November 6, 1982

November 5, 2012

Unless you have a masochistic streak, you are as likely to have election fatigue as I am. However, the end of this highly-informative, enlightening period is near and, before the next president is inaugurated in January, a new slate of empty suits will already be jockeying for 2016.

(all of this is, obviously, contigent upon no year-end Mayan nonsense)

So, 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.

And, since 1982 was the year during which I first truly fell in love with the radio, here is the octet of songs which first appeared on the Hot 100 thirty years ago…

Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
from Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #67, 7 weeks on chart)

I didn’t go through a metal phase as a kid (or as an adult for that matter) and by the late ’80s – when the hair-metal bands were ruling MTV – I thought the genre to be laughable. Over the ensuing years, I’ve come to enjoy some of the stuff, but, if I’m opting for metal from that period, I’m likely to dial up Iron Maiden.

However, Judas Priest, led by Rob Halford and the twin-guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, were titans of the metal world and fixtures in Circus magazine, one of the few music magazines stocked in the rack of our local drug store.

Though I’ve never embraced Judas Priest, I do recall hearing their driving You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ here and there at the time. It was catchy enough to give the band their lone US pop hit.

Bill Conti – Theme From Dynasty
from Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1990)
(debuted #89, peaked #52, 9 weeks on chart)

I knew the name Bill Conti as the composer of Gonna Fly Now, the theme from the movie Rocky, but, as I never watched the show, I had never heard his theme from the television series Dynasty.

I know that Dynasty was about rich people and there’s a snootier-than-thou vibe to the theme that I could imagine accompanying people playing polo, eating caviar, yachting, running for president or doing whatever else rich people do.

Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On
from Something’s Going On (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #13, 29 weeks on chart)

I’m sure that, initially, I had no idea that the voice on I Know There’s Something Going On belonged to one of the women from ABBA. And, I doubt at the time that I recognized the drumming on the song to be Phil Collins (although I’d soon become familiar with the cavernous sound that was his trademark).

Instead, I loved the thunderous sound and omnious vibe of the song. And, in retrospect, it’s odd to think of Frida’s lone hit getting played on the rock stations playing Tom Petty, Saga, and Def Leppard that would have never touched ABBA.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual (1982)
(debuted #79, peaked #1, 25 weeks on chart)

Men At Work had dominated the radio during the late summer and early autumn of ’82 with Who Can It Be Now? and, by Christmas, Down Under had become the Aussie act’s second smash.

I do know that my friends and I – living in a world without MTV – had seen both of those videos on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 and been delighted by lead singer Colin Hay’s expressive antics and emotive nature. That Christmas, I received a copy of Business As Usual which I wore out over the following winter months.

Kim Carnes – Does It Make You Remember?
from Voyeur (1982)
(debuted #78, peaked #36, 13 weeks on chart)

Kim Carnes had unleashed the juggernaut Bette Davis Eyes upon the world in 1981 as music was beginning to tickle my fancy. Despite a lengthy career beginning in the ’60s as a member of The New Christy Minstrels and a number of solo hits including More Love and Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer, Bette Davis Eyes will headline the singer/songwriter’s obituary.

Carnes’ follow-up to Mistaken Identity, which contained Bette Davis Eyes, was destined to fail in matching its predecessors’ success. Voyeur‘s title track came and went quickly as the album’s initial single.

The second release was the mid-tempo Does It Make You Remember? which, like Voyeur, briefly reached the Top 40. It’s not a bad song and well-suited for Carnes’ raspy vocals, but my main memory of Does It Make You Remember? is that the singer seemed to appear on Solid Gold performing it every week that winter (accompanied by noted session guitarist Waddy Wachtel and his voluminous hair).

Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love
from Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #10, 21 weeks on chart)

I knew little of Genesis and even less about The Supremes as 1982 wound down and Genesis’ Phil Collins released his cover of the latter’s classic You Can’t Hurry Love. I knew Genesis for their recent hits from Abacab No Reply At All, the title track, and Man On The Corner – but I doubt that I knew The Supremes whatsoever.

Though it obviously doesn’t match the original, Phil Collins take on You Can’t Hurry Love is likely as good as one might hope for from a drummer of a (increasingly less) progressive, English rock band.

John Cougar – Hand To Hold On To
from American Fool (1982)
(debuted #72, peaked #19, 18 weeks on chart)

Few acts had as good a year as Johnny Hoosier – as my buddy Bosco referred to local hero John Cougar – did in 1982. The gritty rocker had broken through with the mega-selling American Fool set which had spawned two hits in Hurts So Good and Jack And Diane that had dominated radio that summer and into the fall.

As I was living in Indiana, local radio had given heavy airplay to American Fool even before Hurts So Good broke nationally, meaning that by the time Hand To Hold On To was issued as the album’s third single, I was well and truly tired of anything Cougar.

So, Hand To Hold On To usually prompted me to change the station, but, now, thirty years later, I hear it as a solid, amiable rock song, hardly as memorable as the first two hits but a decent track nonetheless.

Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine
from Thriller (1982)
(debuted #45, peaked #2, 18 weeks on chart)

If there is one song among Thriller‘s seven Top Ten hits that I haven’t really heard on the radio in the three decades since it was a hit, it would be The Girl Is Mine, the duet that launched the album. Even at the time, it offered no hint at how Thriller would dominate the airwaves for the next eighteen months, well into 1984.

The Girl Is Mine was Paul McCartney’s second superstar duet that year – he had paired with Stevie Wonder that spring on Ebony And Ivory – and it’s a pleasant enough song with a goofy spoken word interlude. I always thought that its laid-back, breezy vibe would have made the song more suitable for warmer months.

Not long after The Girl Is Mine hit radio, the full album arrived and several of the stations I was listening to quickly jumped on Beat It with Eddie Van Halen on guitar, a far more intriguing track to me.

I hear The Girl Is Mine now and I can’t help but hear a buddy ad-libbing “the goddamned girl is mine” in place of the more benign “the doggone girl is mine” in the chorus which was high hilarity to us at the time.

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“Life turns to minutes and minutes to memories…”

September 7, 2011

This morning, as I often do on mornings when I have time, I leisurely perused a number of music blogs that are favorites as I drank my coffee.

One of those blogs was Any Major Dude With Half A Heart who, on this particular morning, had posted a regular feature called In Memoriam, paying tribute to those involved in music that had recently passed away.

The last thing I expected to find in a music blog by a fellow who had grown up in Germany and is living in South Africa – if I have the plot straight – was mention of someone I personally knew.

Yet that is how I learned of the passing of George Green.

The name is unlikely to mean much to most unless they absorb liner notes with considerable recall, but music fans are likely familiar with songs which they probably (and mistakenly) attribute to having been written solely by John Mellencamp.

George had been the one who had penned the lyrics to songs like Hurts So Good, Crumblin’ Down, and Rain On The Scarecrow.

As a high school senior, a number of classmates had argued for Minutes To Memories from Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album, which had been released at the beginning of the school year, to be class song.

(we were growing up two hours from Mellencamp’s hometown)

Three years later, I’m in college and working in a record store with a woman, Kat, whose husband had written Minutes To Memories and that is how I got to know George.

As I recall, the first time that I met George was to ask if he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. Kat invited me over, introduced me to George, and promptly left the room.

I honestly don’t remember if he wrote the letter or not. We spent the afternoon listening to albums that he wanted me to hear.

(10cc’s How Dare You being one)

One thing that does become more obvious as the years pass and is that people who are a part of your life – sometimes even an intregal part – often drift out of your orbit. It’s been close to ten years since I last spoke with either Kat or George and I’ve often meant to make an attempt to reconnect with them, but…

I did have the chance on a number of occasions to spend time with George, though, and those are times that I treasure as he was a gifted writer and a good guy.

During those infrequent visits, he would often recite to me things that he had written, one being a poem that he had composed and read at his grandfather’s funeral.

It was a stunningly beautiful and poignant work.

This land, today, my tears shall taste
And take into its dark embrace
This love who in my beating heart endures
Assured by every sun that burns
The dust to which this flesh shall return
It is the ancient, dreaming dust of God

As special as that particular afternoon was, it’s one that I couldn’t truly appreciate at the time.

While I, with human-hindered eyes
Unequal to the sweeping curve of life
Stand on this single print of time

Only now, with the passage of time – and now the man – do I truly recognize that moment for the gift that it was.

Not long after, I was living in a different city, but having a conversation on the phone with Kat. As usual, I asked what George was working on.

She proceeded to tell me that he had a song on the then-forthcoming Mellencamp album.

I asked it it was anything with which I was familiar.

“Do you remember that poem…”

I admit that I was a bit skeptical. The poem was so amazing, so perfect, so brilliant and so fully realized.

I wondered if its use in a song might diminish the power of those words, words that needed nothing more than to be read in the unassuming Midwestern voice of their author.

I should have known better.

Human Wheels took love and grief – emotions that we all feel yet few of us can put into words – and put them into words.

I suppose that’s what great writers do. They take “the sweeping curve of life,” bear witness, and through their words make us feel more connected to one another.

At least that’s what George Green did.

John Mellencamp – Human Wheels
from Human Wheels


Cap’n Crunch, His Dog, A Pig, And A Small Fire*

March 12, 2011

For most of my life, I rarely remembered my dreams. But over the past several years that has changed, so I get treated to nocturnal shows like last night.

The details are hazy, but it involved cereal icon Cap’n Crunch and a talking pig wearing a sweater. The two were in the mariner’s apartment discussing his missing dog when the place went up in flames.

I think everyone got out safely, but there was something suspicious about that pig and I wouldn’t rule out arson.

The dream also made me think of an album title by REO Speedwagon – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

Growing up in the Midwest, REO Speedwagon was a radio fixture and never more so than in late 1980 when they released the album Hi Infidelity. The songs from that record sounded great on radio (which is fortunate, as they were always playing) and the band was a favorite to most of us in my junior high school.

Ten years later, as I was nearing college graduation, the record store where I worked received a couple of copies of REO’s The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

I was immersed in band’s like R.E.M. not REO, whom I hadn’t listened to for years. The album title, though, made an impression (even if I don’t think I ever heard the music).

Several years later, I was working in another, much larger record store. For most acts, we carried at least a token copy of each title in their catalog. On slow mornings, the Drunken Frenchman and I would browse through the bins, discussing various artists and albums.

One morning, there it was – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken. The Frenchman was no fan of the band, but it became a recurring subject for us.

“It’s one of the most truthful album titles ever.”

“That man, though a bit portly, is, indeed, small.”

“There’s the Earth.”

“There is a dog and, here, a chicken.”

“Man that dog looks miserable.”

R.E.M. might well have been playing over the speakers in the store (it would have been around the time of New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

“Why would they put Sebastian Cabot on the cover, though?”

Thirty years ago, REO Speedwagon had one of the biggest albums in the country with Hi Infidelity and one of the most popular songs with Keep On Loving You.

Here are four other songs that I was hearing on the radio – often on Q102’s Top Ten at 10 – in March, 1981 as I indulged my fairly new interest in music…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one of the first bands that I truly took to as I began to discover radio and, at the age of twelve or thirteen, the winsome Debbie Harry added an undeniable visual element to the appeal.

Following up on the massive success of the breezy, faux-reggae of The Tide Is High, Blondie offered up something quite different on their subsequent single. The chiming, hypnotic groove, metallic guitars, and Harry’s breathy vocals – my friend Will was convinced that the lyric “finger popping” was actually something more PG13 – made for an irresistible mix.

But the song also blew our young minds. It was our first exposure to hip-hop and as much as we were entranced by the rhymes regarding aliens dining on bars, Subarus, and human noggins, we were also baffled.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…and sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually notorious ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and hearing this song blaring from their Camaros.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

I heard a lot of Donnie Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides). At home, not so much.

Ah! Leah! did make it to radio in the Midwest, though. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done With The Night
from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

Before he was John Mellencamp, saving American farms, and incessantly reminding television viewers that “this is our country,” he was simply John Cougar (or, as my friend Bosco dubbed him, Johnny Hoosier).

He’s arguably done better music since those early years, but Ain’t Even Done With The Night captures the restlessness and possibilities of late summer nights and is one song of his which I still never tire of hearing.

*it seemed appropriate – given the recent hullabaloo surrounding the good Cap’n – to repost this entry from March 9, 2009