The End Of Time As We Knew It

November 9, 2011

So, the clocks have been turned back, an act that still is an odd thing to me as I grew up in one of the few swaths of the US that didn’t acknowledge such antics.

(Paloma is like a ninja somehow resetting all of the numerous timepieces in the treehouse so swiftly, so deftly that I never see her do it, but the feat is accomplished by the time I awake)

As the citizens of my hometown were ignoring the changing of the times in autumn, 1984, my friends and I had all reached our sixteenth birthdays and, thus, all had our drivers licenses for the first time.

The end of Daylight Savings Time did not go completely unnoticed. Most of the radio and television stations we received were broadcast out of Southwestern Ohio. The clocks moving back in Cincinnati meant having to stay up later to watch the end of Monday Night Football and hear Dandy Don Meredith croon.

The upside was that we gained an hour to troll the record stores and malls on treks into the city.

During the summer months, by the time one of us procured transportation, it was usually after someone’s parents or older sibling had returned home from work.

(my buddy Beej often loaned himself his brother’s Datsun B210 which we had nicknamed, for reasons unexplained, The Invisible Jet)

We often had to make tactical decisions regarding which record stores to hit in a limited timeframe and the last scheduled stop hinged upon closing times.

Invariably, we would underestimate the time spent elsewhere and these junkets often ended with us hurriedly searching through the aisles of Peaches as clerks eager to close for the night were turning down the lights.

There was no rush like taking a roa trip and returning with new music. Though I was branching out at the time and listening to more alternative rock, I was still tentative when it came to actually parting with the little cash I had. So, I was still tethered to buying more mainstream stuff.

Here are four songs from purchases that autumn…

Julian Lennon – Valotte
from Valotte (1984)

For folks who grew up with The Beatles, it must have been a bit trippy to hear the voice of John Lennon’s son when Valotte arrived and became a big hit. The title track was all over radio that fall and the sparse, lovely song simply sounded like autumn.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.

Toto – Stranger In Town
from Isolation (1984)

I’d worn out the cassette of Toto’s mega-selling Toto IV that I’d purchased from the Columbia Record & Tape Club. The band was hardly reinventing fire, but to a kid just discovering pop music, it was a thoroughly engaging collection of pop/rock that clicked with me even beyond the hits like Rosanna and Africa.

Isolation arrived a good two years after Toto IV. It was a lengthy gap between records for the time. Toto had changed and so had I, but I totally dug the mysterious vibe of Stranger In Town, which – based on how quickly the album vanished – must have put me in the minority.

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown (1984)

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

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The Women’s Music

October 14, 2010

One of the record stores at which I worked was immense – we stocked upwards of 90,000 CDs and had several different listening environments.

(the classical room was an excellent place to hideout and – on at least one occasion for a co-worker – provide a nook for a nap)

Most of the store was arranged in sections by genres that would be familiar to most folks who have spent time in a record store.

(back when they existed)

But, our store had one section, created at the discretion and insistence of Jen, our main buyer, that baffled us…

…the women’s music section.

None of us truly understood what the hell our buyer wanted stocked there.

To qualify, the artist had to possess xx chromosomes. Beyond that criteria, no one knew what determined whether (a then unknown) Sarah MacLachlan was filed in the rock section or the women’s music section.

Now, according to Wikipedia, women’s music is “music by women, for women, and about women” and Ladyslipper has been one of the major labels for the genre.

We did stock a good hundred or more titles by the label at any given time, but that definition doesn’t explain why Jen tried to migrate the Kate Bush UK releases from the import aisle to women’s music.

I’ve been a fan of Kate Bush since The Hounds Of Love and – though I suppose some of her work might resonate for me a bit more if I was a woman – I have found that having testicles hasn’t hindered my enjoyment of her music.

(and, at least in the case of her video for Babooshka, there might have been more resonance for me as a guy)

The women’s music section might have started out as “music by women, for women, and about women,” but what it actually became was music by women for Jen.

She had carved out her own, sovereign musical nation within our store – a breakaway republic populated by the music she loved.

(and, given enough time, I have no doubt that she would have somehow relocated Cheap Trick and The Raspberries – both bands were favorites of hers – into her utopian kingdom)

Here are four (mostly) random songs by female acts (or bands with with a considerable female presence)…

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Cities In Dust
from Twice Upon A Time: The Singles

One of the first songs by Siouxsie Sioux and company that I recall ever hearing, Cities In Dust is also one of their poppiest tracks.

(and there just haven’t been enough catchy songs about the destruction of Pompeii)

Ednaswap – Torn
from Ednaswap

The Los Angeles band Ednaswap’s name was, apparently, taken from a band that appeared in a dream by lead singer Anne Preven. Their self-titled debut from 1995 is slightly grungy with a twist of alternapop.

The band made little impact over the course of three albums, but Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia covered Torn several years after the track appeared on Ednaswap’s debut and her more polished version of the song became a global smash.

Personally, I think I prefer the more unvarnished original – which rocks a bit more – and Preven’s far more soulful pipes.

The Go-Go’s – Get Up And Go
from Vacation

The Go-Go’s ruled the world briefly when their 1981 debut Beauty And The Beat became one of the biggest selling albums of the following year and landed the all-female quintet on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The follow-up Vacation had not a chance of matching Beauty And The Beat, but the title track was destined to be an ’80s classic and it’s still a fun record.

And though it doesn’t have a chorus as memorable as their finest moments, the pounding Get Up And Go is a giddy delight.

The Tourists – I Only Want To Be With You
from Reality Effect

If you recognize the vocals on this version of the oft-covered I Only Want To Be With You, there’s good reason as it’s unmistakably Annie Lennox, who spent a few years as a member of The Tourists with one Dave Stewart.

Annie and Dave went on to fame as Eurythmics with a string of imaginative and evocative singles and several very, very good albums during the ’80s.


The End Of The Line

August 7, 2010

During my years in college and post-college, I spent a decade working in record stores and it was usually true that nothing could rekindle interest in a career like death.

A wave of customers searching for some act that had slipped from the radar of the general public usually didn’t bode well for the artist, especially if the customers making the requests appeared to be setting foot in a record store for the first time in years.

One morning, working with The Drunken Frenchman, we had several customers asking about Peter, Paul & Mary. I wondered aloud whether a plane had gone down with the folk trio on board.

As he had also worked in various record stores for years, The Frenchman realized it was entirely possible.

Ten minutes later, a customer came up to the counter asking him about Puff The Magic Dragon.

“Were they killed in a plane crash?”

He was quite concerned.

(in fact, a concert performance of theirs had aired on PBS the night before)

The store in which we worked was probably one of the thirty largest in the country. The top-selling albums each week would sometimes sell as many as five- or six-hundred copies.

The ripple effect when an act died was immediate.

I spent several years as the head buyer, responsible for ordering everything but classical and the news of a death would result in a phone call from one of the distribution reps.

Even for more obscure acts, I usually felt obligated to order – at least – a few token titles. If the artist had a catalog with releases on numerous labels, sometimes there would be three or four calls.

There were a lot of artists that shuffled on during those years who were quite notable – Frank Zappa, Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia – and a lot more of them who existed on the fringe.

(The Frenchman was particularly distressed over the passing of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Viv Stanshall)

It could be difficult to predict the Dead Man’s Bounce.

Our store didn’t see much of an uptick in demand for The Dead after Garcia died, but, then again, each month we would burn through a boxlot of Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead; another one in combined sales from the rest of their catalog.

When Blind Melon’s lead singer Shannon Hoon died in ’95 – just three years after the success of No Rain – it couldn’t revive interest in the band’s recently released Soup.

(I honestly believe that everyone was still sick of “the Bee Girl” video)

In fact, of all the artists that died during those years, the one whose death seemed to goose sales the most was one that I would have never expected – John Denver.

Here are four songs from acts whose passing occurred during those years when I was living in a slacker’s paradise, working in record stores)…

Traveling Wilburys – End Of The Line
from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Roy Orbison is one of the few artists that I vividly recall my parents playing while I was growing up, so I was somewhat more familiar with him than a lot of my peers in 1988.

As that year wound down, I was working in my first record store and Orbison was in the midst of a serious comeback. In December, a heart attack took the legendary singer.

In early ’89, two months after his death, Orbison’s Mystery Girl album was issued and would spawn the hit single You Got It. Several months prior to his passing, he had also found success as one-fifth of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys.

Orbison had just passed away when Traveling Wilburys had released their second single, the lovely End Of The Line, and his fellow Wilburys noted Lefty’s absence with several poignant visual nods in the song’s video.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Superstition
from The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2

The circumstances are fuzzy now, but a roommate were either discussing guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan or, perhaps, even listening to him in the record store where we both worked when we learned of his death.

(for quite some time, we felt somewhat responsible)

Sadly, Vaughan had finally gotten his life untracked, was playing better than he ever had, and had just fulfilled a life-long dream of recording an album with his older brother and fellow guitarist Jimmie when he perished in a post-gig helicopter crash.

A month later, Family Style, the lone album under the Vaughan Brother moniker would arrive to commercial and critical acclaim.

Personally, I thought that Vaughan’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic Superstition to be a particularly inspired choice.

Blind Melon – Galaxie
from Soup

I might have been one of the few people at the time that didn’t reach a point where No Rain and the “Bee Girl” would provoke visceral, involuntary rage. I still find the song winsome and charming.

Their follow-up Soup had received good notices, but had struggled to find an audience when charismatic lead singer Shannon Hoon overdosed in late October, 1995.

As a fellow Hoosier, I felt especially bummed out at the news.

Galaxie, supposedly inspired by Hoon’s car, alternated between a melody that shifted from jittery to almost ethereal and back again with an effortlessness that hooks me again each time I hear it.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
from Grace

I’ve told tale before of the good fortune I had to not only see Jeff Buckley shortly before Grace‘s release but to also have a few drinks with the remarkably talented singer.

Like Nick Drake, the discovery of Buckley by most listeners post-mortem seems to have gained momentum more so over the years and as a result of continued praise from critics.

And, like Drake, Buckley’s slight body of work – Grace was the only album he released during his lifetime – left those new fans with the nagging void of unfulfilled promise.