The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2012

December 31, 2012

Now that I’ve wasted so much time here establishing a few traditions, I’d be remiss to honor not them…

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Four years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2012 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. The Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin
from Carry On Up The Charts (1994)
If It’s December, It Must Be Christmas

“On one of the however hundred or so cable channels, NBC is airing It’s A Wonderful Life.”

9. Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
from Emotions In Motion (1982)
October 2, 1982

“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).”

8. Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers
from The Big Lebowski soundtrack (1998)
“Am I the only one around here who gives a @#%! about the rules?”

“I know that Walter Sobcheck does, indeed, give a @#%! about them. He was willing to send Smokey into “a world of pain” for a foot foul in The Big Lebowski.”

7. David Bowie/Pat Metheney Group – This Is Not America
from The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack (1985)
February 2, 1985

“In early 1985, the shift in my musical interests, which had been evolving and changing in fits and starts for a couple years, was ongoing.”

6. Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
from Eye To Eye (1982)
May 22, 1982

“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.”

5. The Monkees- (Theme From) The Monkees
from The Best Of The Monkees (2003)
The Monkees And Me

“I suppose that for someone as fascinated by primates, both of the skyscraper-climbing and planet-ruling sort, as I apparently am, The Monkees should be a favorite band for, if nothing else, their name.”

4. Altered Images – I Could Be Happy
from Pinky Blue (1982)
Bagpipes

“I keep seeing some television commercial, touting some MMA bout. With bagpipes blaring over fight footage, some participant is in the frame spouting Irish proverbs in an accent that I’m not quite sure is Irish or Scottish.”

3. John Stewart (with Stevie Nicks) – Gold
from Bombs Away Dream Babies (1979)
Andrew Burt – Or Someone Else – In 2012

“The candidates have not yet formally been nominated and I am already fatigued by the quadrennial excercise in slapstick that is the presidential election.”

2. The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)
Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test

“Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me ‘Cracker Vacuum.'”

1. The Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town
from The Dream Academy (1985)
Ah Hey Oh Ma Ma Ma…

“In the last few days, I’ve rediscovered the music of The Dream Academy, a band which I had loved and forgotten (despite owning all three of their albums).”

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Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test*

February 12, 2012

Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me “Cracker Vacuum.”

(it was later translated into Chinese as the far more sonically palatable Bin Gone Kon).

Munchies-inspired nicknames aside, crackers are delightful and the addition of cheese was a great moment in humankind. My enjoyment of this combination has been tempered of late by my concern that – based on knowledge gleaned from numerous viewings of Blade Runner – I might be a replicant.

I didn’t see the sci-fi classic in the theater, but, rather, a few years after its 1982 release. Bladerunner was a favorite of my buddy Streuss and he introduced the movie to a half dozen of us.

It was late on a Friday night and we’d returned from a trek into Cincinnati to roam the malls and record stores. Streuss fired up the VCR as we lounged about on the furniture in his family’s den like lemurs in trees.

I had no expectations, knowing little about the movie aside from Harrison Ford playing the titular character.

Maybe it was the late hour, but I was non-plussed.

Oh, the visuals were stunning – even watching it now, Blade Runner looks like it could have been filmed tomorrow – but it was ponderous and leisurely paced.

Harrison Ford was Han Solo. He was Indiana Jones. He was a Man Of Action trapped in a movie where the action was sporadic and – despite having dispatched Imperial stormtroopers and Nazis – Ford was continually in danger of being rended limb from limb by replicants.

(years later and after repeated viewings, I recognized the utter brilliance of the movie and found the questions the film raised about consciousness and humanity were mind-bending)

Throughout the film, Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos, leaves origami animals for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard and these items – combined with the unicorn footage added for the director’s cut – strengthen the argument that Deckard is a replicant as the unicorn memory is one programmed into all replicants who are unaware that they are synthetic creatures.

(Paloma and I are in opposing camps on whether Deckard is a replicant)

This debate has caused me to question a memory that I have which, though forty years old, remains vivid. On a family vacation, I was allowed to stay up quite late with my uncle; we watched a movie about cartoon cats in Paris and ate cheese and crackers.

I fear this memory couldn’t have happened.

The movie had to have been The Aristocats – is there another cartoon about cats in Paris? – but this was years before VCRs and cable television. Would they have shown such a movie on network television following the late news?

Then there is the inconsistency of this memory with the daily routine of my uncle which was like clockwork – on the river fishing at dawn, an afternoon draining bottles of Iron City at the Moose Lodge, and asleep in his recliner shortly after dinner.

I don’t remember ever seeing the man awake after dark let alone eating cheese and crackers.

I’m left to wonder if the memory is my “unicorn sequence,” one that everyone possesses.

Perhaps Edward James Olmos is someday going to leave a foil, origami Triscuit at my doorstep.

Or maybe a Ritz.

It must have been early 1984 when Streuss introduced us to the gritty future awaiting us in Blade Runner. At the time, I was listening to the alternative rock of the newly minted 97X as much as possible.

Here are four songs I might have heard on 97X twenty-eight Februarys ago…

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for whom Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

The Cure – The Lovecats
from Japanese Whispers (1983)

The Lovecats is downright jaunty (particularly Robert Smith’s vocals which have an almost feline quality) – jaunty not being a description which I would have thought appropo to most of The Cure’s music.

That is until I mentally went back over their catalog and realized, to my surprise, that they have more moments of jaunt than you might think.

XTC – Love On A Farmboy’s Wages
from Mummer (1983)

I thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed their album English Settlement on the Rolling Stone charts.

A year or so later, I would become familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.

But I mostly knew XTC’s music through my buddy Streuss who became enthralled with their quirky style of alternative rock far earlier than most of the kids I knew in college who loved the band.

Howard Jones – New Song
from Human’s Lib (1984)

One of the things I dug most about 97X was hearing songs months and months before they’d break in the States. One of those such songs was Howard Jones’ New Song which had been a success in the UK in the autumn of ’83 as 97X had just taken to the airwaves and six months prior to it reaching the Top 40 in the US.

Jones would have a handful of hits during the next three or four years and they’d mostly be of the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic variety. Mostly I was meh toward them, but, at the time, I did find the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic New Song to be captivating.

*reprised, remixed, and reposted after I stumbled upon Blade Runner on cable the other night


October

October 2, 2010

Was it just two weeks ago that the air conditioner was humming as summer’s last gasp pushed us into one final round of temperatures in the mid-90s?

(it was – I was there)

But the weather has respected the official onset of autumn as well as the arrival of October.

The air is cool and crisp and the sun is providing just enough warmth to allow us to throw every window in the treehouse open. Humans and animals are delighted as the humans drink their coffee and the animals sleep on the window sills.

Even if the past five months had not been a brutal endurance test pitting us against the sweltering heat and unremitting humidity, October has always been one of my favorite months.

I’m not entirely sure why, but the weather is likely a component as October has usually offered up an interesting and accomodating mix of meteorological conditions that often make the days pleasant and the nights perfect for sleep.

As a kid, October meant that we were deep enough into the school year that the culture shock of being back in school had passed as had the grieving process for the lost days of summer vacation. By the tenth month, most of us had adjusted to the routine of class and afterschool practices.

October meant fall break, those glorious two days that allowed us a chance to bask in every minute of the shortening days.

October also meant that we were reaching the end of the baseball season, culminating with the World Series.

(though my interest in baseball has greatly waned as an adult and, unless I am mistaken, the series has encroached on November)

And the birthdays of both my father and Paloma fall in October, which is rather important as both of them have been essential to the operation.

Personally, I’d be good with dispensing with months like February and September and adding a couple more Octobers.

October is a good egg.

October was also the month that, in 1983, I discovered the freshly minted 97X on the radio dial. It was as momentous a moment for me as the pilgrims discovering Halloween was for candymakers.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

XTC – Dear God
from Skylarking

I was familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages, but my main exposure to the British act came once I entered college and my buddy Streuss became enthralled with their quirky brand of Beatles-tinged alternative rock. In fact, Skylarking came out at the beginning of my freshman year when I was learning to live without 97X.

Dear God didn’t appear on the original version of the band’s Todd Rundgren-produced masterpiece Skylarking, but was added after the controversial song gained popularity on college rock stations.

“And all the people that you made in your image, see them fighting in the street ’cause they can’t make opinions meet about God.”

The Plimsouls – A Million Miles Away
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Like a lot of folks who weren’t living in Southern California in 1983, the first time that I ever heard The Plimsouls was in the movie Valley Girl. The power-pop band not only had a couple songs on the once difficult to find soundtrack but made a cameo as a band performing in a club.

Somehow, the jangly, kinetic A Million Miles Away was little more than a minor hit at the time.

(that the ridiculously catchy song wasn’t everywhere is inexplicable)

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for which Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

Psychedelic Furs – The Ghost In You
from All Of This And Nothing

Like The Plimsouls, the British post-punk act Psychedelic Furs had music featured in Valley Girl with the song Love My Way (and would find even greater success when their song Pretty In Pink provided inspiration for the John Hughes movie of the same name).

The Ghost In You would be the first track on the Furs’ 1984 album Mirror Moves and a song that my friend Beej would discover watching WTBS’ Night Tracks late-night video show.

Beej played Mirror Moves into the ground that summer, but I never tired of the lovely and dreamy song (and still haven’t).