May 22, 1982

May 26, 2012

As I opt to periodically do – when I have no other viable or unviable ideas – it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week.

I nicked the concept from Chris at 70’s Music Mayhem who uses the format with far greater attention to detail as he works his way through the ’70s.

The first few years of the ’80s was when pop radio provided much of the music for me and Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was appointment listening. Thirty years ago, twelve songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Leslie Pearl – If The Love Fits Wear It
from Words And Music (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #28, 16 weeks on chart)

I know nothing about Leslie Pearl.

If I didn’t know If The Love Fits Wear It, I might believe Leslie Pearl was the name of a character pitched as a “female James Bond” for some proposed movie that never materialized.

But I do know If The Love Fits Wear It. I’d hear it on occasion as its soft rock style was well suited to the sound favored on our hometown radio station before it went full-frontal country a few years later.

It wasn’t much my cup of tea as a fourteen-year old guy in 1982, but now I find it a pleasant if undistinctive momento from the time.

Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
from Eye To Eye (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #37, 13 weeks on chart)

I was surprised to find that Nice Girls only got to #37, as it was all over the radio stations I was listening to during the summer of ’82.

It’s not surprising that the debut album by the duo of American singer Deborah Berg and British pianist Julian Marshall would find success, though, as it boasted an impressive array of noted session players like Abe Laboriel, Jeff Porcaro, and Jim Keltner as well as guest appearances by Donald Fagen and Rick Derringer.

Tying it all together was producer Gary Katz, who had a lengthy resume working with Steely Dan and, though it lacks the lyrical bite of Becker and Fagen, Nice Girls is similarly sophisticated pop.

(Paloma loved the song when I played it for her but didn’t recall hearing it in the ’80s)

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kids In America (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #25, 18 weeks on chart)

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song.

It bounded along.

It had a chanted chorus.

It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

The J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame (1981)
(debuted #87, peaked #40, 11 weeks on chart)

The R&B-laced blues-rock of the J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones and throughout the ’70s the Boston band was a popular live act with the occasional hit song.

In late ’81, the group released Freeze Frame and scored major pop radio success with Centerfold – one of the biggest songs of the year – and the title track.

The third track pulled from Freeze Frame was the mid-tempo ballad Angel In Blue which found its inspiration in doo-wop. Though the song failed to equal the success of the prevous two singles, the lovely, melancholic song retained the band’s soulful vibe and blue-collar grit as it told the tale of a world-weary cocktail waitress.

(for some reason, I’ve long mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

The Greg Kihn Band – Happy Man
from Kihntinued (1982)
(debuted #86, peaked #62, 7 weeks on chart)

Two of my friends were rabid fans of the work of power pop heros Greg Kihn Band even in 1982. I knew the band – as most people probably did – for the insanely hooky The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em) from a year earlier.

I don’t recall ever hearing Happy Man, but it’s certainly in the same vein as The Breakup Song and far more appealing to me than the shuffling dance-rock of Jeopardy, which would be a mammoth hit for the band the following spring.

The Gap Band – Early In The Morning
from Gap Band IV (1982)
(debuted #83, peaked #24, 14 weeks on chart)

There was essentially one R&B station in our listening area and it rarely caught my ear when I’d surf the channels. The pop stations I was listening to would play the hits, but I don’t remember hearing the funky cool and percussive Early In The Morning much at the time.

(which is too bad)

Jon And Vangelis – I’ll Find My Way Home
from The Friends Of Mr. Cairo (1981)
(debuted #81, peaked #51, 8 weeks on chart)

Jon And Vangelis is a duo, so they have that in common with Hall & Oates.

However, this duo is comprised of the lead singer for Yes and the man best-known for the theme from Chariots Of Fire and, unlike the singles of Hall & Oates, I’ll Find My Way Home is utterly devoid of a hook.

(though it is jam-packed with New Age sentiments)

Melissa Manchester – You Should Hear How She Talks About You
from Hey Ricky (1982)
(debuted #76, peaked #5, 25 weeks on chart)

Melissa Manchester was also an act which I associated with the hometown radio station. Her mellow hits like Midnight Blue and Don’t Cry Out Loud were staples I’d hear a breakfast as a kid.

You Should Hear How She Talks About You sounded nothing like those melodramatic ballads. It was upbeat, synthesized dance-pop and it seemed like Manchester was on Solid Gold every other week that summer performing the song.

Van Halen – Dancing In The Street
from Diver Down (1982)
(debuted #74, peaked #38, 11 weeks on chart)

Van Halen’s Diver Down was the first of the band’s albums to be released after my interest in music had become more than passive. So thirty years ago, I was far better acquainted with the band for their recent cover of Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman from earlier that spring than stuff from their classic catalog.

And I have no doubt that I had yet to be introduced to Martha & The Vandellas when I heard Van Halen’s version of Dancing In The Street.

I still love their remaking the Motown classic as a hard rock anthem complete with gurgling keyboards, Eddie’s guitar heroics, and David Lee Roth’s vocal howl.

(a position that is likely considered blasphemy to many)

Neil Diamond – Be Mine Tonight
from On The Way To The Sky (1981)
(debuted #73, peaked #35, 11 weeks on chart)

I vividly recall hearing a lot of Neil Diamond’s hits from the ’70s from the vantage point of the backseat of the car as songs like Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue, and You Don’t Bring Me Flowers streamed from the soft rock stations my parents seemed to favor.

By 1982, I had (mostly) wrested control of the radio from the parents and I would have been far more intent upon finding Kids In America somewhere on the dial than Be Mine Tonight.

Journey – Still They Ride
from Escape (1981)
(debuted #72, peaked #19, 14 weeks on chart)

Of course I loved Journey in the ’80s. I was in junior high and high school when Escape and Frontiers were multi-million selling albums and allegiance to the band was hardly uncommon.

Like J. Geils Band, as summer arrived in 1982, Journey was still having hits from an album released before Thanksgiving break. Still They Ride – which I’d already been hearing for months – was the latest hit from the monstrously successful Escape,

Though I dug Journey and had worn out a cassette of Escape, I wasn’t too enamored with Still They Ride and often skipped it. Three decades later, I have considerably more affection for the wistful song that builds to a rather dramatic crescendo.

Alabama – Take Me Down
from Take Me Down (1982)
(debuted #69, peaked #18, 13 weeks on chart)

During the first couple years of the ’80s, our hometown radio began to shift from Top 40 to light rock to, eventually, whatever was passing for country at the time. Alabama managed to fit into all three formats and, thus, I was used to hearing Feels So Right, Love In The First Degree, and the laid-back, slightly twangy Take Me Down on the kitchen radio.

(not that I was particularly happy about it)

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Teacher Of The Year

May 22, 2012

Miss Chisolm is the teacher of the year, so sayeth the plastic-letters on the marquee of an elementary school I pass each morning on the way to work.

I don’t recall any of the schools which I attended awarding such an honor.

The students, of course, had teachers who were deemed as favorites.

Mrs. Winston in seventh grade was popular as she was young, good-natured, and the closest any of us had ever gotten to a woman who could have been one of Charlie’s angels.

Z was held in high regard with us as freshmen and sophomores in high school. He was a lanky cat in his early thirties with a well-played moustache who was a coach for some of us and entertained all of us with his irreverant attitude, colorful language and affection for rock and roll.

Not surprisingly, the young and the hip were often among the top draws.

There were, though, veteran teachers who, as the result of years of service, teaching generations of the townsfolk, were beloved.

Mrs. Sulley was amongst that group and was retiring at the end our freshman year in high school. She was kindly enough that the worst thing we did was blow soap bubbles in the back of class.

After several days, Mrs. Sulley finally decided to come back to investigate, leading my buddy Beej to suggest that the bubbles had emanated from his socks which he had pulled from a soapy washer that morning.

(she seemed amused by his inventiveness)

At the other end of the spectrum was Mr. Haynes, an emaciated doppelganger of Gene Shalit, clad in plaid polyester pants and sweater vests who taught senior English.

He had the reputation of being a bully.

Me and my friends were bright, bored, and creatively disruptive when we had Mr. Haynes for senior English.

It had all the makings of Thunderdome.

The year was devoted to Greek mythology and Mr. Haynes did indeed seem to relish his power.

And we drove hard to the hoop, antagonizing him as much as possible, daring him to follow through on his threats of impossibly difficult tests.

(as an added bonus, some of our classmates – some of the insufferably studious types – genuinely feared the threats which proved to be mostly bluster)

By Christmas break, the antics from both he and us were more like performance art than mere classroom shenanigans.

By the time the school year ended and we graduated, we would occasionally pop in on Mr. Haynes at home.

He was a bachelor in his ’60s living in an apartment complex. One of our buddies was a neighbor and he’d gruffly let us in when we’d show up at his door. Then, he’d gruffly question us on what mischief we were up to that evening before we’d make our exit to get started on finding some mischief.

Years later, home from college, my brother’s girlfriend recounted that Mr. Haynes – whose class she was taking – spoke often of me and my friends and how much he’d enjoyed the banter we brought to his class.

Yeah, he had been a bit of a bully, but it seemed he more so that he was simply bright, bored, and lacking in creativity.

Here are four songs that I know (or suspect) some of those teachers from the past might have enjoyed…

Stevie Wonder – Send One Your Love
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)

I had few music classes in school as a kid and not so much as a single class in high school. I’ve recounted the impact of the music that I heard in Mrs. Winston’s homeroom class in junior high school.

And I remember another teacher that same year, Mrs. King, had brought in Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants and played it to us over the course of a few classes, having us be still and simply listen.

I recall being spellbound, though I haven’t heard the album in thirty years aside from a few stray tracks. Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants was the soundtrack to a little-seen film on plants and though the album was apparently a musical curveball in 1979, it seems to be rather well-regarded in retrospect.

Swan Dive – Moon River
from June (2002)

I could certainly imagine Mrs. Sulley, the teacher who saw soap bubbles, enjoying the lighter AM pop music of the early ’60s. She likely shook her head at the racket of The Beatles.

She probably grooved to Henry Mancini’s Moon River, but, instead, I’m opting for Swan Dive’s version from forty years later because anyone with a yen for lush, ’60s-styled pop should check out the breezy and brilliant catalog of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
from Cut (1983)

Now Z was about fifteen years older than we were in 1983, so he likely would have dug Golden Earring’s Radar Love which would have been a hit when he was not far removed from being a high school student. But, a) I vividly recall him being a fan of Twilight Zone, and, b) if you turn on a classic rock station right now, you probably would hear Radar Love within the next twenty minutes.

Split Enz – I Got You
from History Never Repeats – The Best Of Split Enz (1987)

I’m going to cheat here as I can’t imagine Mr. Haynes liking anything much but classical music and the little I own I’ve not taken the time to rip to mp3 form.

However, during that senior year, our buddy Streuss took an instrumental from Split Enz’ True Colours album called The Choral Sea and recorded lyrics about Mr. Haynes over the track, including his famous declaration “I don’t care what I said last week and it has no bearing on what I’m doing today.”

I don’t have The Choral Sea, but I do have I Got You, Split Enz lone US hit, which also originally appeared on True Colours.


Summer Of The Mall Rat

May 19, 2012

As the school year came to a close in 1984, synchronistic events were occurring that would shape that summer for me and my friends.

By that May, all of us had obtained our drivers licenses, giving us the ability to escape the limited boundaries of our small hometown.

The fledgling MTV had become available in our area and, as it still hadn’t been co-opted by the major labels, those of us that had access to the channel had exposure to acts that we wouldn’t hear on the radio.

Those of us without MTV had become devotees of the newly-minted alternative rock station 97X from across the border in Ohio and though reception was maddeningly intermittent, it too provided a chance to hear new and exotic music.

With few responsibilities stealing our time, we took every opportunity available – usually when our buddy Beej would “borrow” his brother’s Datsun B210 (known as The Invisible Jet) – to hit the road for the bright lights of the dirty city known as Cincinnati.

We usually stuck to the malls. The malls had everything we didn’t have in our hometown – record stores, book stores, arcades, food courts, escalators – in one place.

And a lot of girls.

(there were, obviously, girls in our town, but we had known most of them since first grade – mall girls were exotic and mysterious)

The record stores in the malls, though chain stores, had more music than we could imagine and more than enough stock to quickly deplete our meager funds without venturing beyond the climate-controlled confines that became frequent haunts that summer.

However, we did wander about enough to discover Globe Records, the first indie record store I’d ever been in.

Globe was located in a part of the city that had little else to take us out of our way. It was a funky, little store, deeper than it was wide, tucked away in a strip mall setting.

It was a low-key place, lots of simple wood bins and racks. I seem to remember an open upstairs level which must have served as a good perch to monitor potential shoplifters.

There were large posters on the walls, haphazardly arrayed. I think the store’s backroom (and the stairs leading to the loft) might have been separated from the floor by a curtain of beads.

I can almost picture the place.

(I couldn’t have shopped there more than a dozen times and it was twenty-five years ago)

But I vividly recall the air musky with the scent of incense.

It had to have been the most bohemian place my friends and I had ever been up to that time in our lives.

Here are four songs that I remember well from that time…

Thomas Dolby – The Flat Earth
from The Flat Earth (1984)

She Blinded Me With Science was a Top Ten single in early ’83, but the song was mostly ignored by the radio stations in our area. I had a cassette of its parent album, The Golden Age Of Wireless, dubbed from a friend, though, and was captivated by Thomas Dolby’s quirky style and songs like One Of Our Submarines and Europa And The Pirate Twins.

My buddy Streuss quickly purchased the various incarnations of The Golden Age Of Wireless and snagged the follow-up, The Flat Earth, upon its release. The manic Hyperactive! – a minor hit in the States – had short-lived appeal to me and I found the rest of the album difficult to embrace.

(it would really be Paloma who would help me rediscover the album a decade later)

Dolby’s reputation as a techno boffin might be well-deserved, but, despite the gadgetry, he somehow imbues his songs with more humanity than more traditional acts and the title song from The Flat Earth is strange and lovely.

“The earth can be any shape that you want it to be.”

The Psychedelic Furs – The Ghost In You
from Mirror Moves (1984)

My buddy Beej was the first of my friends to have cable. And, even before MTV arrived with the summer in 1984, he was discovering new bands watching WTBS’ Night Tracks late-night video show almost a year earlier.

He’d tell us of the videos he’d see by then-obscure acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers and those who would remain unknown such as Burning Sensations. The more unusual the name, the more likely it would catch his attention and he took note of The Psychedelic Furs.

(the rest of us had heard The Furs on the soundtrack to the movie Valley Girl)

The Ghost In You would be the lead track on Mirror Moves which Beej played into the ground throughout the summer, but I never tired of the lovely and dreamy song.

(and still haven’t)

Big Country – Wonderland
from Wonderland EP (1984)

Sandwiched between Big Country’s debut, The Crossing, and its follow-up, Steeltown, which would arrive in late ’84, was a four-track EP released that spring. I had taped The Crossing from a radio station’s late-night airing and finally snagged a cassette of it and the Wonderland EP on one of those record-shopping trips.

The highlight of the EP was the thunderous title track which became a minor hit for Big Country but I heard often on 97X.

The Alarm – 68 Guns
from Declaration (1984)

Earnest and idealistic, The Alarm had a lot in common with U2 when both bands emerged as part of the post-punk scene in the early ’80s. The Alarm served as a support act for U2 as the latter was breaking in the States with War in ’83, but as U2 marched onward to superstardom, The Alarm remained a fringe act.

Though their albums were inconsistent and their range somewhat limited, the Welsh quartet proved more than capable of delivering some stellar moments such as the bracing anthem 68 Guns.