It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.

January 17, 1981

January 15, 2012

Thirty one years ago, I was seeking out music for – really – the first time.

Sure, there had previously been songs here and there that had captured my attention and a few 45s that I’d prodded the parents to purchase, but I would have had barely enough material to compile a desert island list.

Weeks earlier, on New Year’s Day, I had, inexplicably turned on the radio and tuned in to Q102, a Top 40 station from Cincinnati that was popular with my junior high classmates. I didn’t listen to the radio much, if ever, but as I listened I realized that the station was counting down the top 102 songs of 1980, the year that had just ended.

And, even more unexpectedly, I pulled out a tape recorder, popped a blank cassette into the unit, placed the recorder up against the radio, and spent the rest of the day taping those 102 songs.

By the middle of January, I had listened and relistened to those half dozen or so cassettes repeatedly, becoming familiar with the popular music of 1980, most of which I had little familiarity.

I was also tuning into Q102 daily, especially for the station’s Top Ten At Ten, the daily countdown of the most requested songs of the day and a staple of debate amongst friends at school the following day.

It would be another year before I’d begin purchasing music on a regular basis or start listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Billboard meant roadside advertising to me.

But, thirty one years ago, there were half a dozen songs debuting on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100, some of which I knew from those nights listening to Q102…

McGuffey Lane – Long Time Lovin’ You
from McGuffey Lane (1980)
(debuted #97, peaked #85, 7 weeks on chart)

Growing up within spitting distance of the Ohio border, I’d heard the name McGuffey Lane as they were a regional act from Columbus, but I couldn’t have named a song by the band and didn’t recognize Long Time Lovin’ You by name.

But as soon as I started listening to Long Time Lovin’ You, I instantly remembered the song. I imagine that I heard it on our hometown radio station which favored light rock and country as the song has a decidedly country rock feel.

The loping melody and tale of love ruined by too much time on the road has a catchy chorus and, though a bit generic, isn’t a bad song. It’s certainly something I enjoy more now than I would have then.

Terri Gibbs – Somebody’s Knockin’
from Somebody’s Knockin’ (1980)
(debuted #94, peaked #13, 22 weeks on chart)

I certainly knew Somebody’s Knockin’ from Q102. The song by blind Georgian pianist was a fixture on the station during the first few months of ’81 and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song.

Somebody’s Knockin’ straddles the line between country and light pop. Its slick production doesn’t diminish the backwoods vibe and Gibb’s vocals which recount her struggle with the temptations offered by a mysterious stanger.

Slave – Watching You
from Stone Jam (1980)
(debuted #90, peaked #75, 6 weeks on chart)

Slave is a name I know that I’ve seen at one time or another rifling through bins in record stores, but I’ve never been a major R&B devotee. As a kid, there wasn’t a lot of soul on the stations to which I was listening.

Like McGuffey Lane, though, Slave was an act from Ohio, Dayton, to be specific. I do know that there were a number of funk acts from that city during the ’70s and early ’80s like Ohio Players, Lakeside, and Zapp and Watching You is a snappy bit of mid-tempo, light funk, an playful ode to watching girls pass by.

Queen – Flash’s Theme
from Flash Gordon soundtrack (1980)
(debuted #79, peaked #42, 10 weeks on chart)

There seemed to be a lot of hullabaloo about the movie Flash Gordon prior to its release and, then, it bombed. I think that I caught a bit of the campy flick on cable years ago but not enough to care one way or another about it.

Queen was a band that we did care about, though, at the time. The legendary band was coming off of the spectacular success of The Game and, as I recall, both Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust had both been in the top ten for the year on that year-end countdown I’d taped from the radio.

I don’t remember actually hearing the band’s dramatic theme (complete with melodramatic dialogue from the film) to Flash Gordon on the radio in 1981, but it did appear on Queen’s Greatest Hits release from later that year. The cassette version of that album was one of my initial purchases when I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club a year later.

Pat Benatar – Treat Me Right
from Crimes of Passion (1980)
(debuted #68, peaked #18, 18 weeks on chart)

Pat Benatar’s rise to superstar status coincided with my teenage years and she was fetching in spandex, so she could have been singing Bolshevik work songs and she’d have had the attention of me and my friends.

But Benatar had a string of inescapable hits during the early ’80s that made her a staple on most of the crude mixtapes I was making from the radio. I was a fan, but Treat Me Right never quite hooked me the way that stuff like Heartbreaker, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, or Shadows Of The Night did.

John Lennon – Woman
from Double Fantasy (1980)
(debuted #36, peaked #2, 20 weeks on chart)

In mid-January of 1981, the world was a mere five weeks out from the brutal murder of John Lennon. My interest in music, just beginning to take root, gave me little perspective on the death of Lennon and I had little reaction. It would be years before I would mourn the event and the loss of Beatle John.

However, I imagine at the time it was difficult for folks who had grown up with The Beatles to hear the music from Lennon’s just-released Double Fantasy album and his death provided added poignancy to the gentle, lovely ballad Woman.

October 17, 1981

October 15, 2011

The autumn of 1981 was the first time that the radio was the first thing I turned on in the morning and the last thing turned off at night.

Q102 would air the Top Ten At Ten weeknights at the titular hour, so a lot of nights I’d leave the radio on, listening well after they’d finished counting down the day’s most requested songs.

The station was the station for most of my junior high classmates and the previous evening’s countdown usually merited at least a few minutes discussion and debate the following day.

It was a good station for a kid just beginning to become interested in music, Top 40 with diverse offerings ranging from Air Supply and Hall & Oates to The Go-Go’s and Rick James as well as classic Who, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin.

Perusing the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine from thirty years ago, most of the songs are recognizable, some more familiar than others; some I did hear at the time and some only over the ensuing years.

Here are the nine songs making their first appearance on the chart during this week in 1981…

Arlan Day – I Surrender
from Surrender (1981)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 7 weeks on chart)

Arlan Day has one more hit song than me and likely you, yet there’s probably more info floating in cyberspace on most of us than there is on Arlan.

I Surrender makes me wonder if Day was concocted in some lab from leftover scraps of Leo Sayer.

Pablo Cruise – Slip Away
from Reflector (1981)
(debuted #88, peaked #75, 5 weeks on chart)

I know little about Pablo Cruise other than Whatcha Gonna Do? and Love Will Find A Way. I think that they were from California and had moustaches.

(they had that bright, late ’70s California soft pop sound and I think moustaches were mandated for such acts at the time)

Slip Away is pleasant enough, not quite four minutes of unadorned, mid-tempo, yacht rock blues.

The Alan Parsons Project – Snake Eyes
from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
(debuted #86, peaked #67, 5 weeks on chart)

I’ve long owned a lot of music by The Alan Parsons Project, but couldn’t remember Snake Eyes and it wasn’t familiar upon listening to it.

A follow-up to The Turn Of A Friendly Card‘s earlier hits Games People Play and Time, Snake Eyes is neither as catchy as the former nor as evocative as the latter.

Quarterflash – Harden My Heart
from Quarterflash (1981)
(debuted #80, peaked #3, 24 weeks on chart)

Thanks to Casey Kasem I know that Quarterflash got their name from…it’s an Australian saying…

I had to look it up. It derives from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

Harden My Heart was appealing and seems to have retained a bit of a presence.

(and my teenaged buddies and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be quite fetching)

Juice Newton – The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)
from Juice (1981)
(debuted #79, peaked #7, 24 weeks on chart)

Juice Newton caught my attention when I heard Angel Of The Morning and Queen Of Hearts – her earlier Top Ten hits from her self-titled album – on the radio, mostly because her name was Juice.

(sadly, her name is actually Judy)

Juice straddled the line between country and pop with those songs and the singer became a breakout sensation in 1981. The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known) is on the twangier side and, thus, was of no interest to me at the time, but I find the song more engaging now and Juice belts the melodramatic ballad to the back row.

Survivor – Poor Man’s Son
from Premonition (1981)
(debuted #78, peaked #33, 14 weeks on chart)

Survivor was just another aspiring arena rock band in the autumn of ’81, but, by the following summer, the Chicago band would unleash the mighty Eye Of The Tiger into an unsuspecting world. I seem to recall reading that it was hearing Poor Man’s Son that prompted Sylvester Stallone to tap Survivor to compose the theme for Rocky III.

The punchy Poor Man’s Son is servicable but sounds more like a band that would be relegated to opening act status for the Journeys, Foreigners, and REO Speedwagons of the world, hardly hinting at the musical immortality awaiting Survivor.

Kool & The Gang- Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)
from Something Special (1981)
(debuted #67, peaked #17, 17 weeks on chart)

Kool & The Gang was a pop radio staple in the early ’80s and throughout much of the decade, but the venerable R&B/funk act had punched their ticket for enduring fame and fortune a year earlier with the mammoth hit Celebration. The effervescent song became the soundtrack to all things celebatory in nature, especially sporting events.

I never really cared much for the doo-wop tinged Take My Heart, perferring the grittier funk of its follow-up Get Down On It, but I recall my buddy Beej loving the song at the time.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)
(debuted #61, peaked #5, 19 weeks on chart)

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, hey, he just said “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

I totally dug Young Turks, 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.

Diana Ross – Why Do Fools Fall In Love
from Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1981)
(debuted #56, peaked #7, 20 weeks on chart)

Diana Ross had retained her superstar status as a solo act in the ’70s not only with a string of hit songs but in a number of movies as well.

However, like Rod Stewart, my classmates and I knew Ross for her more recent work – stuff like the movie The Wiz and her early ’80s hits like Upside Down, I’m Coming Out, and Endless Love – than her iconic time as a Supreme in the ’60s.

Whatever I knew by The Supremes at the time would have been dismissed as ancient history and Ross’ update of a Frankie Lymon hit from the ’50s usually prompted me to search for something else on the dial.