Little. Yellow. Different.

May 24, 2010

Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air.

Some of us had primitive home systems such as Pong, but our experience with video games was limited.

Space Invaders had been released in 1978, but none of us had played the game until the new decade had arrived. Sometime as the winter snows melted in early 1980, Space Invaders appeared, sitting there against the wall near the small music department in the rear of the Danners Five & Ten.

It quickly became the place to find most of the kids our age after school and on weekends, pouring quarters down the machine’s gullet.

Later, that summer, Asteroids appeared, nestled next to the pinball machines and near the pool tables at the bowling alley and getting a chance to play was about as likely as getting a table at the trendiest bistro in Hollywood.

On May 22, 1980, we were likely counting down the final days of the school year.

Some ten thousand miles away in Japan, twelve-year olds there were being introduced to a video game that would soon be separating us from our hard-earned allowances and change how we would waste our free time for the next several years, ushering in the video game era.

It was Pac-Man.

(actually, it was Puck-Man, but – upon export to the States – someone had the foresight to realize that young vandals such as we would likely alter the “P” to an “F” to the chagrin of more upright citizens)

The first time that I ever heard of Pac-Man was a year or so later when a new girl, Molly, arrived at our school. Sitting next to me in class one day, she began recounting some plot involving a jaundiced little fellow, babbling about a maze, ghosts, eating dots, and fruit.

As video games were not a part of our consciousness despite Space Invaders and Asteroids, I thought that she was describing some movie she had seen.

“We should play some time,” she suggested.

I nodded, having no idea what the hell she was talking about.

Molly and I never did share a game of Pac-Man. The game soon arrived at the bowling alley, but she had been recruited into the group of A-list girls in our class and I was, on a good day, strictly a B-list kid.

However, my friends and I spent a lot of time trying to master the game and memorize the patterns and, with its phenomenal success, new video games began to sprout like weeds. Each would cause initial excitement – “You have to check out Defender” – before being supplanted by the next big thing until there were enough of them to be herded into an gaming menagerie.

Here, in a belated birthday nod to Pac-Man, are four songs from the charts during the week it was introduced to the world. I wasn’t listening to much music, yet, but I might have heard them playing on the juke box at the bowling alley as I played pinball, hoping for a chance to get a shot at the Asteroids machine…

The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night

Smooth and funky, The Brothers Johnson’s Stomp! has an irresistible, anthemic chorus. Disco might have been dead by the end of the ’70s, but it didn’t keep the song from being a mammoth hit during the spring of ’80.

Air Supply – Lost In Love
from Lost In Love

The Top 40 station that I listened to in the first few years of the ’80s was relatively unhindered by its format. They’d play Rush’s Tom Sawyer or something old by Van Halen. There was a lot of Journey and Styx.

But there was also the hits and hits in the early ’80s meant Air Supply.

Lost In Love is pleasant enough, a bit mawkish, but breezy and engaging. I think I thought was Starland Vocal Band when I first heard it.

(I hadn’t listened to much music up to that point)

Billy Joel – You May Be Right
from Glass Houses

Billy Joel seemed edgy to me in 1980.

Maybe it was because when I thought of him I thought of songs like Big Shot or Sometimes A Fantasy before I thought of She’s Always A Woman or Honesty.

And, at eleven or twelve the line about dirty jokes in You May Be Right seemed rather adult.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
from Christopher Cross

Early on, I noted the prominent place that Christopher Cross’ debut occupied in my childhood.

And I really have nothing more to add.

Playing Pinball With The Man Under The Most Famous Hair Of The ’80s

July 18, 2008

For better or for worse, A Flock Of Seagulls was the first band that I truly adopted as my band. Hey, it is what it is. I Ran hit the airwaves and hooked me, the cover art for their debut album fascinated me, and I loved the name.

Their image was a relatively insignificant factor as MTV didn’t arrive for us until two years after the band. The infamous coif of lead singer Mike Score was memorable, but I simply loved the songs. They sounded like the future.

Before the ‘80s ended, but well past A Flock Of Seagulls’ brief burst of popularity, a desire to finally see them live led me to a dive in a rather dodgy area of Indianapolis. My girlfriend at the time – whose interest in music was limited and in the Lionel Richie, Air Supply portion of the dial – was a trooper.

And so, my reward was original lead singer Score and four other guys who could have been any anonymous hair metal band from the late ‘80s – they were three seagulls shy of the MTV-era flock.

Somehow, I ended up playing pinball with Score. He seemed quite miserable as the front man for White Lion and he told me how the rest of the original band was back in England because “they didn’t want to work.” Surprisingly, I don’t recall if he was good at pinball.

As for the infamous hair, it was not fussed over, but simply pulled back into a long ponytail and tucked under a baseball cap.

Now, despite popular perception that has labeled A Flock A Seagulls as fluff and snarky pop culture types who use them for target practice, I will defend my first band. True, although they, too, were from Liverpool, they were no Beatles, but they were certainly no Oxo, either.

A Flock Of Seagulls – A Space Age Love Song
Sure, I Ran was the bigger hit and, for the most part, only those who lived through 1982 could even name another song by the band. However, I’ve always preferred A Space Age Love Song to the former. It’s very wooshy in the best possible way.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Committed
Not even possessing a turntable, I would still browse the bins of vinyl in 1983, trying to find music by A Flock Of Seagulls which wasn’t available on cassette. This was how I discovered the twelve-inch single, specifically one for their song (It’s Not Me) Talking with the eye-catching cover featuring a giant seagull attacking a building. I can’t recall if Committed was on there or not, but it’s a delightfully manic little track which never appeared on an actual album.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)
This is the song – their Stairway To Heaven, their Free Bird, their Satisfaction. If Phil Spector had been born twenty years later, this is what it would have sounded like.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Transfer Affection
Most of the time A Flock Of Seagulls sang about aliens, Russian cosmonauts, technology, and aliens. However, Transfer Affection was one of their few ballads and even though it still has an icy cool about it, it’s actually rather sweet.

A Flock Of Seagulls – The More You Live, The More You Love
From the band’s third album (and ultimate swansong) The Story Of A Young Heart, The More You Love, The More You Love got a bit of radio play where I lived and, as MTV was available by 1984 for our community, I do recall seeing the video a handful of times. Not a bad way to go out.