The Drummer On The Couch

March 29, 2012

I spoke with a college buddy last week. He had called days earlier to inform me that a young drummer friend of his was moving to town.

I’m old enough to know better than to let him follow me home.

Years ago, I spent twelve months or so managing a band.

(and actually managed to get a label to offer them a deal)

Not long after meeting them, the drummer crashed on the couch in the house where I was living. Within a couple weeks, he was living on that couch.

It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. He coughed up a third of the rent.

He could have the couch. I had a mammoth room – the biggest in the place – and a hundred dollars more a month to spend at the watering holes.

Cooper was an asset. I could depend on him to diffuse tensions within the band with his antics.

At home, he could be a source of entertainment. I returned late one night after closing one of our local haunts. I slumped down down on one of the couches in our living room. Coop was sitting there with another roommate whom we had dubbed The Chinaman, watching a rerun of The X Files.

I soon noticed the smell of something burning.

“Yeah, those are probably ready,” Coop noted to The Chinaman, shuffling off to the kitchen.

I followed and watched as he pulled a tray of Pillsbury rolls from the oven, charred beyond reasonable – even drunken – edibility.

“You’re not going to eat those? Are you?”

The Chinaman looked at me as though I was crazy as he and Coop headed to the front porch with the busquits and a couple of wedges.

“Where the hell did you get golf clubs?”

The two were standing in the front yard, illuminated by the glow of the street light and the odd car. Mostly the neighborhood was still.

“Fore!” Coop bellowed as he chipped one of the briquettes and we watched it arc lazily into a neighbor’s yard across the street.

One by one, the two of them took turns until a dozen or so freshly-roasted Pillsbury rolls had landed on the green. Apparently this neighbor had invoked their ire and this was their vengeance.

It became a late-night ritual, though we soon opted for using foodstuff that had already spoiled.

Here are four songs featuring drummers I dig…

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)

I don’t often notice drummers, but I’ve come to realize that the ones that do seem to catch my attention are propulsive and primal which is exactly how I’d describe Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain.

(coincidentally, the drummer on my couch claimed to have known Chamberlain back in Chicago)

As for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Paloma and I spent countless hours listening to the double album during the autumn of ’95 and, from the first time I heard it, Tonight, Tonight was among my favorite tracks.

(though it’s still strange to hear it on the Major League Baseball playoff commercials)

The Who – Baba O’Riley
from Who’s Next (1971)

And, if you want propulsive and primal, you want Keith Moon.

(yes, Won’t Get Fooled Again better fit the bill, but I prefer Baba O’Riley)

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live (1994)

I suspect part of my affection for Manu Katché is his name which is lots of fun to say.

(Manu Katché, Manu Katché, Manu Katché)

However, I do quite like Manu’s mystic rhythms which seem perfectly suited for the songs of Peter Gabriel. Coop once spent twenty minutes pointing out Katché’s prowess on video to me and, given a bit of insight, I was duly impressed.

(and I’m thinking our next addition to the menagerie might be named Manu Katché)

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures (1981)

There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity.

A ticket, t-shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less twenty-five years ago than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

Shooting Star

March 25, 2012

Thirty years ago, music was a still mostly an unexplored world for me. It had been no more than six months since I’d brought an old radio up from the basement.

The quarter century of rock music that had preceeded me was of little consequence, yet. The songs and acts that were most popular – and, thus, most notable to me – were the ones which I heard most on the radio.

In the spring of ’82, radio would have led me to believe that the band Shooting Star was as popular as Journey.

(and Journey had just released Escape six months earlier)

But as I was hearing Journey’s Open Arms climb the countdown on American Top 40 each week that spring, Shooting Star’s Hollywood was nowhere to be found despite me hearing the latter seemingly as often as the former.

Not only would I continue to hear Hollywood on the radio well into that summer, but, over the next several years, each release from Shooting Star would spawn songs that would get significant airplay.

Yet Shooting Star caused little more than a slight ripple outside of the Midwest where I was.

Despite the heavy airplay that Hollywood got from radio stations in our area, the song was one of only three Shooting Star singles to reach Billboard‘s Hot 100, none of them climbing higher than #67.

The band’s five albums from the first half of the ’80s also garnered little attention.

It’s understandable that Shooting Star would have been a fixture on Midwestern radio as the band hailed from Kansas City and their melodic rock was well suited for an album rock landscape dominated by Journey, Foreigner, Billy Squier, and Heart.

Today, Shooting Star – despite still existing in some incarnation – is little more than a footnote, but a footnote that has pockets of rabid devotion on the internet.

(see the breathlessly enthusiastic reviews of the band’s catalog on AllMusic Guide)

In truth, it’s not surprising that Shooting Star was unable to become much more than a regional success. The songs might have sounded good on the radio, but the band’s workman-like rock rarely distinguished itself from their better-known contemporaries.

Yet, Shooting Star is a musical trinket from those formative years and there remains a place in my heart for a band that most listeners likely missed at the time.

Here are four songs from Shooting Star…

Shooting Star – Last Chance
from Shooting Star (1980)

After building a following on the club level, Shooting Star became the first American band to ink a deal with Virgin Records as the label attempted to break a mainstream rock act in the States.

(it wouldn’t be the last time that the band would be the answer to a musical trivia question)

Like fellow Midwesterners Kansas, Shooting Star incorporated violin into their sound and, though they mostly did so without Kansas’ progressive inclinations, the anthemic Last Chance is an epic-length track that builds to a suitably dramatic crescendo.

Shooting Star – Hollywood
from Hang On For Your Life (1982)

Hollywood seemed to be blaring from every beat-up Camaro in my hometown for months on end in 1982. The song breaks no new ground with its tale of farm-fresh Midwestern girl having her dreams get shattered and getting sucked into the seedy underbelly of the dirty city. But, it is an engaging four minutes of straight-ahead rock with a sentimental pull.

Shooting Star – Summer Sun
from Silent Scream (1985)

Not only did Shooting Star serve as an opening act for their more successful album rock contemporaries including Journey, Jefferson Starship, Kansas, Bryan Adams, and Heart, the band enlisted producer Ron Nevison – who had worked with several of those bands – for 1985’s Silent Scream.

Silent Scream was released at about the same time that Heart’s Nevison-produced self-titled album was providing the Wilson sisters with a major comeback, but Silent Scream proved to be a swan song – albeit temporarily – for Shooting Star.

However, like previous albums, Silent Scream found a home on the rock stations in our area. The driving, seasonally-appropriate Summer Sun was the most popular track and one I can still hear as I recall the efforts of my friends and me to find something to do in our small town that summer.

Shooting Star – Touch Me Tonight
from Touch Me Tonight: The Best Of Shooting Star (1989)

I returned from studying in Southeast Asia toward the end of 1989 to find a reunited Shooting Star again blaring from the radio with the polished rocker Touch Me Tonight. Though it was rather generic stuff and hardly the alternative rock to which I had mostly gravitated, there was still something appealing about knowing that the band was still out there.

That perseverance resulted in the highest-charting single of Shooting Star’s career – albeit at a lowly #67 – and Touch Me Tonight‘s parent compilation album became the first record to make Billboard‘s album charts without a vinyl release.

Bowling With Joe Walsh

March 21, 2012

I noted not long ago that my relationship with the music of the Eagles is complicated.

(a complication compounded by never being able to remember if it’s The Eagles or simply Eagles)

Whatever the name, the Eagles were done just about the time I wandered in and started listening to music. The Long Run was released as I was entering sixth grade and the thumping Heartache Tonight was guaranteed to be heard blaring from the bowling alley juke box where those of us not old enough to drive spent hung out.

(actually, the bowling alley was a hub for even the high school kids on winter afternoons)

I Can’t Tell You Why is still etched into my memory from Q102’s top 102 songs of 1980. I’d taped much of the countdown from the radio and sandwiched between Christopher Cross’ Ride Like The Wind and Gary Numan’s Cars, both of which I loved, was the wistful Eagles’ hit.

Though that was the Eagles’ swan song – at least until hell froze over in the ’90s – their music remained inescapable on radio.

Scanning the radio dial, sifting through the heartland rock of Journey and Styx, the soulful pop of Hall & Oates, and the more modern sounds of Duran Duran and Missing Persons, it was a given that I would come across Hotel California.

The song was less than a decade old, but from the perspective of a fourteen-year old, it was ancient.

It didn’t help that the Eagles were one of the few rock acts that our town’s radio station – which leaned toward light pop and country – would play.

The Eagles were old and something that my parents could handle over morning coffee.

So, I mostly dismissed the Eagles and their music with a shrug, but I soon became openly hostile toward the group as radio pummeled me with the songs.

But time marched on and, as I finished high school, I was listening to the radio less. Absence made the heart grow less hostile and, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the Eagles and dig songs like Take It Easy, Lyin’ Eyes, and Life In The Fast Lane when I hear them.

Not that I think I’d ever want to go bowling with the band.

(though I certainly wouldn’t express this thought to a cabbie in the wee hours)

I can imagine Don Henley being surly and arguing over foot fouls or he and Glenn Frey might be hitting on some underage girl working at the snack bar.

(I also imagine both spending an annoying amount of time fussing over their hair)

Of course, I have no doubt that bowling with Joe Walsh would be more fun than killing a drifter.

Here are four songs by former US presidential candidate Joe Walsh…

Joe Walsh – Life’s Been Good
from Sounds Of The Seventies: 1978 (1990)

Being a rock star sounds like a lot fun.

During the late ’80s, Glenn Frey did commercials for some fitness club. Upon seeing one, a roommate mumbled, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

Joe Walsh – All Night Long
from Urban Cowboy soundtrack (1980)

I didn’t see Urban Cowboy in the theater and I’ve seen less than a few minutes here and there on cable throught the years, but I do remember hearing the sweaty and raucous All Night Long a lot that summer.

It was likely my introduction to Joe Walsh. A few years later, a high school friend would be a devoted fan who probably did more to promote Walsh’s music during those years than his record label did.

Joe Walsh – Space Age Whiz Kids
from You Bought It – You Name It (1983)

The high school friend had a knack for knowing street dates and I recall his anticipation for the arrival of You Bought It – You Name It.

If I’d hadn’t been aware of the album from him, I would have known soon enough as the quirky Space Age Whiz Kids got played a lot on one of our rock stations.

I heard a lot of Joe Walsh on the radio during the early ’80s, both his ’70s stuff – which seems to be better regarded – and songs from then-current new releases.

Joe Walsh – The Radio Song
from Got Any Gum? (1987)

Got Any Gum? brought me and a college roommate more hours of delight than probably anyone in America. The title and the back cover photo of Walsh mopping a floor caused us to laugh like hyaenas.

(it was a staple when we worked a shift together at a record store)

The critics hated the album and perhaps it was best heard as a college kid working in a record store. Still, there is a goofy, bubble gum charm to The Radio Song.