97X, Again

July 30, 2009

A few weeks ago, a television commercial spurred me to reminisce about the discovery of 97X during my musical formative years. It prompted me to do a bit of research.

I’ve been well aware over the years how fortunate I was to grow up having 97X in a radio landscape that was mostly Journey, Foreigner, and Styx.

(not that I’m necessarily anti-Journey, Foreigner, and/or Styx)

I did not know that 97X was one of the earliest stations in the country to adopt a modern rock format.

The view from my bedroom as a kid might have been a vista of cornfields, but, beginning in the autumn of ’83, 97X made it possible for me to discover Talking Heads, U2, Peter Gabriel, and other future staples I wasn’t hearing on other stations.

I’d forgotten that the station broadcasted from studios at an unused golf course.

(I always pictured Caddyshack when this was mentioned)

Reception was dodgy. It wasn’t a station that my friends and I listened to when we were in possession of a car. 97X was a station I’d listen to mostly alone on winter nights while not doing homework.

(meanwhile, several friends were doing the same)

Like most radio stations these days, 97X has a website from which you can stream their broadcast.

(actually, 97X is no longer a terrestrial station)

More intriguing to me than their current playlist is the fact that the site also offers a vintage channel. It’s heavy on acts like The Clash, The Smiths, The Pixies, and such, but it seems to lack some of the lesser-known acts that they played at the time.

The Suburbs come to mind as 97X used to play their song Love Is The Law religiously. I haven’t heard the song in twenty-five years and, though I heard it daily for months on end, I can’t even remember the chorus.

It’s kind of like Dee Dee Deuser, a girl who sat next to me in kindergarten. I can’t recall for the life of me what she looked like, but three plus decades later, I remember the name.

(of course, you don’t forget a name like Dee Dee Deuser)

Each Memorial Day, 97X would count down the Top 500 modern rock songs of all time. Finding the list for the countdown from 1989 online allowed me to build a playlist that surprised me in its breadth and depth.

Here are a few songs that popped up randomly…

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It
from The Colour Of Spring

In 1984, I saw the video for Talk Talk’s It’s My Life more than I heard it on radio (even though it was a hit). The hypnotic Life’s What You Make It was from their next album and the only place I heard it was 97X.

After The Colour Of Spring, Talk Talk got progressively more…umm…progressive. Their music on the successive albums – Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock – was a melange of classical, jazz, and ambient improvisation, and, though I own them and they have been critically lauded, those records require a serious commitment.

Fetchin’ Bones – Stray
from Galaxy 500 Plus

Sometimes funky, sometimes with a bit of twang, Fetchin’ Bones rocked harder than Athens contemporaries like R.E.M., Pylon or B-52s (all staples on 97X). Singer Hope Nicholls is formidable like Niagara Falls is wet.

Stray is a corker, but I’m still partial to their song Love Crushing – “Be my flesh blanket and lay upon me” – from Monster.

The Jam – That’s Entertainment!
from Sound Effects

On those archived lists of 97X’ Top 500, there was no shortage of songs by The Jam and, still, I don’t recall them from my years listening to the station. It’s likely they were simply too British for me to take notice.

Nonetheless, I do remember when I first did take notice of them and it was sitting in Paloma’s apartment years ago and her playing Sound Affects over and over. It’s impossible now for me to hear That’s Entertainment! and not hear her singing along (and adding her own exclamation point).

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Could You Be Loved
from Uprising

There’s no doubt in my mind that 97X was the first place I ever heard reggae. Surprisingly, the radio stations that I had to choose from in 1983 in Southeastern Indiana didn’t find a place for Marley, Jimmy Cliff, or Peter Tosh alongside REO Speedwagon and John Cougar.

Fortunately for me, 97X offered me a healthy dose of all three reggae greats.

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Big Fish

April 15, 2008

How far is it from a relatively obscure, failed ‘70s feature film by an Oscar-winning director to a thirty-foot, fiberglass catfish? If you said about thirty-five miles, you know too much about how Paloma and I spent our Saturday.

As we’ve been hooked on Netflix because we enjoy movies and…well..trips to the video store require leaving the couch, I’ve been delving into grainy movie memories from my childhood (several of which I’ve mentioned of late). One which I wanted to check out was Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame) and starring Roy Scheider, who was fresh off the boat from hunting the shark in Jaws.

I’d been fascinated by the poster for Sorcerer as a kid and the viewer comments on imdb.com touted it as an underappreciated gem. The story revolves around four dodgy characters from around the globe that end up hiding out in some South American village. Through a chain of events, they become mercenaries, driving two trucks laden with nitroglycerin through the jungle at great peril (Paloma was intrigued by this concept as a potential career opportunity).

Inspired by the viewing of Sorcerer, I decided that we should take a trek of our own, sans nitroglycerin, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where a restaurant boasted their catfish to be the finest in the state. It was the giant fiberglass catfish, perched majestically atop the roof, proclaiming to all passers-by, “Here be catfish!” that captured my imagination. Paloma, ever supportive of my random whims – and won over by my assertion that such a place would certainly have pie – agreed to the venture, so long as I knew where we were going (leading to my declaration, halfway there, that “We should be going west…or maybe south.”).

In the end, the catfish was serviceable, the Mississippi mud pie was, in the words of Paloma, “divine,” the thirty-five foot catfish sign was the most life-like thirty-five foot catfish sign I’ve ever seen, and Sorcerer was gritty, suspenseful, slightly surreal and well worth the walk to the mailbox.

Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
According to All-Music Guide, this London-based band released a trio of albums, but this song was their lone brush with greatness, but it is stellar. This wiry, nimble cut has a slight New Wave feel and a mysterious vibe about it. It seemed to be playing every day at the public pool during the summer of ’79.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
As instrumental as my friend Chris – whom I’ve mentioned in previous entries – was to exposing me to music during my formative years, so was my friend Bosco. However, where Chris had a penchant for the moody and alternative stuff, Bosco was on a decidedly more power-pop bent, turning me on to The Tubes (pre-She’s A Beauty) and The Kinks. He also was a Todd Rundgren fanatic and each new release from Runt was an event. I was always particularly fond of his The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and Drive was a favorite from that set.

Paul Weller – Driving Nowhere
The Jam is one of Paloma’s favorite bands and they became one of mine after listening to Sound Affects numerous times with her (I can hear her singing That’s Entertainment). She was more enamored with The Style Council than I, but we both love Weller’s solo output (although it’s been difficult to follow at times here in the States).

Steve Earle – Mercenary Song
As a clerk at a record store, I waited on Steve Earle several times. The first time being the strangest and, given his well-documented struggles with addiction, I would imagine was during one of his rougher periods. That aside, he always struck me as genial and well-spoken. I certainly wish him well as I think sometimes the public allows their politics to dismiss the work of one of the more literate songwriters of his generation.