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.


The Wonder Of Oz

July 21, 2010

Australia has been on my radar since the early ’70s, when my father bandied about the idea of moving the family there. He had a gig secured, but, at the eleventh hour, my mom put the kibosh on the venture.

I was five and pissed. Cornfields and cows did not match the allure of koalas and kangaroos.

I don’t think Australia was of much consequence to me again until later in the decade and the success of Olivia Newton-John in Grease and the dominance of the Bee Gees in pop culture.

I was eleven. Music and girls were beginning to occupy more of my attention. Olivia made quite an impression.

(twenty years later, she came into a record store where I worked and was every bit as fetching in the flesh)

Over the next few years, as I listened to more and more music, Australian acts like AC/DC, Rick Springfield, Little River Band, Air Supply, and Olivia were staples on the pop and rock radio stations I listened to.

1982 was Australia’s breakthrough year, though.

Our family trekked to the World’s Fair that summer. I’m sure that the world offered up all kinds of groovy stuff, but the only thing I really recall was thinking that, of all of the countries with exhibits, the women at the Australian pavillion were the most lovely.

(I was fourteen and now lamented a life deprived of koalas, kangaroos, and sheilas)

1982 was also the summer that Men At Work arrived in America and soon everyone was spreading vegemite on their toast.

Once I left school and moved on, I got to know a handful of people that were Australian expats. These folks did nothing to dispel my belief that I’d have been cool, too, if I’d grown up in Sydney instead of Sticksville here in the States.

(one of them seems to – literally – know every musician in Australia)

But, though I’ve come close to making the trek to the Australia, I’ve had to admire and imagine the country from afar, living vicariously through one friend’s old blog and a slew of music throughout the years.

(if anyone from Australia is reading and has a gig for two hard-working kids from the States, I think I could convince Paloma and the cats to make the trip)

Here is a quartet of songs by some Australian bands that I simply felt like hearing today…

Little River Band – The Night Owls
from Time Exposure

I knew Little River Band for songs like Lonesome Loser and Cool Change, but The Night Owls came out in the autumn of ’81 when I was really starting to pay attention to music.

I totally took to the song. It was a hit at an age when staying up late into the night was an still an exotic, mysterious venture.

Hoodoo Gurus – Bittersweet
from Mars Needs Guitars

Though Hoodoo Gurus arrived smack dab in my college years and got a lot of press, I don’t really recall hearing them much aside from the occasional trip home when I could listen to 97X.

Other than Bittersweet, I own nothing by the band, but I have taken a mental note (which I will likely lose) to keep an eye out for them when shopping for used vinyl.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits

INXS was simply a fantastic singles band and they left behind a string of songs during the ’80s that still bend my ear when they shuffle up on the iPod. And, I wouldn’t hesitate to put the stunning Don’t Change on a list of favorite songs from the decade.

The Stairs, though, might be the second favorite thing that Michael Hutchence and crew put out. I was pretty burned out on INXS when X, the follow-up to the mammothly successful Kick, was released. The album made me yawn.

But The Stairs had me the first time we played it in the record store where I was working at the time – the percolating intro building to a noisy buzz…Hutchence’s charismatic, impassioned vocals…the hypnotic, determined march of the song and a bit of arena rock guitar to drive it all onward…

The Black Sorrows – Harley And Rose
from Harley And Rose

I had never heard of The Black Sorrows when I grabbed a promo copy of Harley And Rose from a bin of CDs in another record store where I was working. There was no particular reason other than it was up for grabs.

One listen and I filed it as a keeper. Over the past twenty years, I’ve essentially forgotten about it and never came across the band again. But, here and there, the title song would pop to mind and I’d throw it on (or retrieve it from the mp3 catalog).

Checking their Wikipedia page, it appears that Joe Camilleri, the heart and sole constant member of the group, has had a long and distinguished career in Australia, so I suppose I need to make a mental note on him, too.

(and I need to ask my friend about him – he likely knows or, perhaps, has played with him)

Apparently The Black Sorrows evolved from Camilleri, who had already had success, and some friends who would gather and play covers of R&B, zydeco and blues songs.

The wistful Harley And Rose makes me think that it might be the result had Paddy MacAloon of Prefab Sprout grown up in some dusty Australia town and started out in a band playing covers of R&B, zydeco, and blues songs.