Forgotten Albums: Tanita Tikaram, Ancient Heart

Well, it’s taking a little while for the 1989 project to get to music actually released that year. Pretty soon we’ll pivot toward that, but—quelle surprise—at the beginning of the year I was listening to a lot of stuff I’d bought toward the end of 88.

One of the more rewarding disks I was playing frequently in early 89 was the debut album from a 19-year old of Fijian and Malaysian parents, born in Münster and who moved to London about the time she became a teenager. Ancient Heart is an apt title for the album; Tanita Tikaram displays via both songwriting and singing a wisdom that she couldn’t possibly have gained through experience. Her voice—I see the words “husky” and “smoky” used to describe it in the reviews I’ve looked up in recent days—sounded like nothing else going on at the time. The lyrics are often oblique but never alienating. The album was co-produced by Rod Argent (Zombies and, of course, Argent) and Peter Van Hooke (Mike and the Mechanics). You get a tiny bit of late-80s synth vibe from it, but on the whole they managed to avoid doing things in the production that would make it sound dated.

For some reason, it’s been years since I broke Ancient Heart out for a listen. That changed last week.  I’d forgotten just how good it is, and I suspect it’ll go into occasional rotation again now.  Let’s take a listen to five of my favorite tracks.

The lead-off song (and first single) is “Good Tradition.”  It was Tikaram’s only top 10 hit in the UK (it also went top 10 in Ireland and Sweden). The video shows her with a verve and a perkiness we don’t see anywhere else:

 

The other upbeat track on offer today is “World Outside Your Window,” the fourth and final single.  This charted only in the UK, making #58, but it feels plenty radio-friendly to me.

 

If you’ve heard anything from Tikaram, it’s this one—it’s certainly how I came to know of her.  I saw the vid for “Twist in My Sobriety” (which was filmed in Bolivia) on VH-1 quite a bit in the fall of 88. It was by far her biggest hit worldwide, going top 10 in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. An absolutely arresting track with a killer oboe part.

 

One of my least favorite songs from my college years is Lionel Richie’s “Say You Say Me.” I guess I found it too saccharine, and I was utterly baffled by the insertion of an up-tempo section before things swell to the final chorus. “He Likes the Sun” pulls a similar stunt in terms of tempo, yet here I totally dig on it. I have no idea what “I’m tired of chip inside and playing bronze for cool” means, but Tikaram manages to make it sound almost profound.

 

My last selection is, without rival, the prettiest and most melancholy piece on the album. Just piano and strings and written in 3/4 time, “Valentine Heart” might be the cut I suggest you should listen to today if you’re only going to pick one of these to play (maybe my current somber mood is behind that recommendation, though).

 

Tikaram released three more albums before I left grad school in 92; I picked them all up at the time but none made an impression anything akin to that of Ancient Heart (I’ve kept only the sophomore effort, The Sweet Keeper). You’d think that a 19-year capable of stuff like this wouldn’t be peaking then, but here we are. She’s continued to record sporadically through the years, even to this day, and had low-charting singles in the UK through the 90s. Tikaram is still a Londoner (perhaps even rich with complaint), and will be turning 50 on August 12.

 

 

1/10/81 and 1/29/77 Charts

I generally took special notice of the first chart of the calendar year–perhaps not too surprisingly, it became the time when I made significant changes in layout/presentation. For 81, I abandoned the yellow legal pad I’d used throughout 80 and went sort-of “old school,” putting #40 at the top of the front page like I had in 76 and most of 77. It’s also the first time I numbered countdowns throughout the year (“Week 1”).

 

Here’s what I was digging early that January.

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Last month we saw the first week of Benatar’s run at the top with “Hit Me with Your Best Shot;” now we’ve got its sixth and final week.  “Suddenly” would be on top the next time. How is “Lady” still in the top 10, five weeks later? I was appalled to see it there in the previous Charts post. Cool to see Randy Meisner still chillin’ here, weeks after peaking on Billboard.

I’ve extended this by one more song than I usually do, to show what was hanging out at #26. I was a big fan of “Couldn’t Get It Right” back in the spring of 77, so I definitely took notice when the Climax Blues Band started getting airplay again toward the end of 80. “Gotta Have More Love” had stalled out at #47 on the Hot 100 at the end of December, and was peaking on my own chart right here. You never hear it any more–it’d be cool with me if someone decided to give it some airplay love.

One other non-Top 40 tune was nestled on my chart this week: “Stop This Game,” by Cheap Trick, sitting at #38. That’s another under-appreciated song…

Here’s what Q102 was playing a week later.

q102011981

Let’s talk about that song at #35. McGuffey Lane was (is?) an Ohio country-flavored band who by the early 80s had acquired a sizable devoted local following. Q102 played “Long Time Lovin’ You” a ton at the beginning of 81, so much that I could sing along with the chorus when I played it while writing this up, even though I’m sure I haven’t heard it since at least the mid-80s. It actually broke nationally a bit, Bubbling Under at #102 on 1/10/81 and making the Hot 100 on a week later (it would end up peaking at #85). McGuffey Lane had another small hit a year later. Anyone else remember this?

 

Finally, moving on to/back to late January 77:

 

Several oddities here. I love the massive 1977. I didn’t know Gene Cotton’s last name yet, or how to spell Smokie (I got them both right the following week). Apparently I thought Thelma Houston’s first day name (good grief–where’s an editor when you need one?) was Velma (too much Scooby-Doo earlier in the decade, I guess). And there’s the bizarre switch to cursive for the top three.

I wasn’t wrong that there’d be a new #1 the next week, but would never have guessed it’d be Mary MacGregor ascending.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/28/84: Deborah Allen, “Baby I Lied”

One of the dangers, maybe the primary one, that comes in downloading music from sites like the iTunes Store or Amazon is that one might purchase a re-recorded version of the song you wanted. At first I was mystified why a) re-recordings existed, and b) the services would have them on offer. The obvious answer came to me before too long: there was money to be made, by the artist themselves if they didn’t control the rights to the original, and/or by the company supplying the “updated” version. I was ever the purist over the years I did the bulk of my downloading (roughly 2005-10), wanting the original takes of the 70s and 80s tunes I knew and loved.

I believe I goofed up in downloading a re-recording only once, on country singer Deborah Allen’s single successful foray onto the pop charts (at #26 here, its peak). At the time I was compiling a playlist for the show preceding this one. Once I started playing the song, I quickly realized my error and then just as quickly corrected it. I didn’t listen to the re-do more than once, but my recollection is that it must have been done so many years later that Allen’s voice was past prime: she could no longer nail the “Baby, baby, BA-BY!” before the final return to the chorus.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/29/77: Gene Cotton, “You Got Me Runnin'”

AKA My Personal Top 40, 1/29/77, Part 2…  Here’s a link to Part 1.

20. Kiss, “Hard Luck Woman” (20)
The seventh-grade girls at my school had the Bay City Rollers, while a number of the boys were members of the Kiss Army. Except for “Beth” and “Hard Luck Woman,” both of which feel atypical of their overall work—though in different ways—I’ve always pretty much taken a pass on these guys.

19. Brick, “Dazz” (3)
Very solid dance tune, super groovy. Deserving of its peak position, too. Could stand to receive more airplay.

18. Earth, Wind and Fire, “Saturday Nite” (21)
This one was just sort of there back then, but now it’s among my top 5 EWF songs.  It was only after I downloaded it that I heard its fun ending. Things break down in laughter, as someone, maybe Maurice White, basically asks, “Who farted?”

17. David Dundas, “Jeans On” (17)
Yes, this is slight. But it’s also an earworm in the best possible way.

16. Stevie Wonder, “I Wish” (2)
One I appreciate much more than I did at the time—easily the song here with the largest positive discrepancy between how I feel now vs. then.

15. Gene Cotton, “You Got Me Runnin’” (35)
The song on the show that you’re least likely to know (though I guess the KC track might qualify, too). I may not have heard it more than half-a-dozen times back in the day, including its three plays on AT40, but it’d immediately struck me quite favorably. It was absolutely the hardest song to track down digitally when I was putting the playlist together back in 2005-06. I finally discovered Cotton sold a “Best of” CD on his own website. I stuck the disk in my player and skipped to “You Got Me Runnin’” immediately after it arrived in the mail; I was hearing it for the first time in almost three decades, and it sounded just like I remembered. Heaven! For two minutes I was on the cusp of 13 again.

Cotton had three other Top 40 hits, all in 78. One of those, his duet with Kim Carnes, “You’re a Part of Me,” might be the best-known now.

14. Steve Miller Band, “Fly Like an Eagle” (15)
One of the suboptimal things about listening to the old shows is having to hear 45 edits, or even worse, edits of 45 edits, of the various songs one knows and loves. I tried to obtain the LP versions of the classics for my list. This is the one song whose full LP version didn’t happen—I made do ripping a track from a greatest hits disk rather than purchasing all of Fly Like an Eagle outright. I may just have to correct that someday.

13. Smokie, “Living Next Door to Alice” (36)
It’s no surprise to learn this was a Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman song. It was a world-wide smash, but could only muster a #25 peak here in the US. A longtime favorite here at Harris Heights.

Some free association: Chris Norman, Smokie’s lead singer, teamed up with Suzy Quatro two years later on the #4 hit “Stumblin’ In.” My grad school bridge friend Toby was constantly laying slang and obscure references on us while playing cards.  One of his favorites, whenever we played hearts: the opening lead of the four (quattro, in Italian, just to make it all clear) of a suit was regularly accompanied by the interjection “Suzy!” Yeah, you had to be there…

12. Barry Manilow, “Weekend in New England” (16)
I’m not ashamed in the least to say I was a Manilow fan in the late 70s.  I bought the 45 for this very pretty tune quite early in its ride up the charts—I’d gotten my own record player that Christmas and can remember playing it over and again on it while we were snowbound. It’s definitely in the running for my favorite song from him.

11. Aerosmith, “Walk This Way” (10)
Run-DMC made it clear that this song was in many ways ahead of its time. I kinda got a kick out of “Rag Doll” when Aerosmith made their late 80s comeback, but honestly, my hot take is this was their last really good one.

10. Queen, “Somebody to Love” (13)
Getting to the rarefied air now. This is no “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it’s amazing in its own way. It helped propel one of my fellow Kentuckians to victory on The Voice three ago.

9. Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, “Whispering/Cherchez La Femme/Se Si Bon” (27)
This is in its last week on the show—and that’s the main reason I didn’t pick the 2/5 show to compile (well, that and the presence of the Henhouse Five Plus Too’s clucking of “In the Mood”).  I was big on it at the time, too—it sounded like nothing else I was hearing on the radio.

8. Abba, “Dancing Queen” (26)
It’s about to become clear which portion of the show is my favorite: #30 and all of #28-#24 comprise two-thirds of the top nine. I’ve done just a tiny bit of thinking lately about which Abba song might be my favorite.  While I’m pretty sure it’s not “Dancing Queen,” I would go so far as to say that this deserved to be their biggest US hit.

7. Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (30)
The highest debut of the week—this and the next song are ultimately why the 1/29 show got picked over 1/22. I was either too young or too naïve to get exactly what Houston was going on about then, but her vocal performance is so visceral that I should have figured it out anyway.

6. 10cc, “The Things We Do for Love” (40)
One thing about that makes this set so great is that it has a dynamite leadoff song.

5. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded By the Light” (8)
These next two would have been sitting at #3 and #2 in some order back in the day. It’s not really that time has dimmed them so much as that two other songs have elbowed past.

Both Amy and I really liked “Blinded By the Light” from the start; searching for any kind of meaning in its lyrics was a pastime for a good while that winter.

4. Electric Light Orchestra, “Livin’ Thing” (28)
I’d liked what I’d heard of ELO prior to “Livin’ Thing,” but this was the song that catapulted them to favorite band status; that lasted up through their Xanadu stuff.  A New World Record is one of the twenty-five or so disks in my top ten albums of all time.

3. Bob Seger, “Night Moves” (25)
There aren’t all that many Seger songs that I truly like, but “Night Moves” is outstanding, almost certainly my favorite of his (the only real competition would be “Against the Wind”). I have no idea how autobiographical this is, but it sure feels like he captured someone’s truth. Back in 77 this probably would have been sitting somewhere in the 11-20 range.

2. Fleetwood Mac, “Go Your Own Way” (32)
My love for this song has only increased with time. I was attracted to Fleetwood’s drumming from the get-go, but over time I came to recognize Buckingham’s guitar work taking the song to the fade out is pure dynamite. I know I’ve said it before, but this 45, with “Silver Springs” on the flip, is the favorite in my collection when taking both sides into consideration.

1. Al Stewart, “Year of the Cat” (24)
I debated whether this really still is my favorite out of all these fine tunes. It still feels fresh and timeless, unlike “Time Passages,” which has that disco-ish percussion toward the end; I’m definitely not tired of hearing it. So yeah, it stays here.

So, lots of familiarity at the top—not too surprising, given the reasonably large number of tunes still get lots of play today. But it’s the Cotton song that we’re playing now—the synth line dates it, but if it’s new to you, enjoy.

My Personal Top 40, 1/29/77: Part 1

The weather of January 77 is legendary in my neck of the woods. Massive snows, unbelievable cold, so frigid for so long that the Ohio River froze solid and folks could walk back and forth between Cincinnati and Covington/Newport (the only time in my life when that’s happened).  I went to school exactly one day that month—Tuesday, January 4. Our part of the county was still very rural, and it’d been decades since the area had experienced anything like it, so the powers that were simply weren’t prepared to deal with what Mother Nature was dishing out. The Walton-Verona system became a bit of a butt of jokes on the radio, as we were one of the final districts to reopen as winter’s grip finally lessened toward the end of the month. I have very fond memories of spending hours out with my sister and various neighbor kids that month, piling the snow super high outside our side door and digging out caves for hiding. I was just about to turn 13; it was a great point in my life to have that sort of opportunity.

Not quite thirty years later, I was beginning to assemble playlists of AT40 shows from my charting years to play on our iPod. Late January 77 quickly became one period that I thought would provide a good list. Initially I vacillated between the 1/22 and 1/29 shows—I remembered the former for its sweet set of seven debut songs. In the end, I decided that I liked the four newcomers on 1/29 better than the ones they were replacing.

I think I’ve said before that it became perhaps my most-played “countdown” out of the three dozen or so I put together (rivaled only by 6/5/76 and 4/21/84). Premiere Networks featured the show back in 2013, and I heard almost all of it then. I learned this past Sunday they’re playing it again this coming weekend, and I must admit I’m pretty stoked.

Even if Premiere hadn’t selected it for rebroadcast this year, I was already planning on doing a write-up on the show, with a twist: taking the 40 songs Casey played, but rearranging them in my own order of preference. I’ve listened to them all quite a bit over the last decade, and that’s given me a chance to reconsider things. It’s fair to say my opinions on a few songs have changed over 42 years, but by and large the favorites then are the favorites now. And while there’s bound to be some degree of imprecision (honestly, how do you quantify how much you like a song?), what I’m putting before you is close enough to current reality. Today, we’ll cover #40-#21; the second half will appear Saturday.  I’ll be noting in parentheses the song’s actual position on the 1/29/77 chart. Drum roll, please…

40. KC and the Sunshine Band, “I Like to Do It” (39)
Starting off with one of the four debuts. This would spend only one more week in the Top 40,  at #37. It’s got KC’s typical lyrical depth (that is to say, almost none) but little of the catchiness of their big hits. What amazes me most is that there were people who thought it should be released before both “I’m Your Boogie Man” and “Keep It Comin’ Love.”

39. Mary MacGregor, “Torn Between Two Lovers” (7)
My sister bought this 45, so she’s partly to blame for it hitting the top. I guess it sounds alright, but one sure can’t feel much sympathy for MacGregor’s character. What were you thinking, Peter Yarrow?

A couple months later, William Bell hit the show with “Trying to Love Two.” I’ve always wondered if Bell’s song got some of its attention because of “Torn”—does anyone have insight into that?

38. Bread, “Lost Without Your Love” (12)
I probably liked this better at the time, but it’s a pretty minor offering compared to much of Bread’s earlier work. Maybe it was Stereo Review that noted how weak the line “I’m as helpless as a ship without a wheel, a touch without a feel” was; they’re not wrong.

37. Rod Stewart, “Tonight’s the Night” (22)
I think “Maggie May” is outstanding, one of 71’s greatest. But I was not a fan of “Tonight’s the Night” from the beginning. Sometime in the last year or two, my friend Warren observed that one of the song’s lines actually means the opposite of what it intends: Rod definitely wouldn’t want his paramour’s inhibitions to run wild!

36. Donny and Marie Osmond, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (23)
Just to show you how little I think of “Tonight’s the Night,” I’m putting Donny and Marie ahead of it. Yes, this has zero, zilch, nada on Marvin and Tammi, but I’d still rate it as one of D & M’s better efforts.

35. Alice Cooper, “I Never Cry” (34)
Kudos to Cooper for kicking his addiction. And kudos for writing honestly about his battles with it.

34. Burton Cummings, “Stand Tall” (29)
Another of Amy’s purchases. I guess she and I didn’t see eye to eye overall?

33. Engelbert Humperdinck, “After the Lovin’” (19)
This one screams polyester shirts, excessive chest hair, and medallions hung around one’s neck. Nonetheless, I’ll still sing along when it comes on.

32. Doobie Brothers, “It Keeps You Runnin’” (37)
I’ve never thought to investigate what the record might be for “dropped g’s” in song titles on an AT40 show, but we’ve got five in this one. And we’re already getting to the portion of the list with songs I’m happy to hear most of the time.

31. Elton John, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (33)
This is the very tail end of peak Elton—it’d be over three years before he hit the Top 10 again.

30. Eagles, “New Kid in Town” (6)
I bought this single a couple of weeks later, on my 13th birthday. I guess I like it less now than I did then. However, the B-side, “Victim of Love,” still kicks major tail—too bad you can find only live versions of it on YouTube.

29. Jacksons, “Enjoy Yourself” (11)
Their first hit after dropping “Five” from their name, and their first single after leaving Motown. Michael’s voice is really starting to come into its own at this point.

28. Barbra Streisand, “Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’ (Evergreen)” (9)
Here’s one that’s risen a few spots in my estimation over the years. It’s well-written, and prettier than I once thought.

27. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (to Be in My Show)” (18)
There are eleven songs on this list that made #1, stretching from the November 13 to April 23 countdowns (though a couple of future toppers within that span aren’t on the show yet). This is the second of them chronologically but the fifth one to appear so far today. Yet another of my sister’s purchases, but one I still enjoy.

26. Sylvers, “Hot Line” (5)
Has anyone compiled a list of songs rendered complete anachronisms because of changes in telephone technology?

25. Stephen Bishop, “Save It for a Rainy Day” (31)
Fabulous turn by Chaka Khan on background vocals at the end. It’s totally overshadowed now in terms of airplay by “On and On,” which is a shame.

24. Bee Gees, “Boogie Child” (38)
As overplayed as the brothers Gibb are on 70s stations now, this one tends to be overlooked—I don’t think it ever appeared on any disco or 70s compilation album. It’s plenty silly, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it.

23. Rose Royce, “Car Wash” (1)
Really great Norman Whitfield joint here. I’m not trying to slight it by slotting it this low—it’s just that it’s got tons of competition.

22. Leo Sayer, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” (4)
Endless Flight was one of the first albums that Sis purchased. Can’t say that I ever listened to it all that much, but its lead single always makes me feel happy (and maybe like dancing occasionally, too).

21. Kenny Nolan, “I Like Dreamin’” (14)
It was several years before I realized that Nolan had also written “My Eyes Adored You.” I don’t know why I hadn’t figured it out, because this one is practically the same song all over again. That said, I enjoy both versions; here, the line “Little smiles so warm and tender, looking up at us” gets to me now in a way it never would have back then.

Back on Saturday with the rest. I’ll end things today with a vid for the week’s real #1 song.

SotD: Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle”

I spent a good chunk of Labor Day weekend 1988 visiting my college friends Mark and Lana, who live in suburban St. Louis. We spent the early part of Sunday afternoon watching their former hometown NFL team play their first regular-season game as the Phoenix Cardinals, who just happened to be going up against my team, the Cincinnati Bengals. The game’s outcome was uncertain until a goal-line stand in the final minute secured a 21-14 victory for the Bengals. It turned out to be the beginning of a magical season for the team with stripes on its helmets.

There was no great reason to think going in to the 88 season that Cincy would do well. They were coming off a desultory 4-11 effort in the strike-afflicted 87 campaign; I can recall seeing a piece on the local news at that season’s end (guess while I was home for Christmas in 87?) announcing that Sam Wyche was being retained. They did have a quality QB in Boomer Esiason, though, as well as a solid offensive line, James Brooks at RB, and a good set of DBs; maybe I shouldn’t have been so pessimistic?

The Bengals started off 6-0, and along the way they discovered a new weapon to spark a fearsome rushing attack within their innovative-at-the-time no-huddle offense: Elbert “Ickey” Woods, a fullback taken out of UNLV in the second round of the draft. Over the final thirteen games of the season, he scored 15 TDs, ran for over 1000 yards, and became an overnight sensation with his goofy touchdown celebration dance, the “Ickey Shuffle.” (Perhaps just as importantly, his not-so-smooth moves led to the beginning of the NFL’s crackdown on endzone celebrations.)

Very early in the fall, before anyone could tell that the Bengals would actually be good, Dad mentioned to me that they were playing at home Thanksgiving weekend. When he asked if I’d be interested in going, I quickly said yes—I’d attended a few Bengals games over the years, but it’d been a little while since I’d seen one. Little did we know at the time that game would be the one to determine home field advantage in the AFC.

The opponent was the other surprise team in the conference, the Buffalo Bills. On that chilly late November afternoon, Buffalo was riding high at 11-1 (the Bengals had fallen back a little bit from their hot start and were 9-3). Dad, Amy, and I were in the upper deck of Riverfront Stadium (the “red seats”), in section 331. That’d be right field if we were there for a Reds game, but I’m visualizing it as a corner of one endzone in its football configuration.  There were a number of Bills fans around us, and we learned about their cheer, “Let’s Go Buffalo.”

The home team won pretty easily that day, 35-21—Ickey got to shuffle three times—and I drove back to Urbana that evening a happy camper (as an aside, it turned out to be the last time saw an NFL game in person). In the remaining three games on the docket, Cincy went 2-1, the Bills 1-2; the road to the Super Bowl would go through Riverfront. Buffalo came back for the AFC title game, and went home losers again (it was just the beginning of a great run of sorts for the Bills, though—they went to, but lost, the next four Super Bowls). Seven years after their first visit, the Bengals were back in the big game…

…and facing the same team they had in Super Bowl XVI, the San Francisco 49ers. That game had taken place during my senior year in high school, and while the final score was respectable (26-21), it hadn’t been a close affair. Would the rematch be different?

I took Super Bowl XXIII in at a party hosted by one of my fellow math grad students, Ken, and his girlfriend Laura. It was a competitive but low-scoring game; the Bengals led 13-6 at the end of three quarters and took a 16-13 lead on a FG with under three-and-a-half minutes to go. I dared to hope.

But of course Joe Frickin’ Montana was under center for the ‘Niners. He engineered a 92-yard drive, hitting John Taylor for a TD with under forty seconds to go. For the remainder of the game and a couple of minutes afterward, I stared blankly at the TV. “Dammit….dammit,” was about all I could say or think.

That game took place thirty years ago today. The Bengals have been somewhere between horrible and occasionally better than okay pretty much ever since. Their last playoff win came in January 91, against the Houston Oilers(!).  More than half of that time they’ve been coached by the recently-fired Marvin Lewis, who certainly wasn’t bad but was kept on at least a couple of years too long. I’m curious to see how a new set of coaches will do, even though I’m much less invested in the NFL than I used to be.

At some point in that season, GNR’s “Welcome to the Jungle” became a theme song of sorts for the Bengals, and “The Jungle” became the nickname for their stadium. My recollection is that one of the radio guys in town came up with the idea—Bengals live in the jungle, right?  It’s stuck through the years—when they moved in 2000 from Riverfront to their new digs just down the river, Paul Brown Stadium, the moniker came along with them (though it’s hardly been a fear-inspiring venue for the most part).

The timing of the song’s chart run was pretty much perfect for the Bengals’ season: “Welcome to the Jungle” was released as a single in October, peaked at #7 at the end of the calendar year/football season, and was just about to fall off the Top 40 on Super Bowl Sunday (although maybe that was a sign of some kind…)

While I’m not a huge fan of Axl, Slash, Izzy, and the rest (though I readily admit “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is legit great), what other song can I play today?  Thinking back on that day from 30 years ago, all I can say it’d be mighty fine to see the Bengals finally win the big one, just once.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/17/87: Genesis, “Land of Confusion”

I’ve got stuff I want to say today—two very different strands of thought—but am having trouble gaining traction with either of them. Maybe trying to be briefer than I originally intended will help cut through some of the fog.

The first step in demonstrating one was up to the rigors of pursuing a doctorate in math at Illinois was passing a set of four written qualifying exams that covered advanced undergraduate material in algebra and analysis. I took my first crack at them in January 87, just before classes resumed. I passed exactly zero of them, and deservedly so. This was the first indication that just maybe relying on short-term memory for test-taking, a practice which had served me well for quite a while, wasn’t that good an idea anymore. (The second indication came later that semester, when I had to drop a class after completely bombing an important test.)  I didn’t ever give the memorization thing up completely, but eventually I think I became a better student. I did pass the algebra quals in May and the analysis quals in August, allowing me to stay beyond the master’s. As I wrote recently, two years later I’d do battle with another set of exams, this time oral.

I have a college friend who teaches at a Big 10 university. One of her responsibilities is to evaluate applicants to their graduate program; she noted in an email to me last week, “(t)here’s a lot (like motivation) that is essential for success but difficult to know from applications.” My own experience as a grad student jibes with this. Even though I finished my degree, I came to understand I did not possess the drive to be a high- (or even mid-) level theoretical mathematician.  I went to Illinois largely because I had received an attractive fellowship offer from them—it’s true that my undergraduate performance and GRE Subject Test scores all looked good, at least superficially.  At some point, maybe even during my first year there, they had to be regretting their selection for the fellowship. It’s completely a result of my internal motor or lack thereof, but it turned out I was a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect, and that couldn’t have been sussed from the paper record I had to that point.

I heard “Land of Confusion” (#8; it’d peak at #4) on the radio a couple of weeks ago, on my way to the car dealership for an oil change, and its final verse stood out in a way it never had before: “I won’t be coming home tonight/My generation will put it right/We’re not just making promises that we know we’ll never keep.” Collins and company were hardly the first to say “the world’s a real mess” in a song, but the vow to fix things sure looks like hubris now.  Of course, I’m just a baker’s dozen of years younger than Phil—am I part of that generation, too?

I can’t imagine a song today could have a video such as this, poking fun at/criticizing the policies of the current occupant of the White House, without resulting in calls for boycotts, incredible vitriol, etc.  Maybe that happened to Genesis back then, but if so, I’ve forgotten about it.