Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 22, 2012

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.

Of course, as a kid in the ‘80s, we had a lot of music with somber themes alluding to the impending nuclear Armageddon. But a lot of those songs managed to be far from sinister. Some even managed to be deemed perky enough to sell Burgers.

Here are four Armageddon-themed songs from the ’80s…

Nena – 99 Luftballons
from Nena (1983)

Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits.

Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth.

Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark – Enola Gay
from The Best of OMD (1988)

Paloma turned me on to OMD. I knew their hits So In Love and If You Leave, but there was an entire body of work with which I was unfamiliar.

Anyhow, Enola Gay is a sprightly little number about the bombing of Hiroshima.

Alphaville – Forever Young
from Forever Young (1984)

Forever Young will always remind me of a good friend from college. Her boyfriend, whom she had dated for several years in high school, had been killed by a drunk driver and she’d tell me how she would sit for hours playing Forever Young repeatedly as a means of coping with his death.

Modern English – I Melt With You
from After The Snow (1982)

Modern English’s I Melt With You is about as quintessential ’80s as it gets and with good reason. I’m not sure if I’ve read that it’s about nuclear war or it’s my own particular take on the lyric. Sure, it seems to be a nothing more than an extremely melodic, joyously upbeat song of devotion, but there is the whole matter of stopping the world and melting with your beloved which could be interpreted as a more dire scenario.

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April 2, 1983

April 4, 2012

The hoops season has ended.

Yeah, there’s still the remainder of the NBA season and the interminable playoff march, but that can’t match the tension of its high school or college equivilant.

I’ve gotten to see my alma mater win a national championship, but that wasn’t as memorable as the run our high school team had in ’83. Twenty-six wins, most of them in dominant fashion…

…two losses, both by one point, both on the opponent’s court to a school that went on to win the state title that season.

9our state didn’t divide schools into classes based on enrollment – it was one title, period)

The school that ended our season was about four times the size of ours.

Our team was loaded and led by an all-state small forward who was also a state champion high jumper during track season. Though he was entirely capable of dunking in games, one of the few times he did that season was on the last play in the regionals.

It left the margin of the loss to the eventual state champs as one, single point.

(at that time, there was no three-point shot that would have given us the chance to tie)

Twenty-nine years ago, a lot of us were still in the doldrums from that loss several weeks before. I helped muddle through it with music and I was well familiar – or would be – with the eight songs that were making their debut on Billboard‘s Hot 100…

U2 – New Year’s Day
from War (1983)
(debuted #90, peaked #53, 12 weeks on chart)

U2’s first hit single couldn’t even crack the Top 40 in the US and, at the time, I rarely heard New Year’s Day on the radio. I do know that I heard of U2 from my buddy Bosco who was continually turning us on to new music.

(of course, at the time we thought Bono was pronounced like Cher’s ex-partner)

But come that autumn, I discovered U2’s music for myself with the live Under A Blood Red Sky and the newly-minted 97X. And though War hasn’t aged as gracefully as some of the band’s catalog, the adrenaline rush of New Year’s Day is essential.

Saga – Wind Him Up
from Worlds Apart (1983)
(debuted #89, peaked #64, 8 weeks on chart)

I know that they’ve released a lot of albums during their career, but the Canadian band Saga didn’t have much success here in the US. No doubt best known for On The Loose, I much preferred the follow-up, Wind Him Up.

And, it was always fun for us to mimic lead singer Michael Sadler saying, “No luck today.”

Scandal – Love’s Got A Line On You
from Scandal (1982)
(debuted #87, peaked #59, 13 weeks on chart)

Sure, everyone could hum The Warrior (and picture its Kabuki-themed video) in 1984, but Scandal was well known to us a summer earlier when Goodbye To You and Love’s Got A Line On You were radio staples.

The former was not to be trifled with, a straight-ahead kiss-off with some New Wave sass, but Love’s Got A Line On You was a mid-tempo groove on which tough-chick singer Patty Smyth seemed slightly more vulnerable.

(neither song reinvented fire, but both were ridiculously catchy)

Modern English – I Melt With You
from After The Snow (1982)
(debuted #85, peaked #78, 10 weeks on chart)

In 1983, I Melt With You was a minor pop hit with an undercurrent of Cold War fatalism.

Thirty years later, my mom would recognize the song from its use to sell Burger King and Hershey’s chocolate.

And though the music of the ’80s has been much maligned, the dizzingly romantic I Melt With You is as perfect a pop song as any that came before or after it.

Champaign – Try Again
from Modern Heart (1983)
(debuted #83, peaked #23, 20 weeks on chart)

There was only one R&B station available on the dial within reception and I didn’t spend much time tuned into it. But, I heard Champaign’s laid back Try Again a lot on the pop and soft rock stations. Its mellow groove wasn’t too different from their hit How ’bout Us from a couple years earlier.

ZZ Top – Gimme All Your Lovin’
from Eliminator (1983)
(debuted #79, peaked #37, 12 weeks on chart)

I knew little of ZZ Top when Eliminator was released aside from I Thank You, which I knew and loved from hearing it on the bowling alley jukebox. Though Gimme All You Lovin’ wasn’t a mammoth hit, it was all over the radio that spring and summer as Eliminator – propelled by a series of videos – became one of the biggest albums of the year.

Irene Cara – Flashdance…What A Feeling
from Flashdance soundtrack (1983)
(debuted #77, peaked #1, 25 weeks on chart)

I saw Flashdance at the drive-in with Footloose sometime during the summer of ’83. I thought that the movie – despite being a major hit – was uneventful and the song – despite being a major hit – to be equally uninspiring, but, as I was neither a dancer nor a welder, I might not have been the target demographic.

(more notable to me – as a fifteen year-old boy at the time – was Flashdance star Jennifer Beals)

Duran Duran – Rio
from Rio (1983)
(debuted #58, peaked #14, 13 weeks on chart)

Duran Duran hooked me the first time I heard Hungry Like The Wolf. The song seemed to be always on the radio during the first few months of 1983 and the song’s video a staple on the fledgling MTV.

(or so I’ve read as our small town wouldn’t get the channel ’til the following summer)

Q102, the station of choice for me and my friends, was playing Rio well before Hungry Like The Wolf had worn out its welcome. Though I much preferred the latter, Rio‘s manic charm proved to be irresistible as well and made its parent album one that most of us owned.


An Underrated Movie With A (Once) Much Sought After Soundtrack

June 17, 2009

Recently, I referenced an iconic scene from the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. And while that movie was a staple for me and my friends, the lesser-known film Valley Girl was on equal footing for us during that period.

I’m not sure how my friends and I were turned on to the movie. It certainly didn’t play in our hometown theater.

I do know that it was a movie that, once discovered, was one which we constantly rented on videocassette. Surprisingly enough for a town our size (three thousand people or so when everyone was home), we had a video rental joint even before most of our families had a VCR.

When we all saw Fast Times in the theater during the summer of ’82, it resonated with us, but it wasn’t a world in which we lived – not as we were two-thousand miles from its Hollywood setting in a town with one red light.

Valley Girl arrived a year later. It, too, was set in Hollywood, but its characters and vibe struck closer to our hearts. Most likely it was because a year in high school is a lifetime.

During the time between the two movies, we had completed our sophomore year of high school. We had gone from pedestrians and passengers to drivers and, therefore, masters of our own destinies.

And we personally knew some of these characters.

(not that we hadn’t wished we had known Fast Times‘ Spicoli)

I doubt if we really considered that Valley Girl was simply a modern-day telling of Romeo And Juliet with new wave music and Nicholas Cage in his first starring role.

(and now that I think about it, in a year Cage had gone from a bit role in Fast Times to the lead in Valley Girl)

That said, I would have a hard time choosing between the two movies, but there’s no hesitation choosing between their respective soundtracks.

Though The Cars, Tom Petty, and The Go-Gos have songs in the movie, and Cheap Trick, Blondie, and Van Halen are referenced (and were all favorites of ours), Fast Times’ soundtrack was loaded – after some purported label pressure – with the likes of solo Eagles (four of them) and Jimmy Buffett.

Valley Girl used music by The Plimsouls, Sparks, Men At Work, and Modern English – some of the artists we did know, but there were a lot who were unfamiliar and exotic.

(as opposed to, say, Poco, who appeared on Fast Times’ soundtrack)

Alas, Valley Girl‘s soundtrack was in print for about as long as the movie was in theaters. And during my years working in record stores, there was no title for which more listeners clamored for a CD re-issue.

Fortunately, the good people at Rhino Records rectified that oversight, releasing two volumes of music from the film in the mid-’90s.

And all was right with the world…

Sparks – Eaten By The Monster Of Love
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Sparks was an act for whom I needed no introduction. Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen them duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ’82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Chris owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Psychedelic Furs – Love My Way
from Valley Girl soundtrack

It seems to me that my friends and I discovered Valley Girl on cable during the summer of ’84. My friend Brad had discovered Psychedelic Furs on Night Flight, the USA Network show which aired music videos over night on weekends. As MTV had just become available in our town, Night Flight was the only chance to see the new medium for music.

During the summer of ’84, we wore out Psychedelic Furs’ new album, Mirror Moves, but it was the dreamy Love My Way (which kind of reminded me of Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now) that was my first exposure to the Furs.

The Plimsouls – Oldest Story In The World
from Valley Girl soundtrack

The Plimsouls actually appeared in Valley Girl as a band in the club where Cage hangs out. One of the songs, A Million Miles Away, was a minor hit and is a staple on a lot of ’80s compilations.

Here’s the lesser known Oldest Story In The World. It’s far more downbeat than most of The Plimsouls’ stuff I’ve owned which is driving, guitar-driven rock. Like Valley Girl, The Plimsouls were under appreciated.

Modern English – I Melt With You
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Of course, I Melt With You is better known now than it was in the early ’80s. My mother would probably recognize the song from its use in several commercials.

Modern English’s album After The Snow, on which I Melt With You appeared, inspired the term Modern English Syndrome for me and a college roommate. It was our shorthand for an album which, while quite good, had one song which so dwarfed everything else that it made the rest of tracks seem almost mediocre.

The music of the ’80s has been much maligned (and, at times, I would argue unfairly). I Melt With You is as perfect a pop song as any that came before or after it.