Like many music fans, my earliest introduction to music was Top 40 radio and I had little idea what might happen should I stray from the path of the mainstream. My trust was placed in radio; if it was worth hearing, wouldn’t I hear it there?
So, I began to gather the songs I liked, making crude mixes recorded onto blank Maxell cassettes by placing a tape recorder against the radio’s speaker. The term fidelity was merely a word in an REO Speedwagon album title and the main objective was to snag a recording of the song without the DJ chattering all the way through the intro.
To put it into evolutionary terms (with apologies to those of you from Kansas), I took the first tentative steps out of the primordial dreck and began to purchase music and, with no turntable, the cassette was the preferred medium. Styx’ Paradise Theater, Journey’s Escape, Foreigner’s 4, and The J. Geils’ Band’s Freeze Frame were among the first titles to make a dent in my allowance (insert your own primordial dreck joke here). All of them purchased from the token music section in my hometown’s five-and-dime store.
My interest in each selection was limited to having pristine versions of the album’s hits – the other tracks, obviously not worthy, were inconveniences to be fast forwarded through. The cellophane shrink-wrap would often have a sticker bearing the superfluous “Contains the hit singles…” I knew the hit singles as the radio and, on occasion, Kasey Kasem had already clued me in to them (how someone would know ahead of time what would be the hits was, like fidelity, a mystery to me).
My drift from the world of Top 40 began in the spring of 1982 as I began to channel-surf when Q102 would play a song I didn’t like. Two increasingly satisfying destinations being 96 Rock and Q102’s bitter rival WEBN – both album rock stations. They allowed me to get my fix of staples like Journey and REO Speedwagon, including tracks which I didn’t know as hits – to my surprise, it seemed that it was acceptable to listen to almost each and every song on Escape.
I finally threw caution to the wind when Asia’s self-titled debut was released. Heat Of The Moment was all over Top 40 radio and Only Time Will Tell (which I preferred) and Sole Survivor were played every bit as much on WEBN (technically, they were also listed as hits on the cassette’s sticker and, thus, were pre-approved for my listening pleasure).
I popped Asia into the cassette tuner/tape deck hybrid which had become my first stereo equipment (and referring to it as such is generous) purchase. Heat Of The Moment blared forth, followed by the other two songs I knew from radio. Nearly forty-five minutes later, the album had closed with Here Comes The Feeling and I realized that there were songs which the radio wouldn’t play for me which I enjoyed as well.
I was liberated. Sure it wasn’t as cool as my liberators being The Beatles or The Clash, but I was now free to choose what music I wanted to like, no longer yoked to the Top 40 charts for guidance.
Incidentally, Asia has recently released a new album with their original line-up for the first time since 1983. The tracks I’ve heard wouldn’t have been out of place a quarter century ago, alongside these selections from their debut.