Thirty Years Out From The Future

October 1, 2012

It was during 1982 that I first began purchasing music on an ongoing basis. I was hindered by the nearest actual record stores being fifty miles away and me and my buddies being thirteen-, fourteen-year old kids with little money and no driver’s licenses.

Those circumstances had conspired to keep my music collection to two-dozen or so cassettes as the first chilly mornings of autumn arrived that year.

(a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club)

I doubt that I was aware of the arrival of the first CD player hitting stores in Japan.

It’s quite likely that I first heard of compact disc technology from my buddy Beej who, even then, had a subscription to Stereo Review and was citing Julian Hirsch “of Hirsch-Houck Laboratories.”

I was listening to music through the most basic of means.

I couldn’t get to Cincinnati to buy Hall & Oates H2O and probably didn’t have the eight dollars and change to do so. The price tag of Sony’s CDP-101 – around $750 – and the item being available in Japan made it something for the jet set.

By the time I reached college, the price of the players had finally reached levels affordable to mere mortals, but I was still hesitant to take the digital plunge with a collection of hundreds of albums on cassette.

As the school year was closing in on spring break in March of ’87, it was a paper for a business writing class that proved to be the tipping point. I opted to write about the burgeoning digital revolution and, after several weeks of research and writing, I had convinced myself.

As other classmates headed for tropical climes, I made the two-hour trip to my hometown for a week of reconnecting with several high school buddies.

During that week, we made a trip into Cincinnati – a trek we had made a year before as often as we could acquire transportation – and I joined the jet set, purchasing a floor model of a Technics CD player for, as I recall, $165.

I would have thought you to be addled had you told me that rainy March day that, over the next fifteen years, I would own upwards of 8000 CDs.

Here are songs from the first four discs that I ever played on that first CD player…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere (1986)

After purchasing the CD player, I summarily purchased two CDs with one being the solo debut by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and I’m not sure why. I’d bought the cassette of Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere when it was released toward the end of ’86 and was underwhelmed.

However I had just read Geldof’s autobiography, Is That It?, so that might have been the catalyst. With Eurythmic Dave Stewart co-producing I expected more, but the songs just weren’t there.

This Is The World Calling was one of the few exceptions. The anthemic plea featured the trio of Maria McKee, Annie Lennox, and Alison Moyet on backing vocals.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows (1985)

Power Windows was the other CD I snagged for my new player and, like the Geldof disc, is a bit puzzling in retrospect not least in the respect that it had been released eighteen months earlier.

However, I had gotten into Rush heavily during my last couple years of high school and I did quite like Power Windows (and had seen the band on that tour). Territories was one of several tracks from the album that got played heavily on the rock stations that I was listening to and I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

The Alan Parsons Project – Old And Wise
from The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project (1983)

In addition to the two CDs I initially bought, my buddy Streuss temporarily gifted me a pair of discs that he owned despite not having a CD player.

Several of us were fans of The Alan Parsons Project who had been a radio fixture during the first half of the ’80s with songs like Games People Play, Eye In The Sky, and Don’t Answer Me. At the time I bought my player, the duo of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had just released Gaudi which would prove to be their final release under The Alan Parsons Project banner.

Of those first discs from which I had to choose as I got to know the crisp sound of the medium, The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project sounded the most impressive, but, then again, Parsons, as an Abbey Road engineer, did earn credits for his work on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Old And Wise is a track from Eye In The Sky which I used to hear a lot on one of the soft rock stations and is most certainly a whisper of a song. With lead vocals provided by ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone, Old And Wise is reminiscent of the earlier Project hit Time.

The Moody Blues – The Voice
from Voices In The Sky: The Best Of The Moody Blues (1984)

The other disc Streuss passed to me was a Moody Blues compilation.

I knew Nights In White Satin and the band had hits while I was in high school like Gemini Dream, Sitting At The Wheel, and Your Wildest Dreams, but I was fairly ambivalent.

But, I had four CDs from which to choose and a new toy, so I gave the disc a lot of plays. I remained fairly ambivalent, but the breezy The Voice seemed less fussy than most of the other songs.

And, if I hear The Voice, I first think of seeing the Solid Gold dancers dance to the song during the summer of ’81.

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Shuffling Slowly Toward Sound Fidelity

May 15, 2011

It was during this week in 1982, that I graduated from grade school.

I’m not sure if it was because of our small town’s agrairian past – when not everyone went on to high school – or if it was the chance to inject excitement into the sleepy hum of daily life, but the event was treated with considerable pomp and circumstance.

As a kid that, like a lot of kids, had no use for formalities, I thought most of it was an inconvenient hullabaloo.

But there was an upside to losing a Saturday to ceremony, pictures, uncomfortable clothes, and time spent with adults – cash.

With some of that cash, I made a major purchase, a table top clock radio with a cassette player manufactured by Lloyd’s.

It had only been a year or so since my new interest in music had spurred me to relocate a radio from the basement to my bedroom. It had been on my old man’s workbench or the garage for as long as I could rremember.

It was a battered, oblong box – one corner of the grill covering the 45-sized speaker had separated from the unit and the cord was a scoliotic snake.

It served my purposes well during those early months as I explored the world of radio. And, in the time it took for me to open a cardboard box, it had become a childhood artifact.

This new purchase – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyds beast” – also made obsolete a portable cassette player from the ’70s that I used to listen to the handful of albums I owned.

(it was also used it to make primitive mix tapes of songs recorded by positioning the built-in microphone of the device as close as possible to the speaker of the radio)

This new acquisition – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyd’s beast” – was, though merely a small step toward fidelity, a great technological leap forward for me.

Beej had an older brother. He was already reading Stereo Review, yammering about specs and Hirsch-Houk Laboratories, and putting together a stereo system.

I would soon begin to eye the magnificent components he was acquiring and go in the that direction, too.

(as soon as I was able to scrape together the funding, a slow process that neccesitated my buying one component at a time over the course of an entire summer)

But, twenty-nine years ago, the “Lloyd’s beast” was possibly my most prized possession.

Here are four songs that I vividly recall from that time…

Human League – Don’t You Want Me
from Dare

Had I had interest in music a few years earlier, either disco or punk might have been the “new” sound that my friends and I would have adopted as our own. I’m grateful that, instead, New Wave and synthesizer bands from the UK turned out to be our find.

Human League’s Don’t You Want Me had to have been one of the first songs by a synth band I heard and I it hooked me. My buddy Streuss was obsessive about the band, spending the next year or so focused on collecting every single, 12″ inch single, EP, remix, and whatever else he could acquire by the Sheffield band.

Toto – Rosanna
from Toto IV

I have no qualms in acknowledging that I own most of Toto’s albums up through the mid-’80s and I rarely hit skip when one of their songs pops up on shuffle.

Rosanna was a constant on the radio during the summer of ’82 – all summer long – and I don’t think I ever tired of it. It’s still as joyously infectious all of these years later.

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kim Wilde

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song. It bounded along. It had a chanted chorus. It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

It had it all.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

Although I was fairly lukewarm about the song Centerfold, I’d gotten a copy of J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame as a gift and most of the rest of the album I loved. I don’t think any of us knew that the band had actually been around for more than a decade and was known to music fans as America’s answer to The Rolling Stones (I, at that time, certainly didn’t).

Although it wasn’t nearly as big as Centerfold or Freeze Frame‘s title track, Angel In Blue – a wistful ode to a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with the obligatory heart of gold – was a favorite then and, like that waitress, it hasn’t aged a bit.


It Wasn’t A Nakamichi Dragon, But It Was Mine

March 13, 2010

I’m not sure when Spring Break became an event, but it was beginning to take on a life of its own by the time I reached high school in the early ’80s.

It was an underwhelming stretch on the calender for most of us in southern Indiana. Sure, it was time off school which was a wonderful thing, but there were no junkets to Ft. Lauderdale or Cancun for most of us.

There were a handful of kids from more affluent families (or families feigning affluence) who trekked off to more sunny locales, but, for the majority of my classmates, Spring Break was something people in teen movies – or, a few years later, MTV – experienced.

Instead, I remember a lot of rain. It seemed to always rain during that week in mid-March, but, coming out of winter in the Midwest, rain meant that it was too warm to snow and that was enough to put most folks in a hopeful mood (even when it was a cold, stinging rain).

Despite the uncooperative meteorological conditions, there were a couple Spring Breaks which were memorable to me, maybe none more than 1984.

When I had first become interested in music three or four years earlier, I staked claim to an old, boxy tabletop radio with big dials and a front panel whose grill was becoming detached. I’d dug it up in our basement where it had likely languished since the early ’70s.

Sometime over the next year or two, I’d gotten a tape recorder and begun to purchase albums on cassette. However, mostly I was taping songs I liked off the radio, placing the built-in mic as close to the radio’s single speaker as possible for maximum fidelity and minimal background noise.

(and, as Any Major Dude will agree, you opted for pause instead of stop)

The next step in audio evolution was a “component.” Though it was almost the size of an actual stereo component, it was essentially a glorified clock radio with a tape deck.

I loved it and my crude radio compilations of Journey, The Police, and Duran Duran had never sounded better.

But, several of my friends were burgeoning audiophiles and were putting together actual rack systems and so, as Spring Break arrived in March of ’84, I was ready to take the first step in entering into this audio arms race.

So, on the first morning of the first day of that break, I headed into Cincinnati with a couple friends and $150 I had saved from a part-time job with the intent to purchase an actual tape deck.

It was, of course, raining.

By that evening, I had contributed to Pioneer’s first quarter profits, purchasing a sleek, silver CT-20 model (with Dolby). It would be toward the end of the summer before I would scrounge up enough cash to add an actual tuner and speakers to the electronic menagerie, so I hooked up the tape deck to the glorified clock radio.

And there was no place on earth that I’d rather have been that Spring Break than sprawled out on my bedroom floor, setting recording levels, dubbing cassettes, and taping songs from the radio.

Here are four songs I distinctly remember taping from various stations as I got to know the tape deck which would be a fixture in my life for the next five or six years…

Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi

Though I’ve never really been a fan aside from a couple songs, I’ve always kind of rooted for Bon Jovi. He seems like a pretty good guy.

She Don’t Know Me got played a lot on 96Rock that Spring (along with Runaway) and it was a catchy reflection on unrequited love at the time. Marc Avsec of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers had written it and it’s not hard to imagine that band doing the song.

(maybe they did a version, but, if they did, I haven’t heard it)

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard the hits from Side Kicks (it had a different title in the UK). I thought Love On Your Side and Lies pleasant at first but soon they were annoyingly hyperactive and grating.

(you know, the kind of song you start to really fall for and then wonder what the hell you heard in it in the first place)

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid and lush. It totally drew me in.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
from Lament

I had never heard Ultravox before late winter of 1984, but I had seen their name in my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, Lament was released and I heard Dancing With Tears In My Eyes on the radio (though not very often).

I actually borrowed Lament from a friend. It was the first cassette I ever dubbed – a most momentous personal milestone.

I was a fan. At least for that album. I never really have gotten around to explore the rest of their catalog aside from knowing the songs Vienna and Reap The Wild Wind.