Airwaves

January 24, 2013

djIt’s supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight.

It was cold during the winter of ’81/’82. Or maybe it wasn’t and I merely recollect it as so.

I do know for certain that it was during that winter that time I might have previously spent sprawled out in the family room watching television was being spent sprawled out in my bedroom, listening to the radio.

Music had become an increasing curiosity in my world over the previous year or so as I realized that the subject was being broached as much as sports and girls in hallway conversations with my junior high buddies.

Accompanying me on this journey into an unexplored world – hell, making it possible – was a battered table-top radio which I’d relocated from my dad’s basement work space.

I’d kneel on my bed with my elbows on the window ledge and stare out into the darkness. Across the country road that ran in front of our house were fields that in warmer months teemed with soybeans or corn.

Now, in the dead of winter, there might be a dusting of snow covering the dormant earth, perhaps a few stray stalks of corn that had been knocked over and missed in the autumn harvest.

Staring out into the dark, I knew that I was gazing eastward and that somewhere beyond a horizon I couldn’t see, sixty miles or so away, was Cincinnati.

More than likely, I was listening to Q102, which was broadcasting from Cincinnati. The station was the one that was most popular with my peers and I was still hesitant to move around the dial much, preferring to listen to the music that the rest of my buddies were listening.

I’d stare into the darkness through the frosted window pane and listen to the DJs with whom I was becoming familiar – Mark, Chris, Janeen – and consider them somewhere out there in some studio, bantering with an audience of which I was now a member.

The DJ would mention neighborhoods and places with which I was familiar. The weather outside my window jibed with the forecasts that they’d rattle off between songs.

If I was shivering, they were shivering, too.

We were in it together.

At least that’s how I remember that winter.

Here are four songs that are listed from Q102’s playlist in Billboard from this week in 1982…

The Commodores – Oh No
from In the Pocket (1981)

One of my buddies at a record store in college was an older bass player and funk aficionado. He would show me pictures of his band in the ’70s and it was obvious that The Commodores had been a fashion influence.

(the visual that comes to mind when I think of The Commodores, I think of pictures of the ’70s and Brick House)

But when it comes to the sound of The Commodores, I think first of the mostly mellow band on the radio in the early ’80s. And the concisely titled Oh No is moi mellow.

Oh No was at the top of Q102’s chart even though further back in the same issue of Billboard, it had already dropped out of the Top 40 in that week’s Hot 100 chart.

I had no reference for Oh No‘s subject matter at the time, but it was quite obvious that it was quite adult and quite serious.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)

In 1981, my classmates and I knew little of Rod Stewart’s already extensive history aside from his disco vamp Do You Think I’m Sexy, that song’s follow-up Ain’t Love A Bitch (because he sang “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

And that winter, we all knew Young Turks. I totally dug the song, the tale of Billy and Patti and their ten-pound baby boy, which found Rod ditching the disco trappings for a more wiry, New Wave musical vibe.

Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

Foreigner 4 had been one of the biggest albums of the school year and, by January of 1982, it had already spawned two mammoth hits with Urgent and Waiting For A Girl Like You.

Thirty-one years ago, Q102 listed the album’s third single, Juke Box Hero, as an add to the station’s playlist in Billboard.

The protagonist in the song had at least made it to the venue, even if he got stuck in the rain with no ticket. With no car, no money, and not even old even to drive, I was was eighteen months away from my first concert.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981)

There were several huge hits that were getting airplay on Q102 that winter – Olivia Newton John’s Physical, J. Geils Band’s Centerfold, Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That

And then there was Joan Jett & The Blackheart’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which, like Juke Box Hero, was a new add to Q102’s playlist.

I seem to recall hearing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll for the first time following school one afternoon and several more times over the course of that evening including on Q102’s Top Ten At Ten that night.

It would remain on the nightly countdown for the next few months and, by March, the song would be entrenched at the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100 where it would remain for nearly two months.

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October 17, 1981

October 15, 2011

The autumn of 1981 was the first time that the radio was the first thing I turned on in the morning and the last thing turned off at night.

Q102 would air the Top Ten At Ten weeknights at the titular hour, so a lot of nights I’d leave the radio on, listening well after they’d finished counting down the day’s most requested songs.

The station was the station for most of my junior high classmates and the previous evening’s countdown usually merited at least a few minutes discussion and debate the following day.

It was a good station for a kid just beginning to become interested in music, Top 40 with diverse offerings ranging from Air Supply and Hall & Oates to The Go-Go’s and Rick James as well as classic Who, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin.

Perusing the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine from thirty years ago, most of the songs are recognizable, some more familiar than others; some I did hear at the time and some only over the ensuing years.

Here are the nine songs making their first appearance on the chart during this week in 1981…

Arlan Day – I Surrender
from Surrender (1981)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 7 weeks on chart)

Arlan Day has one more hit song than me and likely you, yet there’s probably more info floating in cyberspace on most of us than there is on Arlan.

I Surrender makes me wonder if Day was concocted in some lab from leftover scraps of Leo Sayer.

Pablo Cruise – Slip Away
from Reflector (1981)
(debuted #88, peaked #75, 5 weeks on chart)

I know little about Pablo Cruise other than Whatcha Gonna Do? and Love Will Find A Way. I think that they were from California and had moustaches.

(they had that bright, late ’70s California soft pop sound and I think moustaches were mandated for such acts at the time)

Slip Away is pleasant enough, not quite four minutes of unadorned, mid-tempo, yacht rock blues.

The Alan Parsons Project – Snake Eyes
from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
(debuted #86, peaked #67, 5 weeks on chart)

I’ve long owned a lot of music by The Alan Parsons Project, but couldn’t remember Snake Eyes and it wasn’t familiar upon listening to it.

A follow-up to The Turn Of A Friendly Card‘s earlier hits Games People Play and Time, Snake Eyes is neither as catchy as the former nor as evocative as the latter.

Quarterflash – Harden My Heart
from Quarterflash (1981)
(debuted #80, peaked #3, 24 weeks on chart)

Thanks to Casey Kasem I know that Quarterflash got their name from…it’s an Australian saying…

I had to look it up. It derives from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

Harden My Heart was appealing and seems to have retained a bit of a presence.

(and my teenaged buddies and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be quite fetching)

Juice Newton – The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)
from Juice (1981)
(debuted #79, peaked #7, 24 weeks on chart)

Juice Newton caught my attention when I heard Angel Of The Morning and Queen Of Hearts – her earlier Top Ten hits from her self-titled album – on the radio, mostly because her name was Juice.

(sadly, her name is actually Judy)

Juice straddled the line between country and pop with those songs and the singer became a breakout sensation in 1981. The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known) is on the twangier side and, thus, was of no interest to me at the time, but I find the song more engaging now and Juice belts the melodramatic ballad to the back row.

Survivor – Poor Man’s Son
from Premonition (1981)
(debuted #78, peaked #33, 14 weeks on chart)

Survivor was just another aspiring arena rock band in the autumn of ’81, but, by the following summer, the Chicago band would unleash the mighty Eye Of The Tiger into an unsuspecting world. I seem to recall reading that it was hearing Poor Man’s Son that prompted Sylvester Stallone to tap Survivor to compose the theme for Rocky III.

The punchy Poor Man’s Son is servicable but sounds more like a band that would be relegated to opening act status for the Journeys, Foreigners, and REO Speedwagons of the world, hardly hinting at the musical immortality awaiting Survivor.

Kool & The Gang- Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)
from Something Special (1981)
(debuted #67, peaked #17, 17 weeks on chart)

Kool & The Gang was a pop radio staple in the early ’80s and throughout much of the decade, but the venerable R&B/funk act had punched their ticket for enduring fame and fortune a year earlier with the mammoth hit Celebration. The effervescent song became the soundtrack to all things celebatory in nature, especially sporting events.

I never really cared much for the doo-wop tinged Take My Heart, perferring the grittier funk of its follow-up Get Down On It, but I recall my buddy Beej loving the song at the time.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)
(debuted #61, peaked #5, 19 weeks on chart)

In 1981, my classmates and I knew little of Rod Stewart’s already extensive history aside from his disco vamp Do You Think I’m Sexy, that song’s follow-up Ain’t Love A Bitch (because, hey, he just said “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

I totally dug Young Turks, the tale of Billy and Patti and their ten-pound baby boy, which found Rod ditching the disco trappings for a more wiry, New Wave musical vibe.

Diana Ross – Why Do Fools Fall In Love
from Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1981)
(debuted #56, peaked #7, 20 weeks on chart)

Diana Ross had retained her superstar status as a solo act in the ’70s not only with a string of hit songs but in a number of movies as well.

However, like Rod Stewart, my classmates and I knew Ross for her more recent work – stuff like the movie The Wiz and her early ’80s hits like Upside Down, I’m Coming Out, and Endless Love – than her iconic time as a Supreme in the ’60s.

Whatever I knew by The Supremes at the time would have been dismissed as ancient history and Ross’ update of a Frankie Lymon hit from the ’50s usually prompted me to search for something else on the dial.


Very Tall Humans And Light Rock In The Night

December 4, 2010

As a kid in Indiana, the town gym was packed for our high school’s basketball games.

The streets of our town were even more deserted on winter nights if Indiana or Purdue had a game on television.

And yet, though there was an NBA team in Indianapolis – a mere hour or so away – I don’t remember anyone really even knowing if the Indiana Pacers had a game most nights.

This was during the late ’70s and Bird and Magic hadn’t yet raised the profile of the NBA. My friends I were fans and the weekly game on CBS was must-see viewing, but we were fans of certain players and each of us adopted the team of our favorite as ours.

No one I knew claimed to be a Pacers fan.

(I loved the great George Gervin, so I followed – as much as I could in a pre-cable/pre-internet world – the San Antonio Spurs)

One of my first memories of the Pacers was a telethon held on the independent television station to help the team sell tickets and ensure it didn’t fold.

The team’s name was dreadfully uninspired and there was no compelling superstar.

(I have proposed to a friend that, should I acquire great wealth, I would purchase the team and rename it the Indiana Children Of The Corn)

Sometimes on weekend nights during the season, I’d catch the last quarter of a game on the same independent channel before watching Nightmare Theater.

I’d be sprawled out on the couch, watching the Pacers lose again,and be grateful I was on the couch awaiting a bad horror flick and not braving the frigid winter elements to be at the game.

But it was on such a night, in early December 1981, that I ventured to Market Square Arena to see a Pacers game. One of our neighbors had an uncle in his mid-twenties who offered to take several of us to a game.

Jay had played hoops in high school. He had height at 6’5″ or so, but he had the athleticism of a tree.

(we were impressed by the height, though)

I truly remember no details of the game aside from the fact that Indiana played the Detroit Pistons. This was a couple seasons before Detroit’s run of great teams in the ’80s and their recent history had been as pitiful as the Pacers.

I think I mostly just stared down at the court with a sense of awe. Seeing NBA players live had an element of scale that television couldn’t capture.

A few clicks and I learn that the game took place on December 4, 1981, a Friday night, and Indiana won 105-95. It was their third win in a row.

Maybe that night is a tipping point at which music was beginning to hold as much interest to me as sports. Though my memories of the game are minimal, I vividly remember the ride home. It was late, there was a light mix of sleet and snow falling, and I could barely keep my eyes open as we drove through the night.

And the radio was on, tuned to a light rock station out of Indianapolis whose call letters I can’t recall.

Here are four songs that I vividly remember hearing on that ride home…

Dan Fogelberg – Leader Of The Band
from The Innocent Age

I’ve noted before that it seems that each and every used record store I visit has plenty of Dan Fogelberg vinyl in the bins. Apparently not everyone held onto them, but the bearded troubadour sold a lot of albums in his day.

And he also had a lot of radio hits during the late ’70s and early ’80s most of which I was fairly ambivilant toward. I always enjoyed hearing the now seasonal staple Same Auld Lang Syne (especially at the holidays) and Run For The Roses will get played as long as they run the Kentucky Derby.

But of all of Fogelberg’s work with which I am familiar, it’s hard not to be drawn into the singer’s gentle ode to his father,

Paul Davis – Cool Night
from Cool Night

I was surprised when I first saw the man who gave voice to the late ’70s light rock classic I Go Crazy – he looked like a long lost Allman Brother who should be raising some hell rather than delivering melancholic ruminations on a love affair gone sideways.

Of course, Paloma and I’ve pondered Paul Davis in the past.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours

By the late ’70s/early ’80s, Rod The Mod was still having hits and selling records, but his adoption of elements from the disco craze of the time on songs like Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? and Passion had alienated some long-time fans even as it earned him new ones.

Young Turks found Stewart chasing trends again, giving the song a synthesized, New Wave vibe, but I always dug the song which chronicled the tale of Billy, Patty, and their ten-pound baby boy.

Sneaker – More Than Just The Two Of Us
from Sneaker

The group Sneaker not only took their name from a Steely Dan song (Bad Sneakers), but longtime Steely Dan (as well as Doobie Brother) guitarist produced the band’s self-titled debut.

I snagged a copy of the album trolling for vinyl and it’s definitely got that laid-back, shuffling sound so typical of Southern California pop acts of the period. Their lone hit, though, was the airy ballad More Than Just The Two Of Us that is so wispy it makes Air Supply sound heavy.