SotD: Rob Jungklas, “Memphis Thing”

When I was perusing the Hot 100 from 2/7/87 last week, one of the new arrivals caught my eye and took me back again to Memory Lane. “Make It Mean Something,” by Rob Jungklas, reached #86 in a three-week run in his only trip to the chart. I’d known the song for at least six months by that point, though, having snagged a cassette of Closer to the Flame, the album from which it comes, while I was still living at home in the summer of 86.

Flame is a great-sounding record. The playing is more than solid, the songs are plenty melodic, and there’s just the right amount of shimmer and sheen in the production. Jungklas’s voice is okay enough, but he does a little too much grunting and growling. The lyrics definitely lag behind, however; part of it’s clumsy writing, but it’s also that Jungklas often comes across like a horny, immature teenager (something he definitely wasn’t by this time–at least the teenager part). “See That Girl” is the worst offender in this regard, but “Not Like the Other Boys” and “Big Bouffant” aren’t all that far behind. In spite of the cringe-worthy moments, I found myself listening to the tape frequently for a year or more.

Close to half of the tracks were AOR radio-ready. “Make It Mean Something” really was the best choice to promote as a single, and it probably deserved a somewhat higher peak position. I was a big fan of “Boystown,” the opening cut, which got some airplay; in putting this post together I discovered a video for it that I’d describe as “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” on steroids (like the Wang Chung, it was directed/edited by Godley and Creme). Another pretty good one is “Hello Heaven,” which apparently appeared in a film from around that time (The Principal, a Jim Belushi/Louis Gossett Jr./Rae Dawn Chong joint).

But it was the first tune I heard, over and again on WEBN before I shuffled off to Illinois, that reeled me in and has probably stuck with me the most. Jungklas is from Memphis and was part of the music scene there for many years, so it makes sense that he’d try to capture his experiences growing up there in song. “Memphis Thing” is the closer on the album, and appropriately so. I wouldn’t exactly call it a party song, but it’s worth cranking the old stereo up a notch or two.

P.S. Closer to the Flame was never made available on CD, but Jungklas has put digital copies of all its songs on his website. I just might be headed that way soon to make a purchase or three.

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