Snow Globe

January 30, 2010

There’s probably as much snow on the ground tonight as I’ve seen in nearly twenty years. On the eave, it’s still undisturbed, but in the streets below, it’s already been churned into a sloshy mess.

The usual flow of traffic is non-existent, though, and the snow is still falling in the glow of the streetlights, so the landscape might be pristine again come morning.

One news channel is referring to it as “The Snowpocalypse.”

I think we have about three inches of snow.

It’s more like a snow globe.

(of course, since I started writing this twenty-four hours or so ago, we’ve gotten an additional four or five inches of snow – still far short of a “snowpocalypse”)

Snowfalls of this much and sometimes much more were far more frequent for me as a kid in the Midwest. I’ve told tale of the danger, but all things considered, the snow was usually welcome.

There was something quite zen in sprawling out on the bed and staring at the ceiling, listening to music as a heavy snow fell outside. It was a perfect way to waste a Saturday afternoon as a kid. I could stare up and out the window, watching large flakes falling against the sky.

Stare long enough and – with the lack of visual perspective – they would seem to be drifting upward.

I seem to recall a lot of snow on the ground in the first few months of 1984. I was still listening to Top 40 stations, but I had also discovered album rock radio and 97X was providing my first glimpse of the future and an exposure to modern rock.

Here is a quartet of songs I remember from the early weeks of the year Orwell had warned us about…

Van Halen – Jump
from 1984

Jump caused quite a bit of confusion when it hit the airwaves. At school, we asked each other if we’d heard the song in hushed tones as though someone had died. No one had, but the prominent use of synthesizer, especially when coupled with the brief, instrumental title track preceding it, vexed many of my friends.

The sheer exuberance of the song and the fact that it really wasn’t that startling of a departure from the band’s signature sound helped it gain quick acceptance from most fans and earned Van Halen new ones. Jump and 1984 both proved to be mammoth successes.

And a mere twelve months later, there would be no Van Halen as we had always known them.

Eurythmics – Here Comes The Rain Again
from Touch

With the release of Be Yourself Tonight in the spring of 1985, Eurythmics went in the opposite direction that Van Halen had with 1984, adding guitar and a more rock-oriented sound to their dreamy synth-pop.

But, Touch arrived in January, 1984 and was still firmly entrenched in the hypnotic, synthesizer-based groove of Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), the album that had broken the duo in the US the prior summer.

Touch received an earlier release in the UK and had already had several hits before being issued in the US, so I’m sure that I likely heard the lovely, melancholic Here Comes The Rain Again as an import on 97X prior to its becoming a major radio hit.

Icicle Works – Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)
from Icicle Works

Tribal drumming and chiming guitars made Icicle Works’ lone US hit a memorable one-hit wonder that still sounds stellar a quarter century later. The song had been a UK hit the year before (titled Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)) and, like Here Comes The Rain Again , I’m sure I heard the frenetic track as an import on 97X months before it became a hit in the States.

Tony Carey – A Fine, Fine Day
from Some Tough City

Paloma had no idea who Tony Carey was when I played A Fine, Fine Day for her. Though the song did make the Top 40, it apparently didn’t get much/any airplay where she grew up.

It was quite the opposite for me. Carey got a lot of play on radio with I Won’t Be Home Tonight and, under the moniker of Planet P Project, Why Me? during 1983. Both of those songs had a sci-fi bent to them.

A Fine, Fine Day is the tale of an aging mobster (or so it would seem) and, in those snowy, early months of 1984, it seemed as though I couldn’t go very long without hearing it on one of several stations while surfing the dial. Later that year, Carey would return to the sci-fi fare with Planet P Project’s album Pink World and one final radio hit, What I See, before vanishing from the scene.

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Auf Wiedersehen Scorpions

January 27, 2010

So, I began to see reports pop up here and there the last few days that The Scorpions are calling it a day.

The German export was one of the few metal acts that I cared enough about to buy an album or two as a kid. My interest in the band began during the summer of ’82, coinciding with two events. One was a heavy dose of them on the radio with the song No One Like You.

The other thing which prompted an interest in the band was a friend, Beej, who made an annual pilgrimage to spend a few weeks in Arizona with his dad each summer. He’d usually return with music that we weren’t hearing in the Midwest. In ’82, his return home was with a passion for The Scorpions album Blackout.

It struck me as odd because his younger brother was a little metalhead and he caught his share of grief from us for it.

But we dug Blackout. It was metal, but it had ridiculous hooks. It had a sheen. It was wiry and lean.

I’d stare at the album cover and wonder what the hell was up with that.

(and is that Rollie Fingers?)

Beej would call the nearest rock stations, long-distance, and request No One Like You. He’d tell DJs he wanted to dedicate it to his girlfriend who had downed a lethal dose of Coke and Pop Rocks on a dare. He’d go into graphic detail as to how the urban legend was true and her stomach had burst.

(the entertainment value of this skit to me and my friends was incalculable)

Two years later, I think all of my friends had a copy of Love At First Sting. No matter how varied our individual tastes might have been, we all dug The Scorpions.

(and they had a drummer named Herman “The German” Rarebell which, for some reason, amused us)

And then I pretty much lost interest in and track of The Scorpions. Their next album, Savage Amusement, didn’t come out until I was in college and my head was in a different direction musically. I heard some of it, but it dropped from my radar pretty quick.

I couldn’t escape hearing Winds Of Change years later. This was not how I wanted to remember The Scorpions of my childhood and that whistling in the song…I wanted nothing to do with it.

But the band has had a good run and they will always occupy a two, two and a quarter album space in my heart…

The Scorpions – Arizona
from Blackout

“Arizona really was a gas.”

Me and my friends were bummed when Beej took off for Arizona each summer. We were stuck in Sticksville and he was in exotic Tucson.

Arizona was a favorite even if it did make us feel like we were missing out on the fun that Beej was experiencing out West.

The Scorpions – No One Like You
from Blackout

Not only were the rock stations I was listening to playing No One Like You, but so were the pop stations. It was fine by me as the song was an excellent reason to turn up the radio.

Nearly thirty years later, few songs conjure up the summer of ’82 more vividly for me than No One Like You.

The Scorpions – Big City Nights
from Love At First Sting

Sure, Rock You Like A Hurricane was the big hit from Love At First Sting and future staple on every Monsters Of Rock-like compilation to come down the pike. But, I did burn out on the song pretty quickly.

(also, I was at an age where my taste in music was undergoing a seismic shift)

So, the album didn’t get nearly as much attention from me as Blackout, but Big City Nights was one of its better tracks.

The Scorpions – Rhythm Of Love
from Savage Amusement

As I noted, Savage Amusement came and went for me in a fingersnap. We played it a few times in a record store where I worked and I seem to recall MTV showing the video for Rhythm Of Love a lot.

I remember the video having a spaceship in it. It’s 2010 and I could easily confirm that detail, but it can’t be as entertaining as I picture it in my head, so I won’t.


Monday Rears Its Ugly Head Again

January 24, 2010

Like grim death it does.

No sleeping past six. No lounging on the couch nursing an extra cup of coffee. No plotting out whether to take that nap after breakfast or hold off ’til after lunch.

As a kid, the weekend essentially ended the moment that I heard that stopwatch ticking to open 60 Minutes. As my parents settled in to watch the weekly news program, I knew that the clock had run out on my weekend.

In college, the transition from Sunday to Monday was far less jarring. Monday morning hardly loomed as some ominous, unstoppable force because liberation was as simple as noting with bleary eyes that I had forty-five minutes before my first class, rolling over, and waking two hours later, refreshed and ready to skip my afternoon classes to watch Twilight Zone reruns.

By refusing to play with Monday, an implacable foe, or even acknowledge its existence, I won.

That ride should have come to an end upon graduation, but, fortunately, my commencement from school coincided with the rise of slacker culture, a glorious period when it was no more acceptable to put off grown-up nonsense, but doing so had a nifty name. It was a good excuse to take an extra year or ten to live on noodles, attend shows on guest lists, and continue to ignore Mondays.

Monday had been reduced to merely the day before Tuesday, the day new albums were released, and life was good.

These days, that damned 60 Minutes stopwatch is, once again, a harbinger of the impending work week. As soon as I hear its ominous ticking, I switch the channel to The Simpsons and spend the final couple hours of the weekend with cartoons.

As a kid, I’d usually shuffle off to my bedroom, turn on the radio, and dial up 101.3 from Richmond which would be rebroadcasting that week’s American Top 40. I’d listen to Casey Kasem count down the songs and the weekend.

Here are some songs that were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 for this week in 1983…

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Shame On The Moon
from The Distance

One of my best friends in our neighborhood as a kid was a big fan of Bob Seger, so I was familiar with his music, but I wasn’t impressed. And, at the time, I wanted nothing to do with Shame On The Moon when it would come on the radio. It was far too rootsy for my tastes.

Then, somewhere along the way, I realized that I had a greater affection for the music of Seger than I had known. That included the loping and wistful Shame On The Moon, penned by Rodney Crowell.

Joe Jackson – Breaking Us In Two
from Night And Day

Another artist that I have had a major reassessment of since I was a kid, Joe Jackson’s sophisticated pop was a bit too mature for me to truly appreciate at the time. I hadn’t cared for Steppin’ Out and though I liked Breaking Us In Two a bit more, my interest was still tepid at best.

But it’s hard to resist the charm of the song with its hypnotic, tick-tock melody and yearning lyrics.

Greg Kihn Band – Jeopardy
from Kihnspiracy

Greg Kihn got a lot of airplay from the stations in our area and his engaging power pop always sounded great on the radio. It wasn’t just his bigger hits like the infectious The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em), but even lesser-known singles like Reunited and Lucky got airplay.

Jeopardy was a monster. Of course, between a friend of mine who was a devotee of Kihn and wore out Kinhspiracy and the mammoth success of the song on radio, I did get burned out on it, but my ears perk up when I hear it these days.

ABC – Poison Arrow
from The Lexicon Of Love

ABC garnered heaps of attention and accolades when the group issued its debut, The Lexicon Of Love, particularly in their native UK. Their first single, The Look Of Love, was all over the radio during the autumn of ’82 and Poison Arrow arrived with the new year.

The song possessed the same air of drama as well as being flawlessly produced by Trevor Horn. It practically glistened. For whatever reason, the radio stations I was listening to – that had so embraced The Look Of Love – didn’t show Poison Arrow nearly as much love and I rarely heard the song outside of its appearances on American Top 40.