November 6, 1982

November 5, 2012

Unless you have a masochistic streak, you are as likely to have election fatigue as I am. However, the end of this highly-informative, enlightening period is near and, before the next president is inaugurated in January, a new slate of empty suits will already be jockeying for 2016.

(all of this is, obviously, contigent upon no year-end Mayan nonsense)

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.

And, since 1982 was the year during which I first truly fell in love with the radio, here is the octet of songs which first appeared on the Hot 100 thirty years ago…

Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
from Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #67, 7 weeks on chart)

I didn’t go through a metal phase as a kid (or as an adult for that matter) and by the late ’80s – when the hair-metal bands were ruling MTV – I thought the genre to be laughable. Over the ensuing years, I’ve come to enjoy some of the stuff, but, if I’m opting for metal from that period, I’m likely to dial up Iron Maiden.

However, Judas Priest, led by Rob Halford and the twin-guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, were titans of the metal world and fixtures in Circus magazine, one of the few music magazines stocked in the rack of our local drug store.

Though I’ve never embraced Judas Priest, I do recall hearing their driving You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ here and there at the time. It was catchy enough to give the band their lone US pop hit.

Bill Conti – Theme From Dynasty
from Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1990)
(debuted #89, peaked #52, 9 weeks on chart)

I knew the name Bill Conti as the composer of Gonna Fly Now, the theme from the movie Rocky, but, as I never watched the show, I had never heard his theme from the television series Dynasty.

I know that Dynasty was about rich people and there’s a snootier-than-thou vibe to the theme that I could imagine accompanying people playing polo, eating caviar, yachting, running for president or doing whatever else rich people do.

Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On
from Something’s Going On (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #13, 29 weeks on chart)

I’m sure that, initially, I had no idea that the voice on I Know There’s Something Going On belonged to one of the women from ABBA. And, I doubt at the time that I recognized the drumming on the song to be Phil Collins (although I’d soon become familiar with the cavernous sound that was his trademark).

Instead, I loved the thunderous sound and omnious vibe of the song. And, in retrospect, it’s odd to think of Frida’s lone hit getting played on the rock stations playing Tom Petty, Saga, and Def Leppard that would have never touched ABBA.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual (1982)
(debuted #79, peaked #1, 25 weeks on chart)

Men At Work had dominated the radio during the late summer and early autumn of ’82 with Who Can It Be Now? and, by Christmas, Down Under had become the Aussie act’s second smash.

I do know that my friends and I – living in a world without MTV – had seen both of those videos on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 and been delighted by lead singer Colin Hay’s expressive antics and emotive nature. That Christmas, I received a copy of Business As Usual which I wore out over the following winter months.

Kim Carnes – Does It Make You Remember?
from Voyeur (1982)
(debuted #78, peaked #36, 13 weeks on chart)

Kim Carnes had unleashed the juggernaut Bette Davis Eyes upon the world in 1981 as music was beginning to tickle my fancy. Despite a lengthy career beginning in the ’60s as a member of The New Christy Minstrels and a number of solo hits including More Love and Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer, Bette Davis Eyes will headline the singer/songwriter’s obituary.

Carnes’ follow-up to Mistaken Identity, which contained Bette Davis Eyes, was destined to fail in matching its predecessors’ success. Voyeur‘s title track came and went quickly as the album’s initial single.

The second release was the mid-tempo Does It Make You Remember? which, like Voyeur, briefly reached the Top 40. It’s not a bad song and well-suited for Carnes’ raspy vocals, but my main memory of Does It Make You Remember? is that the singer seemed to appear on Solid Gold performing it every week that winter (accompanied by noted session guitarist Waddy Wachtel and his voluminous hair).

Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love
from Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #10, 21 weeks on chart)

I knew little of Genesis and even less about The Supremes as 1982 wound down and Genesis’ Phil Collins released his cover of the latter’s classic You Can’t Hurry Love. I knew Genesis for their recent hits from Abacab No Reply At All, the title track, and Man On The Corner – but I doubt that I knew The Supremes whatsoever.

Though it obviously doesn’t match the original, Phil Collins take on You Can’t Hurry Love is likely as good as one might hope for from a drummer of a (increasingly less) progressive, English rock band.

John Cougar – Hand To Hold On To
from American Fool (1982)
(debuted #72, peaked #19, 18 weeks on chart)

Few acts had as good a year as Johnny Hoosier – as my buddy Bosco referred to local hero John Cougar – did in 1982. The gritty rocker had broken through with the mega-selling American Fool set which had spawned two hits in Hurts So Good and Jack And Diane that had dominated radio that summer and into the fall.

As I was living in Indiana, local radio had given heavy airplay to American Fool even before Hurts So Good broke nationally, meaning that by the time Hand To Hold On To was issued as the album’s third single, I was well and truly tired of anything Cougar.

So, Hand To Hold On To usually prompted me to change the station, but, now, thirty years later, I hear it as a solid, amiable rock song, hardly as memorable as the first two hits but a decent track nonetheless.

Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine
from Thriller (1982)
(debuted #45, peaked #2, 18 weeks on chart)

If there is one song among Thriller‘s seven Top Ten hits that I haven’t really heard on the radio in the three decades since it was a hit, it would be The Girl Is Mine, the duet that launched the album. Even at the time, it offered no hint at how Thriller would dominate the airwaves for the next eighteen months, well into 1984.

The Girl Is Mine was Paul McCartney’s second superstar duet that year – he had paired with Stevie Wonder that spring on Ebony And Ivory – and it’s a pleasant enough song with a goofy spoken word interlude. I always thought that its laid-back, breezy vibe would have made the song more suitable for warmer months.

Not long after The Girl Is Mine hit radio, the full album arrived and several of the stations I was listening to quickly jumped on Beat It with Eddie Van Halen on guitar, a far more intriguing track to me.

I hear The Girl Is Mine now and I can’t help but hear a buddy ad-libbing “the goddamned girl is mine” in place of the more benign “the doggone girl is mine” in the chorus which was high hilarity to us at the time.

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I’d Rather Let The House Burn Down And Sit Here In My Own Filth

February 5, 2011

As a kid, I wasted a lot of time hanging with an odd schoolmate whose mother taught bellydancing and father looked like Mike Brady mostly for the opportunity to play Pong.

I must have been ten or so and already blowing the little coin I had at that age on pinball and air hockey at the bowling alley, but Pong had all my friends boggle-eyed and hooked.

A cursor batted back and forth between two other cursors on the television screen in the den at Tony’s house had the same effect on us as that monolith had on the monkeys at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We were all twelve or thirteen when the first wave of major arcade games – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man – began to arrive and. like certain songs or albums, each of them would help define a period of months.

We all eventually had an Atari system at home and even a town as small as ours had an arcade that was a social hub for junior high and high school kids.

It all kind of ended for me in ’83 or so, around the time when we got our driver’s licenses. Cable and home video were also becoming available, so there were more options for entertainment.

And music had become my dominant interest.

By college, video games seemed like something from another era (even if it had only been five years since Pac-Man had become the Jaws of video games)

There was a brutal stretch of winter in February of ’89 when three housemates and I surrendered, embraced the weather-induced malaise and vowed to not leave the house unless no option existed to blow off work or class.

Instead, we hunkered down, ordered a lot of pizza and played computer baseball ’round the clock. Each of us had two teams and we played much of an entire season before March arrived.

One of my last brushes with videogames happened about a decade ago, coinciding with my first office gig. Though it was a relatively casual job, it was still a disorienting experience and I remembered what an escape videogames had once provided.

So, I snagged a copy of The Sims, “a simulation of the daily activities of one or more virtual persons (“Sims”) in a suburban household near SimCity.”

For a week or so, I was enthralled with the game as I attempted to maximize the happiness of my avatars. I was spending a lot the time when I wasn’t working sending my onscreen Sim to work so that it could acquire a home, pay bills, and buy stuff.

It quickly became exhausting.

I was spending my free time doing the very things in a virtual world – working, paying bills, cooking, taking out the trash – that I found mundane and unappealing in the real world.

Soon, the entertainment value of the game was simply when something went awry – the Rain Man-like behavior of my Sim when something caught fire or the Pig Pen-esque cloud that would develop when I’d neglect to have a character shower.

It was then that I realized that I had enough trouble being a human being in real life and, if I was going to escape from that world, I’d rather be blasting space rocks or eating a maze of dots.

Here are four songs which address the idea of being human…

White Zombie – More Human Than Human
from Astro Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head

Science fiction fans recognize the title of White Zombie’s best-known song as the motto of the Tyrell Corporation from the classic flick Blade Runner. I’ve always found the supercharged track to be the sonic equivilant of a shot of adrenalin to the heart.

I met Rob Zombie at a record store where I worked and he seemed like a good guy – very polite, very soft spoken.

Michael Jackson – Human Nature
from Thriller

You only get to discover fire once, but, apparently, Jackson was obsessed with trying to recapture the unparalleled success of Thriller for the rest of his life.

Personally, I always thought that the lush, dreamy Human Nature, despite being a massive hit in the late summer of 1983, was the most underrated song on the album.

Rick Springfield – Human Touch
from Living In Oz

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.

Björk – Human Behaviour
from Debut

I find Iceland’s finest export to be utterly charming and completely fascinating while, at the same time, being respectfully terrified of the former Sugarcube.

It was impossible not to be drawn in by Human Behaviour‘s strking video, but the hypnotic song – which contains a sample of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Go Down Dying – is as equally arresting.

“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready be ready to get confused.”

Yeah, that pretty much sums it all up.


Michael Jackson

June 30, 2009

(reposted from Saturday sans music)

Word spread quickly at our office on Thursday that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital. Less than two hours later, while I was navigating rush hour traffic and dodging hobos on the interstate, the announcement came over the radio that Michael Jackson was dead.

The news was broken by the host of a sports talk show. Such was swath that Jackson cut through the world of pop culture and music for forty years.

I arrived home to find Paloma tuned in to the drama airing on CNN.

It seemed surreal.

I was too young to be fully aware of The Jackson 5, but there are grainy images of them in my mind. Michael’s solo breakthrough, Off The Wall, had run its course by the time I was beginning to care about music.

Then, Thriller was released.

I was still listening to Top 40 at the time, but my interest was skewing toward more rock-oriented music and the emerging New Wave acts. The Girl Is Mine, Thriller’s first single, didn’t do much for me, but its follow-up had me hooked from the opening notes.

It was, of course, Beat It, featuring a blistering performance by guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

For the next two years, the string of hits from Thriller saturated radio and Jackson dominated entertainment headlines. He was an inescapable musical juggernaut.

Some of the songs I liked and some less so, but I – everyone – knew them all intimately. In 1983, if my friends and I had managed to get hold of a car, it likely didn’t have a tape deck. It was radio that served our need for sound (and it served us far better than it was often given credit).

It was a time of far greater shared collective consciousness.

So, I didn’t own Thriller. There was no need to own it when any run through the radio dial was certain – completely certain – to result in hearing at least one of its songs.

By the time Bad arrived, I was in college and pop music had mostly fallen from my radar, but each Michael Jackson album was an event and, as it had been years before, something that managed to cut through the increasingly fragmented clutter of modern pop culture to burrow into the collective consciousness of much of the globe.

And suddenly his brother Jermaine was stating that Michael was dead.

Watching Jermaine struggle to maintain his composure, I felt sad. I have a brother and at that moment Michael Jackson wasn’t Michael Jackson.

He was Jermaine’s little brother.

Over the years, I’ve been mostly a passive, casual fan of Michael Jackson’s music, but, I’m a music fan and I appreciated the singer’s considerable talent, but changed the landscape of pop music – and the music business – as few acts ever have.

(or probably ever will again)

Some songs that stuck with me from when it was only his music that mattered…

The Jackson 5- I Want You Back
from Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5

I probably first knew of The Jackson 5 through their Saturday morning cartoon. There’s really nothing to write about the ebullient pop/soul/bubblegum classic I Want You Back that hasn’t been said, but it’s still amazing to think that it’s a ten-year old singing the song.

Michael Jackson – Ben
from Ben

I seem to recall watching the 1971 movie Willard, about an army of rats, with a babysitter when I was about five. I don’t recall seeing the sequel Ben which spawned Michael Jackson’s first #1 hit without his brothers.

So, Ben is a song about a rat and it is syrupy. But it’s also a song about aching to belong and, after reading this excellent piece by LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn, hearing the song again is damned near heartbreaking.

The Jacksons – Can You Feel It
from Triumph

Can You Feel It was one of the last hits Michael had with his brothers before becoming a solo superstar. Accompanying the anthemic disco track was a video that, at the time, was pretty spectacular.

Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough
from Off The Wall

I don’t dance – not even at gunpoint – but the unbridled enthusiasm and hypnotic groove of Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough makes it impossible for me not to tap my webbed toes.

Michael Jackson – Human Nature
from Thriller

And then there was Thriller. You only get to discover fire once, but, apparently, Jackson was obsessed with trying to recapture the unparalleled success of that album for the rest of his life.

Personally, I always thought that the lush, dreamy Human Nature, despite being a massive hit in the late summer of 1983, was the most underrated song on the album.