The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

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January 16, 1982

January 15, 2011

Several folk whose music blogs are regular reads for me frequently make it their business to dissect and discuss the songs from the music charts for a particular week from the past.

Favorites such as The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, Echoes In The Wind, Songs Of The Cholera King, and 70s Music Mayhem are likely known to anyone who stops by here, too.

That last one – 70s Music Mayhem – is a recent discovery that is impressive in its painstaking attention to detail in breaking down the songs that happened to debut on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart for a given week from the ’70s.

Like a lot of music fans, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was appointment listening for several years of my childhood and, at some point, I’m sure that I stumbled across Billboard‘s Hot 100 posted in a record store.

Years later, Billboard would be a regular read and even an employer, but, in the early ’80s, what lurked beyond the forty songs Casey would count down each week was a mystery.

It’s 2011, though, and in this age of enlightenment, a good portion of Billboard‘s back issues are available to peruse online.

So, borrowing a bit from some of those blogs I’ve mentioned and to give myself a source of material when I’m not not pondering something mundane in particular, I thought that I’d take a page from one of those charts from yesteryear and chew on it.

I’m not sure when I first heard an episode of American Top 40, but I do know that I became a regular listener in January of ’82. At the time, I was halfway through the final year of junior high and music was becoming my favorite waste of time.

On a frigid, snowy Saturday morning, surfing the radio dial, I happened across Casey counting down the hits on WRIA, an adult contemporary station – as I recall – out of Richmond, Indiana.

From perusing those Billboard back issues, I suspect I was listening to the countdown from the week of January 16, 1982 when the following songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Soft Cell – Tainted Love
from Non-Stop Erotic Café
(debuted #90, peaked #8, 43 weeks on chart)

There were only a couple of songs that debuted this week which I didn’t immediately remember. The moody ’80s synth-pop classic Tainted Love isn’t one.

(though it didn’t reach radio stations in our area until the summer)

Skyy – Call Me
from Skyy Line
(debuted #87, peaked #26, 11 weeks on chart)

Call Me was a #1 on the R&B charts which would have meant nothing to me and it didn’t get played on the pop stations I was listening to.

It’s a perfectly fine dance-funk number with a bit of guitar that makes me think of Ray Parker, Jr’s The Other Woman from that summer.

Smokey Robinson – Tell Me Tomorrow
from Yes It’s You Lady
(debuted #86, peaked #33, 12 weeks on chart)

And though I wasn’t listening to R&B stations, I did, at least, know Smokey Robinson for the suave Being With You, which had been a huge hit the year before.

Tell Me Tomorrow is a mid-tempo crooner that wouldn’t have appealed to me then, but I kind of dig now.

The Oak Ridge Boys – Bobbie Sue
from The Oak Ridge Boys
(debuted #85, peaked #12, 14 weeks on chart)

The radio station in my hometown flipped from rock to country about a year or so before I began to truly care. My only interest in the station was for school closing anouncements on January mornings.

I am willing to listen to any of the dozens of Toto songs named for women. As for The Oak Ridge Boys, Elvira was more than enough and, in restrospect, I consider it karma that a friend from college once drunkenly yanked on the beard of William Lee Golden and asked if it was real.

(or so I heard)

Chilliwack – I Believe
from Wanna Be A Star
(debuted #83, peaked #33, 11 weeks on chart)

Speaking of Toto, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of folks would guess that the groovy, mellow I Believe might have been that band. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Toto IV.

Though it’s a perfectly amiable song, I Believe isn’t the ridiculously catchy My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone), the Chilliwack hit that had preceded it.

AC/DC – Let’s Get It Up
from For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
(debuted #81, peaked #44, 9 weeks on chart)

I’m glad that we live in a world where there is AC/DC and I think that Bon Scott was amazing, but I listened to Let’s Get It Up three times this morning shopping and it left me with no impression.

Cliff Richard – Daddy’s Home
from Wired For Sound
(debuted #80, peaked #23, 13 weeks on chart)

At the time Daddy’s Home was a hit, I thought it was music for old people. I’m sure that while it was in the Top 40, Casey told me that it had originally been a hit for Shep & The Limeliters in 1961, but, here were are almost thirty years later and I still couldn’t tell you if I’ve heard that version.

John Denver And Plácido Domingo – Perhaps Love
from Seasons Of The Heart
(debuted #79, peaked #59, 7 weeks on chart)

Like a lot of kids in the ’70s, I thought John Denver was pretty groovy. This long-haired fellow in the floppy hat, traipsing around the Rockies with bear cubs and denim-clad hippie chicks on television specials was, in my five-year old mind, The Man.

Perhaps Love arrived well past the time when John Denver ruled the world. I didn’t know the song ’til I listened to it and…well…it might have been pleasant enough had it been Denver solo, but Plácido Domingo just doesn’t work for me.

The Police – Spirits In The Material World
from Ghost In The Machine
(debuted #76, peaked #11, 13 weeks on chart)

I know some listeners began to turn on The Police with Ghost In The Machine, but the band was one of the first to earn the unwavering allegiance of me and several of my closest friends. The album’s first hit had been the stunning – though angst-riddled – pop song Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and I can understand why the follow-up wasn’t as big.

It is darker and less inviting, but I’ve always loved the moody, distant Spirits In The Material World and it’s so brief – less than three minutes – that I’ve never tired of hearing it.

Stevie Wonder – That Girl
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I
(debuted #72, peaked #4, 18 weeks on chart)

Stevie Wonder yearns for an unattainable girl who knows that she’s unattainable.

Just as I began listening to music, the legendary Stevie Wonder was wrapping up a decade and change of being a musical force, both commercially and critically. Since those months when I’d hear That Girl half a dozen times each day on one station or another, Wonder has released just a half dozen albums.

Journey – Open Arms
from Escape
(debuted #57, peaked #2, 18 weeks on chart)

There might not have been one junior high or high school kid in my hometown that didn’t own a copy of Journey’s Escape in late 1981.

I had no more than a handful of albums at the time, but one of them was a cassette of Escape. Then, in the winter months of ’82, Journey’s über-ballad became the biggest hit from one of the iconic rock albums of the early ’80s.

(though, even then, Mother, Father, which preceded Open Arms on side two, was the ballad that I’d rewind)


Four Singles

August 24, 2010

Unlike a lot of music bloggers whom I read, I have no fond memories of going to buy 45s with money earned mowing the lawn.

Many of these bloggers are capable of recounting with remarkable precision the details and circumstances of the first single they ever bought.

I can’t.

I can tell you that the first album I purchased (on cassette) was Christopher Cross’ debut.

And my first live show was seeing a band on a tour that would be infamously remembered and still discussed almost three decades later.

Sure, like most kids, I mowed acres of lawn, but I never bought more than a handful of 45s.

For one thing, I eased into a relationship with music, taking a good eighteen months or so from the point where I was turning on the radio to the point where music was beginning to consume the bulk of my budget.

Also, I had a tape recorder and would rudimentarily tape the songs I wanted from the radio onto crude mix tapes.

The sound quality was charmingly primitive but – as I was taking my time committing to the relationship – it didn’t matter. When I finally went all in, it was with full-length albums on cassette.

So, I mostly missed the experience of the 45.

However, just because I didn’t buy 45s doesn’t mean that I didn’t have any of my own. As a young kid, my mom would purchase a single for me now and again when a certain song would catch my fancy.

I sifted through the contents of my head and – more or less – retrieved the first singles that I ever owned. Though a couple were on radio in late 1972, all of them were on the charts during the first half of 1973…

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atomosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime. I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play.

And it’s still groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

In fact, I nominate Dancing In The Moonlight as our global anthem.

Albert Hammond – It Never Rains In Southern California
from It Never Rains In Southern California

I doubt that I really considered the dire straits in which the protagonist of It Never Rains In Southern California found himself at the time. Again, I was four years old.

I did like sunshine, though and – as it was the dead of a Midwestern winter – the idea of a place where it was always sunny and warm sounded positively magical.

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – granny glasses, floppy hat – traipsing around in the mountains communing with nature, animals, granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

Jim Croce – Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection

I was also impressed with the style of one Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, especially after seeing the cartoon that accompanied the song on Sonny & Cher.

So, two of the first, male role models I had – aside from my father and grandfather – would have been John Denver and a cartoon version of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

(and things didn’t end well for either of them)

Jim Croce is another artist that I keep intending to explore further than the dozen or so songs I know. Even if I don’t get around to doing so, both he and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown will forever occupy a special place in my heart.