Friday Night Videos And The First Chill Of Autumn

September 18, 2011

The living room of our treehouse is a very cozy nook to me.

From the second floor perch at the corner of a T intersection, there is often a steady flow of traffic and pedestrians to observe.

A friend once called and asked what I was doing.

“Watching Afternoon Traffic Theater,” I replied, describing the actual scene playing out down below, some twenty-yards away – two middle-aged woman who had had some minor mini-van tête-à-tête.

I covered the incident until its underwhelming conclusion without lifting my head from the back of the couch and with most of my attention focused on ESPN.

But the room is usually a calm place with the traffic usually nothing more than a steady, soothing background hum almost like the urban equivilant of ocean surf.

It’s a glorious place to have the windows open.

Tonight, there’s something in the air that arrived with the setting sun a couple hours ago.

(aside from a very luminous moon through the tree branches)

For the first time, as summer ends, there’s a chill in the evening air that is unmistakeably autumn to me.

As a kid, that hint of chill was the signal that the months of sleeping with the bedroom window open – a necessity growing up in a ’70s-styled ranch house with no central air – was coming to an end.

The hum of the interstate, a mile down the country road running in front of the house but audible at night, would soon no longer be lulling me to sleep.

(but those last few nights with the window open and the crispness in the night air did make for the best sleep of the year)

When that chill arrived in 1983, it did so a mere six weeks or so following the debut of Friday Night Videos.

MTV wouldn’t be available to us until the following summer, though my friends whose families had cable had been watching music videos on WTBS’ late-night, weekend show Night Tracks all summer.

(my buddy Beej would rattle off the names of bands whose videos he had seen that were unfamiliar to us)

Though video clips for songs had existed for years, MTV had become a phenomenon in the early ’80s and Friday Night Videos offered those of us without cable ninety minutes each week to feel like we were living in the modern world.

Here are four songs whose videos I most certainly saw on Friday Night Videos as autumn arrived in 1983…

Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself
from Don’t Stop

With a mere ninety minutes less commercials, Friday Night Videos had little time to show more than videos that were popular songs or new. In 1983, Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself was neither.

The song had appeared on Idol’s four-song EP debut from two years earlier, but, since its release, the singer had a couple hits from his self-titled full-length album with Hot In The City and White Wedding.

I don’t think that I ever heard the energetic and catchy Dancing With Myself on the radio, but the apocalyptic, zombie-filled video seemed to pop up on Friday Night Videos each week until Idol’s Rebel Yell album was released later that fall.

Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel The Noize
from Metal Health

From all I’ve read and based on a few first-hand accounts, Quiet Riot lead singer Kevin DuBrow worked ceaselessly to break his band. Then, he proceeded to alienate most of the music industry and Quiet Riot, who had been the first metal act to have a Number One album in the US, plummeted back to obscurity (with DuBow getting fired from the band).

However, during the autumn of ’83, Quiet Riot’s cover of Slade’s classic Cum On Feel The Noize was inescapable and Metal Health was heard blaring from every car stereo in our high school parking lot

The Motels – Suddenly Last Summer
from Little Robbers

With the sultry vocals of lead singer Martha Davis and their moody style of New Wave-tinged rock, Los Angeles’ The Motels had broken through the year before with the Top Ten ’80s classic Only The Lonely.

As I headed back to school in 1983, the band had issued its follow-up, Little Robbers, introduced by the single Suddenly Last Summer. The wistful, almost eerie song became a second Top Ten hit for The Motels and the song’s video apparently featured one of Davis’ daughters.

(and, somewhere out there, there might be a compilation of The Motels featuring liner notes by yours truly)

The Stray Cats – (She’s) Sexy + 17
from Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats

I didn’t really like rockabilly revivalists The Stray Cats when their Built for Speed became a smash in late 1982 and Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut were constantly on the radio. They were a band that might have existed when my parents were in high school which was not a selling point.

By the time Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats was released, I was becoming more curious about lots of different music and I was more receptive to the retro trio. Plus, (She’s) Sexy + 17 was too damned catchy to dismiss.

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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.


Happy Trails, Dandy Don

December 11, 2010

From the time I was ten until I had turned sixteen, one of the highlights of Monday Night Football was – at some point late in the game with the outcome no longer in doubt – hearing commentator Don Meredith croon, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

So, I was a bit bummed to hear of his death this past week.

I missed the first four seasons during which Meredith was one of the original Monday Night Football announcers. When he returned to the booth in 1977, I was becoming a devoted football fan and – finally – old enough to stay up to watch each week with greater frequency.

It was a world with a mere three television networks and no such thing as ESPN.

Monday Night Football was an event.

In junior high, Monday morning was spent discussing the previous day’s games, but, by afternoon, the conversation between (and sometimes during) classes was often about that evening’s Monday Night Football match-up.

Thus, on Tuesday, the banter amongst me and my friends was regarding Monday night’s events.

And, more weeks than not, the antics of Howard Cosell and Don Meredith would prove to be as compelling to us as the game.

(especially the latter)

We had been too young to see Meredith quarterback the Dallas Cowboys of the ’60s, but we delighted in the affable Texan and his folksy needling of Cosell. He was a constant presence in our lives during those early years of the ’80s be it announcing the games or selling Lipton tea.

Oh, as a fan of the game, I eventually learned more about Meredith’s place in its history which included him under center for the Cowboys when they lost the fabled Ice Bowl – and a trip to the Super Bowl – to the Green Bay Packers in ’67.

Then, following the 1984 season, Meredith was gone, leaving Monday Night Football and retiring to New Mexico.

“Meredith was the guy who sang in huddles, read Hemingway, shot mid-70s in golf and strummed and sipped with Willie Nelson,” wrote Brad Townsend from the Dallas Morning News in a fantastic piece on the man in retirement.

Another sportswriter noted that, though a lot of football fans might have hated the Dallas Cowboys, he knew of no one that wasn’t a fan of Don Meredith.

Happy trails, Dandy Don.

Here are four cowboy songs for the man known as the original Dallas Cowboy…

Kirsty MacColl – Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim
from Galore

The late, great Kirsty MacColl never was able to attain more than a fringe following in the States and her best-known song here would be Tracey Ullman’s cover of MacColl’s They Don’t Know which the comedienne took into the Top Ten in 1984.

It’s unfortunate that MacColl isn’t better known as she not only possessed a lovely voice, but her material was quirky, ecclectic, and usually catchy as anything out there. The lilting Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim added a bit of south of the border twang as MacColl lays down the law with an uncommitted paramour.

Willie Nelson – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
from The Essential Willie Nelson

There needs to be a Willie Nelson fantasy resort. Who wouldn’t pay good money to spend a week living like Willie?

Get up early, shower, dress semi-presentably, endure a death-defying commute, and spend nine hours being a drone or get up considerably later, put the hair in pigtails, let someone else pilot the biofuel bus, and inhale.

Not a difficult choice there.

Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy
from I Wanna Be A Cowboy

My friends and I were greatly amused when we first heard I Wanna Be A Cowboy during the winter of our senior year of high school. It popped up now and then on the rock station we’d be listening to as we hung out on weekend nights, searching for something to do.

Then, the song was everywhere and it grew a bit tiresome.

However, listening to it again after rarely hearing it over the past twenty-five years, it’s easy to understand how we were charmed by the quirky techno-pop track that touted the joys of riding the range on a horse named Trigger (of course).

Kitchens Of Distinction – Cowboys And Aliens
from Cowboys And Aliens

The British trio Kitchens Of Distinction released a quartet of albums filled with dense, swirling walls of guitar often drenched in reverb before splitting after their swan song Cowboys And Aliens in 1995.

Paloma and I spent plenty of hours listening to both the band’s The Death Of Cool and Cowboys And Aliens. The title track of the latter expressing a longing for extraterrestrials to whisk the less accepted of this world to a more caring place.