May 22, 1982

May 26, 2012

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.

I nicked the concept from Chris at 70’s Music Mayhem who uses the format with far greater attention to detail as he works his way through the ’70s.

The first few years of the ’80s was when pop radio provided much of the music for me and Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was appointment listening. Thirty years ago, twelve songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Leslie Pearl – If The Love Fits Wear It
from Words And Music (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #28, 16 weeks on chart)

I know nothing about Leslie Pearl.

If I didn’t know If The Love Fits Wear It, I might believe Leslie Pearl was the name of a character pitched as a “female James Bond” for some proposed movie that never materialized.

But I do know If The Love Fits Wear It. I’d hear it on occasion as its soft rock style was well suited to the sound favored on our hometown radio station before it went full-frontal country a few years later.

It wasn’t much my cup of tea as a fourteen-year old guy in 1982, but now I find it a pleasant if undistinctive momento from the time.

Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
from Eye To Eye (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #37, 13 weeks on chart)

I was surprised to find that Nice Girls only got to #37, as it was all over the radio stations I was listening to during the summer of ’82.

It’s not surprising that the debut album by the duo of American singer Deborah Berg and British pianist Julian Marshall would find success, though, as it boasted an impressive array of noted session players like Abe Laboriel, Jeff Porcaro, and Jim Keltner as well as guest appearances by Donald Fagen and Rick Derringer.

Tying it all together was producer Gary Katz, who had a lengthy resume working with Steely Dan and, though it lacks the lyrical bite of Becker and Fagen, Nice Girls is similarly sophisticated pop.

(Paloma loved the song when I played it for her but didn’t recall hearing it in the ’80s)

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kids In America (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #25, 18 weeks on chart)

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song.

It bounded along.

It had a chanted chorus.

It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

The J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame (1981)
(debuted #87, peaked #40, 11 weeks on chart)

The R&B-laced blues-rock of the J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones and throughout the ’70s the Boston band was a popular live act with the occasional hit song.

In late ’81, the group released Freeze Frame and scored major pop radio success with Centerfold – one of the biggest songs of the year – and the title track.

The third track pulled from Freeze Frame was the mid-tempo ballad Angel In Blue which found its inspiration in doo-wop. Though the song failed to equal the success of the prevous two singles, the lovely, melancholic song retained the band’s soulful vibe and blue-collar grit as it told the tale of a world-weary cocktail waitress.

(for some reason, I’ve long mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

The Greg Kihn Band – Happy Man
from Kihntinued (1982)
(debuted #86, peaked #62, 7 weeks on chart)

Two of my friends were rabid fans of the work of power pop heros Greg Kihn Band even in 1982. I knew the band – as most people probably did – for the insanely hooky The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em) from a year earlier.

I don’t recall ever hearing Happy Man, but it’s certainly in the same vein as The Breakup Song and far more appealing to me than the shuffling dance-rock of Jeopardy, which would be a mammoth hit for the band the following spring.

The Gap Band – Early In The Morning
from Gap Band IV (1982)
(debuted #83, peaked #24, 14 weeks on chart)

There was essentially one R&B station in our listening area and it rarely caught my ear when I’d surf the channels. The pop stations I was listening to would play the hits, but I don’t remember hearing the funky cool and percussive Early In The Morning much at the time.

(which is too bad)

Jon And Vangelis – I’ll Find My Way Home
from The Friends Of Mr. Cairo (1981)
(debuted #81, peaked #51, 8 weeks on chart)

Jon And Vangelis is a duo, so they have that in common with Hall & Oates.

However, this duo is comprised of the lead singer for Yes and the man best-known for the theme from Chariots Of Fire and, unlike the singles of Hall & Oates, I’ll Find My Way Home is utterly devoid of a hook.

(though it is jam-packed with New Age sentiments)

Melissa Manchester – You Should Hear How She Talks About You
from Hey Ricky (1982)
(debuted #76, peaked #5, 25 weeks on chart)

Melissa Manchester was also an act which I associated with the hometown radio station. Her mellow hits like Midnight Blue and Don’t Cry Out Loud were staples I’d hear a breakfast as a kid.

You Should Hear How She Talks About You sounded nothing like those melodramatic ballads. It was upbeat, synthesized dance-pop and it seemed like Manchester was on Solid Gold every other week that summer performing the song.

Van Halen – Dancing In The Street
from Diver Down (1982)
(debuted #74, peaked #38, 11 weeks on chart)

Van Halen’s Diver Down was the first of the band’s albums to be released after my interest in music had become more than passive. So thirty years ago, I was far better acquainted with the band for their recent cover of Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman from earlier that spring than stuff from their classic catalog.

And I have no doubt that I had yet to be introduced to Martha & The Vandellas when I heard Van Halen’s version of Dancing In The Street.

I still love their remaking the Motown classic as a hard rock anthem complete with gurgling keyboards, Eddie’s guitar heroics, and David Lee Roth’s vocal howl.

(a position that is likely considered blasphemy to many)

Neil Diamond – Be Mine Tonight
from On The Way To The Sky (1981)
(debuted #73, peaked #35, 11 weeks on chart)

I vividly recall hearing a lot of Neil Diamond’s hits from the ’70s from the vantage point of the backseat of the car as songs like Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue, and You Don’t Bring Me Flowers streamed from the soft rock stations my parents seemed to favor.

By 1982, I had (mostly) wrested control of the radio from the parents and I would have been far more intent upon finding Kids In America somewhere on the dial than Be Mine Tonight.

Journey – Still They Ride
from Escape (1981)
(debuted #72, peaked #19, 14 weeks on chart)

Of course I loved Journey in the ’80s. I was in junior high and high school when Escape and Frontiers were multi-million selling albums and allegiance to the band was hardly uncommon.

Like J. Geils Band, as summer arrived in 1982, Journey was still having hits from an album released before Thanksgiving break. Still They Ride – which I’d already been hearing for months – was the latest hit from the monstrously successful Escape,

Though I dug Journey and had worn out a cassette of Escape, I wasn’t too enamored with Still They Ride and often skipped it. Three decades later, I have considerably more affection for the wistful song that builds to a rather dramatic crescendo.

Alabama – Take Me Down
from Take Me Down (1982)
(debuted #69, peaked #18, 13 weeks on chart)

During the first couple years of the ’80s, our hometown radio began to shift from Top 40 to light rock to, eventually, whatever was passing for country at the time. Alabama managed to fit into all three formats and, thus, I was used to hearing Feels So Right, Love In The First Degree, and the laid-back, slightly twangy Take Me Down on the kitchen radio.

(not that I was particularly happy about it)

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Shuffling Slowly Toward Sound Fidelity

May 15, 2011

It was during this week in 1982, that I graduated from grade school.

I’m not sure if it was because of our small town’s agrairian past – when not everyone went on to high school – or if it was the chance to inject excitement into the sleepy hum of daily life, but the event was treated with considerable pomp and circumstance.

As a kid that, like a lot of kids, had no use for formalities, I thought most of it was an inconvenient hullabaloo.

But there was an upside to losing a Saturday to ceremony, pictures, uncomfortable clothes, and time spent with adults – cash.

With some of that cash, I made a major purchase, a table top clock radio with a cassette player manufactured by Lloyd’s.

It had only been a year or so since my new interest in music had spurred me to relocate a radio from the basement to my bedroom. It had been on my old man’s workbench or the garage for as long as I could rremember.

It was a battered, oblong box – one corner of the grill covering the 45-sized speaker had separated from the unit and the cord was a scoliotic snake.

It served my purposes well during those early months as I explored the world of radio. And, in the time it took for me to open a cardboard box, it had become a childhood artifact.

This new purchase – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyds beast” – also made obsolete a portable cassette player from the ’70s that I used to listen to the handful of albums I owned.

(it was also used it to make primitive mix tapes of songs recorded by positioning the built-in microphone of the device as close as possible to the speaker of the radio)

This new acquisition – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyd’s beast” – was, though merely a small step toward fidelity, a great technological leap forward for me.

Beej had an older brother. He was already reading Stereo Review, yammering about specs and Hirsch-Houk Laboratories, and putting together a stereo system.

I would soon begin to eye the magnificent components he was acquiring and go in the that direction, too.

(as soon as I was able to scrape together the funding, a slow process that neccesitated my buying one component at a time over the course of an entire summer)

But, twenty-nine years ago, the “Lloyd’s beast” was possibly my most prized possession.

Here are four songs that I vividly recall from that time…

Human League – Don’t You Want Me
from Dare

Had I had interest in music a few years earlier, either disco or punk might have been the “new” sound that my friends and I would have adopted as our own. I’m grateful that, instead, New Wave and synthesizer bands from the UK turned out to be our find.

Human League’s Don’t You Want Me had to have been one of the first songs by a synth band I heard and I it hooked me. My buddy Streuss was obsessive about the band, spending the next year or so focused on collecting every single, 12″ inch single, EP, remix, and whatever else he could acquire by the Sheffield band.

Toto – Rosanna
from Toto IV

I have no qualms in acknowledging that I own most of Toto’s albums up through the mid-’80s and I rarely hit skip when one of their songs pops up on shuffle.

Rosanna was a constant on the radio during the summer of ’82 – all summer long – and I don’t think I ever tired of it. It’s still as joyously infectious all of these years later.

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kim Wilde

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song. It bounded along. It had a chanted chorus. It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

It had it all.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

Although I was fairly lukewarm about the song Centerfold, I’d gotten a copy of J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame as a gift and most of the rest of the album I loved. I don’t think any of us knew that the band had actually been around for more than a decade and was known to music fans as America’s answer to The Rolling Stones (I, at that time, certainly didn’t).

Although it wasn’t nearly as big as Centerfold or Freeze Frame‘s title track, Angel In Blue – a wistful ode to a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with the obligatory heart of gold – was a favorite then and, like that waitress, it hasn’t aged a bit.


Love And Butane Is In The Air

March 26, 2011

As I surfed channels the other night, I couldn’t help but momentarily get sucked into an infommercial.

It was by Time-Life and for a nine-CD collection – Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Hosting the half-hour pitch to earn my affection, interest, and credit card number was REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin. His sidekick was some chick who looked like a dental hygenist and likely had no idea who Kevin Cronin or REO Speedwagon was until her world and his collided in this cash grab.

Kevin Cronin wouldn’t stop smiling.

The pair became positively giddy when the hygenist asked Cronin if it could be possible to assemble such a collection of music.

He flat out declared that she couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it and he couldn’t do it. To even suggest it could be done by a mere mortal (or even a rock star) was akin to asking me to split the the atom.

But, Time-Life could.

(good for Time-Life – if you are such jet-fuel geniuses end global strife, put Japan back together, or, hell, just make me a sandwich)

And still Kevin Cronin kept smiling. It reached a point that he was freakin’ me out and I started to wonder if he’d ever killed a drifter.

Fortunately, the banter of Kevin & The Hygenist was broken up by clips of selections from the set.

There was the lovely Rindy Ross swaying with her saxophone as Quarterflash performed Harden My Heart on American Bandstand.

And I couldn’t help but wonder how much time – had I been a member of Toto – I would have wasted making fun of singer Bobby Kimball’s moustache as the video for Rosanna played.

According to the Wikipedia entry for power ballad, it is suggested that 1976 was the pivitol year that the power ballad truly became part of American consciousness as FM radio “gave a new lease of life to earlier songs like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Aerosmith’s Dream On, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.”

(personally, I would defer to Wisconsin JB on all things musical in 1976)

1976 was also the year that Kiss had their biggest pop hit with the ballad Beth which, as I somewhat recall, caused more than a bit of angst for members of the Kiss Army.

That song, though, and the concept of a rock band broadening their audience with a softer sound would seem to be a precursor for the ’80s when the strategy was practically a given.

Foreigner had Waiting For A Girl Like You, Journey had Open Arms, and Mr. Cronin’s REO Speedwagon had Keep On Loving You which helped the group launch their mega-selling Hi Infidelity.

And, at the risk that it might cause Kevin Cronin’s head to spin off its axis, I suspect that – for better or for worse – I do own most, if not all, of the songs on Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Here are four ballads – some with less power than others – that were hits in the early ’80s for more rock-oriented bands…

Foreigner – Waiting For A Girl Like You
from Foreigner 4

Foreigner arrived with their first several albums prior to music being more than a casual affair to me. I associated the band with driving rock tracks like Hot Blooded and Double Vision that I’d hear blaring from the car stereo of a high school kid as he tore through our neighborhood.

But, by the time Foreigner released their cleverly titled fourth album, I was listening to the radio, if not actually purchasing music. In late 1981, the moody, keyboard-laden Waiting For A Girl Like You – moody keyboards courtesy of one, pre-science blinded Thomas Dolby – was inescapable.

Foreigner would continue to have hits well into the ’80s, but having found a new audience with this softer sound, the band would – unlike previously – rely on lighter songs for those singles.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

The R&B-laced blues-rock of J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones during the ’70s and the Boston band became a popular live act with the occasional hit song. The group notched major pop radio success with Freeze Frame and the massive hit song Centerfold and the title track.

While those songs, like much of their catalog, were raucous affairs, the third track pulled from the album was the downbeat Angel In Blue. It was hardly as big as the previous two songs from Freeze Frame, but the gorgeous, melancholy song retained the band’s soulful vibe and blue-collar grit as it told the tale of a world-weary cocktail waitress.

(for some reason, I’ve always mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

Night Ranger – Sister Christian
from Midnight Madness

Led by dual guitarists Jeff Watson and Brad Gillis – the latter had briefly filled in with Ozzy Osbourne after Randy Rhodes death – Night Ranger became a staple on our local rock stations with their 1983 debut and songs like Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sing Me Away.

Late that same year, the band issued its sophomore effort Midnight Madness and continued to get heavy airplay with (You Can Still) Rock In America and Rumors In The Air. But it was in the spring of ’84 that Night Ranger garnered attention on the pop stations and notched a Top Ten hit with the mid-tempo Sister Christian.

Slade – My Oh My
from Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply

With their trademark misspelled song titles and glam-tinged hard rock, Slade released a string of monstrous hits in their native UK during the ’70s even as the band was largely ignored in the States. By the beginning of the ’80s, the quartet was being ignored in the UK as well.

Then, Quiet Riot had a breakthrough hit with Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize in the autumn of ’83 even as Slade was making a comeback in the UK with The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome.

The album was repackaged and retitled, arriving in the US the following spring and, that summer, the band – aided by a popular video on MTV – had notched its first Top 40 hit Stateside with the raucous Run Runaway.

That fall, the anthemic ballad My Oh My became a minor hit and Slade’s final flicker of success in the US.