August 6, 1983

August 12, 2012

My brain is mushy from work.

(there might be a hell of a screenplay if I could unscramble my mind)

And I am under the sway of the Olympics.

(well done London)

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.

1983 is always good as I was surfing more of the radio channels, beginning to gravitate toward album rock but still interested in the pop stations. That autumn, 97X would debut and I’d discover the exotic sounds of modern rock.

Twenty-nine years ago – more or less – seven songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Kissing The Pink – Maybe This Day
from Naked (1983)
(debuted #95, peaked #87, 5 weeks on chart)

The one song from these debuts with which I was not familiar was Kissing The Pink’s Maybe This Day. The British synth-pop act would shorten their name to KTP and have another minor hit a few years later with Certain Things Are Likely, which I do remember, but Maybe This Day? Nothing.

Maybe This Day shuffles along punctuated by muted horns, but I can hear why it wasn’t a big hit. It reminds me a bit of Naked Eyes, who were having great success at the same time, but not nearly as catchy.

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Naked (1983)
(debuted #92, peaked #82, 5 weeks on chart)

I can’t hear Holiday Road – the theme song from National Lampoon’s Vacation – and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting (1983)
(debuted #90, peaked #73, 6 weeks on chart)

Growing up om a small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my buddy Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

Most American listeners wouldn’t hear Tears For Fears until 1985’s Songs From The Big Chair which had the hits Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Shout, and Head Over Heels.

Beej’s uncle had made us familiar with the name Tears For Fears during the summer of 1983 when The Hurting was released. A few months later, I found 97X where I heard Pale Shelter and the shimmering Change.

Robert Plant – Big Log
from The Principle Of Moments (1983)
(debuted #86, peaked #20, 16 weeks on chart)

In ’83, I was still becoming acquainted with Led Zeppelin’s extensive catalog beyond Led Zeppelin IV (a locker room staple) and I was completely unfamiliar with Robert Plant’s solo debut from the year before.

I quickly became well acquainted with Plant’s follow-up, The Principle Of Moments, when it arrived as summer was slipping away. Not only was the languid Big Log becoming the singer’s first Top 40 single, I was hearing other tracks from the album like In The Mood and Other Arms on the rock stations.

Spandau Ballet – True
from True (1983)
(debuted #67, peaked #4, 18 weeks on chart)

Beej might have heard of Spandau Ballet from his uncle, too, but I remember him mentioning the New Romantic act from seeing their videos on Night Tracks.

Of course, anyone listening to the radio late that summer and into the fall would have known True. The lush ballad was a mammoth hit and one of the enduring songs of the period (currently heard in some car commercial).

The song wasn’t my cup of tea at the time. The sophisticated crooning of Tony Hadley held no appeal to me, but, other the past three decades, I’ve succumbed to True‘s charms.

Elton John – Kiss The Bride
from Too Low For Zero (1983)
(debuted #60, peaked #25, 12 weeks on chart)

Elton John was no longer the radio juggernaut he had been as my interest in music was beginning to develop, but the man was still having hits. In 1983, John’s Too Low For Zero would lead off with the upbeat I’m Still standing and, as the year wound down, the ballad I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues would be inescapable.

Sandwiched in between was the rollicking Kiss The Bride, another track that, like Spandau Ballet’s True, I have a greater fondness for now than I did at the time.

Stray Cats – (She’s) Sexy + 17
from Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats (1983)
(debuted #51, peaked #5, 15 weeks on chart)

I didn’t really like rockabilly revivalists The Stray Cats when their Built For Speed became a smash in late 1982 and Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut were constantly on the radio. They were a band that might have existed when my parents were in high school which was not a selling point.

By the time Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats was released, I was becoming more curious about lots of different music and I was more receptive to the retro trio. Plus, (She’s) Sexy + 17 was too damned catchy to dismiss.

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“I Don’t Think I Was Speeding, Officer, Was I Weaving Or Something?”

March 7, 2012

Paloma shook her head at the commercial which promised three nights airing National Lampoon’s Vacation to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Clark Griswald’s trek to California.

She knew that I – having not seen it in glorious HD – would be unable to resist the sirens’ song.

She has often heard me echo the query of Imogene Coca’s deranged Aunt Edna – “Am I gonna eat? Or am I gonna starve to death?” and is good natured enough to have not brained me.

There was a time that I could have recited damned near every line of dialogue from Vacation as could most of my buddies. Chevy Chase had been one of our favorites in Caddyshack a few years earlier but, in that movie, he had been a memorable charcter in a large ensemble.

In Vacation, he was The Man, an outlaw on the road, skinny-dippin’ with Christie Brinkley, who had brightened our winter days for several years in the early ’80s in Sports Illustrated‘s annual swimsuit issue.

(Clark Griswald could have been in the Olympics, man)

If lab animals were subjected to as many viewings of one movie as my buddies and I had watched Vacation, PETA would rightfully raise a ruckus.

It was not difficult to exhaust the possibilities for fun in our small town before the late news aired. At that point, there wasn’t much to do other than acts of vandalism involving produce and/or fireworks.

(it was a town of three thousand people in the middle of a lot of corn in the Midwest)

Often, a bunch of us would end up encamped in Kirk The Pyro’s den watching Vacation on late-night cable or VHS.

(his family had a spacious house and cable and VCR before most of us did)

We were beginning to get our driver’s licenses – Vacation had been in theaters the summer we took Driver’s Ed – and, like Chevy, we yearned for the open road and dipping skinnies with Christie Brinkley.

The farthest we usually got was Indianapolis or, more often, Cincinnati and there were no “pool waitress” supermodels frolicking in the coin fountain at the mall.

But we did make good use of numerous quotes – travel-related or not – from the movie and, at some point, usually when it was suggested that we call it a night and head home, someone would rally the troops with words of wisdom from Chevy.

(the more delicate amongst you might want to cover your eyes)

“I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamned smiles. You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of you’re assholes!”

Here are four songs from the soundtrack…

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Words & Music: A Retrospective (1992)

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert of the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

The Ramones – Blitzkreig Bop
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology (1999)

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse.

The Pointer Sisters – I’m So Excited
from Greatest Hits (1989)

During the first few years of the ’80s, when I was really listening to the radio for the first time, The Pointer Sisters were inescapable. A lot of those hits still charm me when I hear them on shuffle.

But sometimes, the manic I’m So Excited is just a bit too perky.

Vangelis – Titles
from Chariots Of Fire (1982)

As part of the last week of school in eighth grade, our class took a trip to a multi-plex in Cincinnati to see Chariots Of Fire. The movie might have just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but a slow-moving, British, period piece on distance running and religion surprisingly proved to be a buzzkill for us kids.

(I’ve meant to watch it again as an adult but…)

Vacation arrived just a year after Chariots Of Fire, so the spoof of Chariots Of Fire hadn’t yet become cliche.


The Incredible Shrinking Town

November 28, 2010

As the love of my life and my partner in crime, Paloma got to to spend twelve hours in the car journeying to my hometown for Thanksgiving.

(as always, she was a trooper, possessing a grace that the wife of a head of state on a junket to a foreign land would be hard pressed to match)

The foreign land in this case being a small town in Indiana and, yes, growing up there in the ‘80s was indeed like being in a John Cougar song.

(he’ll always be John Cougar to me – actually, he’ll always be Johnny Hoosier, the moniker which my buddy Bosco affixed to the budding local hero as he reached critical commercial mass in 1982 with the album American Fool)

This is the third time that we have made the trip. The first time – two years ago – I was greeted by the news of the terrorist strikes in India the moment that i switched on the television in our hotel room.

(I suspect that most guys – upon entering a hotel room – drop the bags, flop onto the bed, and instinctually channel surf)

These three trips in as many years is a reversal from the prior decade and a half when circumstances, lack of funds, and/or lack of transportation meant that the holiday trek was hardly an annual pilgrimage.

The first time Paloma accompanied me, I noticed that things weren’t exactly where I’d left them.

Things, obviously, continue to be less as they once were, but this time I was more struck by the realization that the town is now shrinking.

It’s strange because the town now actually spreads out much farther than it did thirty years ago. There are industrial and manufacturing buildings where there had once been farmland, broken only by isolated farm houses along the narrow, country roads.

Many of those roads are now better paved as there must be far more traffic than the occasional car, pick-up or tractor that posed obstacles when my friends and I would spend summer days biking out to these areas.

(the first two were much more of a threat – especially as drivers sped on the oft empty roads – than a slow-moving tractor)

We had never ventured so far without supervision.

It was no more than five or six miles from our homes, but it seemed to be a fantastic journey.

In the years since, I’ve been ten thousand plus miles from home. The two miles or so from school in the center of town to my buddy Beej’s house on the edge of town now barely registers.

Paloma and I spent the drive home surfing the radio dial and it was virtually wall to wall Christmas music – something JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ addressed several days ago.

I’m with him that it’s a bit early in the season for such a single-minded aural onslaught, so, instead, here are four “road” songs from the large number available in the files…

Dire Straits – Telegraph Road
from Love Over Gold

It seems that Dire Straits was never cool (at least from what I’ve read), but a high school friend turned me onto the band several years before Brothers In Arms when they were being mostly ignored in the States.

I took to them and, despite its fourteen-minute length, the epic Telegraph Road was a favorite not only for the reflective lyrics but for the ferocity of Mark Knopfler’s guitar work at the song’s crescendo.

Catatonia – Road Rage
from International Velvet

The Welsh alternapop band Catatonia was reaching stardom with songs like I Am The Mob and The X-Files-inspired Mulder And Scully the first time I visited the UK in early ’98.

One of the friends I was with bought a cassette of International Velvet which we played relentlessly as we drove through England, Scotland, and Wales. Road Rage, though endearing and infectious, was, fortunately, not a case of life imitating art during that two-week trek.

Catatonia made little more than a ripple in the States, released a couple more albums, and split up. Lead singer Cerys Matthews has continued her career as a solo act.

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Words & Music: A Retrospective

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Roger Miller – King Of The Road
from Love & A .45 soundtrack

If asked, there’s nothing I could tell you about Roger Miller. I’m not sure if I know other hits of his like Dang Me and England Swings.

I do know the genial King Of The Road, though. It makes me think of attending school in Southeast Asia in the late ’80s. The lone pop station played the song regularly, so I’d hear it almost daily lodged between then-current hits by acts like Skid Row, Roxette, and Richard Marx.