October 2, 1982

September 29, 2012

At some point last year, I started a semi-regular tradition of pulling up a Hot 100 chart from Billboard magazine and dissecting the debut songs for a given week in the early ’80s (when I was first listening to music and most familiar with Top 40 radio).

It was an idea that I nicked from 70s Music Mayhem, a groovy blog that I’d been reading for awhile.

Each Saturday, like clockwork, there would be a new post in which Chris Stufflestreet would cover the songs that had been a debut on the Hot 100 from a corresponding date in the ’70s. It was an engaging mix of Joel Whitburn, Casey Kasem, and childhood nostalgia that was a favorite read.

And then, earlier this week, I was perusing another favorite internet outpost, The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, and was surprised to read that Chris had passed away last week.

I seem to recall exchanging an e-mail or two with Chris and the occasional comment on each other’s blog. I knew that he was considerably knowledgeable about baseball cards and I had been meaning to solicit his thoughts on a few items of sports memorabilia, but…

I didn’t know Chris, but, through his writing, I kind of felt like I did.

I’ll miss having his words to read as I lazily ease into a Sunday morning with coffee and offer my heartfelt condolences to any of his friends or family who might stumble upon here.

He seemed like a good guy.

Here are the ten songs that made their debut on Billboard‘s Hot 100 as October arrived this week thirty years ago…

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #8, 24 weeks on chart)

Punk didn’t make it to our part of the Midwest and, though I knew The Clash by name, I had never heard their music prior to Rock The Casbah.

(it would be over the next few years – and thanks to the passion my buddy Streuss had for the band – that I would discover what all the fuss was over “the only band that matters”)

I thought that Rock The Casbah was übercool as was the song’s video which makes fine use of both Burger King and armadillos.

Bad Company – Electricland
from Rough Diamonds (1982)
(debuted #87, peaked #74, 4 weeks on chart)

I can’t say that I’ve ever had much affinity for Bad Company, though I much prefer the Paul Rodgers era to the late ’80s/early ’90s stuff sans Rodgers that briefly saw the band return to mainstream success.

And I can’t say that I’d ever heard Electricland, though its subdued, mysterious vibe briefly held my attention before I lost interest.

Missing Persons – Destination Unknown
from Spring Session M (1982)
(debuted #85, peaked #42, 14 weeks on chart)

Missing Persons was as exotic as exotic got for me and my friends in 1982 and we totally took to the band. Their sci-fi, synth sound and the comely looks of lead singer Dale Bozzio – and her plexiglass, fishbowl bra cups, bikini bottoms made of posters, and cotton-candy hair – were irresistible to our teenage ears and eyes.

I think we all had a cassette of Spring Session M and I still dig it when Words or the spacey, hypnotic Destination Unknown pops up on the iPod or Sirius.

Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
from Emotions In Motion (1982)
(debuted #84, peaked #32, 17 weeks on chart)

During my junior high/high school years, Billy Squier was a rock god to most of the kids in my hometown. Of course, he was toppled from that exalted position as minor deity by the infamously bad video for Rock Me Tonight in 1984.

But when Emotions In Motion came out, he was still cool and Everybody Wants You was constantly playing from a radio or car stereo.

In fact, DJ Mark Sebastian from Q102 in Cincinnati – the station most of us listened to at the time – played the damned song repeatedly one night on his shift for an hour or two after supposedly locking himself in the DJ booth.

Timothy B. Schmit – So Much In Love
from Fast Times At Ridgemont High soundtrack (1982)
(debuted #81, peaked #59, 7 weeks on chart)

Apparently it was Irving Azoff, one of the film’s producers, who pushed for the inclusion of four solo Eagles and other ’70s acts on the soundtrack of Fast Times At Ridgemont High. The movie was a sensation but the kids in my high school in 1982 were listening to The Go-Gos and The Cars – who also had songs used – not Graham Nash, Jimmy Buffett, or Timothy B. Schmit.

Schmit’s contribution was a cover of So In Love, a hit by The Tymes from twenty years earlier, making the song positively antediluvian to us. Yet the song played during a closing scene in which the geek got the girl and, if its charms escaped me then, I find it pleasant enough now.

Bill Medley – Right Here And Now
from Right Here And Now (1982)
(debuted #80, peaked #58, 8 weeks on chart)

I had never heard Right Here And Now by Righteous Brother Bill Medley or, if I had, it hadn’t stuck. I listened to it and promptly forgot almost everything about it.

But, I do recall thinking that it wouldn’t have been out of place on one of the three or four soft rock stations on our dial in 1982.

Paul McCartney – Tug Of War
from Tug Of War (1982)
(debuted #75, peaked #53, 8 weeks on chart)

Paul McCartney’s 1982 album Tug Of War arrived with great expectations as it found the former Beatle reuniting with producer George Martin. The album received glowing reviews at the time and became a huge commercial hit driven by the ubiqitous duet with Stevie Wonder, Ebony And Ivory.

The title track was pulled as the third single from Tug Of War – following the breezy, summer hit Take It Away – and alternates between gentle and dramatic with a lilting melody and a hopeful vibe.

Linda Ronstadt – Get Closer
from Get Closer (1982)
(debuted #72, peaked #29, 12 weeks on chart)

Linda Ronstadt had a fairly impressive run of hits in the ’70s, but her singles began to receive a less attention with Get Closer. To me, the title song from that 1982 album lacks the personality of her ’70s stuff.

(I thought the album’s lesser radio hits – I Knew You When and Easy For You To Say – were better)

I can’t hear Linda Ronstadt and not think of a classmate not long after Ronstadt had released Living In The USA album – the one with a cover shot of her on roller skates and wearing an inconceivably short pair of satin shorts.

Our teacher asked us to name something twelve-year old boys wanted.

The classmate raised his hand and replied, “Linda Ronstadt.”

Donna Summer – State of Independence
from Donna Summer (1982)
(debuted #70, peaked #41, 10 weeks on chart)

A cover of a track by Yes’ Jon Anderson and Vangelis, Donna Summer’s State Of Independence has a bouncy, reggae hitch and a quasi-spiritual lyric. The song builds to an inspirational swell with a vocal choir that included Michael Jackson, Brenda Russell, James Ingram, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Loggins, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder.

(supposedly the all-star vocal gathering inspired producer Quincy Jones for We Are The World a few years later)

I’ve not heard the original, but I was familiar with Moodswings’ version – retitled Spiritual High (State of Independence) – from the early ’90s which featured Chrissie Hynde on lead vocals.

Diana Ross – Muscles
from Silk Electric (1982)
(debuted #61, peaked #10, 17 weeks on chart)

Even though there wasn’t a lot of R&B on the radio when I first started listening – we had one station on a remote portion of the dial – Diana Ross was all over pop stations with songs like Upside Down, Endless Love, and Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Still, about the only time I heard Muscles was when listening to Casey Kasem and American Top 40 on the weekends. It struck me as an odd song – a slow, sparse track with Ross cooing and sighing of her longing for buffness.

Of course, each week Casey would remind listeners that the song was written by Michael Jackson who soon was on the countdown with The Girl Is Mine, his duet with Paul McCartney and the first single from Thriller which would arrive that Thanksgiving.

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The Man Doesn’t Want You To Dance And The Man Doesn’t Want You To Know How To Fight For Your Right To Dance, Either*

June 10, 2012

Paloma claims to have never seen the movie Footloose. It surprised me to learn of this fact because we are nearly the same age and, as far as I know, everyone our age saw Footloose in 1984.

I knew little of the crushing, oppressive nature of totalitarian regimes before Footloose. Sure, we were at the height of Cold War tensions in 1984, but the Soviets merely wanted to nuke us like microwave bacon; they didn’t want to stop us from dancing.

Then, I saw Footloose – as a double bill with Flashdance at our local drive-in no less – and saw the peril to personal freedom that could result from unchecked power and a failure to separate church and state.

(especially when John Lithgow is involved).

And, thanks to Kevin Bacon, I learned that petulance, Bible passages, encouragement from the owner of the local grain mill, and Kenny Loggins was all that was necessary for one man to fight tyranny.

So, you can imagine my delight when I saw that Footloose was showing this evening on one of the cable stations. In these days of wire taps, the Patriot Act, and all-expenses-paid trips to Guantanamo, the lessons of Footloose are more important than ever.

But no, it was not to be.

Of late, some of our cable channels will simply freeze as though the interns at the station have gotten stoned and paused the DVD – “Dude, it’s like we have the power to stop time.”

Paloma and I settled in and turned to the appropriate channel but instead of Kevin Bacon, there was Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, motionless and inert. I could only wonder if it was the result of stoned interns or something more sinister.

Perhaps from some undisclosed bunker, Dick Cheney doesn’t want the subversive lessons of Footloose to be viewed by the American people.

We ended up watching The Family Stone which, coincidentally, starred Sarah Jessica Parker who also appeared in Footloose. In one scene, she got liquored to the gills, dancing drunkenly to a song on the bar jukebox.

I turned to Paloma. “She has Kevin Bacon to thank for that dance.”

Here are four songs about The Man…

Rage Against The Machine – The Ghost Of Tom Joad
from Live & Rare (1998)

I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought some of their lyrics and politics to be half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2, made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of their music. The Ghost Of Tom Joad has become one of my favorite Springsteen songs and their version is a stellar.

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)

John Lithgow didn’t approve of dancing and the Sharif didn’t like “that boogie sound.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a farm kid in the hinterlands of America or a Bedouin in the deserts of the Middle East, The Man will try to keep you down if you let him.

Bruce Cockburn – If I Had A Rocket Launcher
from Stealing Fire (1984)

Fortunately for John Lithgow, it didn’t come to armed conflict in Footloose, but I have no doubt that Kevin Bacon was keeping all of his options on the table.

Unfortunately, If I Had A Rocket Launcher is all that most people know of Bruce Cockburn, one of the more underrated artists out there. I met him once, following a show, and he was as cordial, gracious, and unassuming as any musician I’ve encountered.

Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’ – Fly Me Courageous
from Fly Me Courageous (1991)

I remember seeing the video for Fly Me Courageous in the middle of the night while I was in college and being blown away by its monstrous groove. It still never fails to make me stop whatever I’m doing when I hear it.

The song arrived as the US was prepping to drive Iraq from Kuwait and interpreted by many listeners as a pro-war anthem. It sounds more like a cautionary tale to me.

*remixed from June 2008


What The Hell?

February 22, 2012

Paloma was twitterpated when I arrived home this evening over the spectacle of a pair of preachers proselytizing on the sidewalk down the street.

Apparently the duo was covering, loudly, the things that would result in the college kids at the university across the street heading straight to hell – no need to pass go, no need to study for finals.

(of course, this misses the point that the main reason for attending college is to spend four to nine years doing things that might earn you eternal damnation)

We had a street preacher at my school who remains a part of lore there. His name really was Max, but I’m not sure if the Mad portion of his moniker predated or was inspired by the Mel Gibson flicks.

Mad Max was already a fixture the moment that I set foot on the campus more than a year after the cinematic character walked off into the sunset beyond Thunderdome. He was in the same spot in the heavily-trafficked heart of campus delivering fire and brimstone daily.

The movies have remained entertaining, but our Max went from being riveting street theater to merely being part of the landscape before I made it home for Thanksgiving break that first autumn.

Paloma and I live in a region where, even in such an über religious nation, most folks are crossing off the days ’til the rapture. I’ve long suspected that if I asked a random sampling of citizenry to balance their bank account, they’d stare at me like a dog that had been shown a card trick.

However, ask the same random sampling about what God wants and they’d blather away with absolute certainty.

I might be crazy, but if there is some omnipotent entity that steers the universe, I’d think it would be far more incomprenhensible than basic algebra.

So, perhaps there is some fiery destination where those who’ve misbehaved end up as Beelzebub’s bitch.

Or, perhaps hell is no different than heaven except there is no cake.

I doubt I’m getting the answer from someone screaming on a sidewalk.

In the meantime, here are four songs on the subject…

AC/DC – Highway To Hell
from Highway To Hell (1979)

I remember reading an interview with AC/DC guitarist Angus Young sometime in the late ’80s upon their release of a new album. The interviewer asked him to address critics that accused the band of releasing the same album twelve times.

Angus corrected him, informing him that it was, actually, thirteen times.

Well played, sir.

Squirrel Nut Zippers – Hell
from Hot (1997)

Hot was released as there was a retro swing music revival in the US and resulted in Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hell being inescapable for months on end.

Sure the song is supposed to be a cautionary tale, but it’s so intoxicatingly festive that it fails to spook.

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Have You Ever Been To Hell
from Conscious Party (1988)

Conscious Party was released in the spring of 1988 as my sophomore year of college was ending. That summer was the first one which I wouldn’t return home as I was taking classes and working in a record store.

Produced by Talking Heads’ rhythm section Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, Conscious Party was perfect to put on and groove to for forty minutes or so during lazy summer days at the store. The breezy Tomorrow People managed to reach the Top 40 in the States, but the album was worthwhile from start to finish.

The Clash – Straight To Hell
from Clash On Broadway (1991)

Straight To Hell is hypnotic and off-kilter. The song’s lyrics are hypnotic and scathing – particularly those about a Vietnam-era soldier abandoning a child he fathered during that war.

I always thought it was one of The Clash’s finest moments and most fully-realized songs.