Another Round of Jan/Feb Charts

I’ve been waiting for another critical mass of shows from the charting years to get selected by Premiere before doing another of these posts; we’ve now reached that point. This one begins with the eighth week in a row for the one-two punch of ON-J and Foreigner.

Hello/Goodbye: First go-rounds on this chart for one-hit wonders Eddie Schwartz and Bertie Higgins.

As for my faves, it’s a rare instance of two non-Top 40 hits scaling the heights:

Both “Lunatic Fringe” and “Magic Power” got a lot of play on WEBN, Cincy’s primary AOR station, and I couldn’t really get enough of either. Red Rider is at their peak, while Triumph would nudge one spot higher.

Next, it’s early February 1977. WSAI moved AT40 from Sunday night to Sunday morning with this show, meaning I’d have to get my fix some other way. Fortunately, this was right around the time I discovered WLAP-AM in Lexington was running it on Saturday evenings.

Hello/Goodbye: It’s both for the Henhouse Five Plus Too, as this was their only week on the show (I was a mite high on “In the Mood,” wouldn’t you say?); even if you count it as a Ray Stevens single, it’s still a see-you-later. And we’re getting formally introduced to Kansas.

On to the two shows rebroadcast this past weekend. My wife and I came close to barfing over the Paul Anka LDD, but I’m sorry that I missed the other one forty years ago: the excellent “Just You and I” by Melissa Manchester (the backstory for the dedication wasn’t half-bad, either). Went one-for-two on picks; I like that Streisand piece fairly well, and “Flirtin’ with Disaster” was definitely a fave in my social circle. That song from “Two Years Ago” will be surfacing again momentarily.

Hello/Goodbye: Ray, Goodman and Brown don’t really count as a hello, since they’d hit three times previously as the Moments. We are bidding farewell to late, great John Stewart, however.

Lastly, a show of personal significance. By this time I had been regularly tuning into WLAP-AM for about a year.

Forty-two years ago tonight was the first time I stuck a tape recorder in front of my radio to record a show. A big chunk of it is on this beauty of a tape:

I have two 90-minute and one 60-minute Certrons (the 60-minute has orange bands instead of blue). That evening I stopped recording after #11; what tape remained was used three months later, on the 5/20/78 show (in a coincidence, “Our Love” was #35 on that countdown, too).

I listened to the tapes for these (partial) shows a number of times during the high school years. Certain things came back to me while hearing the February show again this past weekend: being told that TP and the Heartbreakers were regarded as one of the best new bands in years; Casey saying they’d look up how many Sam Cooke remakes had charted recently as “(What a) Wonderful World” ended; the question about triple albums hitting #1.

Other memories are particular to the tape itself. My tape player had a small knob on top that you could toggle to pause during recording–this allowed me to avoid recording commercials without hitting stop. But my reaction time was a little slow when the show would come back, so there are several instances of hearing only “…Forty” at the beginning of segments. Also: WLAP-AM was a CBS affiliate at the time. Near the start of the second hour, someone in the studio accidentally fired up a blurb for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater; we get a speaker’s sinister intonations naming the show and a few seconds of a creaking door on top of “Happy Anniversary” before whoever goofed catches their mistake. It’s going to be awhile again now before I’ll hear that song in my head the normal way.

Hello/Goodbye: Waving howdy to Petty and company (the third time in this post we’ve got a song peaking at #40), and so long to War.

Half a Lifetime Ago

There are fourteen variations on a Gregorian calendar–January 1 occurs on each day of the week in two forms (one without a Leap Day, one with). It almost always takes twenty-eight years to run through a “calendar cycle;” that is, with exceptions around most turns-of-centuries, any given date will land on each day of the week four times in any twenty-eight year span, with some version of a 5-6-11-6 pattern of years between occurrences, repeating from cycle to cycle.

Today I’m starting my third trip though a calendar cycle. I was born the Thursday after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; it’s pleasing enough to be able to say that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was #1 when I made my debut. The Top 40 from two days later has lots of names and bands recognizable even now to people roughly my age, if not quite as many memorable songs.

Twenty-eight years later, I was in my last semester in grad school, trying to find a job. The #1 song then was a cultural touchstone of sorts, I suppose: “I’m Too Sexy,” by Right Said Fred. The chart has some other notable tracks–“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”– but there’s also plenty there I wasn’t giving the slightest attention (I might be looking at you, Color Me Badd). That Thursday night, Greg and I went to a concert in the 1300+-seat Foellinger Auditorium, sitting on the south edge of the main quad at the University of Illinois. I was much more familiar with the opening act, but it was a great show from start to finish. Here are two songs we heard that night, one from each of the two acts on the bill.

According to the set list from the show, “My Wife and My Dead Wife” came at the end of the first encore. What I recall is the wholly affecting performance Hitchcock gave singing it, absolutely the most striking moment of the evening. That video I’ve embedded is pretty fun; the young woman who made it plays all three of the song’s characters.

I wish I could say I was going to a concert tonight, but the primary local opportunity is Kiss playing Rupp Arena–I could stand maybe ten minutes of that. (We’re going to see the Chieftains on Saturday, instead.) And alas, I’ve become too old to care much about what’s on the Hot 100 these days.

Expect posting to be lighter than normal for the next two-plus weeks. There’s something I’ve been wanting to try to get down in writing for a while now, so most blogging-time in the near term will be going toward that project instead. I can’t tell right now if you’ll see all, some, or none of the resulting work here eventually.

Forgotten Albums: Maria McKee, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

To date, the Forgotten Albums series has been about lifting up recordings I’ve listened to time and again over the years that I believe are under-appreciated. This entry’s different, in that I’m the one who was doing the forgetting.

After I wrote up a little about Dusty Springfield a couple of weeks ago, I sought out her highly-regarded Dusty in Memphis LP on YouTube. It’s amazingly good, definitely worthy of purchase. When its last song came on, I thought, “I know I’ve heard this somewhere else before,” though I couldn’t immediately place it…

One quick internet search later, I was reaching for a CD on a shelf in my basement, one that to my complete discredit hadn’t graced a player for maybe a quarter-century: Maria McKee’s second solo release, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved. I popped it in and immediately forwarded to track six (which I hadn’t realized was written by King/Goffin). Yes, this is what I was thinking of:

After the song finished, I let the rest of the album play out. Two thoughts dominated: 1) how had this never gotten into serious rotation? and 2) this sure sounds like a lost Jayhawks album in places.

I can’t defend myself regarding the first, but the second came with good reason: Gary Louris and Mark Olson, then the Jayhawks’ co-leaders, are part of McKee’s backup band this go-round, and also contributed one of the songs. The album was produced by George Drakoulias, who’d vaulted into fame of sorts by working with the Black Crowes a few years earlier. Drakoulias also produced my two favorite Jayhawks albums, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, which bracket You Gotta Sin in time.

I got the McKee album very soon after it was released in the summer of 1993. Alas, it’d been put to pasture by the time those Jayhawks releases were added to my collection a couple of years later; I guess it was already too late to make the connection. That’s true no longer, though–I’ve played most of the songs from You Gotta Sin several times over the last week, so now I’m here to share a few highlights.

Leading off is the single that didn’t go anywhere, “I’m Gonna Soothe You.” That was a collective mistake on all our parts.

“My Girlhood Among the Outlaws” wouldn’t have been out of place on Hollywood Town Hall–it’s got some signature Louris licks–had they allowed McKee to take over the mic for one song.

The album was also an excuse to reunite with Marvin Etzioni and Don Heffington, two guys from the first iteration of Lone Justice (Etzioni has co-writing credit on three songs here). “Only Once” almost feels like an outtake from Lone Justice.

McKee also covers a couple of Van Morrison tunes: “My Lonely Sad Eyes,” from his days in Them, and Astral Weeks‘s “The Way Young Lovers Do.” The latter simply swirls around you.

In summary, mea culpa. I suppose now it’s time to seek out the albums in McKee’s catalog I’ve missed over the years…

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/2/85: Midnight Star, "Operator"

My schedule during the spring term of my junior year at Transy included three math classes (one of which double-counted toward my CS major), an intro course in microeconomics, and U.S. National Government. The last of these was my second foray into the realm of political science; for a short while, I considered trying to squeeze in a poli-sci minor. Even though I have no talent or inclination in that direction, I still follow national politics all too closely, and local stuff to a lesser extent.

The Government course was a good one. The professor was often gruff, a curmudgeon-in-waiting, but honestly I liked him (he’s still at Transy, one of maybe three faculty remaining from my day). He had us purchase a couple of textbooks, but there were also readings on reserve in the library, including most of another book. I was actually faithful about going through the reserve materials. I have no idea now what book that was (I’ve retained syllabi from many of my college classes, though apparently not this one), but it must have included an analysis of the nation’s political landscape of the day. The author’s prediction for the coming decades: a decided shift to the right. I’ve thought about this with some frequency over the years; on the whole, he hasn’t been wrong.

There are other things I associate with that class. It’s where I first met my good friend Judy, then a first-year student. The second exam was postponed when classes got cancelled due to snow, the only time school was called off during my four years there–it also happened to be my 21st birthday. And after the term ended, the professor sent me a letter through campus mail. I don’t imagine I was unique in hearing from him in this manner, but it was definitely tailored to me.

I appreciate his kind words, but this pokes at me, bringing to the surface again a nagging feeling of inadequacy, of not contributing enough, of not realizing potential, that I don’t ever really shake.

The songs on this show became one of the collections I assembled for our iPod well over a decade ago. The one that comes next in chronological order is 5/18, fifteen weeks later. In between these two dates were the entire Top 40 runs of “One More Night” and “Material Girl,” songs that peaked at #1 and #2, respectively. It’s a reminder to me that by the mid 80s, the average stay on the show for the biggest hits was down from the tail end of the Bill Wardlaw years.

For a musical selection, let’s get a little funky. Midnight Star got its start just down the road from me, at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. They had several Top 10 hits on the R&B chart, but only one of their seven trips to the Hot 100 resulted in a song Casey played. I wouldn’t call “Operator” their most memorable cut, but it’s the one that broke through, sitting at its peak of #18.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/5/77: Al Stewart, "Year of the Cat"

It’s time to complete the trilogy I started almost a year ago in which I take a look back at three of the first LPs in my collection, attempting to order their tracks in some semblance of personal preference. First it was Silk Degrees, then A New World Record. Now, it’s Al Stewart’s first experience with big success, Year of the Cat.

Stewart had been kicking around for about ten years by this point, slowly gaining a following, perhaps more in the U.S. than the UK. Year of the Cat was his seventh album, and the second (of three) to be produced by Alan Parsons. Everything came together: an impeccable array of instrumentation ranging from Spanish guitar through violin, harmonica, and piano to saxophone, as well as a dazzling landscape of topics transformed into thoughtful, well-constructed poetry. The public was buying, as it climbed to #5 on the Billboard album chart. Still surprisingly fresh-sounding, coming on almost forty-five years later. Let’s take a look, why don’t we? I’ll include one of my favorite lyrics from each song.

9. “Midas Shadow”
The one song on the album that I might not miss if it weren’t there. It’s hardly bad–I’m generally a sucker for rhymes across verses–but it doesn’t stick with me afterward. Memorable line: “Conquistador in search of gold, for all the jackdaw reasons.”

8. “Sand in Your Shoes”
Perkier-sounding than the subject matter seems to dictate. I assume the title, which comes not from the lyrics, sums up how the rejected suitor feels about his former love. Memorable line: “And you lay there by the Do Not signs, and shamed them with your spark.”

7. “On the Border”
Basically impossible to separate the next four: ask another day, and I’d sort them some other way. The only of Stewart’s charting singles not to make the Top 40–it fell two spots shy in May of 1977–and also the only not to feature scorching sax work. Memorable line: “No one notices the customs slip away.”

6. “One Stage Before”
This one is much more about the music than the words for me, particularly the synthesizer rhythm underpinning it all. Simply mesmerizing, and a nice meditation on becoming one with performers of the past to boot. Memorable line: “Although we may not meet still you know me well.”

5. “Lord Grenville”
I wonder now what I thought about this album the first time I put it on the turntable of my father’s stereo. I can see being captivated by this sweeping opening number about sailors on the run, even while not understanding its references. History Lesson #1: Sir Richard Grenville was a 16th-century explorer/sailor who bravely/foolishly met his match going against the Spanish Armada. Memorable line: “I never thought that we would come to find ourselves upon these rocks again.”

4. “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It”
Stewart does an amazing job throughout, matching sounds and making it all feel so natural. Memorable line: “Well I’m up to my neck in the crumbling wreckage of all that I wanted from life.”

3. “Broadway Hotel”
The B-side to the 45 for “Year of the Cat.” I flipped over many of the early singles I bought when playing DJ on my little turntable, and “Broadway Hotel” was among the best I discovered that way (I dearly love the violin solo and the piano/guitar on the outro). It’s possible that it’s what pushed me to take a chance on the album. Memorable line: “And a door sign keeps the world away behind the shades of your silent day.”

2. “Flying Sorcery”
It took over a decade to really appreciate this one. Year of the Cat was in the first wave of albums I re-purchased on CD, in the spring of 1988; listening one time in our apartment on Elm St. I was suddenly and permanently charmed by the narrator’s affection for his female pilot friend. History Lesson #2: Amy Johnson’s story is amazing, if you don’t know it. Memorable line: “Just call me if you ever need repairs.” Gets me every time.

1. “Year of the Cat”
Hardly a surprise. It was #20 on this show, steaming toward a #8 peak. Its trip up and down the chart was relatively quick, so it wound up only at #98 on AT40‘s year-end rankings for 1977. Memorable line: So many, but we’ll go with “She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain.”

Modern Rock Tracks, 2/3/90

It was around this time I was beginning to hang out with Greg, his wife Katie, and their friends Toby and Karl. Bridge was the initial common point of interest, but golf and frequent Sunday evening gatherings with other physics grad students soon entered the mix. Oh, and music, too: Greg was soon to expand my landscape immensely, though the snapshot below is mostly stuff I’d found on my own.

29. Shawn Colvin, “Steady On”
I like Shawn Colvin–I’ve got a few of her albums. She did fabulous background vocal work on several Suzanne Vega tunes, perhaps most notably “Luka.” I dig her huge hit “Sunny Came Home” plenty, though my favorite Colvin song is Fat City‘s “Round of Blues.” Yet I wasn’t able to get into her first solo single, the title track from her debut. I just don’t pick up much melody?

28. Michelle Shocked, “On the Greener Side”
Shocked’s breakthrough (such as it was) Short Sharp Shocked got a lot of play on my stereo when it came out in mid-1988, among the last slabs of new vinyl I ever bought. For some reason, I never got around to checking out the follow-up, Captain Swing (though I did get Arkansas Traveler later). None of her videos are on YouTube, and she has precious little presence on Spotify. I did find a copy of the clip for “On the Greener Side” on Vimeo through her website. It’s fair to say that Shocked charted an idiosyncratic career path, with questionable (to put it mildly) judgment in spots.

24. The Smithereens, “Yesterday Girl”
20. The Smithereens, “Blues Before and After”

Two more gems from 11. While I heard “Blues Before and After” on WPGU quite a bit, the gorgeous power pop of “Yesterday Girl” flew below my radar for far too long. Beatle-philes will recognize a deep tip of the cap to the Fab Four in the clip.

13. UB40, “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”
I’d much rather hear Al Green (or “Going Down to Liverpool,” for that matter), yet here we are, anyway. The lads, a year-plus beyond the re-release of “Red Red Wine” improbably shooting to #1 here in the States, tried to catch lightning again with a second album of covers, Labour of Love II. It took a while this time, as well: “The Way You Do the Things You Do” made #6 on the Hot 100 in the fall, and it’d be more than a year before “Here I Am” got pop radio love, reaching #7 in July of 1991.

12. They Might Be Giants, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”
The Johns, having gained cult-favorite status with fabulously quirky songs like “Don’t Let’s Start,” “They’ll Need a Crane,” and personal fave “Ana Ng,” snagged a major-label deal prior to their third album. They also got a big video budget for the lead single from Flood. Unfortunately, “Birdhouse in Your Soul” was not a commercial success, though it’s awfully fun.

11. The Wonder Stuff, “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”
Righteous, driving pop tune; in another world it might have been a decent-sized hit (it did go Top 20 in the UK). Instead, it stalled out right here in Modern Rock land–the Stuff turned out never to have the stuff to make our pop charts. The vocalist, Miles Hunt, still has a variant of the band going today.

9. Electronic, “Getting Away with It”
In which three stars from the UK college rock/dance scene form one of the few non-AOR supergroups. Johnny Marr, Bernard Sumner, and Neil Tennant all on the same project? Yeah, I’ll go for that, though it’d be more than a year before we got anything beyond this single.

6. Kate Bush, “The Sensual World”
It’s no “Love and Anger,” but the Eastern-flecked title cut from Bush’s then-current album is still mighty fine.

2. Peter Murphy, “Cuts You Up”
Peter Murphy apparently tried his best not to let the success of his former bandmates from Bauhaus get him down. Eight months after “So Alive” began rocking our world, Murphy released this magnificent piece. While it would only reach #55 on the Hot 100 in May, “Cuts You Up” spent the next seven weeks on top of this chart. It’s easily my favorite song on this list.

1. The Psychedelic Furs, “House”
I’d stopped paying attention to the Psych Furs after “Heartbreak Beat” got them their first Top 40 hit (though I can’t explain why–a few years later I fell in love with “Am I Wrong” from Love Spit Love, Richard Butler’s next band). They had one just more album in them after Book of Days spawned this Modern Rock chart-topper. Even though they’ve been reunited going on two decades, they’re just now getting around to recording again; expect a new album in a few months.