December 3, 1983

December 3, 2011

By December 1983, my radio listening habits were going through a migration from Top 40 stations, which I had been listening to for a couple years, to the album rock of Q95 and, mostly in the evenings when reception was possible, the newly-minted 97X.

But, Casey Kasem and American Top 40 was still a drowsy weekend morning staple and I would often peruse Billboard magazine when I’d come across a copy in the magazine racks at Walden Books while hanging out in the malls in Cincinnati.

During the first week of December, 1983, nine songs debuted on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart…

Rodney Dangerfield – Rappin’ Rodney
from Rappin’ Rodney (1983)
(debuted #96, peaked #83, 8 weeks on chart)

I’d skip most of the songs that debuted this week if they shuffled up on the iPod, perhaps pausing for a nostalgic moment to think, yeah I remember this one, didn’t care for it in 1983 and I am no more interested now.

In the case of Rappin’ Rodney, I’d halt long enough to pay respect to the late comedian, but when it comes to Mr. Dangerfield, I want to watch him verbally joust with Sam Kinison in Back To School or sink Judge Smails’ newly-christened sloop in Caddyshack not listen to him rap.

Streets – If Love Should Go
from 1st (1983)
(debuted #90, peaked #87, 5 weeks on chart)

Streets was a short-lived venture formed by keyboardist/singer Steve Walsh who left Kansas in 1981 following the conversion of several members to Christianity and their desire to incorporate their faith into the music.

(as someone living in an über-pious part of the country, those born-again Christians can be a shrill bunch and, as Hank Hill once opined on King Of The Hill, “You people are not making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock ‘n’ roll worse”)

I used to hear If Love Should Go a lot on the radio, but it’s fairly generic and unremarkable arena rock that hardly stood out. By the end of the ’80s, Walsh had reconsituted Kansas, which had broken up after two albums released during his absence.

Anne Murray – A Little Good News
from A Little Good News (1983)
(debuted #88, peaked #74, 9 weeks on chart)

I have a soft spot for Anne Murray’s early ’70s stuff hits Snowbird and Danny’s Song as I’d often hear them on the car radio on whatever light rock station my parents would have dialed up.

I also heard A Little Good News a lot, again, thanks to the parents who would have the kitchen radio tuned to our town’s radio station before school. The station had flipped from light rock to country, so Murray was a natural fit.

However, hearing Murray’s lament about the state of the world makes me think of Lori, a sophomore classmate at the time. She was a tomboy who was on the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams and I spent much of that year quite smitten with her.

The smit went unrequited, but the two of us were good friends and hung out in several classes we had together. For some reason, I still remember her singing A Little Good News one day while we were working on an experiment in chemistry class.

The Doors – Gloria
from Alive, She Cried (1983)
(debuted #86, peaked #71, 7 weeks on chart)

Although, not unexpectedly, the kids with whom I went to school were mostly into the then-current bands of the early ’80s, there was a great, mass appreciation for the music of The Doors, who had ceased to exist well before any of us had even reached school age.

(there were even classmates who claimed to have a very personal connection to the band)

Alive, She Cried was a live compilation culled from performances by The Doors between 1968 and 1970 and I remember hearing Gloria a lot on Q95 that autumn. Personally,I’d rather hear the band doing one of their trippy originals than a version of the Them classic.

Jump ‘N The Saddle – The Curly Shuffle
from Jump ‘N The Saddle (1983)
(debuted #86, peaked #15, 14 weeks on chart)

Three Stooges-mania swept through our junior high in the late ’70s/early ’80s, though I’m not sure what triggered the mass rediscovery of Larry, Curly, and Moe amongst us.

There must have been something going on in the rest of the country, too, as Jump ‘N The Saddle’s homage to the Stooges was inescapable in the winter of ’83. It was a fun song for the first several thousand times and, then, it was not so fun.

Night Ranger – (You Can Still) Rock in America
from Midnight Madness (1983)
(debuted #83, peaked #51, 12 weeks on chart)

The San Francisco band Night Ranger was quickly embraced by the rock stations I was listening to and Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sing Me Away got their 1982 debut album a lot of attention.

So, it wasn’t a surprise to hear (You Can Still) Rock in America a lot when Midnight Madness was released even if the song didn’t reach the Top 40. The song had a sound tailor-made for the heartland and to be played on the radio alongside contemporaries like Journey, Foreigner, and Billy Squier.

A few months later, Sister Christian was issued as the second single from Midnight Madness, propelling Night Ranger to headlining status for a few years and giving the band one of the more enduring hits of the ’80s.

Bonnie Tyler – Take Me Back
from Faster Than The Speed Of Night (1983)
(debuted #75, peaked #46, 9 weeks on chart)

I’ve dug Bonnie Tyler’s raspy vocals from the first time I heard the Welsh singer in 1978 on her Top Ten hit It’s A Heartache.

Five years later, Tyler had another hit in the States with the Total Eclipse Of The Heart, a song so epic that it had its own postal code and sold millions of copies of its parent album, the Jim Steinman-produced Faster Than The Speed Of Night.

Take Me Back was another dramatic lament to love lost and, while not a bad song, it failed to reach the heights of its predecessor.

The Motels – Remember The Nights
from Little Robbers (1983)
(debuted #67, peaked #36, 12 weeks on chart)

Each and every time I do one of these recaps, it seems that The Motels pop up.

Not as dark or moody as Only The Lonely or Suddenly Last Summer, Remember The Nights is still a nice showcase for the compelling vocals of lead singer Martha Davis and, though not as successful or as well remembered as those two songs, it still managed to reach the Top 40 for a few weeks in early 1984.

Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
from Colour By Numbers (1983)
(debuted #52, peaked #1, 22 weeks on chart)

Though I wouldn’t have trumpeted it at the time, I quite liked Culture Club’s first two singles – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? and Time (Clock Of The Heart) – and, now, I’d call both of them brilliant, timeless pop songs.

(there was no excuse for I’ll Tumble 4 Ya, though)

The group had reached iconic status by the time the harmonica-driven Karma Chameleon was released in late ’83 and the irresistibly catchy song became Culture Club’s biggest hit in the States.

Over the next six months, there would be several more hits from Colour By Numbers but the celebrity of Boy George and his antics would soon outstrip interest in the music of Culture Club.

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Love And Butane Is In The Air

March 26, 2011

As I surfed channels the other night, I couldn’t help but momentarily get sucked into an infommercial.

It was by Time-Life and for a nine-CD collection – Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Hosting the half-hour pitch to earn my affection, interest, and credit card number was REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin. His sidekick was some chick who looked like a dental hygenist and likely had no idea who Kevin Cronin or REO Speedwagon was until her world and his collided in this cash grab.

Kevin Cronin wouldn’t stop smiling.

The pair became positively giddy when the hygenist asked Cronin if it could be possible to assemble such a collection of music.

He flat out declared that she couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it and he couldn’t do it. To even suggest it could be done by a mere mortal (or even a rock star) was akin to asking me to split the the atom.

But, Time-Life could.

(good for Time-Life – if you are such jet-fuel geniuses end global strife, put Japan back together, or, hell, just make me a sandwich)

And still Kevin Cronin kept smiling. It reached a point that he was freakin’ me out and I started to wonder if he’d ever killed a drifter.

Fortunately, the banter of Kevin & The Hygenist was broken up by clips of selections from the set.

There was the lovely Rindy Ross swaying with her saxophone as Quarterflash performed Harden My Heart on American Bandstand.

And I couldn’t help but wonder how much time – had I been a member of Toto – I would have wasted making fun of singer Bobby Kimball’s moustache as the video for Rosanna played.

According to the Wikipedia entry for power ballad, it is suggested that 1976 was the pivitol year that the power ballad truly became part of American consciousness as FM radio “gave a new lease of life to earlier songs like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Aerosmith’s Dream On, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.”

(personally, I would defer to Wisconsin JB on all things musical in 1976)

1976 was also the year that Kiss had their biggest pop hit with the ballad Beth which, as I somewhat recall, caused more than a bit of angst for members of the Kiss Army.

That song, though, and the concept of a rock band broadening their audience with a softer sound would seem to be a precursor for the ’80s when the strategy was practically a given.

Foreigner had Waiting For A Girl Like You, Journey had Open Arms, and Mr. Cronin’s REO Speedwagon had Keep On Loving You which helped the group launch their mega-selling Hi Infidelity.

And, at the risk that it might cause Kevin Cronin’s head to spin off its axis, I suspect that – for better or for worse – I do own most, if not all, of the songs on Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Here are four ballads – some with less power than others – that were hits in the early ’80s for more rock-oriented bands…

Foreigner – Waiting For A Girl Like You
from Foreigner 4

Foreigner arrived with their first several albums prior to music being more than a casual affair to me. I associated the band with driving rock tracks like Hot Blooded and Double Vision that I’d hear blaring from the car stereo of a high school kid as he tore through our neighborhood.

But, by the time Foreigner released their cleverly titled fourth album, I was listening to the radio, if not actually purchasing music. In late 1981, the moody, keyboard-laden Waiting For A Girl Like You – moody keyboards courtesy of one, pre-science blinded Thomas Dolby – was inescapable.

Foreigner would continue to have hits well into the ’80s, but having found a new audience with this softer sound, the band would – unlike previously – rely on lighter songs for those singles.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

The R&B-laced blues-rock of J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones during the ’70s and the Boston band became a popular live act with the occasional hit song. The group notched major pop radio success with Freeze Frame and the massive hit song Centerfold and the title track.

While those songs, like much of their catalog, were raucous affairs, the third track pulled from the album was the downbeat Angel In Blue. It was hardly as big as the previous two songs from Freeze Frame, but the gorgeous, melancholy song retained the band’s soulful vibe and blue-collar grit as it told the tale of a world-weary cocktail waitress.

(for some reason, I’ve always mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

Night Ranger – Sister Christian
from Midnight Madness

Led by dual guitarists Jeff Watson and Brad Gillis – the latter had briefly filled in with Ozzy Osbourne after Randy Rhodes death – Night Ranger became a staple on our local rock stations with their 1983 debut and songs like Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sing Me Away.

Late that same year, the band issued its sophomore effort Midnight Madness and continued to get heavy airplay with (You Can Still) Rock In America and Rumors In The Air. But it was in the spring of ’84 that Night Ranger garnered attention on the pop stations and notched a Top Ten hit with the mid-tempo Sister Christian.

Slade – My Oh My
from Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply

With their trademark misspelled song titles and glam-tinged hard rock, Slade released a string of monstrous hits in their native UK during the ’70s even as the band was largely ignored in the States. By the beginning of the ’80s, the quartet was being ignored in the UK as well.

Then, Quiet Riot had a breakthrough hit with Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize in the autumn of ’83 even as Slade was making a comeback in the UK with The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome.

The album was repackaged and retitled, arriving in the US the following spring and, that summer, the band – aided by a popular video on MTV – had notched its first Top 40 hit Stateside with the raucous Run Runaway.

That fall, the anthemic ballad My Oh My became a minor hit and Slade’s final flicker of success in the US.