The Dead Of Winter

January 5, 2013

winterI have no idea when I became aware that new albums and cassettes didn’t simply sprout randomly in the bins and racks of record stores but, rather, arrived on a (theoretically) predetermined date – the street date.

As I became a music consumer in the early ’80s, this information wasn’t at your fingertips and was as much rumor and speculation as actionable intel.

At the time, I was frequenting record stores like mall staples like Camelot and Record Bar, cooler chains like Peaches, and a few smaller independent stores like Globe. All of them made some attempt to provide release dates.

Most of the time there was something posted on the counter top by the registers. It might be a list clipped from Billboard. If it was, it would be, maybe, a scant dozen titles and usually limited to major releases.

Other stores would have a handwritten list taped to the counter, often riddled with corrections and dates crossed out or changed. And, still others made use of chalk or dry erase boards.

Often I simply got release dates from DJs on the radio.

Regardless of how the information was disseminated, it was hardly gospel.

And, by the time I reached college, I had definitely learned to expect little in the way of new music in January. It was a barren stretch of a month when the labels often dumped titles for which they had little commitment.

A January release was often the precursor to the act being dropped.

A college roommate called me after we’d parted ways with news of a band whose failed debut we had loved. We had graduated as we were expecting the follow-up and, belatedly, it was finally slated for release.

“It comes out in January,” he told me and we both knew what it meant.

(six months later, Epic dropped them)

1982 was the year that I truly began to devote the few dollars I had to purchasing music. Here are four songs from albums that arrived in January that year…

The Waitresses – I Know What Boys Like
from Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (1982)

The Waitresses brief career – two albums and one EP – was launched when their debut, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, arrived with the new year in 1982. The New Wave band from Akron would have a minor hit that summer with the sassy, saxophone-driven I Know What Boys Like which I was introduced to when the band performed the song on Solid Gold.

Though I Know What Boys Like failed to make the Top 40, the song has appeared on every New Wave compilation issued over the past three decades. Their career might have been slight, but The Waitresses managed two classics with I Know What Boys Like and the seasonal perennial Christmas Wrapping.

XTC – Senses Working Overtime
from English Settlement (1982)

I was certainly unfamiliar with XTC at the beginning of 1982, though I would at least know the name of the English trio by that spring when I took note of the listing for English Settlement and the unusual band name in a catalog for the Columbia Record & Tape Club.

I wouldn’t actually hear XTC until the autumn of the following year when 97X went on the air. The band would be a staple on the station as they would be a favorite amongst the college rock crowd into the next decade.

Hanoi Rocks – Don’t Never Leave Me
from Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks (1982)

Hanoi Rocks was a band that I knew from leafing through the pages of Circus – one of the few music magazines on the rack at the drug store in my hometown. That the Finnish band was in Circus, whose emphasis was on hard rock and metal bands, did little to pique my interest.

(I did dig the band’s name and I still think that Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks is one of the coolest album titles of all time)

After Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction broke, I recall the opinion that it might have been Hanoi Rocks having such success had the band’s career not been derailed by the death of their drummer.

Years later, I finally checked out Hanoi Rocks after snagging several CDs in a cut-out bin and it was indeed like hearing some proto-Guns N’ Roses.

Huey Lewis & The News – Do You Believe In Love
from Picture This (1982)

Huey Lewis & The News’ Picture This was actually released at the tail end of January, so, even though the band’s debut had gotten little attention, maybe the label hadn’t totally given up on the band. Maybe they weren’t surprised at the success of Picture This and Do You Believe In Love.

Of course, no one would have predicted how inescapable Huey Lewis & The News would be during the rest of the decade. Reviled by many, the band had stuff I still dig – Workin’ For A Livin’, Heart And Soul, If This Is It, The Power Of Love – and stuff I never did – I Want A New Drug, The Heart Of Rock And Roll, Hip To Be Square

The bouyant earworm Do You Believe In Love ends up among the former group.

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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


Eating Pop-Tarts, Ogling Go-Go’s

July 14, 2011

It’s been too hot to really think of anything but nothing the past week. When I have had a thought, I’ve been trying to reconstruct my discovery of Rolling Stone magazine.

(this all prompted by the recent death of Bill Johnson, who designed the magazine’s logo)

The magazine was not readily available to me as a kid. I don’t recall seeing it in the limited selection in the racks at either of the small, family-owned drug stores in town.

I was familiar with Rolling Stone mostly through a buddy who would mention stuff that he’d read in the issues swiped from his older brother.

By the summer of ’82, the Kroger supermarket downtown (such as downtown was for us) relocated to a considerably larger location much closer to our house. It was there that I began reading Rolling Stone.

When boredom and the sweltering summer heat left us with little to do, my neighbor Will and I would hop on our bikes, head over to Kroger, and enjoy the refrigerated air of the store.

We’d loiter at the magazine rack, leafing through the offerings as we munched on Pop-Tarts purchased with whatever change we’d scrounged up.

The music magazines were limited to Circus and Rolling Stone and the album reviews in the latter were of particular interest to me despite the critical shellacking most of the bands I loved at the time received.

These slights indicting my young musical tastes where quickly forgiven the day we found The Go-Gos staring back at us from the cover wearing nothing but their underwear and some smiles.

Sadly, it was likely the most memorable moment involving girls in any state of undress for us that summer, but it did amuse Jane Weidlin years later as I discussed that cover with her during an interview.

I was also greatly intrigued by the album chart in the back of each issue and seeing the names of bands with whom I was wholly unfamiliar.

Oh, I had come to expect seeing names I didn’t know in the rest of the magazine, but how could I not have heard of an act that apparently had a popular album?

But, during that summer, it was a most excellent way to waste away some sweltering afternoon munching on Pop-Tarts in the air-conditioned cool, wondering who the hell The Jam were, what they sounded like, and why I had never heard them on the radio.

Here are four songs from albums that would have made me go “hmmm” as I scanned those album charts in the back of Rolling Stone twenty-nine years ago…

Roxy Music – More Than This
from Avalon

I remember seeing the movie Times Square late one night on a local station when I was about twelve or thirteen. Roxy Music’s Same Old Scene played over the opening credits

(not that I knew who it was)

It wouldn’t be ’til college that I’d really listen to Roxy Music. A French professor I had would play their albums before class.

And, on nights when I had a shift at the record store where I worked, I found Avalon to be a suitable choice as I went through the closing tasks

Squeeze – Black Coffee In Bed
from Sweets From A Stranger

My introduction to Squeeze came sometime in high school through one of my friends who had a copy of the UK band’s compilation Singles – 45’s And Under. I enjoy their music, but I’ve never been bothered to own anything other than a handful of songs I’ve accumulated along the way.

Black Coffee In Bed is pretty nifty and a bit of a sequel – musically and thematically – to their better-known Tempted (a song I long ago burned out on) from the year before.

XTC – Senses Working Overtime
from English Settlement

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 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.

The Blasters – American Music
from Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings

I want to like The Blasters. I’ve read wonderful things, they seem like the genuine article, and I have liked the handful of songs I know. Yet, when shuffle pulls up a song by the band, I have to check the screen for the title of a song I don’t recognize, see that it’s The Blasters, and hit next.

It simply seems as if each and every time I’m presented with the chance to check them out, I’m not in the mood for their sound.

I guess it’s not them, it’s me as American Music is pretty groovy little rave-up.