Thirty-Three And Forever

October 14, 2012

I happened to catch part of an American Top 40 countdown while running errands with Jeepster this morning. Casey Kasem was doing his thing just as he had from this week in 1974.

At the time of the original broadcast, I was a first-grader trying to adjust to a school in a small town where I had lived for less than a year. Most of my classmates seemed to be related and most of their parents had gone to school together.

Not good times.

And most of the songs Casey was playing were ones that I recollect hazily, if at all, from that time.

So, I thought that I’d consult a Billboard Hot 100 chart from later in the decade, when there would be fewer cobwebs.

As October was reaching its mid-point in 1979, I was a sixth grader and my friends and I were engrossed in the 1979 World Series.

It was shaping up to be a short series as Baltimore had taken three of the first four games against Pittsburgh.

I was dismayed. The broadcasters kept reminding me that there were just four times in the 75 year history of the World Series that had rallied from such a deficit to win the title.

If you were a twelve-year old kid pulling for the Pirates, it might as well have been never.

I was a Pirate fan through birth with familial ties to Western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had known Bill Robinson, who was starting for the team in the outfield.

My grandfather had passed away a month into that season, having been devoted to the team since the days of Honus Wagner.

October 13, 1979 was a Saturday and the night before the Pirates had dropped game three of the series.

I had remained sprawled out in front of the television late into the night, until the last, miserable out and I was still brooding about it as I biked to a soccer game that morning.

That night, it would be a repeat as the Orioles took the seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead.

And, eight days later, I was watching when the Pirates won a third straight game – game seven – to clinch the World Series.

(and the team hasn’t returned since)

Music was just beginning to pull some of my attention from sports that autumn. I was most certainly a passive listener, hearing music mostly when exposed to it through others.

Here are four songs that were on the radio that autumn as the Pirates were playing in the World Series (in what it seems – as each year passes – might have been for the last time in my lifetime)…

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution (1979)

Journey was still two years away from Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids not old enough to drive, the song came on the jukebox.

As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed and inert, transfixed and mystified.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk (1979)

The bowling alley was the other premier place to see and be seen once you reached junior high school.

I heard unusual Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox that autumn. And, I would pester my buddy Tony to play his 45 of the song when we hung out at his house.

It’s “real savage like” and a fine example of the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Foreigner – Dirty White Boy
from Head Games (1979)

I knew Foreigner for songs like Cold As Ice, Double Vision, and Hot Blooded. I’d hear them blaring from the Camaro of an older kid in our neighborhood as he raced through the street headed for somewhere.

And the title track and Dirty White Boy from Head Games were two more songs that I associate with the bowling alley jukebox. For all of the grief that Foreigner might be given, their straight-ahead rock stuff certainly did sound cool blaring from a Camaro eight-track player or bowling alley jukebox.

(and, the girl on the cover of Head Games was Lisanne Falk, who would play one of the Heathers in the 1989 black comedy Heathers)

Cheap Trick – Dream Police
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

Cheap Trick exploded in 1979 with Cheap Trick At Budokan and the quartet from Rockford, Illinois is one of the first bands I can recall my classmates embracing with fervor.

Dream Police was culled from the parent album of the same name – the follow-up to the mega-selling At Budokan – and we delighted in the manic, subconscious angst of the protagonist and the driving music of the power-pop classic.

And, I can’t hear Dream Police now and not think of sketchy ticket-scalper Mike Damone in the iconic Fast Times At Ridgemont High making his pitch – “Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” – and singing a snippet of the song.

The Walkman Is Dead

October 27, 2010

I’ve come across several articles over the past few days announcing the end of Sony’s Walkman. The final batch was shipped to stores in Japan.

The groundbreaking portable cassette player hit the shores of the States in 1979 as a fifth grader deep in the heart of nowhere was just beginning to warm to music. I hadn’t even committed to buying music at the time much less feel a need to have the stuff at my beck and call at all times.

And, at that time, even if I’d wanted a Walkman, the cost would have made having one a pipe dream.

By the summer of ’82, I had the radio on as often as possible and had begun to buy cassettes. My buddy Beej was always ahead of the curve in electronic gadgetry and he was the first among my friends to snag a Walkman. He brought it home from his annual summer visit to see his dad in Arizona.

Months later, a portable cassette player was part of my take for Christmas.

I think it was a Panasonic.

It didn’t matter to me as the mere ability to block out the world and be lost in music anywhere, at any time, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and an oft-needed refuge.

It must have been the next Christmas that I received my first Walkman. The following summer I didn’t remove the Walkman’s headphones once during our family’s two week trip to Florida.

(I was sixteen, sullen, and adhering to teenage protocol)

It’s odd that I don’t remember the details of my first Walkman. That part of my brain might have been blown out in the ’90s

Or, maybe it’s because I had a number of portable cassette players of different brands over a two decade period. The prices dropped making them more economical to replace and replace them I did as, though I did treat mine with care, I put them through an excessive workload.

The last time I remember having a Sony was toward the end of high school. It was one of the first to reduce the size of the device down to just slightly larger than the size of the cassette being played.

It ended up heading to college with me, served me well, and is likely now in some anonymous landfill.

Time and techology marches on.

I remained true to the concept of the portable cassette player until the first few years of the 21st century when I bought an mp3 player. Now, it’s hard to imagine not having tens of thousands of songs at my fingertips.

Here are four random songs courtesy of the iPod…

Robert Palmer – Every Kinda People
from Very Best Of Robert Palmer

I knew only a sliver of the work of the suave Robert Palmer prior to the doubleshot of his solo album Riptide and the debut by The Power Station in 1985/1986. Then, he was inescapable on radio and video.

But, I’ve come to appreciate the earlier records by the late singer especially since Paloma and I started buying vinyl. Every Kinda Of People has a breezy feel and, though the song – which echoes the legendary Marvin Gaye – has a serious message, it’s uplifting as its theme of acceptance is delivered with a soulful vocal by Palmer that soars.

Duran Duran – Save A Prayer
from Electric Barbarella

I really liked the first couple albums by Duran Duran after the group hit the US shores in late ’82.

(I had to discover their self-titled debut after Rio hit)

The shimmering ballad Save A Prayer was a favorite.

Manic Street Preachers – Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H)
from Forever Delayed

I know that even as a small child, I immediately recognized the heaviness of the theme song from M*A*S*H even before I became a viewer of the show. Later, I was surprised to learn that the teenaged son of director Robert Altman had written the lyrics.

(I had to wonder if he was truly miserable or merely able to conjure up such despair)

For quite awhile, this anthemic cover wasn’t the easiest song to find for Manics fans in the States.

The Smashing Pumpkins – You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
from The Aeroplane Flies High

Paloma and I loved The Smashing Pumpkins and I can still picture the toy ray gun that she wore in her hair when we saw them live on their tour for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. I wouldn’t hesitate to name them as one of the best bands of the ’90s.

The prolific band released a number of cover songs including this one by The Cars. Toward the end of the Pumpkins run with the original line-up, I saw them again. I told Billy Corgan that I had dug the solo record he had produced for The Cars’ Rik Ocasek.

He smiled as soon as I mentioned the little-heard (but truly groovy) album.

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.