October 17, 1981

October 15, 2011

The autumn of 1981 was the first time that the radio was the first thing I turned on in the morning and the last thing turned off at night.

Q102 would air the Top Ten At Ten weeknights at the titular hour, so a lot of nights I’d leave the radio on, listening well after they’d finished counting down the day’s most requested songs.

The station was the station for most of my junior high classmates and the previous evening’s countdown usually merited at least a few minutes discussion and debate the following day.

It was a good station for a kid just beginning to become interested in music, Top 40 with diverse offerings ranging from Air Supply and Hall & Oates to The Go-Go’s and Rick James as well as classic Who, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin.

Perusing the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine from thirty years ago, most of the songs are recognizable, some more familiar than others; some I did hear at the time and some only over the ensuing years.

Here are the nine songs making their first appearance on the chart during this week in 1981…

Arlan Day – I Surrender
from Surrender (1981)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 7 weeks on chart)

Arlan Day has one more hit song than me and likely you, yet there’s probably more info floating in cyberspace on most of us than there is on Arlan.

I Surrender makes me wonder if Day was concocted in some lab from leftover scraps of Leo Sayer.

Pablo Cruise – Slip Away
from Reflector (1981)
(debuted #88, peaked #75, 5 weeks on chart)

I know little about Pablo Cruise other than Whatcha Gonna Do? and Love Will Find A Way. I think that they were from California and had moustaches.

(they had that bright, late ’70s California soft pop sound and I think moustaches were mandated for such acts at the time)

Slip Away is pleasant enough, not quite four minutes of unadorned, mid-tempo, yacht rock blues.

The Alan Parsons Project – Snake Eyes
from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
(debuted #86, peaked #67, 5 weeks on chart)

I’ve long owned a lot of music by The Alan Parsons Project, but couldn’t remember Snake Eyes and it wasn’t familiar upon listening to it.

A follow-up to The Turn Of A Friendly Card‘s earlier hits Games People Play and Time, Snake Eyes is neither as catchy as the former nor as evocative as the latter.

Quarterflash – Harden My Heart
from Quarterflash (1981)
(debuted #80, peaked #3, 24 weeks on chart)

Thanks to Casey Kasem I know that Quarterflash got their name from…it’s an Australian saying…

I had to look it up. It derives from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

Harden My Heart was appealing and seems to have retained a bit of a presence.

(and my teenaged buddies and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be quite fetching)

Juice Newton – The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)
from Juice (1981)
(debuted #79, peaked #7, 24 weeks on chart)

Juice Newton caught my attention when I heard Angel Of The Morning and Queen Of Hearts – her earlier Top Ten hits from her self-titled album – on the radio, mostly because her name was Juice.

(sadly, her name is actually Judy)

Juice straddled the line between country and pop with those songs and the singer became a breakout sensation in 1981. The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known) is on the twangier side and, thus, was of no interest to me at the time, but I find the song more engaging now and Juice belts the melodramatic ballad to the back row.

Survivor – Poor Man’s Son
from Premonition (1981)
(debuted #78, peaked #33, 14 weeks on chart)

Survivor was just another aspiring arena rock band in the autumn of ’81, but, by the following summer, the Chicago band would unleash the mighty Eye Of The Tiger into an unsuspecting world. I seem to recall reading that it was hearing Poor Man’s Son that prompted Sylvester Stallone to tap Survivor to compose the theme for Rocky III.

The punchy Poor Man’s Son is servicable but sounds more like a band that would be relegated to opening act status for the Journeys, Foreigners, and REO Speedwagons of the world, hardly hinting at the musical immortality awaiting Survivor.

Kool & The Gang- Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)
from Something Special (1981)
(debuted #67, peaked #17, 17 weeks on chart)

Kool & The Gang was a pop radio staple in the early ’80s and throughout much of the decade, but the venerable R&B/funk act had punched their ticket for enduring fame and fortune a year earlier with the mammoth hit Celebration. The effervescent song became the soundtrack to all things celebatory in nature, especially sporting events.

I never really cared much for the doo-wop tinged Take My Heart, perferring the grittier funk of its follow-up Get Down On It, but I recall my buddy Beej loving the song at the time.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)
(debuted #61, peaked #5, 19 weeks on chart)

In 1981, my classmates and I knew little of Rod Stewart’s already extensive history aside from his disco vamp Do You Think I’m Sexy, that song’s follow-up Ain’t Love A Bitch (because, hey, he just said “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

I totally dug Young Turks, the tale of Billy and Patti and their ten-pound baby boy, which found Rod ditching the disco trappings for a more wiry, New Wave musical vibe.

Diana Ross – Why Do Fools Fall In Love
from Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1981)
(debuted #56, peaked #7, 20 weeks on chart)

Diana Ross had retained her superstar status as a solo act in the ’70s not only with a string of hit songs but in a number of movies as well.

However, like Rod Stewart, my classmates and I knew Ross for her more recent work – stuff like the movie The Wiz and her early ’80s hits like Upside Down, I’m Coming Out, and Endless Love – than her iconic time as a Supreme in the ’60s.

Whatever I knew by The Supremes at the time would have been dismissed as ancient history and Ross’ update of a Frankie Lymon hit from the ’50s usually prompted me to search for something else on the dial.

Give My Regards To The Eye In The Sky, Mr. Woolfson

December 7, 2009

The Drunken Frenchman, whom I have mentioned numerous times, would often inform me of the passing of someone – usually the member of some band whose heyday was in the ’60s or early ’70s and who I had maybe a passing knowledge of at best.

A few days ago, I stumbled across a mention of the death of Eric Woolfson last week. It was mentioned again at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.

The name might be unfamiliar to a lot of people. Even the name Alan Parsons Project -with Parsons, Woolfson was part of that ensemble’s core -might mean little to most folks twenty-five years later.

Most people would know some of Woolfson’s music with Parsons, though. The group had a number of songs on the radio in the late ’70s and early ’80s like I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You, Time, and Eye In The Sky. In the ’90s, if you watched Chicago Bulls home games, it was an Alan Parsons Project instrumental, Sirius, that was played during player introductions.

Despite having some impressive credentials as musicians (Parsons had engineered albums like Abbey Road and Dark Side Of The Moon), I don’t think I could have picked either Woolfson or Parsons out of a line-up. I think they had beards and, based on some online searches, it seems I was right.

I did (and still do) own a good amount of the group’s catalog, at least from 1980’s The Turn Of A Friendly Card onward. It was that album that had arrived around the time that my interest in music was beginning and Games People Play was getting a lot of attention on the Top 40 station that was popular with my junior high classmates.

The group would have a handful of hits over the next half decade or so (and had already had a handful over the previous few years). Though they didn’t necessarily fit in with much of the music we were listening to at the time, my friends and I listened to a lot of Alan Parsons Project during high school.

Our interest began to wane with 1985’s Vulture Culture (commercially, the group had topped out the previous year with Ammonia Avenue and the hits Don’t Answer Me and Prime Time).

The duo released two more albums before splitting up. Their finale, Gaudi, arrived during the winter of ’87 when my friends and I had headed in separate directions and were in the midst of our first year of college. I didn’t hear that album until summer break when I was with two of those friends.

(it happened to be in the tape deck when we crashed the family station wagon which the one friend had borrowed that day)

Here are four songs from Alan Parsons Project…

Alan Parsons Project – Sirius
from Eye In The Sky

Alan Parsons Project always had a couple of instrumentals per album. When I went back and discovered their music prior to 1980’s The Turn Of A Friendly Card, I was surprised to find I knew many of their instrumentals from their use on television programs and commercials (a local furniture store used I, Robot in one of the latter).

As for Sirius, most people would be familiar with the song though likely not know it by name. The Bulls during their championship runs of the ’90s were one of many sports teams to make use of the track which segued into Eye In The Sky on the album and, occasionally, the two remained linked on radio.

Alan Parsons Project – Eye In The Sky
from Eye In The Sky

Alan Parsons Project used a revolving cast of lead singers with Woolfson handling the task on a handful of tracks. However, he provided the lead vocals on several of the group’s best-known hits including Time (which I mentioned recently), Don’t Answer Me, and Eye In The Sky.

I remember first hearing the hypnotic Eye In The Sky when it first hit radio in late summer of ’82. It was on a family vacation and I kept coming upon the song on the radio as I channel-surfed during long stretches in the car.

Alan Parsons Project – Don’t Answer Me
from Ammonia Avenue

With its shuffling melody and Phil Spector-influenced sound, Don’t Answer Me sounded amazing on the radio in the spring of 1984. Of course, most of Alan Parsons Project stuff was sonic, but, with Don’t Answer Me, they also married their stellar production to one of their most memorable songs.

As I mentioned, JB at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted Woolfson’s passing and praised the video which accompanied the song. It’s well worth a viewing there.

Alan Parsons Project – Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)
from Vulture Culture

Alan Parsons Project had no shortage of pretty, ethereal songs in their catalog. Days Are Numbers is among the prettiest.

It got a bit of airplay in the autumn of ’85. My girlfriend at the time had gone off to college and my friends and I, who were in the midst of our senior year of high school, were within sight of our own parting of ways. Perhaps those events made the song and its subject matter resonate so strongly with me.

“It’s Just Time, It’s Not Like It Means Anything”

November 4, 2009

clocksI’ve been a bit scattered the past several days with this whole time change thing. Seriously.

I grew up in one of two small areas in the US that didn’t kowtow to The Man on the issue of Daylight Savings Time. Aside from some time in Southeast Asia, I was into my twenties before I ever moved a clock forward or set one back. I let time do its thing.

Then, I was suddenly a forced participant in this national game of Hokey Pokey with a chronological twist.

Now, after weeks of adjusting to making the morning commute in the dark, I have to reorient to the dawning sun on the horizon, manhandling my still sleeping retinas as I speed along.

It also adds an added level of complexity to an item that has been a staple in every phone conversation with my mom ever since I left home.

“What time is it there?”

“What time is it there?

(it’s not as though she has to calculate Pi)

Well, the time changed last night.”

(her tone indicates that it is entirely possible that she holds hobgoblins in the night responsible)

“It’s Sunday.”

Mom is not amused. I rehash how time zones work and the unchanging fact that, so long as both of us live where we do, it will always be an hour later there, no matter what hobgoblins might do with the clocks.

But, to quote a line from the movie Some Kind Of Wonderful, directed by the late John Hughes, “It’s just time, it’s not like it means anything.”

There were hundreds of songs with time in the title when I searched the hard drive. Here is a quartet…

Alan Parsons Project – Time
from The Turn Of A Friendly Card

They might have had progressive leanings, but one-time Abbey Road Studios engineer Alan Parsons’ collective also produced some masterful singles. The ultra-wistful Time is an autumn song to me.

My Bloody Valentine – We Have All The Time In The World
from Peace Together

Peace Together was a compilation from ’93, a charity record for some organization promoting peace in Northern Ireland. My first trip to the UK coincided with the Good Friday Peace Accord which happened four years later.

As a kid in the States in the late ’70s/early ’80s, the troubles in Ireland were inscrutible. All I really understood was that a lot of folks were suffering, mostly ordinary people who merely wanted to live their lives. To watch the news, it seemed like an intractable war.

Three decades later, it seems as though that conflict has been mostly resolved. The relative calm in Northern Ireland now might be the lone thing that gives me hope the major conflicts in the world today might also reach some, if not perfect, at least benign resolution.

Culture Club – Time (Clock Of The Heart)
from Kissing To Be Clever

I have no qualms in declaring an affection for Culture Club. Boy George had a fantastic voice and they had more than a few brilliantly frothy pop songs – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, Church Of The Poison Mind, Victims.

They also had some godawful stuff.

Time (Clock Of The Heart) is one of the former and sounds timeless. When it shuffles up on the iPod, Paloma reacts like I do to bacon.

Matthew Ryan – Time And Time Only
from East Autumn Grin

I used to smoke cigarettes with Ryan many years ago. Good times.

It’s been a long time – six, seven years – since I heard one of his albums, but I thought his first few releases were pretty compelling collections. The dire Time And Time Only makes Springsteen’s Nebraska sound positively giddy.