“Our next caller is listening to WTUE out of Dayton…”

June 16, 2010

It must have been sometime in early 1983 – as I was beginning to traverse a musical terrain beyond Top 40 – that I was increasingly listening to more rock-oriented stations, especially Q95 out of Indianapolis.

Q95 played a lot of music that would become the backbone of classic rock stations a decade or so later – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who – but their playlist also was heavy on newer rock acts. As I spent more time with Q95 and other similar album rock outlets, I realized that – as the pop stations had American Top 40 – these stations had a number of syndicated programs.

There was some rock album countdown show that worked its way to the week’s top album with a track – sometimes hit, other times, a deeper cut – played from each record.

(the name of the show escapes me)

There was also the King Biscuit Flower Hour, which weekly offered a recorded concert from acts like Billy Squier, Triumph, and Greg Kihn Band.

(the hour, accounting for commercials, was actually closer to forty-five minutes)

It was Rockline, though, that was the one weekly broadcast I’d usually make a point of checking out. Each Monday night, Bob Coburn would host an act – one which often had a new release – for a ninety-minute interview show that took questions from callers.

At some point on Monday afternoons, I’d hear one of the DJs mention that evening’s guest. Unless it was someone or some band in whom I had no interest, most Monday nights at 10:30, I’d be tuned in to the show.

During high school, Rockline was often a topic of conversation between me and my friend Bosco. I don’t particularly recall any of my friends other than him that was a listener to the show.

Of course, if it’s more ingrained in my brain that Bosco listened to the show, it’s undoubtedly because he was no passive listener. Bosco ended up on the show as a caller several times. I remember him speaking to Tom Petty and, quite memorably, Bob Dylan.

And, once, after seeking Bosco’s advice – make sure you’re question isn’t obvious and call an hour before the show to get through – I ended up speaking to Roger Waters.

(I was going through a teenaged boy’s first serious Pink Floyd phase)

As I had been advised, I called an hour before, got through, and, then, I realized I didn’t really have a question and offered up the most obvious question at that time – would the recently split up Floyd ever reunite?

The screener was ready to bounce me, but I managed to talk him into a second chance and I ad-libbed a query that punched my ticket to the big time.

For thirty seconds, I was global.

(provided the globe be limited to the US and Canada)

I didn’t listen to Rockline much in college, but, for most of high school, it was a Monday night ritual. Here are four songs from acts who appeared on Rockline during the four summers before I left for college…

Shooting Star – Last Chance
from Touch Me Tonight: The Best Of Shooting Star

Shooting Star, though a staple in the Midwest, wasn’t exactly a household name in the rest of the US. I heard a lot of the Kansas City band on the radio, though, with songs like You’ve Got What I Need, Flesh And Blood, and Hollywood. With a sound somewhere between Journey and Kansas, they were well suited for the heartland.

Shooting Star appeared on Rockline in June, 1983, coinciding with the release of their album Burning, which I didn’t really dig. Last Chance had appeared on their debut from several years earlier and the anthemic track was one that I also heard often during the early ’80s.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Out Of The Darkness
from Voice Of America

Longtime Bruce Springsteen guitarist Steve Van Zandt had exited the E-Street Band following the release of Born In The USA in the late spring of 1984. By July, he had released his second album with his band, Disciples Of Soul, which featured former members of The Rascals as well as Plasmatics’ bassist Jean Beauvoir.

I fell in love with the surging track Out Of The Darkness and, having heard that song (as well as having seen the video) and a couple more tracks on the radio, snagged a copy of Voice Of America.

Ratt – Lay It Down
from Ratt & Roll 81-91

I never truly went through a metal phase of any kind, but there were songs and bands within the genre that caught my attention. In 1984, Ratt exploded onto the scene with their album Out Of The Cellar and songs like Round And Round and Wanted Man.

With more than a hint of glam rock, Ratt had a knack for infectious hooks. They appeared on Rockline during the summer of ’85 when Out Of The Cellar‘s follow-up, Invasion Of Your Privacy, was released. Though it couldn’t match its predecessor’s commercial fortunes, the album was catchy as hell and the menacing groove of Lay It Down makes me think of listening to the cassette on trips to the beach with friends that summer.

Peter Gabriel – Red Rain
from So

In June of 1986, I was spending my final summer before college mowing acres of grass.

Peter Gabriel was spending that same summer as, suddenly, a pop music superstar. So had brought him to a whole new audience with the mammoth hit Sledgehammer as well as making him a fixture on MTV with its groundbreaking video.

I preferred the moodier stuff from the album like Mercy Street and, especially, Red Rain, which featured The Police’s Stewart Copeland lending his talent on the hi-hat.

Who Wouldn’t Want To Live In A Treehouse?

May 29, 2010

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo of late surrounding the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back with one of the cable stations showing the original trilogy of Star Wars flicks last weekend.

I must have been one of the few people that didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater.

(at least among we humans who were present in 1980)

I saw Star Wars in the theater, but, when The Empire Strikes Back the masses descended on every multi-plex like locust. The nearest city for us to see the movie was an hour away and, on the few attempts that some friends and I made to see it, all showings were sold out.

The movie eventually arrived in our hometown theater, but, I don’t think I saw it there, either.

I honestly don’t remember where I saw it.

As for the final film in the trilogy – I didn’t even get around to seeing Return Of The Jedi when it was released in the late spring of ’83. In fact, I don’t think I saw it until it was re-released to theaters in the late ’90s.

Though I didn’t see that finale at the time, I do remember the angst caused by the Ewoks, the tribe of teddy bears that lived in the forest and helped the heroes bitchslap the empire.

The Ewoks were met with the kind of harsh disapproval usually reserved for those who club baby seals or toss dwarves.

“I hated them,” Paloma said flatly when I noted how poorly received the Ewoks had been.

As they frolicked across the screen, I understood why the masses were none too fond of these furry creatures.

The Ewoks do seem to have been designed with merchandising in mind and they were a bit precious.

However, the Ewoks were also quite resourceful, scrappy, and lived in a pretty cool village of treehouses.

And no one could accuse the Ewoks of not being green – no coastlines marinating in oil on Endor.

“So, you come across a homeless Ewok on the walk to work tomorrow, and you don’t bring it home?” I ask.

“It would upset the cats.”

(I still think that, hated or not, that Ewok would be coming to our treehouse – domestic harmony be damned)

Checking back over the music that was out during this time in 1983 – when the world was learning to hate Ewoks – there was some cool stuff. I was still listening to Top 40, but the album rock stations were an increasingly popular destination and friends were also turning me on to new music.

Here are four songs from then…

David Bowie – China Girl
from Let’s Dance

Did I even know any of David Bowie’s music at the time of Let’s Dance‘s release?

I suspect I didn’t.

Not that I wasn’t aware of Bowie. I vividly recall browsing through albums – years before I really became interested in music – and being intrigued by the cover art for albums like Diamond Dogs and Lodger.

But Let’s Dance would prove to be inescapable in ’83 and, while it was the title song that was the first single and most successful track, I much preferred the mesmerizing and mysterious China Girl that I was hearing on the album rock stations.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting

My friends and I wouldn’t acquire our driver’s licenses until the end of ’83 or early ’84, so, as the Ewoks were causing such consternation, we were more distressed by our lack of mobility.

Being stuck in our small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my friend Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

I vividly remember Uncle Dave turning us onto Tears For Fears’ debut and I’m still puzzled as I recall him describing the duo as similar to Culture Club to us.

Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
from Killer On The Rampage

Personally, there are few songs – if any – that I so completely and absolutely associate with summer as Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue.

Maybe it’s because it seemed to come out of nowhere as the season arrived in ’83 or because it seemed to be playing constantly – on every station almost regardless of format – throughout that summer before vanishing as we headed back to school.

Peter Gabriel – I Go Swimming
from Plays Live

I knew Peter Gabriel when he released his Plays Live set in ’83. He was the unusual singer that had implored us to “shock the monkey” during the previous winter.

As for everything else in Gabriel’s catalog – be it his work with Genesis or his previous solo efforts – I wouldn’t catch up for several more years.

But WEBN and 96Rock played the hell out of I Go Swimming and there was something about the song that resonated with me. Little did I know at the time how much of a Gabriel fan I would one day be.

“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

March 20, 2010

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks.

I’m not sure if I could name one favorite – could any sane person do so? – but the soundtrack to a little-seen movie called Until The End Of The World would definitely receive consideration.

I’m not sure when I became intrigued with the movie or even really what about it that had caught my attention. It was several months before it had a release date and I’m certain that much of the interest stemmed from the fact that Wim Wenders was the director.

Wenders had done a couple films – Paris, Texas and Wings Of Desire – that were popular with the staff of the record store where I was working in late 1991. The latter might be more familiar to most folks as the dreadful (and somewhat creepy) American remake City Of Angels.

Working in a record store, one-sheets for the Until The End Of The World‘s soundtrack had caught my eye for its impressive array of acts including Talking Heads, Patti Smith, R.E.M. and U2. U2’s song Until The End Of The World was one of the few previously released songs (it had appeared on the, then, just issued Achtung Baby) and one of the few not written specifically, at the request of Wenders, for the film.

One co-worker in particular, who was a bit of a film buff, shared and helped stoke my anticipation for the movie. We knew that it was being touted as the ultimate road movie, taking place in fifteen different countries.

We also knew that a five-hour version had been enthusiatically received in several limited showings at film festivals. We also had read that the cut for American audiences had been whittled down to just shy of three hours.

Then, we learned that the movie would feature a new song from Peter Gabriel and the opportunity to hear new music from the slow-working Gabriel – it had been more than five years since So – made seeing the movie a must-see event.

And so, it finally arrived in our city – at one theater. With another co-worker, we took the first chance to see the movie, knowing that it wouldn’t likely play for very long (I think it ended up playing for a week).

The theater screening it was in a multi-plex in a down-trodden part of the city. The multi-plex was part of a larger complex of stores and restaurants that had opened only a few years earlier in an effort to revitalize the area.

It hadn’t.

So, the theater and the entire complex had taken on the vibe of a ghost town and the few signs of life were mostly members of rival gangs. Aside from my two friends and me, there were two other people in the theater at the midnight showing we attended.

It was a maddeningly disheveled flick – there were obvious points where the cuts were made – starring William Hurt, Sam Neill, Solveig Dommartin, Max von Sydow, and Jeanne Moreau. At the heart of the visually stunning film was a piece of technology that would allow the blind to see.

And all the while, we were waiting. Through Berlin and Paris, and Lisbon and Moscow, and Paris and San Francisco, we listened with each song that played for Peter Gabriel.

Finally, two-thirds of the way into the movie, In the deserts of Australia, with Hurt and Dommartin trekking through the vast emptiness after what they believe has been the end of the world, we heard, for the first time, Peter Gabriel singing Blood Of Eden.

The song, the soundtrack, and the movie have stuck with me for twenty years. I own a copy of the movie on VHS, though I haven’t watched it more than a couple times in those two decades.

It’s an interesting movie. It’s spectacularly ambitious and some of the visual effects are evocative.

And, it seems that the full-length original cut is a bit of a “Holy Grail” to some fans on the internet.

The soundtrack did create some buzz. Jane Siberry’s gorgeous duet with k.d. lang Calling All Angels and U2’s title song got a lot of airplay on alternative radio.

It was difficult to reduce the soundtrack to a mere four songs. There are the songs and artists that I’ve mentioned and previously unreleased music from Lou Reed, Julee Cruise, T-Bone Burnett, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Daniel Lanois…

So, here are four songs that happened to choose me today…

Peter Gabriel – Blood Of Eden (Special Mix for Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World)

Blood Of Eden wasn’t on the movie’s soundtrack. It didn’t pop up until it was on Gabriel’s Us a year later. And though it featured Sinead O’Connor, who I usually dig, it wasn’t the version I’d loved in the movie.

Some time later, the version from the film appeared on the single for Blood Of Eden. It’s wispier and starker, than the Us version. It also played in it’s entirety in the movie and – with a backdrop of the Australian desert at dusk – it suited the scene perfectly.

Talking Heads – Sax And Violins
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

The Wikipedia entry for Sax And Violins refers to the song as one of Talking Heads’ most popular ones.

I don’t remember it being particular popular at the time, but I think it’s a wonderful song, maybe one of their poppiest, yet still possessing the Heads sardonic take on things.

The song plays during the scene where Solveig Dommartin’s character Clair is introduced in a state of confusion. Dommartin had been the trapeze artist in Wenders’ classic Wings Of Desire.

Neneh Cherry – Move With Me
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

Neneh Cherry seemed, for a few months in 1989, to be headed for superstardom. The daughter of jazz legend Don Cherry, Neneh caused a stir with her Raw Like Sushi debut. The album’s blend of R&B, rap, pop, and dance music was enthusiastically received by critics and her song Buffalo Stance was a global smash.

Move With Me would appear on the singer’s follow-up album, Homebrew, but Cherry would only release one more solo album in the ensuing twenty years.

Move With Me, though, is slinky and hypnotic with more of a trip-hop vibe and – hearing it again after all these years – makes me think I should pull up my copy of Homebrew and reacquaint myself.

Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

They are slightly passionate about the music of Ray Davies and The Kinks over at The Song In My Head Today and why shouldn’t they be? For all of the success of Uncle Ray, I’d have to file him under underappreciated.

For the movie, Elvis Costello contributed his take on the gorgeous Davies’ masterpiece Days.