The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2011

December 31, 2011

Now that I’ve wasted so much time here establishing a few traditions, I’d be remiss to honor not them…

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Three years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2011 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. Asia – Ride Easy
from The Very Best Of Asia: Heat Of The Moment (1982-1990) (2000)
Harpsichord Everywhere

“I like that song,” I told her. “It has harpsichord in it.”

9. Bow Wow Wow – Do You Wanna Hold Me?
from When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going (1983)
Mohawks And Middle Linebackers

“It was 1982 and the big bang of punk rock had come and gone without us even noticing in rural Indiana.”

8. Single Bullet Theory – Keep It Tight
from Single Bullet Theory (1982)
March 5, 1983

“Yeah, if someone had shown me a device the size of a cassette that would hold 150 times the number of songs I owned, my flabber would have been gasted.”

7. Guadalcanal Diary – Watusi Rodeo
from Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man (1984)
Odd Stuff In The Trunk

“Instead, there was several handfuls of straw, a crumpled carton that had contained wine coolers, and one tube sock.”

6. Player – Baby Come Back
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21 (1993)
Cat D’État

“I have legitimate concerns that, when nightfall arrives and Paloma is absent, things could get ugly.”

5. Squeeze – 853-5397
from Babylon and On (1987)
Caller Identity Crisis

“I sometimes wonder what his outgoing message might have been had his time with the “cowslaw” number coincided with the celebrated period during which he was the self-declared ‘Man Who Loves All Women'”

4. Mitch Ryder – When You Were Mine
from Never Kick a Sleeping Dog (1983)
July 16, 1983

“There would never be a time in which more music would be a wholly new experience for me.”

3. The Hollies – Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress
from Big Hits Of The ’70s (1998)
You Go Canoeing To Aintry With Burt, You Take Your Chances

“After a grueling day under the flourescent lights of an office, a commute from hell, and the rawness of a dark winter’s day in early January, does anything goose the spirits like a river trip to Aintry, hillbillies, and Ned Beatty getting sodomized?”

2. Was (Not Was) – Spy In The House Of Love
from What Up, Dog? (1988)
Was (Not Was)…Was

“‘Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like Don Was?'”

1. J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame (1981)
Shuffling Slowly Toward Sound Fidelity

“It was a battered, oblong box – one corner of the grill covering the 45-sized speaker had separated from the unit and the cord was a scoliotic snake.”


Shuffling Slowly Toward Sound Fidelity

May 15, 2011

It was during this week in 1982, that I graduated from grade school.

I’m not sure if it was because of our small town’s agrairian past – when not everyone went on to high school – or if it was the chance to inject excitement into the sleepy hum of daily life, but the event was treated with considerable pomp and circumstance.

As a kid that, like a lot of kids, had no use for formalities, I thought most of it was an inconvenient hullabaloo.

But there was an upside to losing a Saturday to ceremony, pictures, uncomfortable clothes, and time spent with adults – cash.

With some of that cash, I made a major purchase, a table top clock radio with a cassette player manufactured by Lloyd’s.

It had only been a year or so since my new interest in music had spurred me to relocate a radio from the basement to my bedroom. It had been on my old man’s workbench or the garage for as long as I could rremember.

It was a battered, oblong box – one corner of the grill covering the 45-sized speaker had separated from the unit and the cord was a scoliotic snake.

It served my purposes well during those early months as I explored the world of radio. And, in the time it took for me to open a cardboard box, it had become a childhood artifact.

This new purchase – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyds beast” – also made obsolete a portable cassette player from the ’70s that I used to listen to the handful of albums I owned.

(it was also used it to make primitive mix tapes of songs recorded by positioning the built-in microphone of the device as close as possible to the speaker of the radio)

This new acquisition – what my buddy Beej dubbed “the Lloyd’s beast” – was, though merely a small step toward fidelity, a great technological leap forward for me.

Beej had an older brother. He was already reading Stereo Review, yammering about specs and Hirsch-Houk Laboratories, and putting together a stereo system.

I would soon begin to eye the magnificent components he was acquiring and go in the that direction, too.

(as soon as I was able to scrape together the funding, a slow process that neccesitated my buying one component at a time over the course of an entire summer)

But, twenty-nine years ago, the “Lloyd’s beast” was possibly my most prized possession.

Here are four songs that I vividly recall from that time…

Human League – Don’t You Want Me
from Dare

Had I had interest in music a few years earlier, either disco or punk might have been the “new” sound that my friends and I would have adopted as our own. I’m grateful that, instead, New Wave and synthesizer bands from the UK turned out to be our find.

Human League’s Don’t You Want Me had to have been one of the first songs by a synth band I heard and I it hooked me. My buddy Streuss was obsessive about the band, spending the next year or so focused on collecting every single, 12″ inch single, EP, remix, and whatever else he could acquire by the Sheffield band.

Toto – Rosanna
from Toto IV

I have no qualms in acknowledging that I own most of Toto’s albums up through the mid-’80s and I rarely hit skip when one of their songs pops up on shuffle.

Rosanna was a constant on the radio during the summer of ’82 – all summer long – and I don’t think I ever tired of it. It’s still as joyously infectious all of these years later.

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kim Wilde

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song. It bounded along. It had a chanted chorus. It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

It had it all.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

Although I was fairly lukewarm about the song Centerfold, I’d gotten a copy of J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame as a gift and most of the rest of the album I loved. I don’t think any of us knew that the band had actually been around for more than a decade and was known to music fans as America’s answer to The Rolling Stones (I, at that time, certainly didn’t).

Although it wasn’t nearly as big as Centerfold or Freeze Frame‘s title track, Angel In Blue – a wistful ode to a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with the obligatory heart of gold – was a favorite then and, like that waitress, it hasn’t aged a bit.


Love And Butane Is In The Air

March 26, 2011

As I surfed channels the other night, I couldn’t help but momentarily get sucked into an infommercial.

It was by Time-Life and for a nine-CD collection – Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Hosting the half-hour pitch to earn my affection, interest, and credit card number was REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin. His sidekick was some chick who looked like a dental hygenist and likely had no idea who Kevin Cronin or REO Speedwagon was until her world and his collided in this cash grab.

Kevin Cronin wouldn’t stop smiling.

The pair became positively giddy when the hygenist asked Cronin if it could be possible to assemble such a collection of music.

He flat out declared that she couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it and he couldn’t do it. To even suggest it could be done by a mere mortal (or even a rock star) was akin to asking me to split the the atom.

But, Time-Life could.

(good for Time-Life – if you are such jet-fuel geniuses end global strife, put Japan back together, or, hell, just make me a sandwich)

And still Kevin Cronin kept smiling. It reached a point that he was freakin’ me out and I started to wonder if he’d ever killed a drifter.

Fortunately, the banter of Kevin & The Hygenist was broken up by clips of selections from the set.

There was the lovely Rindy Ross swaying with her saxophone as Quarterflash performed Harden My Heart on American Bandstand.

And I couldn’t help but wonder how much time – had I been a member of Toto – I would have wasted making fun of singer Bobby Kimball’s moustache as the video for Rosanna played.

According to the Wikipedia entry for power ballad, it is suggested that 1976 was the pivitol year that the power ballad truly became part of American consciousness as FM radio “gave a new lease of life to earlier songs like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Aerosmith’s Dream On, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.”

(personally, I would defer to Wisconsin JB on all things musical in 1976)

1976 was also the year that Kiss had their biggest pop hit with the ballad Beth which, as I somewhat recall, caused more than a bit of angst for members of the Kiss Army.

That song, though, and the concept of a rock band broadening their audience with a softer sound would seem to be a precursor for the ’80s when the strategy was practically a given.

Foreigner had Waiting For A Girl Like You, Journey had Open Arms, and Mr. Cronin’s REO Speedwagon had Keep On Loving You which helped the group launch their mega-selling Hi Infidelity.

And, at the risk that it might cause Kevin Cronin’s head to spin off its axis, I suspect that – for better or for worse – I do own most, if not all, of the songs on Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Here are four ballads – some with less power than others – that were hits in the early ’80s for more rock-oriented bands…

Foreigner – Waiting For A Girl Like You
from Foreigner 4

Foreigner arrived with their first several albums prior to music being more than a casual affair to me. I associated the band with driving rock tracks like Hot Blooded and Double Vision that I’d hear blaring from the car stereo of a high school kid as he tore through our neighborhood.

But, by the time Foreigner released their cleverly titled fourth album, I was listening to the radio, if not actually purchasing music. In late 1981, the moody, keyboard-laden Waiting For A Girl Like You – moody keyboards courtesy of one, pre-science blinded Thomas Dolby – was inescapable.

Foreigner would continue to have hits well into the ’80s, but having found a new audience with this softer sound, the band would – unlike previously – rely on lighter songs for those singles.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

The R&B-laced blues-rock of J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones during the ’70s and the Boston band became a popular live act with the occasional hit song. The group notched major pop radio success with Freeze Frame and the massive hit song Centerfold and the title track.

While those songs, like much of their catalog, were raucous affairs, the third track pulled from the album was the downbeat Angel In Blue. It was hardly as big as the previous two songs from Freeze Frame, but the gorgeous, melancholy song retained the band’s soulful vibe and blue-collar grit as it told the tale of a world-weary cocktail waitress.

(for some reason, I’ve always mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

Night Ranger – Sister Christian
from Midnight Madness

Led by dual guitarists Jeff Watson and Brad Gillis – the latter had briefly filled in with Ozzy Osbourne after Randy Rhodes death – Night Ranger became a staple on our local rock stations with their 1983 debut and songs like Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sing Me Away.

Late that same year, the band issued its sophomore effort Midnight Madness and continued to get heavy airplay with (You Can Still) Rock In America and Rumors In The Air. But it was in the spring of ’84 that Night Ranger garnered attention on the pop stations and notched a Top Ten hit with the mid-tempo Sister Christian.

Slade – My Oh My
from Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply

With their trademark misspelled song titles and glam-tinged hard rock, Slade released a string of monstrous hits in their native UK during the ’70s even as the band was largely ignored in the States. By the beginning of the ’80s, the quartet was being ignored in the UK as well.

Then, Quiet Riot had a breakthrough hit with Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize in the autumn of ’83 even as Slade was making a comeback in the UK with The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome.

The album was repackaged and retitled, arriving in the US the following spring and, that summer, the band – aided by a popular video on MTV – had notched its first Top 40 hit Stateside with the raucous Run Runaway.

That fall, the anthemic ballad My Oh My became a minor hit and Slade’s final flicker of success in the US.