November 6, 1982

November 5, 2012

Unless you have a masochistic streak, you are as likely to have election fatigue as I am. However, the end of this highly-informative, enlightening period is near and, before the next president is inaugurated in January, a new slate of empty suits will already be jockeying for 2016.

(all of this is, obviously, contigent upon no year-end Mayan nonsense)

So, as I opt to periodically do – when I have no other viable or unviable ideas – it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week.

And, since 1982 was the year during which I first truly fell in love with the radio, here is the octet of songs which first appeared on the Hot 100 thirty years ago…

Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
from Screaming For Vengeance (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #67, 7 weeks on chart)

I didn’t go through a metal phase as a kid (or as an adult for that matter) and by the late ’80s – when the hair-metal bands were ruling MTV – I thought the genre to be laughable. Over the ensuing years, I’ve come to enjoy some of the stuff, but, if I’m opting for metal from that period, I’m likely to dial up Iron Maiden.

However, Judas Priest, led by Rob Halford and the twin-guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, were titans of the metal world and fixtures in Circus magazine, one of the few music magazines stocked in the rack of our local drug store.

Though I’ve never embraced Judas Priest, I do recall hearing their driving You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ here and there at the time. It was catchy enough to give the band their lone US pop hit.

Bill Conti – Theme From Dynasty
from Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1990)
(debuted #89, peaked #52, 9 weeks on chart)

I knew the name Bill Conti as the composer of Gonna Fly Now, the theme from the movie Rocky, but, as I never watched the show, I had never heard his theme from the television series Dynasty.

I know that Dynasty was about rich people and there’s a snootier-than-thou vibe to the theme that I could imagine accompanying people playing polo, eating caviar, yachting, running for president or doing whatever else rich people do.

Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On
from Something’s Going On (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #13, 29 weeks on chart)

I’m sure that, initially, I had no idea that the voice on I Know There’s Something Going On belonged to one of the women from ABBA. And, I doubt at the time that I recognized the drumming on the song to be Phil Collins (although I’d soon become familiar with the cavernous sound that was his trademark).

Instead, I loved the thunderous sound and omnious vibe of the song. And, in retrospect, it’s odd to think of Frida’s lone hit getting played on the rock stations playing Tom Petty, Saga, and Def Leppard that would have never touched ABBA.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual (1982)
(debuted #79, peaked #1, 25 weeks on chart)

Men At Work had dominated the radio during the late summer and early autumn of ’82 with Who Can It Be Now? and, by Christmas, Down Under had become the Aussie act’s second smash.

I do know that my friends and I – living in a world without MTV – had seen both of those videos on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 and been delighted by lead singer Colin Hay’s expressive antics and emotive nature. That Christmas, I received a copy of Business As Usual which I wore out over the following winter months.

Kim Carnes – Does It Make You Remember?
from Voyeur (1982)
(debuted #78, peaked #36, 13 weeks on chart)

Kim Carnes had unleashed the juggernaut Bette Davis Eyes upon the world in 1981 as music was beginning to tickle my fancy. Despite a lengthy career beginning in the ’60s as a member of The New Christy Minstrels and a number of solo hits including More Love and Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer, Bette Davis Eyes will headline the singer/songwriter’s obituary.

Carnes’ follow-up to Mistaken Identity, which contained Bette Davis Eyes, was destined to fail in matching its predecessors’ success. Voyeur‘s title track came and went quickly as the album’s initial single.

The second release was the mid-tempo Does It Make You Remember? which, like Voyeur, briefly reached the Top 40. It’s not a bad song and well-suited for Carnes’ raspy vocals, but my main memory of Does It Make You Remember? is that the singer seemed to appear on Solid Gold performing it every week that winter (accompanied by noted session guitarist Waddy Wachtel and his voluminous hair).

Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love
from Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #10, 21 weeks on chart)

I knew little of Genesis and even less about The Supremes as 1982 wound down and Genesis’ Phil Collins released his cover of the latter’s classic You Can’t Hurry Love. I knew Genesis for their recent hits from Abacab No Reply At All, the title track, and Man On The Corner – but I doubt that I knew The Supremes whatsoever.

Though it obviously doesn’t match the original, Phil Collins take on You Can’t Hurry Love is likely as good as one might hope for from a drummer of a (increasingly less) progressive, English rock band.

John Cougar – Hand To Hold On To
from American Fool (1982)
(debuted #72, peaked #19, 18 weeks on chart)

Few acts had as good a year as Johnny Hoosier – as my buddy Bosco referred to local hero John Cougar – did in 1982. The gritty rocker had broken through with the mega-selling American Fool set which had spawned two hits in Hurts So Good and Jack And Diane that had dominated radio that summer and into the fall.

As I was living in Indiana, local radio had given heavy airplay to American Fool even before Hurts So Good broke nationally, meaning that by the time Hand To Hold On To was issued as the album’s third single, I was well and truly tired of anything Cougar.

So, Hand To Hold On To usually prompted me to change the station, but, now, thirty years later, I hear it as a solid, amiable rock song, hardly as memorable as the first two hits but a decent track nonetheless.

Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine
from Thriller (1982)
(debuted #45, peaked #2, 18 weeks on chart)

If there is one song among Thriller‘s seven Top Ten hits that I haven’t really heard on the radio in the three decades since it was a hit, it would be The Girl Is Mine, the duet that launched the album. Even at the time, it offered no hint at how Thriller would dominate the airwaves for the next eighteen months, well into 1984.

The Girl Is Mine was Paul McCartney’s second superstar duet that year – he had paired with Stevie Wonder that spring on Ebony And Ivory – and it’s a pleasant enough song with a goofy spoken word interlude. I always thought that its laid-back, breezy vibe would have made the song more suitable for warmer months.

Not long after The Girl Is Mine hit radio, the full album arrived and several of the stations I was listening to quickly jumped on Beat It with Eddie Van Halen on guitar, a far more intriguing track to me.

I hear The Girl Is Mine now and I can’t help but hear a buddy ad-libbing “the goddamned girl is mine” in place of the more benign “the doggone girl is mine” in the chorus which was high hilarity to us at the time.

The Men Were The Men Back Then

April 22, 2012

Amidst the news last week of the deaths of Dick Clark and The Band’s Levon Helm was that of Greg Ham’s passing.

As I was a high school kid in the early ’80s, the name was immediately recognizable as the saxophonist for the Australian band Men At Work.

Men At Work arrived on American shores at a time when I had just developed enough interest in music to be listening to a lot of radio, but I hadn’t ventured much beyond mostly Top 40 stations. Most Saturday mornings, I’d tune for at least a portion of American Top 40.

The first time I ever heard – or even heard of – Men At Work was when Casey Kasem announced their song Who Can it Be Now? debuting on the countdown. It was August, 1982, and I had just entered high school.

By the end of that weekend, I seemed to be hearing the song hourly on one or more station as I surfed the band.

Men At Work was the first band that truly blew up on my watch. Who Can It Be Now? was quirky, New Wave rock full of irresistible hooks and punctuated by Ham’s honking saxophone bursts.

Within the next several months, both Who Can It Be Now? and Business As Usual, Men At Work’s debut album, had topped the charts. As 1982 closed out, the band’s second single, Down Under, was duplicating the success of Who Can It Be Now? and I received a cassette of Business As Usual for Christmas which I wore out.

I remember reading an article on the band over that break and quotes from the members that they were already tired of Business At Usual. The album had been released in their homeland in 1981 and the band had its follow-up ready for release.

(Columbia, who had signed the band after Business In Usual took Australia by storm, rejected the album twice before belatedly issuing it here – well played Columbia)

That follow-up, Cargo, arrived quickly on the heels of the debut in the spring of ’83. I recall a neighbor being the first of my friends to get a copy and how eager we were to hear it.

Cargo was a success, but not on the scale of Business As Usual, which would have been unrealistic to expect.

That autumn, Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Jive became the third single from Cargo to reach the Top 40 and the first hit by the band to not reach the Top Ten.

Just over a year after Men At Work had burst onto the scene, it was over.

Men At Work would issue one, final album in 1985, but during the lengthy break, the band was reduced to a trio of lead singer Colin Hay, Ham, and guitarist Ron Strykert.

Two Hearts came out as we began summer break before our senior year of high school, but it was greeted with indifference and Men At Work broke up with little fanfare.

Here are four songs from Men At Work…

Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now?
from Business As Usual (1982)

As catchy as Who Can It Be Now? is, the song’s accompanying video certainly hastened Men At Work’s breakthrough in the US.

MTV was about eighteen months from availablity in our are, but I caught the clip somehow and was amused and captivated by lead singer Colin Hay’s portrayal of a paranoid recluse and his lazy-eyed glances into the camera.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual (1982)

Hailing from Australia made Men At Work an exotic import to us and Down Under played on that aspect with its playful, eccentric take on the band’s homeland.

(as well as teaching us about vegemite)

Men At Work – People Just Love To Play With Words
from Business As Usual (1982)

Though the two hits were the most memorable songs on the album, Business As Usual could have had another hit single or two had the band not had Cargo waiting in the wings.

Be Good Johnny got a lot of airplay, but the delightful People Just Love To Play With Words would have made an ideal choice as a third single.

Men At Work – Overkill
from Cargo (1983)

Cargo, like many a blockbuster follow-up, wasn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but it did contain Men At Work’s finest moment.

Overkill was as quirky and engaging as the previous hits, but it was also wistful. The song always made me think of rainy, empty streets illuminated by streetlights in the early morning hours as most of the world is asleep.

(perhaps because I so often heard the song on the radio that spring, as my friends and I – having finally gotten our driver’s licenses – would be out late, killing time)

The Grammy Awards

February 15, 2011

The Grammy Awards aired the other night.

I watched The Simpsons.

During the first few years in which I was suddenly fascinated by and paying attention to music, it was – like most people of a certain age, I suspect – through pop radio. The idea that there were awards given for songs was a compelling one.

I think the first Grammy Awards show I remember was the one from 1981 and Christopher Cross’ slew of trophies for his debut album from the prior year.

At the time, Cross’ shiny trinkets undoubtedly validated my affection for the cassette of Christopher Cross, which I had made one of my first musical purchases.

Though that album has retained a special place in my psyche, it wasn’t long before I realized that, for the most part, the Grammys was a bit bogus and not to be taken seriously.

Through the years, I’d sometimes catch the show and sometimes I wouldn’t.

I did have the opportunity to once fill out a Grammy ballot. An ex-girlfriend worked at a law firm that had some musician clients and, thus, the firm was a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This girlfriend’s boss knew that she was an aspiring singer and, having no interest in performing the task, handed his Grammy ballot to her.

I don’t recall the specifics, but a voter was allowed to vote in so many categories and this girlfriend blew through most of her allotment notching a straight ticket.

(it was either for Joan Osbourne’s Relish or Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs, I can’t remember)

She handed the ballot to me with a few picks remaining.

It truly destroyed the last bit of mystique that the Grammys held for me.

In February, 1983, I most certainly was excited to watch the Grammys. Here are songs from four of winners for whom I’d have undoubtedly voted…

Men At Work – Down By The Sea
from Business As Usual

During the second half of ’82, Men At Work became a sensation with the release of Business As Usual, one of the biggest selling debuts ever. By the time the Australians won Best New Artist, the album had already spawned two mammoth hits with Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under.

Though the two hits were the most memorable songs on the album, Business As Usual could have had another hit single or two had the band not had the follow-up Cargo waiting in the wings.

Though I wasn’t fond of the laid-back Down By The Sea, the song was a nice change of pace from the manic vibe of most of the album and it’s grown on me over the years (likely because of Paloma’s affection for the song).

Toto – It’s A Feeling
from Toto IV

Toto won fifty or sixty Grammys – ok, it was really six – for Toto IV including Album Of The Year. Sure, there were the twin titans of Rosanna and Africa, as well as the lesser hits Make Believe and I Won’t Hold You Back, but the entire album is a stellar set of pop/rock gems.

It’s A Feeling was moody and mysterious – not so dissimilar from Toto’s early hit 99 – and one of my favorites from Toto IV.

A Flock Of Seagulls – D.N.A.
from A Flock Of Seagulls

When A Flock Of Seagulls arrived with I Ran and their self-titled debut, I quickly adopted the Liverpool quartet as my own. I was hearing the music of the future and I wasn’t about to be left behind.

A Flock Of Seagulls relied heavily on synthesizers and electronic drums, but there was also plenty of guitar as on D.N.A. which won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, beating out nominated songs by Dixie Dregs, Maynard Ferguson, King Crimson, and Van Morrison.

Pat Benatar – Shadows Of The Night
from Get Nervous

Pat Benatar was one of the major acts of the early ’80s and Get Nervous became her fourth straight platinum album when it was released in late autumn of 1982. She was fetching in spandex and her songs were on every crude mixtape I was making from the radio.

Get Nervous provided Benatar with one of her signature songs in the dramatic Shadows Of The Night and the song earned the singer a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.