August 6, 1983

August 12, 2012

My brain is mushy from work.

(there might be a hell of a screenplay if I could unscramble my mind)

And I am under the sway of the Olympics.

(well done London)

So, as I opt to periodically do – when I have no other viable or unviable ideas – it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week.

1983 is always good as I was surfing more of the radio channels, beginning to gravitate toward album rock but still interested in the pop stations. That autumn, 97X would debut and I’d discover the exotic sounds of modern rock.

Twenty-nine years ago – more or less – seven songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Kissing The Pink – Maybe This Day
from Naked (1983)
(debuted #95, peaked #87, 5 weeks on chart)

The one song from these debuts with which I was not familiar was Kissing The Pink’s Maybe This Day. The British synth-pop act would shorten their name to KTP and have another minor hit a few years later with Certain Things Are Likely, which I do remember, but Maybe This Day? Nothing.

Maybe This Day shuffles along punctuated by muted horns, but I can hear why it wasn’t a big hit. It reminds me a bit of Naked Eyes, who were having great success at the same time, but not nearly as catchy.

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Naked (1983)
(debuted #92, peaked #82, 5 weeks on chart)

I can’t hear Holiday Road – the theme song from National Lampoon’s Vacation – and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting (1983)
(debuted #90, peaked #73, 6 weeks on chart)

Growing up om a small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my buddy Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

Most American listeners wouldn’t hear Tears For Fears until 1985’s Songs From The Big Chair which had the hits Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Shout, and Head Over Heels.

Beej’s uncle had made us familiar with the name Tears For Fears during the summer of 1983 when The Hurting was released. A few months later, I found 97X where I heard Pale Shelter and the shimmering Change.

Robert Plant – Big Log
from The Principle Of Moments (1983)
(debuted #86, peaked #20, 16 weeks on chart)

In ’83, I was still becoming acquainted with Led Zeppelin’s extensive catalog beyond Led Zeppelin IV (a locker room staple) and I was completely unfamiliar with Robert Plant’s solo debut from the year before.

I quickly became well acquainted with Plant’s follow-up, The Principle Of Moments, when it arrived as summer was slipping away. Not only was the languid Big Log becoming the singer’s first Top 40 single, I was hearing other tracks from the album like In The Mood and Other Arms on the rock stations.

Spandau Ballet – True
from True (1983)
(debuted #67, peaked #4, 18 weeks on chart)

Beej might have heard of Spandau Ballet from his uncle, too, but I remember him mentioning the New Romantic act from seeing their videos on Night Tracks.

Of course, anyone listening to the radio late that summer and into the fall would have known True. The lush ballad was a mammoth hit and one of the enduring songs of the period (currently heard in some car commercial).

The song wasn’t my cup of tea at the time. The sophisticated crooning of Tony Hadley held no appeal to me, but, other the past three decades, I’ve succumbed to True‘s charms.

Elton John – Kiss The Bride
from Too Low For Zero (1983)
(debuted #60, peaked #25, 12 weeks on chart)

Elton John was no longer the radio juggernaut he had been as my interest in music was beginning to develop, but the man was still having hits. In 1983, John’s Too Low For Zero would lead off with the upbeat I’m Still standing and, as the year wound down, the ballad I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues would be inescapable.

Sandwiched in between was the rollicking Kiss The Bride, another track that, like Spandau Ballet’s True, I have a greater fondness for now than I did at the time.

Stray Cats – (She’s) Sexy + 17
from Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats (1983)
(debuted #51, peaked #5, 15 weeks on chart)

I didn’t really like rockabilly revivalists The Stray Cats when their Built For Speed became a smash in late 1982 and Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut were constantly on the radio. They were a band that might have existed when my parents were in high school which was not a selling point.

By the time Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats was released, I was becoming more curious about lots of different music and I was more receptive to the retro trio. Plus, (She’s) Sexy + 17 was too damned catchy to dismiss.


Who Wouldn’t Want To Live In A Treehouse?

May 29, 2010

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo of late surrounding the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back with one of the cable stations showing the original trilogy of Star Wars flicks last weekend.

I must have been one of the few people that didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater.

(at least among we humans who were present in 1980)

I saw Star Wars in the theater, but, when The Empire Strikes Back the masses descended on every multi-plex like locust. The nearest city for us to see the movie was an hour away and, on the few attempts that some friends and I made to see it, all showings were sold out.

The movie eventually arrived in our hometown theater, but, I don’t think I saw it there, either.

I honestly don’t remember where I saw it.

As for the final film in the trilogy – I didn’t even get around to seeing Return Of The Jedi when it was released in the late spring of ’83. In fact, I don’t think I saw it until it was re-released to theaters in the late ’90s.

Though I didn’t see that finale at the time, I do remember the angst caused by the Ewoks, the tribe of teddy bears that lived in the forest and helped the heroes bitchslap the empire.

The Ewoks were met with the kind of harsh disapproval usually reserved for those who club baby seals or toss dwarves.

“I hated them,” Paloma said flatly when I noted how poorly received the Ewoks had been.

As they frolicked across the screen, I understood why the masses were none too fond of these furry creatures.

The Ewoks do seem to have been designed with merchandising in mind and they were a bit precious.

However, the Ewoks were also quite resourceful, scrappy, and lived in a pretty cool village of treehouses.

And no one could accuse the Ewoks of not being green – no coastlines marinating in oil on Endor.

“So, you come across a homeless Ewok on the walk to work tomorrow, and you don’t bring it home?” I ask.

“It would upset the cats.”

(I still think that, hated or not, that Ewok would be coming to our treehouse – domestic harmony be damned)

Checking back over the music that was out during this time in 1983 – when the world was learning to hate Ewoks – there was some cool stuff. I was still listening to Top 40, but the album rock stations were an increasingly popular destination and friends were also turning me on to new music.

Here are four songs from then…

David Bowie – China Girl
from Let’s Dance

Did I even know any of David Bowie’s music at the time of Let’s Dance‘s release?

I suspect I didn’t.

Not that I wasn’t aware of Bowie. I vividly recall browsing through albums – years before I really became interested in music – and being intrigued by the cover art for albums like Diamond Dogs and Lodger.

But Let’s Dance would prove to be inescapable in ’83 and, while it was the title song that was the first single and most successful track, I much preferred the mesmerizing and mysterious China Girl that I was hearing on the album rock stations.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting

My friends and I wouldn’t acquire our driver’s licenses until the end of ’83 or early ’84, so, as the Ewoks were causing such consternation, we were more distressed by our lack of mobility.

Being stuck in our small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my friend Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

I vividly remember Uncle Dave turning us onto Tears For Fears’ debut and I’m still puzzled as I recall him describing the duo as similar to Culture Club to us.

Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
from Killer On The Rampage

Personally, there are few songs – if any – that I so completely and absolutely associate with summer as Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue.

Maybe it’s because it seemed to come out of nowhere as the season arrived in ’83 or because it seemed to be playing constantly – on every station almost regardless of format – throughout that summer before vanishing as we headed back to school.

Peter Gabriel – I Go Swimming
from Plays Live

I knew Peter Gabriel when he released his Plays Live set in ’83. He was the unusual singer that had implored us to “shock the monkey” during the previous winter.

As for everything else in Gabriel’s catalog – be it his work with Genesis or his previous solo efforts – I wouldn’t catch up for several more years.

But WEBN and 96Rock played the hell out of I Go Swimming and there was something about the song that resonated with me. Little did I know at the time how much of a Gabriel fan I would one day be.


Bye Bye, 97X?

March 27, 2010

I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83.

Suddenly my musical universe expanded to include acts like Talking Heads, XTC, and Aztec Camera. These less than mainstream bands and artists wandered into the room and sat down next to Journey, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran like strangers entering some cantina in a dusty border town.

Everyone held their breath, expecting trouble.

It seem only a matter of time ’til someone looked at someone else the wrong way, a bottle was broken and wielded as a shiv, and the entire affair ended in a saloon-trashing melee.

I quickly realized that I could listen to Hall & Oates and Siouxsie & The Banshees and it was good. 97X introduced me to numerous acts that would become staples of my listening habit over the ensuing decades.

Reception for 97X was often dodgy and, once I left for college, I was forced to leave the station behind. I wouldn’t really reacquaint myself with the WOXY until a decade later when I would do so via the station’s internet broadcast.

Though highly regarded as it was one of the first modern rock stations in the US, 97X struggled to remain on the air throughout the years, recently relocating from Ohio to Austin, Texas.

During the past year or so, I had made more time to check in and, though my intention was to seek out newer music, invariably, I would stream the station’s vintage broadcast, beaming myself back to the mid- to late-’80s when it was all new to me.

But, it appears that 97X is no more. The plugged was pulled on the station earlier this past week.

(if we had the funds, Paloma and I could purchase the station and headquarter it in Samoa)

97X has cheated the hangman on several occasions over the past quarter century. Maybe it will again. But, if it doesn’t, here are four random songs that I know I heard back before the station and I parted company and I headed off to college…

Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
from The Hurting

In the summer of ’83, my friend Beej and I would get apprised on up-and-coming bands from his uncle, who possessed an unfathomable collection of New Wave acts on vinyl, many of them imports that had yet to reach our shores. Tears For Fears was an act thay came highly recommended.

It would be two more years before the duo would break in the States – I still recall hearing Everybody Wants To Rule The World for the first time on the radio show Rock Over London – but 97X was playing several songs from their debut that autumn.

One of them was the shimmering Pale Shelter.

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Like Tears For Fears, Scotland’s Simple Minds found mainstream success in the US in the spring of ’85 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) etched itself into the collective consciosness of a generation. The group had begun shedding some its more art-rock tendencies a year earlier with Sparkle In The Rain, which included Waterfront.

I heard Waterfront often on 97X and it certainly appealed to me as a U2 fan. The throbbing, hypnotic track would appear post-Don’t You on Simple Minds’ live release in ’87.

The Replacements – Bastards Of Young
from Tim

When I arrived at college in 1986, The Replacements seemed to be the poster children for modern rock at our school. Maybe it was because like us (and unlike other strong contenders like R.E.M. and The Pixies), the disheveled quartet was comprised of Midwesterners.

(maybe it was because they drank a lot)

Thanks to 97X, I was familiar with the band and songs like Kiss Me On The Bus, Waitress In The Sky, and the anthemic Bastards Of Young which suited our youthful, directionless enthusiasm in a brave, new world free from parental dominion.

Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw

Despite all the acclaim it received upon its release, I had never listened to Marshall Crenshaw’s debut until Paloma and I snagged a copy on vinyl. Of course, I knew his hit Someday, Someway and I knew Cynical Girl from 97X, but the classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Cynical Girl is a favorite of Paloma’s and it’s fabulously jangly.

(of course, there’s really not a bad track on the entire album)