There’s Something Good Waitin’ Down This Road

The first half of August was one of the busier and more memorable periods of my 1989, featuring (literally) cross-country travel. This week and next I’ll try to hit highlights without getting too bogged down in those darn weeds.

On Thursday, August 3, I flew out of Cincinnati, headed northeast (and I do mean northeast). Final destination: Loring AFB, Maine, mere miles both south and west of New Brunswick on the Canadian border. I got there by landing at nearby Presque Isle International Airport, via Boston. The reason? To spend a few days with my old HS friend Frank and his family: Lisa and their two daughters, one of whom was just a few months old.

Frank had gone through AFROTC at the University of Kentucky and was commissioned upon graduation. By this time he was a pilot for the Air Force, in the midst of the slowly unfolding but lengthy series of moves across the years that so many career military folks must grapple with. We’d remained fairly close friends through college and had stayed in decent touch in the three years since we both had left Lexington. The best way for us to have some time to hang together clearly was for me to travel to wherever he was.

Loring existed because of its proximity to Europe as well as the Soviet Union via the Arctic Circle. (The base closed five years after my visit; the end of the Cold War greatly reduced the probability of needing to launch a bunch of bombers toward those places quickly.) The geo-political realities of August 89 wound up putting a crimp in our plans—some threat which Frank couldn’t reveal put him on alert for much of my visit, meaning he had to stay close to his plane for long stretches of time. So on the Sunday I was there, it was just Lisa, the girls, and I who drove four hours each way to visit beautiful Québec City. Occasionally Lisa and I struggled getting the carriage up or down stairs, but it was a completely delightful day—I’d totally love to visit again. I’d had just enough French at this point to think I could try to tell waitstaff what I wanted to order for lunch, but quickly learned that wasn’t the case.

The trip was far from a complete bust in terms of longtime friends getting together. Frank and I did get to catch up and talk—just not as much as we would have liked. We’ve seen each other maybe a half-dozen times in the three decades since, including less than two weeks ago. Our experiences and views about the world are fairly different, but one of the really gratifying things I took from our recent mini-reunion is that he and I still fall easily into conversation. Some things that date all the way back to 82, even earlier, haven’t changed much, and I’m glad about that. (On the other hand, I just learned the infant I pushed around Québec is getting married this fall.)

My Illinois life intervened briefly while I was in Maine. One of my fellow grad students managed to track me down (guess he got my parents’ number from the math grad office, and they gave him Frank’s number—communication was much harder, for both good and bad, before cell phones and email) with an offer. He was recruiting assistants for an experimental calculus class, based on the theories of Uri Treisman. Treisman sought ways to help students from underprivileged backgrounds succeed in college math and science classes. This program would have the students meet for additional time outside of the standard lecture/recitation model, working in groups on handouts; TAs would receive training on facilitating follow-up discussion. Classes of this type turned out to be successfully implemented at colleges and universities across the country during the 90s. I was being given a chance to gain valuable experience with an innovative and meaningful program, and it was extremely short-sighted of me to turn the opportunity down. It’s likely the single largest profession-related regret I have. I suppose I thought in the moment that I’d be busily getting involved in research with my new advisor—progress on that front in 89-90 wound up being much slower than I anticipated.  The reason to say yes would not have been to burnish my résumé, though it certainly would have done that—I expect the experience would have informed my teaching style much for the better.

The two videos I specifically remember seeing on MTV in Frank’s home on the base during the six days I was there are those of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” and Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Seeing the animated clip for Petty’s song now reminds me how dream-like it is, in that things that make no sense yet might feel plausible in the middle of the night keep happening to our hero and his short, cigar-chomping friend. I bought the Full Moon Fever CD sometime later in the fall, and now I can’t hear the fadeout of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” without expecting Petty to break in tell me he’s briefly pausing the music to even us CD listeners up with folks who have to flip over an LP or cassette prior to “Feel a Whole Lot Better” playing.

The following Wednesday, it was back on a plane to Boston—I took particular note of the Atlantic Ocean both coming in to and flying back out of Logan. But a return to Cincinnati wasn’t the plan; by day’s end, I would also be seeing the Pacific.

Modern Rock Tracks, 8/5/89

What was happening in the world of music that might get played on Postmodern MTV/120 Minutes at the beginning of August 89? A bunch of kick-ass songs, that’s what.

#30. Darling Buds, “Let’s Go Round There”
Pop Said… came out in the States in early 89, but the Darling Buds had been releasing singles in the UK for a while before that. They experienced middling success there, and none here, until a slightly remixed version of “Let’s Go Round There” clawed its way onto the lower strata of this chart. They’d have more success the following year on the MRT chart with a couple of tracks from the followup album Crawdaddy. I’ll glom onto just about any excuse to play some Buds.


#26. Texas, “I Don’t Need a Lover”
Odd name for a band from Scotland. Their debut album Southside got a lot of play in my car for a good while–it’ll crop up as a Forgotten Album in the coming weeks. They got big in Europe and other parts of the world, particularly in the late 90s, but never caught on in the U.S. Always liked this song quite a bit.

#19. Chris Isaak, “Don’t Make Me Dream About You”
Isaak’s third album, Heart Shaped World, had come out in June, and this was its first featured track.  The album tanked at the time, but became a smash eighteen months later after “Wicked Game” was featured in the David Lynch flick Wild at Heart.

#15. Mary’s Danish, “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight”
This isn’t the Mainstream Rock chart, so one doesn’t necessarily expect too many of the entries to rock out. Mary’s Danish, who were based in L.A., is bringing the heat on this track, though. The voices of co-leads Gretchen Seager and Julie Ritter play off each other nicely.


#11. “Radio Silence,” Boris Grebenshikov
Grebenshikov is one of the figures present at the birth of rock music in Russia in the 70s and 80s. This is the title track of the one album he released in the West, produced by Dave Stewart.


#10. Adrian Belew, “Oh Daddy”
Belew was born in the same city I was (think there’s a fifty-fifty chance it was the same hospital, too), and grew up not too far from my hometown–Warren tells me some of his HS teachers reported having Adrian (who was known as Steve then) as a student. He’s played guitar for a loooong list of bands, but is best known for his work with King Crimson. There are also a few solo albums to his credit; the fourth of those, Mr. Music Head, came out spring 89. It included his best shot at a real hit single, though Belew had to go meta to do it. “Oh Daddy” features questions from then 11-year-old daughter Audie (which now makes her…oh, I don’t want to think about it) about his lack of chart action.


#6. The Call, “Let the Day Begin”
Warren has introduced a lot of good music to me over the years, but his greatest gift in that regard is likely the Bay Area band The Call. They had three complete, absolute classics in”The Walls Came Down,” “I Still Believe,” and “Let the Day Begin,” plus a slew of songs almost as good (I’m especially fond of their 86 release Reconciled). True commercial success eluded them, however unfair that may be. In two weeks it’ll have been nine years since leader Michael Been passed away at age 60. This is probably my favorite song on this list.


#5. Hoodoo Gurus, “Come Anytime”
Fun, fabulous Aussie rocker. Always a treat to crank; shoulda been a hit single.


#3. Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”
You couldn’t stop Doolittle in the summer of 89, you could only hope to contain it. For some reason I heard “Here Comes Your Man” much more frequently back then than “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” which could explain why I like it more even today.

#2. Public Image Ltd, “Disappointed”
I didn’t pay any attention to this one thirty years ago, but it’s got plenty of appeal now. Lydon is as shrill as ever, and that’s okay. We get a new way to interpret the phrase, “That’s what friends are for.”

#1. B-52s, “Channel Z”
Cosmic Thing was the first album from the B-52s following the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson almost four years earlier. The sorta-title song “Shake That Cosmic Thing” had been on the MRT chart for a few weeks before this, but the ascension of “Channel Z” gave the first indication that they were soon to graduate from cult favorite status.


Come back next week for the quarterly visit to the Hot 100 of thirty years ago.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/1/70: Freda Payne, “Band of Gold”

We’re getting the fourth show of AT40’s illustrious history as the primary 70s rebroadcast this weekend. Fourteen of the songs Casey played on the first show are already gone, including greats such as “Everything Is Beautiful,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Love on a Two Way Street,” and “My Baby Loves Lovin’.” (On the plus side, they’ve added “War,” “In the Summertime,” and “25 or 6 to 4.”) When I was listening regularly in the latter half of the 70s, the turning over of the chart from week to week sometimes felt noticeable only over moderate stretches of time (of course, other times it took only a couple of weeks). I wonder how many folks there were out there in those initial months of the show who were like me, keeping records slavishly, and how they experienced the ebb and flow of chart action (though on average, it appears to me that songs rose and fell much more quickly those first 2-3 years).

Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” was #5 on that first show—in the weeks since, it’s gone 4-3-4. It’s one of those songs that, as far as I’m concerned, has always been part of the soundscape. A total classic, but it’s been good to learn about her other two Top 40 hits these last few years. One thing I didn’t know until this week, courtesy of Wikipedia: Payne was married for three years in the late 70s to Gregory “Shake You Down” Abbott.

Songs Casey Never Played, 7/28/84

This past weekend’s 80s countdown came about two-thirds of the way through the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. At that point in time I was writing letters to students I’d be shepherding through orientation in just a few weeks (the official title was Student Orientation Leader–my group consisted of transfers, some a few years older than I). A few became friends as well as fellow members of the class of 86, though I suppose I lost touch with all of them within a few years of graduation.

The Hot 100 from that week had a few nice songs that didn’t ever have the chance to get in touch with Casey; let’s review some of them, shall we?

#99. R.E.M., “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”
It would still be a few months until R.E.M. began seeping into my consciousness, and this would be one of the first songs of theirs to which I paid close attention. Reckoning isn’t their best record, but I guess I consider it to be the quintessential R.E.M. album, certainly among the ones I like most–all that jangle, and yet it still totally rocks. Not too long after I started working at my institution in 92, I was the subject of an employee profile in the weekly campus newsletter for faculty and staff. One of the questions was about my favorite song; I told them it was “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.”

“So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” is in its last of a six-week run on the chart, having climbed only to #85.


#96. Paul Young, “Love of the Common People”
The third charting single from No Parlez, it suffered the same fate as the first one, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home),” in that it failed to crack the Top 40. (In between came one of my absolute faves from 84, the #22 “Come Back and Stay.”) The very solid “Love of the Common People” didn’t miss by much, though, getting as high as #45. It too is about to fall off the chart.


#83. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “The Only Flame in Town”
Costello and his band had their first U.S. Hot 100 hit the previous fall, when the excellent “Every Day I Write the Book” from Punch the Clock climbed to #36. The perhaps appropriately named Goodbye Cruel World, Costello’s last album with the Attractions, came out in June of 84, and it yielded this somewhat silly tune/video with Daryl Hall contributing background vox. “The Only Flame in Town” is debuting here, and would reach #56.


#81. Cherrelle, “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”
So, yeah, Robert Palmer would later go to #2 sleepwalking through this Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis joint. The superior original, from Cherrelle, only would climb to #79 (though it went Top 10 on both the R&B and Dance charts). She did get a couple of Top 40 hits, in 86 and 88, pairing up with Alexander O’Neal.


#71. Yes, “It Can Happen”
90125 had been the album of the spring in our dorm room. Not long after I got back from that trip to Daytona with HS friends, James, Warren, and I converged on Riverbend, an outdoor venue on the Ohio to the east of Cincinnati, for an evening with Yes.


I thought (and still think) “It Can Happen” was one of the two or three best tracks on 90125–Chris Squire’s bass work, as always, is the bomb. Despite the optimism of the title, the song had already topped out at #51. I like the album version better, but I’m inserting the video that features the single edit anyway.


#50. Genesis, “Taking It All Too Hard”
Speaking of albums that got mucho play in our room in 84… I’m a pretty big fan of large chunks of both Abacab and Genesis. It’s surprising in retrospect that “That’s All” was the only Top 40 hit on the latter of those; “Taking It All Too Hard” is a fabulous tune that should have gotten higher than this spot. Maybe album sales were hurting singles’ prospects by this point? Then again, Phil’s upcoming solo album, as well as the threesome’s next effort, obliterated any thought that these guys couldn’t generate multiple big hits from a single release.