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Records You Never Heard: Planet P

October 7, 2012 , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music was between eras as the “Me Decade” came to an end and 1980s opened up. The epitaph for Disco was being written. Punk was morphing into New Wave. Hair Metal bands had yet to take to the spandex and Aqua Net. And record companies were scrambling to find the “next big thing.” Everything was in play.

In the liner notes to “By Request,” the hit album for Billy Vera and the Beaters, the author discussed how The Knack’s 1979 hit “My Sharona” opened up the flood gates for new music in the industry. It took Billy Vera’s “At this Moment” almost a decade to find an audience, but there were others that made their mark sooner.

Among the artists to find success during this period was Tony Carey. After playing keyboards with Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow in the mid-to-late 1970s, Carey went solo and released a modestly popular album in 1982.

His solo career coincided with the emergence of a new venue for popular music: MTV. In the early days of Music Television, the network had very few videos to play. Those that were aired in the first couple of years found even “light rotation” to be a godsend. It was because of the medium that bands like Duran Duran and A Flock of Seagulls found an audience across America and almost instantaneously.

Carey’s career also got a boost from this new art form called “music videos.” He launched a side project with a few German session musicians. The new band took the name Planet P.

Planet P greeted the world through a spacey video entitled “Why Me?” For four minutes, the video scanned through seemingly disjointed scenes featuring a ‘50s-style blonde woman driving a vintage car and a space-suited character with no sign of a musician, let alone Carey himself. As a music video, “Why Me?” showcases all of the hallmarks of early videos with its quick cuts and simple video effects.

Released by Geffen records in 1983, the self-titled album, however, opens with the band’s second video and single, “Static.” Planet P’s themes of deep space travel and the loneliness associated with it start off the disk. Carey pines for personal contact wondering “where did all the people go” as the cinematic accompaniment intersperses a solitary elderly man in a spacecraft and a lone boy roller skating through a vacant building. It was if they were producing time capsules of music video.

Musically, Planet P is less of a period piece and more of a classic progressive rock treasure. This pseudo concept album takes different themes that could have been plots for Star Trek or the Twilight Zone.

“King for a Day” puts this space traveler on a foreign world where he’s nearly a god among the local inhabitants. “Build me a castle and throw a parade/put my name in stone so the words won’t fade/start a religion and name it for me/build me a city and give me the key/I’m king for a day.” The main character knows that he’s a temporary visitor in this strange world, but wants to be remembered before he’s “light years away.”

Further through side one are “I Won’t Wake Up,” “Top of the World,” “Armageddon,” and “Tranquility Base” (the last being a CD/cassette bonus), keeping with the space theme and thoughts of longing for home. Carey’s keyboards wash through the songs like a next generation Gary Wright with its ambience and fullness that a guitar-led album lacks. Overdubs of vocals just enhance this aura.

Flip the record over and Planet P’s most famous track, “Why Me?,” starts off side two and continues the theme. Stories continue on the loneliness of space travel and evolve into other issues that might occur in deep space such as escaping the troubles of life on earth (“Only You and Me”) and starting a new world (“Adam and Eve”). As even and well-crafted as these songs are, it’s terribly upsetting that in an age of “Flashdance” and Huey Lewis & the News, the “Planet P” album never broke into the top-40 and “Why Me?” peaked at number 64 on the pop chart (although it did reach #4 on Billboard’s “Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart”).

A year later, Planet P returned with a new record, new record company, and new name. Switching to MCA Records, the second album was titled “Pink World” and was released under the name “Planet P Project.” Again, “Pink World” was a futuristic concept album. This time, however, the album stretched over two records which were initially pressed in what was described in the press at the time as “Pepto Bismol pink vinyl.”

Instead of a space theme, “Pink World” took on the “cold war” and the Second Coming. In this tale, the Savior was a little boy named Artemis.

“Pink World” owes more than part of its name to Pink Floyd. Quite a few Floyd-esce moments, especially musical references to “The Wall,” pepper the 26 tracks but Planet P stands on its own. Songs flow beautifully from one to another with brief interludes which harken back to the thread of “The Boy Who Can’t Talk” and “What Artie Knows.”

Among record collectors, the Planet P fans are rare thirty years on. These two albums are the best-kept secrets hidden away in the stacks of vinyl across the country. Even worse than the handful of “Planet P” owners is the fact that “Pink World” sold far fewer copies.

Creep across the web and you’ll find pockets of Planet P fans. One site revels in “Pink World,” calling it the “Greatest Concept Album Ever.” Reviewers opine on how then needed to replace their copies multiple times over the years, which was made even more difficult by the sad fact that so few were minted. “It would make a good SciFi movie” and “make no mistake, ‘Pink World’ is a phenomenal album” are types of comments on the ‘Net by fans of this set.

After a 20 year break, Tony Carey has released three more Planet P Project records. It is the first two, however, that stand out. Initially released on vinyl, “Planet P” and “Pink World” were re-released on CD a decade later with the extra tracks and lacking lyrics or pink vinyl. No matter how they’re heard, these albums are 38 tracks of 1980s nostalgia. Not Max Headroom and “Miami Vice” kitsch but those rare good parts that weren’t played-out by corporate radio or sell-out marketing. Give yourself a treat and find your own copies of “Planet P” and “Pink World” for a glimpse of a time long gone by and great music that may never return.

– Sam Fiorani

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