The Sporting News

May 4, 2012

In a pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there were limited options for a sports junkie to get a fix.

Perhaps ten minutes of time on the late news might be devoted to sports – scores and a few highlights. If you followed a particular team that wasn’t in your area, you’d have to hope for a bit of coverage in the sports section of the morning newspaper.

And, as our newspaper and most of our television channels originated from Cincinnati, a city without an NBA team, it was as if professional basketball didn’t exist.

In that pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there was one place to find detailed coverage of the sports world.

The Sporting News would arrive in the school library toward the week’s end and the competition for it would be fierce. The competition for the previous week’s issue, which was now free to be checked out, would be equally so.

A couple classmates were fortunate enough to have subscriptions – heady stuff for a pre-teen – so there were often a couple extra copies to be had if you were connected.

Sports Illustrated was a must-read, but The Sporting News was the source for a recap of a Bulls/Spurs matchup on a Tuesday night in February.

(though the game would have taken place a week and a half or more before you read about it)

The Sporting News was also the most indispensible source to gather (relatively) current statistics in far greater detail than the sports section. Even the box scores were more granular.

It was the place to get the information to trump your buddies when the question of who was leading the country in scoring was up for discussion.

(and knowing it was some small forward from California-Irvine averaging 26.2 points a game)

At twelve, I’d pore over each page, accumulating a layer of newsprint on my fingers, as though it contained the sum of all knowledge in the universe.

Thirty-three years ago, fifth grade was coming to a close and summer break was within sight, just a few, tantalizing weeks away. Baseball box scores would have been jostling with coverage of the NBA playoffs for space within the pages of The Sporting News.

That May, my grandfather passed away. Five months later, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates staged a dramatic comeback to beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Today, it’s been a couple years since I thumbed through a copy of The Sporting News. There are numerous opportunities to access the information – up to the moment – that made the magazine so prized back in the day.

(and I don’t even need that accessibility to know that the Pirates are, as they have been for much of the past two decades, near the bottom of the standings)

Here are four songs that were on the Billboard Hot 100 in early May, 1979…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi (1978)

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose because of how often I heard it at the pool during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits (1992)

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to explore further. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52′s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.

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Which Way To Cool?

April 28, 2011

Having no older siblings, I had no older siblings to influence my musical tastes or to bequeath me their albums.

My parents would play albums by Roy Orbison, Ray Price, and The Statler Brothers on the wood-grained, late ’60s cabinet console stereo in the living room.

The radio in the kitchen would be tuned to the station in our small town which was ’70s light rock (and, by the ’80s, country), but it was mostly for news and weather.

The earliest memories I have of music is from hearing it on the car radio and the acts that come to mind are ones like The Carpenters, America, Jim Croce, and The Fifth Dimension.

(apparently by the time my folks hit thirty, they had already settled in with light rock)

We had music class in school, but it was a kind of random class that popped up when least expected and never seemed to progress beyond an explanation of quarter notes and measures.

There were scattered moments during those years that music made it into the classroom.

A third-grade teacher was obsessive about Alice Cooper. Though I don’t think she ever played the stuff in class, she sure as hell blathered on and on about him.

(undoubtedly the source of my abstinence from Cooper’s music for many, many years)

A teacher in fifth-grade would play Jethro Tull on occasion.

(I still can vividly picture the album cover to Heavy Horses)

In seventh-grade, we spent several days in one class – religion, if I recall – listening to sides from Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants and I remember being fascinated.

By that time, I knew who Stevie Wonder was and could likely name a song or two. I was starting to listen to the radio and the station of choice for this new world was a Top 40 station out of Cincinnati that was popular with my classmates.

The friends with the older siblings quickly moved on to the cooler album rock stations.

Without such direct influence I made some dubious missteps – believing Asia to be one of the greatest bands in the history of humankind in ’82 – but I also didn’t have someone so close scribbling on my blank slate.

And, along the way, there’s been a lot of music – good and not so good – and a lot still resides on the iPod. So, here are four mostly random songs from shuffle…

Los Lobos – Peace
from Kiko

Los Lobos has a rich catalog of genre-defying music far beyond their smash cover of Richie Valens’ La Bamba. With 1992’s Kiko, the group, collaborating with producer Mitchell Froom, issued what might be their finest album.

Kiko is truly an album best enjoyed as a whole and I didn’t immediately recall the shuffling Peace, but I’ve come to realize that I never listen to a song by Los Lobos and feel it’s been time misspent.

Fossil – Josephine Baker
from Fossil

Paloma gets credit for discovering Fossil, pulling their lone, 1995 release from the stacks of promo CDs I had in my apartment at the time. It’s quite possible that we listened to that self-titled album more than anything else for months on end.

There’s little info out there on the quartet, though the band was apparently signed to a management deal by Hilly Kristal after two gigs at CBGBs. Not that Fossil sounds like any of the bands that come to mind when I think of that famed New York City venue.

Instead, Fossil had an otherworldly, alternative rock vibe, melodic yet quirkly. On the lilting Josephine Baker the lead singer pines for the famous dancer, imagining the pair as the toast of 1920s Paris.

Blondie – One Way Or Another
from The Platinum Collection

Now, Blondie is more what I think of when I think of CBGBs. I wasn’t listening to much music in 1978, but I did know and love Blondie’s shimmering Heart Of Glass and though One Way Or Another was the follow-up single and a Top 40 hit, I don’t really remember hearing it at the time.

I don’t think I heard the frantic song until a copy of Blondie’s The Best Of Blondie arrived in the mail. It was one of my initial dozen selections from the Columbia Record & Tape Club and it quickly became a favorite.

Styx – Half-Penny, Two-Penny
from Paradise Theater

Paradise Theater was one if the first cassettes I owned and one that I definitely wore out back in 1981. I knew it backward and forward.

(but mostly forward because, you know, it sounded more legible that way)

And near the end of side two was the muscular Half-Penny, Two Penny. The song just sounded so wicked with the guitar heroics, anthemic chorus, and James Young’s gruff vocals.


It’s Even Better Than Festivus

March 16, 2011

As someone who, as a kid, watched Bird and Magic in the ’79 NCAA basketball title game, March has long been, perhaps, the most wonderful month of the year.

Like December, March is a month-long trek full of anticipation and excitement, culminating in one massive blowout. But hoops in March trumps holidays in December.

The latter can be a slog, filled with stress and when you’ve reached the end, whether it’s been memorable or miserable, you’re staring at the deepest, darkest stretch of winter.

The former, even in less memorable years, is bound to have stellar games, performances and moments. By the time some team cuts down the nets, it’s spring.

The anticipation of the tournament beginning this week had me toggling between three games one night last week. I settled on Robert Morris/Long Island University – the most competitive matchup – playing in a gym that was no larger than the high school gym in my hometown.

In college, I’d watch more basketball games in a week than I’ve probably caught this entire season. It was required as I attended a school that was a hoops power in a state mad for the game, so, even if there wasn’t a game on ESPN, there was often a college game on one of the local channels.

And there was the serendipitous intersection of my years in college and the years during which ESPN aired games all day long. It was now possible to watch twelve, fifteen hours of basketball in one day.

Those first two rounds of the tournament probably resulted in my GPA being at least a tenth of a percent lower because the Thursday and Friday games caused a cessation of all educational matters.

The experience was made sweeter by the fact that March in Indiana can often be cold, grey, and rainy.

There was something life affirming about not trekking to class in the raw conditions but, instead, encamping on the couch in sweats and a heavy sweater, eating pizza and watching Pepperdine/Seton Hall at one in the afternoon.

I managed to retain some semblence of this annual tradition well into the ’90s, but, in the past decade, the times I’ve gotten to spend watching the Thursday or Friday day games have become fewer.

But I’m taking Friday off this week.

I’m older now, so it won’t be the epic, viewing marathon and showcase for one man’s will to remain inert, gorging on pizza and hoops that it was in college.

Not without a nap or two.

Here are four songs from Billboard‘s chart for this week in March, 1979, when hoops fans were formally introduced to the great Larry Bird…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose it would have still been on the radio a lot during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to check out. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52’s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.