Bands of the 1980s: The Call (Michael Been)

Posted on Tue Dec 4 2007 at 10:21 am in the category 1980s, Alternative / Experimental, Band, The, Call, The -- Copyright notice

The first time I heard the band The Call, it was a tape of Modern Romans (1983) that my friend Sue lent to me. The tune you are listening to now, if you pressed play above, is “The walls came down” from that second album (and, yes, that is Garth Hudson, seated, on keyboards). I remember thinking how raw, direct, and (often) angry the album sounded, and I was intrigued enough to start listening to more (I was about 16 at the time).

I still listen to The Call’s albums and wonder why it is that, unlike some of their contemporaries, the band has been largely forgotten. Clearly they were talented, and their brand of alternative rock involved an interesting combination of musical influences. They also evolved over their career, shifting from this more basic and direct sound to a more mature and well-constructed musical style.

There were also clear signs that a good number of musicians appreciated The Call. Peter Gabriel liked them enough to ask them to open for his “Shock the monkey” tour, as the Wikipedia article points out. Gabriel, Bono of U2, and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds all offered backing vocals on certain albums. Garth Hudson of The Band played keyboards on thefirst few albums, and Robbie Robertson played guitars on the Reconciled (1986) album, which is among the best contributions of The Call.

The album Modern Romans (1983 [out of print and never released on CD]) was a politically charged album about the decadence and decline of western society using the image of debauched Romans (see cover) as the analogy. As a student of the Roman empire, I would not exactly subscribe to this picture of the actual Romans (see the post Golden rule: Do unto others according to the “pagans” or Apart from vomitoriums and orgies, what did the Romans do for us?). But as an album concept and critique of western society, it works. The song you are listening to offers a critique of militarism and Cold War politics in particular with an allusion to the falling walls of Jericho built into the song title and chorus:

Well they blew the horns
And the walls came down.
They’d all been warned
But the walls came down.
I don’t think there are any Russians
There ain’t no Yanks
Just corporate criminals
Playin’ with tanks.
(by Michael Been, 1983)

Although the first three albums have not been released on CD and are out of print, The Walls Came Down: The Best of the Mercury Years (out of print), which can still be found, gathers together the best of these first three.

After a slightly disappointing synthesizer-heavy Scene Beyond Dreams (1984), several excellent albums were to follow beginning with Reconciled (1986) with the better known “Everywhere I go”. There is a sense in which this album represents the maturation of the band. The quieter and more atmospheric Into the Woods (1987) is also a favourite of mine. The lyrics here are still quite serious, intense, and, at times, introspective, as in “It could have been me”:

It could have been me
Lying in that jungle
Out in that heat
Fighting for my life
Dying for nothin’
Feeling a bullet
enter my soul
It could have been me
It could have been me
It could have been me
Living in that prison
Locked in a cage
Damning the walls
Damn the division
Wondering why it had to be me
Well, it could have been you. . .
(by Michael Been, 1987 Neeb Music / Tarka Music).

The follow-up, Let the Day Begin (1989) brought the band momentarily into the spotlight with the title-track, which was number one for a while. However, I find the final album of this era, Red Moon (1990), among the best by this largely forgotten band.

14 Responses to “Bands of the 1980s: The Call (Michael Been)”

  1. Robert Lindsey Says:

    I LOVE this band. A friend had Reconciled and we played it over and over and over. I have 5 of their albums. (3 on vinyl.)

  2. kevin manning Says:

    Im 59, probably one of the oldest fan of the Call. Ive seen the Call 7 times live at a small club at the coach house in san juan cap calif. they were great.When the call did when the walls came down it must have been over ten minetes long. Michael been has a lot of charisma, so does the rest of the band.Does anyone know what the members of the call are doing these days? Please let me know, Kevin

  3. Mark Says:

    The Call has always been one of my most very favorite bands. I started college in 1980, and saw them live once in springfield, missouri, and still tell people it is probably the best live show i’ve ever seen by a rock and roll band. and i’ve seen over 200 shows through the last thirty years (i’m 46 now).

    The albums ‘Reconciled,’ ‘Modern Romans,” “Into the Woods” hold a very special place in my heart, as I felt I was one of only a handful of people in the world who knew about this band, and it created a very tight and bonding atmosphere to be at their shows.

    One thing that I completely agree with in your post is the mystery over why they’ve nearly been forgotten entirely. I saw a picture of Michael Been recently, with white hair, troublingly overweight, and working as live sound engineer for his son’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (who are also one of my favorite bands). While I’d like to think this is a love gesture and legacy from a deeply talented father to a deeply talented son, I can’t help but think it’s also a depressing outcome for a songwriter and band who was a complete equal to the best of the 80′s arena bands.

  4. pharland Says:

    Hello Mark,

    Thanks for posting these comments.

    Phil

  5. Dann G. Says:

    Michael Been is the best songwriter the last 50 years has wrought…

    The songs and music of the Call has deeply moved me for the past 25 years, and continues to do so.

    Someone once said that Roy Orbison had a voice that ‘would not lie’.

    Well…I don’t buy that. Michael Been had that voice. It told no lies…it spoke of nothing but passion and beauty and truth.

    Michael’s solo album is a modern rock masterpiece, too. The Call’s music divorced of the R&B influence, and to me, more meaningful for that.

    Thanks, Michael, for the great songs.

    When I play ‘Surrender’ in the car, my 10 year old’s eyes light up, and she sings her heart out.

    That’s forever, man.

  6. julie Says:

    I just grabbed my copy of Into the Woods this morning on my way out the door, just because it caught my eye and I realized it had been years since I had listened to it. Man, I loved these guys! Whatever happened to them?

  7. KD Says:

    Check out the websites that are out there.

    http://www.myspace.com/thecallband

    http://the-call-band.com/default.aspx

  8. pharland Says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments.

    Phil

  9. Randy Says:

    The Call, please come back!

    Saw the band perform many times, simply incredible shows. Not sure, could have been a weak time in my life but they almost always brought me to tears…

  10. TONY KORTE Says:

    I played in a band in the 80′s in ca and had the oppertunity to be the supporting act for one of The Calls shows. We got to meet the band after the show it was great. I still play in a band and we cover 3 of there songs.. They are one of my favorite groups to this day. I still Belive cool

  11. david Says:

    after listening to the call on the way home from work and having it affect me the way it has for 25 years, once again, i had to get on the web and find out what happen to michael. i was happy to find the others who got it! i cant tell you how many times his music has help me face the day.

  12. Thomas Curington Says:

    I grew up with Mike my father and his worked at Wilson &co. in Oklahoma City I love his music and miss him .sincerly Tom

  13. Enrique Says:

    Thanks for this post! I agree with all of you sentiment that The Call is one of the most underrated bands ever. They have more truth in one album, than most artists can put into their entire discography. I do consider Michael Been one of the finest (and most prophetic) songwriters of my lifetime. His songs call deep into my soul to where the facades of this life come crumbling down and what is actually true and beautiful emerge with such a raw energy I am moved.
    Passion + Purpose + Professionalism = Authentic Beauty
    I have finally taken all my cassettes and albums and captured them to mp3!!! Finally I can travel with Michael Been and The Call wherever I am.
    Thank you The Call for investing so much of yourselves into your art. I am blessed!

  14. joe Says:

    Weds. nites at the Crow’s Nest in Santa Cruz listening to Motion Pictures/Airtight. Cherished memories. Next came the albums.