Cap’n Crunch, His Dog, A Pig, And A Small Fire*

March 12, 2011

For most of my life, I rarely remembered my dreams. But over the past several years that has changed, so I get treated to nocturnal shows like last night.

The details are hazy, but it involved cereal icon Cap’n Crunch and a talking pig wearing a sweater. The two were in the mariner’s apartment discussing his missing dog when the place went up in flames.

I think everyone got out safely, but there was something suspicious about that pig and I wouldn’t rule out arson.

The dream also made me think of an album title by REO Speedwagon – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

Growing up in the Midwest, REO Speedwagon was a radio fixture and never more so than in late 1980 when they released the album Hi Infidelity. The songs from that record sounded great on radio (which is fortunate, as they were always playing) and the band was a favorite to most of us in my junior high school.

Ten years later, as I was nearing college graduation, the record store where I worked received a couple of copies of REO’s The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

I was immersed in band’s like R.E.M. not REO, whom I hadn’t listened to for years. The album title, though, made an impression (even if I don’t think I ever heard the music).

Several years later, I was working in another, much larger record store. For most acts, we carried at least a token copy of each title in their catalog. On slow mornings, the Drunken Frenchman and I would browse through the bins, discussing various artists and albums.

One morning, there it was – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken. The Frenchman was no fan of the band, but it became a recurring subject for us.

“It’s one of the most truthful album titles ever.”

“That man, though a bit portly, is, indeed, small.”

“There’s the Earth.”

“There is a dog and, here, a chicken.”

“Man that dog looks miserable.”

R.E.M. might well have been playing over the speakers in the store (it would have been around the time of New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

“Why would they put Sebastian Cabot on the cover, though?”

Thirty years ago, REO Speedwagon had one of the biggest albums in the country with Hi Infidelity and one of the most popular songs with Keep On Loving You.

Here are four other songs that I was hearing on the radio – often on Q102’s Top Ten at 10 – in March, 1981 as I indulged my fairly new interest in music…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one of the first bands that I truly took to as I began to discover radio and, at the age of twelve or thirteen, the winsome Debbie Harry added an undeniable visual element to the appeal.

Following up on the massive success of the breezy, faux-reggae of The Tide Is High, Blondie offered up something quite different on their subsequent single. The chiming, hypnotic groove, metallic guitars, and Harry’s breathy vocals – my friend Will was convinced that the lyric “finger popping” was actually something more PG13 – made for an irresistible mix.

But the song also blew our young minds. It was our first exposure to hip-hop and as much as we were entranced by the rhymes regarding aliens dining on bars, Subarus, and human noggins, we were also baffled.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…and sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually notorious ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and hearing this song blaring from their Camaros.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

I heard a lot of Donnie Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides). At home, not so much.

Ah! Leah! did make it to radio in the Midwest, though. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done With The Night
from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

Before he was John Mellencamp, saving American farms, and incessantly reminding television viewers that “this is our country,” he was simply John Cougar (or, as my friend Bosco dubbed him, Johnny Hoosier).

He’s arguably done better music since those early years, but Ain’t Even Done With The Night captures the restlessness and possibilities of late summer nights and is one song of his which I still never tire of hearing.

*it seemed appropriate – given the recent hullabaloo surrounding the good Cap’n – to repost this entry from March 9, 2009

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The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2010

December 30, 2010

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.

Two 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 2010 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. Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986
The Blizzard Of ’78

“Wikipedia is one site that, if I’m not careful, can suck me in for lengthy periods…”

9. The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s
Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

“The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo…”

8. The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled
Once The Future Of American Music…

“In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning…”

7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
from Long After Dark
The Colonel

“Growing up in a basketball-mad state and half an hour away from the school that inspired the movie Hoosiers, this time of year meant the culmination of the hoops season with the state-wide tournament…”

6. Jason & The Scorchers – Take Me Home, Country Roads
from A Blazing Grace
Cover Me

“These are the times that try men’s souls and cause them to sweat in places I wouldn’t have thought possible…”

5. The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night
Little. Yellow. Different.

“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…”

4. Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack
“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks…”

3. Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets
Peaches

“Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown…”

2. Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat
Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

“Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful….”

1. Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw
Bye Bye, 97X?

“I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83…”


Peaches

April 14, 2010

Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown.

By junior high, I was hearing the name Peaches daily on one station or another out of Cincinnati. The record store was one of the outlets rattled off at the end of commercials for tickets to upcoming concerts.

I’m not sure how many Peaches there were – there’s little about the chain on the internet – but one of the more iconic record stores of my childhood was the one on Colerain Avenue.

(this is the same Colerain Avenue as the one where Dustin Hoffman professes to purchase his underwear at K-Mart in Rain Man)

Above the entrance and the windows, looming up on the building were large reproductions of the biggest albums of the moment. Inside, there was a lot of wood. And a lot of aisles.

It was the size of the place that was memorable.

Between our hometown and Cincinnati was forty-five miles of mostly small towns and farmland. The only place to purchase music for us was a small section of the discount store in the town square – three bins of albums and one of 45s, a section of the adjoining wall devoted to racks of cassettes.

(thank [the diety of your choice] for the Columbia Record and Tape Club)

Peaches was more music then any of us had ever seen.

And it was primarily vinyl.

Once my friends and I were old enough to drive ourselves into The City, Peaches wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed shopping destination. We were mall rats and there were several malls with several record stores in each that offered us a more efficient use of our time.

(oddly, I don’t recall those chain stores – places like Record Bar, Musicland, and Camelot – being quite as homogenized as they would become)

Instead, it was dependent upon who was with us whether Peaches was a stop or not. If Beej or Bosco was in our group, it was more likely that we’d make an attempt. The rest of us were listening to cassettes.

I liked those trips to Peaches. I’d browse the LP bins, taking mental notes of titles which I wanted to snag on cassette. Sometimes, I’d find a copy at there; other times, I’d have to wait ’til we made our way elsewhere.

The first time I set foot in Peaches must have been in the spring of 1981. Being several years from having my license, I had tagged along with my parents and negotiated a stop at Peaches. I was on the clock, but I knew what I wanted and I checked out with a copy of Styx’ Paradise Theater on cassette.

Here are four songs that I was hearing a lot on radio in April, 1981…

Styx – The Best Of Times
from Paradise Theater

There was no escaping Styx on the radio during the late ’70s and early ’80s in our world. It wasn’t happening.

I loved them. This was deep music. I was in junior high.

But it was their Paradise Theater album that landed me in Peaches for the first time. The Best Of Times was mammoth that spring and the radio stations I was listening to were playing Too Much Time On My Hands, Nothing Ever Goes As Planned, and Snowblind heavily, too.

Journey – The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love)
from Captured

Journey, too, was a midwestern staple. By the end of ’81, Escape would make them one of the biggest bands in the US, but, that spring, they had released the live/stop-gap album Captured.

The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love) still sounds very cool.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

The fine folks over at Popdose have kind words for Donnie Iris this week much to my delight. I’ve loved his songs since I first heard Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides).

I didn’t hear his songs as much back home. Ah! Leah! did. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

Jefferson Starship – Find Your Way Back
from Modern Times

Is it me or does Grace Slick get overlooked a bit?

I know that a lot the Airplane fans were none too pleased with the direction the band took in the late ’70s, but songs like Find Your Way Back and their other hits of the period were, if not essential to the band’s catalog, engaging arena rockers nonetheless. I seem to recall seeing them perform this song on Fridays around the time it was a hit.