The Sporting News

May 4, 2012

In a pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there were limited options for a sports junkie to get a fix.

Perhaps ten minutes of time on the late news might be devoted to sports – scores and a few highlights. If you followed a particular team that wasn’t in your area, you’d have to hope for a bit of coverage in the sports section of the morning newspaper.

And, as our newspaper and most of our television channels originated from Cincinnati, a city without an NBA team, it was as if professional basketball didn’t exist.

In that pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there was one place to find detailed coverage of the sports world.

The Sporting News would arrive in the school library toward the week’s end and the competition for it would be fierce. The competition for the previous week’s issue, which was now free to be checked out, would be equally so.

A couple classmates were fortunate enough to have subscriptions – heady stuff for a pre-teen – so there were often a couple extra copies to be had if you were connected.

Sports Illustrated was a must-read, but The Sporting News was the source for a recap of a Bulls/Spurs matchup on a Tuesday night in February.

(though the game would have taken place a week and a half or more before you read about it)

The Sporting News was also the most indispensible source to gather (relatively) current statistics in far greater detail than the sports section. Even the box scores were more granular.

It was the place to get the information to trump your buddies when the question of who was leading the country in scoring was up for discussion.

(and knowing it was some small forward from California-Irvine averaging 26.2 points a game)

At twelve, I’d pore over each page, accumulating a layer of newsprint on my fingers, as though it contained the sum of all knowledge in the universe.

Thirty-three years ago, fifth grade was coming to a close and summer break was within sight, just a few, tantalizing weeks away. Baseball box scores would have been jostling with coverage of the NBA playoffs for space within the pages of The Sporting News.

That May, my grandfather passed away. Five months later, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates staged a dramatic comeback to beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Today, it’s been a couple years since I thumbed through a copy of The Sporting News. There are numerous opportunities to access the information – up to the moment – that made the magazine so prized back in the day.

(and I don’t even need that accessibility to know that the Pirates are, as they have been for much of the past two decades, near the bottom of the standings)

Here are four songs that were on the Billboard Hot 100 in early May, 1979…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi (1978)

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose because of how often I heard it at the pool during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits (1992)

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to explore further. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52′s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.

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June 5, 1982

June 7, 2011

As part of a semi-recurring series, I thought that I’d pull up the Billboard Hot 100 for this corresponding week from a year in the early ’80s and note the songs that were debuts.

I’m opting with 1982 again as it was the year during which I listened to more Top 40 radio than I ever would again.

(there are also a lot of missing issues during the Junes of the first half of the ’80s in Google’s online archive of Billboard magazine, but ’82 is there)

So, here are the songs which debuted on the Hot 100 during the week of June 5, 1982 as my final summer before entering high school was beginning…

Genesis – Paperlate
from Three Sides Live
(debuted #90, peaked #32, 14 weeks on chart)

Following the success of ’81’s Abacab, Genesis issued Three Sides Live – three sides of live material and – at least in the States – a fourth one consisting of studio material.

Paperlate – like Abacab‘s No Reply At All – featured the the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section giving the song some kick. More than just a lament over an undelivered daily, the ever increasingly commercial trio seems to be warning against slavish devotion to routine.

Ambrosia – How Can You Love Me?
from Road Island
(debuted #89, peaked #86, 4 weeks on chart)

When I pulled up the chart for this week in ’82, I wasn’t surprised that most of the songs debuting were well-known to me. Ambrosia’s How Can You Love Me? was not.

I didn’t recognize it as I listened to it, either, but it certainly surprised me as, like most listeners, I know Ambrosia for their soft rock smashes like How Much I Feel and Biggest Part of Me.

How Can You Love Me? is punchy, guitar-driven rock and maybe the world wasn’t ready for such a thing from the L.A. quartet and the song would prove to be their final hit.

Jeffrey Osborne – I Really Don’t Need No Light
from Jeffrey Osborne
(debuted #88, peaked #39, 15 weeks on chart)

There was essentially one urban station in our range that went by the moniker of The Blaze, but I didn’t spend much time there while surfing the dial. So, I wasn’t really familiar with Jeffrey Osborne’s time as the lead singer of LTD.

But several of his solo hits did make their way to the playlists of the pop stations to which I was partial, so I did hear I Really Don’t Need No Light on occasion. It’s actually a rather catchy, light funk track that I probably enjoy more now than I did then.

Chic – Soup For One
from Soup for One soundtrack
(debuted #87, peaked #80, 6 weeks on chart)

Not only did Chic notch some major hits during the late ’70s with Le Freak, I Want Your Love, and Good Times, the group’s members continued to have an influence on pop music into the ’80s.

Bassist Bernard Edwards worked with acts like Diana Ross, Adam Ant, Rod Stewart, Air Supply, ABC and Duran Duran. He also produced Robert Palmer’s Riptide as well as the debut album by The Power Station, whose line-up included Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson.

Meanwhile, guitarist Nile Rodgers produced pretty much every album during the first half of the decade including releases by Debbie Harry, David Bowie, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, INXS, Madonna, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, and Thompson Twins.

And, yet, Soup For One – a song I hadn’t heard as the title track for a movie I’d never heard of – is pretty unmemorable.

Ashford & Simpson – Street Corner
from Street Opera
(debuted #85, peaked #56, 10 weeks on chart)

The songwriting duo of husband and wife Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson penned songs for most of Motown’s biggest acts, but only managed to reach the pop Top 40 twice as artists. Street Corner wasn’t one of them.

I didn’t hear Street Corner much, if at all, on radio at the time. The only time I really do recall hearing it was on America’s Top 10Casey Kasem’s weekly television countdown – as it was a much bigger hit on the R&B charts.

But the song did catch my ear at the time. It reminded me of songs like George Benson’s Give Me The Night and Brothers Johnson’s Stomp! from the previous summer, both of which I totally dug.

Larry Elgart & His Manhattan Swing Orchestra – Hooked on Swing
from Hooked on Swing
(debuted #83, peaked #31, 12 weeks on chart)

The London Philharmonic had reached the Top 10 with a medley of classical compositions in early ’82 and, later that summer, Meco would reach the Top 40 by stitching together some classic movie themes.

And, over the previous year, Dutch studio group Stars On 45 had also scored hits with medleys of songs by The Beatles and Stevie Wonder.

So, true to form, record labels proved willing to flog the medley equine until it was of no interest to anyone but Elmer’s.

Cheap Trick – If You Want My Love
from One On One
(debuted #81, peaked #45, 10 weeks on chart)

Sure, Cheap Trick had lost a bit of mojo since rocketing to superstardom a few years earlier with Cheap Trick At Budokan, but how could a song as stellar as If You Want My Love fail to even reach the Top 40?

This lack of love for Cheap Trick also baffled ticket-scalper Mike Damone that summer in Fast Times At Ridgemont High as he asked. “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?”

(of course, Damone apparently forgot the magnetism and charisma of Bun E. Carlos)

Glenn Frey – I Found Somebody
from No Fun Aloud
(debuted #77, peaked #31, 13 weeks on chart)

Though I’m not as opposed to The Eagles as The Dude was in The Big Lebowski – in which his abiding hatred of the group gets him tossed from a cab – I’ve never been much of a fan, either. Maybe it was the overkill of hearing their music so much on radio as a kid.

So, I had minimal interest in Glenn Frey’s solo debut. However, the languid I Found Somebody is pleasant enough.

Chicago – Hard To Say I’m Sorry
from Chicago 16
(debuted #75, peaked #1, 24 weeks on chart)

I know that Chicago has some seriously devoted fans, but I’ve never been much more than lukewarm toward most of their music. Here and there is a song I like, but, mostly, I’m indifferent.

Hard To Say I’m Sorry would prove to be inescapable that entire summer and remained so as we returned to school in September. I always found the version with Get Away – which I heard as often as the truncated single – to be a bit jarring.

Survivor – Eye Of The Tiger
from Eye Of The Tiger
(debuted #73, peaked #1, 25 weeks on chart)

Sure, the lyrics are pretty goofy – I think I realized that even in ’82 when Rocky III was one of the summer’s biggest flicks and Survivor’s theme was everywhere – but the music is sonic adrenalin.

Rick Springfield – What Kind of Fool Am I
from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet
(debuted #57, peaked #21, 12 weeks on chart)

Though I don’t usually seek them out, when one of the dozen or so tracks on the iPod by Rick Springfield shuffles up, I’m likely listening to the entire song. The guy had some catchy tracks.

I would have guessed the the mellow rocking What Kind Of Fool Am I had been a Top 10 hit. It certainly seemed to be as popular as Don’t Talk To Strangers, the first single from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet on the stations I was listening to.


It’s Even Better Than Festivus

March 16, 2011

As someone who, as a kid, watched Bird and Magic in the ’79 NCAA basketball title game, March has long been, perhaps, the most wonderful month of the year.

Like December, March is a month-long trek full of anticipation and excitement, culminating in one massive blowout. But hoops in March trumps holidays in December.

The latter can be a slog, filled with stress and when you’ve reached the end, whether it’s been memorable or miserable, you’re staring at the deepest, darkest stretch of winter.

The former, even in less memorable years, is bound to have stellar games, performances and moments. By the time some team cuts down the nets, it’s spring.

The anticipation of the tournament beginning this week had me toggling between three games one night last week. I settled on Robert Morris/Long Island University – the most competitive matchup – playing in a gym that was no larger than the high school gym in my hometown.

In college, I’d watch more basketball games in a week than I’ve probably caught this entire season. It was required as I attended a school that was a hoops power in a state mad for the game, so, even if there wasn’t a game on ESPN, there was often a college game on one of the local channels.

And there was the serendipitous intersection of my years in college and the years during which ESPN aired games all day long. It was now possible to watch twelve, fifteen hours of basketball in one day.

Those first two rounds of the tournament probably resulted in my GPA being at least a tenth of a percent lower because the Thursday and Friday games caused a cessation of all educational matters.

The experience was made sweeter by the fact that March in Indiana can often be cold, grey, and rainy.

There was something life affirming about not trekking to class in the raw conditions but, instead, encamping on the couch in sweats and a heavy sweater, eating pizza and watching Pepperdine/Seton Hall at one in the afternoon.

I managed to retain some semblence of this annual tradition well into the ’90s, but, in the past decade, the times I’ve gotten to spend watching the Thursday or Friday day games have become fewer.

But I’m taking Friday off this week.

I’m older now, so it won’t be the epic, viewing marathon and showcase for one man’s will to remain inert, gorging on pizza and hoops that it was in college.

Not without a nap or two.

Here are four songs from Billboard‘s chart for this week in March, 1979, when hoops fans were formally introduced to the great Larry Bird…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose it would have still been on the radio a lot during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to check out. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52’s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.