Saturday, March 1, 2008

Stories From the War – Ten Ten

Yeah, I know. Sometimes I get in a groove as far as blogging goes and try to relate a new post to what I said a few days ago.

Such is the case today, where I'm going to talk about a Richmond, Virginia band called Ten Ten, whom I first encountered back in the summer of 1986 while I was working at U-68, the TV station airing music videos all over the New York City area.

Back then, there was talk of Richmond becoming the next Athens, Ga., or Austin. Besides this group of guys, who had just been signed to the more than respectable Chrysalis Records, there was the "can't miss" band Suzy Saxon & the Anglos.

Well, they did indeed miss. And so did Ten Ten. And I think I know why in the latter case.

Ten Ten was one of the many bands promoting itself during New Music Seminar week that July. The members stopped into the convention room we had rented to conduct interviews and talked about themselves. They considered themselves part of the whole "big music" movement led by bands such as U2, Big Country and the Waterboys.

Being a huge fan of this kind of music, as you might know from my previous posts, I couldn't wait to catch them live that night at the Ritz. I wasn't disappointed. Just a few years removed from seeing U2 and Big Country perform live at fairly intimate venues like the Ritz. I saw a band that had the makings of that kind of power. They played big sweeping songs that connected with the audience (or at least me) in ways that most groups couldn't. I was particularly impressed by their song "When It Rains."

I couldn't wait to hear their album.

A few weeks later, it arrived at the TV station. And I pounced on it.

Listening to it, though, I was profoundly disappointed. The production was way too clean and crisp. The drums sounded programmed, rather than organic. As a result, all the energy that I had witnessed at the live show almost disappeared. It was a profoundly discouraging experience. I thought I had seen the makings of the next big thing. And, of course, I hadn't.

Ten Ten never did hit it big. Their album Walk On (1986) got a few spins because of their cover of the Plimsouls' "Million Miles Away" (a little too straightforward for my taste). But it wasn't too long before it started showing up in cutout bins.

A sidenote: Now that I've seen the South Park episode where Cartman forms a Christian rock band and snaps that ridiculous cover photograph, I am profoundly amused by Ten Ten's cover, which resembles it way too much.

Having just listened to the album again after 20-plus years, I'll admit my judgment was a little harsh. "When It Rains" is really quite a nice song. However, here's where I circle back to what I was talking about earlier this week: How much better would this record have been if Steve Lillywhite had been brought in to produce it? This was a band that definitely could have benefited from the sonic clamor of his technique. This is a band that needed to sound big. And Lillywhite definitely would have been the man for the job.

Oh, well.

Anyway, here's the song. Enjoy it. And imagine what could have been.

Play "When It Rains" by Ten Ten

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