The Union Jack

January 12, 2012

“You look different,” Paloma said.

As I had done nothing new with my hair, I countered her comment with a quizzical, gape-jawed stare.

“You’re standing up.”

It was true. I was vertical as opposed to the horizontal posture I had been prone to adopt for much of the past week as the result of sharing my immune system with some miserable, little bug.

And several times during the week, too enfeebled with fever to do more than slump on the couch, too weary from coughing fits to even turn my head toward the television, I stared straight ahead to the wall where I’d zone out in the pattern of the large Union Jack flag hanging there.

The flag has been with me for a long, long time, acquired during one of the many high school treks into Cincinnati with friends to roam through the malls searching for girls, music, and Orange Julius.

It was about this time of year, a couple weeks after the new year that a handful of us were on such a venture.

It was frigid outside and, inside, there were “sidewalk” sales during which the stores would take the crap that they hadn’t been able to unload at Christmas weeks earlier and piled the wares onto tables at discounted prices.

Outside one of the storefronts, I found my buddy Streuss, in his hand he clutched a Union Jack.

“You’re buying a British flag?”

“Five bucks, man. I’m hanging it up in my bedroom.”

England was some faraway land and I don’t recall much Brittania in my life as a kid.

A television station out of Dayton would air Benny Hill reruns late on Saturday nights. My neighbor Will and I would watch the hijinks through the snowy reception on the Magnavox in his family’s den.

In junior high school, I might have actually thought England was little more than slapstick, double entendres, and scattily-clad women.

But I soon discovered music and, especially in the early ’80s, there was plenty of it arriving in America from England. Even before I ventured far from Top 40 and mainstream rock radio, I was hearing The Police, Human League, The Fixx, A Flock Of Seagulls, Duran Duran…

And, of course there was the previous twenty years of exports from the British isle with whom I would become increasingly familiar.

I grabbed the remaining flag from the table. It was only five bucks, marked down from sixty-five (which would have been like twelve-thousand dollars in today’s dollars).

It was too good a deal to pass up.

And, for the past twenty-five years, that Union Jack has been hanging on the wall wherever I’ve lived.

Perusing the Billboard charts from twenty-five years ago, there were more than a few acts hailing from the U.K. Here are four that I recall…

Pete Townshend – Give Blood
from White City: A Novel (1985)

Had I been ten years older, I might well have associated the Union Jack with The Who, but the first truly iconic use of the British flag that I noted was when Def Leppard exploded onto the scene in ’83 with Pyromania.

Coincidentally, at the time I bought my Union Jack, Who guitarist Pete Townshend had recently released White City. These days, I’d probably favor All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, but White City is pretty stellar (aside from the hit Face The Face) and the bracing Give Blood – with David Gilmour making an appearence – was a favorite.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon
from Under A Raging Moon (1985)

And, coincidentally, Who lead singer Roger Daltrey had also recently released a solo album that, like Townshend’s, got some attention.

There were a few songs written by Bryan Adams (and his writing partner Jim Vallance) and much of Under A Raging Moon was rather uninspired, but it did include After The Fire, a fantastic track penned by Townshend.

The title track to Under A Raging Moon, a tribute to The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon, was notable for Daltrey’s ferocious vocals and the line-up of guest drummers – Martin Chambers, Roger Taylor, Cozy Powell, Stewart Copeland, Zak Starkey, Carl Palmer, and Mark Brzezicki – that perform on it.

Queen – One Vision
from A Kind Of Magic (1986)

Queen had peaked in America with The Game, which was released while I was in junior high and the stuff that followed from the legendary band – ’82’s Hot Space and ’84’s The Works – were largely ignored.

But the band remained popular with me and several friends and we were stoked when One Vision arrived in late ’85. It was on the soundtrack to some action flick whose name escapes me (and I’m too lazy to look up), one of several soundtracks in the ’80s that featured Queen’s music.

One Vision sounded great on the car radio that winter when we all spent a lot of time in the car together, usually going nowhere in particular, and the result was often everyone joining in on Freddie Mercury’s closing request for fried chicken.

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door (1985)

Streuss had discovered The Cure with The Head On The Door, most likely via the memorable video for the perky – at least musically – Close To Me. He was soon catching up on their earlier albums which made me intimately familiar with much of their catalog before the band broke to the masses.

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Two For Tuesday

March 8, 2011

Once I reached college – and easy access to a dozen record stores – Tuesday was indelibly stamped into my music-centric mind as new release day.

Tuesday remained a linchpin of the week for me because of music well into the ’90s and my thirties.

But in high school, new releases would have to wait for a trek into Cincinnati as the lone store in our hometown that carried music stocked a small selection. New titles might take weeks to arrive after release to the civilized world.

Music was the stuff that held together my fairly eclectic cast of friends and, more weeks than not, most of us were anticipating something that we wanted as soon as it hit the racks.

The wait could seem interminable.

If the title was a lesser-known act, it might make for a scavenger hunt involving dozens of visits to a number of record stores over weeks, even months to be in the right store at the right time to find what you desired.

By our senior year, we began to swing the odds in our favor. There would always be a handful of us ditching Tuesday and getting to the record stores as they opened.

It was usually Cincinnati, but, depending on who had procured transportation and, thus, was leading the junket, we might end up in Indianapolis.

If Naptown was the destination, we were usually listening to Q95 as the station’s mix of classic rock and (then) current stuff had something for all of us.

And Tuesdays meant “two for Tuesdays” – all day the station played back-to-back songs by each act. I’m sure it was hardly an uncommon gimmick, but I don’t recall any of the other rock stations we could dial up using it.

Acts with new or relatively new releases were often favored on Q95’s Two for Tuesday with one track being from the recent album and another being a popular song from the artist’s catalog.

So, here are four pairs of songs that I very well might have heard on Q95 during early March in 1986 when, if it was Tuesday, I probably wasn’t in class…

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers with Stevie Nicks – Needles And Pins
from Pack Up The Plantation: Live!

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – American Girl
from Playback

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers assisted Stevie Nicks on her first solo hit, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, and also appeared with the Fleetwood Mac songstress on her follow-up album The Wild Heart.

However, I prefer their partnership on this cover of The Searchers’ hit (co-written by Sonny Bono) which appeared on Petty’s album Pack Up The Plantation: Live!

As for American Girl, I can’t help but hear this Petty classic and not be transported to the hallways of Ridgemont High.

Blue Öyster Cult – Dancin’ In The Ruins
from Club Ninja

Blue Öyster Cult – Godzilla
from Workshop Of The Telescopes

I’ve written before of my affection for the mighty Blue Öyster Cult and Dancin’ In The Ruins was one of the few worthy tracks on the rather dire affair that was Club Ninja.

Club Ninja arrived when we finally had MTV available to us and Blue Öyster Cult was becoming a musical afterthought, but I vividly recall seeing the video for Dancin’ In The Ruins – seemingly inspired by Mad Max – in the wee hours of the night much to my delight.

Sure, Blue Öyster Cult was lumped in with early heavy metal bands like Steppenwolf, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, but – due to my frame of reference when I discovered music – heavy metal was a genre where its practitioners wore spandex and either sang of non-stop parties or dragons. I suppose Godzilla fulfills the latter requirement and Blue Öyster Cult had the vision to pay homage to the greatest dragon of them all.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures

Rush had a small, but ardent following in our high school that consisted mostly of the jocks and the stoners in band – two clans who rarely intermingled but could find common ground in the beloved trio’s music.

Territories was one of several tracks from Power Windows that got played heavily on the rock stations that I listening to. I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

(well played Professor)

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.

Jackson Browne – For America
from Lives In The Balance

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty
from The Next Voice You Hear: The Best Of Jackson Browne

By the time I started listening to music in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Jackson Browne’s career was on the decline, though he did have one of his biggest hits during that period with Somebody’s Baby.

Lives In The Balance found the singer/songwriter fully embracing his activist instincts with an album whose lyrics, for the most part, had political overtones. The first single, the bracing For America, was a wake-up call and if the song and its parent album weren’t as well received as his earlier albums, it still sounded great on radio.

Running On Empty had become one of Browne’s signature songs nearly a decade before Lives In The Balance and the full-throttle track was already a rock radio staple when For America was becoming his final Top 40 hit.


“Our next caller is listening to WTUE out of Dayton…”

June 16, 2010

It must have been sometime in early 1983 – as I was beginning to traverse a musical terrain beyond Top 40 – that I was increasingly listening to more rock-oriented stations, especially Q95 out of Indianapolis.

Q95 played a lot of music that would become the backbone of classic rock stations a decade or so later – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who – but their playlist also was heavy on newer rock acts. As I spent more time with Q95 and other similar album rock outlets, I realized that – as the pop stations had American Top 40 – these stations had a number of syndicated programs.

There was some rock album countdown show that worked its way to the week’s top album with a track – sometimes hit, other times, a deeper cut – played from each record.

(the name of the show escapes me)

There was also the King Biscuit Flower Hour, which weekly offered a recorded concert from acts like Billy Squier, Triumph, and Greg Kihn Band.

(the hour, accounting for commercials, was actually closer to forty-five minutes)

It was Rockline, though, that was the one weekly broadcast I’d usually make a point of checking out. Each Monday night, Bob Coburn would host an act – one which often had a new release – for a ninety-minute interview show that took questions from callers.

At some point on Monday afternoons, I’d hear one of the DJs mention that evening’s guest. Unless it was someone or some band in whom I had no interest, most Monday nights at 10:30, I’d be tuned in to the show.

During high school, Rockline was often a topic of conversation between me and my friend Bosco. I don’t particularly recall any of my friends other than him that was a listener to the show.

Of course, if it’s more ingrained in my brain that Bosco listened to the show, it’s undoubtedly because he was no passive listener. Bosco ended up on the show as a caller several times. I remember him speaking to Tom Petty and, quite memorably, Bob Dylan.

And, once, after seeking Bosco’s advice – make sure you’re question isn’t obvious and call an hour before the show to get through – I ended up speaking to Roger Waters.

(I was going through a teenaged boy’s first serious Pink Floyd phase)

As I had been advised, I called an hour before, got through, and, then, I realized I didn’t really have a question and offered up the most obvious question at that time – would the recently split up Floyd ever reunite?

The screener was ready to bounce me, but I managed to talk him into a second chance and I ad-libbed a query that punched my ticket to the big time.

For thirty seconds, I was global.

(provided the globe be limited to the US and Canada)

I didn’t listen to Rockline much in college, but, for most of high school, it was a Monday night ritual. Here are four songs from acts who appeared on Rockline during the four summers before I left for college…

Shooting Star – Last Chance
from Touch Me Tonight: The Best Of Shooting Star

Shooting Star, though a staple in the Midwest, wasn’t exactly a household name in the rest of the US. I heard a lot of the Kansas City band on the radio, though, with songs like You’ve Got What I Need, Flesh And Blood, and Hollywood. With a sound somewhere between Journey and Kansas, they were well suited for the heartland.

Shooting Star appeared on Rockline in June, 1983, coinciding with the release of their album Burning, which I didn’t really dig. Last Chance had appeared on their debut from several years earlier and the anthemic track was one that I also heard often during the early ’80s.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Out Of The Darkness
from Voice Of America

Longtime Bruce Springsteen guitarist Steve Van Zandt had exited the E-Street Band following the release of Born In The USA in the late spring of 1984. By July, he had released his second album with his band, Disciples Of Soul, which featured former members of The Rascals as well as Plasmatics’ bassist Jean Beauvoir.

I fell in love with the surging track Out Of The Darkness and, having heard that song (as well as having seen the video) and a couple more tracks on the radio, snagged a copy of Voice Of America.

Ratt – Lay It Down
from Ratt & Roll 81-91

I never truly went through a metal phase of any kind, but there were songs and bands within the genre that caught my attention. In 1984, Ratt exploded onto the scene with their album Out Of The Cellar and songs like Round And Round and Wanted Man.

With more than a hint of glam rock, Ratt had a knack for infectious hooks. They appeared on Rockline during the summer of ’85 when Out Of The Cellar‘s follow-up, Invasion Of Your Privacy, was released. Though it couldn’t match its predecessor’s commercial fortunes, the album was catchy as hell and the menacing groove of Lay It Down makes me think of listening to the cassette on trips to the beach with friends that summer.

Peter Gabriel – Red Rain
from So

In June of 1986, I was spending my final summer before college mowing acres of grass.

Peter Gabriel was spending that same summer as, suddenly, a pop music superstar. So had brought him to a whole new audience with the mammoth hit Sledgehammer as well as making him a fixture on MTV with its groundbreaking video.

I preferred the moodier stuff from the album like Mercy Street and, especially, Red Rain, which featured The Police’s Stewart Copeland lending his talent on the hi-hat.