The Greatest Hits

November 15, 2012

Paloma and I made a trek one recent Sunday morning for pancakes.

The vibe of the tiny cafe and the food made it worth the forty-five minute drive into the hinterlands. The satellite radio was still tuned to the ’70s channel from my Friday commute home.

Paloma expressed some concern at the song coming from the speakers as I started Jeepster.

I didn’t recognize it but, before I could read the display, there was the voice of Shaggy noting it to be Lindisfarne and their lone US Top 40 single Run For Home.

We were quickly sucked into the rebroadcast of an American Top 40 episode from November, 1978, with Paloma observing several times her surprise at knowing most everything we heard.

It was understandable as we both would have been in junior high at the time and, thus, in the target demographic for Top 40 radio. I was more resistant and didn’t really begin to pay attention to music for a couple more years and, even then, it was a passive endeavor.

I listened to the radio, but wasn’t committed enough to purchase music. Video games or movies were getting the little money that I might have. It was simple economics.

I could play ten games of Pac-Man or see one movie.

I could see two, maybe three movies or buy a new album on cassette.

For someone with a casual interest in music, music was an expensive investment. I was hesitant to pull the trigger if I only knew a song or two and, as I was listening to mostly Top 40, that meant an album needed a hit or two.

And that made greatest hits collections – the stop-gap, the contractual-obligation, the cash-in release – so appealing. There, on one cassette, would be ten, twelve songs that I knew or, apparently, should know.

In the spring of 1982, I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club, increasing my music collection by approximately 120% when those first dozen selections arrived.

I don’t recall everything in that initial order, but I do know that Queen’s Greatest Hits and The Best Of Blondie were among them.

And, I soon learned that late autumn would arrive with a slate of new collections intended to seduce holiday shoppers. It seemed as though any act that had ever had even one hit was capable of cobbling together such a set.

1982 was the year during which I was most immersed in Top 40 radio and it was the year in which I first had what might be considered a music collection.

Here are tracks from four of those stop-gap/contractual-obligation/cash-in releases that were arriving for the holidays in 1982, none of which I owned at the time…

Eagles – Life In The Fast Lane
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

Though I’m not as opposed to the Eagles as The Dude was in The Big Lebowski – in which his abiding hatred of the group got him tossed from a cab – I’ve struggled to be a fan. I attribute that to the overkill of hearing their music so much on radio as a kid.

Over the years, I’ve slowly softened my resistance to their music and I’ve come to enjoy most of their lengthy list of radio hits.

I also can’t hear the Eagles and not think of a college roommate. During the late ’80s, Glenn Frey did commercials for some fitness club. Upon seeing one, the roommate mumbled, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from The Singles: The First Ten Years (1982)

The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

Olivia Newton-John – Heart Attack
from Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1982)

At the beginning of 1982, Olivia was all over radio with Physical and, at the end of the year she was all over the radio with Heart Attack, a new song included to goose sales of her second greatest hits album.

It was never a bad thing when Olivia popped up Solid Gold or some other show to sing her latest hit. And, I likely saw her perform Heart Attack, a New Wave-tinged number, on Solid Gold that winter

Little River Band – Cool Change
from Greatest Hits (1982)

It’s not Christopher Cross, but there seems to be something about mellow-rockin’, nautically-themed songs from the early ’80s that spellbind me.

Cool Change makes me think of Paloma because I know hearing the song makes her think of her brother.

(and the whole “the albatross and the whales they are my brothers” line cracks us up)

The song also served me well when out drinking with our record store’s jazz guru. He could – at times – be the jazz snob and lecture us on obscure performances and theory.

(it was well-intended)

If it went on too long, I’d ask him if he’d heard the cat blow notes on Cool Change – a tactic which brought conversation back to more mainstream subject matter.

Advertisements

“I Don’t Want To Make Money, Folks…I Just Love To Sell Guns”*

March 1, 2012

Recently, Paloma and I caught a late-night showing of a movie called Equinox, a sci-fi flick from the early ’70s which has a cult following due to the fact that it began as a student film by Dennis Muren

(Muren would earn acclaim for his special effects work on numerous films, including the Star Wars series)

Equinox was a familiar feature from my childhood as it seemed to be shown every other week on WTTV’s Science Fiction Theater. Seeing it again also brought back vivid memories of a personal bogeyman spawned by consumerism run rampant…

…Don, erstwhile proprietor and namesake of Don’s Guns.

Don was a regional phenomenon, his advertising reach relegated to central Indiana where his lone storefront/armory was located. His budget allotment for marketing apparently only great enough to purchase face-time in the wee hours on an independent television station, but his leering mug made quite an impression as I have learned from fellow Hoosiers, few of whom seemed to have escaped seeing Don hawking his wares.

His commercials were like an ambush. One minute, I’d be sitting there, a nine-year old in pajamas, huddled under a blanket, watching Channel 4 only to have Don practically burst from the screen and into the living room. If Equinox or Night Of The Lepus wasn’t frightening enough, there was Don.

Don epitomized snake-oil salesman, approaching a level of smarm that would be the envy of any elected official and doing it so effortlessly.

Perhaps it was his resemblance to an extremely dodgy Kenny Rogers.

Possibly, it was the sheer, unadulterated glee with which he made his pitch.

Most likely it was the manner in which he closed every commercial – Don gazing maniacally from the screen, toothy grin flashing as he delivered his mantra, “I don’t want to make money, folks. I just love to sell guns.”

(this clip is of more recent vintage)

And then he’d be gone.

DeForest Kelly would return – battling the bunnies in Night Of The Lepus – but somehow it lacked the punch to follow-up the spectacle of Don.

And where is Don now?

Googling him, my computer screen was filled with results, most of which sullied my fond memories of Don as many alluded to numerous alleged improprieties involving his business. One item feted him as “the nation’s sixth-worst dealer” based on the number of firearms sold that were used in criminal activity.

And all the daffy bastard wanted to do was sell guns.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a third-grader and far more interested in late-night horror flicks than music. And I was certainly already well acquainted with Don and steeling myself for him popping up onscreen.

(I’m not sure if Don listened to music or not)

Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 this week in 1977…

ABBA – Dancing Queen
from Thank You For The Music (1994)

I stumbled upon an unopened copy of ABBA’s four-disc box set for six dollars and couldn’t pass it up. Not that I really need that much ABBA.

(few people do other than a buddy who was fanatical about the band long before revisionism and a hit Broadway show made such adoration socially acceptable)

I enjoy the hits from the bell-bottomed, sequined Swedes more dispassionately, but I’d have to offer up S.O.S., The Winner Takes It All, and Dancing Queen as transcendent.

Eagles – New Kid In Town
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

My relationship with the Eagles is complicated, but even with little interest in music in 1977, I was familiar with the group. The radio station in our small town was light rock with a bit of pop-leaning country thrown in and the wistful New Kid In Town was a perfect fit.

10cc- The Things We Do For Love
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day, Volume 19 (1993)

I know little more of 10cc’s catalog other than a handful or so of songs, but those I do know have impressed me with their musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle
from Greatest Hits 1974–78 (1978)

I seem to recall hearing Fly Like An Eagle constantly blaring from radios at the pool during the summer of ’77. It struck me as a bit strange and unsettling.

The song still has a trippy vibe though it’s no longer strange and/or unsettling, but I’d have to think the stoners of 1977 were digging the song’s groove.


Suicide Hill

December 15, 2010

Like a good portion of the States, our region was smacked with the first snowstorm of the season.

The cover of white that we awoke to this morning, though, had largely disappeared by the time I faced the evening’s rush hour hell. Nothing makes the trip as potentially as treacherous as when a wintery mix is added to the commute.

Yeah, the cast of Ice Road Truckers might brave the elements, but they don’t do it with thousands of other vehicles driven by oh-so attentive folks who – aside from a couple days a year – have little experience with such conditions.

I exited the interstate and headed home along a frontage road, From the road, I could see several kids were making use of the conditions and gravity, hurtling down a good-sized hill on various crafts.

Though it’s fortunate for me that we get little snow and it’s rarely on the ground for more than a few days, it’s the children who suffer. The snow on that hill already had wide swaths that was revealed the grass.

Those kids were sledding on borrowed time.

Growing up in the Midwest, me and my friends could usually expect ample oppotunities to hit the slopes each winter.

Several of us lived along a country road that bisected a subdivision and farmland. As soon as there was snow, we would jump the fence across the road and drag our sleds up a small hill.

If there was enough snow, we would eventually create rudimentry bobsled runs, piling the snow and creating a half pipe. If the weather held, over the course of a week or so, the run would pack – smooth and slick – and become more delightfully lethal.

As we grew older, we would head for Suicide Hill with most of the other kids in our hometown. From the top, we’d stare down at the state road in the distance. The busy road posed no danger as it was unreachable, separated from us by a drop into a small creek.

To get to the bottom, you navigated a path that took you between the 11th and 18th holes on a golf course. And, if you managed to make the run cleanly – avoiding trees and such – you still had to contend with that water hazard.

We lived for the rare spectacle of someone plunging into the drink.

As Christmas approached in 1980, my friends and I were halfway through our middle year of junior high. It was beginning to dawn on us that it might be better to be inside on winter days – somewhere where there might be music and girls – then outside risking hypothermia.

But, in December of ’80, Suicide Hill was still a siren’s song to which we had to respond. Music was still mostly incidental to me, but, over the next six months or so, I’d be hooked.

Here are four songs that were on the chart in Billboard thirty years ago…

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
from The River

Hungry Heart most likely served as my introduction to The Boss. The River was his current release in late 1980 and, though I was just discovering radio, I was familiar with this song as well as Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, and the title track.

It would take more time for my young ears to embrace the stark brilliance of the follow-up Nebraska , but I was on board for the long haul.

Blondie – The Tide Is High
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one band that had caught my attention in 1980. Songs like Heart Of Glass and Call Me were such mammoth hits that you would have had to have made an effort to not hear them at the time even if, like me, the radio was nothing more than an occasional companion.

(lead singer Debbie Harry also gave the band a visual component that did not go unnoticed)

I vividly remember hearing the breezy, island groove of The Tide Is High blasting from the radio when someone’s older sister gave us a ride home after one of those afternoons spent sledding. It was a wonderful antidote to the winter weather then and it still is.

The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
from Dumb Waiters

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the lone US hit by The Korgis on the radio. I certainly don’t recall hearing it thirty years ago when it was a hit.

The first time I do know I heard Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime was when The Dream Academy covered the song in the late ’80s. And, I also heard Beck perform a version of it on the soundtrack to the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind before I heard the original.

There really was no need for the song to be covered, though. The Korgis’ version is lovely – wispy and fragile – and flawless.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from Super Trooper

ABBA and T. Rex occupy a similar niche in my music world. I could probably distill both to a dozen songs (most of which I never tire of), but I own way more of both acts’ work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.