May 1, 1982

May 1, 2011

It’s been a grueling stretch at the office – and I’m still vexed by the realization that I use the phrase “at the office” – and I think a part of my cerebral cortex is still a bit glitchy from the rabbit hole Paloma sent me down last week.

There’s also a band who have dubbed themselves Cosmic America playing downstairs and anyone who might be able to hold a coherent thought in their head while a band that would think Cosmic America might be a good moniker bashes away is made of sturdier stuff than I.

(it would be better if it was America making a mockery of my Saturday morning zen, but even that would be tedious after two hours)

So, since I haven’t done so in awhile, I pulled up the Billboard Hot 100 – opting for this this week in 1982 – and perused the chart of the most popular singles, eyeing the songs that were debuts.

At the time, I was mere weeks away from finishing up eighth grade and moving on to high school in the fall. It was during the school year that was ending that I had discovered radio and, when possible, it was on. Usually it was tuned to Q102, the Top 40 station that was popular with most of my classmates, but I was also searching the dial, exploring what else was out there.

Nine songs debuted on the Hot 100 twenty-nine years ago – only two with which I was unfamiliar – and it’s a relatively mellow lot with only a few hits that might hold my attention enough not to scroll past…

Patrice Rushen – Forget Me Nots
from Straight From The Heart
(debuted #90, peaked #23, 16 weeks on chart)

I wasn’t listening to much R&B at the time. I’d sometimes pause on The Blaze, an urban station, if I heard something familiar but the bouncy Forget Me Nots got played a lot on my Top 40 stations of choice, too.

I remember seeing Rushen perform Forget Me Nots on Solid Gold, but it couldn’t pull my attention away from the gyrations of the Solid Gold dancers. I enjoy the engaging song now, but I find it impossible to hear it and not hear Will Smith rapping about men in black.

Alessi – Put Away Your Love
from Long Time Friends
(debuted #87, peaked #71, 4 weeks on chart)

I had never heard Put Away Your Love or heard of Alessi before now. Apparently, the act consisted of twin brothers – Billy and Bobby – who released five albums in the late ’70s/early ’80s and whose greatest claim to fame was placing a song on the soundtrack to Ghostbusters.

After four albums that garnered little success, the brothers Alessi hooked up with Christopher Cross who produced Long Time Friends.

Cross was a light rock juggernaut at the time, having notched a string of hits and winning a slew of Grammy Awards over the previous two years, but Put Away Your Love is unmemorable and tepid.

(unlike Cross’ hits which, while arguably tepid, were, at least, memorable)

Bertie Higgins – Just Another Day In Paradise
from Just Another Day In Paradise
(debuted #86, peaked #46, 10 weeks on chart)

Just Another Day In Paradise was Bertie Higgins’ follow-up to his Top Ten hit Key Largo, a song that holds a strange fascination for me. I can’t say that I was (or am) a fan of that song, but it catches my attention when I hear it and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because it’s sung by a man named Bertie, who now is a pirate and has fans who call themselves Boneheads. Or, maybe it’s because Key Largo strikes me as so odd, like seeing a two-headed kitten, that I’m merely puzzled by its existence.

As for Just Another Day In Paradise, it’s not a two-headed kitten but rather a soft rock trip into Jimmy Buffett territory sans the quirks, booze, and cheeseburgers.

Jimmy Hall – Fool For Your Love
from Cadillac Tracks
(debuted #83, peaked #77, 3 weeks on chart)

The other song here that I didn’t know was Fool For You Love by Jimmy Hall, who had been a founder and the lead singer of Southern rock band Wet Willie during the ’70s.

I can’t say that I’m familiar with Wet Willie aside from the name (which is only slightly better than Cosmic America) and the only thing I know previously knew by Hall was his work as a guest vocalist on guitar legend Jeff Beck’s 1985 Flash set, but Fool For Your Love is pleasant enough as it shuffles along goosed by some catchy harmonica.

.38 Special – Caught Up In You
from Special Forces
(debuted #82, peaked #10, 17 weeks on chart)

By the time .38 Special released Special Forces, the Southern band was already a radio staple in our part of the Midwest with songs like Rockin’ Into The Night, Hold on Loosely, and Fantasy Girl. Unlike their Southern rock brethern, .38 Special quickly evolved into a more polished act with a decidely arena rock/pop slant.

Though hardly reinventing fire, Caught Up In You sounded made for radio and I probably heard the song as much that summer as any hit at the time. It was written by Jim Peterik who also wrote a song that would prove to be the monster track of the year for his band Survivor.

Between Caught Up In You and Eye Of The Tiger, the summer of ’82 undoubtedly bumped Peterik into a higher tax bracket.

Ronnie Milsap – Any Day Now
from Inside
(debuted #81, peaked #14, 15 weeks on chart)

JB at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ looked at 1981 the other day, noted the number of country hits crossing over to the pop world and surmised it might have been “an admission by record labels and pop programmers that pop was out of ideas.”

Of course, a year later Ronnie Milsap was covering a song written by Burt Bacharach from twenty years earlier, so maybe everyone was out of ideas.

Despite my love for Burt Bacharach, if I want to hear Any Day Now, I want to hear soul singer Chuck Jackson’s original from 1962 which I wouldn’t become familiar with until hearing it on Bacharach’s box set The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection.

Karla Bonoff – Personally
from Wild Heart Of The Young
(debuted #79, peaked #19, 18 weeks on chart)

Singer/songwriter Karla Bonoff’s break came when she placed a trio of songs on Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 album Hasten Down The Wind as well as singing back-up for Ronstadt. Then, in 1982, Bonoff scored her lone Top 40 hit with a song written by someone else.

As much as I heard the coquettish Personally at the time, I’d have thought it was a much bigger hit.

Queen – Body Language
from Hot Space
(debuted #78, peaked #11, 14 weeks on chart)

As my attention was turning to music for the first time in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Queen was a behemoth, following earlier hits from Bohemian Rhapsody through We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions with the über-selling album The Game and the mammoth singles Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust in 1980.

Then, the band’s now-classic duet with David Bowie, Under Pressure, was a relative failure in the States in early ’82 and that was followed by Hot Space, which alienated a lot of long-time fans with its emphasis on a sparse, funk sound.

(and, according to Wikipedia, the song’s accompanying video was the first to be banned by a fledgling MTV)

I didn’t care much for the slinky Body Language at the time, but the song – though hardly essential Queen – has grown on me over the years.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Crimson And Clover
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
(debuted #63, peaked #7, 15 weeks on chart)

Joan Jett’s I Love Rock N’ Roll was such an enormous smash in early 1982 that she could have belched the alphabet and had a follow-up hit. Instead, she opted to cover Tommy James’ Crimson And Clover.

The song already been getting heavy airplay on Q102 for a couple months before it was even released as a single and I recall it causing a bit of commotion when Jett, not altering the lyrics, sang, “Now I don’t hardly know her, but I think I could love her.”

M schoolmates and I had no idea who Tommy James was. It was one of our hipper teachers who played the original for us in homeroom one afternoon (as well as suggesting that the term “crimson and clover” was code for a roll in the hay).

We preferred Joan’s version and, after seeing the sleeve for the 45, we realized that, not only was she cool but a babe, too.

One Penny

April 13, 2011

I’ve lamented the lack of music easily available to me pre-drivers license.

There was a small section devoted to albums, cassettes, and 45s in the one diminutive department store of my hometown. There couldn’t have been more than three hundred titles and the lot of it would have fit easily into our den.

(which was of the typical, Midwestern, wood-paneled variety, circa 1979)

This lack of a proper record store was hardly an issue for the first year or so as this small selection of music available to me was strictly the most popular stuff – AC/DC, Journey, Styx…

It would be another year before I would be searching for titles that might require a trip to the nearest record stores, fifty miles (and several hours spent with the parents) away.

As I made my way through the final months of junior high in the spring of ’82, the sum of my music collection was, perhaps, half a dozen cassettes including Christopher Cross’ debut, Journey’s Escape, and J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame.

I was hardly cutting edge. I was a thirteen-year old kid in a town that sometimes didn’t make the map and those handful or so of titles had been purchased with most of the little wealth I had at that age.

So, it was a momentous morning that spring when, sprawled on the den floor leafing through the Sunday paper for the comics, I stopped, mesmerized by the text on the insert.

The bold headline promised me a dozen titles for a penny and my eyes scanned the titles from which I could choose.

I had certainly seen this offer before but my interest in music had reached a critical mass and I had to own more. This was a no-brainer and as I penciled in my selections I chose with the careful consideration of someone manning a key in a missile silo.

And so, I entered into a contractual obligation as a member of the Columbia Record & Tape Club.

Four to six weeks later I arrived home from school to hours and hours of music, the smell of newly-opened cassettes filling the air.

Each month, a new catalog arrived and I pored through the titles as I fulfilled the however many tapes it took for me to fulfill the deal.

I suddenly had a music collection.

I soured on the club by the following spring for the lack of liner notes. The stuff Columbia House had licensed would have a simple paper sleeve with the album cover art.

I needed more.

And, as my friends and I now had drivers licenses, I no longer needed Columbia House.

I don’t recall all of the cassettes I snagged with that intial haul of a dozen. There was Queen’s Greatest Hits , The Best Of Blondie. and Air Supply’s debut.

Here are four songs from four tapes which I do know arrived on that glorious April afternoon in 1982…

Joan Jett And The Blackhearts – Victim Of Circumstance
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

The title track from Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was a juggernaut. The song caught my ear the first night I heard it and, within a day or two, everyone at school was abuzz about it. The song dominated Q102’s Top Ten At Ten for what seemed like forever.

By April, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll had been joined in the nightly countdown, on various evenings, by several other songs from the album including Crimson And Clover, You’re Too Possessive, and the driving Victim Of Circumstance.

(the latter two being about as close to punk rock as most of us had ever gotten)

Loverboy – Take Me To The Top
from Get Lucky

I’d wager that radio in our part of the Midwest had to have embraced Loverboy as much as anywhere south of their Canadian homeland. Not only did the hits from their first couple albums – Turn Me Loose, The Kid Is Hot Tonight, Working For The Weekend – get played incessitantly, other songs got plenty of attention, too.

Take Me To The Top was an album track that all of the rock stations were playing. The moody, mid-tempo song had the expected Loverboy mix of synthesizer and guitars that was heard blaring from every Camaro in town.

Aldo Nova – Fantasy
from Aldo Nova

The deciding factor when I selected that chosen dozen was, usually, song recognition. I wanted songs that I had heard, preferably on the radio but, also, on the jukebox at the bowling alley.

(hence the Queen and Blondie compilations)

One title on which I “gambled” was the debut by Canadian Aldo Nova. The cooler-than-cool Fantasy was the only song I had heard, but I dug it so much I had to get the full cassette.

Quarterflash – Find Another Fool
from Quarterflash

I’ve duly noted how fetching my friends and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be. And, for a brief year or so, the usually mellow rockin’ group notched a few hits.

I suppose the only song most people remember Quarterflash for is Harden My Heart, but the follow-up Find Another Fool was quite popular at the time, too. It’s got a far more frantic feel with a similar lyric of a woman scorned and is a bit like the kid sister to some of Pat Benatar’s more New Wave-tinged tracks from the early ’80s.

Heading For The Dirty City

October 20, 2010

When I first started listening to music during the first couple years of the ’80s, this new interest meant something to do during the fall and winter when the elements made for longer stretches housebound.

Instead of jockeying with my brother for control of the television or Atari 2600 console, I could now opt for self-imposed exile to my bedroom and listen to music rather than read.

More music was listened to during the months of less daylight. This might have meant an increased likelihood of burnout and a need to shop for more music.

Of course, the selection of music in our Midwestern town was no more than a few hundred cassettes in wire wall racks and eight or so bins of albums and singles in a small variety store.

I reached a point at which I was becoming interested in music not stocked in this store (or stocked well past the date it had been available in the outside world). It needn’t be too exotic – Missing Person’s Spring Session M comes to mind – that an hour’s drive to the nearest record stores in Cincinnati had to be made.

This conundrum was made a stickier wicket as I wasn’t yet old enough to drive.

The first option was to provide explicit instructions with mom as to what to titles to procure. Complicating matters was release dates weren’t always available or accurate, so it was necessary to – with limited funds – prioritize a list of albums that might not even be out, yet.

(and, then, hope that mom could actually make sense of the request)

The other option was to blow most of the day accompanying mom on the trip and endure hours at outlet malls – kind of like a Midwestern version of running with the bulls at Pamplona – to spend forty-five minutes browsing through a record store or two and pick up a few cassettes.

However, this riddle was resolved by time and, by the autumn of 1984, me and all of my friends had our driver’s licenses.

None of us had cars, but that was merely a detail. Some of us had older siblings with cars and all of us had parents with cars.

Actually, transportation was usually provided by my buddy Beej. He’d tell his mom that he was taking the car to one of our houses and, thirty minutes later, four to six of us were headed for the glamour of the dirty city.

We weren’t old enough to do much than roam the malls and gorge ourselves on fried mozarella sticks at The Ground Round, but there were a half-dozen record stores to hit, so there was much to do.

It was our first taste of freedom and the open road, though, and we always returned with plenty of music. It’s probably why, even now, the cool weather triggers something in me that makes me want to buy music.

Here are four songs from albums that I’m sure I purchased on one of those roadtrips during the autumn of ’84…

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth

Isn’t Cherry Bomb about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be? Proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Zebra – Bears
from No Tellin’ Lies

When Zebra released their debut in 1983, a lot of music fans embraced their Zeppelin-like sound and a lot of critics slagged them for their Zeppelin-like sound.

Personally, I wore that first album out and though I didn’t spend as much time with the follow-up, it’s not a bad record. The odd and engaging Bears always reminded me of Rush (who I was also quite into at the time)

Bruce Cockburn – Lovers In A Dangerous Time
from Stealing Fire

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains an underappreciated artist south of his homeland’s border, though his cult following in the States is devoted.

I discovered his music when the righteously indignant If I Had A Rocket Launcher, from Stealing Fire, popped up on some of the rock stations I was listening to at the time. I bought the cassette for that song, but the wiry Lovers In A Dangerous Time, which kicked off Stealing Fire, is pretty stellar, too, and features some wicked guitar work.