Thirty Years Out From The Future

October 1, 2012

It was during 1982 that I first began purchasing music on an ongoing basis. I was hindered by the nearest actual record stores being fifty miles away and me and my buddies being thirteen-, fourteen-year old kids with little money and no driver’s licenses.

Those circumstances had conspired to keep my music collection to two-dozen or so cassettes as the first chilly mornings of autumn arrived that year.

(a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club)

I doubt that I was aware of the arrival of the first CD player hitting stores in Japan.

It’s quite likely that I first heard of compact disc technology from my buddy Beej who, even then, had a subscription to Stereo Review and was citing Julian Hirsch “of Hirsch-Houck Laboratories.”

I was listening to music through the most basic of means.

I couldn’t get to Cincinnati to buy Hall & Oates H2O and probably didn’t have the eight dollars and change to do so. The price tag of Sony’s CDP-101 – around $750 – and the item being available in Japan made it something for the jet set.

By the time I reached college, the price of the players had finally reached levels affordable to mere mortals, but I was still hesitant to take the digital plunge with a collection of hundreds of albums on cassette.

As the school year was closing in on spring break in March of ’87, it was a paper for a business writing class that proved to be the tipping point. I opted to write about the burgeoning digital revolution and, after several weeks of research and writing, I had convinced myself.

As other classmates headed for tropical climes, I made the two-hour trip to my hometown for a week of reconnecting with several high school buddies.

During that week, we made a trip into Cincinnati – a trek we had made a year before as often as we could acquire transportation – and I joined the jet set, purchasing a floor model of a Technics CD player for, as I recall, $165.

I would have thought you to be addled had you told me that rainy March day that, over the next fifteen years, I would own upwards of 8000 CDs.

Here are songs from the first four discs that I ever played on that first CD player…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere (1986)

After purchasing the CD player, I summarily purchased two CDs with one being the solo debut by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and I’m not sure why. I’d bought the cassette of Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere when it was released toward the end of ’86 and was underwhelmed.

However I had just read Geldof’s autobiography, Is That It?, so that might have been the catalyst. With Eurythmic Dave Stewart co-producing I expected more, but the songs just weren’t there.

This Is The World Calling was one of the few exceptions. The anthemic plea featured the trio of Maria McKee, Annie Lennox, and Alison Moyet on backing vocals.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows (1985)

Power Windows was the other CD I snagged for my new player and, like the Geldof disc, is a bit puzzling in retrospect not least in the respect that it had been released eighteen months earlier.

However, I had gotten into Rush heavily during my last couple years of high school and I did quite like Power Windows (and had seen the band on that tour). Territories was one of several tracks from the album that got played heavily on the rock stations that I was listening to and I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

The Alan Parsons Project – Old And Wise
from The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project (1983)

In addition to the two CDs I initially bought, my buddy Streuss temporarily gifted me a pair of discs that he owned despite not having a CD player.

Several of us were fans of The Alan Parsons Project who had been a radio fixture during the first half of the ’80s with songs like Games People Play, Eye In The Sky, and Don’t Answer Me. At the time I bought my player, the duo of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had just released Gaudi which would prove to be their final release under The Alan Parsons Project banner.

Of those first discs from which I had to choose as I got to know the crisp sound of the medium, The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project sounded the most impressive, but, then again, Parsons, as an Abbey Road engineer, did earn credits for his work on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Old And Wise is a track from Eye In The Sky which I used to hear a lot on one of the soft rock stations and is most certainly a whisper of a song. With lead vocals provided by ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone, Old And Wise is reminiscent of the earlier Project hit Time.

The Moody Blues – The Voice
from Voices In The Sky: The Best Of The Moody Blues (1984)

The other disc Streuss passed to me was a Moody Blues compilation.

I knew Nights In White Satin and the band had hits while I was in high school like Gemini Dream, Sitting At The Wheel, and Your Wildest Dreams, but I was fairly ambivalent.

But, I had four CDs from which to choose and a new toy, so I gave the disc a lot of plays. I remained fairly ambivalent, but the breezy The Voice seemed less fussy than most of the other songs.

And, if I hear The Voice, I first think of seeing the Solid Gold dancers dance to the song during the summer of ’81.


Adventures In Babysitting

September 1, 2012

A buddy of mine has, for a good decade, had the cushiest gig known to man, serving as a nanny to a couple who are cardiologists.

His duties mostly consisted of driving the two kids to and retrieving them from school. In return, he had quarters in a huge home in a posh neighborhood as well as a handsome salary.

As the children have been driving for several years, his responsibilities have been minimal and, now, the position has been rendered obsolete. I fear that he will have a difficult adjustment to the true working world.

My lone experience in child care offered me a taste of this good life.

As a junior in high school, several of my friends and I opted to take Home Economics, causing a bit of a stir as the class had traditionally been reserved for girls which was one of our reasons for taking it.

(our other reason was the expectation that there would be food)

The class did put us in close proximity to some of our more desired female classmates, but, in an unfortunate development, no cooking was involved and, thus, there were no foodstuffs for us to consume.

To my surprise, as the following summer break was ending, our teacher recruited me to watch her three children.

The trio of boys ranged in age from nine to twelve and the gig, as outlined to me, was simple. The afternoon would be spent at the pool of our town’s country club, where my teacher and her husband were members, and, then, home until their return later that evening.

So, for a couple hours, I lounged poolside at The Club. This meant my one task was to make sure that no one drowned.

(actually, water safety fell under the jurisdiction of the lifeguard on duty as – had they drowned – it would have reflected most poorly on him)

This allowed me to give full attention to Kate, a classmate who had arrived shortly after we had encamped. She settled into the chaise lounge next to me, accompanied by her string bikini, to take advantage of one of the last days of summer to work on her already impressive tan.

By the beard of Zeus, the only thing that would have added to the experience was had I, like Chevy Chase in Fletch, ordered a steak sandwich and a steak sandwich and billed it to the Underhills.

The evening ended with me and the kids, back at their house, watching Miami Vice and eating take-out pizza.

Easy money.

Here are four songs from the waning days of that summer of ’85…

Godley & Creme – Cry
from The History Mix Volume 1 (1985)

The duo of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme had once been members of 10cc and had become acclaimed producers of videos.

(Duran Duran’s Girls On Film, Asia’s Heat Of The Moment, The Police’s Every Breath You Take, Wrapped Around Your Finger, and Synchronicity II, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes…)

So, not surprisingly, it was an innovative video – using the same morphing visuals that Michael Jackson would use for Black And White‘s clip – that garnered the duo attention on MTV. Radio soon caught on to the song’s twangy, hypnotic goodness and Cry became a hit that seems to have been largely forgotten.

Talking Heads – And She Was
from Little Creatures (1985)

I was well acquainted with Talking Heads beyond their Top Ten hit Burning Down The House from a couple years earlier. When Little Creatures was released earlier in the summer, I was charmed by the cerebral rockers jaunty ode to levitation And She Was.

Though I didn’t hear the song much on radio, it became one of the few songs by The Heads to make the Hot 100.

Jeff Beck – Gets Us All In The End
from Flash (1985)

I’m not sure if I knew of Jeff Beck before 1985. Perhaps I’d come across the name, but I certainly knew no music by the legendary guitarist (who more than a few folks would argue is the greatest guitarist of the rock era).

Flash had already gotten airplay (and MTV play for the video) with his soulful rendition of People Get Ready, on which Rod Stewart provided vocals. On Get Us All In The End, Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall guested on vocals while Beck handled the guitar work which is simply ferocious.

Bryan Ferry – Slave To Love
from Boys And Girls (1985)

Roxy Music was another act with which I had little familiarity in 1985. I know that I’d heard Love Is The Drug on 97X, but I wouldn’t discover them in more depth until a year later when, as a college freshman, a French professor would play the group’s classic Avalon before class.

It was certainly on 97X where I was hearing Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry’s Slave To Love and I liked the suave fellow’s style.


Metal Guru

July 25, 2012

There is a great likelihood that Paloma and I will be purchasing a new vehicle between now and when the Mayans zap the planet with a giant ray gun.

(or something like that)

I confess that the process – the considerations and calculations of buying a new car – isn’t one that blows back my hair.

I can’t help but think of Jim, the father of a Chris, a high school buddy. Jim had a gig that often consisted of long hours and considerable stress, but he went about his days dutifully.

We all dug Jim and he seemed to envy our youthful antics, wistfully watching us engage in hi-jinks that we took for granted.

(not that he allowed anarchy, but he seemed to understand our need for room to screw up benignly)

He was an educated man who had been in school with Bob Dylan and the quiet of reading seemed to be his one indulgence.

So, my friends and I took note when his demeanor became more relaxed and his his banter with us became more lighthearted.

“He’s buying a car,” Chris explained.

More importantly, the car would essentially be Jim’s car with Chris’ mom getting dibs on the family Volkswagen (which she preferred).

I accompanied the two early one Saturday morning on a trip into the city. Jim was positively giddy.

We picked up the car – an early ’80s Volvo – and Chris and I drove the family car back home.

The transaction took place in a dodgy, decidedly un-Volvo part of the city and under rather sketchy circumstances, resulting in my friends and I amusing ourselves for years discussing the purchase.

(in truth, any possible illegalities were mere figments of our imaginations)

Jim loved that car and, behind the wheel, he was serene with an undercurrent of whimsy.

My friends and I referred to it as “Jim’s Car.”

But Jim was not possessive. It sometimes seemed that we had the car more than he did those last couple years of high school. He rarely balked when Chris asked to borrow it if we’d snagged tickets at the last minute to see Rush or if we simply wanted to be mall rats and roam record stores.

Then, Jim’s car was gone. He’d gotten some nondescript mid-’80s sedan as part of a job promotion and the Volvo was sold.

Perhaps fittingly, Chris and I totaled the new Interlopermobile while home for Christmas break as college freshmen.

Paloma once declared The Cars to be a perfect band for summer and I’m inclined to agree with her. So, in honor of cars – past, present, and future – here are four songs by The Cars…

The Cars – Moving In Stereo
from The Cars (1978)

I asked Paloma for some of her favorite songs by The Cars and Moving In Stereo was the first one that she named.

It’s a classic track by the band and one that I haven’t been able to hear since 1982 and not immediately picture Phoebe Cates climbing out of a pool.

The Cars – Touch And Go
from Panorama (1980)

Moody and menacing, Touch And Go wasn’t one of The Cars’ biggest hits, but Paloma also named it as a favorite from the band and it’s always been a favorite of mine, too.

The Cars – Since You’re Gone
from Shake It Up (1981)

Shake It Up was released right around the time that music was becoming a casual obsession for me and though the title track was a massive hit that got played into the ground, I rarely heard Since You’re Gone, the album’s follow-up single.

The chant-like chorus is just one of the things that hooks me in this pop masterpiece of melancholia and, though many of The Cars’ songs have temporarily worn out their welcome, I’ve never tired of Since You’re Gone over the past thirty years.

The Cars – Magic
from Heartbeat City (1984)

The Cars seem like such a summer band to me because during the summer of 1984, Heartbeat City was – with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA and Prince’s Purple Rain – the sound of that summer.

And nothing on Heartbeat City was more summer than Magic. The song was released as school was ending and it seemed to be on the radio constantly.

And if Magic wasn’t on the radio, the video – which climaxed with lead singer Ric Ocasek walking on pool water – was on MTV. Even now, no matter what the season, I hear Magic and it’s summer for four minutes.