97X, Again

July 30, 2009

A few weeks ago, a television commercial spurred me to reminisce about the discovery of 97X during my musical formative years. It prompted me to do a bit of research.

I’ve been well aware over the years how fortunate I was to grow up having 97X in a radio landscape that was mostly Journey, Foreigner, and Styx.

(not that I’m necessarily anti-Journey, Foreigner, and/or Styx)

I did not know that 97X was one of the earliest stations in the country to adopt a modern rock format.

The view from my bedroom as a kid might have been a vista of cornfields, but, beginning in the autumn of ’83, 97X made it possible for me to discover Talking Heads, U2, Peter Gabriel, and other future staples I wasn’t hearing on other stations.

I’d forgotten that the station broadcasted from studios at an unused golf course.

(I always pictured Caddyshack when this was mentioned)

Reception was dodgy. It wasn’t a station that my friends and I listened to when we were in possession of a car. 97X was a station I’d listen to mostly alone on winter nights while not doing homework.

(meanwhile, several friends were doing the same)

Like most radio stations these days, 97X has a website from which you can stream their broadcast.

(actually, 97X is no longer a terrestrial station)

More intriguing to me than their current playlist is the fact that the site also offers a vintage channel. It’s heavy on acts like The Clash, The Smiths, The Pixies, and such, but it seems to lack some of the lesser-known acts that they played at the time.

The Suburbs come to mind as 97X used to play their song Love Is The Law religiously. I haven’t heard the song in twenty-five years and, though I heard it daily for months on end, I can’t even remember the chorus.

It’s kind of like Dee Dee Deuser, a girl who sat next to me in kindergarten. I can’t recall for the life of me what she looked like, but three plus decades later, I remember the name.

(of course, you don’t forget a name like Dee Dee Deuser)

Each Memorial Day, 97X would count down the Top 500 modern rock songs of all time. Finding the list for the countdown from 1989 online allowed me to build a playlist that surprised me in its breadth and depth.

Here are a few songs that popped up randomly…

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It
from The Colour Of Spring

In 1984, I saw the video for Talk Talk’s It’s My Life more than I heard it on radio (even though it was a hit). The hypnotic Life’s What You Make It was from their next album and the only place I heard it was 97X.

After The Colour Of Spring, Talk Talk got progressively more…umm…progressive. Their music on the successive albums – Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock – was a melange of classical, jazz, and ambient improvisation, and, though I own them and they have been critically lauded, those records require a serious commitment.

Fetchin’ Bones – Stray
from Galaxy 500 Plus

Sometimes funky, sometimes with a bit of twang, Fetchin’ Bones rocked harder than Athens contemporaries like R.E.M., Pylon or B-52s (all staples on 97X). Singer Hope Nicholls is formidable like Niagara Falls is wet.

Stray is a corker, but I’m still partial to their song Love Crushing – “Be my flesh blanket and lay upon me” – from Monster.

The Jam – That’s Entertainment!
from Sound Effects

On those archived lists of 97X’ Top 500, there was no shortage of songs by The Jam and, still, I don’t recall them from my years listening to the station. It’s likely they were simply too British for me to take notice.

Nonetheless, I do remember when I first did take notice of them and it was sitting in Paloma’s apartment years ago and her playing Sound Affects over and over. It’s impossible now for me to hear That’s Entertainment! and not hear her singing along (and adding her own exclamation point).

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Could You Be Loved
from Uprising

There’s no doubt in my mind that 97X was the first place I ever heard reggae. Surprisingly, the radio stations that I had to choose from in 1983 in Southeastern Indiana didn’t find a place for Marley, Jimmy Cliff, or Peter Tosh alongside REO Speedwagon and John Cougar.

Fortunately for me, 97X offered me a healthy dose of all three reggae greats.

Out Of Print

July 23, 2009

I’m not sure when I first heard those words – out of print. It might have been leafing through a Phonolog.

It’s strange to think that there is an entire generation that has never seen a Phonolog. This means there’s an entire generation of record store employees who have never had the tedious task of updating the Phonolog.

The tedium was the packet of loose leaf pages that would need to be snapped into the book. As the Phonolog was invariably at the front counter, this placed one precariously in the sightline of every bumfoozled customer.

(I cannot speak for all record stores, but, in the ones in which I worked, customer service was far down the list of concerns, well behind things like smoke breaks and hormonal pursuits)

(as an exception to the above declaration, Paloma was admirably, unfailingly, and most exceptionally patient with the people)

Anyhow, as I first discovered music and was spending time and (allowance) money in record stores, the Phonolog was the source. And sometimes the source would reveal that the item you sought was out of print.

(I can’t recall if it was denoted with a square next to the title or if the title simply didn’t appear in the act’s discography)

It was a disappointment.

As a record store employee, telling a customer that something a customer wanted was out of print was opening a Pandora’s Box of problems.

“Well can I special order it?” and “Would another store have it?” were two of the most popular responses for those who didn’t simply shrug and walk away.

One well-known, local club DJ reacted to “out of print” as though I had shuffled up to him in bloodied surgical garb and told him that a loved one was dead. He was inconsolable.

(it was quite melodramatic)

Explaining the concept of out of print to older customers could often go off the rails and quickly. It was often taken as a criticism of the music that they were seeking.

One old fellow (who had mistakenly called me “ma’am” from behind) eyed me suspiciously as I told him the album he wanted was out of print. He angrily interrogated me for twenty in an impromptu kangaroo court.

Finally, I simply told him that there were albums that I wanted which were out of print. It’s economics, man.

His clenched fists quivered with rage in the most genuine “you kids get off of my lawn” moment I’ve ever experienced.

I’m not sure if anything is truly unavailable these days. I do know that I’ve owned a lot of music that had gone out of print at one time or another.

Here are some tracks that I’ve read mentioned recently as being unavailable…

The Motels- Shame
from Shock

The Motels had a sizeable following in the late ’70s/early ’80s – first as an underground band; then, with the hits Only The Lonely and Suddenly Last Summer (see the video for the latter at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’).

They were a good band and worth checking out beyond the hits. Martha Davis was one of the sultriest, most dramatic singers of the period and reminded me of a female Jim Morrison. Shame was their last hit song in ’85 and, unfortunately, seems to be forgotten.

Paul Hyde & the Payola$ – You’re The Only Love
from Here’s The World For Ya

This song was (apparently) a small hit in 1985, but I don’t think I ever heard it on the radio. It was in the movie Real Genius, though, and my friends and I were quite familar with Real Genius as it was always on cable. (fortunately, it’s a fun flick)

I knew The Payola$ from another ’80s soundtrack – their song Eyes Of A Stranger was in Valley Girl. That song was chilly New Wave not unlike The Cars. You’re The Only Love was a mid-tempo ballad but bright and shiny.

Not a bad song, but it’s nothing to get excited about either.

Real Life – Send Me An Angel
from Heartland

All-Music Guide describes Real Life’s debut as Duran Duran-inspired and I wouldn’t disagree. It’s very much an album of the times with a serious dose of New Wave synthesizers.

Of course, Send Me An Angel hasn’t been forgotten and most folks would recognize the ethereal song upon hearing it.

Phantom, Rocker & Slick – Men Without Shame
from Phantom, Rocker & Slick

Phantom, Rocker & Slick was two Stray Cats – Slim Jim and Lee – and guitarist Earl Slick, who had been a member of David Bowie’s band in the ’70s. The union lasted for two records, their self-titled debut arriving in autumn of 1985.

For some reason I recall hearing this song during the fall of my senior year in high school. Several friends and I had trekked up to Butler University in Indianapolis to hang out.

I do know that the first time I heard Men Without Shame, the song had my attention. It rumbled and howled, welding glam rock to the rockabilly revivalism of Stray Cats. I was quite pleased to find Phantom, Rocker & Slick on vinyl recently and it still sounds as good.

The Uncle I Wish I’d Known Better

July 21, 2009

I don’t recall our family as being committed to a specific network for the evening news. In fact, I more clearly remember the local newscasters than the national ones.

These days, I’m a borderline news junkie, but my preference is reading various news sites online.

(and, yes, if I’m ever on a presidential ticket and Katie Couric has the unmitigated gall to ask, I’m ready to name which outlets I peruse)

However, growing up I mostly remember watching the local news, usually the 11 o’clock edition, and – since this was pre-ESPN – it was essentially for the sports report.

So, the death of Walter Cronkite stirs, really, no memories for me. As such, it has been fascinating to watch old clips and interviews with him, though.

The man read the news. He didn’t raise his voice or weep. He had no snazzy graphics and no magic boards. He didn’t wander a set like some deranged game show host.

It seemed to be little more than facts and information and there seemed to be no effort whatsoever to entertain.

It is astounding that anyone knew what the hell was going on.

(no wonder that people believed the world to be flat)

To be serious, I think I would have enjoyed tuning in each evening to Walter Cronkite. Watching the footage of him, his appeal was obvious and it was understandable why he was held in such high regard.

The calm, matter-of-fact delivery was soothing. His unassuming manner reminded me of my favorite college professors, the ones who made me feel as though they wanted me to take the puzzle pieces and put them together for myself.

It’s a wonder that integrity hasn’t filed a suit against the talking heads roaming the television newscape these days on Walter Cronkite’s behalf.

(of course, I suppose integrity wouldn’t be litigious)

I was smack dab in the midst of junior high when Walter Cronkite retired in March, 1981. Some of the songs I was hearing at the time…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

While some of my early favorites hold little appeal to me now aside from nostalgia, Blondie’s stature has only grown as my tastes have matured. Musical chameleons fronted by Debbie Harry, whose non-musical charms had us equally as captivated, Rapture was the introduction to hip-hop for many kids of my generation.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from Super Trooper

ABBA and T. Rex occupy a similar niche in my music world. I could probably distill both to a dozen songs (most of which I never tire of), but I own way more of both act’s work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy. The song is every bit as grim as Trent Reznor’s stuff and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

Phil Seymour – Precious To Me
from Phil Seymour

Paloma and I snagged one of Phil Seymour’s two solo albums on vinyl a while back and I keep meaning to check it out (and forgetting). If it’s half as good as his lone hit, it will be well worth the money.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually noted ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and blaring the song from their Camaros.