The Heston

February 17, 2013

hestonAs a kid watching television in the ’70s, it was understood that the future might involve dealing with intelligent apes, urban overcrowding and pollution, or a noctunal clan of mutant cultists.

It was also understood from the regular airings of Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man after school or on late-night television that the one man with the skills to survive in these various dystopian futures – at least until the final reel – was Charlton Heston.

Heston was teaching us about survival well before Gloria Gaynor, Bear Grylls, or Survivorman‘s Les Stroud and, like Stroud, Heston wasn’t bashful about going au naturale.

(watching Planet Of The Apes on an AMC marathon of the movie series, I have already been blindsided twice by Heston’s bare ass in HD)

Over the latter part of his life, Heston was best known for his interest in guns, but, as he had spent so much time battling intelligent apes and mutant cultists as well as trying to avoid becoming finger food for the masses, his desire to be a well-maintained militia of one is understandable.

And no matter how dire the situation around him, Chuck was able to make time for the ladies and, in the case of The Omega Man, he – like the titular character in The Big Lebowski and to paraphrase The Dude – was racially pretty cool.

But, as a kid, it was Heston’s adventures as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor that were most fascinating to me and, fortunately, it was not uncommon to tune into CBS’ Friday Night Movie and find that Planet Of The Apes or, even more so it seemed, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was the featured flick.

Thirty-eight years ago, I was one bummed out seven-year old as the short-lived (and Heston-less) television series based on The Planet Of The Apes had been cancelled. I might have found solace in music, but that wouldn’t be of interest to me for another four or five years.

However, had I turned on the radio, here are four songs I might have heard as they were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart at the time…

America – Lonely People
from History: America’s Greatest Hits (1975)

Though I hadn’t yet developed an interest in music in 1975, I was well aware of the songs of America from the light rock stations my parents seemed to favor on the car radio.

The trio received a lot of comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, of the songs I know by America, the lovely, resilient Lonely People captures that vibe to me more than any other.

John Lennon – #9 Dream
from Lennon Legend (1997)

I certainly knew the music of The Beatles, but I wasn’t familiar with John Lennon’s solo stuff or #9 Dream at the time. I would have to catch up years later.

Of course, no one would be hearing new music from John Lennon after 1975, at least not until he ended his self-imposed exile to be a stay-at-home dad five years later with Double Fantasy. I eventually got a cassette of The John Lennon Collection in 1982 or so and was introduced to the (suitably) dreamy #9 Dream.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1995)

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which was the group’s first major single in the States.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975 (1991)

The title character in Jackie Blue sounds like one confused girl, but I can’t help but think of pizza when I hear the song. It seems like every trip we made to Pizza Inn during the time that the song was a hit guaranteed one of the patrons putting down their money for Jackie Blue on the jukebox.

I dug the song as a kid. It was catchy and mysterious, though, at the time, I mistook drummer Larry Lee’s falsetto for a female vocalist.

The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2012

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s announcement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Lunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing in the dentist’s office as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I was finishing the final classes that semester for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affiliated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour or more diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, it was nearly midnight, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then throw on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles, and Coke and I stretched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance
from The John Lennon Collection (1982)

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance
from Give Peace A Chance single (1990)

January 17, 1981

January 15, 2012

Thirty one years ago, I was seeking out music for – really – the first time.

Sure, there had previously been songs here and there that had captured my attention and a few 45s that I’d prodded the parents to purchase, but I would have had barely enough material to compile a desert island list.

Weeks earlier, on New Year’s Day, I had, inexplicably turned on the radio and tuned in to Q102, a Top 40 station from Cincinnati that was popular with my junior high classmates. I didn’t listen to the radio much, if ever, but as I listened I realized that the station was counting down the top 102 songs of 1980, the year that had just ended.

And, even more unexpectedly, I pulled out a tape recorder, popped a blank cassette into the unit, placed the recorder up against the radio, and spent the rest of the day taping those 102 songs.

By the middle of January, I had listened and relistened to those half dozen or so cassettes repeatedly, becoming familiar with the popular music of 1980, most of which I had little familiarity.

I was also tuning into Q102 daily, especially for the station’s Top Ten At Ten, the daily countdown of the most requested songs of the day and a staple of debate amongst friends at school the following day.

It would be another year before I’d begin purchasing music on a regular basis or start listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Billboard meant roadside advertising to me.

But, thirty one years ago, there were half a dozen songs debuting on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100, some of which I knew from those nights listening to Q102…

McGuffey Lane – Long Time Lovin’ You
from McGuffey Lane (1980)
(debuted #97, peaked #85, 7 weeks on chart)

Growing up within spitting distance of the Ohio border, I’d heard the name McGuffey Lane as they were a regional act from Columbus, but I couldn’t have named a song by the band and didn’t recognize Long Time Lovin’ You by name.

But as soon as I started listening to Long Time Lovin’ You, I instantly remembered the song. I imagine that I heard it on our hometown radio station which favored light rock and country as the song has a decidedly country rock feel.

The loping melody and tale of love ruined by too much time on the road has a catchy chorus and, though a bit generic, isn’t a bad song. It’s certainly something I enjoy more now than I would have then.

Terri Gibbs – Somebody’s Knockin’
from Somebody’s Knockin’ (1980)
(debuted #94, peaked #13, 22 weeks on chart)

I certainly knew Somebody’s Knockin’ from Q102. The song by blind Georgian pianist was a fixture on the station during the first few months of ’81 and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song.

Somebody’s Knockin’ straddles the line between country and light pop. Its slick production doesn’t diminish the backwoods vibe and Gibb’s vocals which recount her struggle with the temptations offered by a mysterious stanger.

Slave – Watching You
from Stone Jam (1980)
(debuted #90, peaked #75, 6 weeks on chart)

Slave is a name I know that I’ve seen at one time or another rifling through bins in record stores, but I’ve never been a major R&B devotee. As a kid, there wasn’t a lot of soul on the stations to which I was listening.

Like McGuffey Lane, though, Slave was an act from Ohio, Dayton, to be specific. I do know that there were a number of funk acts from that city during the ’70s and early ’80s like Ohio Players, Lakeside, and Zapp and Watching You is a snappy bit of mid-tempo, light funk, an playful ode to watching girls pass by.

Queen – Flash’s Theme
from Flash Gordon soundtrack (1980)
(debuted #79, peaked #42, 10 weeks on chart)

There seemed to be a lot of hullabaloo about the movie Flash Gordon prior to its release and, then, it bombed. I think that I caught a bit of the campy flick on cable years ago but not enough to care one way or another about it.

Queen was a band that we did care about, though, at the time. The legendary band was coming off of the spectacular success of The Game and, as I recall, both Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust had both been in the top ten for the year on that year-end countdown I’d taped from the radio.

I don’t remember actually hearing the band’s dramatic theme (complete with melodramatic dialogue from the film) to Flash Gordon on the radio in 1981, but it did appear on Queen’s Greatest Hits release from later that year. The cassette version of that album was one of my initial purchases when I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club a year later.

Pat Benatar – Treat Me Right
from Crimes of Passion (1980)
(debuted #68, peaked #18, 18 weeks on chart)

Pat Benatar’s rise to superstar status coincided with my teenage years and she was fetching in spandex, so she could have been singing Bolshevik work songs and she’d have had the attention of me and my friends.

But Benatar had a string of inescapable hits during the early ’80s that made her a staple on most of the crude mixtapes I was making from the radio. I was a fan, but Treat Me Right never quite hooked me the way that stuff like Heartbreaker, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, or Shadows Of The Night did.

John Lennon – Woman
from Double Fantasy (1980)
(debuted #36, peaked #2, 20 weeks on chart)

In mid-January of 1981, the world was a mere five weeks out from the brutal murder of John Lennon. My interest in music, just beginning to take root, gave me little perspective on the death of Lennon and I had little reaction. It would be years before I would mourn the event and the loss of Beatle John.

However, I imagine at the time it was difficult for folks who had grown up with The Beatles to hear the music from Lennon’s just-released Double Fantasy album and his death provided added poignancy to the gentle, lovely ballad Woman.