The A-Team

January 29, 2013

AI got sucked into The A-Team on cable.

Three hours later, I had watched about an hour and a half more of the exploits of Hannibal Smith and friends in movie form than I had ever watched of the television series.

As I was a kid at the time The A-Team initially aired, I was well aware of it. It was enormously popular for awhile and I imagine I undoubtedly checked it out for ten or fifteen minutes on a Tuesday night.

(with five, six channels and no cable, the viewing options were limited)

I was fifteen when The A-Team arrived. I think I essentially shrugged it off as simplistic.

And Mr. T…I remember the first kid in our neighborhood that had made it into The City to catch the previous summer’s blockbuster Rocky III. The next morning, we gathered as usual for a pick-up baseball game.

It was June and the sun beat down on us. It was already hot.

The lot of us were sprawled out on the grass, sweltering, breakfast digesting as Alvin recounted to us the plot of Rocky III and we hung on every word.

He was a generally quiet kid but he verbally jitterbugged as he excitedly got the first few moments out.

And he stopped.

He seemed crazy from the heat, like some addled prospector wandered in from the desert telling tales, as he slowly told of the beast that was Rocky’s opponent, Clubber Lang as played by Mr. T.

Clubber had a Mohawk.

Clubber mostly growled.

Clubber was unstoppable.

His destruction of Rocky for the heavyweight title was done with a stunning savage efficiency.

When we all finally got to see Rocky III – it arrived in our small town’s theater pretty quickly – we might have been rooting for Rocky, but we were in awe of Clubber.

Clubber was soon overshadowed by Mr. T. It seemed he was everywhere – talk shows, magazines, commercials.

Clubber had been a frightening creation. Mr. T soon began to grate on my nerves.

I was also spending more time listening to music during the years that The A-Team originally aired and the show wouldn’t have had enough appeal to pull me from doing so.

As for the movie, it was a decent popcorn flick unburdened by preconceptions or childhood memory.

The A-Team debuted almost thirty years ago to the day. Here are four songs from albums that were also arriving that week in 1983…

Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger
from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)

By the time Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) was released, several singles had been issued and failed to gain traction. In the States, it took until summer, but the title track finally clicked and gave the Eurythmics a breakthrough hit that topped the charts.

Sweet Dreams might be better remembered, but I’ve always preferred the chilly Love Is A Stranger.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1983)

Todd Rundgren’s commercial peak had expired about five years before I was listening to music. However, my friends and I were exposed to the music of Runt – both past and present – through our buddy Bosco. He was a Rundgren fanatic and each new release from the man was an event.

According to the internet, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a contractual obligation album and considered a throwaway, but I’ve remained quite found of the set.

(though I need never, ever again to hear Bang The Drum All Day – ever)

And I do love the clanging call to action, Drive. It makes me want to go to work tomorrow, burn down my office building, load Paloma and the animals into The Jeepster, and do as the title suggests.

Journey – Send Her My Love
from Frontiers (1983)

Journey’s follow-up to the iconic Escape was the most eagerly anticipated album of my young life in January, 1983. Separate Ways arrived as Frontiers‘ first single and it quickly became a Top Ten hit.

And, a week or so before the full album arrived in stores, I stayed up to tape Frontiers when it was played on Frog’s Midnight Album, which aired nightly on WEBN.

I played that copy of Frontiers incessantly until I made it into Cincinnati and to a record store to purchase an actual cassette. Even as I listened to it repeatedly into the summer, I could hear it as a calculated attempt to replicate Escape.

However, the haunted Send Her My Love would have been a worthy addition to Frontiers’ predecessor.

Red Rider – Human Race
from Neruda (1983)

Canadian band Red Rider never got much love here in the States. They’d get a smattering of airplay on our album rock stations and the moody Lunatic Fringe was deservedly a staple (even if I doubt most listeners could have named the band performing it).

I seem to recall hearing the sparse, eerie Human Race occasionally that spring and it’s a compelling mix of straight-ahead rock with a slight New Wave vibe.

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Happy Birthday, Excitable Boy

January 26, 2013

(a couple days late, but…our annual tribute to one of our favorites…)

That’s right. If it hadn’t been for a miserable little tumor, Warren Zevon might be having cake and wearing a silly hat today.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bad Example couldn’t be with us.

My interest in Zevon began with his 1987 album Sentimental Hygiene. I was in college and the fact that the members of R.E.M. served as Zevon’s backing band legally mandated my curiosity.

The album left me slightly underwhelmed but intrigued enough to snag a copy of the compilation A Quiet, Normal Life: The Best Of Warren Zevon.

It was a revelation as I discovered there was much, much more to the man than a single song about werewolves – beheaded mercenaries, diplomats, duplicitous waitresses, and innumerable other, colorful ne’er-do-wells populated the lyrics.

I was hooked.

Paloma gave me a copy of his biography, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, three Christmases ago, which I inhaled in about two days. Compiled by his ex-wife with instruction by Warren to leave nothing out – including a recipe for meatloaf – it is so candid that it’s a bit exhausting at times.

The man did lead a full-grown life that would make for a good screenplay. If you can start a story with a sixteen year-old kid stealing a Corvette which his Russian father – who is a professional gambler – has won in a card game and taking off to New York to be a folk singer in the late ‘60s even though he aspires to be the next Igor Stravinsky (under whom he has studied)…

By the time I graduated from college, I had listened to a lot of Zevon and had seen him live at The Vogue in Indianapolis. I’d continue to listen to a lot of Zevon and I’d see two more of his shows.

I also once had a bizarre dream where Warren had been sentenced to some community service work for some transgression. He was to take underprivileged kids camping.

Instead, this motley collection of kids ended up in sleeping bags on the floor of some posh hotel suite; the carnage of dozens of room service trays everywhere (certainly at least one pot roast).

And Warren?

He was standing amidst the wreckage, cigarette in hand as he growled, “We’re roughing it now, aren’t we kids?”

Wherever he might be on this day, I hope he’s enjoying a sandwich.

Here are eight songs from the late, great Warren Zevon…

Warren Zevon – Desperados Under The Eaves
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Leave it to Warren Zevon to make the hum of an air conditioner sound like a spiritual refrain.

Warren Zevon – Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Streuss, a buddy from high school and college, accompanied me the first time I saw Zevon live. As Streuss was prone to declare, “I’m part Norwegian,” I think he took particular pride in the exploits of “Norway’s bravest son.”

Warren Zevon – Play It All Night Long
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Life is hard and apparently more so in the rural South. Possibly the only song in the history of mankind which mentions brucellosis.

Warren Zevon – Splendid Isolation
from Transverse City (1989)

The first “new” album by Warren Zevon that I bought at release. There were no shortage of eclectic musicians who guested on Zevon’s albums, ranging from R.E.M. to Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan to George Clinton.

Neil Young makes an appearance on the splendid Splendid Isolation.

Warren Zevon – Heartache Spoken Here
from Mr. Bad Example (1991)

Dwight Yoakam adds harmony vocals to the twangy Heartache Spoken Here and makes me wonder of the hijinks which might have ensued had Warren gone country and ended up at the Grand Ol’ Opry.

Warren Zevon – Searching For A Heart
from Mr. Bad Example (1991)

“They say love conquers all. You can’t start it like a car. You can’t stop it with a gun.”

Perfect.

Warren Zevon – Mutineer
from Mutineer (1995)

Near the end of his life as he was dying from cancer, Warren made an appearance on long-time fan David Letterman’s show (the only time Letterman has ever devoted an entire show to one guest). Part of the interview and a rather poignant performance of Mutineer can be seen here.

Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart
from The Wind (2003)

I wasn’t particularly wowed by Zevon’s late ’90s output, but the man went out on a high note with The Wind, released just two weeks before he passed away.

It was his sardonic wit that drew me to Warren Zevon’s music, but the man was capable of delivering the sweet with the bitter and Keep Me In Your Heart is the simple and poignant song that closed The Wind.


Airwaves

January 24, 2013

djIt’s supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight.

It was cold during the winter of ’81/’82. Or maybe it wasn’t and I merely recollect it as so.

I do know for certain that it was during that winter that time I might have previously spent sprawled out in the family room watching television was being spent sprawled out in my bedroom, listening to the radio.

Music had become an increasing curiosity in my world over the previous year or so as I realized that the subject was being broached as much as sports and girls in hallway conversations with my junior high buddies.

Accompanying me on this journey into an unexplored world – hell, making it possible – was a battered table-top radio which I’d relocated from my dad’s basement work space.

I’d kneel on my bed with my elbows on the window ledge and stare out into the darkness. Across the country road that ran in front of our house were fields that in warmer months teemed with soybeans or corn.

Now, in the dead of winter, there might be a dusting of snow covering the dormant earth, perhaps a few stray stalks of corn that had been knocked over and missed in the autumn harvest.

Staring out into the dark, I knew that I was gazing eastward and that somewhere beyond a horizon I couldn’t see, sixty miles or so away, was Cincinnati.

More than likely, I was listening to Q102, which was broadcasting from Cincinnati. The station was the one that was most popular with my peers and I was still hesitant to move around the dial much, preferring to listen to the music that the rest of my buddies were listening.

I’d stare into the darkness through the frosted window pane and listen to the DJs with whom I was becoming familiar – Mark, Chris, Janeen – and consider them somewhere out there in some studio, bantering with an audience of which I was now a member.

The DJ would mention neighborhoods and places with which I was familiar. The weather outside my window jibed with the forecasts that they’d rattle off between songs.

If I was shivering, they were shivering, too.

We were in it together.

At least that’s how I remember that winter.

Here are four songs that are listed from Q102’s playlist in Billboard from this week in 1982…

The Commodores – Oh No
from In the Pocket (1981)

One of my buddies at a record store in college was an older bass player and funk aficionado. He would show me pictures of his band in the ’70s and it was obvious that The Commodores had been a fashion influence.

(the visual that comes to mind when I think of The Commodores, I think of pictures of the ’70s and Brick House)

But when it comes to the sound of The Commodores, I think first of the mostly mellow band on the radio in the early ’80s. And the concisely titled Oh No is moi mellow.

Oh No was at the top of Q102’s chart even though further back in the same issue of Billboard, it had already dropped out of the Top 40 in that week’s Hot 100 chart.

I had no reference for Oh No‘s subject matter at the time, but it was quite obvious that it was quite adult and quite serious.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)

In 1981, my classmates and I knew little of Rod Stewart’s already extensive history aside from his disco vamp Do You Think I’m Sexy, that song’s follow-up Ain’t Love A Bitch (because he sang “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

And that winter, we all knew Young Turks. I totally dug the song, the tale of Billy and Patti and their ten-pound baby boy, which found Rod ditching the disco trappings for a more wiry, New Wave musical vibe.

Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

Foreigner 4 had been one of the biggest albums of the school year and, by January of 1982, it had already spawned two mammoth hits with Urgent and Waiting For A Girl Like You.

Thirty-one years ago, Q102 listed the album’s third single, Juke Box Hero, as an add to the station’s playlist in Billboard.

The protagonist in the song had at least made it to the venue, even if he got stuck in the rain with no ticket. With no car, no money, and not even old even to drive, I was was eighteen months away from my first concert.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981)

There were several huge hits that were getting airplay on Q102 that winter – Olivia Newton John’s Physical, J. Geils Band’s Centerfold, Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That

And then there was Joan Jett & The Blackheart’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which, like Juke Box Hero, was a new add to Q102’s playlist.

I seem to recall hearing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll for the first time following school one afternoon and several more times over the course of that evening including on Q102’s Top Ten At Ten that night.

It would remain on the nightly countdown for the next few months and, by March, the song would be entrenched at the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100 where it would remain for nearly two months.