A New Best Friend

After we lost Buddy this past summer, I think we expected someday, eventually, to welcome another dog into our household. Grieving took time, part of which was removing reminders of his presence. Most–the food and water bowls, the crate in the basement, the bed in front of our living room fireplace–were put away quickly. Others took a little longer to get around to, either out of sheer sentimentality (nose smudges on car windows and the front storm door) or obscurity (pet hair can lodge itself in the darndest places). But Martha and I also needed space and rest. The last few months with Buddy had been wearing as his health issues worsened. While it was hard in respects not to have a canine friend in the house, we welcomed the freedom to (more or less) come and go as we pleased again.

There came a point in the fall, though, that we began to think about a new pup. Martha discovered petfinder.com, where one could browse through pages of available dogs within a 100-mile radius. Eventually I also started visiting the site, and before long we were sharing potential pooches we’d identified. We agreed that, since we were only going to be getting older, there had to be an upper bound on size and weight (sixtyish-pound Buddy had been awfully hard to manage toward the end). Martha expressed interest in looking at low-shedding breeds. As far as personality goes, gentleness was a must. And we weren’t too sure how much we wanted to try our hand at training a puppy.

The pace of visits to petfinder.com and the websites of local shelters and rescues we learned about through it picked up through December. Occasionally we lamented missing an opportunity to put in an application on a particular dog, but mostly we felt paralyzed–what were we looking for? And how much could we really know about a dog from a picture or two and a thumbnail sketch?

Once we got through Christmas and put all the decorations away, things became more serious, to the point that we began making arrangements to see dogs. Martha and I started this past Thursday at the local animal shelter, checking out a couple of strays: a Schnauzer mix that had recently been picked up in the parking lot at Big Lots and a feisty Feist mix who was literally bouncing herself (and a toy) off the walls. The former had possibilities, but the latter, while exceedingly entertaining, was just a bit (understatement alert) too wild for us.

In the meantime, we’d submitted an application to a rescue about fifty miles away. Over the weeks we had identified several dogs of interest at this rescue, the latest being a bit of a surprise, a ten-week-old border collie mix. Their application asked for quite a bit of info, including the name of the vet we used, a character reference, how many hours a day we expected to leave the dog at home by itself, etc. We found out just before our animal shelter visit that our application to the rescue had been approved, along with a would you like to visit on Saturday morning and might you also want to meet this other, six-month-old puppy?

So, yesterday Martha, Ben, and I drove to Adopt Me! Bluegrass Pet Rescue in Crestwood, KY. Before we walked into the place, I was conservatively estimating the probability of walking out with a dog at 75-80% (conservative because we’d begun discussing names). Within ten minutes, I could tell it had shot up to virtually 100%. Our host at the rescue chose to bring out the six-month-old first. She’d been brought to the rescue less than three weeks earlier, along with her brother (they’d been informally christened as Bonnie and Clyde). The two had been found alongside a rural road in the area, huddled not far away from their deceased mother. The speculation was that the three had been dumped in the countryside; the mother had been hit and killed by a vehicle.

“Bonnie” charmed us immediately with her submissive nature, rolling over on her back to receive pets. She played with toys a little, but mostly she was eager to please and simply seemed to want to be loved. When Martha let slip an “I love you” while Ben was holding Bonnie, you could tell where things were headed. We did also visit with the border collie mix. “Violet” was completely adorable, though much more interested in playing than wooing us. She will be a fantastic dog for someone. After a few moments of discussion, it was unanimous to adopt Bonnie. On the way home, we settled on a new name for our new friend: Sadie.

Sadie!

We’ve had Sadie home for less than thirty-six hours, and already she’s growing more comfortable in her new surroundings. Yesterday she spent a lot of time in her crate; today she’s learned that sitting on the couch next to Martha is mighty comfy. Housebreaking is going decently so far (knock on wood, of course). I think stairs are new to her but going up them has become a breeze (going down still inspires a little trepidation). She really likes going outside to chase and fetch a squeaky toy. Inside, well, she’s already destroyed a couple of new toys via aggressive chewing. Who knows what developments await us tomorrow?

I’ve been reminding myself that we’re not trying to replace Buddy–we’re simply wanting to offer love to another dog. Sadie doesn’t check all the boxes we might have had in mind originally, but the most important one, the demeanor, is there in spades. She is quite possibly the last pet I’ll own; I’m excited that we’ll be going through the next decade-plus with her.

AT40’s Top 100 of 1979

As 1979 came to a close, the staff at American Top 40 assembled two special year-end shows. On 12/29/79, Casey told us all about the Top 50 of 1979, while on 1/5/80, he counted down the Top 50 Songs of the 1970s. I certainly understand the desire, maybe even the need, to survey the greatest hits of the decade, but I imagine I would have enjoyed hearing a whole Top 100 for 1979 to match what had been presented the previous three years..

Wishes sometimes come true. Last weekend Premiere Networks broadcast a fabricated show of songs #100-#51 from the year the disco backlash began. It was created by Ken Martin, programming director at WTOJ in Watertown, NY, who painstakingly pieced together bits of Kasem’s patter. Much of the time, he used stories Casey had told at some point during the chart year to introduce a tune; in other cases, Martin made him say things he had never actually verbalized (such as “the #98 song of 1979”). It was thoroughly enjoyable to listen in this past New Year’s Day.

But I didn’t stop there, intuiting an opportunity to make one more chart. Perhaps inspired by the Topps Heritage collections (which these days feature current players on cardboard in the style of the cards I collected in the 1970s), I wrote up last weekend’s show as if it really had been broadcast at the end of 1979. Fortunately, I was able to locate a small cache of unused, five-ring wide-ruled loose leaf paper–slightly yellowed, even–in my office to match what I’d used originally (just get in touch if you find yourself in need of supplies that might have been in vogue at some point over the past thirty years).

1979 was the year of cursive writing in making my charts, so I went back to refresh myself on 15-year-old WRH’s handwriting. Not surprisingly, it’s changed over the years–my style is more a hybrid cursive/print these days–but before long I could come close to making capital F, S, and T and lower-case r (plus 2, 4, and 5) like I used to. It’s far from a perfect match, but I’m pleased enough. Without further ado, two sheets of paper, drawn up forty-two years apart:

I looked back through the year’s charts to duplicate the slightly idiosyncratic capitalization rules I followed then. My assumption, not wholly correct, was that the chart year went from 11/4/78 to 10/27/79; I did not use the frozen chart of 12/30/78 for calculating stats or chart points when forming predictions. Alas, either the work used to generate predictions is buried somewhere separate from all of my other chart stuff or it got tossed out years ago. Whatever I did looks pretty solid, and makes me want to reverse-engineer and determine what I had predicted for #51-100 back then–no doubt it was very similar to the process I’d used for 1978 year-end predictions. That may be a summer project…

AT40’s Top 100 of 1981

As I mentioned last week, I applied a formula to calculate points earned by songs that hit AT40 over the 1981 chart year, and then used it come up with predictions for what Casey would count down on the weekends of 1/26/81 and 1/2/82. It was analogous to what I’d done for my own charts: here it was (41 – n) points, where n was the song’s position, plus 10 extra points for each week on the show, with bonuses for multiple weeks at #1 (so a week at #30 got 11 + 10 = 21, a week at #8 got 33 + 10 = 43, etc.). Here’s a sample of the painstaking labor involved:

The end result came out thusly:

Ah, but what did I use as the chart year? I’d remembered that back in 1976, Casey had said they used first week of November to last week of October, so I assumed that five years on that was still the case. This list is based on a 11/1/80-10/31/81 chart year. How did I do? Here’s the full countdown–the three numbers next to each song are: 1) # of weeks on the chart during my theorized chart year; 2) peak position in said chart year; 3) my prediction.

I think you can make a strong case that the 10-points-per-week-on-AT40 was a decent proxy for what the folks creating this list actually did, awarding (101-n) points for every week on the Hot 100 (along with bonuses for weeks at #1). There are several clumps of songs (#96-#90, #82-#78, #76-#71, for instance) that were grouped together in my predictions, albeit I had placed each group several positions higher on the countdown. My big failure was in not realizing that they were going to extend the chart year well into November of 1981, either two or three weeks (two weeks would get “Hard to Say” and “I’ve Done Everything for You” in about the right spots, but even three more weeks isn’t enough to explain the big misses on “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You,” “Start Me Up,” “Arthur’s Theme,” and especially “Private Eyes”). It appears they also bestowed credit for some weeks in October of 1980, based on my low-balling of “Dreaming,” “Whip It,” “The Wanderer,” and “Lady,” among others. Alas, I just wasn’t going to get it right, but the effort was certainly fun.

WKRQ’s Top 102 of 1981

January 1, 1982 was a Friday. I was a senior in high school, and I spent the day listening to WKRQ, Cincinnati’s Q102, recording their annual countdown of the Top 102 hits of the year just past. Four years ago, I posted the 1982 list, and two years ago, the 1979 countdown appeared here. This is the third and final such sheet I have; I don’t know now why I didn’t write things down on 1/1/81. I’m not surprised at all by the song at #1.

Here are the songs that Q102 played a-plenty then which didn’t make the Top 40 nationally during 1981 (one did in 1982).

#101. Pat Benatar, “Hell Is for Children”
I heard an AT40 show this fall–10/20/84–where a portion of “Hell Is for Children” was played as a Long Distance Dedication from someone who had grown up in an abusive home. On 1/1/82, we were still more than five years away from Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” and “What’s the Matter Here?” by 10,000 Maniacs settling into the musical landscape.

#97. Foreigner, “Juke Box Hero”
Wouldn’t be released as a single until January 21, but was an early favorite album cut from 4. About a decade or so ago, my next-door neighbors’ young nephew thought it was called “Juice Box Hero” (and why wouldn’t he?).

#79. McGuffey Lane, “Long Time Lovin’ You”
I’ve noted before that Cincinnati radio stepped up and promoted area bands during my years of dutiful listening (I’m sure that was true all over the country); we’ve really lost something with the iHeart-ification of the airwaves. McGuffey Lane got its start in southeastern Ohio; “Long Time Lovin’ You” had reached #85 on the Hot 100 in February.

#73. Don Felder, “Heavy Metal”
An almost-Top 40 hit, as it climbed to #43 in October. The phrase “Take a ride, ride, ride…” certainly sucks me back in time. Another song from the Heavy Metal soundtrack, Devo’s cover of “Working in the Coal Mine,” peaked at #43 the week after Felder had been there.

#41. Russ Mason, “Prep Rap”
I have no idea how widespread an impact on the national psyche “Prep Rap” made in 1981–there’s precious little about it, and basically nothing about its composer, Russ Mason, on the web. The narrator is, as you’d expect, a very white, rather wealthy Northeastern WASP. There are some funny/clever lines, but forty years later the attempts at braggadocio tend to fall flat, at least to these ears.

“Prep Rap” was released on Nemperor, the same CBS affiliate that housed Steve Forbert at the time. It sure was a big thing on Q102 for several weeks and I’ll admit to taping it off the radio at some point during its moment in the sun.

#26. Styx, “A.D. 1928/Rockin’ the Paradise”
You can see that the two big hits from Paradise Theater rank even higher than this; it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the top-selling rock album in Cincinnati for the year (my sister contributed to the cause). Not sure if I ever figured out a way to distinguish “A.D. 1928” from “The Best of Times” in their first five seconds.

How can I not expose the broader world to the exploits of Biffy McAdoo and company? It is a cultural time capsule of sorts, but fair warning: I promise you won’t be able to un-hear it.

And here’s Styx as a chaser.

Wishing everyone the best in 2022.

1981: My Top 100 (At The Time)

As 1981 wound down, I began thinking about how to go about ranking the pop hits of the year, not only from the AT40s I’d been recording, but also based on my own charts. We’ll get to the real thing and my predictions for it in a few days; it’s all about personal opinion today.

My charts, which ostensibly reported how I felt about fifty songs each week, had just one hard-and-fast rule: all the songs in the previous week’s Top 40 had to be included. There tended to be a distinct rise-and-fall to any given song’s ride on the Harris Charts (TM pending)–no songs debuting in or falling off the chart from the top 10, and relatively few non-#1 songs spending fewer than two weeks at their peak position. I’d gone to school on years of listening to Casey.

I’d employed a points system back in 1978 (described here) to try and predict that year’s Top 100, and now, three years later, I circled back to refine it. The main change was giving 10 points’ credit for each week (so on my charts, the song at #50 got 1 + 10 = 11 points, #41 got 10 + 10 = 20 points, #3 got 48 + 10 = 58 points, etc.). I also awarded some bonus points for longevity at #1, distributed in a symmetric, stair-step fashion: for example, “I Love You,” which stayed at the top for seven straight weeks, received 60, 62, 64, 66, 64, 62, and 60 points over that period.

Anyway, on to the results. My chart year was the calendar year: 1/3 through 12/26. It appears that, in case of ties, the first tiebreaker was chart longevity, with peak position as the second tiebreaker.

It was pretty darn close at the top, with three songs running away from the rest. (Did I come up with the #1 bonus points just so the Climax Blues Band wound up first? I don’t think so, but who can say now?) It’s interesting to me that none of the four songs that finished between #5-#8 spent any time at #1. “Jessie’s Girl,” in fact, peaked at #6–the rule that kept it around as long as it stayed on the real Top 40 benefited it greatly.

Not surprisingly, favorites from the very beginning or very end of the year got hosed to a decent degree. “Suddenly” was at #5 to start the year and soon climbed to #1 for a couple of weeks, but missed out on 219 points from 1980 charts–those would have made it a contender for the year’s top 10. On the other end, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” #1 for two weeks in mid-December, didn’t get 197 points from its 1982 chart action; “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the year’s final #1 song, fell 25 points short of even appearing here.

This being pre-personal computer days, all the compilation was lovingly done by hand, with three more pages like this. The others include plenty of songs that didn’t make the cut–I did what I could to leave no plausible song unscored.

I do have a complete set of Harris Chart data for 1982, though I never tabulated a year-end summary for it. Maybe I can write a program to help me compute scores quickly? Regardless, I’m setting a goal right now to provide the results at this time next year.

Stereo Review In Review: December 1980

It wasn’t done on purpose, but I think this is the fifth time this year I picked an issue with a review of a George Benson album; the best has been saved for last. And I suppose it’s only fair that since Garfunkel has gotten two Best of the Month nods recently that Simon receives some positive recognition. Onward–let’s see what else is in this issue from forty-one years ago.

Article
Music for Christmas, by Richard Thompson and James Goodfriend
It’s a little late for this year, I realize, but the titles recommended include recordings by the Boston Camerata, the Boston Pops, the Carpenters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, John Denver & the Muppets, Percy Faith, Johnny Mathis, and Andy Williams. One wonders what they might have selected forty years later…

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Irv Cohn, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–George Benson, Give Me the Night (PG) “Instead of succumbing to the strident and repetitious excesses of pop funk (in the manner of, say, Herbie Hancock), he has applied his own standard of excellence to popular music, bringing it up to his artistic level.”
Cornelia Street: The Songwriters Exchange (NC) “But (folkie singer-songwriters) are still out there, those troubadours with their simple acoustic backing, and Stash Records has made a beautiful little album with some of them…” Coppage cites Rod MacDonald as the best of this bunch. The name was new to me, but he went to become one of the founders of the long-running Greenwich Village Folk Festival. The one artist appearing on the disk that I’ve heard of is Lucy Kaplansky.
–Paul Simon, One-Trick Pony (PR) “One song after another demonstrates Simon’s gift for seizing and holding up to the light those almost reflexive emotional conclusions about a person, a time, a place, or a relationship that any poetry, even on the pop level, must offer if it is going to communicate anything at all.”

Recordings of Special Merit
–Herb Alpert, Beyond (PR) “This is not an album for purists or musical weight-watchers, but it’s a lot of fun for us self-indulgent types.”
–Dexter Gordon, Landslide (CA) “…most intriguing because they are demonstrations of the influence the immediate musical environment can have on a seasoned player.”
–David Grisman, Quintet ’80 (NC) “A small, extremely agile combo using bluegrass instruments…plays little tunes that take the dangdest turns and jumps you ever heard.”
Honeysuckle Rose Soundtrack (NC) “…Nelson does dominate it, and he doesn’t just throw his reputation out there—he performs.”
–Ben E. King, Music Trance (PG) “Ben E. King is like a shot of aged bourbon; mellow in bouquet but still packing a mighty punch.”
–Donald Lambert, Harlem Stride Classics (CA) “The program is straight out of the repertoires of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, two masters Lambert greatly admired…”
–Junie Morrison, Bread Alone (PG) “Morrison’s musical style is tastefully eclectic, with a cupful of funk, a jigger of pop, and just a dash of rhythmic and harmonic experimentation. At his best, he vaguely reminds me of the early Sly Stone…”
–John Otway, Deep Thought (SS) “It’s not for all tastes, to be sure, but if you’re the kind of weirdo who thought the Bonzo Dog Band was just too commercial, Otway may be your man.”
–Teddy Pendergrass, TP (PG) “Not since the days of the late Otis Redding has a male singer been capable of dredging up such delightfully uncontrollable gut responses.”
–Minnie Riperton, Love Lives Forever (PG) “…a bittersweet reminder of the treasure we lost with Riperton’s death.”
–Sam Rivers, Contrasts (CA) “This set will not disappoint the venturesome, but you don’t have to be that to enjoy it. It is a stunning rainbow of musical inclinations.”

Featured Reviews
–The B-52’s, Wild Planet (SS) “No, the punk theoreticians are right: America’s glory, her true Culture, is what we throw away, and so, to look for Significance in Wild Planet, to try to make either more or less than what it is, is completely to miss the point—which is, of course, simply ‘Which way to the drive-in?’”
–Chevy Chase, S/T (SS) “…this disc is unlikely to catch on with the Cheech and Chong crowd. But if there’s any justice, it will at least wind up as a cult favorite.”
–The Charlie Daniels Band, Full Moon (NC). “Since chauvinism seems to be as inevitable as death and politics, I guess we’re lucky to have a fellow as nice as Charlie working it into songs.”
–Cecil McBee, Compassion (CA) “The music is adventurous enough to satisfy any aural daredevil who has not completely lost his or her sense of beauty, yet all the basic jazz values have been preserved with due reverence.”
–Mabel Mercer, Echoes of My Life (William Livingstone) “The twenty-five songs included here are so well matched to her very special interpretative gifts that they sound as though she had written them herself, recollecting in tranquility some of the events from a rich and varied past.”
–Split Enz, True Colours (JV) “Their songs will etch themselves in your memory with or without laser technology.” (The vinyl contained laser-etched patterns.)
–Al Stewart, 24 Carrots (NC) “But all the songs here bear repeated listening, and, like Brueghel paintings, keep showing you little things you didn’t notice before.”
Times Square Soundtrack (SS) “Even if the soundtrack sells, it’s unlikely to be influential for the simple reason that it’s not a particularly exciting package; mainstream rock seems quite interesting by comparison.”

Other Discs Reviewed
–Pat Benatar, Crimes of Passion (NC) “Pat Benatar is more than just one kind of singer, however, even if this album repeatedly suggests she has more as a vocalist than she shows.”
–Rick James, Garden of Love (IC) “There’s a lot in these high-stepping cuts to please his established fans and plenty of very accessible music to appeal to new ones.”
–Ramsey Lewis, Routes (PR) “If Ramsey Lewis weren’t as gifted an instrumentalist as he is…he’d be hard put to survive the flashy chaos of this album.”
–Bob Marley and the Wailers, Uprising (PG) “…though everything on this new album sounds rather familiar, it is no less a pleasure to hear.”
–Martha and the Muffins, Metro Music (SS) “…what results when you take a bunch of bright, likable kids and lock them in a room with Roxy Music records for the duration of their adolescence.”
–The Statler Brothers, 10th Anniversary (NC) “It has a sort of retrospective quality despite its all-new material, for it puts together various examples of what the Statlers do.”
–Barbra Streisand, Guilty (PR) “Her Majesty is feeling playful this month and has decided it would be nice for subjects to hear her in a lighter mood than is her usual wont.”

Love the title track to this album, and this cut has much of the same joyous feel.
I need to go back and give 24 Carrots more attention.
Coppage called this Rod MacDonald track “the best new song I’ve heard in many moons.”
Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack helped finish this track after Riperton’s death.

Over the last two years I’ve examined in varying degrees twenty-four of the 143 issues of SR between November 1976 and September 1988. Strolling through my past in this fashion is immensely enjoyable—I’ve even bought a couple of issues off eBay for old times’ sake. There are plans to keep thumbing through the archives over at worldradiohistory.com, but my guess right now is that SRIR will become more of an occasional, rather than monthly, feature here going forward.

Later this week: we jump forward twelve months in time to begin a tour of three year-end charts from forty years ago.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Christmas (W)rappin’

Today it’s a couple of classics that date back to my high school years, though it was much later before I paid either of them much mind.

“Christmas Wrapping” over the last decade or so has become one of my very favorite Christmas songs. There have been a wealth of online articles about it in recent years; at this point, the song’s writer and leader of the Waitresses, Chris Butler, must know to expect interview requests as the year winds down. This one, published Tuesday at Yahoo! to mark 40 years since the song first made waves, finds Butler expansive and reflective on the legacy of “Christmas Wrapping.” It includes more from him than I recall seeing previously about the hard life and times of the group’s late vocalist, Patty Donahue, who died from lung cancer in December 1996. Reading this piece only served to reinforce what I’ve been feeling hearing “Christmas Wrapping” this year: a bit of sadness that Donahue didn’t get to know just how deeply her voice, her talent has ingrained itself into the culture, especially at this time of year.

Butler has regularly given credit in these articles to Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin'” as an inspiration for his similarly-titled composition. When the 40th anniversary for “Christmas Rappin'” arrived two years ago, Smithsonian Magazine published a detailed account of how it came to be the first hip-hop song released by a major label in 1979. That turned out to be a landmark moment for the music industry, and life-changing for many of the folks involved.

It sure is a fun track, too.

Wishing everyone a peaceful, enjoyable holiday season, that you’re able to unwind and do it right this time.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Every Ornament Tells A Story

We still get a live tree every December. It always resides in the basement, though its location down there has varied from year to year. Most of the time, it’s been just inside the doors leading out to the back yard. Last year, however, it was placed more toward the center of the room, where the recliner usually is–a concession to our aging dog and his need to avoid going down the deck stairs in the dark. I guess we liked that arrangement well enough, as we elected to put the 2021 tree in the same spot.

The 2021 tree is smaller and lighter than what we usually get, in part because prices are higher, in part because we didn’t want to shop around all that much. This meant when it came time to decorate, we had to be more selective about which ornaments made the cut–sentimentality and weight (due to fewer hardy branches) were both factors. As the tree filled up, I couldn’t help but think about the stories behind many of the ornaments. I know the same holds true for those of you who decorate Christmas trees at home; I appreciate your indulgence as I share some of mine.

One December while my father was the minister at Stanford Christian Church–which means it was between 1968 and 1971–my sister and I received glass ornaments as gifts from a family in the church. A mouse for Amy and a musketeer for me, both about 7″ tall. It was a bit of a moment when it came time to hang them on the tree each year as we grew up. Even so, neither Amy nor I thought to claim them from our parents after we moved out–it would take until 2015, when I discovered them anew cleaning out my folks’ townhouse. I wound up with the box they had come in.

My most recent visit to Stanford Christian was in the early fall of 2017; only a few people in attendance that Sunday remembered my father and his tenure there. One of them, a man in his 60s, had a name that sounded familiar. Three months later, I realized why: his parents had been the ones to give Amy and me the ornaments (their names are written on the top of the box I kept).

One more thing: The man had mentioned he had a nephew who’d attended where I teach back around the turn of the century. I’d had the nephew in a few classes–if only I’d realized at the time, I could have told him about the ornament his grandparents had given me.

Nothing says the 1970s to me quite the same way this variegated yarn does. I made the God’s Eye at church in Walton somewhere around 1973.

Thirty-five or so years later, Ben got into Perler bead art for several months. A number of his creations became ornaments; this is likely my favorite of the bunch. Arranging it on the tree so that there’s a light behind it makes for a decent effect.

I moved into my first house in early December 1993, my second year on the job. A couple of my colleagues arranged a small end-of-semester party at school for our majors that also served as a house-warming event for me. A few students gave me ornaments, some with a math-related theme. (That’s another of Ben’s efforts, a Lego snowman, in the lower right.)

Every year since 2005, I’ve bought a personalized ornament for the tree. Until recently I got them from a kiosk at the mall in Lexington–you know, you choose an ornament and as you pay, you tell the cashier what you want written on it, and where. I’m thinking that 2014 was the year the young woman charged with fulfilling the request insisted that I needed to include an apostrophe somehow, somewhere in “The Harrises.” Even though I obviously prevailed in the end, I left pretty certain I’d failed to convince her she was wrong.

While Ben was growing up, Martha would often conspire with him to surprise me at Christmas. The same year I was getting bad grammar lessons at the mall, she came across a kit to capture your pet’s print in plaster. This was a little more than a year after Buddy had entered our lives. She and Ben corralled Buddy one afternoon while I was still at school and forced his cooperation in the project (I understand he was not pleased). We couldn’t forego getting this one out, even if it’s too big, too much for the 2021 tree–we’ve hung it on a knob for one of our cabinet doors. I knew last year he was almost certainly spending his final Christmas with us, but that doesn’t make it easier.

That’s plenty enough. Wishing you fond recollections, whether it’s spurred by Christmas ornaments or something else near and dear to you.

From the post’s title you could guess who’s providing the musical entertainment, no?

Get Dressed Up and Messed Up

This has been Go-Go’s Week on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave channel. They’ve been playing songs from the recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers every hour, and later this afternoon they’re premiering a new concert of the band playing at one of their old haunts, the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. This fall has also marked the 40th anniversary of the release of their landmark debut album Beauty and the Beat, the first by an all-female band to reach #1 on the LP chart. It’s all made me decide to revisit a piece I started a couple of years ago in which I provide a personal ranking of BatB’s tracks.

I was a senior in HS when the Go-Go’s broke out; they broke up (the first time) before I got out of college. To a decent degree, theirs was a classic case of a band not knowing what to do once success came their way: neither of their other 80s albums, Vacation and Talk Show, came close to matching Beauty (though “Vacation” may be my single favorite song of theirs).

This week I discovered I wanted to shuffle the original order made two years ago, mostly among the songs ranked #4-#7. Here’s where they fall today.

#11. “Can’t Stop the World.” There are a few albums I’ve fallen in love with over the years for which the last two or three tracks just aren’t quite up to the same quality as the rest. Beauty is one of those (a couple others are The Stranger and Marshall Crenshaw); so, guess which three tracks we’re seeing first? The last song on side two is Kathy Valentine’s sole songwriting credit.

#10. “You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep).” Like the Fifth Dimension’s “I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All,” this song is an ode to a Unisom failing to do its duty, except that it’s written in second-person sympathy rather than first-person anguish.

#9. “Skidmarks on My Heart.” The only track on the album that has a Carlisle co-writing credit. Full marks for extending a metaphor seamlessly (and amusingly) throughout the whole piece (as well as for the retro guitar solo).

#8.  “We Got the Beat.” Time to stir the pot a bit. I was not nearly as much of a fan of “We Got the Beat” in real time as I had been of “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Don’t get me wrong—it’s a plenty good song, deserving of being a (big) hit.

Its success on the chart, reaching #2 as a second single, had a parallel from almost three years earlier in Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” In the end, the Go-Go’s wound up with greater fame and acclaim, of course, but at the time it felt to me like both of those songs—each group’s biggest hit—scaled their heights partially out of building momentum.

#7. “Lust to Love.” A worthy entry in the “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” genre of song. The album’s first side is just so good.

#6. “This Town.” Echoes of the sixties abound in this sarcasm-drenched take on the joys of living in L.A.  Like “Lust to Love,” there’s musical interest in the repeated shifts in tempo between verse and chorus.

#5. “Automatic.” I didn’t buy this album until three or four years after its release. My first exposure to the non-singles came soon after I went to college in the fall of 1982. I walked over to the women’s dorm one Friday afternoon early in the semester to visit a classmate who grew up close to where I did—I was giving her a ride home for the weekend. Her roommate was playing side two when I got there. This one, along with “Fading Fast,” made an immediate, positive impression. The minimalist lyrics and the metronome-y beat still work some magic.

#4. “How Much More.” In listening again to BatB this week, I’m picking up on how often Gina Schock goes the rapid drum fill route. Perhaps my friend Warren, who’s worked his share of gigs behind a kit and knows much more about the history of rock drumming than I do, can tell me how much she’s trying to evoke the past on this record.

#3. “Fading Fast.” A great kiss-off tune. I like the way we don’t get the reason for the breakup until the end of the second verse. It’s a simple line that Charlotte Caffey is playing on keyboards in the chorus, yet it may be as responsible as anything for making me want to own this record.

#2. “Tonite.” A brilliant portrait of the band’s hard-partying days (okay, nights) before they made it big; I am sorely, sorely tempted to rank it first. Peter Case, then a denizen of the same scene as a member of the Plimsouls, has a co-writing credit.

#1. “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Maybe a little boring/predictable to go with one of the hits at the top, but this is a truly landmark piece, still plenty fresh. I loved it from the start—it made #1 on my own chart in January of 1982. (I hinted in this post from almost two years ago it would rank a lot higher than “We Go the Beat.”)

For the video feature, though, let’s go with “Tonite.” Here’s hoping it’s part of their show at the Whiskey. The clip is from a show they gave at a high school on 12/4/81, just as things were starting to break for them.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/11/76: The Bar-Kays, “Shake Your Rump to the Funk”

One of AT40‘s many charms for me when I began listening in 1976 was Casey Kasem’s storytelling. I know now that he (or maybe more accurately, his staff) didn’t always get the facts straight. However, I was both a sucker and a sponge for what he dished out, and I didn’t mind relaying what I learned (?) from the show on to anyone who would listen, be they family members, classmates, etc. Forty-plus years will make one forget far more than what has been retained, but occasionally something pops up on these re-broadcasts that I remember hearing way back when.

Such is the case on this weekend’s 70s show, two weekends before Christmas 1976, right before the #32 song is spun. Casey noted that nine years ago this very week, Otis Redding and most of the members of the Bar-Kays–his back-up band–were killed when Redding’s small plane crashed into Lake Monona as it sought to land in bad weather at the Madison, WI airport. The only survivor was Bar-Kay trumpeter Ben Cauley (Casey mistakenly says his last name is Curley, I’m guessing due to bad transcription somewhere along the way). Another member of the band, bassist James Alexander, had stayed behind to take a later flight in part due to lack of space on the plane. Kasem then relayed that not long after the tragedy, Alexander assembled a new version of the Bar-Kays, and years of hard work were paying off as they returned to the charts with “Shake Your Rump to the Funk.”

The AT40 crew and Wikipedia are at odds about one detail: Casey says that Cauley didn’t take part in the re-constituted group, while that crowd-sourced compendium of knowledge claims he remained a Bar-Kay until 1971. Regardless, Cauley continued playing trumpet, including as a session musician (despite health issues along the way), until his death in 2015. I surmise that’s he we’re hearing prominently on their crazy good 1967 #17 instrumental hit “Soul Finger.”

It’s certainly strong enough to have charted on its own, but I did wonder at the time if “Shake Your Rump to the Funk” (which topped out at #23 in January) got a boost because of its title’s more-than-passing similarity to that of a certain recent #1 hit from K.C. and the Sunshine Band.