Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

November 6, 2010

Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful.

We happened across it, several months ago, while channel-surfing one morning, and we stopped. It was as though the universe had thrown down the gauntlet and we felt compelled to push ourselves to watch as much as possible.

(twisted, yes, but hasn’t everyone done this?)

But, I’ve hit Pretty In Pink tonight and I realize that it’s difficult for me not to think of the movie Mannequin each and every time that Andrew McCarthy appears onscreen

As Blaine, the romantic interest of Molly Ringwald, McCarthy has the charisma of tepid soup.

I first saw Pretty In Pink at a midnight showing in the autumn of 1986 and McCarthy’s uninspired performance bothered me then. Now – post-Mannequin – I keep hoping that this is an alternate version and the movie ends with Blaine’s head on a stick.

Pretty In Pink is a John Hughes classic and a defining ’80s flick, but it wasn’t burned into my consciousness like the late writer/director’s The Breakfast Club, from the year before, had been.

That movie’s dialogue had become central to the syntax spoken amongst me and my friends when it was released during our junior year of high school.

But, as I was of a certain age at the time, I still watch Pretty In Pink if we cross paths.

Molly Ringwald is still endearing, but it’s Annie Potts as Ringwald’s best friend Iona that has always been far more interesting to me.

She’s aesthetically pleasing, owns a record store, wields a staple gun like a gunslinger, and is named Iona.

Neat.

It’s that record store, though, that increasingly stirred my imagination as I continued to watch. It was like seeing an old home movie.

In college, there were half a dozen record stores within mere blocks of one another. It would have been unthinkable at the time had I been told that they all would be gone less than two decades after I’d graduate.

I’d like to think that Iona still has her shop, staple gun still blazing, but I know that’s unlikely.

(at least Andrew McCarthy seems to have vanished, too)

Pretty In Pink‘s soundtrack brought wider exposure to acts like New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, and – with the title song – The Psychedelic Furs. Though I was in college, our school’s radio station was all duct tape and chicken wire with a range of three blocks.

Ironically, I had had more opportunity to hear the music of the nascent college rock scene during my last couple years of high school despite living in a small town in the hinterlands as I was within range and listening to 97X.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

Real Life – Send Me An Angel
from Heartland

When 97X went on the air in the autumn of ’83, the station not only exposed me to acts that I would never hear on the mainstream stations to which I was listening, I also heard songs that, months later, would become mainstream hits.

(Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Peter Schilling’s Major Tom, and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun immediately come to mind)

The ethereal synth-pop track Send Me An Angel by Australians Real Life was another song that I heard for months on 97X before being surprised to hear it on Top 40 stations in early ’84.

Oingo Boingo – Just Another Day
from Dead Man’s Party

It wasn’t 97X, MTV, or the movie Weird Science – for which the band provided the title song – that offered me my first opportunity to hear Oingo Boingo.

It was Dr. Demento airing the Hollywood band’s song Insects on his weekly show a couple years before 97X even existed.

Of course, lead singer Danny Elfman has gone on to great success scoring films, but Oingo Boingo had quite a cult following in Southern California and the group managed to notch a couple minor hits along the way including the twitchy, darkly-tinged Just Another Day.

Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might sound familiar. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never recaptured the audience that discovered Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the film noirish Drive She Said.

The Alarm – Sixty-Eight Guns
from Declaration

Earnest and idealistic, The Alarm had a lot in common with U2 when both bands emerged as part of the post-punk scene in the early ’80s. In fact, The Alarm served as a support act for U2 as the latter was breaking in the States with War in ’83, but as U2 marched onward to superstardom, The Alarm remained a fringe act.

But The Alarm was a contender for a time and, though their albums were inconsistent and their sonic range somewhat limited, the Welsh quartet proved more than capable of delivering some stellar moments such as the bracing anthem Sixty-Eight Guns.

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Out Of Print

July 23, 2009

I’m not sure when I first heard those words – out of print. It might have been leafing through a Phonolog.

It’s strange to think that there is an entire generation that has never seen a Phonolog. This means there’s an entire generation of record store employees who have never had the tedious task of updating the Phonolog.

The tedium was the packet of loose leaf pages that would need to be snapped into the book. As the Phonolog was invariably at the front counter, this placed one precariously in the sightline of every bumfoozled customer.

(I cannot speak for all record stores, but, in the ones in which I worked, customer service was far down the list of concerns, well behind things like smoke breaks and hormonal pursuits)

(as an exception to the above declaration, Paloma was admirably, unfailingly, and most exceptionally patient with the people)

Anyhow, as I first discovered music and was spending time and (allowance) money in record stores, the Phonolog was the source. And sometimes the source would reveal that the item you sought was out of print.

(I can’t recall if it was denoted with a square next to the title or if the title simply didn’t appear in the act’s discography)

It was a disappointment.

As a record store employee, telling a customer that something a customer wanted was out of print was opening a Pandora’s Box of problems.

“Well can I special order it?” and “Would another store have it?” were two of the most popular responses for those who didn’t simply shrug and walk away.

One well-known, local club DJ reacted to “out of print” as though I had shuffled up to him in bloodied surgical garb and told him that a loved one was dead. He was inconsolable.

(it was quite melodramatic)

Explaining the concept of out of print to older customers could often go off the rails and quickly. It was often taken as a criticism of the music that they were seeking.

One old fellow (who had mistakenly called me “ma’am” from behind) eyed me suspiciously as I told him the album he wanted was out of print. He angrily interrogated me for twenty in an impromptu kangaroo court.

Finally, I simply told him that there were albums that I wanted which were out of print. It’s economics, man.

His clenched fists quivered with rage in the most genuine “you kids get off of my lawn” moment I’ve ever experienced.

I’m not sure if anything is truly unavailable these days. I do know that I’ve owned a lot of music that had gone out of print at one time or another.

Here are some tracks that I’ve read mentioned recently as being unavailable…

The Motels- Shame
from Shock

The Motels had a sizeable following in the late ’70s/early ’80s – first as an underground band; then, with the hits Only The Lonely and Suddenly Last Summer (see the video for the latter at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’).

They were a good band and worth checking out beyond the hits. Martha Davis was one of the sultriest, most dramatic singers of the period and reminded me of a female Jim Morrison. Shame was their last hit song in ’85 and, unfortunately, seems to be forgotten.

Paul Hyde & the Payola$ – You’re The Only Love
from Here’s The World For Ya

This song was (apparently) a small hit in 1985, but I don’t think I ever heard it on the radio. It was in the movie Real Genius, though, and my friends and I were quite familar with Real Genius as it was always on cable. (fortunately, it’s a fun flick)

I knew The Payola$ from another ’80s soundtrack – their song Eyes Of A Stranger was in Valley Girl. That song was chilly New Wave not unlike The Cars. You’re The Only Love was a mid-tempo ballad but bright and shiny.

Not a bad song, but it’s nothing to get excited about either.

Real Life – Send Me An Angel
from Heartland

All-Music Guide describes Real Life’s debut as Duran Duran-inspired and I wouldn’t disagree. It’s very much an album of the times with a serious dose of New Wave synthesizers.

Of course, Send Me An Angel hasn’t been forgotten and most folks would recognize the ethereal song upon hearing it.

Phantom, Rocker & Slick – Men Without Shame
from Phantom, Rocker & Slick

Phantom, Rocker & Slick was two Stray Cats – Slim Jim and Lee – and guitarist Earl Slick, who had been a member of David Bowie’s band in the ’70s. The union lasted for two records, their self-titled debut arriving in autumn of 1985.

For some reason I recall hearing this song during the fall of my senior year in high school. Several friends and I had trekked up to Butler University in Indianapolis to hang out.

I do know that the first time I heard Men Without Shame, the song had my attention. It rumbled and howled, welding glam rock to the rockabilly revivalism of Stray Cats. I was quite pleased to find Phantom, Rocker & Slick on vinyl recently and it still sounds as good.