January 12, 2013

BenatarTo your left, you will note Pat Benatar as she appeared in the video for Promises In The Dark, a Top 40 single for her in the autumn of 1981 from the album Precious Time.

I was a thirteen-year old boy that summer when Precious Time was released.

You don’t have to work for NASA to calculate the appeal.

Of course, I dug the music, too.

Everybody dug Pat Benatar.

Even though I was listening to little radio, I was well familiar with Heartbreaker, Hit Me With Your Best Shot and Hell Is For Children.

Pat Benatar was often blaring from the the jukebox at the bowling alley where we kids gathered on winter weekend afternoons.

And it was common to see the high school kids wearing t-shirts commemorating earlier tours for In The Heat Of The Night and Crimes Of Passion.

She’d show up on Solid Gold or in a video on America’s Top Ten, clad in some skin-tight catsuit thingy as she prowled the screen, leaving hormones akimbo as I’d sit slack-jawed in front of the screen.

Precious Time‘s follow-up, Get Nervous, was released at Thanksgiving of 1982. It was my first semester of high school and it had been over the previous six months or so that I had begun to assemble a music collection.

I’d receive a cassette of Get Nervous for Christmas a month later.

Tropico, Benatar’s next studio album arrived two years later and, though I was becoming interested in more alternative fare like U2, R.E.M., and Talking Heads, I remained devoted and purchased a copy.

Though her music would become less and less a part of my personal soundtrack as we both got older, hearing a Pat Benatar song would remain a sonic burst of audio adrenaline and a wormhole straight to the ’80s.

So, in honor of Ms. Benatar’s 60th birthday this past week, here are four songs from the powerful-voiced, spandex-clad singer who inspired several of the girls at Ridgemont High to adopt her look and attitude…

Pat Benatar – Precious Time
from Precious Time (1981)

As MTV – or any other outlet to see music videos – was a couple years from being available to us, seeing the clip for Precious Time on America’s Top Ten was likely one of the first times I was exposed to the medium.

Though it wasn’t a hit, I’ve always dug the title track to Benatar’s best-selling album. The skittering, stutter-step melody makes a fitting companion for the song’s lyric of a relationship careening out of control.

Pat Benatar – Shadows Of The Night
from Get Nervous (1982)

If I was making a crude mix tape from the radio during the winter of ’82/’83, it’s likely that Shadow Of The Night was on it. The dramatic lead single from Get Nervous might not have been Benatar’s biggest radio hit, but the song was a stellar showcase for the singer’s pipes and netted her a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Pat Benatar – We Belong
from Tropico (1984)

The stop-gap live collection Live From Earth had given Benatar her highest-charting single – as well as producing one of the more memorable videos of the time – with Love Is A Battlefield the previous year.

Tropico failed to be the commercial juggernaut that her previous albums had been, but it did contain another mammoth hit with the crunchy, metallic-tinged power ballad We Belong.

Pat Benatar – All Fired Up
from Wide Awake In Dreamland (1988)

Wide Awake In Dreamland arrived three full years after Benatar’s last album, 1985’s Seven The Hard Way, which, at the time, was an eternity. The latter was released as my senior year of high school was concluding and, despite spawning hits with Invincible and Sex As A Weapon, it failed to garner my interest.

Wide Awake In Dreamland was issued at the mid-point of my college years when the music of Pat Benatar seemed to be a remnant from another life. I was working in a record store where it was more likely that we’d be playing stuff that would be favored on MTV’s 120 Minutes or even Headbanger’s Ball.

However, it was a surprisingly solid album and the staff embraced it, giving it play alongside Jane’s Addiction, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and Guns N’ Roses. All Fired Up provided Benatar with one last hit and one that lives up to its title.

January 17, 1981

January 15, 2012

Thirty one years ago, I was seeking out music for – really – the first time.

Sure, there had previously been songs here and there that had captured my attention and a few 45s that I’d prodded the parents to purchase, but I would have had barely enough material to compile a desert island list.

Weeks earlier, on New Year’s Day, I had, inexplicably turned on the radio and tuned in to Q102, a Top 40 station from Cincinnati that was popular with my junior high classmates. I didn’t listen to the radio much, if ever, but as I listened I realized that the station was counting down the top 102 songs of 1980, the year that had just ended.

And, even more unexpectedly, I pulled out a tape recorder, popped a blank cassette into the unit, placed the recorder up against the radio, and spent the rest of the day taping those 102 songs.

By the middle of January, I had listened and relistened to those half dozen or so cassettes repeatedly, becoming familiar with the popular music of 1980, most of which I had little familiarity.

I was also tuning into Q102 daily, especially for the station’s Top Ten At Ten, the daily countdown of the most requested songs of the day and a staple of debate amongst friends at school the following day.

It would be another year before I’d begin purchasing music on a regular basis or start listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Billboard meant roadside advertising to me.

But, thirty one years ago, there were half a dozen songs debuting on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100, some of which I knew from those nights listening to Q102…

McGuffey Lane – Long Time Lovin’ You
from McGuffey Lane (1980)
(debuted #97, peaked #85, 7 weeks on chart)

Growing up within spitting distance of the Ohio border, I’d heard the name McGuffey Lane as they were a regional act from Columbus, but I couldn’t have named a song by the band and didn’t recognize Long Time Lovin’ You by name.

But as soon as I started listening to Long Time Lovin’ You, I instantly remembered the song. I imagine that I heard it on our hometown radio station which favored light rock and country as the song has a decidedly country rock feel.

The loping melody and tale of love ruined by too much time on the road has a catchy chorus and, though a bit generic, isn’t a bad song. It’s certainly something I enjoy more now than I would have then.

Terri Gibbs – Somebody’s Knockin’
from Somebody’s Knockin’ (1980)
(debuted #94, peaked #13, 22 weeks on chart)

I certainly knew Somebody’s Knockin’ from Q102. The song by blind Georgian pianist was a fixture on the station during the first few months of ’81 and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song.

Somebody’s Knockin’ straddles the line between country and light pop. Its slick production doesn’t diminish the backwoods vibe and Gibb’s vocals which recount her struggle with the temptations offered by a mysterious stanger.

Slave – Watching You
from Stone Jam (1980)
(debuted #90, peaked #75, 6 weeks on chart)

Slave is a name I know that I’ve seen at one time or another rifling through bins in record stores, but I’ve never been a major R&B devotee. As a kid, there wasn’t a lot of soul on the stations to which I was listening.

Like McGuffey Lane, though, Slave was an act from Ohio, Dayton, to be specific. I do know that there were a number of funk acts from that city during the ’70s and early ’80s like Ohio Players, Lakeside, and Zapp and Watching You is a snappy bit of mid-tempo, light funk, an playful ode to watching girls pass by.

Queen – Flash’s Theme
from Flash Gordon soundtrack (1980)
(debuted #79, peaked #42, 10 weeks on chart)

There seemed to be a lot of hullabaloo about the movie Flash Gordon prior to its release and, then, it bombed. I think that I caught a bit of the campy flick on cable years ago but not enough to care one way or another about it.

Queen was a band that we did care about, though, at the time. The legendary band was coming off of the spectacular success of The Game and, as I recall, both Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust had both been in the top ten for the year on that year-end countdown I’d taped from the radio.

I don’t remember actually hearing the band’s dramatic theme (complete with melodramatic dialogue from the film) to Flash Gordon on the radio in 1981, but it did appear on Queen’s Greatest Hits release from later that year. The cassette version of that album was one of my initial purchases when I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club a year later.

Pat Benatar – Treat Me Right
from Crimes of Passion (1980)
(debuted #68, peaked #18, 18 weeks on chart)

Pat Benatar’s rise to superstar status coincided with my teenage years and she was fetching in spandex, so she could have been singing Bolshevik work songs and she’d have had the attention of me and my friends.

But Benatar had a string of inescapable hits during the early ’80s that made her a staple on most of the crude mixtapes I was making from the radio. I was a fan, but Treat Me Right never quite hooked me the way that stuff like Heartbreaker, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, or Shadows Of The Night did.

John Lennon – Woman
from Double Fantasy (1980)
(debuted #36, peaked #2, 20 weeks on chart)

In mid-January of 1981, the world was a mere five weeks out from the brutal murder of John Lennon. My interest in music, just beginning to take root, gave me little perspective on the death of Lennon and I had little reaction. It would be years before I would mourn the event and the loss of Beatle John.

However, I imagine at the time it was difficult for folks who had grown up with The Beatles to hear the music from Lennon’s just-released Double Fantasy album and his death provided added poignancy to the gentle, lovely ballad Woman.

The Grammy Awards

February 15, 2011

The Grammy Awards aired the other night.

I watched The Simpsons.

During the first few years in which I was suddenly fascinated by and paying attention to music, it was – like most people of a certain age, I suspect – through pop radio. The idea that there were awards given for songs was a compelling one.

I think the first Grammy Awards show I remember was the one from 1981 and Christopher Cross’ slew of trophies for his debut album from the prior year.

At the time, Cross’ shiny trinkets undoubtedly validated my affection for the cassette of Christopher Cross, which I had made one of my first musical purchases.

Though that album has retained a special place in my psyche, it wasn’t long before I realized that, for the most part, the Grammys was a bit bogus and not to be taken seriously.

Through the years, I’d sometimes catch the show and sometimes I wouldn’t.

I did have the opportunity to once fill out a Grammy ballot. An ex-girlfriend worked at a law firm that had some musician clients and, thus, the firm was a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This girlfriend’s boss knew that she was an aspiring singer and, having no interest in performing the task, handed his Grammy ballot to her.

I don’t recall the specifics, but a voter was allowed to vote in so many categories and this girlfriend blew through most of her allotment notching a straight ticket.

(it was either for Joan Osbourne’s Relish or Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs, I can’t remember)

She handed the ballot to me with a few picks remaining.

It truly destroyed the last bit of mystique that the Grammys held for me.

In February, 1983, I most certainly was excited to watch the Grammys. Here are songs from four of winners for whom I’d have undoubtedly voted…

Men At Work – Down By The Sea
from Business As Usual

During the second half of ’82, Men At Work became a sensation with the release of Business As Usual, one of the biggest selling debuts ever. By the time the Australians won Best New Artist, the album had already spawned two mammoth hits with Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under.

Though the two hits were the most memorable songs on the album, Business As Usual could have had another hit single or two had the band not had the follow-up Cargo waiting in the wings.

Though I wasn’t fond of the laid-back Down By The Sea, the song was a nice change of pace from the manic vibe of most of the album and it’s grown on me over the years (likely because of Paloma’s affection for the song).

Toto – It’s A Feeling
from Toto IV

Toto won fifty or sixty Grammys – ok, it was really six – for Toto IV including Album Of The Year. Sure, there were the twin titans of Rosanna and Africa, as well as the lesser hits Make Believe and I Won’t Hold You Back, but the entire album is a stellar set of pop/rock gems.

It’s A Feeling was moody and mysterious – not so dissimilar from Toto’s early hit 99 – and one of my favorites from Toto IV.

A Flock Of Seagulls – D.N.A.
from A Flock Of Seagulls

When A Flock Of Seagulls arrived with I Ran and their self-titled debut, I quickly adopted the Liverpool quartet as my own. I was hearing the music of the future and I wasn’t about to be left behind.

A Flock Of Seagulls relied heavily on synthesizers and electronic drums, but there was also plenty of guitar as on D.N.A. which won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, beating out nominated songs by Dixie Dregs, Maynard Ferguson, King Crimson, and Van Morrison.

Pat Benatar – Shadows Of The Night
from Get Nervous

Pat Benatar was one of the major acts of the early ’80s and Get Nervous became her fourth straight platinum album when it was released in late autumn of 1982. She was fetching in spandex and her songs were on every crude mixtape I was making from the radio.

Get Nervous provided Benatar with one of her signature songs in the dramatic Shadows Of The Night and the song earned the singer a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.