The A-Team

January 29, 2013

AI got sucked into The A-Team on cable.

Three hours later, I had watched about an hour and a half more of the exploits of Hannibal Smith and friends in movie form than I had ever watched of the television series.

As I was a kid at the time The A-Team initially aired, I was well aware of it. It was enormously popular for awhile and I imagine I undoubtedly checked it out for ten or fifteen minutes on a Tuesday night.

(with five, six channels and no cable, the viewing options were limited)

I was fifteen when The A-Team arrived. I think I essentially shrugged it off as simplistic.

And Mr. T…I remember the first kid in our neighborhood that had made it into The City to catch the previous summer’s blockbuster Rocky III. The next morning, we gathered as usual for a pick-up baseball game.

It was June and the sun beat down on us. It was already hot.

The lot of us were sprawled out on the grass, sweltering, breakfast digesting as Alvin recounted to us the plot of Rocky III and we hung on every word.

He was a generally quiet kid but he verbally jitterbugged as he excitedly got the first few moments out.

And he stopped.

He seemed crazy from the heat, like some addled prospector wandered in from the desert telling tales, as he slowly told of the beast that was Rocky’s opponent, Clubber Lang as played by Mr. T.

Clubber had a Mohawk.

Clubber mostly growled.

Clubber was unstoppable.

His destruction of Rocky for the heavyweight title was done with a stunning savage efficiency.

When we all finally got to see Rocky III – it arrived in our small town’s theater pretty quickly – we might have been rooting for Rocky, but we were in awe of Clubber.

Clubber was soon overshadowed by Mr. T. It seemed he was everywhere – talk shows, magazines, commercials.

Clubber had been a frightening creation. Mr. T soon began to grate on my nerves.

I was also spending more time listening to music during the years that The A-Team originally aired and the show wouldn’t have had enough appeal to pull me from doing so.

As for the movie, it was a decent popcorn flick unburdened by preconceptions or childhood memory.

The A-Team debuted almost thirty years ago to the day. Here are four songs from albums that were also arriving that week in 1983…

Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger
from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)

By the time Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) was released, several singles had been issued and failed to gain traction. In the States, it took until summer, but the title track finally clicked and gave the Eurythmics a breakthrough hit that topped the charts.

Sweet Dreams might be better remembered, but I’ve always preferred the chilly Love Is A Stranger.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1983)

Todd Rundgren’s commercial peak had expired about five years before I was listening to music. However, my friends and I were exposed to the music of Runt – both past and present – through our buddy Bosco. He was a Rundgren fanatic and each new release from the man was an event.

According to the internet, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a contractual obligation album and considered a throwaway, but I’ve remained quite found of the set.

(though I need never, ever again to hear Bang The Drum All Day – ever)

And I do love the clanging call to action, Drive. It makes me want to go to work tomorrow, burn down my office building, load Paloma and the animals into The Jeepster, and do as the title suggests.

Journey – Send Her My Love
from Frontiers (1983)

Journey’s follow-up to the iconic Escape was the most eagerly anticipated album of my young life in January, 1983. Separate Ways arrived as Frontiers‘ first single and it quickly became a Top Ten hit.

And, a week or so before the full album arrived in stores, I stayed up to tape Frontiers when it was played on Frog’s Midnight Album, which aired nightly on WEBN.

I played that copy of Frontiers incessantly until I made it into Cincinnati and to a record store to purchase an actual cassette. Even as I listened to it repeatedly into the summer, I could hear it as a calculated attempt to replicate Escape.

However, the haunted Send Her My Love would have been a worthy addition to Frontiers’ predecessor.

Red Rider – Human Race
from Neruda (1983)

Canadian band Red Rider never got much love here in the States. They’d get a smattering of airplay on our album rock stations and the moody Lunatic Fringe was deservedly a staple (even if I doubt most listeners could have named the band performing it).

I seem to recall hearing the sparse, eerie Human Race occasionally that spring and it’s a compelling mix of straight-ahead rock with a slight New Wave vibe.

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Thirty-Three And Forever

October 14, 2012

I happened to catch part of an American Top 40 countdown while running errands with Jeepster this morning. Casey Kasem was doing his thing just as he had from this week in 1974.

At the time of the original broadcast, I was a first-grader trying to adjust to a school in a small town where I had lived for less than a year. Most of my classmates seemed to be related and most of their parents had gone to school together.

Not good times.

And most of the songs Casey was playing were ones that I recollect hazily, if at all, from that time.

So, I thought that I’d consult a Billboard Hot 100 chart from later in the decade, when there would be fewer cobwebs.

As October was reaching its mid-point in 1979, I was a sixth grader and my friends and I were engrossed in the 1979 World Series.

It was shaping up to be a short series as Baltimore had taken three of the first four games against Pittsburgh.

I was dismayed. The broadcasters kept reminding me that there were just four times in the 75 year history of the World Series that had rallied from such a deficit to win the title.

If you were a twelve-year old kid pulling for the Pirates, it might as well have been never.

I was a Pirate fan through birth with familial ties to Western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had known Bill Robinson, who was starting for the team in the outfield.

My grandfather had passed away a month into that season, having been devoted to the team since the days of Honus Wagner.

October 13, 1979 was a Saturday and the night before the Pirates had dropped game three of the series.

I had remained sprawled out in front of the television late into the night, until the last, miserable out and I was still brooding about it as I biked to a soccer game that morning.

That night, it would be a repeat as the Orioles took the seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead.

And, eight days later, I was watching when the Pirates won a third straight game – game seven – to clinch the World Series.

(and the team hasn’t returned since)

Music was just beginning to pull some of my attention from sports that autumn. I was most certainly a passive listener, hearing music mostly when exposed to it through others.

Here are four songs that were on the radio that autumn as the Pirates were playing in the World Series (in what it seems – as each year passes – might have been for the last time in my lifetime)…

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution (1979)

Journey was still two years away from Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids not old enough to drive, the song came on the jukebox.

As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed and inert, transfixed and mystified.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk (1979)

The bowling alley was the other premier place to see and be seen once you reached junior high school.

I heard unusual Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox that autumn. And, I would pester my buddy Tony to play his 45 of the song when we hung out at his house.

It’s “real savage like” and a fine example of the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Foreigner – Dirty White Boy
from Head Games (1979)

I knew Foreigner for songs like Cold As Ice, Double Vision, and Hot Blooded. I’d hear them blaring from the Camaro of an older kid in our neighborhood as he raced through the street headed for somewhere.

And the title track and Dirty White Boy from Head Games were two more songs that I associate with the bowling alley jukebox. For all of the grief that Foreigner might be given, their straight-ahead rock stuff certainly did sound cool blaring from a Camaro eight-track player or bowling alley jukebox.

(and, the girl on the cover of Head Games was Lisanne Falk, who would play one of the Heathers in the 1989 black comedy Heathers)

Cheap Trick – Dream Police
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

Cheap Trick exploded in 1979 with Cheap Trick At Budokan and the quartet from Rockford, Illinois is one of the first bands I can recall my classmates embracing with fervor.

Dream Police was culled from the parent album of the same name – the follow-up to the mega-selling At Budokan – and we delighted in the manic, subconscious angst of the protagonist and the driving music of the power-pop classic.

And, I can’t hear Dream Police now and not think of sketchy ticket-scalper Mike Damone in the iconic Fast Times At Ridgemont High making his pitch – “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” – and singing a snippet of the song.


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.