|Day 17: Donnie Iris (Ah! Leah!)
May 13, 2020
The best part of doing this 365 songs in 365 days is also the worst part: finding that moment of inspiration for choosing a song. For the most part, I have been faithful in making sure the artists/songs I choose come from the moment, usually hearing something during some random play of music. Then, there are the songs that come from perfectly set up moments.
Yesterday, I was Google Chatting with my colleague and friend, Kathie, who was sharing that we had a student (not a new student in any shape or form) who didn't know what OLEA stood for on our course schedule (OLEA is short for O'Leary, SMC's science lab building, a place where this student has taken classes before). So when Kathie wrote in chat that a student asked "What is OLEA?" I immediately told her to respond with "a great pop song from 1980," simultaneously sending the link listed below to Donnie Iris's "Ah! Leah!" Only after sending, did I double check the year of the song, and found I remembered it precisely, which despite my musical obsessions is not something I get exact that often.
However, 1980 is my graduation year from high school in Morgantown, West Virginia, and then my Fall start at West Virginia University. So I should remember. Donnie Iris was from Pittsburgh and when "Ah! Leah!" became a minor hit, our area of West Virginia loved to appropriate him as a local boy. Over 40 years, I have never bought a Donnie Iris album, but had downloaded the MP3 for "Ah! Leah!" years ago. By sending Kathie the link, I ended up listening to it several times in a row yesterday. It has been quite awhile since I have really listened to it. As a result, a flood of impressions came too.
First off, what a look for Dominic Ierace (no one is surprised that someone probably recommended he change his name)! We tend to think "Big Bang Theory" finally made nerds cool, but New Wave did that well before that. Iris, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Andy Partridge of XTC, Thomas Dolby . . . without these guys, I wonder if Revenge of the Nerds ever gets made.
Then there is the album cover for Back On The Streets, the album which "Ah! Leah!" kicked off. 5 shots of Iris playing guitar in various stages of a yellow suit slowly being removed. What is it with yellow and Pennsylvania? You've got Iris' album cover and this classic shot of the cast from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. (If someone tries to argue Steelers or Pirates influence with yellow, explain that for Philly?) Iris carried the nerdy look AND the yellow suit into a cheesy pre-MTV video, typical of bad green screens or no screens and little thematic concept. If interested, I let the reader find that on your own. However, you've been forewarned.
However, what I remembered upon the half dozen listening sessions of this song over the last 24 hours is how the song is all about the vocal. The song fits Iris' vocalizations perfectly with its flirtatious lyrics: "you're looking better than a body has a right to," as well as "but when we touch, we never have to fake it."
After verse 2 and chorus, the bridge gets built with the most ridiculously erotic "ah's," too many to count, each one slightly different than the previous ones. It may be the best erotic vocalization outside of Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby" and The Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster," (which features a scream at the end that is part of rock and roll urban legends).
Speaking of screams, boy, what a great scream by Iris in the last minute of the song. It rivals Roger Daltrey's in "Won't Get Fooled Again," John Lennon's and/or Paul McCartney's (because who really cares to distinguish) in "Helter Skelter," and Robert Plant's in "Whole Lotta Love." That's some pretty fine company. I always wonder if these guys killed their vocal chords trying to replicate those screams in concert after concert.
Ultimately the song has the simplest of brilliant lyrical hook with "Ah Le Ah" that lends itself to Iris' vocal gymnastics. Throw in the exclamation points for the song title and Iris ends up with something truly memorable. Ah, what a song. Like OLEA, there's a lot of chemistry going on in there.
"Ah! Leah!" Donnie Iris. Back On The Streets. Midwest National. 1980. Link here.
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Day 18: INXS "What You Need" ->
See full unfinished list here.