December 25, 1982

December 24, 2011

I happened to be reading a comparison of the worst holiday seasons based on a number of economic factors since the Great Depression and, according to this study, 1982 was the bleakest Christmas of the past eighty years.

At the time, I was fourteen and blissfully unaffected by unemployment rates that exceeded those of recent vintage. Our small town was home to the headquarters for two industry-leading corporations. There were six very wealthy families, six poor ones, and everyone else resided solidly in the middle class.

(really, there once was a socio-economic stratum called the middle class in America)

I had been one of a dozen or so kids in the first computer class offered at our high school that autumn and, as I recall, was hoping that I might be getting the 1982 equivilant of a PC that Christmas.

There would be no computer – a device still primarily available to only NASA engineers and James Bond villains – that Christmas morning.

Instead, a pool table made for a surprising consolation prize.

It was secondhand but that mattered little and, in truth, added to the charm as there were peculiarities to the table – dead spots and slight slopes – that rewarded experience. Putting the eight ball into the side pocket was akin to reading the green on a golf course.

(the cues added a new, combative twist to the inevitible conflicts that would arise between my brother and I)

1982 was also the first Christmas that I wanted music as a gift and I do know that I received several cassettes including the debut releases by A Flock Of Seagulls and Men At Work, both of which had made a splash since the beginning of the school year.

And, six songs – half of them unknown to me – debuted on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart the week of Christmas, 1982…

Unipop – What If (I Said I Love You)
from Unilove (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 8 weeks on chart)

There’s little out there on the internet about Unipop and their lone brush with musical success. The group was a husband and wife duo who were labelmates of Bertie Higgins, providing backup vocals on his hit Key Largo.

As for What If…I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with the file or if the song is supposed to sound like The Chipmunks performing some non-descript rock ballad from the ’50s.

Michael Stanley Band – Take The Time
from MSB (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #81, 5 weeks on chart)

Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening, but I don’t recall ever hearing Take The Time.

The song is a mid-tempo, soulful take on the economic malaise gripping the country, especially in the Rust Belt, and the need to pull together through tough times. The song would make little more than a ripple, but, a year later, the band would reach the Top 40 with the punchy, anthemic My Town.

Tyrone Davis – Are You Serious
from Tyrone Davis (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #57, 6 weeks on chart)

All-Music Guide describes Tyrone Davis as “the king of romantic Chicago soul” and, despite the fact that the singer had a lengthy string of R&B chart hits in the ’60s and ’70s, I can’t say that I’m familiar with him aside from seeing the name in record store bins.

The smooth Are You Serious finds Davis crooning the title as a question as to the intentions of his lady. It’s pleasant enough and well executed if not exactly something that blows my hair back, though it must have struck a chord with someone as it became Davis’ final Top Ten hit on the R&B charts.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Forever
from Men Without Women (1982)
(debuted #81, peaked #63, 9 weeks on chart)

I knew a few songs by Bruce Springteen in 1982, but I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t have named anyone from the E Street Band, so I wouldn’t have known that Steve Van Zandt and I know that I didn’t hear Forever at the time.

(I had progressed in my music listening enough that I did purchase Little Steven’s next release, Voice Of America, when it arrived on the heels of Springsteen’s Born In The USA two years later)

Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of Van Zandt’s oeuvre and even listened to his satellite radio show a few times. I’m familiar enough to known of his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll era music and tireless efforts to pay homage to the past.

The punchy, horn-driven Forever fuses his garage band rock sound with an unmistakeable, classic Motown vibe.

The Who – Eminence Front
from It’s Hard (1982)
(debuted #80, peaked #68, 6 weeks on chart)

While I was listening to my Men At Work and A Flock Of Seagulls cassettes during Christmas ’82, The Who were embarking on their farewell tour, having recently released It’s Hard.

I couldn’t have cared less and it would be a couple more years before I would.

Though I haven’t listened to It’s Hard in some time and it’s hardly a classic, there are a couple stellar tracks on that intended swan song including the slinky, shimmering, quasi-funky Eminence Front.

Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #3, 23 weeks on chart)

Twenty-nine years ago, if anyone knew the name Duran Duran it was likely as a character from the campy, late ’60s sci-fi flick Barbarella, but that was about to change. I wouldn’t hear of the band until a neighbor down the street brought them to our attention shortly before Hungry Like The Wolf broke into the Top 40 in the first months of 1983.

It’s odd to think of a world without Duran Duran as Simon LeBon and company have been a part of the musical landscape from almost the beginning of my interest in music. I was entranced with the kinetic and mysterious Hungry Like The Wolf from the first time I heard the laugh of LeBon’s girlfriend that opens the song.

By the following spring, Hungry Like The Wolf was a smash complete with an iconic video, Duran Duran was a sensation some were comparing to The Beatles, and most of us owned a copy of Rio. Rio would be the peak of my interest in Duran Duran, though I would like scattered songs by Duran Duran throughout their ’80s heyday and I’d argue that their latter-day hit Ordinary World was their finest moment.

But it all began inauspiciously enough with Hungry Like The Wolf debuting on the Billboard charts that Christmas in 1982 and the song has deservedly become a classic of the time.

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“Our next caller is listening to WTUE out of Dayton…”

June 16, 2010

It must have been sometime in early 1983 – as I was beginning to traverse a musical terrain beyond Top 40 – that I was increasingly listening to more rock-oriented stations, especially Q95 out of Indianapolis.

Q95 played a lot of music that would become the backbone of classic rock stations a decade or so later – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who – but their playlist also was heavy on newer rock acts. As I spent more time with Q95 and other similar album rock outlets, I realized that – as the pop stations had American Top 40 – these stations had a number of syndicated programs.

There was some rock album countdown show that worked its way to the week’s top album with a track – sometimes hit, other times, a deeper cut – played from each record.

(the name of the show escapes me)

There was also the King Biscuit Flower Hour, which weekly offered a recorded concert from acts like Billy Squier, Triumph, and Greg Kihn Band.

(the hour, accounting for commercials, was actually closer to forty-five minutes)

It was Rockline, though, that was the one weekly broadcast I’d usually make a point of checking out. Each Monday night, Bob Coburn would host an act – one which often had a new release – for a ninety-minute interview show that took questions from callers.

At some point on Monday afternoons, I’d hear one of the DJs mention that evening’s guest. Unless it was someone or some band in whom I had no interest, most Monday nights at 10:30, I’d be tuned in to the show.

During high school, Rockline was often a topic of conversation between me and my friend Bosco. I don’t particularly recall any of my friends other than him that was a listener to the show.

Of course, if it’s more ingrained in my brain that Bosco listened to the show, it’s undoubtedly because he was no passive listener. Bosco ended up on the show as a caller several times. I remember him speaking to Tom Petty and, quite memorably, Bob Dylan.

And, once, after seeking Bosco’s advice – make sure you’re question isn’t obvious and call an hour before the show to get through – I ended up speaking to Roger Waters.

(I was going through a teenaged boy’s first serious Pink Floyd phase)

As I had been advised, I called an hour before, got through, and, then, I realized I didn’t really have a question and offered up the most obvious question at that time – would the recently split up Floyd ever reunite?

The screener was ready to bounce me, but I managed to talk him into a second chance and I ad-libbed a query that punched my ticket to the big time.

For thirty seconds, I was global.

(provided the globe be limited to the US and Canada)

I didn’t listen to Rockline much in college, but, for most of high school, it was a Monday night ritual. Here are four songs from acts who appeared on Rockline during the four summers before I left for college…

Shooting Star – Last Chance
from Touch Me Tonight: The Best Of Shooting Star

Shooting Star, though a staple in the Midwest, wasn’t exactly a household name in the rest of the US. I heard a lot of the Kansas City band on the radio, though, with songs like You’ve Got What I Need, Flesh And Blood, and Hollywood. With a sound somewhere between Journey and Kansas, they were well suited for the heartland.

Shooting Star appeared on Rockline in June, 1983, coinciding with the release of their album Burning, which I didn’t really dig. Last Chance had appeared on their debut from several years earlier and the anthemic track was one that I also heard often during the early ’80s.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Out Of The Darkness
from Voice Of America

Longtime Bruce Springsteen guitarist Steve Van Zandt had exited the E-Street Band following the release of Born In The USA in the late spring of 1984. By July, he had released his second album with his band, Disciples Of Soul, which featured former members of The Rascals as well as Plasmatics’ bassist Jean Beauvoir.

I fell in love with the surging track Out Of The Darkness and, having heard that song (as well as having seen the video) and a couple more tracks on the radio, snagged a copy of Voice Of America.

Ratt – Lay It Down
from Ratt & Roll 81-91

I never truly went through a metal phase of any kind, but there were songs and bands within the genre that caught my attention. In 1984, Ratt exploded onto the scene with their album Out Of The Cellar and songs like Round And Round and Wanted Man.

With more than a hint of glam rock, Ratt had a knack for infectious hooks. They appeared on Rockline during the summer of ’85 when Out Of The Cellar‘s follow-up, Invasion Of Your Privacy, was released. Though it couldn’t match its predecessor’s commercial fortunes, the album was catchy as hell and the menacing groove of Lay It Down makes me think of listening to the cassette on trips to the beach with friends that summer.

Peter Gabriel – Red Rain
from So

In June of 1986, I was spending my final summer before college mowing acres of grass.

Peter Gabriel was spending that same summer as, suddenly, a pop music superstar. So had brought him to a whole new audience with the mammoth hit Sledgehammer as well as making him a fixture on MTV with its groundbreaking video.

I preferred the moodier stuff from the album like Mercy Street and, especially, Red Rain, which featured The Police’s Stewart Copeland lending his talent on the hi-hat.


Stuck Inside The Volvo (Behind The #2 Bus) With The Heading To Work Blues Again

February 6, 2009

I commute. I do so relunctantly and under silent protest and, on good evenings, I can block out Sting howling the song Synchronicity II that plays on a loop in my head sometimes during the drive.

“Another working day has ended
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race”

The morning trek, though, is typically Zen – no interstate and the bulk of the map, once I get a few miles from home, threads through semi-rural, wooded areas. There are deer, a fox, and an old woman in bright red boots who is always walking her dog in her yard.

As the only people up when Paloma and arise are us, the kid that drowsily mans the counter at the convenience store down the block, and our crack head neighbor who probably never sleeps anyhow (which is good as she needs to devote plenty of time searching for her pet ferret which she loses on a weekly basis), there is little traffic.

Usually.

Today, I was mere minutes behind schedule, resulting in me crossing paths with the #2 bus. As I grew frustrated at not having open road to cruise as usual, with impunity, as though I was on the autobahn, a confusing thought came to mind…

…I don’t want to go to work, so why am I rushing to get there?

I set the controls for the heart of the sun (part of the drive, depending on the time of year, is directly into the rising sun on the horizon) and I set the iPod to shuffle, seeing what might restore the calm – Jimi Hendrix’ Machine Gun.

Jimi, you were a genius, but it’s too early.

I had to scroll forward a number of times, but I managed to find more suitable fare…

(of course, I did find myself distracted much of the morning, pondering where the #2 bus goes)

World Party – Put The Message In The Box
I haven’t heard anything Karl Wallinger’s done in years, but I loved the early World Party records. Put The Message In The Box is breezy.

I met Wallinger once. He was a small, elfin-like fellow with round, Lennon shades. He seemed like a lovely person.

Texas – Insane
Texas always reminds me of my first trip to England with two friends. Their White On Blonde album was out and, at every pub, you were guaranteed to hear several songs from it playing from the jukebox.

There are several songs I preferred, but the entire album is pretty consistent and Insane is a good sample of Texas’ frothy, blue-eyed soul.

Paul McCartney – Heart Of The Country
I don’t really know Wings aside from the hits (most of which I love), so I wasn’t familiar with this song when it popped up from the compilation Wingspan. It is an engaging little song, though. Apparently it was on Ram, which I thought was a McCartney solo record.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Balance
I liked Little Steven’s albums with his band The Disciples Of Soul in the ‘80s. Though the execution sometimes did not match the ambition, the stuff had heart.

Balance appeared on a two-disc compilation called Greenpeace: Rainbow Warriors which gathered acts like Simple Minds, Lou Reed, and Terence Trent D’arby for the benefit of the titular organization. If I recall, I snagged it for a few dollars as a cut-out.

While Balance is a bit more forceful than the other tracks for which I opted, it arrived near the end of the drive as it was time to prepare for the office. The production screams mid-’80s which, I suppose, is probably like nails on a chalkboard to folks who didn’t come of age during that period. That aside, Balance has a nifty little groove to it.