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.


Fall Break

October 11, 2012

moody-autumn-skyAs a kid, fall break was an inspired construct. It wasn’t as lengthy as spring break – a mere Thursday and Friday – but it’s placement in the school year was almost flawless.

It fell in the latter half of October, a week or so before Halloween and halfway between the start of the school year and Christmas break. It was far enough into the semester that the hopeless feeling that the school year would never end had set in even if the last warm days of Indian summer were reminders of the summer past.

There are a couple schools I pass on the morning commute to work each day. They all have some kind of message board at the front of the school, marquee letters announcing football games and such.

I’ve started seeing dates for fall breaks.

I keep thinking of the fall break in 1984. It was the first fall break where my friends and I all had licenses. Acquiring a vehicle, though, usually demanded nimble gamesmanship and negotiation with parents or an older sibling if not outright chicanery.

That break, my buddy Kirk showed up with his older brother’s car, a late ’60s Ford which we abused as often as possible.

Another friend, Bosco, was with him, but, as Kirk hadn’t actually gotten consent to have the car, there had been no time to assemble the rest of our usual group.

So, the three of us headed to the city – Cincinnati – and an hour later we were rifling through the racks at a record store.

Bosco, an obsessive fan of The Tubes, was determined to snag a recently released solo album by the band’s front man Fee Waybill.

He found the desired vinyl at a Record Bar from a clerk whom he summarily dubbed “DLR” as the kid had adopted the look of Van Halen’s soon-to-be ex-lead singer.

Bosco led us to the stereo department on the top floor of the mall, peeled peeled open the shrink-wrap and threw the new album onto a turntable for us to preview.

(at least until it was requested that we leave)

I remember vividly the overcast skies – much like today – that day, but it was far warmer than it is here, now, where it feels as though we’ve skipped directly from September to November.

As we headed home late that afternoon, the sun did its best to break through the clouds before issuing a surrender and making way for dusk.

I’m less certain of what music I purchased that day, though I have no doubt that I returned home that evening with several new cassettes.

Here is a quartet of tracks from albums that I very well might have snagged on that break in the autumn of 1984…

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
from The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

I do know that I purchased The Unforgettable Fire from a clerk in a record store that had been greatly influenced by Cyndi Lauper. She complimented my purchase and I asked her to marry me.

(it was all a whirlwind and ended with Cyndi answering my proposal with an indifferent shrug)

I arrived home, sprawled out on my bedroom floor with my Walkman, and was promptly confused as the jagged edges which had drawn me to War were now soft like watercolors. There were elements of the past, but I didn’t know what to make of the hints of U2′s future.

But I slowly embraced the more subtle nuances of The Unforgettable Fire.

The title tracks was one of my favorites at the time. Since then, it’s only become more dear to me. Nearly twenty-five years later, I’d consider the song to be four of the finest minutes of their career.

A Flock Of Seagulls – The More You Live, The More You Love
from The Story Of A Young Heart (1984)

In 1984, as U2 was becoming one of my favorite bands, A Flock Of Seagulls, one of my very first favorite bands, was issuing what would be their commercial swansong with The Story Of A Young Heart.

The More You Love, The More You Love got a bit of radio play where I lived and, as MTV had finally reached our part of the world, I do recall seeing the video a handful of times. The song wouldn’t reverse the Liverpool quartet’s fortunes, but it’s actually a very catchy track.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth (1984)

Cherry Bomb – originally performed by Jett’s previous band, The Runaways – is about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be and proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent fire.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.


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.