Everyone Wants To Beat Daniel-san’s Ass

March 10, 2013

kkEverytime I channel surf the past few weeks, there’s Ralph Macchio sulking, being oblivious or – most often – getting his ass kicked by every living soul whose path he crosses in one of the three Karate Kid flicks.

I was roughly the age of high school student and social pariah Daniel-san, the character Macchio was playing, when The Karate Kid opened in theaters in the summer of 1984.

(Macchio was, at the time, already in his forties)

The movie was, as I recall, an unexpected hit.

I saw it, as did most of my friends, at the old theater in our hometown. It was slight but entertaining and, of course, we all dug Mr. Miyagi who came from another world and possessed wisdom dispensed in riddles.

But Daniel-san…

It’s tough to be the new kid in town, but, having had three decades to reflect on the situation, I have to wonder if Mrs. LaRusso moved him three-thousand miles from New Jersey to Southern California to escape the shame of having an offspring whose mere presence instilled instant hostility and hatred in those around him.

(it couldn’t have been simply the lure of a secretarial job)

And then, she comes to find that there is no East Coast bias when it came to wanting to open a can of whoop-ass on the fruit of her loins.

Yes, you could have put Daniel LaRusso in a room with Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Ghandi, and the peace-loving threesome would have reduced Daniel-san to a pulpy heap identifiable only by dental records.

In truth, not only were Daniel-san and I roughly the same age in 1984, his attire led me to believe that he had been raiding my closet. I should have identified with the kid I was seeing on the screen.

I didn’t.

No one did.

The only people that seemed to dig Daniel-san were Elisabeth Shue and my girlfriend at the time.

(and though the girlfriend was googly moogly for Macchio, her five-year old brother – who loved The Karate Kid – also wanted to kick his ass)

And what about Elisabeth Shue’s interest in this human piñata?

She had money, she was a cheerleader, she was a fetching blonde whose student body was seemingly popular with the entire student body…

…and she would later graduate from Harvard and win an Academy Award nomination.

And she was smitten with Daniel-san.

It was inexplicable.

But, when I come across The Karate Kid on cable, I pause. I watch for the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi, but I also watch because there’s something about watching Daniel-san receive a beating that restores order to the universe.

The Karate Kid also served as an introduction for most of America to Bananarama, whose Cruel Summer appeared briefly in the movie and became a hit with its inclusion on the soundtrack.

Here are four songs from Bananarama…

Bananarama – He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’

Bananarama – Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)
from Deep Sea Skiving (1983)

My buddy Beej brought a lot of new music to us via his uncle, a college professor who lived in the city. So, we knew of Tears For Fears, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and Echo & The Bunnymen well before we might have heard them on the radio.

Bananarama was another one. The trio’s Deep Sea Skiving might not have been more than a cult hit in the States, but I did hear He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ and Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) often when 97X went on the air in autumn of 1983.

The former was a cover of a minor hit by Motown girl group The Velvelettes and the breezy, tropical vibe of the song was augmented by a guest appearance by Fun Boy Three, a trio comprised of former members of UK ska group The Specials.

Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) was another cover but of a far better-known song which had reached #1 in 1969 as performed by the studio band Steam.

Bananarama – Cruel Summer

Bananarama – The Wild Life
from Bananrama (1984)

Bananarama’s self-titled second album actually arrived in the spring of 1984 and my buddy Beej was again tuned in, raving about Robert De Niro’s Waiting… which he had discovered via the song’s video being played on the fledgling Night Tracks on WTBS.

By the time we returned to school that autumn, the loping Cruel Summer had become Banarama’s US breakthrough hit, so the trio might have been the only people on the face that didn’t wish to do great violence to Ralph Macchio.

That autumn, Bananarama provided the title track for Cameron Crowe’s The Wild Life, a movie that I don’t even recall being in theaters. The song was belatedly added to the US version of Bananarama and, though stylistically in the vein of Cruel Summer, The Wild Life failed to replicate the group’s prior soundtrack success.

I totally dug those first two Bananarama records. Deep Sea Skiving was a lot of fun, the three girls were cute as buttons, and it’s still the only Bananarama I need to own.

Two years later, Bananarama fell into the clutches of producers Stock Aitken Waterman, scored a mammoth hit with yet another cover, Venus, and I was out.

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Sorting Out September*

September 6, 2012

Though it’s still quite summer during the day, the morning commute through the backroads has been one with less light and a slight chill in the air.

The chill is unmistakeably September.

As a kid, September meant that – like it or not – you were entrenched in the school year. Summer wasn’t coming back for months and months and months…

But, we would still try to squeeze as much time outside as possible, playing some hoops or football in someone’s yard until the dark ended the festivities earlier and earlier each night.

Of course, there was something about sleeping with the windows open in September. Following the heat of summer, the cool air induced drowsiness so effortlessly and completely that Pfizer or Merck would drown kittens to be able to replicate it in pill form.

Some Septembers, the night would be accompanied by the hum of machinary harvesting the crop late into the evening in the cornfield across the road. If that wasn’t the case, there was always the whisper from the interstate a mile or so down that same road.

It was a pleasant way to be lulled to dream.

And, September was a month for spectacular visuals, especially in our rural, Midwestern town.

September now brings the annual re-examination of the events that kickstarted this whole Orwellian misadventure known as The War On Terror.

And, since I no longer live in the Midwest, I haven’t gotten the full-blown autumn experience in two decades. There’s still color, but the season is far less defined.

Yeah, September is a mixed bag, man.

Perusing the files, there wasn’t much in the way of September songs that moved me. When in doubt, head for the ’80s, so here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s chart for the first week of September, 1980 – some I remember from the time, others whose acquaintence I’d make later…

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again
from Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack (1980)

I keep threatening – much to Paloma’s dismay – to cast a write-in vote for The Red-Headed Stranger in this November’s presidential election.

(and wouldn’t On The Road Again make a fine campaign song? – run, Willie, run)

Genesis – Turn It On Again
from Duke (1980)

From …And Then There Were Three… – with the wonderful Follow You Follow Me – through 1983’s self-titled album, Genesis deftly balanced their progressive past with the band’s more pop future.

Listening to the driving Turn It On Again for the first time in some time, I realize how cool of a sound Genesis had during those years.

Split Enz – I Got You
from True Colours (1980)

When Paloma and I started buying vinyl a few years ago, there was an initial burst of excitement. Paloma, in a fit of her enthusiasm which I adore, purchased ten albums by Split Enz knowing no more than a handful of songs by the Kiwi act.

It was a decision she regretted – “The members of Split Enz don’t even have as many Split Enz albums as we do.” – but the playfully creepy I Got You is still a classic from the period.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black (1980)

Did people at the time realize what a perfect rock song that AC/DC had given the world with You Shook Me All Night Long?

It’s still an arresting three and a half minutes of bravado, lust, and adrenaline.


February 2, 1985

February 4, 2012

In early 1985, the shift in my musical interests, which had been evolving and changing in fits and starts for a couple years, was ongoing.

By ’85, my friends and I had our driver’s licenses, so there were more opportunities – if we could procure transportation – to make the trek into Cincinnati for music.

(of course, funding such purchases was an ongoing challenge)

Though MTV had finally made it into the homes of our small town the previous summer, not all of us had cable, so the channel was merely a piece of the puzzle in shaping our tastes.

The alternative rock of 97X – which had been broadcasting for a little more than a year – had captured my fancy, but reception of the station was often dodgy.

The stations that were available to us on the dial were mostly a mixture of Top 40 and album rock, not necessarily adventurous but far more eclectic than they would be by the time we left for college. As playlists hadn’t yet been completely whittled down, Top 40 was still a viable, if less captivating, option.

Casey Kasem’s weekly countdown of the most popular songs in the land was no longer appointment listening, but one of our town’s drugstores was now stocking Billboard magazine in the racks. I’d often peruse the latest issue.

And, twenty-six years ago this week, there were half a dozen songs that debuted on the Hot 100…

Jermaine Jackson & Pia Zadora – When The Rain Begins To Fall
from Voyage Of The Rock Aliens soundtrack (1984)
(debuted #95, peaked #54, 11 weeks on chart)

Jermaine is, of course, Tito’s brother and Pia Zadora was an ’80s b-movie actress who’d had a hit a couple years earlier with The Clapping Song which I had never heard outside of its time on American Top 40.

I seem to vaguely recall the movie Voyage Of The Rock Aliens being in theaters and I think I might have even stumbled across it late night on cable in college, but the synopsis on Wikipedia leads me to believe I’d have changed the channel swiftly.

As for the song, Tito likely shook his head over the generic dance/pop fluff of When The Rain Begins To Fall which featured lyrical puffery such as “When the rain begins to fall, you’ll ride my rainbow in the sky.”

The Manhattan Transfer – Baby Come Back To Me (The Morse Code Of Love)
from Bop Doo-Wopp (1985)
(debuted #87, peaked #83, 3 weeks on chart)

The jazz vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer had notched a major hit several years before with the retro-styled The Boy From New York City. That song was catchy even if, at the time, it had the stink of something my parents might have listened to all over it.

The group failed to recapture that success with the similar Baby Come Back To Me, a song that I hadn’t heard before. It’s doo wop vibe still relegates it to being from my parents generation, but that’s a far more forgivable offense now and I kind of dig it.

Jermaine Stewart – The Word Is Out
from The Word Is Out (1984)
(debuted #82, peaked #41, 15 weeks on chart)

I don’t think I’ve ever heard The Word Is Out. Of course, I’ve heard it now and can’t remember it.

A year or so later, Jermaine Stewart would suggest that folks could stay dressed with the earworm We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off, a song that, even having mostly abandoned Top 40, I was familiar.

David Bowie/Pat Metheney Group – This Is Not America
from The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack (1985)
(debuted #66, peaked #32, 12 weeks on chart)

Unlike the previous three songs, I was quite familiar with This Is Not America, David Bowie’s collaboration with the Pat Metheney Group (even though I had no idea who Metheney or his group was or what David Bowie was doing mixed up with them).

Bowie had released Tonight, his follow-up to the massive Let’s Dance, six months or so earlier to considerable hype and subsequent disappointment. This Is Not America, taken from the soundtrack to The Falcon And The Snowman – a Cold War thriller starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton – wasn’t a big hit, but the moody, hypnotic song was far better than anything on Tonight (aside from Loving The Alien).

Bryan Adams – Somebody
from Reckless (1984)
(debuted #59, peaked #11, 17 weeks on chart)

Bryan Adams seems to get slagged quite a bit and perhaps it’s a bit deserved for Everything I Do (I Do It For You), but prior to gifting the world with that ubiquitous track from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood flick, the Canadian singer had a string of hit albums.

Adams was hardly reinventing fire with his straight-forward, meat-and-potatoes rock, but the stuff sounded pretty great blaring from the radio on a summer day. And Reckless had a half-dozen tracks that made the album a fixture on the radio for a good year or so including the anthemic singalong Somebody, a song that Paloma is surprisingly fond of.

Duran Duran – Save A Prayer
from Arena (1984)
(debuted #53, peaked #16, 14 weeks on chart)

Duran Duran broke in America with their second album Rio and the hits Hungry Like The Wolf and the title track. Having dug the hits, I shelled out the money for a copy of Rio and felt it money well spent.

The British quintet’s subsequent string of hit singles were hit and miss for me, though, and nothing was compelling enough to make me purchase another Duran Duran album, certainly not The Wild Boys, a new studio track which heralded the arrival of the live set Arena.

As a follow-up, the band issued a live version of Save A Prayer. The shimmering ballad had been a favorite when it first appeared on Rio and, even now, it would absolutely make the cut as one of the five or six Duran Duran songs that I’d consider essential.