Things That Rhyme Like Nipsey Russell

January 22, 2012

Paloma and I upgraded to HD recently which is how I ended up on the Game Show Network the other night.

As HD is a new experience, I find that I surf for shows to look at rather than watch.

I didn’t even know we had the Game Show Network, but when I saw The $25,000 Pyramid listed as I scrolled through the channel guide and couldn’t help but be curious as to what a game show from the 1970s might look like in HD.

I tried the channel and the sight of Nipsey Russell and Vickie Lawrence bantering with host Dick Clark materialized from the pixels.

The show used to air in the mornings on weekdays, so I’d only see it on rare occasion during the school years, the handfuls of days off for snow, sickness, or holidays.

During the summer, The $25,000 Pyramid was more regularly viewed. As I watched the show for the first time in thirtyplus years, I couldn’t help but think that, at that time, it was as educational as portions of our actual educational system.

(I undoubtedly learned new words and it stimulated creative thinking)

And, in a world with far less media and far more mystique, The $25,000 Pyramid provided a chance to see television actors outside their usual time-slotted habitats.

Loretta Swit, whose name I’d read during the opening credits of M*A*S*H, was truly a real person and Margaret Houlihan was truly fictitious.

The show was likely my introduction to Dick Clark as I don’t recall American Bandstand airing in our locale. By the end of the ’70s, I’d know Clark for his New Year’s Eve countdown.

In the early ’80s, not long after I discovered Casey Kasem counting down hit songs on American Top 40, I would come across Dick Clark doing the same on The Dick Clark National Music Survey.

Where as Casey’s program aired on several stations, regularly, Clark’s show seemed to only be broadcast on one station, erratically, on late Sunday afternoons. It also used the record charts published by Cashbox as opposed to Casey’s use of Billboard.

Not being familiar with either publication, I recall being puzzled as to the differences between where songs would end up on each countdown, but, probably because it aired on more stations, I assumed Casey’s take was more “real.”

Here are four songs that I might have heard listening to either Casey Kasem or Dick Clark count down the hits during this week in 1983…

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)

There were a lot of acts that previously had not achieved a lot of mainstream radio success making waves in early 1983. Though The Clash had notched a Top 40 hit a few years earlier with Train In Vain, the legendary punk band was having their greatest commercial success at the time with the übercool Rock The Casbah.

Though I knew The Clash by name, I had never heard their music prior to Rock The Casbah. It would be over the next few years – and thanks to the passion my buddy Streuss had for the band – that I would discover what all the fuss was over “the only band that matters.”

ABC – The Look Of Love (Part One)
from The Lexicon Of Love (1982)

ABC’s debut The Lexicon Of Love is widely regarded as a classic ’80s album. It wasn’t as wildly popular in the US as it was in the UK, but The Look Of Love and Poison Arrow got played on even the most pedestrian of Top 40 stations which I was listening to at the time.

Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
from The Youth Of Today (1982)

Growing up in the lily-white Midwest of the US, reggae didn’t exist. I might have known the name Bob Marley, but it would have only been from perusing Rolling Stone.

The teenaged quintet Musical Youth managed to notch a Top Ten pop hit in America with the pop-reggae of Pass The Dutchie, but had it not been for listening to countdown programs on the radio, I would have never heard the song. It might have been a sizeable hit, but it was one that I never heard on the stations to which I was listening.

In fact, the only Musical Youth that I ever heard on the radio during that period was the song 007 -which was largely ignored – from the group’s follow-up album to The Youth Of Today when 97X went on the air toward the end of ’83.

Christopher Cross – All Right
from Another Page (1983)

Like most of my friends at the time, I embraced much of the new music – New wave and synthesizer bands – that was arriving from the UK. I also maintained an interest in the more traditional pop music I was hearing on the radio. I didn’t make much of a differentiation.

It was all just music and I had a curiousity about most of it.

Christopher Cross had taken three years between his debut and follow-up album – a ridiculously long period at the time. I had made Cross’ mega-successful debut the first album I had ever purchased, but during that hiatus, not only did the rest of the world move on, but I made the quantum leap from twelve to fifteen which is twenty-one years in dog years and during that time I, like the rest of world, came to he startling realization that flamingos and rock and roll don’t mix.

Twenty-five years later, I find All Right to be pleasant enough, though.

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Thank You For The Music, Mona

September 30, 2010

As I entered seventh grade, the decade of the ’80s was less than ten months old and music was something in which I had minimal interest.

On the first day of school that September, I learned that I had been assigned a new teacher for my homeroom class.

She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, a young blonde female in a school in which half of the teachers were nuns.

Really, really old nuns.

Our town was small and the kids in my seventh grade class were kids I had known since we’d started school. We had never had a teacher like Mrs. Winston – so young and so blonde.

It’s no surprise that the guys in our class took slack-jawed note of her, but so did the girls. She could have stepped from the glossy cover of a magazine.

She looked like the The Beach Boys’ California Girls sounds.

She’d wear a green sweater dress with knee-high, tan boots and little make-up.

She was a natural beauty.

I’m not sure where Mona was from, but, if I recall her voice, there was a slight drawl that makes me think Texas would be a good guess. And she was married to an attorney.

My male classmates and I were reaching an age at which hormones were taking the first hostages. Our locker room now sounded like a locker room.

The merits of the girls in our class were often discussed, but as most of us had no experience with those of the double-x chromosomes, much of the banter was merely speculative.

And though less-accessible women such as Cheryl Tiegs, the actresses on Three’s Company, or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders might also enter into our conversations, Mona never did.

Maybe it was because she was so geniunely kind and, unlike most adults we knew, treated us kids as intelligent beings.

Maybe it was because she was so casual and real.

Though my classmates and I were well aware of Mona’s beauty, I don’t recall any of us viewing her with anything more than respectful awe.

But, for more than her aesthetic virtues, Mona was memorable for providing fuel for the small flicker of interest I had in music.

As September morphed into October, more and more recesses were spent stuck inside as a grey rain fell outside. Mona brought in a turntable and encouraged us to bring in our albums. So, as we were all scattered throughout the classroom during those rained-out recesses, there was constant jockeying to play DJ.

I owned little music at the time – a couple albums that had been gifts, maybe a dozen 45s – but as I played tabletop football with friends, I was hearing Queen’s The Game, AC/DC’s Back In Black, and The Cars’ Panorama.

Most of the albums played were current and most had a song or two that had been hits. Though I didn’t know much music, I wasn’t totally in the weeds.

Soon, being trapped indoors at lunch wasn’t such a bummer and, for the first time, I was actively listening to music.

By the time the school year ended, I was hooked.

Mona – her taste in music was light rock. So, here are a quartet of songs from some of the albums she brought in for those recess listening sessions from thirty autumns ago…

Christopher Cross – Sailing
from Christopher Cross

I don’t think I would take the plunge and – like some five million other people in the States – buy a copy of Christopher Cross until months later (perhaps with money received at Christmas), but Sailing had been the song of the summer and I couldn’t hear it enough.

Ride Like The The Wind, Sailing, and a couple more hits that I’d heard on the radio led me to purchase the cassette, but the fact that it was a favorite of Mona’s no doubt added to the album’s cachet for me.

Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List
from Voices

Although Kiss On My List wouldn’t become a hit (and a massive one at that) until the following spring, I recall that the song was the one that Mona referred to her as her favorite when she played it for us in the fall of ’80.

From the stutter-step opening, Kiss On My List hooks me when I hear it. It’s lighthearted, playful, and has a fantastic chorus.

Air Supply – Every Woman In The World
from Lost In Love

Like Christopher Cross, Australia’s Air Supply arrived on the scene in 1980 and had already notched a couple of huge radio hits with Lost In Love and All Out Of Love by the time we were closing in on autumn.

I liked the group. The songs were breezy and light and, at the age of twelve, I assumed that these Aussies had love figured out since it was the subject of every song. I’m sure that I surmised their music could offer me valuable insight into charming the ladies.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black

On the other side of the Australian coin…Back In Black wasn’t an album that Mona brought in, but she didn’t keep us from playing it when one of my classmates dropped it onto the turntable.

I’m not so sure that she dug the album, but millions of the other humans did.

(and, like Air Supply, AC/DC had advice for us about the ladies)

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.


Little. Yellow. Different.

May 24, 2010

Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air.

Some of us had primitive home systems such as Pong, but our experience with video games was limited.

Space Invaders had been released in 1978, but none of us had played the game until the new decade had arrived. Sometime as the winter snows melted in early 1980, Space Invaders appeared, sitting there against the wall near the small music department in the rear of the Danners Five & Ten.

It quickly became the place to find most of the kids our age after school and on weekends, pouring quarters down the machine’s gullet.

Later, that summer, Asteroids appeared, nestled next to the pinball machines and near the pool tables at the bowling alley and getting a chance to play was about as likely as getting a table at the trendiest bistro in Hollywood.

On May 22, 1980, we were likely counting down the final days of the school year.

Some ten thousand miles away in Japan, twelve-year olds there were being introduced to a video game that would soon be separating us from our hard-earned allowances and change how we would waste our free time for the next several years, ushering in the video game era.

It was Pac-Man.

(actually, it was Puck-Man, but – upon export to the States – someone had the foresight to realize that young vandals such as we would likely alter the “P” to an “F” to the chagrin of more upright citizens)

The first time that I ever heard of Pac-Man was a year or so later when a new girl, Molly, arrived at our school. Sitting next to me in class one day, she began recounting some plot involving a jaundiced little fellow, babbling about a maze, ghosts, eating dots, and fruit.

As video games were not a part of our consciousness despite Space Invaders and Asteroids, I thought that she was describing some movie she had seen.

“We should play some time,” she suggested.

I nodded, having no idea what the hell she was talking about.

Molly and I never did share a game of Pac-Man. The game soon arrived at the bowling alley, but she had been recruited into the group of A-list girls in our class and I was, on a good day, strictly a B-list kid.

However, my friends and I spent a lot of time trying to master the game and memorize the patterns and, with its phenomenal success, new video games began to sprout like weeds. Each would cause initial excitement – “You have to check out Defender” – before being supplanted by the next big thing until there were enough of them to be herded into an gaming menagerie.

Here, in a belated birthday nod to Pac-Man, are four songs from the charts during the week it was introduced to the world. I wasn’t listening to much music, yet, but I might have heard them playing on the juke box at the bowling alley as I played pinball, hoping for a chance to get a shot at the Asteroids machine…

The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night

Smooth and funky, The Brothers Johnson’s Stomp! has an irresistible, anthemic chorus. Disco might have been dead by the end of the ’70s, but it didn’t keep the song from being a mammoth hit during the spring of ’80.

Air Supply – Lost In Love
from Lost In Love

The Top 40 station that I listened to in the first few years of the ’80s was relatively unhindered by its format. They’d play Rush’s Tom Sawyer or something old by Van Halen. There was a lot of Journey and Styx.

But there was also the hits and hits in the early ’80s meant Air Supply.

Lost In Love is pleasant enough, a bit mawkish, but breezy and engaging. I think I thought was Starland Vocal Band when I first heard it.

(I hadn’t listened to much music up to that point)

Billy Joel – You May Be Right
from Glass Houses

Billy Joel seemed edgy to me in 1980.

Maybe it was because when I thought of him I thought of songs like Big Shot or Sometimes A Fantasy before I thought of She’s Always A Woman or Honesty.

And, at eleven or twelve the line about dirty jokes in You May Be Right seemed rather adult.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
from Christopher Cross

Early on, I noted the prominent place that Christopher Cross’ debut occupied in my childhood.

And I really have nothing more to add.