July 9, 1983

July 7, 2012

As we stretch into another week of high temperatures in triple digits, thinking is a challenge.

(it’s easy to be distracted by the bead of sweat rolling down my nose)

So, it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week and, today, it’s 1983.

As the 4th of July hullaballoo was fading in the rear view of 1983, I was getting back to summer life as a kid in one of the last responsibility-free summers I would have. And that meant a lot of music.

I was still mostly tethered to Top 40 radio, but I was at least hearing of more exotic stuff thanks to my buddy Beej who was telling tales of the music videos that he was seeing on the newly launched Night Tracks on TBS.

I was beginning to check out hitherto unexplored frequencies on the FM band, among them the album rock of Q95 and, by that autumn, the alternative rock of 97X.

And, twenty-nine years ago this week, a half-dozen plus one songs made their debut on the Hot 100 chart in Billboard magazine…

Peter Tosh – Johnny B. Goode
from Mama Africa (1983)
(debuted #95, peaked #84, 4 weeks on chart)

Aside from Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, my knowledge of reggae music is scattershot at best, but Peter Tosh was a member of the legendary Marley’s Wailers and claimed to have taught Marley to play guitar.

I had not heard Tosh’s take on Johnny B. Goode before and it’s mostly what I expected – a reggae version of Chuck Berry’s iconic song with a surprising amount of kick that leaves me bobbing my head.

Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack – Tonight, I Celebrate My Love
from Born To Love (1983)
(debuted #89, peaked #16, 29 weeks on chart)

I couldn’t seem to help coming across Tonight, I Celebrate My Love For You while channel surfing in 1983. It seemed to be a given as assuredly as it was a given that I would quickly move on in search of something else.

But, despite my dislike for the mawkish ballad, Peabo is a fun word to say and it is a fun word to hear said.

Peabo.

Peabo.

Peabo!

Zebra – Who’s Behind The Door?
from Zebra (1983)
(debuted #87, peaked #61, 8 weeks on chart)

During the summer of ’83, several friends were twitterpated over Zebra and their song Who’s Behind The Door? They were hardly alone as the band was quickly attracting fans (and detractors) for the heavy Zeppelin influence in their sound.

I liked the band’s name and found the song intriguing, so I snagged a copy of the Long Island (via New Orleans) trio’s debut and it was one of my most played cassettes of that summer. The dreamy, enigmatic Who’s Behind The Door still sounds like the summer of ’83 to me.

Rick Springfield – Human Touch
from Living In Oz (1983)
(debuted #70, peaked #18, 15 weeks on chart)

Even in 1983 – which, technologically speaking, now seems as advanced as 1883 – Rick Springfield was lamenting the disconnect between man and machine in Human Touch.

At the time, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ or Casey Kasem mentioning it.

But Springfield had a string of hits in the early ’80s that were undeniably catchy and still sound pretty good all of these years later.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Fake Friends
from Album (1983)
(debuted #68, peaked #35, 10 weeks on chart)

Few acts were hotter in 1982 than Joan Jett & The Blackhearts who had topped the charts with I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – one of the biggest hits of the decade – as well as notching sizeable hits with Crimson And Clover and Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).

So, there was great anticipation for new music from the quartet and I vividly recall staying up to tape the resultant Album when it debuted on WEBN’s Frog’s Midnight Album.

Often the nightly show was a chance to have an album before I’d have the opportunity to get into Cincinnati to actually purchase it, but Album was one that didn’t make the cut. It seemed as uninspired to me as the title and the first single, Fake Friends, simply lacked the monster hooks of Jett’s hits from the year before.

(all of which had been cover songs)

Journey – After The Fall
from Frontiers (1983)
(debuted #62, peaked #23, 12 weeks on chart)

If Joan Jett’s Album was one of the more anticipated releases of the summer of ’83, Journey’s follow-up to the massively successful Escape was one of the most expected from earlier in the year. Like Album, I had also taped Frontiers from its airing on Frog’s Midnight Album.

Though I was excited when Frontiers arrived and I played it a lot at the time, I still recognized it as a somewhat pale imitation of Escape. That didn’t stop it from selling millions and spawning hits in Separate Ways and Faithfully.

After The Fall became the third hit from the album, but I wasn’t a fan of the shuffling song.

Jackson Browne – Lawyers In Love
from Lawyers In Love (1983)
(debuted #59, peaked #13, 15 weeks on chart)

Lawyers In Love was Jackson Browne’s first new album since Hold Out from three years earlier, before I had truly become interested in music. I did know Browne, though, from hearing older hits like Doctor My Eyes and Running On Empty on the radio, and I’d loved Somebody’s Baby, which had been a Top Ten hit the previous summer.

I dug the catchy, upbeat Lawyers In Love, which was fortunate as my buddy Beej played the album into the ground, though the social commentary of the song likely escaped me at the time.

Advertisements

Today, My Best Friend…Tomorrow, Who Knows?

May 11, 2011

Sometime last week, during the spate of coverage on the demise of Osama bin Laden, I happened upon a program on the life of the iconic terrorist.

One of the people interviewed was described as bin Laden’s best friend as a teenager.

It must make a pretzel of the mind to have such a notorious character as a former best friend.

The first best friend that I can remember having was a kid named George. There’s little else I recall aside from his name and I have no recollection as to what earned him status as numero uno amigo.

I do recall that I stripped him of the title and I slotted another classmate into the position.

I wanted John as my best friend because he was tall, a head taller than everyone else.

(people have been placed in high office using such logic, but I was five)

I’ve had no contact with either of these kids in almost forty years, but it seems as though George is a DJ in the upper Midwest, so perhaps I was being prescient about the interest I’d someday have in music.

By the time I reached high school, I was in a transitional period with friendships. The concept of best friend had evolved into a group of eight or nine of us who would end up together in different permutations and numbers.

One of these buddies was a bit of a fire enthusiast and devotee of things that go kaboom.

During senior year, Kirk The Pyro went to California with another of our friends for spring break.

(most of us settled for wandering the malls in Cincinnati)

This dynamic duo returned to the grimness of March in the Midwest with tans and dynamite.

“Where did you get dynamite?”

“Tijuana”

“So, you brought dynamite from Tijuana on your flight home from California?”

It was a simpler world and a time when – relative to today – the airlines essentially had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

The interviewee on the television screen had described bin Laden as quiet and polite, their friendship rooted in a shared love for soccer.

I could only describe Kirk The Pyro as like Woody Woodpecker in human form and our bond forged by a common appreciation for antics, hijinks, and shenanigans.

And though I haven’t had contact with him since college, I also haven’t seen him become the target of a global manhunt.

Here are four friend songs…

Clarence Clemons And Jackson Browne – You’re A Friend Of Mine
from Hero

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were probably as big as any act in my lifetime. During the mid-’80s. Born In The USA sold ten million copies and pretty much every song on the record got extensive airplay on the radio. The group’s success was so massive and demand for more music so great that b-sides like Pink Cadillac and Stand On It got played heavily.

E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons even had a solo hit during the winter of ’85 when he duetted with Jackson Browne on the upbeat and catchy You’re A Friend Of Mine.

The Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend
from Tattoo You

Personally, I’ve always thought that Waiting On A Friend was one of the Stones’ finest post-’70s moments. The song is so casual and the vibe so laid-back that it’s always welcome when it pops up on shuffle.

Apparently it was the first video by the Stones played on MTV (with reggae great Peter Tosh hanging out on the steps).

Grateful Dead – Friend Of The Devil
from Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead got discovered my generation while I was in college when A Touch Of Gray put the venerable band all over MTV. I liked the song and I even liked a lot of its parent album, In The Dark, which was played often in the record store where I worked.

I’ve also enjoyed stuff from their catalog as I’ve been introduced to it here and there, but I’ve never felt the rabid passion for The Dead that they inspired in a lot of my peers.

Jellyfish – He’s My Best Friend
from Spilt Milk

I discovered Jellyfish when the record store where I worked received a promo copy of the band’s debut, Bellybutton, in 1990. The psychedelic album cover was eye-catching and the music earned the group from San Francisco comparisons to greats like Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, XTC, and Cheap Trick.

Despite plenty of swooning by critics, Jellyfish was unable to find mainstream success and would split up after just one more album, 1993′s Spilt Milk, but the group has continued to loom large in the hearts of power pop devotees for the past two decades.


Two For Tuesday

March 8, 2011

Once I reached college – and easy access to a dozen record stores – Tuesday was indelibly stamped into my music-centric mind as new release day.

Tuesday remained a linchpin of the week for me because of music well into the ’90s and my thirties.

But in high school, new releases would have to wait for a trek into Cincinnati as the lone store in our hometown that carried music stocked a small selection. New titles might take weeks to arrive after release to the civilized world.

Music was the stuff that held together my fairly eclectic cast of friends and, more weeks than not, most of us were anticipating something that we wanted as soon as it hit the racks.

The wait could seem interminable.

If the title was a lesser-known act, it might make for a scavenger hunt involving dozens of visits to a number of record stores over weeks, even months to be in the right store at the right time to find what you desired.

By our senior year, we began to swing the odds in our favor. There would always be a handful of us ditching Tuesday and getting to the record stores as they opened.

It was usually Cincinnati, but, depending on who had procured transportation and, thus, was leading the junket, we might end up in Indianapolis.

If Naptown was the destination, we were usually listening to Q95 as the station’s mix of classic rock and (then) current stuff had something for all of us.

And Tuesdays meant “two for Tuesdays” – all day the station played back-to-back songs by each act. I’m sure it was hardly an uncommon gimmick, but I don’t recall any of the other rock stations we could dial up using it.

Acts with new or relatively new releases were often favored on Q95’s Two for Tuesday with one track being from the recent album and another being a popular song from the artist’s catalog.

So, here are four pairs of songs that I very well might have heard on Q95 during early March in 1986 when, if it was Tuesday, I probably wasn’t in class…

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers with Stevie Nicks – Needles And Pins
from Pack Up The Plantation: Live!

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – American Girl
from Playback

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers assisted Stevie Nicks on her first solo hit, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, and also appeared with the Fleetwood Mac songstress on her follow-up album The Wild Heart.

However, I prefer their partnership on this cover of The Searchers’ hit (co-written by Sonny Bono) which appeared on Petty’s album Pack Up The Plantation: Live!

As for American Girl, I can’t help but hear this Petty classic and not be transported to the hallways of Ridgemont High.

Blue Öyster Cult – Dancin’ In The Ruins
from Club Ninja

Blue Öyster Cult – Godzilla
from Workshop Of The Telescopes

I’ve written before of my affection for the mighty Blue Öyster Cult and Dancin’ In The Ruins was one of the few worthy tracks on the rather dire affair that was Club Ninja.

Club Ninja arrived when we finally had MTV available to us and Blue Öyster Cult was becoming a musical afterthought, but I vividly recall seeing the video for Dancin’ In The Ruins – seemingly inspired by Mad Max – in the wee hours of the night much to my delight.

Sure, Blue Öyster Cult was lumped in with early heavy metal bands like Steppenwolf, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, but – due to my frame of reference when I discovered music – heavy metal was a genre where its practitioners wore spandex and either sang of non-stop parties or dragons. I suppose Godzilla fulfills the latter requirement and Blue Öyster Cult had the vision to pay homage to the greatest dragon of them all.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures

Rush had a small, but ardent following in our high school that consisted mostly of the jocks and the stoners in band – two clans who rarely intermingled but could find common ground in the beloved trio’s music.

Territories was one of several tracks from Power Windows that got played heavily on the rock stations that I listening to. I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

(well played Professor)

There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity. A ticket, t-shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less twenty-five years ago than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

Jackson Browne – For America
from Lives In The Balance

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty
from The Next Voice You Hear: The Best Of Jackson Browne

By the time I started listening to music in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Jackson Browne’s career was on the decline, though he did have one of his biggest hits during that period with Somebody’s Baby.

Lives In The Balance found the singer/songwriter fully embracing his activist instincts with an album whose lyrics, for the most part, had political overtones. The first single, the bracing For America, was a wake-up call and if the song and its parent album weren’t as well received as his earlier albums, it still sounded great on radio.

Running On Empty had become one of Browne’s signature songs nearly a decade before Lives In The Balance and the full-throttle track was already a rock radio staple when For America was becoming his final Top 40 hit.