Cleveland, You’ll Always Have Devo

July 12, 2010

Though he is a sports fan, my dad not only had grown up in a city without an NBA team, but the nearest city to us that had a franchise when I was growing up was Indianapolis.

They might have played a mere ninety minutes away, but the Pacers were woeful.

He also shared the opinion of college basketball coach Bob Knight that, if the only thing on television was an NBA game and two mice making love, he’d opt for the mice even if the reception was fuzzy.

So, as a kid, when I asked my dad who his favorite pro basketball team was, he replied with neither enthusiasm nor sincerity, “The Cleveland Cavaliers.”

With such disinterest, he could have actually been a fan of the team which, at the time, was as dismal as Indiana’s.

Thirty years later, and it’s been several days since LeBron James left his city in dust. I confess that I did tune in to watch the spectacle of the hoops superstar announce for whom he would be playing next season and for the foreseeable future.

(it was a scene, man)

Personally, I thought he’d return to Cleveland, but, then again, I grew up in a world where you were assured that Basketball Jesus was in Boston, Magic was in L.A., and Dr. J was in Philly.

The whole event certainly seemed tailor-made for audience members who might not know a world without Survivor, American Idol, and ESPN’s Sportscenter.

(not to mention Twitter and Facebook and…)

I’m not quite sure how I feel about how the events played out, but I can’t help but feel bad for the fans in Cleveland.

If you’re a sports fan, it can be a wonderful distraction from whatever life might be hurling at you, but you do become invested.

And for that investment, you’ll likely experience a lot of frustration punctuated by a handful of moments that amaze and inspire, but you’ll find it to be damn near impossible to disengage.

The ante was certainly upped for a city whose superstar was not only one of the best players on the planet but a local kid, too.

So, Cleveland, Miami might have LeBron James.

And they might have beaches.

And they might never face the risk of frostbite.

But, as far as rock and roll… Miami can’t carry your jock strap.

So, here are a quartet of tracks from less than a handful of the acts that have emerged from the musically rich Cleveland area…

Devo – That’s Good
from Greatest Hits

My high school buddy Streuss was a rabid fan of Devo. Prior to meeting him, I knew little of the band’s music aside from hearing Whip It and Working In The Coal Mine on the radio.

That’s Good appeared on their 1982 album, Oh, No! It’s Devo and, though I never heard it on the radio, I did see the band perform the song – as well as Peek-A-Boo! – on several television shows at the time.

Benjamin Orr – Stay The Night
from The Lace

The late bassist for The Cars sang lead on a number of the band’s classics – Bye, Bye Love, Just What I Needed, Moving In Stereo, Let’s Go, and Drive.

I was a freshman in college when The Lace was released and Stay The Night got a lot of airplay that winter. It’s a pretty song – much the same vibe as the brilliant Drive – and makes me think of staring out the window at the snow falling, daydreaming when I had intended to be studying.

Rachel Sweet – Voo Doo
from More Music From The Valley Girl Soundtrack

Rachel Sweet signed to the legendary label Stiff Records as a teenager which resulted in her being referred to by some as “jailbait rock.”

Sweet ended up releasing a few records, notched a hit duet with Rex Smith in Everlasting Love, and had a television show when cable network Comedy Central was known as The Comedy Channel.

Voo Doo is a fantastically, slinky little number.

Michael Stanley Band – Someone Like You
from You Can’t Fight Fashion

The Michael Stanley Band, from what I’ve read, set attendance records in major venues in Northeastern Ohio that still stand today. Living within a stone’s throw of the Indiana/Ohio border, I do remember hearing songs like He Can’t Love You and, especially, My Town (both of which were Top 40 hits).

My Town was a radio staple in my corner of the world during the autumn of ’83. However, despite the band’s successes, the Michael Stanley Band was one of those acts that, with each record, was touted as one record away from their breakthrough that never really happened.

Not long ago, when Paloma inherited my old iPod, she came home one day asking about a song she’d heard by a group with whom she was unfamiliar. It was Someone Like You, which was the follow-up to My Town. I don’t think I’d heard the song in twenty-five years, but, reaquainting myself with the song, I understood why it caught Paloma’s ear and wondered why it hadn’t been a smash back in the day.

It’s Just Like The Battle Of Stirling Bridge…Yet Completely Different

April 8, 2010

Before joining the ranks of corporate America several years ago, the end of the month merely meant that the rent would soon be due.

That was then.

Some of you might also labor in offices and cubicles, hunkered in some flourescently-lit bunker performing some task that, when you truly stop to ponder what it is that you do, is not only rather pointless but bordering on ridiculous.

(perhaps it’s all beamed somewhere as a reality show for aliens)

The end of the month means that there are goals and such that simply must be met lest it become a new month…

And to lead this crusade, the powers that be – paunchy, white men younger than they appear to be – tap into repeated viewings of Braveheart, channel Sir William Wallace (as portrayed by Mel Gibson) and roust the troops with militaristic speech.

It’s a strange ritual and difficult to take seriously.

But it’s a gig, right?

It’s been more than a week and my brain is still a bit addled. As I wait for normal brainwave activity to resume, here are four songs about the art of work…

Huey Lewis & The News – Workin’ For A Living
from Picture This

There was a period of about five years during which it was damn near impossible to surf the dial and not come across a song by Huey Lewis & The News. Some folks had an almost deranged reaction to this saturation of the airwaves.

I quite liked some of their songs and the others I ignored.

The infectious Workin’ For A Living is one of the former.

Dramarama – Work For Food
from Hi-Fi Sci-Fi

Dramarama was from New Jersey, but their sound always made me think of Minneapolis bands like The Replacements and Soul Asylum. I snagged one of the band’s CDs from a box of promos at a record store where I worked.

I was quite pleased and Work For Food was a massive hit in some parallel universe. It’s too insanely catchy not to have been.

Devo – Working In The Coal Mine
from Heavy Metal soundtrack

My high school friend Streuss was insane for Devo. The rest of us mostly knew a few songs and not much more.

One song which we all did know was the quirky gem Working In The Coal Mine. It was on the radio a bit and we all had seen Heavy Metal.

And I seem to recall Devo performing the song on the television show Fridays.

Aztec Camera – Working In A Goldmine
from Love

I first learned of Roddy Frame when I heard the effervescent Oblivious on 97X out of Oxford, Ohio in high school. I think that I heard Working In A Goldmine on the syndicated show Rock Over London and immediately was smitten with the dreamy song – “glitter, glitter everywere.”

I’m Waiting For The Rain Man

October 24, 2009

rain manSome bloggers whose writing I regularly enjoy incorporate recurring segments into their mix.

JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has One Day In Your Life, Whiteray has the weekly Saturday Single at Echoes In The Wind, and the Major Dude of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart has several regular features.

(I keep waiting for another installment of Major Dude’s Great Moustaches In Rock)

Alas, though I might have recurring subject matter, I haven’t had the imagination or commitment to post such an ongoing series.

(psychobabble apparently being a train that runs on no fixed timetable)

I have posted several times of my discovery of alternative rock when I first tuned into 97X. The station, a pioneer in alternative rock radio, is also secure in pop culture lore for its reference in the movie Rain Main as Dustin Hoffman incessantly repeated the station’s tagline “97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”

So, when I happened upon the movie the other night, inspiration struck. I thought, why not post a handful of random tracks from the 97X playlist I’ve created. And, why not do so each time I do come across Rain Man while channel-surfing (or, at other arbitrary times).

However, I think I might hold off on giving a name to this random ongoing series until I decide to keep it…

Here are four random tracks that I would have heard on 97X back in the day as well as Freur’s Doot Doot, the song which led me to rediscover the station twenty years after I last listened to it…

INXS – Don’t Change
from Shabooh Shabah

Coincidentally, I mentioned Don’t Change this past week in a post and it shuffles up on the iPod first. I declared it to be brilliant then and nothing has changed my thoughts on the matter in the past seventy-two hours or so (or, really, twenty-five years or so).

Don’t Change is simply a transcendent four minutes and change.

10, 000 Maniacs – What’s The Matter Here
from In My Tribe

By 1987, the only time that I got to listen to 97X was on the rare treks home from college. I was already hearing 10,000 Maniacs a lot at school as Natalie Merchant and the band were college rock darlings at the time.

Years later, with mainstream success for the band and Merchant’s solo career, people seemed to either adore the singer or think she was insufferably precious. She was granola. I once saw her open for R.E.M. and she stopped her set for five minutes tending to an errant moth that had landed on stage.

I dug some of the Maniacs’ stuff and Merchant’s as well, and What’s The Matter Here is some melodic folk-tinged pop gem despite the grim subject matter.

Devo – Through Being Cool
from New Traditionalists

This song immediately makes me think of the movie Heavy Metal. Though Devo’s Working In The Coal Mine is probably their better known song from that flick, Through Being Cool was in it, too.

Devo is a bit like Sparks to me. Both were quirky and underappreciated for their twisted pop. I had a high school friend who was wildly into both bands, so I got to hear a lot of their music. I thought much of it was wonderful stuff and I’ve always meant to go back and delve into their catalogs.

Concrete Blonde – Joey
from Bloodletting

I absolutely loved Concrete Blonde in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Their music was so gritty, usually (bitter)sweet and responsible for how I’ve always imagined Hollywood to be.

Their records could be erratic, but all had scattered treasures. I think I’d go with Mexican Moon as their most consistently strong and rewarding album, but Bloodletting wouldn’t be a bad choice.

The album is burned into my memory as one of the soundtracks to my last winter living in the Midwest. It suited the short hours of daylight, the shadows, and the chill autumn air. And I still can vividly recall being stretched out on the couch with notes, not studying, and seeing the video for Joey in the wee hours.

It captivated me then and it still does.

Freur – Doot Doot
from Freur