Frog’s Midnight Album

November 10, 2012

For the first year or so that radio had captured my interest, I was hesitant to roll the bones and scan the dial for fear of ending up in some hostile, unfamiliar musical terrain that might warp my psyche.

So, the orange hand indicating frequency on the cheap stereo in my bedroom was perpetually set to 101.9 – Q102. The station – based on the talk ’round the water fountain – tested well with my junior high peers.

As, at the outset, I had no expectations that music would be much more than something to fill the air around me, it made sense to align myself with a station that allowed me to contribute to hallway chatter.

So, it was Q102 which was a Top 40 station but with a dose of songs from acts like The Who, Led Zeppelin, and others that would – a decade or so later – become the backbone of classic rock stations.

(at the time, neither Baba O’Reilly nor Black Dog were even ten years old and Keith Moon and John Bonham were still recently deceased)

There was a small cadre of classmates who were fiercely loyal to WEBN.

These kids had older siblings in high school and there was something more dangerous about ‘EBN in my mind. It was the station for long-haired hooligans who smoked cigarettes as the station blared from their Trans-Ams.

I likely suspected that listening to the station would turn me into a juvie.

But, by the time I reached high school, I was surfing the dial with total abandon and even dialing up WEBN.

No portal to Hell opened.

WEBN played some acts with which I was familiar from Q102. They played Journey and they played Billy Squier, but much of it was unfamiliar terrain and an introduction to acts about whom I knew little – Black Sabbath, The Kinks, Cream, Jimi Hendrix…

It didn’t all resonate with me, but it became obvious that music was not going to turn me into a juvie.

And, the most appealing thing about this new listening destination to me was Frog’s Midnight Album during which each weeknight the station would air a new album, one side at a time.

Frog’s Midnight Album was a chance to preview candidates that might earn consideration for my meager, hard-earned allowance. Of course, as blank tape was more affordable, the show also allowed me to build up a bit of a collection of albums.

By the autumn of 1983, Frog’s Midnight Album was appointment listening, even if it was long enough to hear who it was and a song or two. Here are four songs from albums that I seem to recall hearing on Frog’s Midnight Album that autumn…

The Rolling Stones – Undercover Of The Night
from Undercover (1983)

The Rolling Stones’ Undercover was one of the most anticipated albums of late ’83, arriving more than three years after their last studio album – an eternity at the time. And, as I recall, it proved to be critically rebuffed.

Personally, I dug Undercover Of The Night, the first single, and the sheer momentum of new music from The Stones helped propel the song into the Top Ten. It’s a trippy tune fraught with a menacing vibe that’s always been an essential part of much of the band’s finest work.

Yes – Our Song
from 90125 (1983)

Even though Yes had their heydey in the ’70s and were split by the time I really started paying attention, I was familiar with the band thanks to my buddy Streuss who was a big fan.

(I recall his ongoing search for a copy of their Tormato album)

Then 90125 brought the reunited band to a new audience aided by the production of Trevor Horn and MTV. I think most of us owned a copy at the time and, though I’m still a bit burned out on Owner Of A Lonely Heart, songs like Leave It, It Can Happen, and the shimmering Our Song still sounds pretty good nearly thirty years on.

Survivor – Caught In The Game
from Caught In The Game (1983)

Though it had been eighteen months or so since Survivor had unleashed Eye Of The Tiger, the song had been so mammoth that there was some hoopla when the band returned with the follow-up to its parent album.

And then I heard the title track. It was no Eye Of The Tiger.

Caught In The Game obviously had no chance to duplicate the monster success of Eye Of The Tiger and the song is rather generic. However, when it popped up on shuffle not long ago, it made me smile and prompted a second listen, so, there is something that I dig about it.

Genesis – Home By The Sea
from Genesis (1983)

Genesis had been moving in a more commercial direction for half a decade or so when their self-titled album arrived in 1983. The trio’s previous studio effort, Abacab, had spawned three Top 40 hits with No Reply At All, Man On The Corner, and the title track, while still retaining some of the group’s expected progressive tendencies.

Genesis was even more tailored for radio and produced the band’s biggest hit to date with That’s All. The haunting (and haunted) Home By The Sea harkened back more to Genesis’ progressive roots, appearing on the album in two parts – Home By The Sea and Second Home By The Sea – that ran better than eleven minutes combined.

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Didn’t See The Tower For The Steeple

October 31, 2012

One of the finest things about the treehouse lair that Paloma and I share is the number of windows.

The living room has a small, round window that I have always referred to as “the portal.” One clear, full-moon nights, the moonlight pours through in concentrated form, leaving a spotlight on the carpet.

And, behind the couch, is a large, two-sided window that overlooks a well-trafficked neighborhood street. I have often stared out the window, my chin resting on the back of the couch, watching the flow of cars on the street just below and flow of pedestrians on the sidewalks.

It’s like an aquarium.

I particular like the view in the late hours when the traffic has subsided and all is still.

Late one night this past weekend, I was staring out the window and I noticed a handful of dull lights, a half dozen or so, some blinking lazily, some not.

The twinkling reds and whites were from a small communications tower across the street, up a hill, roughly four blocks away.

I was surprised to realize that, though I’ve lived here for some time and stared off in that direction countless times, the tower had never really registered.

I mean, I had obviously seen the tower, but, had I been asked to describe the vista across the street, I would have undoubtedly forgotten to note it.

The tower, spindly and unadorned, is dwarfed (in perspective) by the church across the street. The eye is immediately drawn to the church, especially at night when the illuminated steeple in the foreground rises above the tower – several blocks away – in the background.

The grey metal structure of the tower makes it all but vanish into the crisp night air, its presence given away only by those lights.

As I look across the street tonight, the air is frosty and the landscape glows from the (almost full) moon. There are broken clouds but not enough cover to – in the words of a childhood friend – “curtail the superfluity of the nocturnal luminary.”

I’ve been imagining the tower as broadcasting some radio station and strangers throughout the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond sharing a song and not even knowing it.

It’s not, but there were a lot of late autumn evenings in the early ’80s when music was new to me and nothing sounded better as the wind howled outside than the radio.

Here are four songs from four autumns that I might have heard on whichever station I was favoring at the time…

Vanity 6 – Nasty Girl
from Vanity 6 (1982)

Q102, a Top 40 station out of Cincinnati, had been the preferred station for most of my classmates in junior high and into high school. And, as a high school freshman in 1982, it was the station that was usually my destination, too.

In Billboard magazine, Q012’s playlist from thirty years ago this week is rife with familiar songs like Jackson Browne’s Somebody’s Baby, Laura Branigan’s Gloria, and Glenn Frey’s The One You Love (which is listed as #1).

Slightly more exotic is Vanity 6′ Nasty Girl which the station had just added. The outfit was a trio of women in lingerie and high-heels led by Vanity. Prince had put the act together – originally christening it The Hookers – and wrote and produced their lone album.

Nasty Girl got attention. It sounded like what you might expect a trio of women in lingerie and high-heels, put together by Prince, and originally dubbed The Hookers might sound. It’s a nifty blend of New Wave, rock, and funk with suggestive content that didn’t stop it from being in Q102’s nightly Top Ten for weeks that fall.

Aldo Nova – Monkey On Your Back
from Subject (1983)

An autumn later, I had broken free from the confines of Top 40 stations and spent much of my time listening to Q95, an album rock station in Indianapolis. Part of the station’s appeal was The Bob & Tom Show, which aired in the morning.

(this was twelve years before the show would go national)

One song I totally dug during the autumn of 1983 was Canadian Aldo Nova’s Monkey On Your Back. I had worn out Nova’s debut from a year earlier which had contained his lone US hit with the pop metal confection Fantasy.

Monkey On Your Back was an ominous, lurching rock with gurgling synthesizers and cautionary tale lyrics that seemed edgy to me at fifteen but not so much now.

The song is still a cool trip back in time.

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown (1984)

I had actually discovered modern rock station 97X in October, 1983, months after the soon-to-be revered outlet took to the air. Reception was spotty, though, and rarely could pull it in for more than a few hours a week.

By the fall of 1984, 97X was my station of choice and I believe that its signal had been boosted. My friends and I also had our drivers’ licenses which meant more opportunity to get into Cincinnati and shop for music.

It had been listening to 97X that I had first heard Big Country’s In A Big Country. The song had made the band a sensation, but Steeltown‘s arrival in late 1984 was greeted with a yawn in the States.

It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

The Waterboys – The Whole Of The Moon
from This Is The Sea (1986)

When autumn came around in 1985, 97X was still my preferred station and I was hearing the music of The Waterboys for the first time.

I had actually first heard the Scottish band before school one morning on an album rock station out of Dayton and it was enough to spur me to purchase a cassette of This Is The Sea.

The song I’d heard was The Whole Of The Moon. It might be rather enigmatic, but there’s something about the glorious song that restores a sense of wonder to my world.


As Close To Live As You Could Get From The Middle Of Nowhere Without A Car

October 12, 2011

By the autumn of 1984, my friends and I all had our driver’s licenses.

Not that much could be done with them sans a mode of transport.

A fair number of the kids in our high school had cars. Our small town was rural enough that it was a necessity for some of the kids living on farms in the hinterlands.

(thus making the pick-up to car ratio close to 50/50 in our high school parking lot)

There were also those who had inherited vehicles from older siblings and, as there was a bit of wealth in the area, there were the kids whose coming-of-driving-age arrived with a complimentary car.

I belonged to none of those categories.

The lack of transportation plagued me and my friends’ efforts to attend concerts. The nearest cities having arenas of 20,000 seats – the ones most likely to get dates for the most high-profile tours – were sixty and eighty miles plus down one interstate or another.

(close enough to shimmer like an oasis on the horizon)

The first challenge was to get everyone to commit and have the funds.

To even get tickets meant getting to one of the cities to acquire them in person. If such a thing could not be arranged, it was a Saturday morning on the phone, trying to get through to Ticketmaster as thousands of other people attempted to do the same in the pre-internet ’80s.

(after someone having convinced a parent to part with a credit card)

It was quite an operation.

Most of the shows I attended in high school were someone coming up with tickets at the last minute and, usually, our buddy Beej loaning himself his older brother’s car to provide transport.

More often than not, it would be settling for a concert replay. There were stations from Cincinnati and Indianapolis at the time that would sometimes air the songs that had been played at the show with “live” crowd noise mixed in.

It wasn’t quite the same, but as these replays would air immediately after the show ended, the consolation was knowing that you weren’t sitting in post-concert traffic.

I’d often listen to the concert replays whether it was an act that I might have wanted to go see or not. There was something compelling about the rudimentary recreations.

Here are four songs that I might have heard on one of those replays in autumn of 1984…

Billy Squier – All Night Long
from Signs Of Life (1984)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like The Stroke, In The Dark, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

And then, Squier released Signs Of Life. The first single, Rock Me Tonite, was a fixture on the radio that summer, but the song was also accompanied by an infamous video clip.

I remember the video being ridiculed, but it seems as though its role as scapegoat for Squier’s subsequent career decline has grown throughout the years. Personally, the songs just didn’t reach the heights of pure rock goodness of Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion, though I always dug the frenetic All Night Long.

Ratt – Wanted Man
from Out Of The Cellar (1984)

Unlike Billy Squier, Ratt’s career was rocketing into the stratosphere in 1984 thanks to Round And Round, which seemed to be blaring from every car stereo wherever high school kids congregated thar summer.

It didn’t get played as much, but I quite liked the more mid-tempo Wanted Man. It has a swagger and I always picture a spaghetti Western in my head when I hear the song.

Sammy Hagar – I’ll Fall In Love Again
from Standing Hampton (1981)

In the autumn of 1984, Sammy Hagar was simply The Red Rocker, ex-member of Montrose, and a fixture on the rock radio stations in our area with songs like There’s Only One Way To Rock, Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy, Rock Is In My Blood and I Can’t Drive 55 (from his then-current album VOA).

A year later, he was the most polarizing lead singer in the history of mankind, having replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen.

I liked Sammy fine as a solo act and, though Van Halen’s second chapter wasn’t going to make anyone forget the DLR era, I thought there was some cool stuff from the band with Hagar as lead singer.

Though I’ll Fall In Love Again didn’t make the Top 40, the Top 40 station that was my listening choice at the time played the song incessantly during the summer of ’82. The song never fails to take me back to that summer.

Triumph – Magic Power
from Allied Forces (1981)

Triumph never quite became a major act in the US, but I heard their songs often on radio in the early ’80s. And it wasn’t uncommon to see kids in our high school halls wearing Triumph concert shirts.

The trio seemed to pass through the area every six months or so and, in ’84, undoubtedly did so touring to support their Thunder Seven set.

I was mostly ambivilant about the band, but I did kind of dig Magic Power from several years earlier.