American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/29/84: Night Ranger, “When You Close Your Eyes”

Fall of my junior year of college found me already taking concrete steps toward a full commitment to future study in math. I would still complete the coursework for a computer science major, but I’d be double-dipping where I could—that is, any time I was able to count a math course toward the CS major, I did. Two of my three math classes this term fit that bill. To round out my schedule, I had History of Philosophy I, to fulfill a distribution requirement, and Creative Writing, to scratch an itch.

Even though the writing class was worthwhile, I was by no means mature enough to advance my craft much in it. The bulk of my product was too-thinly-disguised autobiography that pretended to be fiction—a common amateur writer’s error, I suspect—and yes, for some reason I still have it all. Probably like just about any other class of the type, we journaled, we jotted down what we could remember of dreams, we eavesdropped on conversations to try to get a greater feel for dialogue (something I never grasped), and we workshopped our drafts a couple of times. I came out with an A, but that could mean the grade was based solely on participation and submitting something for all assignments. 

Maybe it was just that life moved at a different pace after taking the class, but it’d be over three decades before I wrote all that much in earnest, still all-too-autobiographical, but forgoing stilted dialogue.

MTV jumped many sharks on its way from 100% to 0% music video content. Perhaps the first was the introduction of MTV Exclusive Videos, a practice that I seem to recall beginning around August of 84. I guess the competition for content that made one stand out was fierce in those days? Presumably, the suits offered studios some additional filthy lucre if they let MTV be the only outlet for new releases for a few weeks. The ones I can remember having this status initially were all second or third releases: Rod Stewart’s cover of “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” the Eurythmics’ salsa-tinged “Right By Your Side,” and Night Ranger’s “When You Close Your Eyes.” Martha, JJ, and the rest all began breathlessly talking up the “you can see it only here” angle at the top of every hour. How they handled this concept morphed over time, and maybe they eventually landed bigger fish; for a while it was definitely a thing. 

Night Ranger’s run of six Top 40 songs fits neatly inside my college years, from “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” in freshman March to “Goodbye” in senior February. Why did the hits dry up? Their Wiki page posits an interesting theory about their late 80s market space being jammed by pop schlock from Bon Jovi and Poison on one side, and the more metal-ish stuff of Guns ‘n’ Roses and their ilk on the other. Could be, but that might just be an excuse, too.

I wasn’t especially keen on “When You Close Your Eyes” (at its peak of #14 on this show) at the time—“Sister Christian” had been much more my scene—but maybe age has warmed me up to it a little. It’s still guitar rock that’s plenty formulaic and disposable, I know—perhaps there’s nostalgia for days long gone kicking in.

Jack Blades, Brad Gillis, and Kelly Keagy still tour as Night Ranger, along with a couple guys who joined them earlier this decade.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/30/78: Chris Rea, “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)”

This past Wednesday was National One-Hit Wonder Day; one of the things that I find interesting about it is that different folks have varying opinions on what constitutes an artist having only one hit. Big media publications often play extremely loose and fast with the term, essentially taking it to mean “someone who had that one song you think of when you hear the artist’s name.” (Those should be ignored.) From there, it’s a matter of how restrictive you choose to be: just one song that made AT40, or should it be the Hot 100? I’m in the former camp, maybe mostly because I’m not enough of a student of the Hot 100 to realize how many of the acts who reached the Top 40 a single time had other, minor hits–I guess I don’t want my mind changed?

Using the more lax definition, I see six one-hit wonders on the 9/30/78 show: Nick Gilder, John Paul Young, Chris Rea, Alicia Bridges, City Boy, and Stonebolt (Exile misses being the seventh by just one position, as “You Thrill Me” spent one week at #40 in early 79). Only City Boy, here with “5-7-0-5,”  never made the Hot 100 again; Gilder, Young, Bridges, and Stonebolt all appeared either once or twice more.

That leaves Chris Rea to take this crew’s crown for most successful one-hit wonder.  He hit five other times; the closest thing to a second appearance on AT40 was  “Diamonds,” which reached #44 in the spring of 79, but I’d guess the one best remembered now is “Working On It,” a #73 song from the first half of 89. “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” was absolutely one of my favorite tunes in the moment, the 45 getting regular spins on my turntable. (I’ve kept the picture sleeve in pretty decent shape, apparently.) It’s at #17 on this week’s show, fresh off a #12 peak.

In the late 80s, Rea re-recorded “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” making it harder to find the original. Music in the Key of E had a nice write-up about this last year. Hmmm…while I’m certain I have a digital copy of the original single on some Time-Life compilation, maybe I should take E’s advice and buy Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? to get the LP version.

(One last thing: as you can tell from its name, National One-Hit Wonder Day is an entirely US-centric exercise. Rea eventually had multiple Top 40 hits in the UK and various countries in Europe.)

 

 

Breaking Down The Distance

Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy came out thirty years ago last week. It received immediate positive buzz–I can recall reading Rolling Stone‘s rave review–and was an instant hit amongst those in my office, too. I’d been slowly acquiring a taste for what I consider the best of Dylan’s post-60s work (Blood on the Tracks and Infidels, primarily) via my officemate Will. I’d rank Oh Mercy in between those two, somewhat ahead of Infidels, and five of its ten tracks still strike me as remarkable today. Daniel Lanois, the producer, was in the middle of his late 80s/early 90s roll, and I like what he did on this record.

Here are those five, in order of current personal preference. I’ll largely dispense with comment, but will say: since Dylan doesn’t seem too interested in having folks upload unofficial videos for the originals of his songs on YouTube, three of the five are nice cover versions.

#5. “Political World”
The album opener, and the only song on Oh Mercy to have a studio version official video.

 

#4. “Shooting Star”
Moving on to the album’s closing track, a sad and wistful piece. Our cover is by Jason Bennett, who I think can be found at this website.  Overall Bennett does it justice.

 

#3. “Everything Is Broken”
About eighteen months after Oh Mercy came out I met up with my HS friend Tony after he flew into Chicago for a weekend. A cold, raw spring weekend. This one came on the radio while we were driving around one afternoon–we belted out line after line. Can’t listen to it now without hearing Tony sing, “Feels like you’re chokin’!” It’s another primo choice for karaoke someday.

Anyway, here’s a version that Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell cooked up earlier this year. I’ll have to hear it a few more times to decide what I think.

 

#2. “Most of the Time”
Now we’re to the real cream of the album. Somehow a homemade video of the studio version for “Most of the Time” has survived on YouTube for more than seven years.

 

#1. “Ring Them Bells”
I’m going to have to seek out more from Sarah Jarosz. A lot more. That is all.

 

Songs Casey Never Played, 9/27/86

It was a month-plus into my new phase of life in a new city in a new state, probably still feeling my way around. While I was continuing to pay less attention to (and generally enjoy less) what was happening toward the upper end of the Hot 100, that didn’t keep songs which couldn’t crack the Top 40 from being released. Here are six from late September of 86 that were on the tail end of their failed attempt to make the show.

#90. Thompson Twins, “Nothing in Common”
Title song from a Jackie Gleason/Tom Hanks film, the last of Gleason’s storied career. The now-a-duo Twins (Joe Leeway had split earlier in the year) couldn’t sustain their chart magic of the previous two-plus years, reaching only #54 with this one. Tom and Alannah would have two more minor Top 40 hits after this.

 

#89. John Fogerty, “Eye of the Zombie”
Fogerty wasn’t remotely able to replicate the success of Centerfield. This title track of the follow-up album only spent four weeks on the chart, having already peaked at #81. I heard it on the radio a few times around then, and could see why it stalled out.

 

#73. Doctor and the Medics, “Spirit in the Sky”
Hearing the Norman Greenbaum original played on the hi-fi in our living room is among my first musical memories–Dad had bought the 45 when it was riding high on the charts in the early part of 70. This glam, ironic yet also insufficiently ironic remake definitely caught my attention, not necessarily for all the right reasons.  Whether in spite of or due to a low-budget video that features shameless mugging by The Doctor–as well as various Medics–and an homage to the wall-climbing scenes from the original Batman TV series, it had shot to #1 in the UK earlier in the year. Stateside, it was on its way down from #69.

 

#66. The Moody Blues, “The Other Side of Life”
This one and the next are follow-up singles to Top 10 hits by long-standing groups from earlier in the year, but that’s about all they share. I liked this atmospheric piece well enough, I suppose. The Moodies appear to be trying to make some grand statement with the clip, though, and in the end it’s just a bunch of weird stuff featuring a ton of low-fi special effects with no worthwhile payoff. The band doesn’t even seem into the goings-on–definitely a letdown from the charming vid for “Your Wildest Dreams.” The song is falling off a #58 peak.

 

#56. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Wrap It Up”
Decent cover of a Sam & Dave song (it was the B-side to “I Thank You”); the Eurythmics had also taken a shot at it three years earlier. As far as the video goes: talk about indulging male fantasies…  I’ll admit, I was a touch surprised when it only got to #50.

 

#42. Gwen Guthrie, “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent”
The late Guthrie cuts to the chase: “No romance without finance.” And: “You got to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me.” Yes, this is its peak position. It would be the only time Guthrie made the pop charts, but she gets full credit for creating a memorable phrase (or two, or three).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/27/86: Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight”

It’s true that I wasn’t nearly the fan of Eddie Money’s music that I was of the Cars. Never owned one of his albums, never bought any Money singles. I didn’t dislike him–he just didn’t consistently break through for me. Nonetheless, I was sorry to learn late last month that he was dealing with advanced esophageal cancer; his death a week ago Saturday wasn’t especially surprising news.

So, yes, my knowledge and appreciation of his craft is fairly limited. But when you say “Eddie Money,” I think of hearing “Gimme Some Water” at an all-day track meet in the spring of 78; of seeing vids for “Shakin'” and “The Big Crash” on MTV in the student center at Transy; of first catching “I Wanna Go Back” on the radio while visiting James in his apartment over the Christmas break after we graduated. He was there, hanging on the periphery–occasionally more central–for about a decade. I’m grateful for the memories, Mr. Mahoney.

“Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets To Paradise” are both quality songs. I liked “Think I’m in Love” quite a bit in the summer of 82–you’ll see it in my personal Top 10 for 8/21/82 in the recent Charts post (edit: Whoops! It didn’t make the Top 10 until September, eventually getting to #5). Then there’s “Take Me Home Tonight,” which is debuting at #38 here and wound up being his biggest hit, reaching #4. On one hand, incorporating Ronnie Spector and riffing on “Be My Baby” was truly inspired; on the other, after a few dozen listens the inspiration began to acquire somewhat of a novelty feel (and there may have been too much of it, too). And I’ve always thought “I feel a hunger…it’s a hunger!” wasn’t, well, exactly the greatest rock line ever. Balancing it all out, though, I still give the song a thumbs up, maybe even one of his better tunes.

But why isn’t the official video available on YouTube? That I’d love to see again.

Charts of Augusts Past

Time to play catch-up with charts for shows Premiere rebroadcast during the second half of August. This time around we’re capturing moments when I’m about to start 8th grade, 11th grade, and college.

First, 8/16/80:

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The missing 60s Archives #1 is the extremely brief “Stay,” from Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Additionally, “My Eyes Adored You” was a LDD during the last hour of the show. Can only wonder now why I used a different pen for the bottom 20.

As to what I was thinking:

HarrisTop50081680

ON-J is in her third of four at the top; Carnes is about to interrupt her stay for two weeks. Eventually, the Stones, Air Supply, and Cara would reach #1. There was always a week’s lag in Billboard chart date and mine–that’s why you don’t see “Upside Down” here (Ross is debuting at #34).

But what’s that song at #8?

My descent into arcade video gaming had begun earlier in the summer after coming across Space Invaders. A few weeks later, Q102 was playing this novelty piece by a Cleveland DJ. Yes, my brain was sufficiently cooked to have bought the 45. It would get one spot higher on my chart.

Next up, 8/21/82:

Continue reading “Charts of Augusts Past”

Turns Me Upside Down

There’s no point in me attempting to recap the life and times of Ric Ocasek and the Cars–others have much more knowledge and insight, and whatever I’d say would be redundant besides. Instead, as is my wont, you get snippets of personal experience and random thoughts, plus a list.

–The Cars’ heyday–which I consider to run through their mid-80s Greatest Hits–lined up precisely with my HS and college years, perhaps the sweet spot in the formation and shaping of my musical tastes. I was really big on virtually all the singles from their first five albums (“Touch and Go” was just okay) but didn’t buy any of their LPS until I started going after 12″ vinyl in earnest in 84. Heartbeat City was the only one I ever purchased new, including CDs.

–From day one of my exposure to them, Ocasek was always (and rightly so) presented as the band’s leader. That misled me into thinking for a good while that he was their only vocalist. Other folks have been making the observation that Benjamin Orr’s voice did bear a strong resemblance to Ocasek’s, with which I very much agree. Alas, this may have had the unfortunate side effect of me further minimizing Orr’s contributions initially. So I’ll take a moment to raise up some of those songs from the first three albums that the gone-far-too-early Orr made memorable: “Just What I Needed” and the epic final trio of tunes on The Cars (am I the only one who thinks “All Mixed Up” makes the list of Top 10 Cars Songs?); both singles from Candy-O; and my favorite from Panorama, “Don’t Tell Me No.” I guess the way I figure out who was on vocals now is, if I’m not certain that it’s Ocasek, it has to be Orr.

–Here’s what I’m claiming today are my five fave Cars tunes featuring Ocasek on lead vocals:

#5: “Hello Again”
It was well into the summer of 84 before I bought Heartbeat City. I was blown away by its lead-off track the first time I put needle to record; their signature jerkiness and quirkiness are both dialed up to 10. The Warhol vid doesn’t do all that much for me, but I was glad nonetheless  “Hello Again” became a single.

 

#4: “My Best Friend’s Girl”
Were we just not fully ready for music like this in 78? Peaks of just #27, #35, and #41 for “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Good Times Roll”? Of those three, this is the one with the best (and most classic) song structure and musicianship.

 

#3: “Magic”
One of a very few 45s I bought after hearing the song just once. Not quite sure how to take Ric portrayed as a Jesus figure–I noted on Twitter the other night that the walking-on-water payoff takes too long to arrive (it’s pretty easy to guess it’s coming, too, though I get why they try to wait until the first chorus for the big reveal). On the other hand, bonus points get awarded for the sounds following the line “How far can you take it?” that make me think of “Spirit in the Sky.”

 

For the top two, just scenes from one time I heard them.

#2: “Since You’re Gone”
April 82. I’ve jumped in our 81 Chevy Citation to drive to school on a promising spring morning and cranked the engine. On comes WLAP-FM, which I’ve only recently started tuning in regularly. I’m not even out of the driveway when that distinctive intro fires up.

 

#1: “Dangerous Type”
Mid-July 81. A bunch of us from my church youth group are in Louisville, having just completed the second leg of a three-day, 200+-mile biking excursion around the Erlanger-Lexington-Louisville triangle. Our youth director’s grandmother lives in town and we’re taking her car to Chi-Chi’s for a well-earned dinner to be topped off with fried ice cream. The radio’s quickly switched over WQMF, the local AOR station. We’re on the Watterson, a beltway around the southern edge of the city. Amidst tracks from REO Speedwagon and the Sherbs, on it comes.

 

–Prior to this, there hadn’t been all that much mention of the Cars or Ocasek here at the blog–“Dangerous Type” was on the mix tape series that kicked things off, “Something To Grab For” made my first Songs Casey Never Played post, a couple of their singles received brief mention other times. This greatly understates the degree to which I appreciated them back in the day. I have strong and fond memories other than those sketched out here, particularly for “Good Times Roll” and “Let’s Go,” but I’ve gone on long enough as it is. They were easily among my five favorite bands for quite a while, and more than deserved their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/19/81: Silver Condor, “You Could Take My Heart Away”

Lots of folks in the music blogosphere are writing awesome stuff about the lives and work of Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek, who both passed away this past weekend (Money on Saturday at age 70, Ocasek on Sunday at age 75). I expect I’ll chime in a bit about them later in the week (for one thing, Money will be appearing on this coming weekend’s 80s show), but in the meantime, more regular programming…

When WTLX began broadcasting in March of 83, toward the end of my first year at college, the other jocks and I finally got our chance to comb through the station’s vinyl collection. There was a whole closetful of LPs, though there weren’t all that many I wanted to pull out and slap on the turntable too often (part of that was limited knowledge on my part–Warren uncovered a number of small treasures when he arrived the following fall). Selection might have been even sparser on the 45 side of things. I have no idea what kind of budget there was for acquisitions, but my recollection is we had maybe a dozen or so current-ish singles, along with a couple of small stacks from a year or three before. (I imagine I had brought my own 45s to campus by this point to supplement.)

Who knows why I remember what I do, but there were two now-obscure singles from the first quarter of the 9/19/81 show in the WTLX collection: Elton John’s “Chloe” and Silver Condor’s “You Could Take My Heart Away.” They’re both peaking and in their last week on the countdown (#34 and #32, respectively). I’d liked them at the time of their modest hit-dom (the Silver Condor was a particular fave) and probably hadn’t heard either in the almost eighteen months between this show and my discovery of them at the station. Needless to say, they both got play from me that spring.

The two best-known participants on “You Could Take My Heart Away” were vocalist Joe Cerisano and guitarist Earl Slick .  The self-titled debut album didn’t do all that well, and a follow-up album by Cerisano and a whole new crew did even worse. Digging around this morning, I found Cerisano’s website, complete with bio. Maybe you already know this, but here are three nuggets about Joe and his career:
–he grew up in West Virginia but cut his musical teeth in New Jersey with a group called the R-Band, whose lineup included future Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres;
–he is the vocalist on “Hands Across America,” the #65-peaking theme song for the May 86 event of the same name;
–he also contributed vox to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s second album and toured with them for a few years at the beginning of this century.

I listened to Silver Condor earlier today. Cerisano laments on his website that there were better choices to release as singles (“You Could Take My Breath Away” is the only song on the album he didn’t have a hand in writing). I don’t currently agree, though maybe subsequent listens will change my mind. It’s not a bad disk–it feels very much of the mid-81 album rock scene–but I’d score one up for the suits this time.

 

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/11/76: Ohio Players, “Who’d She Coo”

In the fall of 77, my 8th grade English teacher passed out a small, bound booklet with around fifty blank 5.5″ by 8.5″ pages to everyone in the class. The assignment: assemble a “creative notebook.” We were to come up with ten articles on topics of our choosing, enliven them with illustrations or photos, and decorate the cover as we saw fit. My awesome title: The Past, Present, and Future of William Richard Harris. Included are a one-page sci-fi story, an editorial (“Students Should Eat Their Lunch!”), a diatribe on “What I Would Do To Improve the World” (apparently, I would crack down on pollution yet encourage energy companies to drill for more oil to avert an energy crisis), a reflective piece on “How I Look To Others,” and an ode to My Favorite Person, my father. (I didn’t ignore the rest of the family–the notebook was dedicated to Mom, Sis, and our dog Friskie.)

My AT40 obsession is on display in other articles. “Life of an American Top 40 Song” provides a week-by-week accounting of the path Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” took as it climbed to and fell from its #8 peak earlier in 77. “What I Hope To Be Doing 10 Years From Now” is, well, let me just show you the first paragraph:

CreativeNotebookTenYearsFromNow

The things 13-year-olds write…

Finally, there was “The Top 40 Coincidences,” which spells out in detail the two times I found new AT40 stations just as WSAI in Cincinnati was changing its schedule. The first was the weekend of 9/11/76: early that Sunday morning, I heard Casey announcing “Who’d She Coo” at #20 as I flipped my trusty transistor radio past WAKY, a well-known AM station in Louisville. I scribbled the titles down in the same little spiral notebook I’d used to track The National Album Countdown during the summer, at least through #11 (I could get the Top 10 out of the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer). It was good to have found another option for catching some of the show, and it got even better later than evening, when it became apparent that WSAI had discontinued AT40. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t hear full shows or resume chart-keeping until 10/16, when WSAI brought Kasem back. There exists a half-hearted accounting of the portion of the 9/11 show I did hear:

AT40091176

(For the sake of completeness: the second ‘coincidence’ occurred in early February 77, when WSAI moved the show from evening to morning on Sundays, in conflict with church attendance. The following Saturday night, I found AT40 on WLAP-AM in Lexington–perhaps that explains my interest in future employment there.)

I knew the Ohio Players, out of Dayton, best for “Love Rollercoaster,” their #1 hit from earlier in 76. Like so many others, I was aware at the time of the false rumor that the scream one hears about halfway through was that of a woman being murdered in the studio during recording. The groovy, funky “Who’d She Coo” was the eighth and would be the final song of theirs to make the countdown. It wound up climbing just a couple of spots higher from where I heard it that September Sunday morning.

Forgotten Albums: Texas, Southside

By the end of the 80s, the easiest way for a new(-ish) act to grab my attention–and my dollars–was for it to feature a female vocalist. I’m repeating myself, but at this point on the solo side I was into Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Toni Childs, Marti Jones, Sinéad O’Connor, Basia, and Jane Siberry, among others (looks like I need to do a Marti write-up someday!). Women-led groups may have been a little sparser in my collection (10,000 ManiacsLone Justice, Cocteau Twins, and ’til Tuesday were there, but it was still a while before fave shoegaze acts like Lush and My Bloody Valentine appeared on the radar). Here’s another that popped up just before the 90s hit.

Somewhere around the time fall classes began again in Illinois I started seeing a video supporting a fivefour-some that featured Sharleen Spiteri, a guitar-slinging 21-year-old brunette with a powerful alto. “I Don’t Want a Lover” doesn’t exactly strike me as late 80s VH-1 fare now, though odds are that’s where I encountered it.  It wasn’t long before I secured a CD copy of Southside, the debut disk from the Glasgow-based Texas and stuck it on a cassette for trips in the car.

“I Don’t Want a Lover” went Top 10 in England and reached #77 in their only US Hot 100 appearance (it debuted on the 9/9/89 chart). I’m bummed that the video I saw thirty years ago isn’t available on YouTube, even if it is just a performance clip. Still the best song on the disk.

 

The next two selections follow a similar formula: two rounds of verse/chorus, solo, bridge, return to the chorus to the fade-out. “Everyday Now” and “Thrill Has Gone” were the third and second UK singles, respectively. Nice to see a real video for “Thrill Has Gone,” which had just the right amount of country vibe for me back then.

 

 

My second favorite track then was and probably still is “Fool for Love.” Our narrator’s letting her former lover know of his new status, and maybe the reasons why.

 

They chose the right song for the closer. “Future Is Promises” is a slower, more somber piece about trying to pry away a girlfriend’s boyfriend. The bridge expresses equivocation, though: “Take the chance and make the move/But don’t think that I will approve/For once I’ve finally realized/Being with her wasted your life.”

 

Southside is one of the CDs I moved over to my office several years ago in a spasm of reorganization, right around the time I brought a bunch of disks home from my parents’ house after cleaning it out. I don’t listen to it all that often anymore, but still think it’s a solid offering. Over the next four or so years, I picked Texas’s follow-up albums Mothers Heaven and Rick’s Road; neither wound up appealing the way Southside did.

And I think that was pretty much it for Texas on this side of the pond. Over in Britain, however, Spiteri and company became stars with their next two releases, White on Blonde (97) and The Hush (99). Both went to #1 there, each spawning multiple Top 10 singles. I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m going to be checking out this afternoon.