The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2010

December 30, 2010

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Two years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2010 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986
The Blizzard Of ’78

“Wikipedia is one site that, if I’m not careful, can suck me in for lengthy periods…”

9. The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s
Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

“The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo…”

8. The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled
Once The Future Of American Music…

“In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning…”

7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
from Long After Dark
The Colonel

“Growing up in a basketball-mad state and half an hour away from the school that inspired the movie Hoosiers, this time of year meant the culmination of the hoops season with the state-wide tournament…”

6. Jason & The Scorchers – Take Me Home, Country Roads
from A Blazing Grace
Cover Me

“These are the times that try men’s souls and cause them to sweat in places I wouldn’t have thought possible…”

5. The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night
Little. Yellow. Different.

“Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air…”

4. Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack
“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks…”

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

“Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown…”

2. Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat
Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

“Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful….”

1. Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw
Bye Bye, 97X?

“I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83…”

Bye Bye, 97X?

March 27, 2010

I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83.

Suddenly my musical universe expanded to include acts like Talking Heads, XTC, and Aztec Camera. These less than mainstream bands and artists wandered into the room and sat down next to Journey, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran like strangers entering some cantina in a dusty border town.

Everyone held their breath, expecting trouble.

It seem only a matter of time ’til someone looked at someone else the wrong way, a bottle was broken and wielded as a shiv, and the entire affair ended in a saloon-trashing melee.

I quickly realized that I could listen to Hall & Oates and Siouxsie & The Banshees and it was good. 97X introduced me to numerous acts that would become staples of my listening habit over the ensuing decades.

Reception for 97X was often dodgy and, once I left for college, I was forced to leave the station behind. I wouldn’t really reacquaint myself with the WOXY until a decade later when I would do so via the station’s internet broadcast.

Though highly regarded as it was one of the first modern rock stations in the US, 97X struggled to remain on the air throughout the years, recently relocating from Ohio to Austin, Texas.

During the past year or so, I had made more time to check in and, though my intention was to seek out newer music, invariably, I would stream the station’s vintage broadcast, beaming myself back to the mid- to late-’80s when it was all new to me.

But, it appears that 97X is no more. The plugged was pulled on the station earlier this past week.

(if we had the funds, Paloma and I could purchase the station and headquarter it in Samoa)

97X has cheated the hangman on several occasions over the past quarter century. Maybe it will again. But, if it doesn’t, here are four random songs that I know I heard back before the station and I parted company and I headed off to college…

Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
from The Hurting

In the summer of ’83, my friend Beej and I would get apprised on up-and-coming bands from his uncle, who possessed an unfathomable collection of New Wave acts on vinyl, many of them imports that had yet to reach our shores. Tears For Fears was an act thay came highly recommended.

It would be two more years before the duo would break in the States – I still recall hearing Everybody Wants To Rule The World for the first time on the radio show Rock Over London – but 97X was playing several songs from their debut that autumn.

One of them was the shimmering Pale Shelter.

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Like Tears For Fears, Scotland’s Simple Minds found mainstream success in the US in the spring of ’85 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) etched itself into the collective consciosness of a generation. The group had begun shedding some its more art-rock tendencies a year earlier with Sparkle In The Rain, which included Waterfront.

I heard Waterfront often on 97X and it certainly appealed to me as a U2 fan. The throbbing, hypnotic track would appear post-Don’t You on Simple Minds’ live release in ’87.

The Replacements – Bastards Of Young
from Tim

When I arrived at college in 1986, The Replacements seemed to be the poster children for modern rock at our school. Maybe it was because like us (and unlike other strong contenders like R.E.M. and The Pixies), the disheveled quartet was comprised of Midwesterners.

(maybe it was because they drank a lot)

Thanks to 97X, I was familiar with the band and songs like Kiss Me On The Bus, Waitress In The Sky, and the anthemic Bastards Of Young which suited our youthful, directionless enthusiasm in a brave, new world free from parental dominion.

Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw

Despite all the acclaim it received upon its release, I had never listened to Marshall Crenshaw’s debut until Paloma and I snagged a copy on vinyl. Of course, I knew his hit Someday, Someway and I knew Cynical Girl from 97X, but the classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Cynical Girl is a favorite of Paloma’s and it’s fabulously jangly.

(of course, there’s really not a bad track on the entire album)

Venturing Into The Valley Of Vinyl

June 30, 2008

So, as the only turntable to which I had access belonged to my parents, the chosen format for me as I discovered a love of music was the cassette. A couple of friends, with older siblings, understood the fidelity of vinyl, but I wasn’t that committed. I quickly moved to compact disc as soon as they became readily available.

There were a few albums that I acquired, simply because of their unavailability on disc, but it was no more than a handful.

Now, it’s almost exclusively mp3 files – much to the great consternation of Paloma, who grew up on vinyl. Compact discs, at least, gave her something tangible, but this new virtual world doesn’t sit well with her where music is concerned.

Out of the blue, we decided to begin acquiring vinyl. The idea was proffered over coffee and, within six hours, we had dropped a couple hundred dollars on LPs. That was the first day.

A second day rifling through record store bins nearly doubled our investment. We’ve now added to our crowded quarters one hundred and eight vinyl records in various states of wear and tear.

Paloma opted for works of classic acts – from Carpenters to The Stones and Lennon to Steely Dan – but she did go off the board a couple times, too – Peter Nero’s Pure Gold (The Great Songs Of Burt Bacharach And Hal David) anyone?

I seemed to be shopping for bargains using some kind of method that I kept a secret from myself which yielded the double-album soundtrack to FM and a copy of Christopher Cross’ debut for a quarter each. I also went heavy on early ‘80s stuff like Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, Men At Work’s Cargo, and The Police’s Synchronicity.

So, we stand poised to enter a new era and, personally, I’m curious to hear for myself if vinyl lives up to the hype. And to see if I can hear the “warmth” of the format, it’s appropriate that amongst our haul is a copy of Listen To The Warm by Rod McKuen.

Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
The only thing I knew from this duo was this song, their only hit. Nice Girls was all over the radio in the summer of ’82, so I was surprised to find that it only got to #37 on Billboard’s charts. There are a slew of name players on it – Jim Keltner, Abraham Laboriel, and Jeff Porcaro – and it’s produced by Gary Katz, who did a lot of Steely Dan’s stuff. Nice sophisticated pop.

Marshall Crenshaw – Someday, Someway
It pains me to admit it, but I’ve never heard Crenshaw’s debut in its entirety. When he arrived on the music scene, I was impervious to the considerable charm of Someday, Someway. The classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Stevie Nicks – If Anyone Falls
I won’t be a party to any debate regarding the merits of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie within the confines of Fleetwood Mac – they were both integral. As for Stevie, even though Bella Donna was her bigger album, I was far more partial to The Wild Heart and this song in particular. I seem to recall reading that Prince actually played on some of her demo versions of it.

Men At Work – Overkill
Why don’t these Aussies receive more respect? Quirky and engaging, Men At Work was inescapable as soon as Who Can It Be Now? hit radio in late summer of 1982. I still remember hearing it for the first time and being instantly charmed. Business As Usual is a far deeper album than simply Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under (yes, Be Good Johnny lost its appeal after the first couple listens, but I loved People Just Love To Play With Words and Paloma always requests Down By The Sea).

Anyhow, ‘83’s Cargo, like many a blockbuster follow-up, wasn’t quite as good, but it did contain their finest moment – Overkill. Quirky and engaging, it also was so wistful. For me, it always sounds like wet, empty streets , nothing but streetlights in the early morning when almost everyone is asleep. It always seemed to play on the radio that spring, as my friends and I – having gotten our driver’s licenses – would be out late, killing time.