It’s Halloween, so here’s a vaguely appropriate song. No story, just a scene.
I’d guess it’s February 1985, plus or minus a month. James and Stacey have been seeing each other for a little while now, and the three of us are hanging out in 402 Clay Hall one weekday evening, ostensibly paying attention to classwork but who really knows. There’s music playing, of course–maybe one of James’s recent purchases, like the Kinks’ Word of Mouth. That choice could easily have led to the turn of conversation, in which Stacey winds up mentioning (okay, railing against) a couple of her least favorite songs from the 60s. Being much more a student of singles rather than album cuts, I’m not familiar with either of them. One is the Beatles’ cover of “Mr. Moonlight” (I can say now this is not an unjustified take). The other is by Donovan, and Stacey doesn’t hold back, over-singing “season of the WI-I-ITCH” in an overly nasal voice, maybe even tossing in one of her most Stacey-like gestures, arms waving in front of her.
The things you remember.
It would be many, many years before I actually heard “Season of the Witch” in its entirety. I won’t disagree that it’s got some pretty silly lyrics, but it sure feels like there was a whole lot of zeitgeist being captured in the studio. I imagine I’ll be belting out that title phrase, thinking of Stacey, throughout the day.
There’ll be more from Mr. Leitch sometime in the next few months.
After three months examining issues from the mid- or late-80s, we’re back to when SR was still doing Recordings of Special Merit. Seems like they had more reviews in these earlier days, too. This one rings no bells–my parents moved from Walton to Florence in September, so perhaps it got buried in the resultant chaos–but there are plenty of notable LPs to check out nonetheless.
Articles –Jargon!, by Bruce Bartlett. Described as “an examination of the most commonly used descriptive audio terms.” –In the classical section, they talk up the first compact disk releases on Telarc.
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –Deniece Williams, I’m So Proud (PG) “Each precisely enunciated word or syllable of a lyric is the cutting edge of an emotion that is bursting to be expressed.”
–Mitch Ryder, Never Kick a Sleeping Dog (JV) “Given a chance to return to the mainstream, Ryder has responded with the relief of an outcast welcomed back into the fold, but he has not compromised either his talent or his experience.” Don’t remember this one at all; John Mellencamp produced it, in what feels like an attempt to duplicate what Springsteen did for Gary U.S. Bonds (JCM did name-check Mitch a couple of years later in “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A”).
Casey did a “Whatever Happened To…?” piece on Ryder on the 8/18/79 show. A quick tour of Mitch’s page at allmusic.com shows he began recording again in the very late 70s, not long before the AT40 story. You remember how frequently VH-1’s Behind the Music episodes featured acts attempting to make a comeback? I’ve come to realize in re-listening to shows from the latter half of the 70s how often Casey was doing something similar with those segments, trying to lift up hit-makers from his earlier days in radio as they made another go at the spotlight.
Recordings of Special Merit Pop/Rock/Soul/Country: –John Denver and the Muppets, Rocky Mountain Holiday (AN) “You’d have to be an ogre not to like this encore pairing of America’s favorite nonhumans and the original far-out flower child.” –Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams (MP) “…a seductive disco beat, arm’s-length sensuality, cool waves of synthesizer sound, and arrangements (crisp horns and stinging guitar) that are as tight as a clenched, gloved hand.” –Maze, We Are One (PG) “Maze modestly never promises more than it can deliver, which is soothing soul music that never lets you down.”
Jazz: –John Coltrane, Bahia (CA) “This session has not been available for a long time, and I strongly recommend that you add it to your collection before it disappears from the catalog again.” –George Kawaguchi and Art Blakey, Killer Joe (CA) “The last thing Blakey needs, of course, is another drummer, but Kawaguchi blends in smoothly with this talented group.” —Bill Evans—A Tribute (PR) “Fourteen of the very best of today’s jazz pianists have contributed one performance each, and the result is a splendid entertainment.” —Jazz at the Opera House (CA) This was a benefit concert to raise money to cover medical bills for SF jazz writer Conrad Silvert.
Featured Reviews –Delia Bell, S/T (AN) “…one of the most impressive old-style country-and-bluegrass albums of the decade.” –Bob Marley and the Wailers, Confrontation (MP) “Cult deity or not, as a prophet of hope and liberation Marley lives on through his music.” –James Newton, S/T (CA) “..a wonderful exercise in restraint and timing…There is a classical air about this album, but it also has firm roots in jazz.” –Thin Lizzy, Thunder and Lightning (MP) “…does what all great heavy-metal does—it lets you raise a little hell vicariously.” –Richard Thompson, Hand of Kindness (SS) “…the new songs here are among Thompson’s best: they’re tuneful, they’re lyrically economical, and they leave just enough room for the composer to burn on guitar without being overbearing about it.”
Other Disks Reviewed –Adam and the Ants, Dirk Wears White Sox (MP) “The disc sounds exactly like what this group turned out to be: a dead end.” –The Fixx, Reach the Beach (MP) “The keyboards are consigned to electronic window dressing, the drumming barely keeps the time—it seems to chime every hour on the hour—and (Cy) Curnin is left to drift, deeply, soberly intoning some ludicrously opaque lyrics.” –Goanna, Spirit of Place (MP) “…if this were an American band you’d find it shelved in country rock…it certainly compares favorably with what Poco and Pure Prairie League used to keep America enthralled with.” –The Hollies, What goes around… (SS). “It is as useless a vinyl product as has crossed my desk in years, and I say that as a Hollies partisan from way back…the only exception is a brilliant revamping of the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love”… –Billy Joel, An Innocent Man (MP) “There’s just no way around it: Billy Joel is a consummate pop stylist, even when he’s doing doo-wop.” –The Kinks, State of Confusion (SS) “This is hardly a great album…But after twenty years, even a less than epochal album from these guys sounds like a letter from home.” –Stevie Nicks, The Wild Heart (AN) “Nicks either wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs here, but it is just about impossible to tell what she is trying to say…The lyrics are all pretty and enigmatic but fleshless as a stray dog.” –Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments (SS) “The songs here generally sound like rhythm tracks with lyrics written and recorded later, almost as afterthoughts.” I had a friend in college who called its first hit “Big Bore” and tweaked the opening line of the second single to, “I’m in the mood for monotony.” –Donna Summer, She Works Hard for the Money (CA) “…the voice has not changed, but the quality of her material has.” –Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues (SS) “To these cynical ears, it’s mostly tepid art-school funk.”
Ryder had charted in July with a song from his new album. Music In The Key Of E has the deets here.
Bell’s champion was Emmylou Harris; Chet Atkins also appears on the album.
Thunder and Lightning was Thin Lizzy’s swan song. Phil Lynott had planned to continue on with a solo career, but drug/alcohol issues overwhelmed him just a little over two years after this issue was published.
I’ve never been much of one for organizers and planners. When I was younger, I managed to do pretty well just storing things in my head. Now that I’ve reached the second half of my 50s, the old brain cells don’t quite function like they used to, and I’m starting to see the wisdom of entering appointments etc. on my phone.
When Mom and I went shopping for college supplies in the summer of 1982, one of the items we wound up with was a large pad for my dorm room desk, essentially a combination blotter/daily planner. I actually used it for the latter purpose most of my freshman year–for years after, alas, it served only in the former capacity. Yes, I still have the sheets for September 82-February 83–why do you ask, and why are you surprised? Here’s October:
This is one of the more fully filled-out months, even if it’s mostly due dates for assignments and birthdays. Somehow, I still have artifacts that verify a number of these notes, too. Let’s take a quick tour of a few:
“S. O. L.” stands for Student Orientation Leader–maybe this was one final meeting with the group I’d gone through orientation with?
The interview was for my first newspaper article assignment; I posted a picture of that article this time last year, but I still have my notes from that interview, along with a second, with a faculty member, the following morning!
We’d been reading parts of Plato’s Republic in Images of Man (our frosh comp-equivalent), and this was the day my three-pager on it was due. The comments from the professor mostly focus on how the paper would have been strengthened with some well-chosen quotes and support from Socrates, but I was given an A- in spite of that.
I typed that paper on my high school graduation gift:
The typewriter used cartridges for both film and correcting tape. When I popped the film cartridge out last night, I could identify the final characters I ever typed on it: Farmville, VA 23901. If I had to guess, I’d venture that was related to a job application to Longwood College (now University) in the spring of 1992.
Two exams in one day. We had one in chemistry every other Friday (eight in all); this was the third. All were scored out of 90 points.
I’d be willing to bet the calculus test is in a drawer in my office, but I’ll just leave it there for now.
Three years ago, I came across the first letter I sent home, dated 10/9. It referenced this upcoming event, in which I treated my new college friends to sights that formed a key part of my church youth group experience. (I wrote up my most recent trip to the Pinnacles here.)
Birthdays toward the end of the month included those of my maternal grandmother and my Great-Aunt Birdie (the latter’s birth occurred 119 years ago today–look for a write-up about her next year). The young woman I’d started dating earlier in the month shared her day with Aunt Birdie.
That fall, the local Top 40 station’s playlist included “Nobody,” country singer Sylvia’s one pop hit, stopping off at #25 on this show and heading toward a #15 peak. Not sure I ever hear the chorus without thinking just maybe I’m catching her singing along, perhaps like what might have happened while we were doing chemistry homework.
A few observations from the weekend in music 41 years ago:
–Several songs from this period had incredible helium. The previous week, “Heartache Tonight” jumped from #52 to #15. On this show, “Tusk” and “Still” made enormous advances (40-15 and 38-10, respectively). Over the next two weeks, “Babe” would go 26-14-7, and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” would hopscotch 59-33-10. On the 11/3 chart, these five made up half of the top 10, all getting there by no later than their third week in the 40. I don’t think I encountered this sort of mass forward movement any other time while I was watching closely.
(A quick trip to the odd coincidence department: Premiere’s 80s show this weekend is 10/17/81. The Commodores have two songs on both countdowns, and just as with “Still,” they have the biggest mover within the show–“Oh No”–on the 81 countdown. Additionally, no matter which one you listen to, Barry Manilow debuts, and Foreigner and the Little River Band go back-to-back.)
–A few weeks ago, we heard “Fallin’ in Love,” by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, on the 9/21/74 show. Five years later, those three made separate appearances on AT40. Chris Hillman had gotten back together with fellow former Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark and hit #33 with “Don’t Write Her Off” back in May. Richie Furay would have a solo hit in the #39-peaking “I Still Have Dreams” in December. And J. D. Souther is making his mark this week, as the future top 10 song “You’re Only Lonely” bows in at #37.
–More temporal shenanigans: Pop music lovers of a certain age may recall that Genesis and former lead vocalist Peter Gabriel hit #1 in consecutive weeks in the summer of 1986. A not nearly-so-notable confluence of a similar type is happening on this show. Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm were mates in the British pub band Brinsley Schwarz in the early 70s, and they each managed to have their one and only hit on the American charts virtually simultaneously. Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” is just about to drop off after peaking at #12. Gomm, in his third week with “Hold On,” seems to be advancing nicely, having gone 34-26-20 so far. I recall being a little surprised back then at how quickly things fell apart; the next two weeks “Hold On” was at #18, and then it dropped off to #65, gone from the Hot 100 after one more week. It’s no classic, but it deserved a somewhat better fate. The crisp production and that gorgeous sax work keep it sounding fresh even today.
For a few years at the beginning of the rock era, extended play 45s were a reasonably popular item. A quick jaunt through the Billboard archives at worldradiohistory.com indicates that for just about exactly three years (October 1957-October 1960, as best I can tell without heavy digging), they published a list of the Top 10 Selling Pop EPs. My father apparently was not immune to the charms of this format; let’s take a tour of the four I discovered in his collection.
Here’s Little Richard, Part 1
The twelve tracks on Richard Penniman’s debut album were also broken up into three EPs, SEP-400, -401, and -402. The same photo appears on the cover of each, with orange, yellow, and red backgrounds, respectively. This one contains his biggest hit, the #6-peaking “Long Tall Sally,” along with “Miss Ann” ( the B-side to “Jenny, Jenny”), “She’s Got It,” and “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave.”
Dave “Baby” Cortez, The Happy Organ
We had an organ not entirely unlike the one pictured above, though I never heard either of my parents give it a whirl. Forced to guess, I’d say my father was responsible for its presence; maybe Cortez’s #1 hit was the inspiration?
“Love Me As I Love You” was the B-side of the original 45, which had been released on Clock Records.
The Kingston Trio At Large, Part 1
This one was on the Pop EP chart in the final months of its publication. “M.T.A.” had reached #15 the year before. “All My Sorrows” was the B-side then–perhaps it was a standard practice to supplement the original single with two extra tracks?
I think I have vague memories of my father singing (along with) the chorus of “M.T.A.”
Elvis Presley, A Touch of Gold Volume 1
My dad liked early Elvis plenty (rockin’ edition, anyway), so perhaps it’s a little surprising this will be our only encounter with the King in this series. Presley released a slew of EPs at the beginning of his career, but neither volume entitled A Touch of Gold charted. Two of these songs hit #1–not bad for approximately $1.29 (that’s the price I found on the backs of the Cortez and Kingston Trio jackets). I’m going to embed the one he almost certainly enjoyed less.
This go-round on SCNP I went casting for tunes I don’t think I’ve ever heard, by artists previously unknown to me. Turns out there were some absolute gems I missed out on forty-two years ago.
#92. The McCrarys, “You” Wowza. I’m definitely picking up a Staples vibe here. They’re four siblings originally from Youngstown who started out as a gospel group. And yes, that’s Stevie on harmonica. It’s a real shame this had topped out at #45 the week before.
#88. Judy Cheeks, “Mellow Lovin'” An interesting slice of Eurodisco. Cheeks tried the Donna Summer route by looking to launch her career in Germany. “Mellow Lovin'” did reach #10 on the U.S. Dance chart, but only made #65 on the Hot 100. She did have a couple of #1 Dance hits in the 90s.
#87. ZWOL, “New York City” This is the first of two minor hits Canadian Walter Zwolinsky had in the late 70s. The other, “Call Out My Name,” is considerably more smooth. “New York City” reached #76 in a two-month run.
#81. Gabriel, “Martha (Your Lovers Come and Go)” Growing up nominally in the Midwest in the late 70s/early 80s, I have fond memories of hearing songs on the radio by regional bands trying to break nationally, such as Head East, 707, and Shooting Star. I suspect there are guys roughly my age from the Pacific Northwest who dig “Martha (Your Lovers Come and Go)” the way I do “Last Chance” and “Never Been Any Reason.” Based on just a few listens, if I had grown up in Seattle, I totally believe I’d be one of them. Even though this was the highest debuting song of the week (ahead of “Hold the Line,” even), “Martha” stalled out at just #73.
#69. Clout, “Substitute” This was a #1 hit all over Europe, as well as in New Zealand and South Africa (the homeland of these five women), but it could only reach #67 here. Even though I’m not convinced they’re really playing their instruments, I’m smitten. Originally recorded by the Righteous Brothers during their 70s revival.
#67. Don Ray, “Got To Have Loving” If like me you’re picking up a hint of “Love in C Minor” from the opening of this one, it might be because Jean-Marc Cerrone co-wrote and co-produced it. Raymond Donnez elected to anglicize his name for recording purposes. Wikipedia says Ray produced Santa Esmeralda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” “Got To Have Loving” failed by only four spots in making Casey-land.
It took a few months of duking it out at the bridge club in Champaign before I became good friends with Greg, Katie, Toby, and Karl. They’d started going in the last half of 1989, around the same time I had gotten back into it. Toby had played quite a bit growing up in the super-competitive DC bridge scene and was a natural at the game; the other three (two fellow physics grad students and a spouse in EE) had learned of his mad skills and pestered him to teach them.
The summer after I fell in with them, Toby and I got around to playing a couple of games at the club. Initial results were pretty promising, so we started looking at the tournament calendar to see where could take on a larger field. We settled on a regional in Cincinnati, to be held the first weekend of October, mostly because we could get free housing by staying with my parents.
We drove down on Thursday and played in two-session pairs events on Friday and Saturday–I must have gotten someone to cover my classes. Friday turned out only so-so; the high point of the day was walking down to Riverfront Stadium between sessions. This was the year the Reds came out of nowhere to win the World Series, and they’d just snagged Game 2 of the NLCS (a day game) against the Pirates. In the parking lot beneath that uninspiring concrete bowl, we got to see greats such as Jose Rijo emerge and walk to their waiting vehicles (no autographs, alas).
Saturday, though, was mighty sweet. Despite my inexperience, we charged out to a big lead in the afternoon session of our event and held on to first place in the nightcap. It would be a few years before I’d earn that many masterpoints in a single event again.
That win was thirty years ago today, the same day that Billboard listed the songs below in their Modern Rock Tracks chart. May be time to spin a few tunes…
#28. Ultra Vivid Scene, “Special One” UVS was ostensibly a band, but it was mostly just Kurt Ralske doing his thing. This song is a VU-meets-“September Gurls” affair, with a big assist from Kim Deal of…
#23. The Pixies, “Velouria” I imagine I tuned the radio to WOXY 97X on our way in and out of Cincy. This is one of the first songs I recall hearing on 97X in this period, maybe from Labor Day weekend? Not as melodic as “Here Comes Your Man,” but I guess it’s fine enough.
#22. Mojo Nixon, “Don Henley Must Die” My officemates and I had several good laughs three years earlier when Nixon and Skid Roper released “Elvis Is Everywhere,” though we never found a way to incorporate it into our shrine to the King. Much as I liked some of the songs on End of the Innocence, this send-up was reasonably well-deserved.
#21. Los Lobos, “Down on the Riverbed” I absolutely love The Neighborhood and Kiko from these guys. Neither one sold remotely near as much as “La Bamba,” but I suppose I’m grateful at least one song from them charted somewhere here in the U. S.
#19. The Darling Buds, “Crystal Clear” Speaking of albums I adore… Crawdaddy has got to be in my Top 10 for 1990. The Buds are veering away to a degree from what made Pop Said… so charming, echoing more of what some of the other UK bands on this chart are doing. But Andrea Farr still makes it all her own.
#14. Aztec Camera, “Good Morning Britain” Roddy Frame said he tried to write this song to sound like something Mick Jones (non-Foreigner edition) would do. He did so well that he managed to get Mick to play and sing on it.
#13. Soho, “Hippychick” Greg was pretty unhappy any time “Hippychick” came on, tricked into thinking he was about to hear “How Soon Is Now?” instead.
#10. The Heart Throbs, “Dreamtime” My big find from this set. It sounds exactly like something that WOXY would have played, though I don’t have any recollection of hearing it. Definitely feels like a precursor to Lush and other shoegazer bands. Their lineup included two sisters of Pete DeFreitas, the drummer for Echo and the Bunnymen who’d died the year before in a motorcycle accident.
#9. The Cocteau Twins, “Iceblink Luck” Stan Freberg parodies usually focused on one aspect of their target and just drove it into the ground (the snare drum on “Yellow Rose of Texas,” the piano on “The Great Pretender”). For “Sh-Boom,” Freberg took aim at the supposed difficulty in understanding its lyrics (come to think of it, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic took the same tack on “Smells Like Nirvana”).
I felt like Freberg’s character in “Sh-Boom” when I heard Elizabeth Fraser sing quite clearly “That will burn this whole madhouse down” on “Iceblink Luck.” I’m not supposed to be able to understand you, Elizabeth!
Despite that, Heaven or Las Vegas may well be the Twins’ most solid album overall–certainly their most accessible.
#8. The Charlatans UK, “The Only One I Know” Greg and I invented our own term for the music coming out of the UK in the very early 90s–we called it wakka-wakka, I guess because of some combination of its rhythms and guitar sounds (it’s all wrapped up in the Madchester movement, I know–maybe it’s what other folks called baggy?). It’s a tossup as to whether “The Only One I Know” or the Stone Roses’ “Fool’s Gold” is my quintessential wakka song. (I Stand Corrected: Greg reminded me in a recent conversation that it was actually Katie, his wife, who came up with wakka-wakka. He and I just ran with it, apparently.)
#7. DNA featuring Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner” I won’t repeat the story of how this hit came about–I’m just glad Vega didn’t try to put the kibosh on it. But now I’m wondering if the sound of 99.9°F was influenced by the success of this?
#4. INXS, “Suicide Blonde” You’re just not very likely to follow up a huge smash like Kick with anything nearly as successful. X was a game effort, I guess, but this first release tried too hard to sound like some of their earlier–and better–songs.
#3. Living Colour, “Type” Vernon Reid, Corey Glover, Muzz Skillings, and Will Calhoun followed up Vivid with Time’s Up. I remember hearing this lead single from their sophomore effort a few times.
#2. The Soup Dragons, “I’m Free” Scottish band hops on the wakka-wakka bandwagon with this cover of an old Stones song.
#1. The Cure, “Never Enough” I’d forgotten about Mixed Up, the Cure’s album of remixes. Smith and company did include this rockin’ new tune. In spite of the later success of Wish and “Friday I’m In Love,” I’ll go on record as saying that we’d already seen the best this band had to offer by this point.
And with that…we’ll dip back into the MRT charts in early December.
Like lots of folks who grew up in the 70s, I had plenty of exposure to The Monkees via syndicated reruns on television. I couldn’t tell you any of the plot lines (such as they were) now, but I do recall the invariable silliness and slapstick nature of the show, frequently involving some ludicrous chase scene. Did I have a favorite Monkee? Probably Mickey, though Mike, as the more cerebral one, definitely held appeal as well. (I will admit I found the dark glasses Mike wore in the later episodes a bit scary.) I paid only slight attention when MTV introduced the series to a new generation of viewers during my last semester of college in 1986. The losses of Davy in February 2012 and Peter (with whom I share a birthday) almost seven years later didn’t go unnoticed in these parts, however.
Michael Nesmith’s name popped up for me a few times over the years. Eventually I learned he’d written “Different Drum.” I didn’t ever manage to see Elephant Parts when it came out in 1981, though I was well aware he was attached to it. And I probably caught wind while I was in college that Nesmith was executive producer of Repo Man. It would be decades, though, before I realized he’d had a post-Monkees Top 40 hit of his own.
October 4, 2014. Like so many Saturdays, I wake up early after a fitful night’s sleep. I slip quietly upstairs to the kitchen and fix myself a bowl of cereal and a small glass of orange juice. As usual, I launch the TuneIn app on my iPad and set it to WMVL, Cool 101.7, out of Meadville, PA, to catch the 70s rebroadcast of AT40. I keep the volume low enough so as not to disturb–they begin their show each week at 7:00am. After breakfast, it’s back downstairs to shower and dress, maybe even make the bed.
By the start of the second hour, I’m ensconced in a chair in the main room of the basement, the den. (That chair nowadays is in my living room; I’m sitting in it as I type these words.) Maybe I’m grading, but it’s also quite possible I’m playing a stupid game on the iPad. What I do remember particularly is the string of songs I hear over a 30-minute period, the final two for probably the first time:
#27. Grand Funk Railroad, “Closer to Home” #26. Linda Ronstadt, “Long, Long Time” #25. The New Seekers, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma” #24. Three Dog Night, “Out in the Country” #23. R. Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me” #22. Hotlegs, “Neanderthal Man” #21. Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, “Joanne”
It must not be long afterward that I hear stirring upstairs. Mom stays up plenty late watching TV and has a harder time each week getting going in the morning. I better go check on things.
(It’s hearing the story Casey tells about the multi-national New Seekers again, here in 2020, that jolts me and sends me back in time six years. I start to tear up when I sing “I wish I had you to talk to” along with Taylor.)
“Joanne” is a sad, beautiful song; I can listen to it over and again. That #21 showing, fifty years ago now, was its best.