The End Of Time As We Knew It

November 9, 2011

So, the clocks have been turned back, an act that still is an odd thing to me as I grew up in one of the few swaths of the US that didn’t acknowledge such antics.

(Paloma is like a ninja somehow resetting all of the numerous timepieces in the treehouse so swiftly, so deftly that I never see her do it, but the feat is accomplished by the time I awake)

As the citizens of my hometown were ignoring the changing of the times in autumn, 1984, my friends and I had all reached our sixteenth birthdays and, thus, all had our drivers licenses for the first time.

The end of Daylight Savings Time did not go completely unnoticed. Most of the radio and television stations we received were broadcast out of Southwestern Ohio. The clocks moving back in Cincinnati meant having to stay up later to watch the end of Monday Night Football and hear Dandy Don Meredith croon.

The upside was that we gained an hour to troll the record stores and malls on treks into the city.

During the summer months, by the time one of us procured transportation, it was usually after someone’s parents or older sibling had returned home from work.

(my buddy Beej often loaned himself his brother’s Datsun B210 which we had nicknamed, for reasons unexplained, The Invisible Jet)

We often had to make tactical decisions regarding which record stores to hit in a limited timeframe and the last scheduled stop hinged upon closing times.

Invariably, we would underestimate the time spent elsewhere and these junkets often ended with us hurriedly searching through the aisles of Peaches as clerks eager to close for the night were turning down the lights.

There was no rush like taking a roa trip and returning with new music. Though I was branching out at the time and listening to more alternative rock, I was still tentative when it came to actually parting with the little cash I had. So, I was still tethered to buying more mainstream stuff.

Here are four songs from purchases that autumn…

Julian Lennon – Valotte
from Valotte (1984)

For folks who grew up with The Beatles, it must have been a bit trippy to hear the voice of John Lennon’s son when Valotte arrived and became a big hit. The title track was all over radio that fall and the sparse, lovely song simply sounded like autumn.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.

Toto – Stranger In Town
from Isolation (1984)

I’d worn out the cassette of Toto’s mega-selling Toto IV that I’d purchased from the Columbia Record & Tape Club. The band was hardly reinventing fire, but to a kid just discovering pop music, it was a thoroughly engaging collection of pop/rock that clicked with me even beyond the hits like Rosanna and Africa.

Isolation arrived a good two years after Toto IV. It was a lengthy gap between records for the time. Toto had changed and so had I, but I totally dug the mysterious vibe of Stranger In Town, which – based on how quickly the album vanished – must have put me in the minority.

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown (1984)

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

Advertisements

Shuffling Slowly Toward Sound Fidelity

May 15, 2011

It was during this week in 1982, that I graduated from grade school.

I’m not sure if it was because of our small town’s agrairian past – when not everyone went on to high school – or if it was the chance to inject excitement into the sleepy hum of daily life, but the event was treated with considerable pomp and circumstance.

As a kid that, like a lot of kids, had no use for formalities, I thought most of it was an inconvenient hullabaloo.

But there was an upside to losing a Saturday to ceremony, pictures, uncomfortable clothes, and time spent with adults – cash.

With some of that cash, I made a major purchase, a table top clock radio with a cassette player manufactured by Lloyd’s.

It had only been a year or so since my new interest in music had spurred me to relocate a radio from the basement to my bedroom. It had been on my old man’s workbench or the garage for as long as I could rremember.

It was a battered, oblong box – one corner of the grill covering the 45-sized speaker had separated from the unit and the cord was a scoliotic snake.

It served my purposes well during those early months as I explored the world of radio. And, in the time it took for me to open a cardboard box, it had become a childhood artifact.

This new purchase – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyds beast” – also made obsolete a portable cassette player from the ’70s that I used to listen to the handful of albums I owned.

(it was also used it to make primitive mix tapes of songs recorded by positioning the built-in microphone of the device as close as possible to the speaker of the radio)

This new acquisition – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyd’s beast” – was, though merely a small step toward fidelity, a great technological leap forward for me.

Beej had an older brother. He was already reading Stereo Review, yammering about specs and Hirsch-Houk Laboratories, and putting together a stereo system.

I would soon begin to eye the magnificent components he was acquiring and go in the that direction, too.

(as soon as I was able to scrape together the funding, a slow process that neccesitated my buying one component at a time over the course of an entire summer)

But, twenty-nine years ago, the “Lloyd’s beast” was possibly my most prized possession.

Here are four songs that I vividly recall from that time…

Human League – Don’t You Want Me
from Dare

Had I had interest in music a few years earlier, either disco or punk might have been the “new” sound that my friends and I would have adopted as our own. I’m grateful that, instead, New Wave and synthesizer bands from the UK turned out to be our find.

Human League’s Don’t You Want Me had to have been one of the first songs by a synth band I heard and I it hooked me. My buddy Streuss was obsessive about the band, spending the next year or so focused on collecting every single, 12″ inch single, EP, remix, and whatever else he could acquire by the Sheffield band.

Toto – Rosanna
from Toto IV

I have no qualms in acknowledging that I own most of Toto’s albums up through the mid-’80s and I rarely hit skip when one of their songs pops up on shuffle.

Rosanna was a constant on the radio during the summer of ’82 – all summer long – and I don’t think I ever tired of it. It’s still as joyously infectious all of these years later.

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kim Wilde

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song. It bounded along. It had a chanted chorus. It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

It had it all.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

Although I was fairly lukewarm about the song Centerfold, I’d gotten a copy of J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame as a gift and most of the rest of the album I loved. I don’t think any of us knew that the band had actually been around for more than a decade and was known to music fans as America’s answer to The Rolling Stones (I, at that time, certainly didn’t).

Although it wasn’t nearly as big as Centerfold or Freeze Frame‘s title track, Angel In Blue – a wistful ode to a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with the obligatory heart of gold – was a favorite then and, like that waitress, it hasn’t aged a bit.


The Grammy Awards

February 15, 2011

The Grammy Awards aired the other night.

I watched The Simpsons.

During the first few years in which I was suddenly fascinated by and paying attention to music, it was – like most people of a certain age, I suspect – through pop radio. The idea that there were awards given for songs was a compelling one.

I think the first Grammy Awards show I remember was the one from 1981 and Christopher Cross’ slew of trophies for his debut album from the prior year.

At the time, Cross’ shiny trinkets undoubtedly validated my affection for the cassette of Christopher Cross, which I had made one of my first musical purchases.

Though that album has retained a special place in my psyche, it wasn’t long before I realized that, for the most part, the Grammys was a bit bogus and not to be taken seriously.

Through the years, I’d sometimes catch the show and sometimes I wouldn’t.

I did have the opportunity to once fill out a Grammy ballot. An ex-girlfriend worked at a law firm that had some musician clients and, thus, the firm was a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This girlfriend’s boss knew that she was an aspiring singer and, having no interest in performing the task, handed his Grammy ballot to her.

I don’t recall the specifics, but a voter was allowed to vote in so many categories and this girlfriend blew through most of her allotment notching a straight ticket.

(it was either for Joan Osbourne’s Relish or Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs, I can’t remember)

She handed the ballot to me with a few picks remaining.

It truly destroyed the last bit of mystique that the Grammys held for me.

In February, 1983, I most certainly was excited to watch the Grammys. Here are songs from four of winners for whom I’d have undoubtedly voted…

Men At Work – Down By The Sea
from Business As Usual

During the second half of ’82, Men At Work became a sensation with the release of Business As Usual, one of the biggest selling debuts ever. By the time the Australians won Best New Artist, the album had already spawned two mammoth hits with Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under.

Though the two hits were the most memorable songs on the album, Business As Usual could have had another hit single or two had the band not had the follow-up Cargo waiting in the wings.

Though I wasn’t fond of the laid-back Down By The Sea, the song was a nice change of pace from the manic vibe of most of the album and it’s grown on me over the years (likely because of Paloma’s affection for the song).

Toto – It’s A Feeling
from Toto IV

Toto won fifty or sixty Grammys – ok, it was really six – for Toto IV including Album Of The Year. Sure, there were the twin titans of Rosanna and Africa, as well as the lesser hits Make Believe and I Won’t Hold You Back, but the entire album is a stellar set of pop/rock gems.

It’s A Feeling was moody and mysterious – not so dissimilar from Toto’s early hit 99 – and one of my favorites from Toto IV.

A Flock Of Seagulls – D.N.A.
from A Flock Of Seagulls

When A Flock Of Seagulls arrived with I Ran and their self-titled debut, I quickly adopted the Liverpool quartet as my own. I was hearing the music of the future and I wasn’t about to be left behind.

A Flock Of Seagulls relied heavily on synthesizers and electronic drums, but there was also plenty of guitar as on D.N.A. which won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, beating out nominated songs by Dixie Dregs, Maynard Ferguson, King Crimson, and Van Morrison.

Pat Benatar – Shadows Of The Night
from Get Nervous

Pat Benatar was one of the major acts of the early ’80s and Get Nervous became her fourth straight platinum album when it was released in late autumn of 1982. She was fetching in spandex and her songs were on every crude mixtape I was making from the radio.

Get Nervous provided Benatar with one of her signature songs in the dramatic Shadows Of The Night and the song earned the singer a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.