Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #14: Glen Burtnick - "Talking In Code" (1986)

I’m going to coin a new musical genre right here: "Stallone Music". These are songs or sounds often heard during action sequences or training montages featured prominently during Sly’s 80s heyday of films such as Rocky 2,3, and 4, Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash and the Rambo movies. The obvious pioneer of this genre is Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, we all know that one. But, it’s augmented by the likes of Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Asia, Eddie Money and the unforgettable John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Many other performers can be lumped into this group based on sharing similar DNA. Glen Burtnick is one of those guys.

Despite being a top-notch 80s songwriter, Glen was doomed from the start by being cursed with the surname Burtnick. Chicks don’t put posters of a guy named Burtnick on their wall (although they forgave Ralph Macchio, so maybe I’m wrong). Guys don’t grow up wanting to rock like Burtnick. Women don’t want to sleep with Burtnick, and Rocky is not going to spar with Apollo to a Burtnick. So, this minimizes your possibilities greatly.

Secondly, as I mentioned, he was a good songwriter for the 80s. His stuff could only truly come to life under the façade of era-specific production. In other words, Glen performing his hits acoustically in a coffee shop is not where you want to experience him (even though I’m sure he’s out there looking for that exact gig as you read this).

And, lastly, he had the kind of high registered, nasally voice and slim frame of a kid who was picked on in school, grew a mullet upon graduation, had a knack for snappy pop songs, and morphed into a rock star while those who knew him, knew the truth.

Now, why should you listen to him? Because he’s fun. Because he had the goods, even if it was never fully acknowledged. His songs are catchy and, while never used, tailor-made for 80s cinema. Stallone film soundtracks had to straddle a very fine line between machismo and sensitivity. If you were too macho (Van Halen) or wussy (Journey) you weren’t invited to the party. The template was simple: crunchy guitars to please the boys and some sweeping synths for the ladies. This was the world inhabited by Foreigner, Loverboy, and Jeff Healy. This is a world we all secretly love. This is a world we think about when we’regrinding it out on the treadmill. This is a world we miss.

Sadly, Glen never really had a hit. There might be a song here or there that sounds vaguely familiar, but that’s it. His albums are all out of print and hard to find, and his live shows have been relegated to local bars and maybe a county fair if he’s lucky. And, to make matters worse, I can’t find a youtube clip of the best song on Talking In Code, “Crank It Up” (again, only in the 80s did that phrase even sound menacing). There isn’t much out there (“Little Red House” has a video posted, but isn’t the best example of what I’m talking about). The best clip to satiate your curiosity (I know you’re dying), would be for his modest hit “Follow You” off the album that came after Code, Heroes & Zeroes.

So, next time you decide to rip the sleeves off your t-shirt, grow your hair long, test drive a Trans Am, or throw on an acid washed denim jacket, let Glen be your soundtrack. He’s good enough and, Lord knows, he could probably use the work.

The Nugget - "Crank It Up" The link has snippets of all the tracks, so you'll get the idea. This is what should have been playing when Sly was looking for the strength to work that crazy move on the other arm wrestlers in Over The Top.


Marilyn said...

I've never heard of Glen Burtnick until now. Including him in your Lost Gems series gives him credibility and reveals your fondness for him. That's what I like so much about your articles, Jon - you have such a genuine affection and respect for the artists (even the obscure ones) and for the whole process. And you always come up with original ideas and information (like the new genre "Stallone Music"). You are just THE BEST!
BTW, have you read Dave's new EZWRITR blog - it's fantastic!!

Rich Bischoff said...

Jon, how can you mention Burtnick and not mention that he fronted Styx for awhile and had a couple of great songs with them. :)

freshfoodfarmerNC said...

I love that you saw "Over the Top". I had a major crush on the boy that played his son in that film. Of course, I was like 10 at the time.

Danelle Foster Toner