Things That Rhyme Like Nipsey Russell

January 22, 2012

Paloma and I upgraded to HD recently which is how I ended up on the Game Show Network the other night.

As HD is a new experience, I find that I surf for shows to look at rather than watch.

I didn’t even know we had the Game Show Network, but when I saw The $25,000 Pyramid listed as I scrolled through the channel guide and couldn’t help but be curious as to what a game show from the 1970s might look like in HD.

I tried the channel and the sight of Nipsey Russell and Vickie Lawrence bantering with host Dick Clark materialized from the pixels.

The show used to air in the mornings on weekdays, so I’d only see it on rare occasion during the school years, the handfuls of days off for snow, sickness, or holidays.

During the summer, The $25,000 Pyramid was more regularly viewed. As I watched the show for the first time in thirtyplus years, I couldn’t help but think that, at that time, it was as educational as portions of our actual educational system.

(I undoubtedly learned new words and it stimulated creative thinking)

And, in a world with far less media and far more mystique, The $25,000 Pyramid provided a chance to see television actors outside their usual time-slotted habitats.

Loretta Swit, whose name I’d read during the opening credits of M*A*S*H, was truly a real person and Margaret Houlihan was truly fictitious.

The show was likely my introduction to Dick Clark as I don’t recall American Bandstand airing in our locale. By the end of the ’70s, I’d know Clark for his New Year’s Eve countdown.

In the early ’80s, not long after I discovered Casey Kasem counting down hit songs on American Top 40, I would come across Dick Clark doing the same on The Dick Clark National Music Survey.

Where as Casey’s program aired on several stations, regularly, Clark’s show seemed to only be broadcast on one station, erratically, on late Sunday afternoons. It also used the record charts published by Cashbox as opposed to Casey’s use of Billboard.

Not being familiar with either publication, I recall being puzzled as to the differences between where songs would end up on each countdown, but, probably because it aired on more stations, I assumed Casey’s take was more “real.”

Here are four songs that I might have heard listening to either Casey Kasem or Dick Clark count down the hits during this week in 1983…

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)

There were a lot of acts that previously had not achieved a lot of mainstream radio success making waves in early 1983. Though The Clash had notched a Top 40 hit a few years earlier with Train In Vain, the legendary punk band was having their greatest commercial success at the time with the übercool Rock The Casbah.

Though I knew The Clash by name, I had never heard their music prior to Rock The Casbah. It would be over the next few years – and thanks to the passion my buddy Streuss had for the band – that I would discover what all the fuss was over “the only band that matters.”

ABC – The Look Of Love (Part One)
from The Lexicon Of Love (1982)

ABC’s debut The Lexicon Of Love is widely regarded as a classic ’80s album. It wasn’t as wildly popular in the US as it was in the UK, but The Look Of Love and Poison Arrow got played on even the most pedestrian of Top 40 stations which I was listening to at the time.

Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
from The Youth Of Today (1982)

Growing up in the lily-white Midwest of the US, reggae didn’t exist. I might have known the name Bob Marley, but it would have only been from perusing Rolling Stone.

The teenaged quintet Musical Youth managed to notch a Top Ten pop hit in America with the pop-reggae of Pass The Dutchie, but had it not been for listening to countdown programs on the radio, I would have never heard the song. It might have been a sizeable hit, but it was one that I never heard on the stations to which I was listening.

In fact, the only Musical Youth that I ever heard on the radio during that period was the song 007 -which was largely ignored – from the group’s follow-up album to The Youth Of Today when 97X went on the air toward the end of ’83.

Christopher Cross – All Right
from Another Page (1983)

Like most of my friends at the time, I embraced much of the new music – New wave and synthesizer bands – that was arriving from the UK. I also maintained an interest in the more traditional pop music I was hearing on the radio. I didn’t make much of a differentiation.

It was all just music and I had a curiousity about most of it.

Christopher Cross had taken three years between his debut and follow-up album – a ridiculously long period at the time. I had made Cross’ mega-successful debut the first album I had ever purchased, but during that hiatus, not only did the rest of the world move on, but I made the quantum leap from twelve to fifteen which is twenty-one years in dog years and during that time I, like the rest of world, came to he startling realization that flamingos and rock and roll don’t mix.

Twenty-five years later, I find All Right to be pleasant enough, though.

Monday Rears Its Ugly Head Again

January 24, 2010

Like grim death it does.

No sleeping past six. No lounging on the couch nursing an extra cup of coffee. No plotting out whether to take that nap after breakfast or hold off ’til after lunch.

As a kid, the weekend essentially ended the moment that I heard that stopwatch ticking to open 60 Minutes. As my parents settled in to watch the weekly news program, I knew that the clock had run out on my weekend.

In college, the transition from Sunday to Monday was far less jarring. Monday morning hardly loomed as some ominous, unstoppable force because liberation was as simple as noting with bleary eyes that I had forty-five minutes before my first class, rolling over, and waking two hours later, refreshed and ready to skip my afternoon classes to watch Twilight Zone reruns.

By refusing to play with Monday, an implacable foe, or even acknowledge its existence, I won.

That ride should have come to an end upon graduation, but, fortunately, my commencement from school coincided with the rise of slacker culture, a glorious period when it was no more acceptable to put off grown-up nonsense, but doing so had a nifty name. It was a good excuse to take an extra year or ten to live on noodles, attend shows on guest lists, and continue to ignore Mondays.

Monday had been reduced to merely the day before Tuesday, the day new albums were released, and life was good.

These days, that damned 60 Minutes stopwatch is, once again, a harbinger of the impending work week. As soon as I hear its ominous ticking, I switch the channel to The Simpsons and spend the final couple hours of the weekend with cartoons.

As a kid, I’d usually shuffle off to my bedroom, turn on the radio, and dial up 101.3 from Richmond which would be rebroadcasting that week’s American Top 40. I’d listen to Casey Kasem count down the songs and the weekend.

Here are some songs that were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 for this week in 1983…

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Shame On The Moon
from The Distance

One of my best friends in our neighborhood as a kid was a big fan of Bob Seger, so I was familiar with his music, but I wasn’t impressed. And, at the time, I wanted nothing to do with Shame On The Moon when it would come on the radio. It was far too rootsy for my tastes.

Then, somewhere along the way, I realized that I had a greater affection for the music of Seger than I had known. That included the loping and wistful Shame On The Moon, penned by Rodney Crowell.

Joe Jackson – Breaking Us In Two
from Night And Day

Another artist that I have had a major reassessment of since I was a kid, Joe Jackson’s sophisticated pop was a bit too mature for me to truly appreciate at the time. I hadn’t cared for Steppin’ Out and though I liked Breaking Us In Two a bit more, my interest was still tepid at best.

But it’s hard to resist the charm of the song with its hypnotic, tick-tock melody and yearning lyrics.

Greg Kihn Band – Jeopardy
from Kihnspiracy

Greg Kihn got a lot of airplay from the stations in our area and his engaging power pop always sounded great on the radio. It wasn’t just his bigger hits like the infectious The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em), but even lesser-known singles like Reunited and Lucky got airplay.

Jeopardy was a monster. Of course, between a friend of mine who was a devotee of Kihn and wore out Kinhspiracy and the mammoth success of the song on radio, I did get burned out on it, but my ears perk up when I hear it these days.

ABC – Poison Arrow
from The Lexicon Of Love

ABC garnered heaps of attention and accolades when the group issued its debut, The Lexicon Of Love, particularly in their native UK. Their first single, The Look Of Love, was all over the radio during the autumn of ’82 and Poison Arrow arrived with the new year.

The song possessed the same air of drama as well as being flawlessly produced by Trevor Horn. It practically glistened. For whatever reason, the radio stations I was listening to – that had so embraced The Look Of Love – didn’t show Poison Arrow nearly as much love and I rarely heard the song outside of its appearances on American Top 40.

Doot Doot (The Future Must Be Now)

July 14, 2009

The movie Rain Man had a personal connection. It had nothing to do with autism, though I did have an ex-girlfriend who once accused me of being slightly autistic.

The early portion of Rain Man – where Tom Cruise first meets Dustin Hoffman – takes place in Cincinnati, a city about forty-minutes from where I grew up and known to us as The City. So, I was familiar with some of the landmarks and places mentioned.

However, the real connection was when Cruise and Hoffman hit the road. Hoffman’s character tunes the radio to WOXY out of Oxford, Ohio. You might recall Hoffman incessantly repeating the station’s tagline – “97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”

97X just happened to be my station of choice for several years in high school. Oddly enough, according to the station’s page on Wikipedia, it began broadcasting as a modern rock station in September, 1983 and I had stumbled across it a month or so later.

It was the station where I heard Aztec Camera, Gang Of Four, The Suburbs, and other bands I wouldn’t hear elsewhere. It was the station to hear Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and U2.

It was even the station where I first heard Cyndi Lauper and Nena before they became mainstream pop sensations on Top 40 radio.

The thing that triggered me to think about 97X wasn’t coming across Rain Man on cable. Instead, it was a far more surprising event – a television commercial.

I’m not even sure what the commercial was pushing on me. It was the music that caught my attention. It was a song by a Welsh band called Freur called Doot Doot (not to be confused with Trio’s Da Da Da or The Police’ De Do Do Do De Da Da Da).

Freur was short-lived, but members of the band would go on to be Underworld and be global with their wonderful song Born Slippy from the movie Trainspotting. Apparently, Doot Doot was Freur’s lone hit in the UK and a small on – #59 – at that. I think it did little here in the States.

But I did hear it numerous times while listening to 97X in the winter of ‘83/84. I even had it recorded on a cassette. I haven’t heard it on the radio – or elsewhere – in twenty-five years.

I wouldn’t describe Doot Doot as rock and roll, but it certainly seems as though 97X knew something about the future.

Doot Doot and a few other songs I was hearing on 97X at the time…

Freur – Doot Doot
from Freur

Freur – Doot Doot (12″ mix)
from Freur

I was surprised to hear Modern English’s Melt With You in a commercial.

(the first time)

Of course, Melt With You was a fairly popular song in 1983 even if it wasn’t a massive mainstream radio hit. In seven years of working in record stores, I can remember seeing anything by Freur once, on an ‘80s compilation.

I hope the commercial makes it a hit twenty-six years later. It’s sparse and spacey with the earworm of a chorus being little more than the title.

Is there a more obscure song or artist to be used to sell humans products two decades after it was released?

(I’m guessing maybe Nick Drake would be in such a discussion)

Aztec Camera – Oblivious
from High Land, Hard Rain

During the winter of ’83/’84, few things could make the day less dreary than hearing the bouncy Oblivious. Whatever name you want to pin on it – New Wave, modern rock, alternative rock – there were some classic pop melodies in the ’80s.

Tom Tom Club- Pleasure Of Love
from Close To The Bone

Sure, everyone knows Genius Of Love (another ’80s song that’s made its way into a television commercial), but Talking Heads’ spin-off Tom Tom Club have released a handful of worthwhile albums.

Though not as groundbreaking as Genius Of Love, Pleasure Of Love, is, like most of Tom Tom Club’s songs and in the words of a friend, “music to eat pineapple to.”

It truly is.

ABC – That Was Then This Is Now
from Beauty Stab

ABC’s debut The Lexicon Of Love is widely regarded as a classic ’80s album. It wasn’t as wildly popular in the US as it was in the UK, but The Look Of Love and Poison Arrow got played on even the most pedestrian of Top 40 stations which I was listening to at the time.

That Was Then This Is Now, the first song from their follow-up, was something of a shock upon arrival. Yes, lead singer Martin Fry still croons (he can do nothing else), but the music is harder, more guitar-oriented, not the lush New Romantic/Roxy Music we had all come to know.

I liked it. The song wasn’t around long and I pretty much forgot about it ’til years later. It seems as though Beauty Stab is held in higher regard now than it was then.