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.

Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, like the once annual airing of The Wizard Of Oz used to be, is an event.

Yeah, some people make it out to be dysfunction junction (and for them, maybe it is), but getting to watch football all day on a day which usually would be spent slogging through work is a brilliant concept.

And, of course, it is a chance to feast.

It’s like being king for a day.

Bring me gravy! I shall gnaw on this turkey leg in a slovenly fashion as these superhumans on the television perform amazing feats for my amusement!

OK. It’s not necessarily that dramatic and, as the Lions always play on Thanksgiving Day, the feats are not always amazing in a good way.

(though I cannot imagine how empty a Thanksgiving without the Lions playing the early game would be – it would be like a Halloween without a visit from The Great Pumpkin)

One Thanksgiving was spent living in London, eating some take-out pizza in an ice-cold flat.

And, in a cruel twist, my favorite team was making a rare Thanksgiving Day appearance. They would lose, in overtime after a bizarre coin toss snafu to begin the extra period.

It was a game that would have been maddening to have watched and it was maddening to miss.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been brilliant every year, but that year – no food, no football, no heat – is really the lone one I recall as being truly miserable.

As a kid, our parents dragged us off to mass. I mean, you have the day off school and can sleep in and lounge on the couch; the last thing you want to be doing at an early hour is trudging off to church.

When I was fifteen, the priest decided to use his sermon to rattle off a laundry list of accidental nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR that had been narrowly avoided.

(this was 1983 and two months earlier there had been all of the hullaballoo surrounding the television movie The Day After)

I kept having images of an extra crispy bird and excessively dry stuffing.

It was a bit of a bummer.

It was also a year when my team had a Thanksgiving game and Detroit bottled them 45-3.

But, global tensions and football smackdowns aside, I have no doubt that the food was good.

That autumn, I was still listening to a lot of Top 40 stations, but Q95, an album rock station out of Indianapolis, had caught my attention as well and 97X was exposing me on a semi-regular basis to modern rock for the first time. Some of the songs on the radio that Thanksgiving…

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining (1983)

Yes, it’s the M&M song and I say good for The The’s Matt Johnson for banking some nice coin after being essentially ignored in the States (I think that the project had a bit of success across the pond).

As for the song, it reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved The The in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

Men At Work – Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive
from Cargo (1983)

By the end of 1983, Men At Work, who had burst onto the scene a year earlier, was over. It was amazing how massive they were and how quickly it ended, but their quirky music still sounds delightful twenty-five years later.

Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive was their third hit from Cargo, following Overkill and It’s A Mistake on the airwaves. I still think the former is their finest moment, but the latter did little for me.

I don’t actually recall hearing Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive on the radio much, but I always smiled at the line, “He loves the world except for all the people.”

(some days, I concur)

Michael Stanley Band – My Town
from You Can’t Fight Fashion (1983)

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.

There was a lot of economic malaise in the first few years of the ’80s, especially in the Rust Belt. The punchy, anthemic My Town was rock straight from the heartland and its sing-a-long chorus got it a lot of airplay, especially when stations began editing in a shout out to their respective city – Cincinnati! – into the song.

Rufus And Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody
from Stompin’ At The Savoy (1983)

I wasn’t much into R&B growing up. There was one station and, on occasion, I would end up there, but, unless the song crossed over to the pop stations, I wasn’t likely hearing it.

Ain’t Nobody crossed over big time and it hooked me the first time I heard it.

Cleveland, You’ll Always Have Devo

July 12, 2010

Though he is a sports fan, my dad not only had grown up in a city without an NBA team, but the nearest city to us that had a franchise when I was growing up was Indianapolis.

They might have played a mere ninety minutes away, but the Pacers were woeful.

He also shared the opinion of college basketball coach Bob Knight that, if the only thing on television was an NBA game and two mice making love, he’d opt for the mice even if the reception was fuzzy.

So, as a kid, when I asked my dad who his favorite pro basketball team was, he replied with neither enthusiasm nor sincerity, “The Cleveland Cavaliers.”

With such disinterest, he could have actually been a fan of the team which, at the time, was as dismal as Indiana’s.

Thirty years later, and it’s been several days since LeBron James left his city in dust. I confess that I did tune in to watch the spectacle of the hoops superstar announce for whom he would be playing next season and for the foreseeable future.

(it was a scene, man)

Personally, I thought he’d return to Cleveland, but, then again, I grew up in a world where you were assured that Basketball Jesus was in Boston, Magic was in L.A., and Dr. J was in Philly.

The whole event certainly seemed tailor-made for audience members who might not know a world without Survivor, American Idol, and ESPN’s Sportscenter.

(not to mention Twitter and Facebook and…)

I’m not quite sure how I feel about how the events played out, but I can’t help but feel bad for the fans in Cleveland.

If you’re a sports fan, it can be a wonderful distraction from whatever life might be hurling at you, but you do become invested.

And for that investment, you’ll likely experience a lot of frustration punctuated by a handful of moments that amaze and inspire, but you’ll find it to be damn near impossible to disengage.

The ante was certainly upped for a city whose superstar was not only one of the best players on the planet but a local kid, too.

So, Cleveland, Miami might have LeBron James.

And they might have beaches.

And they might never face the risk of frostbite.

But, as far as rock and roll… Miami can’t carry your jock strap.

So, here are a quartet of tracks from less than a handful of the acts that have emerged from the musically rich Cleveland area…

Devo – That’s Good
from Greatest Hits

My high school buddy Streuss was a rabid fan of Devo. Prior to meeting him, I knew little of the band’s music aside from hearing Whip It and Working In The Coal Mine on the radio.

That’s Good appeared on their 1982 album, Oh, No! It’s Devo and, though I never heard it on the radio, I did see the band perform the song – as well as Peek-A-Boo! – on several television shows at the time.

Benjamin Orr – Stay The Night
from The Lace

The late bassist for The Cars sang lead on a number of the band’s classics – Bye, Bye Love, Just What I Needed, Moving In Stereo, Let’s Go, and Drive.

I was a freshman in college when The Lace was released and Stay The Night got a lot of airplay that winter. It’s a pretty song – much the same vibe as the brilliant Drive – and makes me think of staring out the window at the snow falling, daydreaming when I had intended to be studying.

Rachel Sweet – Voo Doo
from More Music From The Valley Girl Soundtrack

Rachel Sweet signed to the legendary label Stiff Records as a teenager which resulted in her being referred to by some as “jailbait rock.”

Sweet ended up releasing a few records, notched a hit duet with Rex Smith in Everlasting Love, and had a television show when cable network Comedy Central was known as The Comedy Channel.

Voo Doo is a fantastically, slinky little number.

Michael Stanley Band – Someone Like You
from You Can’t Fight Fashion

The Michael Stanley Band, from what I’ve read, set attendance records in major venues in Northeastern Ohio that still stand today. Living within a stone’s throw of the Indiana/Ohio border, I do remember hearing songs like He Can’t Love You and, especially, My Town (both of which were Top 40 hits).

My Town was a radio staple in my corner of the world during the autumn of ’83. However, despite the band’s successes, the Michael Stanley Band was one of those acts that, with each record, was touted as one record away from their breakthrough that never really happened.

Not long ago, when Paloma inherited my old iPod, she came home one day asking about a song she’d heard by a group with whom she was unfamiliar. It was Someone Like You, which was the follow-up to My Town. I don’t think I’d heard the song in twenty-five years, but, reaquainting myself with the song, I understood why it caught Paloma’s ear and wondered why it hadn’t been a smash back in the day.