It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.

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Jaws 2: The Three Amigos

July 18, 2012

It’s summer and that means sequels. So – not because it was extraordinarily well-received or critically acclaimed – but simply because…here is the follow-up to some observations about the movie Jaws

When we left off, Chief Brody and Hooper had performed a shark autopsy and headed out into the night in Hooper’s sloop, hoping to find the shark.

Brody was liquored to the gills and Hooper was munching down pretzels like he had an endorsement deal…

49:55 As Brody continues to hit the sauce, he and Hooper get to know each other. Then, they come across Ben Gardner’s partially submerged boat.

I don’t know if any scene was discussed more the next day at school by my friends and me than Ben’s head drifting out of the hole in the boat’s hull.

(none of us probably admitting how much the scene had freaked us out)

50:30 The mayor’s back! And he’s wearing the sports jacket adorned with a pattern of tiny anchors. If I was the head of state for some small, island nation, I would strongly consider making that jacket the national garb for state functions and our Olympic team.

1:01:32 The shark arrives. And this time, it’s not some chick skinny-dipping that meets a briny demise but a Kennedy. I mean, the fellow in the rowboat with the tousled hair, ruddy complexion, and Boston accent made me think of pictures, news footage, and movie portrayels I had seen of John and Bobby.

Of course, I was in second grade when I first saw Jaws and had never known anyone from New England. I associated that accent with no one but the Kennedy clan.

1:05:12 The mayor signs off on contracting Quint to kill the shark. He’s in a different sports jacket (no less garish) and he’s chain-smoking Pall Malls…in a hospital.

The ’70s were truly a madcap time.

1:07:40 “I’m talkin’ about workin’ for a livin’ – I’m talkin’ about sharkin'”

Quint serves Brody some homemade hooch – I never realized what a boozehound the Chief is – and quizzes Hooper on knot-tying.

Quint is awesome.

I had an Uncle who, as a kid, put me on edge the same way Quint does in this flick.

Uncle Bud had a boat, but he spent his time “catfishin'” and pounding beers like he was Brody, punctuating every sentence with a point of a finger and his repeated mantra, “Know what I mean?”

I rarely did.

10:09:25 As the gear is loaded onto the Orca, I wonder what happened to the stubby, little fellow that was Quint’s sidekick earlier in the movie.

(he probably pissed Quint off and Quint had him keel-hauled)

1:11:16 Brody might have a drinking problem, but he’s got cajones going out to sea with Quint.

1:13:19 Brody’s chumming the water and Quint is pounding back a can of Narragansett. This was of particular interest to me when I first saw the movie as I had the same can in my beer can collection.

(seriously, the ’70s were zany)

1:20:53 “Hooper drives the boat,” Quint bellows, ending Brody’s whining about being ordered to throw out more chum. Hooper, meanwhile is playing solitaire, provoking Quint to bark at him to “stop playing with yourself.”

I’m going to have to check if there is a deleted version of this scene in which Quint clinks Brody and Hooper’s heads together like it’s a Three Stooges short (and, then, he keel-hauls the two).

1:21:22 “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

I wasn’t listening to much music at the time, but had I been listening thirty-five years ago – when Jaws had just arrived in theaters – here are four songs that were on Billboard ‘s chart during this week in 1975

Alice Cooper – Only Women Bleed
from Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

My all-time greatest arch-enemy has to have been my third-grade teacher. More days than not, the two of us were at odds. She was an Alice Cooper fan. I’m not sure if that was why I never bothered with Alice Cooper’s music or rather because during the ’80s – my musically formative years – he wasn’t on top of his game.

But I’ve gained a greater appreciation for Cooper’s catalog in recent years and the somber Only Women Bleed was not only a big hit for him, but the poignant ballad must have thrown long-time fans when it arrived (though, should anyone been surprised at the time by anything Alice did?)

Paul McCartney & Wings – Listen To What The Man Said
from All The Best (1987)

I know McCartney got a lot of flack in the ’70s for putting out fluff. Do people toss Listen To What The Man Said into that bin?

Maybe it is fluff, but so is cotton candy. And who doesn’t love cotton candy?

Actually, I don’t. But, I do love this song. It’s charming, sweet, sunny, and utterly delightful. It’s hard to be bummed out if it’s playing.

It also makes me think of the summer of ’75 when Listen To What The Man Said is one song which I do remember hearing and hearing often at the pool.

Melissa Manchester – Midnight Blue
from The Essence Of Melissa Manchester (1997)

I think I know Midnight Blue and You Should Hear How She Talks About You, if asked to name songs by Melissa Manchester. And, she did a song a friend had written on one of her ’90s albums.

Still, I’ve noted that there seems to be a lot of her albums in used vinyl racks I’ve trolled. And I did hear Midnight Blue on the radio in ’75, usually during breakfast when my mom had tuned into our small town’s station.

Mike Post – The Rockford Files
from Have a Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Mike Post has written about a billion television themes.

I don’t recall watching The Rockford Files as a kid, at least not more than an occasional episode. Finding some old television schedules from the years on I see that there were shows that aired opposite that got the television time in our house – shows like Hawaii Five-O and The Incredible Hulk.


It’s A Dry Heat So, You Know, It’s Cool

July 1, 2012

I’ve long marveled at the insanely high temperatures of the American southwest. As a kid, I’d stare at the outline of Arizona on the map – which was littered with 110s and 120s – with awe.

Our summers would see temperatures that would reach the low 90s, maybe a few days approaching triple digits, but I couldn’t fathom the highs that appeared on the bottom left quadrant of the screen.

So, I believe 109 is a new, personal best.

Mercifully, it has not been accompanied by the usual, sweltering blanket of humidity, so I think that I am experiencing the dry heat fabled in song and story.

And it would seem to be true that baking in arid heat – as opposed to marinating in humid, lower temperatures – is a preferable state of being.

Of course, 109 is freakin’ hot no matter what the circumstances or whether one is wearing pants or not.

It’s certainly too hot to think much.

Here are four hot songs…

Billy Idol – Hot In The City
from Billy Idol (1982)

Hot In The City was the first time I ever heard Billy Idol. It would have been on American Top 40 as I never heard the song on the radio.

(and MTV was inaccesible)

Billy Idol’s music would be a mixed bag for me, though I’d list Dancing With Myself, White Wedding and Sweet Sixteen as essential.

(please, no Mony Mony or Cradle Of Love)

But the smoldering, dramatic Hot In The City is a keeper.

T. Rex – Hot Love
from The Legend Of T. Rex

I certainly own more T. Rex than I probably need (courtesy to a multi-set collection in the ’90s which I received as promos), but there are few acts whose music brightens my mood like T. Rex.

The first thing I ever owned by Marc Bolan and company was The Legend Of T. Rex, a Japanese import I found while browsing through a record store in college. The hypnotic shuffle and unusual wordplay of Hot Love made it one of my favorites the first time I played it.

The Power Station – Some Like It Hot
from The Power Station (1985)

Duran Duran went on a hiatus after performing the theme song for the James Bond flick A View To A Kill, splitting into two groups which issued their own albums.

The first to arrive was The Power Station named after the venerable NYC recording studio and featuring lead singer Robert Palmer with Chic drummer Tony Thompson and Duran Duran bassist John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor.

My buddy Beej burned me out on the band – which I was lukewarm toward – rather quickly, but I did dig their version of the T. Rex hit Get It On (Bang A Gong) and the aggressive plastic funk of Some Like It Hot sounds pretty good again after not hearing it in awhile.

Benjamin Orr – Too Hot To Stop
from The Lace (1986)

The three albums that I immediately think of when I think of the summer of 1984 are Born In The USA, Purple Rain, and The Cars’ Heartbeat City. It seemed as though all of my friends had a copy of Heartbeat City.

(I had a cassette dubbed from my buddy Beej’s vinyl)

A few years later, bassist Ben Orr had a solo hit with the ballad Stay The Night, which was reminiscent of Drive from Heartbeat City and on which Orr sang lead. Too Hot To Stop was the follow-up and though the driving, upbeat rocker isn’t quite as quirky, it still would have made an excellent Cars’ track.