The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2012

December 31, 2012

Now that I’ve wasted so much time here establishing a few traditions, I’d be remiss to honor not them…

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Four years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2012 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. The Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin
from Carry On Up The Charts (1994)
If It’s December, It Must Be Christmas

“On one of the however hundred or so cable channels, NBC is airing It’s A Wonderful Life.”

9. Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
from Emotions In Motion (1982)
October 2, 1982

“At some point last year, I started a semi-regular tradition of pulling up a Hot 100 chart from Billboard magazine and dissecting the debut songs for a given week in the early ’80s (when I was first listening to music and most familiar with Top 40 radio).”

8. Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers
from The Big Lebowski soundtrack (1998)
“Am I the only one around here who gives a @#%! about the rules?”

“I know that Walter Sobcheck does, indeed, give a @#%! about them. He was willing to send Smokey into “a world of pain” for a foot foul in The Big Lebowski.”

7. David Bowie/Pat Metheney Group – This Is Not America
from The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack (1985)
February 2, 1985

“In early 1985, the shift in my musical interests, which had been evolving and changing in fits and starts for a couple years, was ongoing.”

6. Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
from Eye To Eye (1982)
May 22, 1982

“As I opt to periodically do – when I have no other viable or unviable ideas – it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week.”

5. The Monkees- (Theme From) The Monkees
from The Best Of The Monkees (2003)
The Monkees And Me

“I suppose that for someone as fascinated by primates, both of the skyscraper-climbing and planet-ruling sort, as I apparently am, The Monkees should be a favorite band for, if nothing else, their name.”

4. Altered Images – I Could Be Happy
from Pinky Blue (1982)
Bagpipes

“I keep seeing some television commercial, touting some MMA bout. With bagpipes blaring over fight footage, some participant is in the frame spouting Irish proverbs in an accent that I’m not quite sure is Irish or Scottish.”

3. John Stewart (with Stevie Nicks) – Gold
from Bombs Away Dream Babies (1979)
Andrew Burt – Or Someone Else – In 2012

“The candidates have not yet formally been nominated and I am already fatigued by the quadrennial excercise in slapstick that is the presidential election.”

2. The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)
Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test

“Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me ‘Cracker Vacuum.'”

1. The Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town
from The Dream Academy (1985)
Ah Hey Oh Ma Ma Ma…

“In the last few days, I’ve rediscovered the music of The Dream Academy, a band which I had loved and forgotten (despite owning all three of their albums).”

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Time To Bust A Yule

December 15, 2012

ornamentAs a kid, Christmas was the one time of year that music was played in our house more than any other.

Our mom would throw on seasonal music from the ’50s and ’60s and Johnny Mathis or Andy Williams would croon from the stereo console in the living room.

The song that keeps coming to mind the past few days is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. The version that I keep hearing contains an opening verse about palm trees and Beverly Hills that is omitted in most including Bing Crosby’s iconic take on the song.

We might not be in Southern California and the nearest palm trees are hundreds of miles away, but the sentiment of meteorological dissonance resonates.

Outside, it’s a gray, rainy Saturday morning that has a feel more befitting Halloween than Christmas and the temperatures today are expected to climb into the low ’60s, unseasonably warm as it has been this season.

The one recording of White Christmas that fits the time frame and my memory of it being a female singer would seem to be one by Darlene Love from the mid-’60s, but the singer I hear in my head doesn’t have the soul that I’d expect from Ms. Love.

But it is a mere week and a half until Christmas and Paloma has ensured that – though the weather outside might not suit the season – there’s no doubt what time of year it is.

For the first time since we’ve been together, we’ve put up a tree that has not been – as anticipated – a source of interest to the three felines and Paloma has garnished it in Christmas card-worthy fashion from the astounding inventory of ornaments that she has collected over the years.

There are also other traditional accoutrements – wreaths, garlands and such – as well as the smell of baking from the kitchen.

So, here are four holiday songs…

David Bowie and Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy
from The Singles Collection (1993)

Working in record stores in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was a given that the holiday season would bring confused shoppers who didn’t set foot in record stores the rest of the year.

It was also a given that you would have to repeatedly explain that Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, the unexpected Christmas duet by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, was unavailable.

Recorded during the summer of 1977 for a Crosby television special scheduled for that November, the duet was released in the US as a single in 1982 and, then, quickly went out of print. The situation was finally rectified a decade later with the song’s inclusion as a bonus disc on Bowie’s two-CD The Singles Collection.

The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
from Learning to Crawl (1984)

Following the deaths of original members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon in 1982, Chrissie Hynde put The Pretenders on ice for a time. With new members Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster in place, the wistful 2000 Miles became the reconstituted band’s first release in late 1983.

Though apparently about guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the seasonal references and the song’s sense of longing led to 2000 Miles becoming a modern Christmas staple.

Billy Squier – Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You
from A Rock And Roll Christmas (1994)

In the Midwest in the ’80s, Billy Squier was a rock god. The rock stations to which I was listening played not only the hits like The Stroke, Everybody Wants You, and In The Dark, but practically every track from the albums Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion.

So, the rollicking Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You was in heavy rotation each December.

Bryan Adams – Christmas Time (1985)

Like Billy Squier, Bryan Adams was a fixture on radio stations in our part of the Midwest from his debut. By 1985, the Canadian had firmly established himself as a superstar and he was still notching hits from his album Reckless, which had been released a year earlier.

So, it was hardly surprising that when he released the holiday-themed Christmas Time that year, it garnered considerable radio airplay. Like the string of hits he had had at the time, the song isn’t rocket science and Adams hardly reinvents fire, but the sentiment is true and it’s an engaging track.


Freddie

August 15, 2012

Paloma was already tired of hearing me voice the obvious during the opening ceremony of these London Summer Olympics. She finally cracked as we watched the closing ceremony.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s too bad Freddy Mercury isn’t alive for this, but we didn’t kill him.”

“It would have been epic,” I added to my lament.

Sure, it would have been epic if John Lennon and George Harrison were still alive and The Beatles had been around to perform, but it would have been epic simply because it was The Beatles.

But, if you want someone to work a room of several billion globally, Freddie Mercury doing what he did backed by his bandmates in Queen would have been well worth the price of admission.

The first thing I remember of Queen was News Of The World which was released when I was nine. Friends at school were twitterpated over We Will Rock/We Are The Champions.

(twenty minutes later, the former was already a staple at sporting events)

There was also an animated commercial for the album that I seem to recall seeing regularly.

I wasn’t into music and the commercial, featuring the robot from the album cover creeped me out.

I was just beginning to develop an interest in music when The Game spawned the mammoth hits Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust several years later.

And when Hot Space landed with a thud in 1982, music had become an obsession and America – for the most part – had lost interest in Queen.

That was the same year I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club and one of those dozen cassettes I received for that lone penny was Queen’s Greatest Hits.

I doubt that I knew even half of the cassette’s fourteen songs.

I don’t think I even knew Bohemian Rhapsody.

Out of that initial Columbia House haul, it was Queen Greatest Hits and The Best Of Blondie that I played until the tape stretched.

I had my first Walkman in 1984 when the band released The Works. I endured a family trek into Cincinnati early that spring, purchased a copy of The Works and – fulfilling my obligations as a sullen teenager – spent the trip listening to it.

Throughout high school, most of my friends were fans of Queen. Even though we were enamored with the New Wave and alternative rock of the time and the band’s ’80s output didn’t get the attention in the States that it received in the rest of the world, we remained devoted.

And, judging by the response in Olympic Stadium when Freddie Mercury finally did make an appearance, I wasn’t alone in wishing he had actually been there.

Queen might not have produced as much of their classic music during the decade, but here are four of their songs that I enjoyed in the ’80s…

Queen – Flash’s Theme
from Flash Gordon soundtrack (1980)

There seemed to be a lot of hullabaloo about the movie Flash Gordon prior to its release. At least I seem to recall it getting a lot of attention on the talk shows that would be on after school. I didn’t see it then, but I did later catch bits of the campy flick on cable.

Apparently Queen’s theme just missed the Top 40 in the US, but I don’t think I ever heard the song on the radio. But it was one of my favorites from that greatest hits collection. It’s pure adrenaline.

(and my friends and I were greatly amused by the dialogue in the song from a movie we didn’t see)

Queen with David Bowie – Under Pressure
from Hot Space (1982)

Under Pressure is gloriously brilliant.

At the end of 1981, perhaps over Christmas break, I had liberated a small, tabletop radio from my dad’s basement workspace. During that winter, I’d go to sleep most nights with it on and I’d often hear Under Pressure.

It sounded ominous to me and yet it drew me in.

It stood out from most everything else I was hearing.

I recognized the song as a future classic.

(and somehow only reached #29 in the US)

Queen – Radio Ga Ga
(Live Aid) (1985)

Queen’s performance at Live Aid received kudos. I got to see a few hours of Live Aid as it happened, but Queen performed before the US concert began, so I missed the epicness.

I know a lot of my friends hated Radio Ga Ga, but I dug it.

Yeah, the baby talk in the chorus seemed lazy, but the song was wistful and grand. Radio was beginning to matter less to me during those winter months in 1984 when Radio Ga Ga was getting airplay.

We didn’t have MTV, yet, so it wasn’t the visual medium snuffing out radio for me. Instead, I was spending more time listening to the music I was buying as often as I had cash and access.

Queen – I Want It All
from The Miracle (1989)

I purchased a pirated cassette of The Miracle from a street market in Thailand and was summarily disappointed.

I had heard I Want It All before I’d left the States and loved it. It was full of bravado and showcasing Brian May guitar heroics and the simple, anthemic chorus immediately lodged into the brain.

I’ve never gone back and revisited The Miracle, but I Want It All still commands my attention.