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).

An Underrated Movie With A (Once) Much Sought After Soundtrack

June 17, 2009

Recently, I referenced an iconic scene from the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. And while that movie was a staple for me and my friends, the lesser-known film Valley Girl was on equal footing for us during that period.

I’m not sure how my friends and I were turned on to the movie. It certainly didn’t play in our hometown theater.

I do know that it was a movie that, once discovered, was one which we constantly rented on videocassette. Surprisingly enough for a town our size (three thousand people or so when everyone was home), we had a video rental joint even before most of our families had a VCR.

When we all saw Fast Times in the theater during the summer of ’82, it resonated with us, but it wasn’t a world in which we lived – not as we were two-thousand miles from its Hollywood setting in a town with one red light.

Valley Girl arrived a year later. It, too, was set in Hollywood, but its characters and vibe struck closer to our hearts. Most likely it was because a year in high school is a lifetime.

During the time between the two movies, we had completed our sophomore year of high school. We had gone from pedestrians and passengers to drivers and, therefore, masters of our own destinies.

And we personally knew some of these characters.

(not that we hadn’t wished we had known Fast Times‘ Spicoli)

I doubt if we really considered that Valley Girl was simply a modern-day telling of Romeo And Juliet with new wave music and Nicholas Cage in his first starring role.

(and now that I think about it, in a year Cage had gone from a bit role in Fast Times to the lead in Valley Girl)

That said, I would have a hard time choosing between the two movies, but there’s no hesitation choosing between their respective soundtracks.

Though The Cars, Tom Petty, and The Go-Gos have songs in the movie, and Cheap Trick, Blondie, and Van Halen are referenced (and were all favorites of ours), Fast Times’ soundtrack was loaded – after some purported label pressure – with the likes of solo Eagles (four of them) and Jimmy Buffett.

Valley Girl used music by The Plimsouls, Sparks, Men At Work, and Modern English – some of the artists we did know, but there were a lot who were unfamiliar and exotic.

(as opposed to, say, Poco, who appeared on Fast Times’ soundtrack)

Alas, Valley Girl‘s soundtrack was in print for about as long as the movie was in theaters. And during my years working in record stores, there was no title for which more listeners clamored for a CD re-issue.

Fortunately, the good people at Rhino Records rectified that oversight, releasing two volumes of music from the film in the mid-’90s.

And all was right with the world…

Sparks – Eaten By The Monster Of Love
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Sparks was an act for whom I needed no introduction. Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen them duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ’82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Chris owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Psychedelic Furs – Love My Way
from Valley Girl soundtrack

It seems to me that my friends and I discovered Valley Girl on cable during the summer of ’84. My friend Brad had discovered Psychedelic Furs on Night Flight, the USA Network show which aired music videos over night on weekends. As MTV had just become available in our town, Night Flight was the only chance to see the new medium for music.

During the summer of ’84, we wore out Psychedelic Furs’ new album, Mirror Moves, but it was the dreamy Love My Way (which kind of reminded me of Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now) that was my first exposure to the Furs.

The Plimsouls – Oldest Story In The World
from Valley Girl soundtrack

The Plimsouls actually appeared in Valley Girl as a band in the club where Cage hangs out. One of the songs, A Million Miles Away, was a minor hit and is a staple on a lot of ’80s compilations.

Here’s the lesser known Oldest Story In The World. It’s far more downbeat than most of The Plimsouls’ stuff I’ve owned which is driving, guitar-driven rock. Like Valley Girl, The Plimsouls were under appreciated.

Modern English – I Melt With You
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Of course, I Melt With You is better known now than it was in the early ’80s. My mother would probably recognize the song from its use in several commercials.

Modern English’s album After The Snow, on which I Melt With You appeared, inspired the term Modern English Syndrome for me and a college roommate. It was our shorthand for an album which, while quite good, had one song which so dwarfed everything else that it made the rest of tracks seem almost mediocre.

The music of the ’80s has been much maligned (and, at times, I would argue unfairly). I Melt With You is as perfect a pop song as any that came before or after it.