Thirty-Three And Forever

October 14, 2012

I happened to catch part of an American Top 40 countdown while running errands with Jeepster this morning. Casey Kasem was doing his thing just as he had from this week in 1974.

At the time of the original broadcast, I was a first-grader trying to adjust to a school in a small town where I had lived for less than a year. Most of my classmates seemed to be related and most of their parents had gone to school together.

Not good times.

And most of the songs Casey was playing were ones that I recollect hazily, if at all, from that time.

So, I thought that I’d consult a Billboard Hot 100 chart from later in the decade, when there would be fewer cobwebs.

As October was reaching its mid-point in 1979, I was a sixth grader and my friends and I were engrossed in the 1979 World Series.

It was shaping up to be a short series as Baltimore had taken three of the first four games against Pittsburgh.

I was dismayed. The broadcasters kept reminding me that there were just four times in the 75 year history of the World Series that had rallied from such a deficit to win the title.

If you were a twelve-year old kid pulling for the Pirates, it might as well have been never.

I was a Pirate fan through birth with familial ties to Western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had known Bill Robinson, who was starting for the team in the outfield.

My grandfather had passed away a month into that season, having been devoted to the team since the days of Honus Wagner.

October 13, 1979 was a Saturday and the night before the Pirates had dropped game three of the series.

I had remained sprawled out in front of the television late into the night, until the last, miserable out and I was still brooding about it as I biked to a soccer game that morning.

That night, it would be a repeat as the Orioles took the seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead.

And, eight days later, I was watching when the Pirates won a third straight game – game seven – to clinch the World Series.

(and the team hasn’t returned since)

Music was just beginning to pull some of my attention from sports that autumn. I was most certainly a passive listener, hearing music mostly when exposed to it through others.

Here are four songs that were on the radio that autumn as the Pirates were playing in the World Series (in what it seems – as each year passes – might have been for the last time in my lifetime)…

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution (1979)

Journey was still two years away from Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids not old enough to drive, the song came on the jukebox.

As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed and inert, transfixed and mystified.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk (1979)

The bowling alley was the other premier place to see and be seen once you reached junior high school.

I heard unusual Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox that autumn. And, I would pester my buddy Tony to play his 45 of the song when we hung out at his house.

It’s “real savage like” and a fine example of the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Foreigner – Dirty White Boy
from Head Games (1979)

I knew Foreigner for songs like Cold As Ice, Double Vision, and Hot Blooded. I’d hear them blaring from the Camaro of an older kid in our neighborhood as he raced through the street headed for somewhere.

And the title track and Dirty White Boy from Head Games were two more songs that I associate with the bowling alley jukebox. For all of the grief that Foreigner might be given, their straight-ahead rock stuff certainly did sound cool blaring from a Camaro eight-track player or bowling alley jukebox.

(and, the girl on the cover of Head Games was Lisanne Falk, who would play one of the Heathers in the 1989 black comedy Heathers)

Cheap Trick – Dream Police
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

Cheap Trick exploded in 1979 with Cheap Trick At Budokan and the quartet from Rockford, Illinois is one of the first bands I can recall my classmates embracing with fervor.

Dream Police was culled from the parent album of the same name – the follow-up to the mega-selling At Budokan – and we delighted in the manic, subconscious angst of the protagonist and the driving music of the power-pop classic.

And, I can’t hear Dream Police now and not think of sketchy ticket-scalper Mike Damone in the iconic Fast Times At Ridgemont High making his pitch – “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” – and singing a snippet of the song.

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On The Road To Somewhere

September 3, 2011

Paloma got up, less than ten minutes into The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, to go read.

She muttered something about thinking Jackie Earle Haley was cute in the first movie and walked out before Kelly Leak arriving on his motorcycle kickstarted its sequel.

“It’s one of the greatest movies of all time,” I countered, but she was unswayed and headed off with Kindle in hand.

I don’t think I’d seen Breaking Training since 1977, but that review was the consensus of me and my friends leaving the theater.

(we were mostly nine or ten-years old, thus, our standards for such acclaim were the same as more noted critics)

We were growing up in a small town in John Mellencamp’s country and, at least at our age, playing baseball consumed much of our summer days.

We had embraced the ragtag collection of Bears with first movie. These kids looked like kids we knew and not kids in a movie.

And there was Jackie Earle Haley who, as Kelly was not only the best player on the team, but he was angry, long-haired, smoking cigarettes and hooking up with Tatum O’Neal.

He was as badass as a thirteen year-old could be in the mid-’70s.

The sequel lost the wonderful Walter Matthau and O’Neal, but gained a road trip.

Through the clever use of a dim-witted groundskeeper, the team manages to head from California to Texas in a stolen (and very ’70s-styled) van with Kelly Leak behind the wheel.

These were kids, more or less like us, unsupervised and mobile.

And Kelly Leak had the vision to make it happen.

The setting for their game against the Texas champions was the Astrodome, a stadium that was a favorite amongst us kids as the most spectacular of sporting venues on the planet.

(it was like something from some other futuristic world)

There was also a new kid playing Englebert the burly catcher. Not only was he now supersized, he was pivitol in the scene that elicited the biggest laughs from us.

During a brawl in the team’s hotel room, the bathroom door is knocked open to reveal Englebert, sitting on the can, trousers around his ankles, plowing through a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while he answers nature’s call.

(high hilarity for nine year-olds and an act of multi-tasking that present-day corporate America would encourage)

Thirty-four years ago, it all made for a most excellent cinematic experience. Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart for this week in 1977 that, had we been in that van, my friends and I might have heard…

Fleetwood Mac – Don’t Stop
from 25 Years: The Chain

In 1977, there was plenty Fleetwood Mac on the radio as their Rumours was in the midst of a run that would see it become one of the most commercially successful albums of all time.

The group had already had hits with Go Your Own Way and Dreams when the jaunty Don’t Stop became the third of Rumours‘ eventual four Top 40 singles.

Ram Jam – Black Betty
from Ram Jam

Paloma gets a bit giddy when she hears Black Betty and the lone hit by Ram Jam does grab one’s attention from the opening guitar riff.

I can’t hear Black Betty and not think of junior high when the song would invariably be blaring from the jukebox of the pizza place where most of our football team would gather to eat before home games.

The song made guitarist Bill Bartlett a two-time member of one-hit wonders as he had previously been lead guitarist for The Lemon Pipers who had topped the charts in the late ’60s with the bubblegum of Green Tambourine.

Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
from Sweet Life: His Greatest Hit Singles

Singer/songwriter Paul Davis’ I Go Crazy was in its second week on the charts thirty-four years ago. The song wouldn’t reach the Top Ten, though, until late February of the following year as it spent a then-record 40 weeks on the Hot 100.

Though I Go Crazy was melancholic light rock at its most mellow, I’ve often wondered if Davis was ever mistaken for a member of the Allman Brothers.

The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey,Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse.


A Hole In The Middle Of Summer

July 17, 2010

Last summer, I noted that I’d watched Major League Baseball’s All-Star game for the first time in years.

This summer, I mostly ignored the game again.

I watched a bit of the home run derby competition (and what I watched was uneventful). I spent most of the time trying to figure out if David Ortiz had actually gotten busted for performance-enhancing drugs, if he had been investigated for such hijinks, or if there had merely been rumors.

(that grew wearying and I lost interest in the contest)

I actually tuned in for the game in time to witness some well-meaning, but disturbingly-executed pre-game ceremony honoring good-deed doers. It gave me flashbacks of Up With People performing at the Super Bowl in the ’70s.

I watched the player introductions, recognizing no more than one of every three names, and began channel-surfing before the first inning had ended.

From the mid-’70s on, into the first years of the ’80s, the All-Star game was must-see television for me, an event that was anticipated for weeks. With only a couple national games each week, it was the chance to see players that you mostly had read about or saw brief highlights of on This Week In Baseball.

(that show was also appointment viewing each Saturday afternoon)

But somewhere along the trip, baseball became less a source of fascination to me. There are a lot of reasons, but it occurred to me that I might well be collateral damage from the 1981 players strike.

The plugged got pulled on the season in mid-June. Cleveland’s Len Barker had pitched the first perfect game in thirteen years and Fernando Valenzuela had been a sensation pitching for the Dodgers.

There was no baseball for two months, essentially the entire summer.

And plotting the timeline, it was the summer of ’81 during which music was taking on an increasing importance in my world. The time that might have been devoted to reading boxscores in the sports pages or watching a game was spent listening to the radio and becoming acquainted with the hit songs of the day.

In August, as the beginning of a new school year was bearing down on us, the strike ended and the baseball season resumed with the All-Star game. I’m sure I watched and I would continue to watch, but things had changed.

Baseball was never quite as important to me and it only became less so by the time I headed off to college a half decade later. By the time another strike wiped out the World Series in ’94, the sport was on life support for me.

Even if baseball hadn’t abandoned me that summer, I imagine that music would have still eclipsed my interest in the sport. I was thirteen and music was part of the required trappings of being that age.

Here are four of the songs that were filling the space that baseball had left during this week in 1981…

Rick Springfield – Jessie’s Girl
from Working Class Dog

In 1981, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ mentioning it in passing.

But Springfield was a musician before finding success on television and there was no denying that Jessie’s Girl was insanely catchy (as were most of his hits during the decade). Though there would be friends in my future who had girlfriends that I thought were fetching, none of them drove me into a state like Jessie’s girl drove poor Rick.

Marty Balin – Hearts
from Balin

Would I have know of Jefferson Airplane and/or Starship when Marty Balin scored a solo hit Hearts? Perhaps I knew the band’s more recent hits like Jane or Find Your Way Back, but I doubt I knew classics like White Rabbit, Somebody To Love, and Miracles.

I certainly had no idea of Balin’s connection to the legendary band unless, again, that information was passed on to me by the DJs playing the song or, perhaps, Casey Kasem, whom I had discovered earlier that summer.

Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight
from Face Value

Despite the dozens of hits that Phil Collins has had both with and wthout Genesis, I’d have to think that In The Air Tonight, his first solo hit, is the one for which he will be remembered. Not only are there the various urban legends about the song, but the cavernous drum sound would become Collins’ signature.

Add in the song’s use in the movie Risky Business and the television show Miami Vice as that program was becoming a phenomenon – as well as numerous commercials in the ensuing thirty years – and you have one of the more iconic hits of the early ’80s.

Greg Kihn Band – The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)
from Rockihnroll

The Greg Kihn Band had a handful of hit songs including the mammoth Jeopardy in 1983, but the power-pop act wasn’t really able to break out beyond fringe status.

However, they got a lot of radio airplay in my corner of the midwest with songs like Happy Man, Reunited, and Lucky. As my friends and I became more interested in music, several of them were especially devoted to the San Francisco band, snagging each new release as soon as it was issued.

Though Jeopardy might have been the bigger hit, that song has nothing on the lean, wiry and concise The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em). In under three minutes, Kihn had me hooked with the song’s singalong chrous and his stuttered vocal at the end of each verse.