 lists just waiting to be published and here is another dance-related one that I have been holding on to for a while.Dancing Music and dancing go hand in hand. Music can certainly inspire you to dance and, conversely, dance can inspire music. This was apparent in the 80s with many songs including dance or dancing in the title.

Many other songs were about dancing like "Footloose", "Into the Groove" or "Bust a Move", but this list will focus on songs with the word represented specifically in the title. Songs qualify for this list if they were released between 1980-1989 and have the word "dance" or "dancing" in the title. Per usual, my rankings will be based on a combination of perceived quality of work and pop culture significance, but mostly just my personal taste level both then and now (which admittedly can change daily). Videos are included for the top 5, but I am sure you can readily find the others if you want to hear them. So here is OLD SCHOOL'S TOP 10 SONGS OF THE 80s WITH DANCE/DANCING IN THE TITLE (+ Bonus 10):

20. "Dancing in the Street" (1985) by David Bowie & Mick Jagger - Van Halen also did a version in 1982

Dancing in the Street


19. "Batdance" (1989) by Prince

Batdance


18. "Could I Have This Dance" (1980) by Anne Murray

Could I Have This Dance


17. "She Wants to Dance With Me" (1988) by Rick Astley

She Wants to Dance With Me


16. "Private Dancer" (1984) by Tina Turner

Private Dancer


15. "Come Dancing" (1982) by The Kinks - they also had "Don't Forget to Dance" on that same album

Come Dancing


14. "Dancing in the Sheets" (1984) by Shalamar - From the Footloose soundtrack and discussed briefly in my interview with the song's co-writer Dean Pitchford

Dancing in the Sheets


13. "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (1983) by Irene Cara

Flashdance


12. "Dancing on the Ceiling" (1986) by Lionel Richie

Dancing on the Ceiling


11. "Neutron Dance" (1984) by Pointer Sisters - From the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack and discussed in my interview with the song's co-writer Allee Willis

Neutron Dance


10. "Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)" (1982) by Q-Feel - Discussed in my interview with Martin Page

Dancing in Heaven


9. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" (1987) by Whitney Houston - Discussed in my interview with the song's co-writers Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill and also in my interview with the music video director Brian Grant

I Wanna Dance With Somebody


8. "All She Wants to Do is Dance" (1985) by Don Henley

All She Wants to Do is Dance


7. "And We Danced" (1985) by The Hooters - Discussed in my interview with Eric Bazilian of The Hooters

And We Danced


6. "The Politics of Dancing" (1983) by Re-Flex - Discussed in my interview with Paul Fishman of Re-Flex

The Politics of Dancing


5. "Dance Hall Days" (1984) by Wang Chung - Discussed in my interview with Jack Hues of Wang Chung Dance Hall Days

4. "Dancing With Myself" (1981) by Billy IdolDancing With Myself

3. "Dancing in the Dark" (1984) by Bruce SpringsteenDancing in the Dark

2. "Let's Dance" (1983) by David BowieLet's Dance

1. "Safety Dance" (1983) by Men Without HatsSafety Dance

We can dance if we want to. We can leave your friends behind. Because your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well, they're no friends of mine.

There's my list. As usual and as I mentioned earlier, these are based on my personal preferences and the order could very well change a little depending on my mood or nostalgia on a given day. Interesting that Michael Jackson, who was so identified by his dancing in the 80s, didn't have any songs with dance in its title. One that just missed qualifying for the list was Van Halen's "Dance the Night Away" since it was actually released in 1979. Are there any songs from the 80s with dance/dancing in the title that you feel I have overlooked? If you have others or if you'd rank any differently, please leave them in the comments section below and on Facebook. There is an appropriate Japanese proverb that I have always liked and that loosely translates to: "We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." In the 80s, we had lots of reasons to dance and these songs represent just a small portion.

That'll do it for another issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column or the links in the left column to find any topics you are looking for or browse other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also join the thousands who follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Check this out: Here are a few very enjoyable videos that are tributes to dancing in the movies with the 80s well-represented. Enjoy!


Quote of the day: "When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It's to enjoy each step along the way." -Wayne Dyer

"Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time." -Miguel Angel Ruiz

"Dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt.
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth."
- William W. Purkey



 
Back to the 80s: Interview with Ilan Mitchell-Smith from Weird Science - Kickin' it Old School
10.17.14 (10:56 am)   [edit]
As I still feel the need to say each time, I am so delighted that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Ilan Mitchell-Smith

This time that awesomeness is Ilan Mitchell-Smith. He is best remembered to many as "Wyatt" from the 1985 film Weird Science. In addition to that John Hughes classic that has always been a personal favorite, he was in several other films from the age of 12 to 20. After leaving acting, he went on to become a professor at a university. We will find out about his time as a teenage actor, making Weird Science and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Ilan Mitchell-Smith...

Q: When and how did you get your start in acting? Did you ever have any formal acting training? How was it like being a teenager starring in movies?

Ilan: I got started in acting by chance, actually. I had been a ballet dancer since the age of five, and so by the time I was eleven I was pretty good, I guess. I was at the Joffrey School for one of these programs when I was eleven, and the director Sidney Lumet sent a casting agent there to cast for a movie. Ilan Mitchell-SmithThere was no dancing in the role, but he wanted a young person who was used to working and who was also a young face. I guess I had a look that he thought worked well, and he cast me to play a young Timothy Hutton in a movie called Daniel [1983].

Once I had done a film, a manager and an agent fell into place and I started auditioning. I also started acting lessons at a number of places around New York, especially the Stella Adler School for a while. I found a home for a while later with a coach called Warren Robertson, and I studied there along with Stacy Haiduk (who is still in the business) and Grace Jones, who were both awesome.

It was weird being a teenager working in film, and I'm still not sure how I felt about all of it. There is no downside to everyone treating you like you're special and calling you "The Talent" (despite my suspicions that "talent" was not something of which I had a great deal), and there were more wonderful people and great moments than I can count. It was also a bit lonely, though, and I was working pretty hard as a dancer for a lot of that time. During any free time that I had I really just wanted to have some friends with whom I could play D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] and talk about comics, but that never happened while I was working on a job. In the 80s, it was a lot harder to be a nerd than it is today
.

Q: How did the role of "Jim Conrad" in 1984's The Wild Life come your way? What can you share about getting that role and your memories making that film?The Wild Life

Ilan: I loved that role, and I loved working with Cameron Crowe (the writer) and Art Linson (who is better known for his producing). I wanted the role very much because the character was so much cooler than I was, and Jim Conrad kind of became a part of me. Cameron would make me these mix tapes of 60s music to help me get into the role, but I hadn't developed a real musical taste yet and those tapes became the backbone of my musical interests for many years following the film. I don't know if he ever realized what an impact he was having on me. I was also thinking of getting a guitar at the time, so at one point he called his wife (Nancy Wilson of Heart) and she talked me through some of the things I would want to ask for when I went shopping. That was amazing, and I love the memory of that day.

I really liked everyone on that set as well, and I felt close to a lot of the crew. There is a scene in which my character blows up a statue outside his school, and every crew member signed that head and then surprised me with it as a gift. That is probably my favorite memory from all of my acting days, and I still have that head!

The Wild Life was released in theaters in September of 1984 as Cameron Crowe's writing follow up to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The teen comedy-drama was only moderately successful at the time, but became more popular later on cable television. It featured a cast of young actors that went on to big things including Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, Chris Penn and Ilan Mitchell-Smith. Here is a trailer for The Wild Life...


Q: The Wild Life included a great cast of young actors. What can you tell us about working with any or all of the following: Eric Stoltz? Lea Thompson? Chris Penn? Randy Quaid?

Ilan: I liked Eric a lot, and he went out of his way to hang out with me which was cool. While his character was a couple of years older than mine, he was actually about ten years older than I was, and so it was nice of him to spend some time with the kid on the set. The Wild LifeI later hung out with him when I was doing Weird Science because he was on the lot next to me playing Marty McFly in Back to the Future. It wasn't until that movie came out that I realized that he had been replaced with Michael J. Fox, and even now I remember McFly as Eric in that vest and jeans.

I was flat-out in love with Lea Thompson, and I remember her as being surrounded by glowing light with a voice that sounded like the taste of honey. If I am wrong about this memory I would rather not know.

Chris Penn was a lot of fun, but hard for a kid to get to know. Here's a conversation we had once:
Chris: "Seriously. I have no feeling at all in my face. You could punch me right in the face right now and I wouldn't feel a thing. You want to punch me in the face?"
14-year-old-squeaky-nerd Ilan: "Um... I just came over to get a snack at the Kraft Service table."

Randy Quaid was a great actor and a hard core professional. He scared me intentionally between takes by seeming distant and a bit off (put a cigarette out on his tongue while glaring at me). I later learned that he was preserving what he felt should be the mood of the scene, and I think it worked really well in the movie.

Q: Then in 1985, you were cast as "Wyatt" in Weird Science which was written and directed by John Hughes. Weird Science First, how did this role come your way? What do you remember about the audition process?

Ilan: I was working on The Wild Life when I auditioned for the job, and I read for John right off the bat, as I remember. I went through a number of callbacks and I finally booked the job through some kind of miracle that I still don't understand. I just don't think I did a very a good job at any of those auditions because I kept on laughing at the jokes. He was a funny man and the script was brilliant and Michael (my costar) was hilarious. Hall & HughesThat continued to be a problem while making the film, and still I wince during the scenes where I can tell I was trying not to laugh.

Q: What can you tell us about the late, great John Hughes and your experience working for him?

Ilan: I was lucky to work with John, and I was very sorry to hear of his passing. As I mentioned above, I was a pretty geeky kid (OK, I'm a pretty geeky adult, too) and I sensed that, unlike the other actors on the set, John had been a nerdy kid as well. In all of his works, there is a loving and empathetic depiction of imaginative and smart kids who don't fit in, and it was great for me to sense that John was similar to me in that way.

He was also brilliant and a great writer and director. I remember once on the set we were all standing in the blue kitchen, and he said something witty and smart, ate a blue chip and made a cool exit. I later asked him why he ate the chip, because I knew that they had been spray-painted blue. "Anything for a laugh, Ilan" he said to me with a little wink. It was a privilege to work with him and I am proud to be one of the alumni of Shermer High School.Weird Science

Weird Science was written and directed by John Hughes and released in theaters in August of 1985. Despite its ridiculous premise, it remains one of my favorite teen comedies of the decade for multiple reasons. It is a story of the nerdy guys turning from zeros to heroes in one fantastic (and a little absurd) weekend. Two unpopular high school students, "Wyatt Donnelly" (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) and his buddy "Gary" (Anthony Michael Hall) used a computer to make an actual woman of their own. They create "Lisa" played by the gorgeous Kelly LeBrock and she helps them find the confidence and coolness inside of themselves. It's not an easy process and includes many hilarious moments along the way. Here is the trailer for Weird Science...


Q: I want to ask about some of your co-stars. First, what can you tell us about Anthony Michael-Hall and your experiences working with him on this film? Did you two become friends during the process? You really seemed to have great chemistry together.Weird Science

Ilan: Michael and I became friends before the filming, actually, because we went to the same school for professional kids in New York (PCS - we were there with Malcolm Jamal Warner, Ricki Lake, Christian Slater, and lots of other young professional kids). Michael was a great mentor to me and we did hang around with each other to some extent. We didn't have a lot of the same interests, though, so there was a limit to how much we did together. I saw him as older (he is a year older than I am), more outgoing, and more experienced with everything we were doing, and I think all of those feelings played very well with our characters.

Here's an early scene in the film when "Wyatt" and "Gary" begin trying to make a girl with the computer ("We gotta make her as real as possible, Wyatt. I want her to live. I want her to breathe. I want her to aerobicize.")...


Q: Bill Paxton was perfect playing your older brother Chet. What can you tell us about Paxton and working with him?Weird Science

Ilan: Bill was one of the kindest and nicest people I have ever met, and I have been very happy to see his successes over the years. He was great to work with, and he was always ready to give some advice and notes on acting, for which I was thankful. As I remember it, a lot of Chet was Bill's own character development (the cigar, the laugh, the about-face door kick), and I remember learning from him what it was to really own a character.

A great scene with "Chet" is when the boys come home from a night on the town and he's there waiting for them ("You're stewed, buttwad!")...


Another memorable scene with Chet is when Wyatt comes down for breakfast, but is wearing Lisa's panties ("That's not a joke, that's a severe behavioral disorder. I mean, the next thing you know, you'll be wearing a bra on your head!")...


Q: Kelly LeBrock was even more perfect playing the role of Lisa. What can you tell us about the gorgeous LeBrock and working with her? You even got to have a romantic kiss and a shower with her! Weird ScienceWhat can you tell us about filming those scenes?

Ilan: I'm afraid to disappoint you, but none of the scenes with Kelly were as sex-charged for me as they were in the film. I wish they had been, and she was, in fact, absolutely gorgeous. When you know that a woman is kissing you or standing almost-naked in front of you because she is contractually obligated to do so, though, it takes the sexuality out of it. Weird ScienceKelly was concerned that the camera in the shower scene would capture her breasts because I think a previous director had done so without her consent. Knowing that, how could I steal glances at her without feeling like a total creeper?

The boys got to live out one of their fantasies by getting to shower with Lisa ("If we're going to have any fun together, you guys have better learn to loosen up.")...


Q: Was there any real chemistry between you and "Hilly"? How about that nice scene at the end when you take her home and get a kiss?Weird Science

Ilan: I am still great friends with Judie Aronson and we were always close during the filming of Weird Science. I'm not going to say that I didn't have a bit of a crush on her (because she was, and still is, so beautiful), but I was fifteen and she was in her early twenties. I like to think that I had some game when I was fifteen, but awkward boys in their middle teens have a hard time attracting beautiful young women in college. It was great just to be her friend, though.

Q: How different was the character of Wyatt to the real Ilan Mitchell-Smith back then? What were some of your favorite parts about playing "Wyatt" in Weird Science? Did you have any favorite lines or scenes? Did you have any least favorite parts?Wyatt

Ilan: At the time, I didn't feel very similar to Wyatt at all, and it was very much a question of what it meant to me to be in the category of nerd or geek. I never questioned the fact that I was, like Wyatt, in that category. I guess the answer is that I was enough like Wyatt that I was defining myself by the qualities that we either shared or didn't share.

I think he and Gary worked really well for Weird Science, but they are also early versions of the "sympathetic loser" trope of nerdiness where the audience is positioned to feel sorry for kids who are socially stunted, who enjoy stupid things, and whose friendships are categorized by annoyance, squabbling over trivia, and (often) outright hostility. This was not my experience with being so clearly in the nerdy category, and so I don't identify with Weird ScienceWyatt in the same way that I don't identify with the male characters on television's The Big Bang Theory, even if I love these shows and think they are very funny.

I really liked working on the party scene and I remember that there was a general feeling of chaos surrounding those scenes that was really fun. Bill Paxton, for example, dressed in sunglasses and a trench coat and put on some kind of hat while they were filming one of the scenes when things started going crazy, and he just snuck into one of the scenes. I don't know if anyone was able to pick out Chet, all disguised, as a guest at the party, but I thought it was so cool that he did that without anyone ever knowing.

Q: Any other interesting stories or facts about making Weird Science that you can share with us and let us in on? Do you have any favorite memories from making Weird Science? Do you still keep in touch with any of your fellow cast members?

Ilan: I have a lot of very nice memories from the set and from making the film, and I really enjoyed the people with whom I was working. My favorite memory might be this one:

I was on a lunch break, and I saw Eric Stoltz (see question #3) driving up in one of the golf carts that PAs and crew use to get around the lot. It turns out that he had somehow stolen this thing and he asked if I wanted to ride around a bit. At first we just toodled around the studio, chatting and looking at all of the sets and actors from the other films and shows. Weird ScienceThen Eric noticed a tram full of tourists who (in those days) were often taken through the working parts of the lot on their way to the Universal Studios Tour. For the next half hour Eric assaulted this Tram like a WWII fighter pilot going after a bomber. He first circled around to charge the flank of the thing at top golfing speed (which is faster than you would expect), only to peel off at the last minute among the shrieks of fear from the tram passengers. Weird ScienceCircling again, we charged another part of the tram, and then another, and then another, and the tourists were yelling and throwing up their hands and getting out of their seats to avoid what they thought was going to be an accident at any moment. Any 80s fan today would have absolutely loved to see, in full wardrobe, Marty McFly and Wyatt Donnelly relentlessly attacking the Universal Tour in a stolen golf cart.

When I left the business I concentrated on school almost exclusively, and so I lost touch with a lot of the people whom I really liked a lot. I am lucky enough to still be in touch with Judie Aronson and Suzanne Snyder, Michael [Hall], and Vernon Wells, who has recently invited me and my family to tour a Wolf rescue with which he is associated (WolfConnections.org).


Q: What were your feelings about Weird Science when the film was released in 1985? Any different feelings about it now 29 years later?

Ilan: I wish I had a good story about the release of the movie. I was excited to go to the premier with the wonderful Yasmine Bleeth, which was fun, but I have always hated watching myself on film, so I didn't really watch much of the premier and I never saw the movie again until I was invited to introduce it to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas while completing a Ph.D. at Texas A&M. Weird ScienceWhile I was filming the movie, I was always a little bit stressed about what my next job might be and the movie, in my mind, was a resume builder that I could be proud of. Now, I see the movie and my experiences in a much more relaxed way. It seems like lot of people enjoyed the movie and I am pleased to have been part of that enjoyment. I was a lucky kid to have been able to work in the film industry and I miss a lot of the wonderful people that I met during my time there.

Q: How often do you still get recognized as Wyatt? Do you enjoy your connection to this 80s classic or have you completely moved on?

Ilan: It doesn't happen all that often, and I look pretty different now than I did back then. My voice, for some reason, doesn't seem to have changed much. That is often the thing that tips people off.

I don't mind being recognized a bit, but I sometimes try to get out of it by playing it off like we might have met somewhere. It's not that I mind being recognized or talking about my acting, but sometimes I just come out and say it and the other person doesn't believe me, so then I am trying to convince some stranger that I used to be a movie star.

In a lot of ways I have moved on and it doesn't come up that much. I do, however, have a "Shermer High School" T-Shirt and it is one of my favorites
.The Chocolate War

Q: You were in 1988's The Chocolate War which was directed by Keith Gordon. What do you remember about making this film? How about working with the young first-time director Gordon?

Ilan: Of all of the work that I did, working on The Chocolate War was by far my favorite experience. Keith was a real actor's director and he was so connected to the work that you couldn't help but feel like you were part of something meaningful.

The cast was wonderful on that film and the crew were some of the best people I have known. I was very close with one crew member who was pregnant at the time, and she ended up naming her son Ilan because she liked the name (and I hoped because she liked me, too).


Q: Are there any 80s roles that you auditioned for and did not get that would be particularly interesting especially looking back now?

Ilan: It seems like I auditioned for all kinds of movies that later became pretty big deals. Ilan Mitchell-Smith I got some call backs on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, auditioned for many of the things Zach Galligan and Patrick Dempsey ended up booking and turned down (much to my regret and only because of some bad advice from my agent) a small part in Say Anything. The ones I wanted most, though, didn't come out at all or were so bad that I am lucky not to have gotten them. I really wanted to do action movies, but the ones where I might have been appropriate turned out to be pretty goofy.

Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the 80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Ilan: I am a professor of Medieval English Literature at California State University, Long Beach. I have published a little bit on medieval chivalric romances, violence and monsters, and I also have written a little bit on contemporary recreations of the Middle Ages, in Disney Princesses or in online gaming or in medieval action films.

I am proud of being at CSULB, which is an excellent school with a wonderfully diverse, friendly, enthusiastic friendly campus community. Ilan Mitchell-SmithI also have had some excellent students who have gone on to some very good Ph.D. and Master's programs as well as impressive positions in business and government. If I were to be honest, I think these people would do amazing things with or without my having been their mentor, but I will claim a small piece of pride for their accomplishments nevertheless
.

Q: What else has Ilan Mitchell-Smith been up to more recently? Both acting or otherwise? What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?

Ilan: I have no regrets at all, and in general I am a happy man. I recently did a little bit of voice over work for Fox ADHD's Axe Cop (which I followed and loved online before it was a show), but in general I am out of the business, and I love my job as a professor.

I have a wonderful family whom I love very much and I spend a lot of time with them or on dates with my wife, which we get a lot more of now that our kids are older. My two kids share many of my interests and we have a pretty good time together.

I am also a huge tabletop (not computer) gamer and I spend much of my free time (when not on a date with my wife) gaming with friends, local and state-wide clubs, and with my kids. I still play D&D whenever I can (and other games of the same kind) and I have been part of the board gaming renaissance that has been happening in nerdy communities for the last 20 years or so. I am also a proud member of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society and I am an avid painter of wargaming miniatures, which are used to play complex strategy games once we have painted them. In this hobby I join a long list of fellow enthusiasts, such as Ansel Elgort, Vin Diesel, Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin!), Peter Jackson and many others
.

Unfortunately, I don't know if you can expect anything exciting from me in the future, except that I host some pretty elaborate games that anyone can play at every Strategicon Convention in LA. I also attend, as a VIP, all of the events for TableTop, Wil Wheaton's online show that features celebrities playing Tabletop games. I am also known to attend some other conventions around the U.S. to sign autographs, and I usually announce these (and squee about the people I might meet) on Twitter (I'm @IlanMS).

I am so pleased that Ilan was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. I was so jealous of what his character in Weird Science was able to do back then (and still am at least a little). As he mentioned, if interested, you can him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/IlanMS/ I want to take this occasion to again thank Ilan Mitchell-Smith for his contributions to 80s pop culture especially through Weird Science and, even more, for going back to the 80s with us here for a little while as well.

That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. There is a link to a summary of all of my 80s issues in the left hand column below the Archives and you can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "If you want be a party animal, you have to learn to live in the jungle." -"Lisa" in Weird Science



 
Back to the 80s: Muppet Babies debuted in 1984 - Kickin' it Old School
09.12.14 (11:40 am)   [edit]
Though interviews have sort of dominated my content lately (and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have), I still want to take time to recognize noteworthy moments in 80s pop culture history whenever possible. This month we acknowledge the 30 year anniversary of the Muppet Babies cartoon series debut on CBS Saturday morning television. Muppet BabiesThe popular series began on September 15, 1984 and went on to run for 8 seasons and 107 episodes ending in November of 1991. The show features animated childhood versions of the main Muppets characters living together in a nursery. Those characters include Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Scooter, Muppets Take ManhattanFozzie Bear, Rowlf the Dog, Gonzo and Animal with other characters making guest appearances in selected episodes.

Some are not aware that the animated series was inspired by a fantasy sequence included in The Muppets Take Manhattan, a live-action full-length film that had been released in theaters in July of 1984. In this fantasy sequence, Miss Piggy sings a song about what it would've been like to grow up with Kermit and included baby versions of Rowlf, Fozzie, Scooter and Gonzo as back-up singers. It is pretty cool that a series that ran for over 100 episodes started from this short scene. Here is that scene featuring the song "I'm Gonna Always Love You" from The Muppets Take Manhattan...


Muppet Babies took these familiar characters in their adorable baby versions and gave them hyperactive imaginations and cute baby voices that were used to sing original songs. The recipe proved hugely successful with great ratings especially for a Saturday morning cartoon. Muppet Babies was not only a commercial success, but also a critical success during its time on the air winning four consecutive Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Animated Program from 1985-1988. Here is the opening theme for Muppet Babies...


The Muppet Babies were watched over by Nanny, which was the only regular human character and her face was never shown. Muppet BabiesYou may have recognized Nanny's voice which was provided by Barbara Billingsley ("June Cleaver" on Leave It to Beaver). You may also find it interesting to know that Baby Animal and his catchphrase "Go bye-bye!" was provided by Howie Mandel for the first two seasons and then by Dave Coulier ("Uncle Joey" on Full House) for the remainder of the series. Another thing you may not remember is that, in order to have another female character, Scooter was given a twin sister, Skeeter, who has never been included in any other Muppet shows or movies. Muppet Babies would start a trend of popular cartoons creating new shows with younger versions of the characters including Tiny Toon Adventures, The Flintstone Kids and A Pup Named Scooby-Doo among others.

I fondly remember watching Muppet Babies on Saturday mornings at least for a couple years. Everybody loves the Muppets and they were probably at their peak back then. It is fun to see them make a comeback of sorts with the more recent films, but I will always remember them best from my favorite decade. And, yep, that was the 80s.

That'll wrap up another issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. There is a link to a summary of all of my 80s issues in the left hand column below the Archives and you can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Check this out: There are many hilarious Muppet videos out there. Here is one with a little 80s connection. Enjoy getting "Rick Rolled" by Beeker...


Quote of the day: "There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million." -Walt Streightiff



 

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