The Greatest Hits

November 15, 2012

Paloma and I made a trek one recent Sunday morning for pancakes.

The vibe of the tiny cafe and the food made it worth the forty-five minute drive into the hinterlands. The satellite radio was still tuned to the ’70s channel from my Friday commute home.

Paloma expressed some concern at the song coming from the speakers as I started Jeepster.

I didn’t recognize it but, before I could read the display, there was the voice of Shaggy noting it to be Lindisfarne and their lone US Top 40 single Run For Home.

We were quickly sucked into the rebroadcast of an American Top 40 episode from November, 1978, with Paloma observing several times her surprise at knowing most everything we heard.

It was understandable as we both would have been in junior high at the time and, thus, in the target demographic for Top 40 radio. I was more resistant and didn’t really begin to pay attention to music for a couple more years and, even then, it was a passive endeavor.

I listened to the radio, but wasn’t committed enough to purchase music. Video games or movies were getting the little money that I might have. It was simple economics.

I could play ten games of Pac-Man or see one movie.

I could see two, maybe three movies or buy a new album on cassette.

For someone with a casual interest in music, music was an expensive investment. I was hesitant to pull the trigger if I only knew a song or two and, as I was listening to mostly Top 40, that meant an album needed a hit or two.

And that made greatest hits collections – the stop-gap, the contractual-obligation, the cash-in release – so appealing. There, on one cassette, would be ten, twelve songs that I knew or, apparently, should know.

In the spring of 1982, I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club, increasing my music collection by approximately 120% when those first dozen selections arrived.

I don’t recall everything in that initial order, but I do know that Queen’s Greatest Hits and The Best Of Blondie were among them.

And, I soon learned that late autumn would arrive with a slate of new collections intended to seduce holiday shoppers. It seemed as though any act that had ever had even one hit was capable of cobbling together such a set.

1982 was the year during which I was most immersed in Top 40 radio and it was the year in which I first had what might be considered a music collection.

Here are tracks from four of those stop-gap/contractual-obligation/cash-in releases that were arriving for the holidays in 1982, none of which I owned at the time…

Eagles – Life In The Fast Lane
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

Though I’m not as opposed to the Eagles as The Dude was in The Big Lebowski – in which his abiding hatred of the group got him tossed from a cab – I’ve struggled to be a fan. I attribute that to the overkill of hearing their music so much on radio as a kid.

Over the years, I’ve slowly softened my resistance to their music and I’ve come to enjoy most of their lengthy list of radio hits.

I also can’t hear the Eagles and not think of a college roommate. During the late ’80s, Glenn Frey did commercials for some fitness club. Upon seeing one, the roommate mumbled, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from The Singles: The First Ten Years (1982)

The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

Olivia Newton-John – Heart Attack
from Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1982)

At the beginning of 1982, Olivia was all over radio with Physical and, at the end of the year she was all over the radio with Heart Attack, a new song included to goose sales of her second greatest hits album.

It was never a bad thing when Olivia popped up Solid Gold or some other show to sing her latest hit. And, I likely saw her perform Heart Attack, a New Wave-tinged number, on Solid Gold that winter

Little River Band – Cool Change
from Greatest Hits (1982)

It’s not Christopher Cross, but there seems to be something about mellow-rockin’, nautically-themed songs from the early ’80s that spellbind me.

Cool Change makes me think of Paloma because I know hearing the song makes her think of her brother.

(and the whole “the albatross and the whales they are my brothers” line cracks us up)

The song also served me well when out drinking with our record store’s jazz guru. He could – at times – be the jazz snob and lecture us on obscure performances and theory.

(it was well-intended)

If it went on too long, I’d ask him if he’d heard the cat blow notes on Cool Change – a tactic which brought conversation back to more mainstream subject matter.

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A Long Time Since I’ve Spent Time With Uncle Vic

January 4, 2009

A lot of bloggers have taken time the past few days to offer their thoughts reflecting on music and events of 2008. I had no intention of doing so, but, inspired by a series of posts over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I have instead found myself reflecting on the music of 1980.

On the precipice of my teen years, music had little appeal to me during that year. It was occasionally background noise, but, at most, my scant interest was prompted by my peers. Then, on the first day of 1981, I happened to tune into Cincinnati’s Q102, a popular Top 40 station, where they were counting down the top 102 songs of 1980. They ran the countdown three times that day and something prompted me to tape as much of it – commercials and DJ chatter included – as I could.

Although I had missed much of the music on those tapes throughout the actual year, I listened to them repeatedly through the early months of 1981. And, as I caught up on the musical landscape of the previous year, I began to pay increasing attention to the new year as well.

For the next several years, until I discovered the left of the dial artists I could only hear on 97X, it became a personal tradition to listen to the top 102 on Q102, filling countless hours of blank cassettes with songs.

It’s possible, although unlikely, that those tapes from that countdown of 1980 are buried somewhere in the closet of my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house. If they are, those cheap cassettes are probably unlistenable, having oxidized over time and already worn thin by the innumerable times I played them as a kid when I had no idea how much music would matter to me over the next three decades.

I’d be most curious to find an actual chart of Q102’s top songs from that year. I do remember that #102 was a novelty song, Space Invaders, about the phenomenally popular video game by an act called Uncle Vic – a song which I haven’t heard since then. And, at the other end of the countdown was Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (part II).

Here are some of the songs I remember in between those two songs…

The Dirt Band – An American Dream
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band under a truncated moniker with Linda Ronstadt adding vocals, An American Dream was one song which was quite familiar to me. It seemed to be on constant rotation on the jukebox of the bowling alley where my friends and I spent numerous hours loitering and playing pinball during the winter months of 1980. It’s promise of a getaway to warmer climes had a distinct appeal to those of us mired in the Midwest.

The Cars – Touch And Go
I was familiar with The Cars because of Let’s Go, but, I must admit, that song was better known to me in the version appearing on my younger brother’s copy of the Chipmunk Punk album. As for Touch And Go, I found Ric Ocasek’s vocals on the song to be a bit menacing at the time and, now, I’d consider it to be one of that band’s more underrated hits.

Olivia Newton-John – Magic
Although I wasn’t overly familiar with the songs of Olivia Newton-John at the time, like my friends, I was enamored with her from Grease. I still haven’t seen the movie Xanadu (on which the soundtrack Magic appeared), but I did know Magic. A good portion of our family’s vacation that summer had been spent at our aunt and uncle’s cabin in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. I recall that every time we piled into the car during that trip, I was guaranteed to hear Magic on the radio. To this day, the song still sounds like summer to me.

The Pretenders – Brass In Pocket (I’m Special)
Had I been a serious music fan in 1980, I would have well known The Pretenders from their much heralded debut album which caused quite a stir. I don’t recall even knowing Brass In Pocket until I heard that year-end countdown, but I do recall that I immediately “got” it.