Thirty-Three And Forever

October 14, 2012

I happened to catch part of an American Top 40 countdown while running errands with Jeepster this morning. Casey Kasem was doing his thing just as he had from this week in 1974.

At the time of the original broadcast, I was a first-grader trying to adjust to a school in a small town where I had lived for less than a year. Most of my classmates seemed to be related and most of their parents had gone to school together.

Not good times.

And most of the songs Casey was playing were ones that I recollect hazily, if at all, from that time.

So, I thought that I’d consult a Billboard Hot 100 chart from later in the decade, when there would be fewer cobwebs.

As October was reaching its mid-point in 1979, I was a sixth grader and my friends and I were engrossed in the 1979 World Series.

It was shaping up to be a short series as Baltimore had taken three of the first four games against Pittsburgh.

I was dismayed. The broadcasters kept reminding me that there were just four times in the 75 year history of the World Series that had rallied from such a deficit to win the title.

If you were a twelve-year old kid pulling for the Pirates, it might as well have been never.

I was a Pirate fan through birth with familial ties to Western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had known Bill Robinson, who was starting for the team in the outfield.

My grandfather had passed away a month into that season, having been devoted to the team since the days of Honus Wagner.

October 13, 1979 was a Saturday and the night before the Pirates had dropped game three of the series.

I had remained sprawled out in front of the television late into the night, until the last, miserable out and I was still brooding about it as I biked to a soccer game that morning.

That night, it would be a repeat as the Orioles took the seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead.

And, eight days later, I was watching when the Pirates won a third straight game – game seven – to clinch the World Series.

(and the team hasn’t returned since)

Music was just beginning to pull some of my attention from sports that autumn. I was most certainly a passive listener, hearing music mostly when exposed to it through others.

Here are four songs that were on the radio that autumn as the Pirates were playing in the World Series (in what it seems – as each year passes – might have been for the last time in my lifetime)…

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution (1979)

Journey was still two years away from Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids not old enough to drive, the song came on the jukebox.

As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed and inert, transfixed and mystified.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk (1979)

The bowling alley was the other premier place to see and be seen once you reached junior high school.

I heard unusual Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox that autumn. And, I would pester my buddy Tony to play his 45 of the song when we hung out at his house.

It’s “real savage like” and a fine example of the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Foreigner – Dirty White Boy
from Head Games (1979)

I knew Foreigner for songs like Cold As Ice, Double Vision, and Hot Blooded. I’d hear them blaring from the Camaro of an older kid in our neighborhood as he raced through the street headed for somewhere.

And the title track and Dirty White Boy from Head Games were two more songs that I associate with the bowling alley jukebox. For all of the grief that Foreigner might be given, their straight-ahead rock stuff certainly did sound cool blaring from a Camaro eight-track player or bowling alley jukebox.

(and, the girl on the cover of Head Games was Lisanne Falk, who would play one of the Heathers in the 1989 black comedy Heathers)

Cheap Trick – Dream Police
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

Cheap Trick exploded in 1979 with Cheap Trick At Budokan and the quartet from Rockford, Illinois is one of the first bands I can recall my classmates embracing with fervor.

Dream Police was culled from the parent album of the same name – the follow-up to the mega-selling At Budokan – and we delighted in the manic, subconscious angst of the protagonist and the driving music of the power-pop classic.

And, I can’t hear Dream Police now and not think of sketchy ticket-scalper Mike Damone in the iconic Fast Times At Ridgemont High making his pitch – “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” – and singing a snippet of the song.

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The Sporting News

May 4, 2012

In a pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there were limited options for a sports junkie to get a fix.

Perhaps ten minutes of time on the late news might be devoted to sports – scores and a few highlights. If you followed a particular team that wasn’t in your area, you’d have to hope for a bit of coverage in the sports section of the morning newspaper.

And, as our newspaper and most of our television channels originated from Cincinnati, a city without an NBA team, it was as if professional basketball didn’t exist.

In that pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there was one place to find detailed coverage of the sports world.

The Sporting News would arrive in the school library toward the week’s end and the competition for it would be fierce. The competition for the previous week’s issue, which was now free to be checked out, would be equally so.

A couple classmates were fortunate enough to have subscriptions – heady stuff for a pre-teen – so there were often a couple extra copies to be had if you were connected.

Sports Illustrated was a must-read, but The Sporting News was the source for a recap of a Bulls/Spurs matchup on a Tuesday night in February.

(though the game would have taken place a week and a half or more before you read about it)

The Sporting News was also the most indispensible source to gather (relatively) current statistics in far greater detail than the sports section. Even the box scores were more granular.

It was the place to get the information to trump your buddies when the question of who was leading the country in scoring was up for discussion.

(and knowing it was some small forward from California-Irvine averaging 26.2 points a game)

At twelve, I’d pore over each page, accumulating a layer of newsprint on my fingers, as though it contained the sum of all knowledge in the universe.

Thirty-three years ago, fifth grade was coming to a close and summer break was within sight, just a few, tantalizing weeks away. Baseball box scores would have been jostling with coverage of the NBA playoffs for space within the pages of The Sporting News.

That May, my grandfather passed away. Five months later, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates staged a dramatic comeback to beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Today, it’s been a couple years since I thumbed through a copy of The Sporting News. There are numerous opportunities to access the information – up to the moment – that made the magazine so prized back in the day.

(and I don’t even need that accessibility to know that the Pirates are, as they have been for much of the past two decades, near the bottom of the standings)

Here are four songs that were on the Billboard Hot 100 in early May, 1979…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi (1978)

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose because of how often I heard it at the pool during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits (1992)

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to explore further. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52′s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.


It’s Even Better Than Festivus

March 16, 2011

As someone who, as a kid, watched Bird and Magic in the ’79 NCAA basketball title game, March has long been, perhaps, the most wonderful month of the year.

Like December, March is a month-long trek full of anticipation and excitement, culminating in one massive blowout. But hoops in March trumps holidays in December.

The latter can be a slog, filled with stress and when you’ve reached the end, whether it’s been memorable or miserable, you’re staring at the deepest, darkest stretch of winter.

The former, even in less memorable years, is bound to have stellar games, performances and moments. By the time some team cuts down the nets, it’s spring.

The anticipation of the tournament beginning this week had me toggling between three games one night last week. I settled on Robert Morris/Long Island University – the most competitive matchup – playing in a gym that was no larger than the high school gym in my hometown.

In college, I’d watch more basketball games in a week than I’ve probably caught this entire season. It was required as I attended a school that was a hoops power in a state mad for the game, so, even if there wasn’t a game on ESPN, there was often a college game on one of the local channels.

And there was the serendipitous intersection of my years in college and the years during which ESPN aired games all day long. It was now possible to watch twelve, fifteen hours of basketball in one day.

Those first two rounds of the tournament probably resulted in my GPA being at least a tenth of a percent lower because the Thursday and Friday games caused a cessation of all educational matters.

The experience was made sweeter by the fact that March in Indiana can often be cold, grey, and rainy.

There was something life affirming about not trekking to class in the raw conditions but, instead, encamping on the couch in sweats and a heavy sweater, eating pizza and watching Pepperdine/Seton Hall at one in the afternoon.

I managed to retain some semblence of this annual tradition well into the ’90s, but, in the past decade, the times I’ve gotten to spend watching the Thursday or Friday day games have become fewer.

But I’m taking Friday off this week.

I’m older now, so it won’t be the epic, viewing marathon and showcase for one man’s will to remain inert, gorging on pizza and hoops that it was in college.

Not without a nap or two.

Here are four songs from Billboard‘s chart for this week in March, 1979, when hoops fans were formally introduced to the great Larry Bird…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose it would have still been on the radio a lot during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to check out. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52’s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.