Airwaves

January 24, 2013

djIt’s supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight.

It was cold during the winter of ’81/’82. Or maybe it wasn’t and I merely recollect it as so.

I do know for certain that it was during that winter that time I might have previously spent sprawled out in the family room watching television was being spent sprawled out in my bedroom, listening to the radio.

Music had become an increasing curiosity in my world over the previous year or so as I realized that the subject was being broached as much as sports and girls in hallway conversations with my junior high buddies.

Accompanying me on this journey into an unexplored world – hell, making it possible – was a battered table-top radio which I’d relocated from my dad’s basement work space.

I’d kneel on my bed with my elbows on the window ledge and stare out into the darkness. Across the country road that ran in front of our house were fields that in warmer months teemed with soybeans or corn.

Now, in the dead of winter, there might be a dusting of snow covering the dormant earth, perhaps a few stray stalks of corn that had been knocked over and missed in the autumn harvest.

Staring out into the dark, I knew that I was gazing eastward and that somewhere beyond a horizon I couldn’t see, sixty miles or so away, was Cincinnati.

More than likely, I was listening to Q102, which was broadcasting from Cincinnati. The station was the one that was most popular with my peers and I was still hesitant to move around the dial much, preferring to listen to the music that the rest of my buddies were listening.

I’d stare into the darkness through the frosted window pane and listen to the DJs with whom I was becoming familiar – Mark, Chris, Janeen – and consider them somewhere out there in some studio, bantering with an audience of which I was now a member.

The DJ would mention neighborhoods and places with which I was familiar. The weather outside my window jibed with the forecasts that they’d rattle off between songs.

If I was shivering, they were shivering, too.

We were in it together.

At least that’s how I remember that winter.

Here are four songs that are listed from Q102’s playlist in Billboard from this week in 1982…

The Commodores – Oh No
from In the Pocket (1981)

One of my buddies at a record store in college was an older bass player and funk aficionado. He would show me pictures of his band in the ’70s and it was obvious that The Commodores had been a fashion influence.

(the visual that comes to mind when I think of The Commodores, I think of pictures of the ’70s and Brick House)

But when it comes to the sound of The Commodores, I think first of the mostly mellow band on the radio in the early ’80s. And the concisely titled Oh No is moi mellow.

Oh No was at the top of Q102’s chart even though further back in the same issue of Billboard, it had already dropped out of the Top 40 in that week’s Hot 100 chart.

I had no reference for Oh No‘s subject matter at the time, but it was quite obvious that it was quite adult and quite serious.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours (1981)

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 he sang “bitch”), and rumors of stomach pumping.

And that winter, we all knew Young Turks. I totally dug the song, 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.

Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

Foreigner 4 had been one of the biggest albums of the school year and, by January of 1982, it had already spawned two mammoth hits with Urgent and Waiting For A Girl Like You.

Thirty-one years ago, Q102 listed the album’s third single, Juke Box Hero, as an add to the station’s playlist in Billboard.

The protagonist in the song had at least made it to the venue, even if he got stuck in the rain with no ticket. With no car, no money, and not even old even to drive, I was was eighteen months away from my first concert.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981)

There were several huge hits that were getting airplay on Q102 that winter – Olivia Newton John’s Physical, J. Geils Band’s Centerfold, Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That

And then there was Joan Jett & The Blackheart’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which, like Juke Box Hero, was a new add to Q102’s playlist.

I seem to recall hearing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll for the first time following school one afternoon and several more times over the course of that evening including on Q102’s Top Ten At Ten that night.

It would remain on the nightly countdown for the next few months and, by March, the song would be entrenched at the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100 where it would remain for nearly two months.

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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.


The Greatest Hits

November 15, 2012

Paloma and I made a trek one recent Sunday morning for pancakes.

The vibe of the tiny cafe and the food made it worth the forty-five minute drive into the hinterlands. The satellite radio was still tuned to the ’70s channel from my Friday commute home.

Paloma expressed some concern at the song coming from the speakers as I started Jeepster.

I didn’t recognize it but, before I could read the display, there was the voice of Shaggy noting it to be Lindisfarne and their lone US Top 40 single Run For Home.

We were quickly sucked into the rebroadcast of an American Top 40 episode from November, 1978, with Paloma observing several times her surprise at knowing most everything we heard.

It was understandable as we both would have been in junior high at the time and, thus, in the target demographic for Top 40 radio. I was more resistant and didn’t really begin to pay attention to music for a couple more years and, even then, it was a passive endeavor.

I listened to the radio, but wasn’t committed enough to purchase music. Video games or movies were getting the little money that I might have. It was simple economics.

I could play ten games of Pac-Man or see one movie.

I could see two, maybe three movies or buy a new album on cassette.

For someone with a casual interest in music, music was an expensive investment. I was hesitant to pull the trigger if I only knew a song or two and, as I was listening to mostly Top 40, that meant an album needed a hit or two.

And that made greatest hits collections – the stop-gap, the contractual-obligation, the cash-in release – so appealing. There, on one cassette, would be ten, twelve songs that I knew or, apparently, should know.

In the spring of 1982, I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club, increasing my music collection by approximately 120% when those first dozen selections arrived.

I don’t recall everything in that initial order, but I do know that Queen’s Greatest Hits and The Best Of Blondie were among them.

And, I soon learned that late autumn would arrive with a slate of new collections intended to seduce holiday shoppers. It seemed as though any act that had ever had even one hit was capable of cobbling together such a set.

1982 was the year during which I was most immersed in Top 40 radio and it was the year in which I first had what might be considered a music collection.

Here are tracks from four of those stop-gap/contractual-obligation/cash-in releases that were arriving for the holidays in 1982, none of which I owned at the time…

Eagles – Life In The Fast Lane
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

Though I’m not as opposed to the Eagles as The Dude was in The Big Lebowski – in which his abiding hatred of the group got him tossed from a cab – I’ve struggled to be a fan. I attribute that to the overkill of hearing their music so much on radio as a kid.

Over the years, I’ve slowly softened my resistance to their music and I’ve come to enjoy most of their lengthy list of radio hits.

I also can’t hear the Eagles and not think of a college roommate. During the late ’80s, Glenn Frey did commercials for some fitness club. Upon seeing one, the roommate mumbled, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from The Singles: The First Ten Years (1982)

The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

Olivia Newton-John – Heart Attack
from Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1982)

At the beginning of 1982, Olivia was all over radio with Physical and, at the end of the year she was all over the radio with Heart Attack, a new song included to goose sales of her second greatest hits album.

It was never a bad thing when Olivia popped up Solid Gold or some other show to sing her latest hit. And, I likely saw her perform Heart Attack, a New Wave-tinged number, on Solid Gold that winter

Little River Band – Cool Change
from Greatest Hits (1982)

It’s not Christopher Cross, but there seems to be something about mellow-rockin’, nautically-themed songs from the early ’80s that spellbind me.

Cool Change makes me think of Paloma because I know hearing the song makes her think of her brother.

(and the whole “the albatross and the whales they are my brothers” line cracks us up)

The song also served me well when out drinking with our record store’s jazz guru. He could – at times – be the jazz snob and lecture us on obscure performances and theory.

(it was well-intended)

If it went on too long, I’d ask him if he’d heard the cat blow notes on Cool Change – a tactic which brought conversation back to more mainstream subject matter.