Sorting Out September*

September 6, 2012

Though it’s still quite summer during the day, the morning commute through the backroads has been one with less light and a slight chill in the air.

The chill is unmistakeably September.

As a kid, September meant that – like it or not – you were entrenched in the school year. Summer wasn’t coming back for months and months and months…

But, we would still try to squeeze as much time outside as possible, playing some hoops or football in someone’s yard until the dark ended the festivities earlier and earlier each night.

Of course, there was something about sleeping with the windows open in September. Following the heat of summer, the cool air induced drowsiness so effortlessly and completely that Pfizer or Merck would drown kittens to be able to replicate it in pill form.

Some Septembers, the night would be accompanied by the hum of machinary harvesting the crop late into the evening in the cornfield across the road. If that wasn’t the case, there was always the whisper from the interstate a mile or so down that same road.

It was a pleasant way to be lulled to dream.

And, September was a month for spectacular visuals, especially in our rural, Midwestern town.

September now brings the annual re-examination of the events that kickstarted this whole Orwellian misadventure known as The War On Terror.

And, since I no longer live in the Midwest, I haven’t gotten the full-blown autumn experience in two decades. There’s still color, but the season is far less defined.

Yeah, September is a mixed bag, man.

Perusing the files, there wasn’t much in the way of September songs that moved me. When in doubt, head for the ’80s, so here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s chart for the first week of September, 1980 – some I remember from the time, others whose acquaintence I’d make later…

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again
from Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack (1980)

I keep threatening – much to Paloma’s dismay – to cast a write-in vote for The Red-Headed Stranger in this November’s presidential election.

(and wouldn’t On The Road Again make a fine campaign song? – run, Willie, run)

Genesis – Turn It On Again
from Duke (1980)

From …And Then There Were Three… – with the wonderful Follow You Follow Me – through 1983’s self-titled album, Genesis deftly balanced their progressive past with the band’s more pop future.

Listening to the driving Turn It On Again for the first time in some time, I realize how cool of a sound Genesis had during those years.

Split Enz – I Got You
from True Colours (1980)

When Paloma and I started buying vinyl a few years ago, there was an initial burst of excitement. Paloma, in a fit of her enthusiasm which I adore, purchased ten albums by Split Enz knowing no more than a handful of songs by the Kiwi act.

It was a decision she regretted – “The members of Split Enz don’t even have as many Split Enz albums as we do.” – but the playfully creepy I Got You is still a classic from the period.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black (1980)

Did people at the time realize what a perfect rock song that AC/DC had given the world with You Shook Me All Night Long?

It’s still an arresting three and a half minutes of bravado, lust, and adrenaline.

Advertisements

What The Hell?

February 22, 2012

Paloma was twitterpated when I arrived home this evening over the spectacle of a pair of preachers proselytizing on the sidewalk down the street.

Apparently the duo was covering, loudly, the things that would result in the college kids at the university across the street heading straight to hell – no need to pass go, no need to study for finals.

(of course, this misses the point that the main reason for attending college is to spend four to nine years doing things that might earn you eternal damnation)

We had a street preacher at my school who remains a part of lore there. His name really was Max, but I’m not sure if the Mad portion of his moniker predated or was inspired by the Mel Gibson flicks.

Mad Max was already a fixture the moment that I set foot on the campus more than a year after the cinematic character walked off into the sunset beyond Thunderdome. He was in the same spot in the heavily-trafficked heart of campus delivering fire and brimstone daily.

The movies have remained entertaining, but our Max went from being riveting street theater to merely being part of the landscape before I made it home for Thanksgiving break that first autumn.

Paloma and I live in a region where, even in such an über religious nation, most folks are crossing off the days ’til the rapture. I’ve long suspected that if I asked a random sampling of citizenry to balance their bank account, they’d stare at me like a dog that had been shown a card trick.

However, ask the same random sampling about what God wants and they’d blather away with absolute certainty.

I might be crazy, but if there is some omnipotent entity that steers the universe, I’d think it would be far more incomprenhensible than basic algebra.

So, perhaps there is some fiery destination where those who’ve misbehaved end up as Beelzebub’s bitch.

Or, perhaps hell is no different than heaven except there is no cake.

I doubt I’m getting the answer from someone screaming on a sidewalk.

In the meantime, here are four songs on the subject…

AC/DC – Highway To Hell
from Highway To Hell (1979)

I remember reading an interview with AC/DC guitarist Angus Young sometime in the late ’80s upon their release of a new album. The interviewer asked him to address critics that accused the band of releasing the same album twelve times.

Angus corrected him, informing him that it was, actually, thirteen times.

Well played, sir.

Squirrel Nut Zippers – Hell
from Hot (1997)

Hot was released as there was a retro swing music revival in the US and resulted in Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hell being inescapable for months on end.

Sure the song is supposed to be a cautionary tale, but it’s so intoxicatingly festive that it fails to spook.

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Have You Ever Been To Hell
from Conscious Party (1988)

Conscious Party 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 breezy Tomorrow People managed to reach the Top 40 in the States, but the album was worthwhile from start to finish.

The Clash – Straight To Hell
from Clash On Broadway (1991)

Straight To Hell is hypnotic and off-kilter. The song’s lyrics are hypnotic and scathing – particularly those about a Vietnam-era soldier abandoning a child he fathered during that war.

I always thought it was one of The Clash’s finest moments and most fully-realized songs.


January 16, 1982

January 15, 2011

Several folk whose music blogs are regular reads for me frequently make it their business to dissect and discuss the songs from the music charts for a particular week from the past.

Favorites such as The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, Echoes In The Wind, Songs Of The Cholera King, and 70s Music Mayhem are likely known to anyone who stops by here, too.

That last one – 70s Music Mayhem – is a recent discovery that is impressive in its painstaking attention to detail in breaking down the songs that happened to debut on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart for a given week from the ’70s.

Like a lot of music fans, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was appointment listening for several years of my childhood and, at some point, I’m sure that I stumbled across Billboard‘s Hot 100 posted in a record store.

Years later, Billboard would be a regular read and even an employer, but, in the early ’80s, what lurked beyond the forty songs Casey would count down each week was a mystery.

It’s 2011, though, and in this age of enlightenment, a good portion of Billboard‘s back issues are available to peruse online.

So, borrowing a bit from some of those blogs I’ve mentioned and to give myself a source of material when I’m not not pondering something mundane in particular, I thought that I’d take a page from one of those charts from yesteryear and chew on it.

I’m not sure when I first heard an episode of American Top 40, but I do know that I became a regular listener in January of ’82. At the time, I was halfway through the final year of junior high and music was becoming my favorite waste of time.

On a frigid, snowy Saturday morning, surfing the radio dial, I happened across Casey counting down the hits on WRIA, an adult contemporary station – as I recall – out of Richmond, Indiana.

From perusing those Billboard back issues, I suspect I was listening to the countdown from the week of January 16, 1982 when the following songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Soft Cell – Tainted Love
from Non-Stop Erotic Café
(debuted #90, peaked #8, 43 weeks on chart)

There were only a couple of songs that debuted this week which I didn’t immediately remember. The moody ’80s synth-pop classic Tainted Love isn’t one.

(though it didn’t reach radio stations in our area until the summer)

Skyy – Call Me
from Skyy Line
(debuted #87, peaked #26, 11 weeks on chart)

Call Me was a #1 on the R&B charts which would have meant nothing to me and it didn’t get played on the pop stations I was listening to.

It’s a perfectly fine dance-funk number with a bit of guitar that makes me think of Ray Parker, Jr’s The Other Woman from that summer.

Smokey Robinson – Tell Me Tomorrow
from Yes It’s You Lady
(debuted #86, peaked #33, 12 weeks on chart)

And though I wasn’t listening to R&B stations, I did, at least, know Smokey Robinson for the suave Being With You, which had been a huge hit the year before.

Tell Me Tomorrow is a mid-tempo crooner that wouldn’t have appealed to me then, but I kind of dig now.

The Oak Ridge Boys – Bobbie Sue
from The Oak Ridge Boys
(debuted #85, peaked #12, 14 weeks on chart)

The radio station in my hometown flipped from rock to country about a year or so before I began to truly care. My only interest in the station was for school closing anouncements on January mornings.

I am willing to listen to any of the dozens of Toto songs named for women. As for The Oak Ridge Boys, Elvira was more than enough and, in restrospect, I consider it karma that a friend from college once drunkenly yanked on the beard of William Lee Golden and asked if it was real.

(or so I heard)

Chilliwack – I Believe
from Wanna Be A Star
(debuted #83, peaked #33, 11 weeks on chart)

Speaking of Toto, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of folks would guess that the groovy, mellow I Believe might have been that band. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Toto IV.

Though it’s a perfectly amiable song, I Believe isn’t the ridiculously catchy My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone), the Chilliwack hit that had preceded it.

AC/DC – Let’s Get It Up
from For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
(debuted #81, peaked #44, 9 weeks on chart)

I’m glad that we live in a world where there is AC/DC and I think that Bon Scott was amazing, but I listened to Let’s Get It Up three times this morning shopping and it left me with no impression.

Cliff Richard – Daddy’s Home
from Wired For Sound
(debuted #80, peaked #23, 13 weeks on chart)

At the time Daddy’s Home was a hit, I thought it was music for old people. I’m sure that while it was in the Top 40, Casey told me that it had originally been a hit for Shep & The Limeliters in 1961, but, here were are almost thirty years later and I still couldn’t tell you if I’ve heard that version.

John Denver And Plácido Domingo – Perhaps Love
from Seasons Of The Heart
(debuted #79, peaked #59, 7 weeks on chart)

Like a lot of kids in the ’70s, I thought John Denver was pretty groovy. This long-haired fellow in the floppy hat, traipsing around the Rockies with bear cubs and denim-clad hippie chicks on television specials was, in my five-year old mind, The Man.

Perhaps Love arrived well past the time when John Denver ruled the world. I didn’t know the song ’til I listened to it and…well…it might have been pleasant enough had it been Denver solo, but Plácido Domingo just doesn’t work for me.

The Police – Spirits In The Material World
from Ghost In The Machine
(debuted #76, peaked #11, 13 weeks on chart)

I know some listeners began to turn on The Police with Ghost In The Machine, but the band was one of the first to earn the unwavering allegiance of me and several of my closest friends. The album’s first hit had been the stunning – though angst-riddled – pop song Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and I can understand why the follow-up wasn’t as big.

It is darker and less inviting, but I’ve always loved the moody, distant Spirits In The Material World and it’s so brief – less than three minutes – that I’ve never tired of hearing it.

Stevie Wonder – That Girl
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I
(debuted #72, peaked #4, 18 weeks on chart)

Stevie Wonder yearns for an unattainable girl who knows that she’s unattainable.

Just as I began listening to music, the legendary Stevie Wonder was wrapping up a decade and change of being a musical force, both commercially and critically. Since those months when I’d hear That Girl half a dozen times each day on one station or another, Wonder has released just a half dozen albums.

Journey – Open Arms
from Escape
(debuted #57, peaked #2, 18 weeks on chart)

There might not have been one junior high or high school kid in my hometown that didn’t own a copy of Journey’s Escape in late 1981.

I had no more than a handful of albums at the time, but one of them was a cassette of Escape. Then, in the winter months of ’82, Journey’s über-ballad became the biggest hit from one of the iconic rock albums of the early ’80s.

(though, even then, Mother, Father, which preceded Open Arms on side two, was the ballad that I’d rewind)