Airwaves

January 24, 2013

djIt’s supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight.

It was cold during the winter of ’81/’82. Or maybe it wasn’t and I merely recollect it as so.

I do know for certain that it was during that winter that time I might have previously spent sprawled out in the family room watching television was being spent sprawled out in my bedroom, listening to the radio.

Music had become an increasing curiosity in my world over the previous year or so as I realized that the subject was being broached as much as sports and girls in hallway conversations with my junior high buddies.

Accompanying me on this journey into an unexplored world – hell, making it possible – was a battered table-top radio which I’d relocated from my dad’s basement work space.

I’d kneel on my bed with my elbows on the window ledge and stare out into the darkness. Across the country road that ran in front of our house were fields that in warmer months teemed with soybeans or corn.

Now, in the dead of winter, there might be a dusting of snow covering the dormant earth, perhaps a few stray stalks of corn that had been knocked over and missed in the autumn harvest.

Staring out into the dark, I knew that I was gazing eastward and that somewhere beyond a horizon I couldn’t see, sixty miles or so away, was Cincinnati.

More than likely, I was listening to Q102, which was broadcasting from Cincinnati. The station was the one that was most popular with my peers and I was still hesitant to move around the dial much, preferring to listen to the music that the rest of my buddies were listening.

I’d stare into the darkness through the frosted window pane and listen to the DJs with whom I was becoming familiar – Mark, Chris, Janeen – and consider them somewhere out there in some studio, bantering with an audience of which I was now a member.

The DJ would mention neighborhoods and places with which I was familiar. The weather outside my window jibed with the forecasts that they’d rattle off between songs.

If I was shivering, they were shivering, too.

We were in it together.

At least that’s how I remember that winter.

Here are four songs that are listed from Q102’s playlist in Billboard from this week in 1982…

The Commodores – Oh No
from In the Pocket (1981)

One of my buddies at a record store in college was an older bass player and funk aficionado. He would show me pictures of his band in the ’70s and it was obvious that The Commodores had been a fashion influence.

(the visual that comes to mind when I think of The Commodores, I think of pictures of the ’70s and Brick House)

But when it comes to the sound of The Commodores, I think first of the mostly mellow band on the radio in the early ’80s. And the concisely titled Oh No is moi mellow.

Oh No was at the top of Q102’s chart even though further back in the same issue of Billboard, it had already dropped out of the Top 40 in that week’s Hot 100 chart.

I had no reference for Oh No‘s subject matter at the time, but it was quite obvious that it was quite adult and quite serious.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)

In 1981, my classmates and I knew little of Rod Stewart’s already extensive history aside from his disco vamp Do You Think I’m Sexy, that song’s follow-up Ain’t Love A Bitch (because he sang “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

And that winter, we all knew Young Turks. I totally dug the song, the tale of Billy and Patti and their ten-pound baby boy, which found Rod ditching the disco trappings for a more wiry, New Wave musical vibe.

Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

Foreigner 4 had been one of the biggest albums of the school year and, by January of 1982, it had already spawned two mammoth hits with Urgent and Waiting For A Girl Like You.

Thirty-one years ago, Q102 listed the album’s third single, Juke Box Hero, as an add to the station’s playlist in Billboard.

The protagonist in the song had at least made it to the venue, even if he got stuck in the rain with no ticket. With no car, no money, and not even old even to drive, I was was eighteen months away from my first concert.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981)

There were several huge hits that were getting airplay on Q102 that winter – Olivia Newton John’s Physical, J. Geils Band’s Centerfold, Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That

And then there was Joan Jett & The Blackheart’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which, like Juke Box Hero, was a new add to Q102’s playlist.

I seem to recall hearing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll for the first time following school one afternoon and several more times over the course of that evening including on Q102’s Top Ten At Ten that night.

It would remain on the nightly countdown for the next few months and, by March, the song would be entrenched at the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100 where it would remain for nearly two months.

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Thirty-Three And Forever

October 14, 2012

I happened to catch part of an American Top 40 countdown while running errands with Jeepster this morning. Casey Kasem was doing his thing just as he had from this week in 1974.

At the time of the original broadcast, I was a first-grader trying to adjust to a school in a small town where I had lived for less than a year. Most of my classmates seemed to be related and most of their parents had gone to school together.

Not good times.

And most of the songs Casey was playing were ones that I recollect hazily, if at all, from that time.

So, I thought that I’d consult a Billboard Hot 100 chart from later in the decade, when there would be fewer cobwebs.

As October was reaching its mid-point in 1979, I was a sixth grader and my friends and I were engrossed in the 1979 World Series.

It was shaping up to be a short series as Baltimore had taken three of the first four games against Pittsburgh.

I was dismayed. The broadcasters kept reminding me that there were just four times in the 75 year history of the World Series that had rallied from such a deficit to win the title.

If you were a twelve-year old kid pulling for the Pirates, it might as well have been never.

I was a Pirate fan through birth with familial ties to Western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had known Bill Robinson, who was starting for the team in the outfield.

My grandfather had passed away a month into that season, having been devoted to the team since the days of Honus Wagner.

October 13, 1979 was a Saturday and the night before the Pirates had dropped game three of the series.

I had remained sprawled out in front of the television late into the night, until the last, miserable out and I was still brooding about it as I biked to a soccer game that morning.

That night, it would be a repeat as the Orioles took the seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead.

And, eight days later, I was watching when the Pirates won a third straight game – game seven – to clinch the World Series.

(and the team hasn’t returned since)

Music was just beginning to pull some of my attention from sports that autumn. I was most certainly a passive listener, hearing music mostly when exposed to it through others.

Here are four songs that were on the radio that autumn as the Pirates were playing in the World Series (in what it seems – as each year passes – might have been for the last time in my lifetime)…

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution (1979)

Journey was still two years away from Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids not old enough to drive, the song came on the jukebox.

As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed and inert, transfixed and mystified.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk (1979)

The bowling alley was the other premier place to see and be seen once you reached junior high school.

I heard unusual Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox that autumn. And, I would pester my buddy Tony to play his 45 of the song when we hung out at his house.

It’s “real savage like” and a fine example of the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Foreigner – Dirty White Boy
from Head Games (1979)

I knew Foreigner for songs like Cold As Ice, Double Vision, and Hot Blooded. I’d hear them blaring from the Camaro of an older kid in our neighborhood as he raced through the street headed for somewhere.

And the title track and Dirty White Boy from Head Games were two more songs that I associate with the bowling alley jukebox. For all of the grief that Foreigner might be given, their straight-ahead rock stuff certainly did sound cool blaring from a Camaro eight-track player or bowling alley jukebox.

(and, the girl on the cover of Head Games was Lisanne Falk, who would play one of the Heathers in the 1989 black comedy Heathers)

Cheap Trick – Dream Police
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

Cheap Trick exploded in 1979 with Cheap Trick At Budokan and the quartet from Rockford, Illinois is one of the first bands I can recall my classmates embracing with fervor.

Dream Police was culled from the parent album of the same name – the follow-up to the mega-selling At Budokan – and we delighted in the manic, subconscious angst of the protagonist and the driving music of the power-pop classic.

And, I can’t hear Dream Police now and not think of sketchy ticket-scalper Mike Damone in the iconic Fast Times At Ridgemont High making his pitch – “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” – and singing a snippet of the song.


It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.