Heading For The Dirty City

When I first started listening to music during the first couple years of the ’80s, this new interest meant something to do during the fall and winter when the elements made for longer stretches housebound.

Instead of jockeying with my brother for control of the television or Atari 2600 console, I could now opt for self-imposed exile to my bedroom and listen to music rather than read.

More music was listened to during the months of less daylight. This might have meant an increased likelihood of burnout and a need to shop for more music.

Of course, the selection of music in our Midwestern town was no more than a few hundred cassettes in wire wall racks and eight or so bins of albums and singles in a small variety store.

I reached a point at which I was becoming interested in music not stocked in this store (or stocked well past the date it had been available in the outside world). It needn’t be too exotic – Missing Person’s Spring Session M comes to mind – that an hour’s drive to the nearest record stores in Cincinnati had to be made.

This conundrum was made a stickier wicket as I wasn’t yet old enough to drive.

The first option was to provide explicit instructions with mom as to what to titles to procure. Complicating matters was release dates weren’t always available or accurate, so it was necessary to – with limited funds – prioritize a list of albums that might not even be out, yet.

(and, then, hope that mom could actually make sense of the request)

The other option was to blow most of the day accompanying mom on the trip and endure hours at outlet malls – kind of like a Midwestern version of running with the bulls at Pamplona – to spend forty-five minutes browsing through a record store or two and pick up a few cassettes.

However, this riddle was resolved by time and, by the autumn of 1984, me and all of my friends had our driver’s licenses.

None of us had cars, but that was merely a detail. Some of us had older siblings with cars and all of us had parents with cars.

Actually, transportation was usually provided by my buddy Beej. He’d tell his mom that he was taking the car to one of our houses and, thirty minutes later, four to six of us were headed for the glamour of the dirty city.

We weren’t old enough to do much than roam the malls and gorge ourselves on fried mozarella sticks at The Ground Round, but there were a half-dozen record stores to hit, so there was much to do.

It was our first taste of freedom and the open road, though, and we always returned with plenty of music. It’s probably why, even now, the cool weather triggers something in me that makes me want to buy music.

Here are four songs from albums that I’m sure I purchased on one of those roadtrips during the autumn of ’84…

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth

Isn’t Cherry Bomb about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be? Proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Zebra – Bears
from No Tellin’ Lies

When Zebra released their debut in 1983, a lot of music fans embraced their Zeppelin-like sound and a lot of critics slagged them for their Zeppelin-like sound.

Personally, I wore that first album out and though I didn’t spend as much time with the follow-up, it’s not a bad record. The odd and engaging Bears always reminded me of Rush (who I was also quite into at the time)

Bruce Cockburn – Lovers In A Dangerous Time
from Stealing Fire

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains an underappreciated artist south of his homeland’s border, though his cult following in the States is devoted.

I discovered his music when the righteously indignant If I Had A Rocket Launcher, from Stealing Fire, popped up on some of the rock stations I was listening to at the time. I bought the cassette for that song, but the wiry Lovers In A Dangerous Time, which kicked off Stealing Fire, is pretty stellar, too, and features some wicked guitar work.

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