Frog’s Midnight Album

November 10, 2012

For the first year or so that radio had captured my interest, I was hesitant to roll the bones and scan the dial for fear of ending up in some hostile, unfamiliar musical terrain that might warp my psyche.

So, the orange hand indicating frequency on the cheap stereo in my bedroom was perpetually set to 101.9 – Q102. The station – based on the talk ’round the water fountain – tested well with my junior high peers.

As, at the outset, I had no expectations that music would be much more than something to fill the air around me, it made sense to align myself with a station that allowed me to contribute to hallway chatter.

So, it was Q102 which was a Top 40 station but with a dose of songs from acts like The Who, Led Zeppelin, and others that would – a decade or so later – become the backbone of classic rock stations.

(at the time, neither Baba O’Reilly nor Black Dog were even ten years old and Keith Moon and John Bonham were still recently deceased)

There was a small cadre of classmates who were fiercely loyal to WEBN.

These kids had older siblings in high school and there was something more dangerous about ‘EBN in my mind. It was the station for long-haired hooligans who smoked cigarettes as the station blared from their Trans-Ams.

I likely suspected that listening to the station would turn me into a juvie.

But, by the time I reached high school, I was surfing the dial with total abandon and even dialing up WEBN.

No portal to Hell opened.

WEBN played some acts with which I was familiar from Q102. They played Journey and they played Billy Squier, but much of it was unfamiliar terrain and an introduction to acts about whom I knew little – Black Sabbath, The Kinks, Cream, Jimi Hendrix…

It didn’t all resonate with me, but it became obvious that music was not going to turn me into a juvie.

And, the most appealing thing about this new listening destination to me was Frog’s Midnight Album during which each weeknight the station would air a new album, one side at a time.

Frog’s Midnight Album was a chance to preview candidates that might earn consideration for my meager, hard-earned allowance. Of course, as blank tape was more affordable, the show also allowed me to build up a bit of a collection of albums.

By the autumn of 1983, Frog’s Midnight Album was appointment listening, even if it was long enough to hear who it was and a song or two. Here are four songs from albums that I seem to recall hearing on Frog’s Midnight Album that autumn…

The Rolling Stones – Undercover Of The Night
from Undercover (1983)

The Rolling Stones’ Undercover was one of the most anticipated albums of late ’83, arriving more than three years after their last studio album – an eternity at the time. And, as I recall, it proved to be critically rebuffed.

Personally, I dug Undercover Of The Night, the first single, and the sheer momentum of new music from The Stones helped propel the song into the Top Ten. It’s a trippy tune fraught with a menacing vibe that’s always been an essential part of much of the band’s finest work.

Yes – Our Song
from 90125 (1983)

Even though Yes had their heydey in the ’70s and were split by the time I really started paying attention, I was familiar with the band thanks to my buddy Streuss who was a big fan.

(I recall his ongoing search for a copy of their Tormato album)

Then 90125 brought the reunited band to a new audience aided by the production of Trevor Horn and MTV. I think most of us owned a copy at the time and, though I’m still a bit burned out on Owner Of A Lonely Heart, songs like Leave It, It Can Happen, and the shimmering Our Song still sounds pretty good nearly thirty years on.

Survivor – Caught In The Game
from Caught In The Game (1983)

Though it had been eighteen months or so since Survivor had unleashed Eye Of The Tiger, the song had been so mammoth that there was some hoopla when the band returned with the follow-up to its parent album.

And then I heard the title track. It was no Eye Of The Tiger.

Caught In The Game obviously had no chance to duplicate the monster success of Eye Of The Tiger and the song is rather generic. However, when it popped up on shuffle not long ago, it made me smile and prompted a second listen, so, there is something that I dig about it.

Genesis – Home By The Sea
from Genesis (1983)

Genesis had been moving in a more commercial direction for half a decade or so when their self-titled album arrived in 1983. The trio’s previous studio effort, Abacab, had spawned three Top 40 hits with No Reply At All, Man On The Corner, and the title track, while still retaining some of the group’s expected progressive tendencies.

Genesis was even more tailored for radio and produced the band’s biggest hit to date with That’s All. The haunting (and haunted) Home By The Sea harkened back more to Genesis’ progressive roots, appearing on the album in two parts – Home By The Sea and Second Home By The Sea – that ran better than eleven minutes combined.

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The Widow Hopkins

December 14, 2011

During my twenties, I put my college degree to good use working in a large record store.

There was a row of small stores near, the closest of which had a revolving door of tenants. One day, it was a jeweler; the next day, a head shop.

In one of its incarnations, it reopened as a clothing store, a small boutique favoring vintage stuff from the ’60s, threads that might have been worn in Swingin’ London.

As the world had finally caught up to my sartorial sensibilities with grunge, I had little reason to peruse the store’s wares, never even venturing in until I accompanied Tree Boy, a friend who was a bassist, arborist, photographer, and occasional nude model.

(“the trick is to remain flaccid, yet life-like,” he would tell us)

I wandered around the small store idly as Tree Boy chatted with the woman working there, a willowy, older woman with long, red hair and fair skin who was attired in a manner that reminded me of Stevie Nicks.

Bored, I finally shuffled over to retrieve Tree Boy and he introduced me to the woman.

She had an accent and her name was Moira.

The two chatted for a few more minutes and, from the context of the conversation, I surmised that she was married to a musician.

After we left, as I trudged back for the rest of my shift, Tree Boy confirmed that Moira had indeed been married to a muiscian.

“Moira was married to Nicky Hopkins.”

Oh, I knew the name and some of the credits of Moira’s late husband, but it was over drinks that The Drunken Frenchman educated our usual group from the record store on the staggering list of legendary albums and songs featuring Nicky Hopkins on piano.

(staggering being a staggering understatement)

“We must keep an eye out and see that no harm comes to The Widow Hopkins,” The Frenchman said gruffly, his furrowed brow betraying a lack of confidence in us, his younger compatriots, as he raised his glass.

(I’m not sure what harm The Frenchman believed might occur or what help she might need from drunken slackers, but he certainly seemed resolute in his oath)

You’d see Moira in the record store on occasion and she’d often spend a minute or two in pleasant conversation with us clerks. She seemed like a genuinely lovely person.

During one night of drinking, there was a debate regarding the difference between a jig and a reel with the idea proffered that, because of her heritage, we should ask Moira.

(an alcohol-infused idea that, fortunately, we realized was a bad one)

I haven’t seen Moira in years, but I hope she’s out there, somewhere, doing well with the spirit of The Frenchman keeping her from harm.

Here are four songs – from the multitude of possible choices – on which Nicky Hopkins performed…

Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil
from Beggars Banquet (1968)

If I had to choose one song from The Stones, the hypnotic, menacing Sympathy For The Devil is the one.

John Lennon – Oh Yoko!
from Imagine (1971)

John Lennon did more than a few songs inspired by his devotion to Yoko Ono and I’ve always loved the playful Oh Yoko!.

The Who – Getting In Tune
from Who’s Next (1971)

For all of their ferocity, The Who understood dynamics as on Getting In Tune which opens with a gentle simplicity before building to a crescendo.

Ringo Starr – Photograph
from Ringo (1973)

I’m sure that I heard Ringo Starr’s Photograph at some point over the years, but I truly become acquainted with the song from hearing it often on Sirius’ ’70s channel. Ringo might have been the funny one, but he’s more than capable of delivering the lovely, wistful song with all of the pathos required.


Today, My Best Friend…Tomorrow, Who Knows?

May 11, 2011

Sometime last week, during the spate of coverage on the demise of Osama bin Laden, I happened upon a program on the life of the iconic terrorist.

One of the people interviewed was described as bin Laden’s best friend as a teenager.

It must make a pretzel of the mind to have such a notorious character as a former best friend.

The first best friend that I can remember having was a kid named George. There’s little else I recall aside from his name and I have no recollection as to what earned him status as numero uno amigo.

I do recall that I stripped him of the title and I slotted another classmate into the position.

I wanted John as my best friend because he was tall, a head taller than everyone else.

(people have been placed in high office using such logic, but I was five)

I’ve had no contact with either of these kids in almost forty years, but it seems as though George is a DJ in the upper Midwest, so perhaps I was being prescient about the interest I’d someday have in music.

By the time I reached high school, I was in a transitional period with friendships. The concept of best friend had evolved into a group of eight or nine of us who would end up together in different permutations and numbers.

One of these buddies was a bit of a fire enthusiast and devotee of things that go kaboom.

During senior year, Kirk The Pyro went to California with another of our friends for spring break.

(most of us settled for wandering the malls in Cincinnati)

This dynamic duo returned to the grimness of March in the Midwest with tans and dynamite.

“Where did you get dynamite?”

“Tijuana”

“So, you brought dynamite from Tijuana on your flight home from California?”

It was a simpler world and a time when – relative to today – the airlines essentially had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

The interviewee on the television screen had described bin Laden as quiet and polite, their friendship rooted in a shared love for soccer.

I could only describe Kirk The Pyro as like Woody Woodpecker in human form and our bond forged by a common appreciation for antics, hijinks, and shenanigans.

And though I haven’t had contact with him since college, I also haven’t seen him become the target of a global manhunt.

Here are four friend songs…

Clarence Clemons And Jackson Browne – You’re A Friend Of Mine
from Hero

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were probably as big as any act in my lifetime. During the mid-’80s. Born In The USA sold ten million copies and pretty much every song on the record got extensive airplay on the radio. The group’s success was so massive and demand for more music so great that b-sides like Pink Cadillac and Stand On It got played heavily.

E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons even had a solo hit during the winter of ’85 when he duetted with Jackson Browne on the upbeat and catchy You’re A Friend Of Mine.

The Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend
from Tattoo You

Personally, I’ve always thought that Waiting On A Friend was one of the Stones’ finest post-’70s moments. The song is so casual and the vibe so laid-back that it’s always welcome when it pops up on shuffle.

Apparently it was the first video by the Stones played on MTV (with reggae great Peter Tosh hanging out on the steps).

Grateful Dead – Friend Of The Devil
from Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead got discovered my generation while I was in college when A Touch Of Gray put the venerable band all over MTV. I liked the song and I even liked a lot of its parent album, In The Dark, which was played often in the record store where I worked.

I’ve also enjoyed stuff from their catalog as I’ve been introduced to it here and there, but I’ve never felt the rabid passion for The Dead that they inspired in a lot of my peers.

Jellyfish – He’s My Best Friend
from Spilt Milk

I discovered Jellyfish when the record store where I worked received a promo copy of the band’s debut, Bellybutton, in 1990. The psychedelic album cover was eye-catching and the music earned the group from San Francisco comparisons to greats like Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, XTC, and Cheap Trick.

Despite plenty of swooning by critics, Jellyfish was unable to find mainstream success and would split up after just one more album, 1993′s Spilt Milk, but the group has continued to loom large in the hearts of power pop devotees for the past two decades.