Working in one of the larger record stores I’d ever stepped into for much of the ’90s provided the opportunity to encounter a collection of characters that one might ordinarily have to do time to experience.
(an outcome that one co-worker narrowly avoided after being busted for manufacturing his own money)
Of these compatriots, The Drunken Frenchman was certainly one of the more memorable.
A good decade older than most of us, he had eased into the role of gruff, cantankerous elder so effortlessly that there was a yard no doubt lamenting his absence to chase neighborhood children from it.
The Frenchman quickly became a fixture in a group of a half dozen or so of us who would head straight from our shift to the cantina we had staked out as our own.
Throughout the successive rounds, The Frenchman would offer up bits of wisdom he’d accrued such as, if you’re good with your barkeep, you’re good, or, all a man needs is the love of a fine dog and an ingenue that understands him.
Questionable life lessons aside, The Frenchman likely knew as much about rock music, pre-1980, as anyone I have ever known, so there was usually a toast to commemorate the birthday of Hugh Grundy, original drummer for The Zombies, or the anniversary of the release of Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake.
During one of those countless evenings, the discussion turned to the fact that there were acts whose heydey in the States might have been twenty years passed – and brief – and, yet, were able to still pack venues in Europe and even notch the occasional hit.
(I believe Status Quo having a Top Ten single in the UK prompted the topic)
“Once you’re in over there, you’re in forever,” The Frenchman noted. “Uriah Heep still tours in Europe.”
I took him at his drunken word.
The only time I’d ever heard Uriah Heep on the radio had been somewhere in eastern Ohio, maybe West Virginia, rolling down an interstate as the family made the annual, summer trek to the ancestral homelands of western Pennsylvania.
It was 1982, late summer, and music had, during the past six months, become the shiny, new object in my life. The idea of not having the radio stations I knew for two weeks was distressing.
I sat in the backseat of the car, jockeying for space with my brother and listening to a transistor radio until the final station familiar to me dissolved into a drone of white noise.
I was in uncharted territory, but I quickly learned to hunt, surfing the band for a song that I recognized to materialize.
Then, we hit a stretch of dead air and few options and I had to settle on a station that was a bit harder than the Top 40 to which I usually listened.
(it helped that they played Journey’s Stone In Love)
And I know that the station played a song by Uriah Heep as their name – and that of their new album, Abominog - struck me as totally bizarre.
Some fifteen years later, not long after The Frenchman informed us of Uriah Heep’s fervent fanbase in Europe, I visited the UK for the first time. Emerging from The Tube, listening to Smashing Pumpkin’s Adore on my Walkman, I stopped.
Covering a section of the wall was a massive poster…touting tour dates for Uriah Heep.
Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s album rock chart from twenty-nine years ago when some unfamiliar radio station gave me my one and only (as far as I know) dose of Uriah Heep…
Uriah Heep – That’s The Way That It Is
I got to thinking about Uriah Heep after reading a recent entry at 70s Music Mayhem on the debut of what would be the band’s lone Top 40 hit, Easy Livin’, in the US during late July, 1972.
(I don’t think that I’d ever heard the song before)
That’s Just The Way It Is apparently got enough airplay to give the band their biggest album in a decade and it’s not a bad song at all. It’s catchy, rumbles along quite nicely, and certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place next to Journey and Foreigner at the time.
Nazareth – Love Leads To Madness
I’m familiar with little by Nazareth aside from Love Hurts and its accompanying album, Hair Of The Dog. My buddy Will had an older brother and the eight track seemed to be permanently lodged in his Trans Am’s player.
I dig Dan McCafferty’s gruff vocals which I’ve heard influenced Axl Rose and Love Leads To Madness is pretty cool. With what little I do know of Nazareth’s catalog and the fact that they’re Scottish, I’d be interested in hearing more.
The Sherbs – We Ride Tonight
from Defying Gravity
My buddy Beej would go to visit relatives out west most summers. He’d return after a couple weeks with tapes of exotic songs recorded from the radio and The Sherb’s We Ride Tonight might have been on one of those mixes.
I did hear the song here and there on WEBN or 96 Rock, but I never knew who it was or what it was called. It was one of those songs that was filed deep in my brain, making cameos throughout the years and causing me to wonder if I’d imagined it.
We Ride Tonight is a taut rocker with a mysterious vibe and a chorus reminiscent of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen classic Because The Night.
Billy Squier – Emotions In Motion
from Emotions In Motion
Billy Squier was about as popular as any act in my junior high/high school during his Don’t Say No/Emotions In Motion period.
There were three cities that were on most tour stops and within a two-hour drive of my hometown; Squier was playing one of them every few months, opening for some major headliner.
(there were more Billy Squier concert shirts per capita in my high school than any high school in America)
But it was straight-ahead, groove-driven rock that sounded great on the radio (and both Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion had four or five songs that got played heavily in our part of the midwest).