Modern Rock Tracks, 10/7/89

Time for our next visit to the nascent alternative scene of thirty years ago. I knew, and generally enjoyed, most of these twelve tracks in real time, but a few came my way over the next year or two via future roommate Greg.

#29. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, “Look Who’s Dancing”
The Marley progeny released One Bright Day one year after their breakthrough Conscious Party. It included this track, which got play on the video channels and was coming off a Top 10 peak here.

#28. The Rolling Stones, “Mixed Emotions”
Yes, this was their best lead single since “Start Me Up,” but it sure feels out of place.

#17. Depeche Mode, “Personal Jesus”
Debuting–the year of DM domination begins…now…

#13. The Stone Roses, “She Bangs the Drums”
…while the Madchester movement was also gaining a purchase on these shores. Greg wheeled out The Stone Roses a few times when we began hanging out in 90; somewhat bizarrely, the almost ten-minute “Fool’s Gold” is the track that made the deepest impression then, but “She Bangs the Drums” is an absolute pop delight.

#12. The Primitives, “Sick of It”
Lovely, the 88 debut disk from Britain’s Primitives, is a drop-dead gorgeous album, well worth a write-up someday (and well worth you seeking it out). The following year, Tracy Tracy, Paul Court and company released Pure–while it has some good tunes, including “Sick of It,” it doesn’t hit Lovely‘s heights with anywhere near the same frequency. The Primitives sold more product than Welsh counterparts The Darling Buds, but I’ve generally favored the Buds over the years.

#10. The Sugarcubes, “Regina”
Another lead single from a second LP. I’d bought Life’s Too Good, the Icelanders’ debut, and rather liked it at the time–I’m not sure it’s aged especially well. (Björk showed she was a force of nature right off the bat, of course.) “Regina,” from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! was okay, but not enough to get me to listen to the new album much.

#9. Squeeze, “If It’s Love”
Having achieved some US chart success with two singles from their 87 album Babylon and On, Squeeze might have thought they finally had some commercial momentum. Frank proved otherwise. “If It’s Love” is a pretty nice track, but it would only make noise in Modern Rock-land.

#7. Camper Van Beethoven, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
My first music-themed Facebook post was on May 28, 2011, and featured this song (I’d heard the Status Quo original at Walgreens earlier in the day). Morgan Fichter’s violin sucks me in and doesn’t let go. There’s a lot of great stuff in the top half of today’s list–this is in the running for best of the bunch.

#5. The Ocean Blue, “Between Something and Nothing”
And so is this propulsive, energetic piece. It wound up leading off a mix tape I made in the spring of 92. The quartet, originally from Pennsylvania, still features two of its original members; they released an album earlier this year.

#4. The Alarm, “Sold Me Down the River”
It was somewhat surprising these guys never truly cashed in. “Sixty Eight Guns” makes me think of my early MTV-watching days, and “Rain in the Summertime” is a pretty nice tune. “Sold Me Down the River” would reach #50 on the Hot 100, their best US showing.

#3. Tears for Fears, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”
In which Orzabal/Smith channel their inner Lennon/McCartney. It generally works; I still dig it.

#1. The B-52’s, “Love Shack”
Greg and Katie saw Berlin/OMD/B-52’s in DC last month; I was pleased to learn that Cindy is back with the band. Greg saw fit to record the “Tin roof/Rusted!” moment and send it my way–the crowd was more than ready for it.

I’ll listen to this song anytime.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/4/80: Eddie Rabbitt, “Drivin’ My Life Away”

When the late 70s/early 80s country music wave smashed onto the shores of the pop music charts, a few artists benefitted decidedly more than others. For Kenny Rogers and Anne Murray, it was a second go-round of pop chart success. Dolly Parton and Ronnie Milsap were well-established country stars when they began crossing over in 77. Only Eddie Rabbitt was a relative newcomer at the time he started showing up on AT40.

That’s not to say Rabbitt was a youngster. He’d long paid his dues as a songwriter in Nashville—I sure love “Kentucky Rain”—and was getting close to forty when “Every Which Way But Loose” hit #30 in the spring of 79. (In fact, every one mentioned above was in their 30s by 1977. Don Williams and Mickey Gilley were over 40 when they each had their one crossover hit in 1980. It wasn’t a moment for young country stars to break through.) All told, Rabbitt made the Top 40 eight times, four going Top 10. It’s pretty easy to pick three favorites from among them: #3: “Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight” #2: “Suspicions,” and #1: this week’s #5 tune, “Drivin’ My Life Away.” The driving (pun intended) number was one of several songs I instantly enjoyed when it began getting play toward the beginning of August—you’ll see them all hanging out at the top of my personal 10/4/80 chart later this week.

Rabbitt has been gone now more than twenty years, dying from lung cancer at the now very young-sounding age of 56. 

A couple of notes: 1) If you’re here, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve changed the look of the site. In the process of doing so, I finally figured out how to access my WordPress dashboard, so I was able to add some new widgets, give my blogroll some much needed attention, etc. There may still be some tweaks to come, but I’m hoping that I’ve improved things. 2) I’ve also gotten a new domain: If you use the old URL, obviously you’re being forwarded to the new one, but you’re welcome to update if you have this bookmarked! My understanding is that you should no longer be seeing some of the annoying ads that were present before, as well.

Is It All Inside My Head?

Our day-to-day functioning has been reasonably disrupted by some remodeling chez Harris for the past month, one result of which has been eating out a little more often than the norm. A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at one of the local chicken-oriented fast-food places on our way to choir practice. Like pretty much every other restaurant, they were piping music in as background noise for patrons. Well…it’s background noise for most patrons. For some—trust me on this—it can be an opportunity to play mental hopscotch through time and space all while putting fork to mouth over, say, a ten-minute span. Here’s what Martha had to endure for dinner conversation that evening: vignettes about three songs that were played back-to-back-to-back, spanning sixteen years and three states. Just for kicks, you get a bonus track from each scene.

1. July 1995: The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There for You”
The scene: a two-lane highway in southern Ohio

Martha and I had met six months prior, and it’s fair to say we’d already begun contemplating a future together. She’s nowhere to be found here, though—she was in the middle of a vacation to Germany with her sister Ruth. A black-and-white stray cat had started hanging outside my house in May; I made the mistake of offering her food, and a few weeks later she rewarded my largesse by shepherding her five kittens into the back yard. Ultimately I kept the mother, whom I named Tori—after Tori Amos, of course—and two of her babies (Ruth took in one of the others). One of those kittens was with us until Spring 2013. I had new wheels, having just traded in my light blue 86 Camry for a teal Geo Prizm. And I was in my first summer of working PAEMS, the science/math camp for high schoolers my school runs.

Those early years of PAEMS included an overnight trip. On this occasion, we drove Friday afternoon to a nature park/campsite an hour or so up the Ohio River from Cincinnati. It was beastly hot, and our accommodations were unventilated yurts—not a restful night. My student assistant was Alex, the son of a faculty colleague. Alex was majoring in math with an eye on med school, and was a few years older than the typical college senior—this was his second degree.  It was easy to trust him to drive one of our twelve-passenger vans on the way home while I rode shotgun, commanding the radio. (The next week, Alex and I would take one night off to see Wilco and the Jayhawks play in Lexington—one of my all-time favorite concerts.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of Friends; wasn’t even aware until I was writing this up that there’s a 25th anniversary celebration going on. I did come to know most of the characters’ names back in the day, was well aware of Lisa Kudrow’s “Smelly Cat,” and couldn’t escape its theme song on the radio through much of 1995. It was #1 on Billboard’s Airplay Chart at this moment, but wouldn’t get released as a single until well past peak interest (it made #17 on the Hot 100 in October).

Bonus Track: Collective Soul, “December”

2. October 2002: Sixpence None the Richer, “Breathe Your Name”
The scene: Cleaning out the garage

We’re the parents of a soon-to-be two-year-old. He’s fully mobile now but we’re grateful to learn that he’s not inclined toward climbing or other potentially dangerous levels of curiosity. We’ve recently exchanged the Prizm for a minivan—the day we purchase it, Ben strings two words together for the first time: “New car!” We more than occasionally play a cassette by the Wiggles while driving around. The van came with a CD player, and before long I’ll be burning mix CDs for listening on longer trips.

Martha’s father is dying of pancreatic cancer. We will celebrate his 85th birthday on the last Friday of the month at the nursing home where he’s now residing. I learn about the airplane crash that killed Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife watching CNN while we’re there.

Having a child means that we’re accumulating toys and kiddie modes of transportation at an increasing rate, leading to some Saturday re-organization. The season’s definitely changing; it’s cool and cloudy, and a decent wind is coming from some combination of north and west, directly into the garage. Since I’m starting to knock on the door of forty, my boombox is tuned less often to alternative music and more to Adult Top 40. The chock-full-of-accidentals “Breathe Your Name” is one of my favorites (I’d been charmed by “Kiss Me” three years earlier, too). 

Bonus Track: U2, “Electrical Storm”

3. November 1986: Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, “The Next Time I Fall”
The scene: 457 Sherman Hall

This is ground I’ve already trod (see, for instance, here and here), but in brief: not having office space with the other new math grads, I spent evenings that first semester in Champaign-Urbana in my cramped dorm room, doing homework, writing letters to college friends back in Kentucky, and learning my way around the radio dial. I could barely pick up a Top 40 station from Bloomington-Normal that utilized an automated service similar to what I’d heard a few years earlier in Lexington. Nostalgia (yes, I’ve suffered from it almost my whole life) kept me tuned in for quite a few weeks; it’s one of the primary ways I staved off falling out of the loop vis-à-vis what the cool kids were digging that autumn.

I was definitely not a fan of “The Glory of Love” back in the summer. But this follow-up, which also hit #1, well, it hits a soft spot, maybe in part because of how, and where, it transports me.

Bonus Track: Wang Chung, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”