Up With Up With People

September 10, 2011

Like millions of us here in the States, I was watching the Saints/Packers season opener this past week.

There was a lot of hullabaloo and fireworks and shiny objects.

And I couldn’t help but think that Maroon 5 is Collective Soul for this era.

(which isn’t exactly a bad thing)

Then, Kid Rock appeared and I decided to surf and find something interesting to kill some time until – you know – the actual game.

I hit on Batman Begins, got sucked into it, and missed the kickoff and first handful of plays.

Even as I watched Aaron Rodgers carve up an overmatched Saints secondary, the pre-game bombast lingered in my head. I thought of a more simple time when a stellar match-up involving two championship-caliber teams didn’t need The Black Eyed Peas or Daughtry to goose the drama.

Instead, the only entertainment concession made to get my mother and/or twelve-year old girls to watch was halftime and Up With People.

Up With People…

Was it a cult?

Were spaceships and/or Jesus involved?

Were they hippies that had been caught, removed from their native habitats, scrubbed, sanitized, and taught to dance?

My memories of the troupe are fond, though, as it seemed that they performed at several Super Bowls in the late ’70s/early ’80s when I, not quite a teenager, got to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers almost annually in the title game.

It was hardly lost on me that Up With People featured more than a few fetching, young females gyrating through choreographed routines who could have – only a few years earlier – been cheerleaders from the high school I’d soon be attending.

In fact, a girl that had been a cheerleader at our small town’s high school had gone on to be a member of the Up With People cast performing on the television. Deb had also once been a babysitter for me and my brother.

We certainly didn’t see Deb amongst the throng of performers nor did we see Glenn Close, who, in her pre-bunny boiling life, was also apparently a member of Up With People.

But we also didn’t have to sit through yet another performance by The Black Eyed Peas and Let’s Get It Started.

Here are four songs about people…

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Tomorrow People
from Conscious Party

Conscious Party, the third album by Ziggy and several siblings, was released in the spring of 1988 as my sophomore year of college was ending. That summer was the first one which I wouldn’t return home as I was taking classes and working in a record store.

Produced by Talking Heads’ rhythm section Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, Conscious Party was perfect to put on and groove to for forty minutes or so during lazy summer days at the store. The stand-out track was the breezy Tomorrow People which managed to reach the Top 40 in the States, something that their iconic father was never able tp accomplish.

Pulp – Common People
from Different Class

I discovered Pulp from reading British music magazines in the mid-’90s and, though the band never really broke through in the States, I became a fan when I snagged a promo of His ‘n’ Hers in 1994.

A year later, Different Class became an even bigger seller in the UK, making Pulp and lead singer Jarvis Cocker superstars in their homeland. In the US, the group remained a cult act relegated to college and alternative radio or MTV in the middle of the night.

The witty, slightly acerbic Common People – in which Cocker describes a relationship with a female acquaintance from a wealthy background – has an infectiously elastic melody and is impossible to dislodge from the brain.

Sly & The Family Stone- Everyday People
from Greatest Hits

Despite being one of the biggest acts around at the beginning of the ’70s, Sly & The Family Stone had imploded and weren’t heard a lot on radio by the time I started listening as the decade wound down.

Like a lot of the groundbreaking act’s music, Everyday People was a call for unity offered up in fine, funky fashion.

David Bowie – Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
from The Singles: 1969 To 1993

There are two versions of David Bowie’s Cat People which I have. One appeared in the 1982 movie of the same name in which Nastassia Kinski frolics about murdering bunnies (OK, it’s only one rabbit of which she makes a meal). The other version appeared on Bowie’s Let’s Dance, the singer’s commercial comeback album from the following year.

This one is from the former and has a nifty, smoldering intro and was produced, if I recall correctly, by Giorgio Moroder.


And Then, There’s A Giant Turtle Hurtling Through Space

June 12, 2011

Searching for late-night movie fare, I still find myself harboring hope that I might stumble upon some sci-fi, B-movie from the ’60s.

It’s something deeply ingrained from childhood. Living within spitting distance of the border of three states, we were within broadcast range of the television stations of two large cities and, as a result, we had a cornucopia of seven or eight channels at a time when most pre-cable viewers had half the choice.

(of course, reception was often determined by the time of day and meteorological conditions)

Late at night, there was often the opportunity to bask in the soft glow of fare that would someday provide reason for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to exist.

Sadly, sleepy-eyed kids of the 21st century escaping the bonds of bedtime for the first time won’t be dazzled by the spectacle of men dressed as prehistoric and futuristic creatures engaged in combat as buildings and cities crumble under the carnage of the combatitants.

(arigatou gozaimasu, Japan)

Instead, pint-sized people huddled under a blanket late in the evening are more likely to find little but hucksters pitching programs to help them lose weight, grow hair, or accumulate riches in real estate.

(arigatou gozaimasu, capitalism)

Pulling up the menu of free movies offered by our cable provider one night, my pulse quickened as I reached those filed under the letter G and a dozen or so flicks with Godzilla in the title appeared.

Unbridled joy turned into disappointment as I pulled up the synopsis of the first one and noted the date – 2000. Scrolling through the rest, each one was a product of the past decade and each had running times in excess of 100 minutes.

It’s Godzilla not The Shawshank Redemption. It’s understandable that two and a half hours would be required to tell the tale of Andy DuFresne and have him tunnel out of Shawshank, but if you can’t destroy Tokyo and have the good monster defeat the bad monster in under 75 minutes…

Of course, coming across a classic Godzilla flick as a kid was like hitting three cherries. More often than not, I’d have to settle for Gamera, the giant, rocket-propelled turtle.

With a nudge from nostalgia, I did a search for Gamera on YouTube and the first result was too intriguing to not click.

I recognized the footage immediately even if I didn’t recall the name of the flick (which happened to be Attack Of The Monsters). I should have remembered the name as I swear it seemed to air once a month or so on Science Fiction Theater, one of our independent station’s Saturday night offerings, in the late ’70s.

The plot, such as it was, revolved around two small boys getting whisked away to another planet by the lone survivors of an alien race – two Japanese women clad in futuristic garb – who intended two eat their brains like pudding.

The lure, of course, was Gamera as he battled some giant, bipedal pteradactyl and another rubbery beast with a ginsi knife for a head to save the day and the cranial contents of the young whippersnappers.

And, in the clip, the heroic battles were set to the music of Men Without Hats’ The Safety Dance.

While Godzilla has been, quite deservedly, celebrated in song, if there is a musical tribute to Gamera aside from those conjured by the obviously twisted mind of a YouTube poster, this office has not been notified.

Instead, here are four songs from the Billboard charts for this week in 1978 when I was ten and about a year or two away from music holding my attention as much as a turtle jetting through the cosmos…

Patti Smith Group – Because The Night
from Easter

I don’t know when I first heard the great Patti Smith’s lone radio hit. It certainly wasn’t in ’78 and I can’t really recall hearing it on the radio at all, ever.

I suspect that I heard Because The Night in college when, having heard a number of acts I loved mention Patti and/or cover her songs, I delved into her (then) relatively scant catelog and was smitten.

Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
from Right Down The Line – The Best Of Gerry Rafferty

From the opening notes, Baker Street makes me think of the pool as I was often there that summer and the song was always blaring from the radio or a car stereo.

Frankie Valli – Grease
from The Very Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Grease was the movie of the summer in ’78 and the music was everywhere. I doubt that I knew who Frankie Valli was or that Barry Gibb wrote the title song, but I liked it and, like Baker Street, it immediately conjures up summer for me.

Genesis – Follow You Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three…

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You Follow Me came after the reduction of the band to a trio and its incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

I had a college roommate who tried to indoctrinate me into Peter Gabriel-era Genesis as have several friends over the years. As much as I love Gabriel’s solo work, I’ve yet to really take to early Genesis, though.

Follow You Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.


Terror On The Beach Amidst The Randomness

June 2, 2011

Random lines from Joesph Heller’s Catch-22 keep popping into my head. It makes sense that I have kinship with Yossaran, the protagonist of Heller’s masterpiece, as work has been a serious mash-up of Catch-22 with a twist of Lord Of The Flies.

I used to keep a dog-eared copy of Catch-22 by my bed. It was the go-to when I just wanted to grab something and be entertained.

(surprisingly, the inexplicable logic of those in charge at the heart of the novel is more whimsical to read than experience first-hand)

Sitting down to write, odd things have bobbed to the surface, leading to unfinished posts involving Fish (the ex-lead singer of Marillion), waffles, Skynet, sorcerers, and Socialists.

(but not necessarily all in the same post and, aside from – obviously – waffles, nothing about which I have an impassioned opinion)

And tonight, sitting down to possibly write, Terror On The Beach, certainly dislodged by the zaniness of the workday, was showing in my head.

It seems few people remember this early ’70s made-for-television movie starring Dennis Weaver – just a dozen or so comments on IMDB – and involving dune-buggy driving early ’70s hippies causing mayhem and swiping sandwiches.

The flick is one that seems to surface from my subconscious every eight to ten years. I seem to recall seeing it as a prime-time movie on one of the networks. I might have even caught its premiere, though I would have been only six at the time.

I feel more certain that I haven’t seen it since the late ’70s or early ’80s when it aired late one night.

I remember little of the movie other than a couple creepy scenes involving mannequins, but all of the online reviews mention Susan Dey, as the daughter in the beleaguered family, and her bikini.

It must have been the sight of Laurie Partridge in a bikini that imprinted the flick into my memory banks to be brought forth every so often when my cerebral wiring short circuits.

It’s June now which used to be the start of summer, the most glorious time of the year. Summer meant more time hanging with friends and listening to the radio. And, during those summers in the first half of the ’80s, it would often have been Indianpolis’ Q95 or 96 Rock out of Cincinnati (technically, Hamilton).

Here are four somewhat random songs I might have heard on those stations at the time…

Greg Kihn Band – Sheila
from Rockihnroll

Several friends were devoted fans of the Greg Kihn Band, snapping up each pun-titled album as soon as they were released. The radio stations in our world loved the band, too, even beyond the hits like The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em) and Jeopardy.

And what wasn’t there to love? The band’s power pop style might not have always been the flavor dujour, but it never sounded less than brilliant blaring from the stereo on a warm summer day. Sheila could have been a hit at almost any time over the past fifty years and has more than a hint of Buddy Holly to it.

Billy Idol – White Wedding
from Billy Idol

It took me a bit to warm to peroxide punk Billy Idol and, during the summer of ’83, I was non-plussed by White Wedding. I think that had more to do with a friend who adopted Idol as his own and smothered us with his incessant playing of the mini-album.

But, I grew to enjoy a lot of Idol’s music and White Wedding is lean and kinetic.

Scandal – Love’s Got A Line On You
from Scandal (EP)

Sure, everyone could hum The Warrior (and picture its Kabuki-themed video) in 1984, but Scandal was well known to us a summer earlier when Goodbye To You and Love’s Got A Line On You were radio staples.

Goodbye To You was not to be trifled with, a straight-ahead kiss-off with some New Wave sass, but Love’s Got A Line On You was a mid-tempo groove, revealing a more vulnerable side of things.

(neither reinvented fire, but both were ridiculously catchy.

Triumph – Magic Power
from Allied Forces

Triumph never quite became a major act in the US, but I heard their songs often on radio in the early ’80s. And it wasn’t uncommon to see kids in our high school halls wearing Triumph concert shirts.

I was mostly ambivilant about the band, but I did kind of dig Magic Power.