I happened to be reading a comparison of the worst holiday seasons based on a number of economic factors since the Great Depression and, according to this study, 1982 was the bleakest Christmas of the past eighty years.
At the time, I was fourteen and blissfully unaffected by unemployment rates that exceeded those of recent vintage. Our small town was home to the headquarters for two industry-leading corporations. There were six very wealthy families, six poor ones, and everyone else resided solidly in the middle class.
(really, there once was a socio-economic stratum called the middle class in America)
I had been one of a dozen or so kids in the first computer class offered at our high school that autumn and, as I recall, was hoping that I might be getting the 1982 equivilant of a PC that Christmas.
There would be no computer – a device still primarily available to only NASA engineers and James Bond villains – that Christmas morning.
Instead, a pool table made for a surprising consolation prize.
It was secondhand but that mattered little and, in truth, added to the charm as there were peculiarities to the table – dead spots and slight slopes – that rewarded experience. Putting the eight ball into the side pocket was akin to reading the green on a golf course.
(the cues added a new, combative twist to the inevitible conflicts that would arise between my brother and I)
1982 was also the first Christmas that I wanted music as a gift and I do know that I received several cassettes including the debut releases by A Flock Of Seagulls and Men At Work, both of which had made a splash since the beginning of the school year.
And, six songs – half of them unknown to me – debuted on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart the week of Christmas, 1982…
Unipop – What If (I Said I Love You)
from Unilove (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 8 weeks on chart)
There’s little out there on the internet about Unipop and their lone brush with musical success. The group was a husband and wife duo who were labelmates of Bertie Higgins, providing backup vocals on his hit Key Largo.
As for What If…I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with the file or if the song is supposed to sound like The Chipmunks performing some non-descript rock ballad from the ’50s.
Michael Stanley Band – Take The Time
from MSB (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #81, 5 weeks on chart)
Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening, but I don’t recall ever hearing Take The Time.
The song is a mid-tempo, soulful take on the economic malaise gripping the country, especially in the Rust Belt, and the need to pull together through tough times. The song would make little more than a ripple, but, a year later, the band would reach the Top 40 with the punchy, anthemic My Town.
Tyrone Davis – Are You Serious
from Tyrone Davis (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #57, 6 weeks on chart)
All-Music Guide describes Tyrone Davis as “the king of romantic Chicago soul” and, despite the fact that the singer had a lengthy string of R&B chart hits in the ’60s and ’70s, I can’t say that I’m familiar with him aside from seeing the name in record store bins.
The smooth Are You Serious finds Davis crooning the title as a question as to the intentions of his lady. It’s pleasant enough and well executed if not exactly something that blows my hair back, though it must have struck a chord with someone as it became Davis’ final Top Ten hit on the R&B charts.
Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Forever
from Men Without Women (1982)
(debuted #81, peaked #63, 9 weeks on chart)
I knew a few songs by Bruce Springteen in 1982, but I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t have named anyone from the E Street Band, so I wouldn’t have known that Steve Van Zandt and I know that I didn’t hear Forever at the time.
(I had progressed in my music listening enough that I did purchase Little Steven’s next release, Voice Of America, when it arrived on the heels of Springsteen’s Born In The USA two years later)
Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of Van Zandt’s oeuvre and even listened to his satellite radio show a few times. I’m familiar enough to known of his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll era music and tireless efforts to pay homage to the past.
The punchy, horn-driven Forever fuses his garage band rock sound with an unmistakeable, classic Motown vibe.
The Who – Eminence Front
from It’s Hard (1982)
(debuted #80, peaked #68, 6 weeks on chart)
While I was listening to my Men At Work and A Flock Of Seagulls cassettes during Christmas ’82, The Who were embarking on their farewell tour, having recently released It’s Hard.
I couldn’t have cared less and it would be a couple more years before I would.
Though I haven’t listened to It’s Hard in some time and it’s hardly a classic, there are a couple stellar tracks on that intended swan song including the slinky, shimmering, quasi-funky Eminence Front.
Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #3, 23 weeks on chart)
Twenty-nine years ago, if anyone knew the name Duran Duran it was likely as a character from the campy, late ’60s sci-fi flick Barbarella, but that was about to change. I wouldn’t hear of the band until a neighbor down the street brought them to our attention shortly before Hungry Like The Wolf broke into the Top 40 in the first months of 1983.
It’s odd to think of a world without Duran Duran as Simon LeBon and company have been a part of the musical landscape from almost the beginning of my interest in music. I was entranced with the kinetic and mysterious Hungry Like The Wolf from the first time I heard the laugh of LeBon’s girlfriend that opens the song.
By the following spring, Hungry Like The Wolf was a smash complete with an iconic video, Duran Duran was a sensation some were comparing to The Beatles, and most of us owned a copy of Rio. Rio would be the peak of my interest in Duran Duran, though I would like scattered songs by Duran Duran throughout their ’80s heyday and I’d argue that their latter-day hit Ordinary World was their finest moment.
But it all began inauspiciously enough with Hungry Like The Wolf debuting on the Billboard charts that Christmas in 1982 and the song has deservedly become a classic of the time.