The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

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July 9, 1983

July 7, 2012

As we stretch into another week of high temperatures in triple digits, thinking is a challenge.

(it’s easy to be distracted by the bead of sweat rolling down my nose)

So, it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week and, today, it’s 1983.

As the 4th of July hullaballoo was fading in the rear view of 1983, I was getting back to summer life as a kid in one of the last responsibility-free summers I would have. And that meant a lot of music.

I was still mostly tethered to Top 40 radio, but I was at least hearing of more exotic stuff thanks to my buddy Beej who was telling tales of the music videos that he was seeing on the newly launched Night Tracks on TBS.

I was beginning to check out hitherto unexplored frequencies on the FM band, among them the album rock of Q95 and, by that autumn, the alternative rock of 97X.

And, twenty-nine years ago this week, a half-dozen plus one songs made their debut on the Hot 100 chart in Billboard magazine…

Peter Tosh – Johnny B. Goode
from Mama Africa (1983)
(debuted #95, peaked #84, 4 weeks on chart)

Aside from Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, my knowledge of reggae music is scattershot at best, but Peter Tosh was a member of the legendary Marley’s Wailers and claimed to have taught Marley to play guitar.

I had not heard Tosh’s take on Johnny B. Goode before and it’s mostly what I expected – a reggae version of Chuck Berry’s iconic song with a surprising amount of kick that leaves me bobbing my head.

Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack – Tonight, I Celebrate My Love
from Born To Love (1983)
(debuted #89, peaked #16, 29 weeks on chart)

I couldn’t seem to help coming across Tonight, I Celebrate My Love For You while channel surfing in 1983. It seemed to be a given as assuredly as it was a given that I would quickly move on in search of something else.

But, despite my dislike for the mawkish ballad, Peabo is a fun word to say and it is a fun word to hear said.

Peabo.

Peabo.

Peabo!

Zebra – Who’s Behind The Door?
from Zebra (1983)
(debuted #87, peaked #61, 8 weeks on chart)

During the summer of ’83, several friends were twitterpated over Zebra and their song Who’s Behind The Door? They were hardly alone as the band was quickly attracting fans (and detractors) for the heavy Zeppelin influence in their sound.

I liked the band’s name and found the song intriguing, so I snagged a copy of the Long Island (via New Orleans) trio’s debut and it was one of my most played cassettes of that summer. The dreamy, enigmatic Who’s Behind The Door still sounds like the summer of ’83 to me.

Rick Springfield – Human Touch
from Living In Oz (1983)
(debuted #70, peaked #18, 15 weeks on chart)

Even in 1983 – which, technologically speaking, now seems as advanced as 1883 – Rick Springfield was lamenting the disconnect between man and machine in Human Touch.

At the time, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ or Casey Kasem mentioning it.

But Springfield had a string of hits in the early ’80s that were undeniably catchy and still sound pretty good all of these years later.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Fake Friends
from Album (1983)
(debuted #68, peaked #35, 10 weeks on chart)

Few acts were hotter in 1982 than Joan Jett & The Blackhearts who had topped the charts with I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – one of the biggest hits of the decade – as well as notching sizeable hits with Crimson And Clover and Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).

So, there was great anticipation for new music from the quartet and I vividly recall staying up to tape the resultant Album when it debuted on WEBN’s Frog’s Midnight Album.

Often the nightly show was a chance to have an album before I’d have the opportunity to get into Cincinnati to actually purchase it, but Album was one that didn’t make the cut. It seemed as uninspired to me as the title and the first single, Fake Friends, simply lacked the monster hooks of Jett’s hits from the year before.

(all of which had been cover songs)

Journey – After The Fall
from Frontiers (1983)
(debuted #62, peaked #23, 12 weeks on chart)

If Joan Jett’s Album was one of the more anticipated releases of the summer of ’83, Journey’s follow-up to the massively successful Escape was one of the most expected from earlier in the year. Like Album, I had also taped Frontiers from its airing on Frog’s Midnight Album.

Though I was excited when Frontiers arrived and I played it a lot at the time, I still recognized it as a somewhat pale imitation of Escape. That didn’t stop it from selling millions and spawning hits in Separate Ways and Faithfully.

After The Fall became the third hit from the album, but I wasn’t a fan of the shuffling song.

Jackson Browne – Lawyers In Love
from Lawyers In Love (1983)
(debuted #59, peaked #13, 15 weeks on chart)

Lawyers In Love was Jackson Browne’s first new album since Hold Out from three years earlier, before I had truly become interested in music. I did know Browne, though, from hearing older hits like Doctor My Eyes and Running On Empty on the radio, and I’d loved Somebody’s Baby, which had been a Top Ten hit the previous summer.

I dug the catchy, upbeat Lawyers In Love, which was fortunate as my buddy Beej played the album into the ground, though the social commentary of the song likely escaped me at the time.


Nothing Says Easter Like Ravenous, Rampaging Rabbits, Mushrooms And Extra Cheese

April 23, 2011

It’s Easter weekend and people all over the globe will, to paraphrase the late, great visionary Bill Hicks, commemorate the death and resurrection of their professed savior by telling children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.

Forget the hunt for pastel-colored eggs. the ceremonial carving of the spiral-cut, honeybaked ham, and religious observances. Several years ago, Paloma and I opted for a more unique way to do Easter – snagging a carryout pizza and watching Night Of The Lepus.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic opus, Night Of The Lepus was born out of the nascent groundswell of environmental consciousness of the early ’70s, a movement that provided inspiration for a number of science fiction films at the time.

I must have been six or seven, when I first saw the movie, sitting in the dark of our living room, on the CBS Late Movie. As the credits appeared on the screen, I asked my dad, “What the @#$%& is a lepus?”

(actually, my vocabulary was less sodium-based at the time and it’s likely all I said was “huh?”)

But, despite my father’s surprising reply to my lepus query, I knew the CBS Late Movie to be a cornucopia of B-movies shown after the local news in the ’70s which often featured nature run amok.

And amok it runs in Night Of The Lepus in the form of rabbits the size of Volkswagens who have developed a taste for humans. Actually, they seemed disinclined to consume the terrified townsfolk, instead gnawing on them as though they were large, pale carrots.

Paloma and I had tentatively planned to make a tradition of a viewing of Night Of The Lepus on Easter, but, alas, one viewing of the film seems to have been enough for her.

So, this year, it’s Chinese take-out and Watership Down.

Night Of The Lepus was in theaters in 1972, so I must have seen the movie for the first time the following year. Here are four songs that were on the Billboard singles chart in late April of ’73…

Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side
from Transformer

How can a listener not get drawn into Lou Reed’s tawdry tale of life in the dirty city?

Is it possible to not hear Walk On The Wild Side and not have the colored girls singing “doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo” in your head for the rest of the day?

But, when I think of Lou Reed, I can’t help but remember a summer afternoon in 1986 when I was hanging out with my high school girlfriend, lounging in the den, watching MTV. Her great-grandmother, visiting from the Phillipines, was sitting there with us when the video for Reed’s No Money Down came on.

Great-grandmother had paid little attention to the television until, midway through the song, Reed began to claw at his face as he sang, tearing the skin off and revealing his skull as the old woman – now watching the proceedings for which she had no cultural frame of reference – freaked out.

War – The Cisco Kid
from The World Is A Ghetto

On the mental list which I keep of songs that I’d rather not hear ever again is War’s Low Rider. There’s just something about the song that is like a popcorn kernal caught between my molars.

But the south of the border groove of The Cisco Kid is always welcome.

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
from Song Review: Greatest Hits

Some love songs are dramatic.

Some love songs are gooey.

And then, there is the occasional love song that captures a feeling of contentment which I would offer as the most accurate vibe of the emotion. Well done, Mr. Wonder.

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the song that drew me in even in ’73.