Thirty Years Out From The Future

October 1, 2012

It was during 1982 that I first began purchasing music on an ongoing basis. I was hindered by the nearest actual record stores being fifty miles away and me and my buddies being thirteen-, fourteen-year old kids with little money and no driver’s licenses.

Those circumstances had conspired to keep my music collection to two-dozen or so cassettes as the first chilly mornings of autumn arrived that year.

(a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club)

I doubt that I was aware of the arrival of the first CD player hitting stores in Japan.

It’s quite likely that I first heard of compact disc technology from my buddy Beej who, even then, had a subscription to Stereo Review and was citing Julian Hirsch “of Hirsch-Houck Laboratories.”

I was listening to music through the most basic of means.

I couldn’t get to Cincinnati to buy Hall & Oates H2O and probably didn’t have the eight dollars and change to do so. The price tag of Sony’s CDP-101 – around $750 – and the item being available in Japan made it something for the jet set.

By the time I reached college, the price of the players had finally reached levels affordable to mere mortals, but I was still hesitant to take the digital plunge with a collection of hundreds of albums on cassette.

As the school year was closing in on spring break in March of ’87, it was a paper for a business writing class that proved to be the tipping point. I opted to write about the burgeoning digital revolution and, after several weeks of research and writing, I had convinced myself.

As other classmates headed for tropical climes, I made the two-hour trip to my hometown for a week of reconnecting with several high school buddies.

During that week, we made a trip into Cincinnati – a trek we had made a year before as often as we could acquire transportation – and I joined the jet set, purchasing a floor model of a Technics CD player for, as I recall, $165.

I would have thought you to be addled had you told me that rainy March day that, over the next fifteen years, I would own upwards of 8000 CDs.

Here are songs from the first four discs that I ever played on that first CD player…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere (1986)

After purchasing the CD player, I summarily purchased two CDs with one being the solo debut by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and I’m not sure why. I’d bought the cassette of Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere when it was released toward the end of ’86 and was underwhelmed.

However I had just read Geldof’s autobiography, Is That It?, so that might have been the catalyst. With Eurythmic Dave Stewart co-producing I expected more, but the songs just weren’t there.

This Is The World Calling was one of the few exceptions. The anthemic plea featured the trio of Maria McKee, Annie Lennox, and Alison Moyet on backing vocals.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows (1985)

Power Windows was the other CD I snagged for my new player and, like the Geldof disc, is a bit puzzling in retrospect not least in the respect that it had been released eighteen months earlier.

However, I had gotten into Rush heavily during my last couple years of high school and I did quite like Power Windows (and had seen the band on that tour). Territories was one of several tracks from the album that got played heavily on the rock stations that I was listening to and I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

The Alan Parsons Project – Old And Wise
from The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project (1983)

In addition to the two CDs I initially bought, my buddy Streuss temporarily gifted me a pair of discs that he owned despite not having a CD player.

Several of us were fans of The Alan Parsons Project who had been a radio fixture during the first half of the ’80s with songs like Games People Play, Eye In The Sky, and Don’t Answer Me. At the time I bought my player, the duo of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had just released Gaudi which would prove to be their final release under The Alan Parsons Project banner.

Of those first discs from which I had to choose as I got to know the crisp sound of the medium, The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project sounded the most impressive, but, then again, Parsons, as an Abbey Road engineer, did earn credits for his work on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Old And Wise is a track from Eye In The Sky which I used to hear a lot on one of the soft rock stations and is most certainly a whisper of a song. With lead vocals provided by ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone, Old And Wise is reminiscent of the earlier Project hit Time.

The Moody Blues – The Voice
from Voices In The Sky: The Best Of The Moody Blues (1984)

The other disc Streuss passed to me was a Moody Blues compilation.

I knew Nights In White Satin and the band had hits while I was in high school like Gemini Dream, Sitting At The Wheel, and Your Wildest Dreams, but I was fairly ambivalent.

But, I had four CDs from which to choose and a new toy, so I gave the disc a lot of plays. I remained fairly ambivalent, but the breezy The Voice seemed less fussy than most of the other songs.

And, if I hear The Voice, I first think of seeing the Solid Gold dancers dance to the song during the summer of ’81.

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Q95

September 7, 2010

As I began my sophomore year of high school in autumn of ’83, I was increasingly exploring the musical terrain beyond Top 40. And, Indianapolis’ Q95, an album rock station which I had begun listening to in the spring, was a frequent destination when listening to the radio.

(though, by Halloween, the modern rock of 97X would become the station du juor – on nights when I could pull in the station’s signal)

But, Q95 was the place for straight-ahead rock for me. WEBN, out of Cincinnati was the most popular rock station at our high school which was likely why I opted for Q95 as it seemed more exotic. As I recall there wasn’t that much of a difference between the two stations.

One difference was that Q95 had The Bob & Tom Show (and this was a dozen years before the show went national). Nothing helped ease the pain of being up early for school like the antics of the duo.

Musically, I still dug Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, and a lot of the other staples of Top 40 at the time, but Q95 was providing me with exposure to the catalogs of classic acts like Pink Floyd, The Who, and Led Zeppelin.

I was also hearing deeper album tracks by acts that were also having pop radio hits like Journey, Billy Squier, and ZZ Top.

The station showed support for local heros like John Cougar/John Cougar Mellencamp and Henry Lee Summer and – as to be expected – heartland rock bands from Styx and REO Speedwagon to lesser-knowns like Shooting Star were staples.

And Q95 was the station where I remember hearing Iron Maiden for the first time.

It was the station where I listened to syndicated radio shows like Rockline and the concert program King Biscuit Flower Hour.

The latter gave me the opportunity to hear live music – to hear the sometimes amazing twists and acquaint myself with the time-honored clichés – at a time when there wasn’t much opportunity for me to attend shows.

Q95 was actually one of my longer radio station relationships. When I left for college, I couldn’t listen to 97X, but Q95 remained well within range.

By the end of the ’80s the station was playing too much Winger when I would rather have heard Concrete Blonde or Cocteau Twins. However, Q95, though holding less allure for me, remained the best option on radio.

(our college station was a cable outlet so, unless you were home, it lacked convenience as well as being prone to offering time slots to student DJs hell-bent on attempting to be as esoteric as possible)

It was finally distance that ended the relationship between me and Q95. I graduated from school and left the Midwest and the station behind.

I haven’t listened to Q95 in almost two decades, but here are four songs I remember hearing on the station as autumn arrived in 1983…

Heart – How Can I Refuse?
from Passionworks

Passionworks was one of Heart’s albums released during the lull between their successful period from the mid- through late-’70s and their even more successful period from the mid- through late ’80s. I’m sure, at the time, I knew little by the sisters Wilson aside from Magic Man and Barracuda.

But I dug How Can I Refuse?, especially the opening line of “Wake me up with laughter.” It was playful and flirtatious power pop that was a bit slicker than the band’s ’70s hits and hinted at the direction Heart would take with 1985’s mega-selling, self-titled comeback album.

The Moody Blues – Sitting At The Wheel
from The Present

The Moody Blues had experienced their own return to the limelight in 1981 with Long Distance Voyager and the hits Gemini Dream and The Voice. The Present wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, but the enthusiastic Sitting At The Wheel – though dated like much of the band’s ’80s output – sounded good to me at the time.

I didn’t own the album, but I was fascinated by its artwork – a variation on Maxfield Parrish’s painting Daybreak. Years later, Paloma exposed me to Parrish’s work and I quickly made the connection.

Robert Plant – In The Mood
from The Principle Of Moments

In the autumn of ’83, I was still becoming acquainted with Led Zeppelin’s extensive catalog and I was completely unfamiliar with Robert Plant’s solo debut from the year before. However, I quickly became quite familiar with his follow-up, The Principle Of Moments, when it was released at summer’s end.

Not only had I seen the video for the album’s first hit, Big Log, on Friday Night Videos, Q95 was playing several songs from the record including the shimmering In The Mood.

Zebra – Tell Me What You Want
from Zebra

During the summer of ’83, several friends were twitterpated over Zebra and their song Who’s Behind The Door? They were hardly alone as the trio’s debut quickly attracted fans (and detractors) for the heavy Zeppelin influence in their sound.

I liked the name and found the song intriguing.

As autumn approached, Q95 had moved on to another track, the driving Tell Me What You Want. With two songs that I thought were pretty stellar, I took the plunge, bought a copy of Zebra (on cassette), and promptly wore it out.