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.

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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.


Heading For The Dirty City

October 20, 2010

When I first started listening to music during the first couple years of the ’80s, this new interest meant something to do during the fall and winter when the elements made for longer stretches housebound.

Instead of jockeying with my brother for control of the television or Atari 2600 console, I could now opt for self-imposed exile to my bedroom and listen to music rather than read.

More music was listened to during the months of less daylight. This might have meant an increased likelihood of burnout and a need to shop for more music.

Of course, the selection of music in our Midwestern town was no more than a few hundred cassettes in wire wall racks and eight or so bins of albums and singles in a small variety store.

I reached a point at which I was becoming interested in music not stocked in this store (or stocked well past the date it had been available in the outside world). It needn’t be too exotic – Missing Person’s Spring Session M comes to mind – that an hour’s drive to the nearest record stores in Cincinnati had to be made.

This conundrum was made a stickier wicket as I wasn’t yet old enough to drive.

The first option was to provide explicit instructions with mom as to what to titles to procure. Complicating matters was release dates weren’t always available or accurate, so it was necessary to – with limited funds – prioritize a list of albums that might not even be out, yet.

(and, then, hope that mom could actually make sense of the request)

The other option was to blow most of the day accompanying mom on the trip and endure hours at outlet malls – kind of like a Midwestern version of running with the bulls at Pamplona – to spend forty-five minutes browsing through a record store or two and pick up a few cassettes.

However, this riddle was resolved by time and, by the autumn of 1984, me and all of my friends had our driver’s licenses.

None of us had cars, but that was merely a detail. Some of us had older siblings with cars and all of us had parents with cars.

Actually, transportation was usually provided by my buddy Beej. He’d tell his mom that he was taking the car to one of our houses and, thirty minutes later, four to six of us were headed for the glamour of the dirty city.

We weren’t old enough to do much than roam the malls and gorge ourselves on fried mozarella sticks at The Ground Round, but there were a half-dozen record stores to hit, so there was much to do.

It was our first taste of freedom and the open road, though, and we always returned with plenty of music. It’s probably why, even now, the cool weather triggers something in me that makes me want to buy music.

Here are four songs from albums that I’m sure I purchased on one of those roadtrips during the autumn of ’84…

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth

Isn’t Cherry Bomb about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be? Proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Zebra – Bears
from No Tellin’ Lies

When Zebra released their debut in 1983, a lot of music fans embraced their Zeppelin-like sound and a lot of critics slagged them for their Zeppelin-like sound.

Personally, I wore that first album out and though I didn’t spend as much time with the follow-up, it’s not a bad record. The odd and engaging Bears always reminded me of Rush (who I was also quite into at the time)

Bruce Cockburn – Lovers In A Dangerous Time
from Stealing Fire

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains an underappreciated artist south of his homeland’s border, though his cult following in the States is devoted.

I discovered his music when the righteously indignant If I Had A Rocket Launcher, from Stealing Fire, popped up on some of the rock stations I was listening to at the time. I bought the cassette for that song, but the wiry Lovers In A Dangerous Time, which kicked off Stealing Fire, is pretty stellar, too, and features some wicked guitar work.