July 9, 1983

July 7, 2012

As we stretch into another week of high temperatures in triple digits, thinking is a challenge.

(it’s easy to be distracted by the bead of sweat rolling down my nose)

So, it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week and, today, it’s 1983.

As the 4th of July hullaballoo was fading in the rear view of 1983, I was getting back to summer life as a kid in one of the last responsibility-free summers I would have. And that meant a lot of music.

I was still mostly tethered to Top 40 radio, but I was at least hearing of more exotic stuff thanks to my buddy Beej who was telling tales of the music videos that he was seeing on the newly launched Night Tracks on TBS.

I was beginning to check out hitherto unexplored frequencies on the FM band, among them the album rock of Q95 and, by that autumn, the alternative rock of 97X.

And, twenty-nine years ago this week, a half-dozen plus one songs made their debut on the Hot 100 chart in Billboard magazine…

Peter Tosh – Johnny B. Goode
from Mama Africa (1983)
(debuted #95, peaked #84, 4 weeks on chart)

Aside from Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, my knowledge of reggae music is scattershot at best, but Peter Tosh was a member of the legendary Marley’s Wailers and claimed to have taught Marley to play guitar.

I had not heard Tosh’s take on Johnny B. Goode before and it’s mostly what I expected – a reggae version of Chuck Berry’s iconic song with a surprising amount of kick that leaves me bobbing my head.

Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack – Tonight, I Celebrate My Love
from Born To Love (1983)
(debuted #89, peaked #16, 29 weeks on chart)

I couldn’t seem to help coming across Tonight, I Celebrate My Love For You while channel surfing in 1983. It seemed to be a given as assuredly as it was a given that I would quickly move on in search of something else.

But, despite my dislike for the mawkish ballad, Peabo is a fun word to say and it is a fun word to hear said.

Peabo.

Peabo.

Peabo!

Zebra – Who’s Behind The Door?
from Zebra (1983)
(debuted #87, peaked #61, 8 weeks on chart)

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 band was quickly attracting fans (and detractors) for the heavy Zeppelin influence in their sound.

I liked the band’s name and found the song intriguing, so I snagged a copy of the Long Island (via New Orleans) trio’s debut and it was one of my most played cassettes of that summer. The dreamy, enigmatic Who’s Behind The Door still sounds like the summer of ’83 to me.

Rick Springfield – Human Touch
from Living In Oz (1983)
(debuted #70, peaked #18, 15 weeks on chart)

Even in 1983 – which, technologically speaking, now seems as advanced as 1883 – Rick Springfield was lamenting the disconnect between man and machine in Human Touch.

At the time, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ or Casey Kasem mentioning it.

But Springfield had a string of hits in the early ’80s that were undeniably catchy and still sound pretty good all of these years later.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Fake Friends
from Album (1983)
(debuted #68, peaked #35, 10 weeks on chart)

Few acts were hotter in 1982 than Joan Jett & The Blackhearts who had topped the charts with I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – one of the biggest hits of the decade – as well as notching sizeable hits with Crimson And Clover and Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).

So, there was great anticipation for new music from the quartet and I vividly recall staying up to tape the resultant Album when it debuted on WEBN’s Frog’s Midnight Album.

Often the nightly show was a chance to have an album before I’d have the opportunity to get into Cincinnati to actually purchase it, but Album was one that didn’t make the cut. It seemed as uninspired to me as the title and the first single, Fake Friends, simply lacked the monster hooks of Jett’s hits from the year before.

(all of which had been cover songs)

Journey – After The Fall
from Frontiers (1983)
(debuted #62, peaked #23, 12 weeks on chart)

If Joan Jett’s Album was one of the more anticipated releases of the summer of ’83, Journey’s follow-up to the massively successful Escape was one of the most expected from earlier in the year. Like Album, I had also taped Frontiers from its airing on Frog’s Midnight Album.

Though I was excited when Frontiers arrived and I played it a lot at the time, I still recognized it as a somewhat pale imitation of Escape. That didn’t stop it from selling millions and spawning hits in Separate Ways and Faithfully.

After The Fall became the third hit from the album, but I wasn’t a fan of the shuffling song.

Jackson Browne – Lawyers In Love
from Lawyers In Love (1983)
(debuted #59, peaked #13, 15 weeks on chart)

Lawyers In Love was Jackson Browne’s first new album since Hold Out from three years earlier, before I had truly become interested in music. I did know Browne, though, from hearing older hits like Doctor My Eyes and Running On Empty on the radio, and I’d loved Somebody’s Baby, which had been a Top Ten hit the previous summer.

I dug the catchy, upbeat Lawyers In Love, which was fortunate as my buddy Beej played the album into the ground, though the social commentary of the song likely escaped me at the time.

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Heading For The Dirty City

October 20, 2010

When I first started listening to music during the first couple years of the ’80s, this new interest meant something to do during the fall and winter when the elements made for longer stretches housebound.

Instead of jockeying with my brother for control of the television or Atari 2600 console, I could now opt for self-imposed exile to my bedroom and listen to music rather than read.

More music was listened to during the months of less daylight. This might have meant an increased likelihood of burnout and a need to shop for more music.

Of course, the selection of music in our Midwestern town was no more than a few hundred cassettes in wire wall racks and eight or so bins of albums and singles in a small variety store.

I reached a point at which I was becoming interested in music not stocked in this store (or stocked well past the date it had been available in the outside world). It needn’t be too exotic – Missing Person’s Spring Session M comes to mind – that an hour’s drive to the nearest record stores in Cincinnati had to be made.

This conundrum was made a stickier wicket as I wasn’t yet old enough to drive.

The first option was to provide explicit instructions with mom as to what to titles to procure. Complicating matters was release dates weren’t always available or accurate, so it was necessary to – with limited funds – prioritize a list of albums that might not even be out, yet.

(and, then, hope that mom could actually make sense of the request)

The other option was to blow most of the day accompanying mom on the trip and endure hours at outlet malls – kind of like a Midwestern version of running with the bulls at Pamplona – to spend forty-five minutes browsing through a record store or two and pick up a few cassettes.

However, this riddle was resolved by time and, by the autumn of 1984, me and all of my friends had our driver’s licenses.

None of us had cars, but that was merely a detail. Some of us had older siblings with cars and all of us had parents with cars.

Actually, transportation was usually provided by my buddy Beej. He’d tell his mom that he was taking the car to one of our houses and, thirty minutes later, four to six of us were headed for the glamour of the dirty city.

We weren’t old enough to do much than roam the malls and gorge ourselves on fried mozarella sticks at The Ground Round, but there were a half-dozen record stores to hit, so there was much to do.

It was our first taste of freedom and the open road, though, and we always returned with plenty of music. It’s probably why, even now, the cool weather triggers something in me that makes me want to buy music.

Here are four songs from albums that I’m sure I purchased on one of those roadtrips during the autumn of ’84…

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown

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.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth

Isn’t Cherry Bomb about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be? Proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Zebra – Bears
from No Tellin’ Lies

When Zebra released their debut in 1983, a lot of music fans embraced their Zeppelin-like sound and a lot of critics slagged them for their Zeppelin-like sound.

Personally, I wore that first album out and though I didn’t spend as much time with the follow-up, it’s not a bad record. The odd and engaging Bears always reminded me of Rush (who I was also quite into at the time)

Bruce Cockburn – Lovers In A Dangerous Time
from Stealing Fire

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains an underappreciated artist south of his homeland’s border, though his cult following in the States is devoted.

I discovered his music when the righteously indignant If I Had A Rocket Launcher, from Stealing Fire, popped up on some of the rock stations I was listening to at the time. I bought the cassette for that song, but the wiry Lovers In A Dangerous Time, which kicked off Stealing Fire, is pretty stellar, too, and features some wicked guitar work.


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.