October 17, 1981

October 15, 2011

The autumn of 1981 was the first time that the radio was the first thing I turned on in the morning and the last thing turned off at night.

Q102 would air the Top Ten At Ten weeknights at the titular hour, so a lot of nights I’d leave the radio on, listening well after they’d finished counting down the day’s most requested songs.

The station was the station for most of my junior high classmates and the previous evening’s countdown usually merited at least a few minutes discussion and debate the following day.

It was a good station for a kid just beginning to become interested in music, Top 40 with diverse offerings ranging from Air Supply and Hall & Oates to The Go-Go’s and Rick James as well as classic Who, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin.

Perusing the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine from thirty years ago, most of the songs are recognizable, some more familiar than others; some I did hear at the time and some only over the ensuing years.

Here are the nine songs making their first appearance on the chart during this week in 1981…

Arlan Day – I Surrender
from Surrender (1981)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 7 weeks on chart)

Arlan Day has one more hit song than me and likely you, yet there’s probably more info floating in cyberspace on most of us than there is on Arlan.

I Surrender makes me wonder if Day was concocted in some lab from leftover scraps of Leo Sayer.

Pablo Cruise – Slip Away
from Reflector (1981)
(debuted #88, peaked #75, 5 weeks on chart)

I know little about Pablo Cruise other than Whatcha Gonna Do? and Love Will Find A Way. I think that they were from California and had moustaches.

(they had that bright, late ’70s California soft pop sound and I think moustaches were mandated for such acts at the time)

Slip Away is pleasant enough, not quite four minutes of unadorned, mid-tempo, yacht rock blues.

The Alan Parsons Project – Snake Eyes
from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
(debuted #86, peaked #67, 5 weeks on chart)

I’ve long owned a lot of music by The Alan Parsons Project, but couldn’t remember Snake Eyes and it wasn’t familiar upon listening to it.

A follow-up to The Turn Of A Friendly Card‘s earlier hits Games People Play and Time, Snake Eyes is neither as catchy as the former nor as evocative as the latter.

Quarterflash – Harden My Heart
from Quarterflash (1981)
(debuted #80, peaked #3, 24 weeks on chart)

Thanks to Casey Kasem I know that Quarterflash got their name from…it’s an Australian saying…

I had to look it up. It derives from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

Harden My Heart was appealing and seems to have retained a bit of a presence.

(and my teenaged buddies and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be quite fetching)

Juice Newton – The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)
from Juice (1981)
(debuted #79, peaked #7, 24 weeks on chart)

Juice Newton caught my attention when I heard Angel Of The Morning and Queen Of Hearts – her earlier Top Ten hits from her self-titled album – on the radio, mostly because her name was Juice.

(sadly, her name is actually Judy)

Juice straddled the line between country and pop with those songs and the singer became a breakout sensation in 1981. The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known) is on the twangier side and, thus, was of no interest to me at the time, but I find the song more engaging now and Juice belts the melodramatic ballad to the back row.

Survivor – Poor Man’s Son
from Premonition (1981)
(debuted #78, peaked #33, 14 weeks on chart)

Survivor was just another aspiring arena rock band in the autumn of ’81, but, by the following summer, the Chicago band would unleash the mighty Eye Of The Tiger into an unsuspecting world. I seem to recall reading that it was hearing Poor Man’s Son that prompted Sylvester Stallone to tap Survivor to compose the theme for Rocky III.

The punchy Poor Man’s Son is servicable but sounds more like a band that would be relegated to opening act status for the Journeys, Foreigners, and REO Speedwagons of the world, hardly hinting at the musical immortality awaiting Survivor.

Kool & The Gang- Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)
from Something Special (1981)
(debuted #67, peaked #17, 17 weeks on chart)

Kool & The Gang was a pop radio staple in the early ’80s and throughout much of the decade, but the venerable R&B/funk act had punched their ticket for enduring fame and fortune a year earlier with the mammoth hit Celebration. The effervescent song became the soundtrack to all things celebatory in nature, especially sporting events.

I never really cared much for the doo-wop tinged Take My Heart, perferring the grittier funk of its follow-up Get Down On It, but I recall my buddy Beej loving the song at the time.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)
(debuted #61, peaked #5, 19 weeks on chart)

In 1981, my classmates and I knew little of Rod Stewart’s already extensive history aside from his disco vamp Do You Think I’m Sexy, that song’s follow-up Ain’t Love A Bitch (because, hey, he just said “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

I totally dug Young Turks, the tale of Billy and Patti and their ten-pound baby boy, which found Rod ditching the disco trappings for a more wiry, New Wave musical vibe.

Diana Ross – Why Do Fools Fall In Love
from Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1981)
(debuted #56, peaked #7, 20 weeks on chart)

Diana Ross had retained her superstar status as a solo act in the ’70s not only with a string of hit songs but in a number of movies as well.

However, like Rod Stewart, my classmates and I knew Ross for her more recent work – stuff like the movie The Wiz and her early ’80s hits like Upside Down, I’m Coming Out, and Endless Love – than her iconic time as a Supreme in the ’60s.

Whatever I knew by The Supremes at the time would have been dismissed as ancient history and Ross’ update of a Frankie Lymon hit from the ’50s usually prompted me to search for something else on the dial.

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August 29, 1981

August 31, 2011

At the suggestion of a friend from college, I’ve been reading and reading with the actual intent to learn and not merely for entertainment.

I’ve actually been studying, something that I rarely did in college.

Some of the concepts have been abstract, but the neurons still fire and the subject matter holds the potential for being of great use.

(as opposed to those metric tables junior high)

Thirty years ago, I was in eighth grade and mindlessly memorizing metric conversions that I would never use. Football and classmates of the female persuasion were the primary recipients of my interest and attention.

For the first time in my life, I was actually interested in music and spending increasing amounts of time with the radio on.

And five songs were making their debut on the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine…

The Go-Go’s – Our Lips Are Sealed
from Beauty And The Beat
(debuted #90, peaked #20, 30 weeks on chart)

The Go-Go’s built the perfect beast with Our Lips Are Sealed, their first hit, and the one-time punk band’s New Wave-tinged pop was both old and new (and completely irresistible) as its sunny vibe helped hold back the impending chill of autumn in 1981.

By summer of the following year, the all-female band was a pop culture juggernaut – Beauty And The Beat had sold millions of copies, We Got The Beat was playing over the opening credits of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and the band memorably appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in their underwear.

(which Jane Wiedlin and I discussed when I had the opportunity to interview her twenty years later)

Aretha Franklin with George Benson – Love All The Hurt Away
from Love All The Hurt Away
(debuted #89, peaked #46, 10 weeks on chart)

I’m certain I didn’t know Aretha Franklin in 1981. As for George Benson, I know that I’d heard his silky-smooth, lightly funky Give Me The Night a year earlier as it was pretty inescapable.

I didn’t know their duet Love All The Hurt Away then or until now. If Paloma was listening now, I think she’d nod and say, “Quiet storm.”

Love All The Hurt Away does have a mellow vibe, but the song builds to a dramatic crescendo.

Atlanta Rhythm Section – Alien
from Quinella
(debuted #88, peaked #29, 15 weeks on chart)

As a kid in the late ’70s, I remember hearing Atlanta Rhythm Section’s Imaginary Lover and So Into You often on the soft rock stations the parents would play in the car. I was listening to music more than I ever had in 1981, I don’t really recall hearing Alien, though.

The song has a laid-back groove like Imaginary Lover and So Into You, but Alien might be even more drowsy than those earlier hits.

I’ve read that much of Atlanta Rhythm Section’s catalog was more Southern Rock – the band came together as session players in a Georgia studio used by Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special – but I’ve only heard the mellow stuff.

Dan Fogelberg – Hard To Say
from The Innocent Age
(debuted #72, peaked #7, 19 weeks on chart)

A Dan Fogelberg song was on the radio one recent Saturday morning and Paloma noted that she liked his voice.

(I agreed)

I mostly know the late singer/songwriter for his early ’80s hits – songs like Same Old Lang Syne, Leader Of The Band, and Missing You – which I heard often while listening to the radio at the time.

Though Hard To Say is pleasant, it wasn’t my cup of tea for the months in late ’81 when I’d hear the song several times each day.

I had little interest in the song, but my neighbor and childhood friend Will seemed to harbor a burning hatred of Hard To Say. One snowy afternoon, having just seen the song on the Solid Gold countdown, he turned to me and said sullenly, “I think Dan Fogelberg just ruined the Solid Gold dancers for me.”

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
from Private Eyes
(debuted #68, peaked #1, 23 weeks on chart)

Hall & Oates had resuscitated their career from a late ’70s commercial lull with 1980’s Voices. It was impossible to not hear You Make My Dreams or Kiss On My List on the radio at the time.

The duo followed that album with Private Eyes in the autumn of ’81. The title song was ridiculously catchy, had a bit of New Wave sheen and was a mammoth hit.

(and for the next half dozen years, there always seemed to be some new Hall & Oates song on the radio)


Cap’n Crunch, His Dog, A Pig, And A Small Fire*

March 12, 2011

For most of my life, I rarely remembered my dreams. But over the past several years that has changed, so I get treated to nocturnal shows like last night.

The details are hazy, but it involved cereal icon Cap’n Crunch and a talking pig wearing a sweater. The two were in the mariner’s apartment discussing his missing dog when the place went up in flames.

I think everyone got out safely, but there was something suspicious about that pig and I wouldn’t rule out arson.

The dream also made me think of an album title by REO Speedwagon – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

Growing up in the Midwest, REO Speedwagon was a radio fixture and never more so than in late 1980 when they released the album Hi Infidelity. The songs from that record sounded great on radio (which is fortunate, as they were always playing) and the band was a favorite to most of us in my junior high school.

Ten years later, as I was nearing college graduation, the record store where I worked received a couple of copies of REO’s The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

I was immersed in band’s like R.E.M. not REO, whom I hadn’t listened to for years. The album title, though, made an impression (even if I don’t think I ever heard the music).

Several years later, I was working in another, much larger record store. For most acts, we carried at least a token copy of each title in their catalog. On slow mornings, the Drunken Frenchman and I would browse through the bins, discussing various artists and albums.

One morning, there it was – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken. The Frenchman was no fan of the band, but it became a recurring subject for us.

“It’s one of the most truthful album titles ever.”

“That man, though a bit portly, is, indeed, small.”

“There’s the Earth.”

“There is a dog and, here, a chicken.”

“Man that dog looks miserable.”

R.E.M. might well have been playing over the speakers in the store (it would have been around the time of New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

“Why would they put Sebastian Cabot on the cover, though?”

Thirty years ago, REO Speedwagon had one of the biggest albums in the country with Hi Infidelity and one of the most popular songs with Keep On Loving You.

Here are four other songs that I was hearing on the radio – often on Q102’s Top Ten at 10 – in March, 1981 as I indulged my fairly new interest in music…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one of the first bands that I truly took to as I began to discover radio and, at the age of twelve or thirteen, the winsome Debbie Harry added an undeniable visual element to the appeal.

Following up on the massive success of the breezy, faux-reggae of The Tide Is High, Blondie offered up something quite different on their subsequent single. The chiming, hypnotic groove, metallic guitars, and Harry’s breathy vocals – my friend Will was convinced that the lyric “finger popping” was actually something more PG13 – made for an irresistible mix.

But the song also blew our young minds. It was our first exposure to hip-hop and as much as we were entranced by the rhymes regarding aliens dining on bars, Subarus, and human noggins, we were also baffled.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…and sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually notorious ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and hearing this song blaring from their Camaros.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

I heard a lot of Donnie Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides). At home, not so much.

Ah! Leah! did make it to radio in the Midwest, though. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done With The Night
from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

Before he was John Mellencamp, saving American farms, and incessantly reminding television viewers that “this is our country,” he was simply John Cougar (or, as my friend Bosco dubbed him, Johnny Hoosier).

He’s arguably done better music since those early years, but Ain’t Even Done With The Night captures the restlessness and possibilities of late summer nights and is one song of his which I still never tire of hearing.

*it seemed appropriate – given the recent hullabaloo surrounding the good Cap’n – to repost this entry from March 9, 2009