Things That Rhyme Like Nipsey Russell

January 22, 2012

Paloma and I upgraded to HD recently which is how I ended up on the Game Show Network the other night.

As HD is a new experience, I find that I surf for shows to look at rather than watch.

I didn’t even know we had the Game Show Network, but when I saw The $25,000 Pyramid listed as I scrolled through the channel guide and couldn’t help but be curious as to what a game show from the 1970s might look like in HD.

I tried the channel and the sight of Nipsey Russell and Vickie Lawrence bantering with host Dick Clark materialized from the pixels.

The show used to air in the mornings on weekdays, so I’d only see it on rare occasion during the school years, the handfuls of days off for snow, sickness, or holidays.

During the summer, The $25,000 Pyramid was more regularly viewed. As I watched the show for the first time in thirtyplus years, I couldn’t help but think that, at that time, it was as educational as portions of our actual educational system.

(I undoubtedly learned new words and it stimulated creative thinking)

And, in a world with far less media and far more mystique, The $25,000 Pyramid provided a chance to see television actors outside their usual time-slotted habitats.

Loretta Swit, whose name I’d read during the opening credits of M*A*S*H, was truly a real person and Margaret Houlihan was truly fictitious.

The show was likely my introduction to Dick Clark as I don’t recall American Bandstand airing in our locale. By the end of the ’70s, I’d know Clark for his New Year’s Eve countdown.

In the early ’80s, not long after I discovered Casey Kasem counting down hit songs on American Top 40, I would come across Dick Clark doing the same on The Dick Clark National Music Survey.

Where as Casey’s program aired on several stations, regularly, Clark’s show seemed to only be broadcast on one station, erratically, on late Sunday afternoons. It also used the record charts published by Cashbox as opposed to Casey’s use of Billboard.

Not being familiar with either publication, I recall being puzzled as to the differences between where songs would end up on each countdown, but, probably because it aired on more stations, I assumed Casey’s take was more “real.”

Here are four songs that I might have heard listening to either Casey Kasem or Dick Clark count down the hits during this week in 1983…

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)

There were a lot of acts that previously had not achieved a lot of mainstream radio success making waves in early 1983. Though The Clash had notched a Top 40 hit a few years earlier with Train In Vain, the legendary punk band was having their greatest commercial success at the time with the übercool Rock The Casbah.

Though I knew The Clash by name, I had never heard their music prior to Rock The Casbah. It would be over the next few years – and thanks to the passion my buddy Streuss had for the band – that I would discover what all the fuss was over “the only band that matters.”

ABC – The Look Of Love (Part One)
from The Lexicon Of Love (1982)

ABC’s debut The Lexicon Of Love is widely regarded as a classic ’80s album. It wasn’t as wildly popular in the US as it was in the UK, but The Look Of Love and Poison Arrow got played on even the most pedestrian of Top 40 stations which I was listening to at the time.

Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
from The Youth Of Today (1982)

Growing up in the lily-white Midwest of the US, reggae didn’t exist. I might have known the name Bob Marley, but it would have only been from perusing Rolling Stone.

The teenaged quintet Musical Youth managed to notch a Top Ten pop hit in America with the pop-reggae of Pass The Dutchie, but had it not been for listening to countdown programs on the radio, I would have never heard the song. It might have been a sizeable hit, but it was one that I never heard on the stations to which I was listening.

In fact, the only Musical Youth that I ever heard on the radio during that period was the song 007 -which was largely ignored – from the group’s follow-up album to The Youth Of Today when 97X went on the air toward the end of ’83.

Christopher Cross – All Right
from Another Page (1983)

Like most of my friends at the time, I embraced much of the new music – New wave and synthesizer bands – that was arriving from the UK. I also maintained an interest in the more traditional pop music I was hearing on the radio. I didn’t make much of a differentiation.

It was all just music and I had a curiousity about most of it.

Christopher Cross had taken three years between his debut and follow-up album – a ridiculously long period at the time. I had made Cross’ mega-successful debut the first album I had ever purchased, but during that hiatus, not only did the rest of the world move on, but I made the quantum leap from twelve to fifteen which is twenty-one years in dog years and during that time I, like the rest of world, came to he startling realization that flamingos and rock and roll don’t mix.

Twenty-five years later, I find All Right to be pleasant enough, though.

Ah Hey Oh Ma Ma Ma…*

January 8, 2012

In the last few days, I’ve rediscovered the music of The Dream Academy, a band which I had loved and forgotten (despite owning all three of their albums).

Few bands have been more aptly named. Paisley as could be, pictures of the classically-schooled trio made me think of the early ‘70s television series The Mod Squad.

(barely walking in tadpole pajamas during that show’s run, I vaguely remember being somewhat transfixed by Peggy Lipton)

And if the name The Dream Academy is unfamiliar…if you were listening to radio in the autumn of 1985, you likely know their song Life In A Northern Town (see here for a very cool performance by them on Saturday Night Live).

That song was pretty much all that most listeners ever heard from The Dream Academy which is unfortunate. I’ve always considered them to be a sadly overlooked act of the ‘80s and felt that, under different circumstances, they could have had more success.

(what those circumstances might be, I don’t know).

The group split after releasing their third album, A Different Kind Of Weather, in 1991 and for years their catalog was unavailable aside from pricey Japanese imports (of course, all Japanese imports tend to be pricey).

Curious about what lead singer Nick Laird-Clowes had been up to during the past decade and a half, I did a bit of research. He has been doing music, but another detail caused me to take notice.

Supposedly, he had fallen into serious drug addiction and, to become sober, he had sequestered himself in a monastery in the Himalayas.

Whether it is true or not, I have no idea. I do know that given their music and their style, if one band would have a member that would seek respite from drug addiction with Tibetan monks, it would certainly have been The Dream Academy.

It was just their vibe.

Here’s the song that made The Dream Academy a one-hit wonder and four more from their brief existence…

The Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town
from The Dream Academy (1985)

I remember hearing Life In A Northern Town on 97X amidst Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and The Suburbs and immediately taking notice. The tribute to the late Nick Drake, produced by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, was so striking.

By the time they chanted the first ah-hey-oh, ma-ma-ma…I was hooked and, twenty-five years later, I still never tire of the song.

The Dream Academy – The Edge Of Forever
from The Dream Academy (1985)

Aside from Life In A Northern Town, The Dream Academy has achieved a measure of immortality for The Edge Of Forever as the wide-eyed song plays during the kiss between Ferris and Sloan at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The Dream Academy – This World
from The Dream Academy (1985)

This World is a song of lost innocence as dark as it is pretty (and it is very pretty).

The Dream Academy – Here
from Remembrance Days (1987)

As the members of The Dream Academy were classically trained musicians, there are a lot of flutes and such accenting much of their music. Here is simple and lush, building to a crescendo.

The Dream Academy – Love
from A Different Kind Of Weather (1991)

There are some folks who might consider covering John Lennon to be sacrilege, but his music has made for some inspired covers over the years (Marianne Faithfull’s take on Working Class Hero springs to mind).

The Dream Academy do an admirable version of Love, making it a joyous, trip-hop tinged, chant-filled romp.

Swinging To The Sounds Of The ’70s

October 26, 2011

During several years as the head buyer for a very large record store, I had a few dozen label reps wooing me on a regular basis.

As they were giving me stuff, I was receptive to being wooed and I got along quite well with all of them except for the one we’d dubbed Dodgeball. He went behind my back to get an order for some long-forgetten band called Space Monkeys.

(no one needs 300 copies of Space Monkeys – not in 1997, not now, not ever)

One rep who I always got a kick out of was Lenny, who walked with a limp and resembled Kenny Rogers.

As much as those details alone made him compelling – had The Gambler been shot? – I liked Lenny because he’d worked in the music industry for decades and could spin a yarn.

He had little interest in the grunge and alternative rock that was dominating the musical landscape at the time and he’d often ask me how old I was.

He’d bob his head like some bird that might eventually end up as part of a meal at a Kenny Rogers Roasters.

“You know, you’ll eventually end up listening to country music.”

I suppose that he was telling me that I’d outgrow the greasy kids stuff.

This migration toward country music hasn’t occurred, but I have come to realize that there’s something about the music of the ’70s that makes for a good morning commute.

I was two as the decade began and twelve as it concluded. Music was just beginning to be of interest to me in the period after disco had crashed and burned.

The music of ’70s is familiar to me, but much of it’s not overly so. Even big hits of the decade are songs I’ve probably heard less than some of the minor hits of the ’80s when I was listening to the radio obsessively.

And though the ’70s – like the ’80s – have certainly been unfairly maligned, hearing Hot Chocolate’s Every 1s A Winner, 10cc’s The Things We Do For Love, Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown, and The Knack’s Good Girls Don’t (as I did on the commute one morning this past week) works well enough for me.

And, to add some detail to the sometimes fuzzy memories I have of the music of the ’70s, 7 Inches Of 70s Pop and 70s Music Mayhem – two wonderful sites devoted solely to the decade – are frequent destinations.

Here are four mostly random hits from the ’70s…

Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection (1998)

I remember my dad quoting the advice given in You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, so I might have heard the song when it became Croce’s first hit in late summer of ’72. It’s a rollicking number much in the vein of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, which would be an even bigger hit the following spring.

At one record store where I worked, five or six of us had a bookie named Stick Daddy.

I never met Stick Daddy, but Jim Croce probably did.

Lobo – Me And You And A Dog Named Boo
from Have A Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Though I was a toddler in 1971, I do remember hearing Lobo’s Me And You And A Dog Named Boo on the radio at the time. I imagine the fact that the singer had a dog appealed to me.

(my brother and I had to make do with a hamster and hamsters, if no one has ever told you, don’t fetch).

But I dig the breezy song which I can’t help thinking would have made a most excellent theme song to a Saturday morning kids show.

Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)
from Have A Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Brandy is perfect, a song that is always welcome when it pops up on the iPod’s shuffle (or in the supermarket, for that matter). It seems that it would be ripe to be covered, but, then again, perhaps its nautical themes and tale of those residing at a port in a harbor town wouldn’t resonate with today’s pop audience.

Boston – More Than A Feeling
from Boston (1976)

For some reason, even though it was apparently a hit in the winter months, I think of More Than A Feeling as a summer song. Although I’m not rabid about the song, it does conjure up a good vibe for me and I’ve never quite understood the venom reserved for Boston.

Also, I find it amusing that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was influenced by the song.