The Greatest Hits

November 15, 2012

Paloma and I made a trek one recent Sunday morning for pancakes.

The vibe of the tiny cafe and the food made it worth the forty-five minute drive into the hinterlands. The satellite radio was still tuned to the ’70s channel from my Friday commute home.

Paloma expressed some concern at the song coming from the speakers as I started Jeepster.

I didn’t recognize it but, before I could read the display, there was the voice of Shaggy noting it to be Lindisfarne and their lone US Top 40 single Run For Home.

We were quickly sucked into the rebroadcast of an American Top 40 episode from November, 1978, with Paloma observing several times her surprise at knowing most everything we heard.

It was understandable as we both would have been in junior high at the time and, thus, in the target demographic for Top 40 radio. I was more resistant and didn’t really begin to pay attention to music for a couple more years and, even then, it was a passive endeavor.

I listened to the radio, but wasn’t committed enough to purchase music. Video games or movies were getting the little money that I might have. It was simple economics.

I could play ten games of Pac-Man or see one movie.

I could see two, maybe three movies or buy a new album on cassette.

For someone with a casual interest in music, music was an expensive investment. I was hesitant to pull the trigger if I only knew a song or two and, as I was listening to mostly Top 40, that meant an album needed a hit or two.

And that made greatest hits collections – the stop-gap, the contractual-obligation, the cash-in release – so appealing. There, on one cassette, would be ten, twelve songs that I knew or, apparently, should know.

In the spring of 1982, I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club, increasing my music collection by approximately 120% when those first dozen selections arrived.

I don’t recall everything in that initial order, but I do know that Queen’s Greatest Hits and The Best Of Blondie were among them.

And, I soon learned that late autumn would arrive with a slate of new collections intended to seduce holiday shoppers. It seemed as though any act that had ever had even one hit was capable of cobbling together such a set.

1982 was the year during which I was most immersed in Top 40 radio and it was the year in which I first had what might be considered a music collection.

Here are tracks from four of those stop-gap/contractual-obligation/cash-in releases that were arriving for the holidays in 1982, none of which I owned at the time…

Eagles – Life In The Fast Lane
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

Though I’m not as opposed to the Eagles as The Dude was in The Big Lebowski – in which his abiding hatred of the group got him tossed from a cab – I’ve struggled to be a fan. I attribute that to the overkill of hearing their music so much on radio as a kid.

Over the years, I’ve slowly softened my resistance to their music and I’ve come to enjoy most of their lengthy list of radio hits.

I also can’t hear the Eagles and not think of a college roommate. During the late ’80s, Glenn Frey did commercials for some fitness club. Upon seeing one, the roommate mumbled, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from The Singles: The First Ten Years (1982)

The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

Olivia Newton-John – Heart Attack
from Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1982)

At the beginning of 1982, Olivia was all over radio with Physical and, at the end of the year she was all over the radio with Heart Attack, a new song included to goose sales of her second greatest hits album.

It was never a bad thing when Olivia popped up Solid Gold or some other show to sing her latest hit. And, I likely saw her perform Heart Attack, a New Wave-tinged number, on Solid Gold that winter

Little River Band – Cool Change
from Greatest Hits (1982)

It’s not Christopher Cross, but there seems to be something about mellow-rockin’, nautically-themed songs from the early ’80s that spellbind me.

Cool Change makes me think of Paloma because I know hearing the song makes her think of her brother.

(and the whole “the albatross and the whales they are my brothers” line cracks us up)

The song also served me well when out drinking with our record store’s jazz guru. He could – at times – be the jazz snob and lecture us on obscure performances and theory.

(it was well-intended)

If it went on too long, I’d ask him if he’d heard the cat blow notes on Cool Change – a tactic which brought conversation back to more mainstream subject matter.

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“I Don’t Want To Make Money, Folks…I Just Love To Sell Guns”*

March 1, 2012

Recently, Paloma and I caught a late-night showing of a movie called Equinox, a sci-fi flick from the early ’70s which has a cult following due to the fact that it began as a student film by Dennis Muren

(Muren would earn acclaim for his special effects work on numerous films, including the Star Wars series)

Equinox was a familiar feature from my childhood as it seemed to be shown every other week on WTTV’s Science Fiction Theater. Seeing it again also brought back vivid memories of a personal bogeyman spawned by consumerism run rampant…

…Don, erstwhile proprietor and namesake of Don’s Guns.

Don was a regional phenomenon, his advertising reach relegated to central Indiana where his lone storefront/armory was located. His budget allotment for marketing apparently only great enough to purchase face-time in the wee hours on an independent television station, but his leering mug made quite an impression as I have learned from fellow Hoosiers, few of whom seemed to have escaped seeing Don hawking his wares.

His commercials were like an ambush. One minute, I’d be sitting there, a nine-year old in pajamas, huddled under a blanket, watching Channel 4 only to have Don practically burst from the screen and into the living room. If Equinox or Night Of The Lepus wasn’t frightening enough, there was Don.

Don epitomized snake-oil salesman, approaching a level of smarm that would be the envy of any elected official and doing it so effortlessly.

Perhaps it was his resemblance to an extremely dodgy Kenny Rogers.

Possibly, it was the sheer, unadulterated glee with which he made his pitch.

Most likely it was the manner in which he closed every commercial – Don gazing maniacally from the screen, toothy grin flashing as he delivered his mantra, “I don’t want to make money, folks. I just love to sell guns.”

(this clip is of more recent vintage)

And then he’d be gone.

DeForest Kelly would return – battling the bunnies in Night Of The Lepus – but somehow it lacked the punch to follow-up the spectacle of Don.

And where is Don now?

Googling him, my computer screen was filled with results, most of which sullied my fond memories of Don as many alluded to numerous alleged improprieties involving his business. One item feted him as “the nation’s sixth-worst dealer” based on the number of firearms sold that were used in criminal activity.

And all the daffy bastard wanted to do was sell guns.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a third-grader and far more interested in late-night horror flicks than music. And I was certainly already well acquainted with Don and steeling myself for him popping up onscreen.

(I’m not sure if Don listened to music or not)

Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 this week in 1977…

ABBA – Dancing Queen
from Thank You For The Music (1994)

I stumbled upon an unopened copy of ABBA’s four-disc box set for six dollars and couldn’t pass it up. Not that I really need that much ABBA.

(few people do other than a buddy who was fanatical about the band long before revisionism and a hit Broadway show made such adoration socially acceptable)

I enjoy the hits from the bell-bottomed, sequined Swedes more dispassionately, but I’d have to offer up S.O.S., The Winner Takes It All, and Dancing Queen as transcendent.

Eagles – New Kid In Town
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

My relationship with the Eagles is complicated, but even with little interest in music in 1977, I was familiar with the group. The radio station in our small town was light rock with a bit of pop-leaning country thrown in and the wistful New Kid In Town was a perfect fit.

10cc- The Things We Do For Love
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day, Volume 19 (1993)

I know little more of 10cc’s catalog other than a handful or so of songs, but those I do know have impressed me with their musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle
from Greatest Hits 1974–78 (1978)

I seem to recall hearing Fly Like An Eagle constantly blaring from radios at the pool during the summer of ’77. It struck me as a bit strange and unsettling.

The song still has a trippy vibe though it’s no longer strange and/or unsettling, but I’d have to think the stoners of 1977 were digging the song’s groove.