To cut to the chase: “You’re No Good” was Linda Ronstadt’s first Top 40 hit in over four years, her only Billboard Hot 100 #1 (it’s at #21 on this show and would reach the top four weeks later), and the beginning of a multi-year run of hits that were almost all covers. Granted, Ronstadt wasn’t ever a songwriter, but working with now-producer Peter Asher seemed to make her gravitate toward re-recording major and minor works–often R&B–from the late 50s or 60s, and spinning them into gold. (Asher was doing the same thing at this time with James Taylor.)
Anyway, it’s very near the top (if not the top) of my list of Ronstadt singles from her commercial peak. I dig the range of emotions in her voice, though I think it’s the instrumental solo and coda that really suck me in.
“You’re No Good” was an oft-covered song, and I wanted to highlight a few of the other takes. It seems to be invariably brought up in conversation as a Betty Everett cover, and it’s true that Everett had the highest-charting version prior to Linda, reaching #51 in January 1964. Nice and smoky.
The Merseybeat group The Swingin’ Blue Jeans cut their version shortly thereafter, and it made #97 in August of the same year (#3 in the UK).
I was blown away, however, by the original. It’s by Dee Dee Warwick, who sounds nothing like her older sister Dionne. It made the faintest of chart noises the same time that Everett was getting traction, scoring a #117 peak the weekend of the Kennedy assassination. Simply incredible; distinct from the others, yet a clear ancestor of Ronstadt’s version.
Other acts to have taken on the song include Ike and Tina Turner, Van Halen (whose attempt I’d somehow never heard before writing this up), Elvis Costello, and Wilson Phillips. The truly interested can look those up themselves; here’s Linda.
By early May of 1992, I’d been actively seeking employment for several months. I was less than two months from defending my dissertation, but prospects for employment in academia come fall were not promising. I’d sent out dozens of applications, and the results to date had been meager: in January, I’d had a few face-to-face chats at the national math meetings in Baltimore that ultimately led nowhere, while in February I’d bombed my only on-site interview, at a regional state university in Indiana. I was already contemplating remaining at Illinois—I thought I had a pretty good shot at getting assistantship support for one more year. Maybe I could make progress on extending results from my doctoral work, too.
At that relatively late moment in the hiring cycle, two glimmers of hope appeared. First, I snagged another interview, this time at a liberal arts college in the northern half of the Hoosier State. And I’d recently sent my materials off for an opening in Kentucky—a tenure-track position at Georgetown College, just a little north of my old stomping grounds in Lexington and only about an hour away from my parents. It was probably the last viable opening for 92-93 to hit the desk of my Director of Graduate Studies.
After final exams ended, I headed home to be with my folks for a few days, and as usual, I snuck in an overnight visit to Lexington to see James. On the way back to Florence, I made an impulsive decision to swing by Georgetown’s campus, just to remind myself of its layout (I’d been there at least a couple of times during college to see my sister’s basketball team face GC) and figure out where the math department was located.
The three-story George Matt Asher Jr. Science Center sits at the right base of the circle that leads up to Giddings Hall, the administration building. It didn’t take long to determine the Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science (MPC) Department resided on the middle floor of Asher. Since graduation had already taken place, the floor was very quiet, except for one man doing some year-end clean-up in a physics lab. After introducing myself, I explained my reason for being there. He showed me around a little, not put out in the least by the interruption of his work. He then offered to take me to Giddings to meet the Academic Dean; I wasn’t sure how to say no. After a brief conversation with said Dean, I took my leave of campus, thanking Dr. Bart Dickinson, the quietly enthusiastic physicist, for his time, and wondering if I’d see him again.
Well, yeah. The interview in Indiana went sorta okay at best—the chair there told me they might offer me a one-year visiting position. Not very long after, though, Georgetown called, asking for an interview on the first of June. I still hadn’t figured out how to give a good interview, but the people in the department were uniformly nice, and somehow I soon found myself in possession of a tenure-track job offer. Bart became my first department chair.
I lived in an apartment in Lexington for my first three semesters at GC, but in December of 1993, I took the plunge into home ownership, a small three-bedroom new build about three miles north of campus. I learned early on that Bart and I shared a denominational background, of which he reminded me occasionally with invitations to attend First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was slowly working myself back into church-going after several years away, and as 1994 progressed, I found myself in the pews of FCC on Sunday mornings more and more often. Bart sang tenor in the choir, and began checking to see if I would be interested in joining. I’d never been a member of a choral group, but over the years I had learned enough to do decently well with the bass part of many a hymn.
It was on a warmer-than-average Wednesday evening in January 1995, not long after the start of the spring semester, that I decided to give choir practice a try. Bart might have been the only person there I knew, but everyone was super welcoming (several of the folks I met that night are still around and will be singing alongside me tomorrow morning). I was placed in between two of the other three basses on the back row. As rehearsal progressed, I couldn’t help but notice a woman in the row in front of me occasionally stealing glances my way. Of course, I noticed her, too: an attractive redhead, one of a very few people in the room around my age (At 30, I was definitely on the younger side).
I did know her name, and who she was. I’d recently become newsletter editor of our state math organization. One of my duties the previous fall had been to gather news from campuses across Kentucky. Martha Lutz was my contact on the math faculty at nearby Midway College, and she’d written back with an item or two for me to include in the fall issue. Around the same time, she served as Worship Leader one Sunday and had her name in the bulletin; I put two and two together, so to speak.
Twenty-five years ago tonight, when rehearsal ended, Martha and I said our first hellos to one another. (Okay, possibly not quite the first.) We wandered out to the parking lot and talked for a decent while beside our cars. The interaction felt comfortable, natural; it was immediately clear how kind, how smart she was, and that she was someone I’d be happy to get to know better. I didn’t sing with the choir on Sunday, but returned for practice the next Wednesday and began joining in on Sundays thereafter. On the third Saturday after meeting, we had our first date. In less than eighteen months, Martha and I were married in that church.
Bart’s plan had worked brilliantly.
It took me a good while to realize we’d been set up. Martha had been a member of the FCC choir for a few years by the time of our meeting. She did eventually mention that Bart had been telling her about “this nice young, new mathematician” in his department, but of course he hadn’t let on to either of us his ulterior motives in trying to lure me to practice. While Martha and I would have eventually crossed paths without the nudge from Bart, you never know if the outcome would have been the same. Over the last few years, Bart’s children have told us it was his only effort at matchmaking, and also among his proudest achievements.
Over the years Bart and I had various points of connection. For a while in the latter part of the 90s, he and I co-taught a Sunday School class for college students at FCC. It rarely attracted more than three or so people, but it allowed me to see up close Bart’s humble yet deep faith. When there was an office crunch on our floor of the science building in my second year on the job, Bart volunteered to move into a storage room adjacent to the main physics lab, letting me have the office he’d used since the late 60s. With the exception of the year I spent on sabbatical in New York, he and I are still the only ones to have occupied 120 Asher Science Center.
A few weeks into the Fall 2003 semester, it became apparent that Bart was suffering significant short-term memory problems, significant enough to warrant an immediate retirement. As it happened, Bart’s son Jonathan (who had been a freshman at GC my first year there) was wrapping up a PhD in chemical physics in Virginia; he wound up being the search committee’s choice to fill the hole beginning the following fall.
For the next few years, I generally saw Bart only at church. In our conversations, he was as friendly as ever, but I can’t say with certainty that he regularly knew who I was. After a while, it became too difficult for him to continue with the choir. Unfortunately, his condition kept worsening, to the point that he eventually became homebound.
It was only after Bart’s memory issues arose that it dawned on me that I’d never offered him any kind of thanks for the pivotal role he played in my good fortune. I subsequently compounded my error by deciding it was too late to try to make amends—I’ve come to see that even if he wouldn’t have remembered my words, there was no reason not to tell him, either verbally or in writing. It’s in the top tier of my life’s regrets.
In the fall of 2013 I taught an 8am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One Thursday in early November, I was gathering my thoughts before class when Jonathan came in the room with the news that his father had passed away early that morning. I understood this was a mercy for Bart, a thoroughly fine and decent person who’d been dealt a cruel fate over his final decade. Nonetheless, I broke down immediately. I hurt for Jonathan, his mother, and his siblings, but I imagine I was also selfishly grieving for myself, over the letter never sent, the words never spoken.
The funeral was the following Sunday afternoon, in the church sanctuary. The family asked the choir to sing one of Bart’s favorite anthems, “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” (truth be told, it’s a favorite of mine, too). It wasn’t necessarily easy, but we did it, and I believe fairly well.
There’s so much in our lives, both good and bad, that comes completely undeserved. The love of one’s life. Dementia. Close friendships. Cancer. On those occasions when it’s something on the positive side of the ledger, perhaps we should celebrate, appreciate, and maybe even find a way to reciprocate. I’m very fortunate to have been on the receiving end of kindnesses so frequently. I could stand to act like I recognize this more often.
I guess there’s no time like the present to begin, so today I’ll celebrate a quarter-century with Martha in my life, and acknowledge my debt to Bart Dickinson, for thinking to look out for me.
Thank you for helping make my life so much richer, Bart.
Addendum: Speaking of kindnesses, I’m grateful to Jim Bartlett, who has a post today describing what was happening in the world on January 18, 1995, at his blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.
A few thoughts on the first third of this past weekend’s 80s Premiere rebroadcast:
–Leading off the show is Ray Parker Jr.’s “Bad Boy,” a sequel to the previous spring’s #4 hit, “The Other Woman.” Refreshing myself on the lyrics of “Bad Boy” it’s pretty clear the title character is seeking pleasure to go with his pain. As much as I liked most Raydio tunes, Parker Jr.’s solo hits, with I suppose the exception of “Ghostbusters,” leave me completely cold.
–Call me a member of the grammar police, but when I sing along with Air Supply at #38, it’s always “Two Fewer Lonely People in the World.” Though I’ll admit I expect our two lovebirds are indeed both less lonely, say what you mean, guys!
–I know exactly where I was when I first heard “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” which is debuting at #35: the song came over the PA while I was in a cheap import store at the long-defunct Turfland Mall in Lexington. It was likely finals week at Transy, around a month before this show.
I’ve come to be convinced that my college years, fall of 82 to spring of 86, were the prime time for pop music in the 80s (I understand I’m being U.S.-centric in this statement). An important part of this was the Second British Invasion which arose throughout 83. We’re on the precipice of that moment: Culture Club first appearing now, Duran Duran coming on board the following week. That’s not to ignore A Flock of Seagulls (#37), Peter Gabriel (#32), or ABC (#18), but C^2 and D^2 were just about to blow everything up.
–I’ve written before about those few weeks I first got to play DJ at WTLX in the spring of 83. The station manager hadn’t bought too many 45s for us to weave into our shows; based on what I recall seeing in the studio, what little she’d done probably occurred at the very beginning of the term. One of those I played, at least once, was “Heart of the Night,” the sixth of Juice Newton’s seven Top 40 hits. It’s at #29 on this show and would reach #25 the following month. I’ve always liked “Angel of the Morning” and “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” pretty well, but “Heart of the Night” communicates its atmosphere, its sense of anticipation and desire, so well that I wonder if it isn’t her best single.
This past Wednesday evening through Sunday afternoon, we hosted my cousin from Massachusetts and her friend. The four of us spent three days gallivanting all around these parts, and had quite the good time doing it. On Thursday, we took an informal tour of the horse country that surrounds the county in which I live, visited the local food co-op, and checked out a favorite Indian restaurant (the veggie samosas were especially to die for this time). Friday, we headed west to Louisville for a smallish but fascinating Picasso exhibit, a late lunch of massive non-standard burgers, and wrapped up with a trip to the very cool art studio of one of my cousin’s HS classmates. Saturday took us south and east, first to Richmond to see the church where my cousin’s parents were married and accidentally discover that the house where my grandparents had lived back in the early 70s had been recently demolished. After that, we went to the arts-and-crafts mecca of Berea. Dinner was at local landmark Boone Tavern, but before that we’d hit the state-run Kentucky Artisans Center and an amazing pottery, Tater Knob. The latter of these is fifteen minutes east of town; to call it “out of one’s way” is a sizable understatement. But I’m so glad we went–Sarah, the owner and one of the primary potters, was incredibly welcoming and gracious in showing us how she plies her craft. Martha and I bought a couple of juice cups–I have a feeling we’ll be going back again before all that long.
Needless to say, we were all a bit worn down by the end of our time together, but it was a fun, fun long weekend. Today, I’m back in the classroom, as Georgetown rings in the Spring 2020 semester. It’s good to see the students again.
Toward the end of our visit to Tater Knob, Sarah mentioned a business partnership of sorts she’s struck up recently with a group in Stanford, about forty miles to the west of the pottery. The folks there run a guest house, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a store featuring soaps and other handicrafts (such as Tater Knob pottery). What piqued my interest about this was that Stanford was the town where I lived between September 68 and June 72, covering the end of my pre-school days up through second grade. I’d been in town a little over two years ago, but hadn’t paid any attention to these Main Street businesses then (turns out they’re closed on Sunday, anyway). It’s not like I need all that much reason to return to the hometowns of my youth, but knowing about these might get me there a little sooner than otherwise.
During my second-grade year at Stanford Elementary, they undertook a school-wide spelling bee. Each grade was to select through competition one champion, and the six representatives would face off at an assembly. I had started reading at an early age, and spelling turned out to be one of those things that came pretty naturally to me. I wound up being the second-grade winner; I’d guess that within the next couple of weeks the assembly was held. Mom probably had me dress up somewhat. I remember the bright stage lights beating down on the six of us and whoever it was that served as pronouncer (the principal?). We all survived the first round, but my nerves weren’t calming down. The second word I got was a homophone–was I being asked about a body part or a first-person pronoun? I came to understand it was the latter. “i,” I said, and out to a seat in the crowd I went.
My recollection is that the sixth-grader won. He was someone I knew, an occasional companion on the afternoon walks home from school. Nice kid. I think he may offered some consolation the next time we walked together.
I did wind up having a modicum of spelling bee success a few years later, in seventh and eighth grades, but any tales about those can easily wait for some other time, if ever.
I have no idea what portion of the 71-72 school year the spelling competition took place, though I’m somewhat doubting it was January. Regardless, mention of my old stomping grounds over the weekend, in conjunction with the show selected by Premiere for rebroadcast, perhaps made it a decent choice for writing up now. Looking over this countdown, I realize that I was still some time away from regularly being able to focus on what was playing on the car radio in the moment (I was a few weeks shy of turning eight). But Three Dog Night was one group whose work I already had some awareness of. They had two songs on this show: “Never Been to Spain” debuts at #24, while “An Old Fashioned Love Song” tumbles from #4 to #18. The one that’s falling is among my favorites of theirs, so it gets the nod here. The speller in me is twitching over the lack of a hyphen in the title, however.
The music on side two of Way Cool Stuff is on average way more obscure than that of side one. Either in spite of or because of that, I think I like it a little better now. Greg’s responsible for making me aware of tracks 1, 4, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 14, so blame him if you don’t find it all that. I’m ready to dig in, though.
The Way Moves, “Revel (In Your Time)” We start with a band whose name likely inspired the name for the tape. These guys came out of Chicago and released two albums before breaking up in early 91. This was the lead single from the second of those, Favor and Disgrace. Pretty song about getting out there and living–in a more just world it would have been a hit. You can be one of the first couple dozen folks to see this video–it went up on YouTube just last month. Gotta love the vocalist’s name: Skid Marks.
Marti Jones, “Be Myself Again” I held this one back in my recent write-up of Match Game, Jones’s second LP, in anticipation of this day arriving. “Be Myself Again” is the only song on the album for which Jones has (co-)songwriting credit. Another clip recently added to YouTube, but I don’t like the way it sounds here–a little thin and slightly sped up.
The Rave-Ups, “Respectfully King of Rain” Thirty years ago this song was about to make a little noise on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Chance was the third and final full release for this Pittsburgh-to-LA band; it’s not as good as their previous album The Book of Your Regrets. And I don’t like this song as much as I did when I made the tape. It sounds good, but the story told is simply kinda dumb. There’s a real video for the song–I’m certain I saw it on 120 Minutes back in the day–but I’m not finding it.
The Katydids, “Lights Out (Read My Lips)” Another band that didn’t last much longer after failing to strike gold, this time out of the UK. The Katydids released two albums in the early 90s before getting dropped by their label and folding. “Lights Out” wasn’t the first single released to radio from their Nick Lowe-produced, self-titled debut–we’ll get to that one later this year–but it’s my favorite song from a pretty solid disk, another could’ve-been-hit. Vocalist Susie Hug posted a copy of the official clip for this song, but neither the audio nor video are particularly good.
The Lightning Seeds, “Pure” The Lightning Seeds went on to be an actual band, but the first disk under that name, Cloudcuckooland, was essentially an Ian Broudie solo project.
Apparently, I lied in my previous post–I’d completely forgotten that Tears for Fears was not the only act on this cassette with a Top 40 song. “Pure” reached #31 in July and August of 90. Good on us.
R.E.M., “Fall on Me” Back in fall of 86 I thought this had a shot to be R.E.M.’s first sizable hit. I was pretty wrong–it only reached #94–but it a year later they would break through commercially in a big way.
Concrete Blonde, “God Is a Bullet” The first of four songs on this side that made the Destination 89 series. Rather than embed again, I’m giving you links. This came up in June…
Will and the Bushmen, “Blow Me Up” …while this one appeared just last month.
The Darling Buds, “Honeysuckle” Great song from Crawdaddy, one of my favorite albums from 90. There’s more to be featured from this disk later this year.
Icehouse, “We Can Get Together” Fun to see Iva Davies before he went all mullet on us. This is a completely excellent new wave-y cut. I’m including the UK version of the song because the vid is pretty cool, as well as making a somewhat punker contrast with the US version I know so well now. To my regret, I didn’t hear this back in 81, but it did reach #62 here in the States.
10000 Maniacs, “A Campfire Song” A favorite from In My Tribe. Merchant would revisit the theme of this song–unchecked greed–in “The Lion’s Share” on their next album, Blind Man’s Zoo. The two songs occupied almost identical spots on their respective disks, in the middle of side two. Nice to have a second appearance on this side from Michael Stipe, too.
The Way Moves, “Crown of Thorns” I didn’t often put two songs from the same band on a tape, but I guess I liked the effect of bookending here. “Crown of Thorns” came from their self-titled debut disk. Definitely a darker, different sound from “Revel (In Your Time).” The embed has the entire album–I can’t seem to cue it up to start in the right spot–you’ll want to start at 35:19.
Around the time I graduated from college I began making mixtapes to send to my roommate James. As I believe I’ve noted before, the first one was called simply “Stuff,” and that word was weaved into the titles throughout the series, which ran roughly annually through 95. Contents usually came from relatively recent acquisitions, though I’m sure I dipped back for seconds when a disk really caught my attention. I know that he still has (most of) them; I’d love to take my boombox down to his house one of these years and remind myself what I’d thought worthy of his attention back then.
What I didn’t do much of between 88 and 91 was make mixtapes for myself. The biggest obstacle was that I didn’t own a tape deck that hooked into my CD player–I imagine I generally made the tapes for James when I went to my parents’. I also prevailed upon my officemate Paul some, and his house must be where Way Cool Stuff was recorded, sometime in the opening half of 91. It’s the first tape from the CD era I kept that captures some ways in which my tastes had diverged from Top 40 and even AOR radio.
As you can see, years of exposure to sunlight have taken a big toll on what I wrote on the sleeve back then:
That’s enough opening chatter–let’s play some tunes.
The Waterboys, “Fisherman’s Blues” Kurt Wallinger’s departure may have allowed/pushed Mike Scott to move his band’s music in a more traditional direction. It could be that I bought this disk because of “World Party,” but this is the one that kept me coming back. The first of 3.5 title songs on this side of the tape.
U2, “Seconds” Second song on the tape, second song on War–guess that’s all fitting enough. It’d be awfully hard for me to rank the songs on U2’s third album. The competition is mighty fierce; I really like this one, and it still might come in as low as sixth or seventh.
The B-52’s, “Song for a Future Generation” I was aware of this prior to Cosmic Thing‘s breakout, but it was only afterward that I took the time to check out Whammy! from the Urbana Free Library to dub it onto a tape. Looking up the lyrics online for this writeup has given me a new perspective on the song: some sites indicate that most of the lines are questions and not declarative statements. I still like it a bunch, but do wonder if it would be just as good if they’d cut off the last thirty seconds or so.
Lori Carson, “Shelter” Title song from a possible candidate for a future Forgotten Albums post. Carson came out of NYC/Long Island and spent a big chunk of the 90s in Anton Fier’s circle as a member of the Golden Palominos. This song/album is much more in the sensitive singer/songwriter vein; I find a lot of it pretty endearing.
Tears For Fears, “Sowing the Seeds of Love” Only song on the tape to have made the Top 40.
Rickie Lee Jones, “Flying Cowboys” Think I’d picked up this CD from Columbia House. “Satellites” was the putative single, but it was the title track that spoke to me most.
John Hiatt, “Real Fine Love” While I like Slow Turning and Bring the Family better, Stolen Moments got plenty of play right after I bought it in 90. This is the opening track, one that I suspect does a pretty good job of describing Hiatt’s state of mind at the time.
Suzanne Vega, “Rusted Pipe” I didn’t dig on Days of Open Hand nearly as much as either of Vega’s first two albums. This was one of the few songs from it to make a strong impression. “Rusted Pipe” was the other of Suzy V’s songs to get the re-mix treatment from DNA, though not with any of the success of their work on “Tom’s Diner.”
The Pretenders, “Message of Love” Yes, Pretenders II is rather lacking in comparison to its predecessor (who doesn’t cringe at “Bad Boys Get Spanked” or “Jealous Dogs”?) It’s got some great tunes, though: “Day After Day,” the cover of “I Go To Sleep,” and two of my top five from Chrissie: “Talk of the Town” and the one we have here, “Message of Love.”
The Pursuit of Happiness, “When the Sky Comes Falling Down” I spun up “I’m an Adult Now” back on my son’s 18th birthday, but here we’ve got one of my two favorite songs from Love Junk, this Canadian band’s debut disk. Solid pop rocker, with great female background vox to boot.
The Sundays, “I Won” Reading, Writing and Arithmetic was a big favorite in the latter half of 90. “Here’s Where the Story Ends” is of course the main attraction, but “I Won” isn’t far behind.
The Smiths, “Panic” As so often was the case, a pretty short song to end a side. Big, big fan of Louder Than Bombs; this highlight is one that John and I rocked out to many a time.
The A side was all essentially self-discovered; we’ll see Greg’s influences several times on the B side (there will also be a few repeats of songs already blogged). That’ll come your way sometime soon.
Now it’s Sunday, 1/2/77. The New Year has started off much colder and snowier than normal, and it’s only going to get worse. On just one day across the whole of January–the 26th–will temps in the Cincinnati area inch above freezing; on three successive nights in the middle of the month, overnight lows will be -20° F or lower. (Perhaps that’s not too impressive to readers in the northern tier of states, Canada, or Scandinavia, but it’s the only time I’ve experienced anything of the kind.) School is scheduled to start back the next day, but we don’t go until Tuesday, the 4th. That day, I’ll learn that two of my more popular classmates have broken up with each other (ah, the joys and perils of 7th grade romance). After that, a barrage of snow and frigid temps; the next time we’ll all enter the hallowed halls of Walton-Verona High School will be four weeks later, on 2/1.
But I couldn’t know what the rest of the month held in store as I listened to Casey tell me all about the top 50 hits from 11/75-11/76.
The one thing I distinctly recall from listening to the show that night was Casey saying that if any of the songs from this year were to become a classic, it would be the one that clocked in at #13. Like so many of his predictions, it’s fair to say that didn’t actually come to pass.