The Sporting News

May 4, 2012

In a pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there were limited options for a sports junkie to get a fix.

Perhaps ten minutes of time on the late news might be devoted to sports – scores and a few highlights. If you followed a particular team that wasn’t in your area, you’d have to hope for a bit of coverage in the sports section of the morning newspaper.

And, as our newspaper and most of our television channels originated from Cincinnati, a city without an NBA team, it was as if professional basketball didn’t exist.

In that pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there was one place to find detailed coverage of the sports world.

The Sporting News would arrive in the school library toward the week’s end and the competition for it would be fierce. The competition for the previous week’s issue, which was now free to be checked out, would be equally so.

A couple classmates were fortunate enough to have subscriptions – heady stuff for a pre-teen – so there were often a couple extra copies to be had if you were connected.

Sports Illustrated was a must-read, but The Sporting News was the source for a recap of a Bulls/Spurs matchup on a Tuesday night in February.

(though the game would have taken place a week and a half or more before you read about it)

The Sporting News was also the most indispensible source to gather (relatively) current statistics in far greater detail than the sports section. Even the box scores were more granular.

It was the place to get the information to trump your buddies when the question of who was leading the country in scoring was up for discussion.

(and knowing it was some small forward from California-Irvine averaging 26.2 points a game)

At twelve, I’d pore over each page, accumulating a layer of newsprint on my fingers, as though it contained the sum of all knowledge in the universe.

Thirty-three years ago, fifth grade was coming to a close and summer break was within sight, just a few, tantalizing weeks away. Baseball box scores would have been jostling with coverage of the NBA playoffs for space within the pages of The Sporting News.

That May, my grandfather passed away. Five months later, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates staged a dramatic comeback to beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Today, it’s been a couple years since I thumbed through a copy of The Sporting News. There are numerous opportunities to access the information – up to the moment – that made the magazine so prized back in the day.

(and I don’t even need that accessibility to know that the Pirates are, as they have been for much of the past two decades, near the bottom of the standings)

Here are four songs that were on the Billboard Hot 100 in early May, 1979…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi (1978)

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose because of how often I heard it at the pool during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits (1992)

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to explore further. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52′s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.

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The End Of Time As We Knew It

November 9, 2011

So, the clocks have been turned back, an act that still is an odd thing to me as I grew up in one of the few swaths of the US that didn’t acknowledge such antics.

(Paloma is like a ninja somehow resetting all of the numerous timepieces in the treehouse so swiftly, so deftly that I never see her do it, but the feat is accomplished by the time I awake)

As the citizens of my hometown were ignoring the changing of the times in autumn, 1984, my friends and I had all reached our sixteenth birthdays and, thus, all had our drivers licenses for the first time.

The end of Daylight Savings Time did not go completely unnoticed. Most of the radio and television stations we received were broadcast out of Southwestern Ohio. The clocks moving back in Cincinnati meant having to stay up later to watch the end of Monday Night Football and hear Dandy Don Meredith croon.

The upside was that we gained an hour to troll the record stores and malls on treks into the city.

During the summer months, by the time one of us procured transportation, it was usually after someone’s parents or older sibling had returned home from work.

(my buddy Beej often loaned himself his brother’s Datsun B210 which we had nicknamed, for reasons unexplained, The Invisible Jet)

We often had to make tactical decisions regarding which record stores to hit in a limited timeframe and the last scheduled stop hinged upon closing times.

Invariably, we would underestimate the time spent elsewhere and these junkets often ended with us hurriedly searching through the aisles of Peaches as clerks eager to close for the night were turning down the lights.

There was no rush like taking a roa trip and returning with new music. Though I was branching out at the time and listening to more alternative rock, I was still tentative when it came to actually parting with the little cash I had. So, I was still tethered to buying more mainstream stuff.

Here are four songs from purchases that autumn…

Julian Lennon – Valotte
from Valotte (1984)

For folks who grew up with The Beatles, it must have been a bit trippy to hear the voice of John Lennon’s son when Valotte arrived and became a big hit. The title track was all over radio that fall and the sparse, lovely song simply sounded like autumn.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.

Toto – Stranger In Town
from Isolation (1984)

I’d worn out the cassette of Toto’s mega-selling Toto IV that I’d purchased from the Columbia Record & Tape Club. The band was hardly reinventing fire, but to a kid just discovering pop music, it was a thoroughly engaging collection of pop/rock that clicked with me even beyond the hits like Rosanna and Africa.

Isolation arrived a good two years after Toto IV. It was a lengthy gap between records for the time. Toto had changed and so had I, but I totally dug the mysterious vibe of Stranger In Town, which – based on how quickly the album vanished – must have put me in the minority.

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown (1984)

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown 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.


Which Way To Cool?

April 28, 2011

Having no older siblings, I had no older siblings to influence my musical tastes or to bequeath me their albums.

My parents would play albums by Roy Orbison, Ray Price, and The Statler Brothers on the wood-grained, late ’60s cabinet console stereo in the living room.

The radio in the kitchen would be tuned to the station in our small town which was ’70s light rock (and, by the ’80s, country), but it was mostly for news and weather.

The earliest memories I have of music is from hearing it on the car radio and the acts that come to mind are ones like The Carpenters, America, Jim Croce, and The Fifth Dimension.

(apparently by the time my folks hit thirty, they had already settled in with light rock)

We had music class in school, but it was a kind of random class that popped up when least expected and never seemed to progress beyond an explanation of quarter notes and measures.

There were scattered moments during those years that music made it into the classroom.

A third-grade teacher was obsessive about Alice Cooper. Though I don’t think she ever played the stuff in class, she sure as hell blathered on and on about him.

(undoubtedly the source of my abstinence from Cooper’s music for many, many years)

A teacher in fifth-grade would play Jethro Tull on occasion.

(I still can vividly picture the album cover to Heavy Horses)

In seventh-grade, we spent several days in one class – religion, if I recall – listening to sides from Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants and I remember being fascinated.

By that time, I knew who Stevie Wonder was and could likely name a song or two. I was starting to listen to the radio and the station of choice for this new world was a Top 40 station out of Cincinnati that was popular with my classmates.

The friends with the older siblings quickly moved on to the cooler album rock stations.

Without such direct influence I made some dubious missteps – believing Asia to be one of the greatest bands in the history of humankind in ’82 – but I also didn’t have someone so close scribbling on my blank slate.

And, along the way, there’s been a lot of music – good and not so good – and a lot still resides on the iPod. So, here are four mostly random songs from shuffle…

Los Lobos – Peace
from Kiko

Los Lobos has a rich catalog of genre-defying music far beyond their smash cover of Richie Valens’ La Bamba. With 1992’s Kiko, the group, collaborating with producer Mitchell Froom, issued what might be their finest album.

Kiko is truly an album best enjoyed as a whole and I didn’t immediately recall the shuffling Peace, but I’ve come to realize that I never listen to a song by Los Lobos and feel it’s been time misspent.

Fossil – Josephine Baker
from Fossil

Paloma gets credit for discovering Fossil, pulling their lone, 1995 release from the stacks of promo CDs I had in my apartment at the time. It’s quite possible that we listened to that self-titled album more than anything else for months on end.

There’s little info out there on the quartet, though the band was apparently signed to a management deal by Hilly Kristal after two gigs at CBGBs. Not that Fossil sounds like any of the bands that come to mind when I think of that famed New York City venue.

Instead, Fossil had an otherworldly, alternative rock vibe, melodic yet quirkly. On the lilting Josephine Baker the lead singer pines for the famous dancer, imagining the pair as the toast of 1920s Paris.

Blondie – One Way Or Another
from The Platinum Collection

Now, Blondie is more what I think of when I think of CBGBs. I wasn’t listening to much music in 1978, but I did know and love Blondie’s shimmering Heart Of Glass and though One Way Or Another was the follow-up single and a Top 40 hit, I don’t really remember hearing it at the time.

I don’t think I heard the frantic song until a copy of Blondie’s The Best Of Blondie arrived in the mail. It was one of my initial dozen selections from the Columbia Record & Tape Club and it quickly became a favorite.

Styx – Half-Penny, Two-Penny
from Paradise Theater

Paradise Theater was one if the first cassettes I owned and one that I definitely wore out back in 1981. I knew it backward and forward.

(but mostly forward because, you know, it sounded more legible that way)

And near the end of side two was the muscular Half-Penny, Two Penny. The song just sounded so wicked with the guitar heroics, anthemic chorus, and James Young’s gruff vocals.