Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Boys Don't Lie: A History Of Shoes - Part 2

A running theme throughout Boys Don’t Lie: A History Of Shoes is how determined the band was in pursuing its own version of rock regardless of what was currently popular on the Top 40. It’s also noted that the Murphy brothers and Gary Klebe have never been totally comfortable with the power pop label; they drew inspiration from The Beatles and more recent bands like Big Star, Cheap Trick, and the Dwight Twilley Band.

“The experience of routinely hearing ‘I’m On Fire’ inappropriately sandwiched between ‘Disco Lady’ and ‘Get Up And Boogie’ was both depressing and invigorating,” Klebe is quoted as saying about the Dwight Twilley Band’s 1975 hit single. “By this time, our band had developed a clear musical focus, still chugging along on the inspirational fumes of our heroes from a seemingly long-gone era. Imagine the joy of every like-minded pop band in being reassured that we weren’t crazy and we weren’t alone.”

Given that obsession with their own vision for making music, it was perhaps inevitable that Shoes would be at odds with noted producer Mike Stone when it came to recording Present Tense for Elektra at The Manor Studio in London. But while those squabbles could be chalked up to creative differences, it was harder for Shoes to comprehend the label’s logic regarding distribution and promotion. Despite including classic tunes like “Too Late” and “Tomorrow Night,” Shoes’ major label debut notched disappointing sales. It was a case of missed opportunities, but the band members took heart in Elektra’s promise that things would be better for the next album.

With harder-edged, melodic songs like “Your Imagination” and “She Satisfies,” Tongue Twister did seem destined for the top of the charts. Anyone unfamiliar with the story of Shoes would probably assume while reading Donnelly’s account of the band working with producer Richard Dashut of Fleetwood Mac fame in Los Angeles, that a major commercial breakthrough was imminent. But Tongue Twister proved to be more heartbreaking for Shoes than its predecessor. Once again, Elecktra’s decisions, particularly refusing to bankroll rock videos for songs from Tongue Twister even though MTV was urgently requesting them, seemed hard to fathom. When Boomerang, the next LP was given virtually no label assistance at all, Shoes were acutely aware that their days at Elektra were over.

As any loyal Shoes fan attest, the band wasted no time in proceeding on its own. Donnelly chronicles how Shoes upgraded their recording studio, Short Order Recorder, learned the ropes of distribution, and began producing other Chicago area bands as well releasing their own albums. They would quickly adapt to the new CD technology. Shoes and their Black Vinyl label had a good run but eventually the economy would force them to sell their studio. Although it looked like they would never record again, most of the music created by Shoes lived on via the Internet.

Donnelly could not have known when she first approached Shoes about doing this book that they would regroup and record the critically acclaimed Ignition in 2012. It makes for a happy Epilogue. It’s also a kick for those of us in the Chicago area to read a book that mentions so many of our local musical heroes, from the bigger names like Cheap Trick and Material Issue, to lesser known but still worthy acts like Herb Eimerman (who performed in The Nerk Twins with Jeff Murphy), 92 Degrees, Swingset Police, Fun With Atoms, and Kelley Ryan.

Boys Don’t Lie: A History Of Shoes is bound to please not only Shoes fans but also anyone with an interest in what Joni Mitchell once called, “the star maker machinery behind the popular song.”    

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