Leave In Control Room

My guess is it’s not uncommon for folks who work at college radio stations to take a souvenir or two on their way out the door—given the state of the WTLX library in the fall of 1983, surely those who came before us had absconded with much of the good stuff that had at some point been there (there were hundreds of LPs in a closet, very few of which looked interesting to this then-Top 40 snob; as I believe I’ve noted before, there was no doubt a failure to recognize many quality platters). At least some of my peers and, I must confess, yours truly, may have also succumbed to this temptation. My roommate James trundled off with a few Dr. Demento disks from the 1983-84 school year and a multi-LP history of Canada, but I think he considers the big prize to be an album from West Virginia psychedelic/Christian band Mind Garage (side one of 1970’s Mind Garage Again! includes covers of “Tobacco Road” and well-known hits from Little Richard, Elvis, and the Stones, while side two was comprised of the band-penned The Electric Liturgy).

Warren took something completely different. One Saturday night in the spring semester of 1984, he, James, and I were hanging down in the station, rummaging around the library, looking I suppose for hidden gems (WTLX was off the air on Saturdays). Among a stack of reel-to-reel tapes was one with a handwritten title that immediately raised eyebrows: Uncle Pervy. Well, you know we had to check it out. Fortunately (?), the station’s ancient reel machine was still functional, and soon we were learning about the, er…, unseemly proclivities of the title character and hearing a lot of heavy breathing. It went on for several minutes, clearly sprung from the fevered imaginations of a couple of our predecessors at the station. I’d guess it was done sometime in the mid-to-late 70s; one wonders about their level of sobriety at the time of recording. I’ll admit the three of us were much more entertained by this discovery than perhaps we should have been, and that name became part of our shared lexicon over the next couple of years. Warren reports the tape is currently buried in a closet at his house.

(Aside: I wonder if the perpetrators of the UP tape have stayed in touch over the years, or see each other at reunions. Do they have a laugh about that drunken night in the radio station? There’s zero chance they’ll ever see this article, but maybe they didn’t realize they left the evidence behind, never thought someone might come across it?)

(Another aside: In messaging about all this with my friends earlier this month, Warren mentioned an album from the library he coveted but didn’t take, only to find the station’s copy (a magic-markered ‘WTLX’ on the cover was a dead giveaway) for sale a few years later at one of the used-record stores in Lexington. Makes me realize that folks weren’t always getting stuff from the station for personal collections—I imagine some of it turned into cash for Budweiser, Thunderbird, or pot.)

As for me, I didn’t (as far as I recall) spirit away any vinyl or reels when I graduated. No, I’d long had my eye on the single copy of Billboard I noticed the first time I ever set foot in the station. Dated 1/31/81, it was more than five years out of date when I liberated it from the basement of Clay Hall—despite the admonition in the upper left corner of the front page, I guess I figured no one would need it anymore or miss it. (That no one had disturbed it in the interim probably says something about the level of housekeeping we maintained.)

It’s now forty years old, and of course I still have it—let’s celebrate its birthday by taking a gander at and sharing a few of the goodies inside.

–On the cover is an advertisement for Grace Slick’s latest solo record, Welcome to the Wrecking Ball. Take a look at the breathless copy her record company provided.

Au contraire, said Steve Simels about six months later in Stereo Review: words he used to describe Slick’s efforts include ludicrous, sad, pointless, posturing, desperate, and depressing. (I’ve never heard anything from it, so I can’t weigh in.) She’d be back with the Starship within eighteen months, eventually enjoying maximum success singing about corporation games.

–The first installment of a five-week series on the 1981 Grammy nominees for Record of the Year is in this issue. They’re leading off with the eventual winner, “Sailing.” The article recaps Cross’s difficulty in landing a contract and mentions that the original choice for second single was “I Really Don’t Know Anymore” (Michael McDonald apparently put the kibosh on that). Hindsight and all that, but I can’t imagine that one being much of a hit.

–“Plasmatics Melee in Milwaukee” recounts an incident at the Palms on 1/18. Wendy O. and the band’s manager faced multiple charges, including battery, and in Williams’s case, “suggestive stage movements with a sledgehammer and with her own body” violated a city ordinance. The article includes allegations by the manager that police officers engaged in an “aggressive body search” of Williams; when she fought back, she was hit with resisting arrest. You can find additional information here.

–In “Doors Selling,” a VP of sales for Elektra notes that all twelve of the LPs from Jim Morrison and company sold more in 1980 than any year previous; ten are now gold.

–The Singles Radio Action sheet reports that nationally the Prime Movers are “9 To 5,” “Woman,” and “Hey Nineteen,” while the Top Add Ons are “Hello Again,” “Hearts On Fire,” and “What Kind of Fool.”

–WLUP in Chicago is running a contest featuring five “montage(s) of rock song snippets aired as sonic puzzles to be deciphered by listeners.” The first solver of each wins a cool $100K. The article focuses on the efforts of rival station WMET to play spoiler by ‘decoding’ the montages for their audience.

–Under Hits of the World, Ultravox’s “Vienna” is #16 in Britain, “Looking for Clues” from Robert Palmer sits at #17 in Canada, and Kate Bush is #3 in France with “Babooshka,” all evidence that taste in music here in the States at this moment was rather lacking.

–On the album reviews page: 1) Top Pop Album Picks are Marvin Gaye’s In Our Lifetime and the triple-LP Sandanista! from the Clash; 2) First Time Around, which highlights debut disks, features Stiv Bators, The Teardrop Explodes, and Yello; 3) Recommended LPs include The Skill by Australian AOR band The Sherbs (which found a spot in my collection within a year) and the latest effort from a struggling singer who’d recently scored a gig on General Hospital, playing some cat by the name of Noah Drake. Working Class Dog is described as “Catchy, mainstream rock produced by a young pro that sounds like perfect AOR fare.” Notably, “Jessie’s Girl” is not listed among its ‘Best Cuts.’

–The Hot 100 is missing, perhaps cut out to be posted on a wall at the station (alas, reviews of new singles were on the other side of that page). We do have the album chart, though. LPs in the Top 50 I eventually owned are Crimes of Passion (#2), Hi Infidelity (#12), Making Movies (#26), Christopher Cross (#31), Glass Houses (#35), and Remain In Light (#50). (My sister had Paradise Theater, which is bowing in at #18.) In the wake of John Lennon’s murder, there are scads of Beatles and Lennon albums strewn throughout the chart (and of course, Double Fantasy is #1). Dark Side of the Moon is in its 348th week on the chart, holding steady at #137 (Second in longevity is The Cars—136 weeks—barely hanging on at #198.)

If you want to view this issue in its almost entirety, you can find it (minus the Hot 100) at worldradiohistory.com

I’ve wondered from time to time how it is that magazine wound up in WTLX’s studio, and maybe why there weren’t any others. How active had the station been during the 80-81 school year? Were they trying to do a pop hits format? If so, why were there so few records, including 45s, from that time frame just two years later? I suppose I speculated about this last question up at the top; I’m just sorry that whatever momentum there had been before my cohort’s arrival on campus had stalled out.

We don’t play nearly enough Kate Bush around here, so even though I wouldn’t hear it for another six years (until I purchased The Whole Story), here’s “Babooshka”—a dark inversion of Rupert Holmes’s “Escape.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/29/83: Fleetwood Mac, “Love in Store”

Whether it was fully intentional or not, one of the things that happened after I began buying LPs much more frequently (usually at Cut Corner Records) in the spring of 1984 was stocking up on previously owned copies of Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac albums. I skipped over Live, but the other four wound up in my hot little mitts in fairly short order. While not the classic that Fleetwood Mac and Rumours are, I found Mirage rather charming from the get-go. After listening to it again a couple of times over this past week, here’s a decent approximation of its tracks ordered in terms of personal preference.

12. “Only Over You”
The one song on the album I wouldn’t miss. I can confirm Wikipedia’s claim that Christine McVie offers “special thanks for inspiration to Dennis Wilson” for this song on the lyric sheet.

11. “Straight Back”
Stevie contributed just three songs to Mirage; maybe she was holding back a bit for The Wild Heart? This one might not have been out of place there.

10. “Empire State”
Buckingham had quite a few punchy, sub-3:00 pieces appear on FM albums over the years, including three on Mirage. This ode to NYC opens up side two.

9. “Can’t Go Back”
When I bought Mirage, I knew only the hits. I kinda remember the first time I played the album on my stereo back in the dorm: I recognized upon hearing “Can’t Go Back” rev up right after “Love in Store” that I’d made a sound purchase.

8. “Hold Me”
That “Hold Me” reached #9 on my personal chart is more a tribute to its lengthy run than my high esteem, though I fully admit it’s a quality piece. Still not sure about that “damage/manage” rhyme, however.

7. “Book of Love”
Three of Buckingham’s five contributions, including “Book of Love,” were co-written with co-producer Richard Dashut. This one’s a mid-tempo meditation on end-of-relationship angst (i.e., getting dumped).

6. “Love in Store”
I don’t really think of the two Christine-penned singles as fully hers, since Lindsey (and Stevie, to a lesser extent) has such a strong vocal presence on both. This is sitting at #22 for the third week on this show; it’d turn out to be the Mac’s last appearance on AT40 for more than four years.

5. “Eyes of the World”
Steve Simels singles this song out for praise in the October 1982 issue of Stereo Review, particularly noting Buckingham’s acoustic/electric guitar interplay toward the end. What stands out for me now is the single word “eyes,” repeated over as a sort of chorus, foreshadowing what was to come on Go Insane.

4. “That’s Alright”
A gently-rollicking kiss-off, as maybe only Nicks could pull off.

3. “Oh Diane”
A top 10 hit in England; I’d like to know what it might have done as a fourth single stateside.

2. “Wish You Were Here”
Since I never got around to repurchasing Mirage on CD, I’d put it aside for a long time. When I finally wheeled it out again on YouTube, I was struck by how well I could sing along with “Wish You Were Here.” It must be on one of the now-broken mix tapes I made my senior year that I absolutely must find a way to fix. Simply a stunner.

1. “Gypsy”
I’m pretty irrational in my love for “Gypsy.” Outside of “Silver Springs,” it’s my favorite song from Nicks. I’ve always liked the extended version in the video, and I’m a sucker for all that joyful dancing in the rain, too. But why is only just now that I’m picking up on the phrase “velvet underground” in the opening line?

“A place where they can feel heard”

Time for part two of my interview with Erik Mattox about his radio show The UnCola, which you can listen to live on Tuesdays at 8pm on Asheville FM or anytime you like at the show’s blog. (Here’s part one, in case you missed it.)

WH: You said you do your own tech work, so the intro to your show, the bumpers that you haven’t asked other people to record, those are things you’ve put together yourself?

EM: Right. Yeah.

WH: Let’s just take the intro and the bumper that you run after the second song each hour. I recognize pieces from the Eurythmics, and there’s a James Brown sample, and there’s the Buggles. What are the other ones? I’d love to know what else you’ve sampled.

EM: Okay, let’s see. The one that starts with the Buggles, it has “You are…” in it, the “listening to” actually comes from a recording program I had, so that’s just a robot. Of course, then it says “the UnCola” (from a 70s commercial). The “Bam! Who’s next?” is from a Pharcyde album. They were a hip-hop group who did skits in between some of their songs.

When I was doing shows for African American Music Appreciation Month last year, that was the first time I’d listened to my intro in a while. I’m realizing it doesn’t tell you anything about my show. I really need to change it. I start off with James Brown (“Keep It Funky, Pt. 1”), I forget where the drum roll is from—it sounds like it’s from Edwin Starr’s “War,” but I don’t think it is—and I’ve got the Pharcyde in there again, I’ve got a What’s Happening sample in there. And of course I use the Eurythmics’ “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To).”

Early on, I did a show dedicated to WLIR, and I contacted some of the WLIR DJs to do bumpers for me. And one of them—Andy Geller, the guy who does all the voiceovers and promos for the Oscars—he did an hour-long bumper for me, including, (drops voice to sound like Geller) “You’re listening to Erik Mattox, on the UnCola at Asheville FM.” It sounds so good and professional. As soon as I heard it, I’m like, “I’m using that.”

WH: I know which one you’re talking about.

EM: And people have recognized his voice, and they ask me, “Is that the guy from the Oscars?” And I’m like, “He was actually a DJ at a radio station, but yeah.”

WH: Can I still get an UnCola bumper sticker?

EM: Do I have UnCola bumper stickers?

WH: Back in 2010, you advertised on your show’s website that you could write in and get one.

EM: Oh my god, I’ve completely forgotten about that. I don’t know if anyone ever took me up on it. Maybe they did. If I do have one still, please send me your address, and I’ll send one to you. I don’t think that they were done very well. If I have one, I will definitely send you one even if it’s something that you want to just put on a water bottle.

WH: Thank you!

EM: Absolutely.

WH: You touched on this a little bit at the very beginning, but now that you are over the airwaves in Asheville, what do you see as the role of your show, of Asheville FM—what do you see as the community role of the station?

EM: One thing we didn’t talk about earlier as Asheville FM got started…I was so excited and I immediately wanted to be involved in lots of different areas. I did publicity and promotions, and I joined the Board. In 2011, I became the Board President, and I served for about five years, until we got on the FM airwaves. We’ve been able to grow exponentially, and fundraising has greatly improved. We now have a station manager who’s paid, we have an underwriting manager who’s paid.

Our role here in the community is to be a voice for people from all races, all genders, and give them a place where they can feel heard, because people don’t always feel heard. Not only do we do that with music, obviously, but we have talk shows, we have Spanish language programming, we have a sports show, we have a kids’ show, and we have a podcast program where we take underprivileged children that don’t get an opportunity to do anything outside of school, any extracurricular activities, and get them involved in creating their own radio shows, so that they can see the power in that. And we get involved with a lot of other nonprofits’ causes within the community and because we are not beholden to any corporate entities—we raise money ourselves—we can be as unfiltered as the FCC allows us to be. And we can show viewpoints from a neutral vantage point, so that we’re not swinging one way or another and we can give people news that doesn’t have any sort of bias to it, letting people know what’s going on—this is a tourist town, so a lot of that is geared towards letting people know more of the real stuff that’s happening here. There are some independent papers that are like that as well, but we’re the main radio outlet for that. Continuing to do that, continuing to get into schools, educating younger people and show that this is something they can do, either as something that they’re paid to do in the future, or just because they love to do it—all of that is important.

We want to be as inclusive as we possibly can. I’ve rejoined the Board this year and I hope especially with everything going on, to really reach out and team up with a lot more folks to bridge the large gaps we have in the community. Black people, Latinos—those are two big sectors here that just need to have their voices heard in order for their stories to be heard, in order for justice to start taking shape and equality to start, so that it’s not theory, it’s actually practice, it’s people actually working towards a goal. I think there’s a lot of stuff in the ether, but people don’t necessarily know how to go about helping, even if they really want to. We want to be able to be a conduit for that for folks.  

WH: Going back to your show, do you have any special plans for the upcoming year? You don’t have to give me any spoilers.

EM: I come up with stuff as I go along. I tried planning ahead early on; I think there was a year where I actually listed that on the blog. Probably new volumes of the special shows I do. I’m also trying to find artists that I haven’t done tribute shows for that mean a lot to me. I kind of take it one week at a time, and I probably should plan a lot better. I’m happy when I sometimes plan two weeks ahead of time. This is a fun time of year for me, because in January I know I’m going to do a couple of shows where I’m just looking back to the previous year.

I think there was one year where I did an “In Memoriam” show where I played songs from artists that had passed away in the last year. It was cool to do but I don’t want to do that again. It’s hard to imagine that someone like Little Richard passed away, an architect of roll and roll, and it wasn’t bigger. It felt like it needed to be a lot bigger for people, and so you see that disconnect already for older artists. It happens already for 60s artists, and it’s going to happen for 70s artists, too, and I want to get there and do those tribute shows before that happens.

WH: Is there anything that you hoping to talk about tonight that I haven’t asked?

EM: I don’t know—your questions were great. I didn’t really think about what I wanted to talk about, because I’m not exactly sure how to talk about myself and what I do very well.

WH: I get that.

EM: I’m just very appreciative of the fact that we are financially supported by folks and I’m allowed to do this every week. I thought for sure there’d be a point that I’d not want to do it anymore, like years ago. I’ve been way more consistent in the last four years than I had been—2020 was the first year where I did an original show every single week. I’m amazed that I still want to do it and I go, “Oh yeah, that’s cool, I should play that,” and I don’t get bored doing it. I have a feeling that if I stop doing this, I probably won’t do it anyplace else. I will say that if I have at any time turned anyone on to a certain artist they didn’t know about and they got into that artist, that’s all I really want. I’ve been told, “I didn’t know that person, I really like them…” That’s really to me the thrill of still being able to do this. There’s a well that just never ends with music. I can’t believe I can still find older music that I’ve never heard before. It’s amazing.

WH: I’ve listened to many of your shows over the last two-and-a half years. I’ve learned a lot, for sure, and I just enjoy it. One thing I remember really impressing me was a Jonatha Brooke song you played…

EM: Nice.

WH: …early on in the time I was listening to you. So I’ll say you’ve had an impact on me.

EM: That’s cool. I’ve probably seen her live about 5-6 times. She’s amazing, and like everybody needs to know who she is. Everybody. I don’t understand why…well, I don’t want to go down that path…but she is so incredibly talented, it’s ridiculous. She has a beautiful voice. Her songs are just amazing. What a great catalog she has. And just by herself with a guitar, she’s a great live show, though with a band, it’s even better. If you get an opportunity—if she comes anywhere near you… She hasn’t been to Asheville in like ten years; she used to play here all the time.

WH: It was “Last Innocent Year,” off of 10¢ Wings.

EM: I love that album.  

After I stopped recording, Erik asked me why I had wanted to talk with him. I told him about how I’d play-acted being a DJ during my junior-high years, enjoyed being at WTLX, my college station, and that I was just plain curious about how he managed his show from week-to-week. What I didn’t say is that in some ways he’s living one of my dreams, getting to play music I like for other people.

Many, many thanks to Erik for taking the time to chat. I had a blast, and hope we have the chance to get together to talk again soon.

“I want to find music that people don’t know about and expose them to it”

At the start of my second year of blogging, I re-purposed a dormant Twitter account originally intended to tweet out assignments to my students and began putting out links to new posts. One of my first followers was @theuncolafm; I soon learned that Erik Mattox, that account’s proprietor, hosts The UnCola, a weekly radio show dedicated to “forgotten pop from the last 50 years,” Tuesday evenings from 8-10 on Asheville FM, a low-power station in western North Carolina. I became a fan of the show almost immediately, and over roughly the last two-and-a-half years, have enjoyed both listening live via its internet stream and to archived shows on The UnCola blog. (Erik also writes with deep knowledge of and strong affection for 80s tunes at Music In The Key Of E.)

After a while I realized I was curious to learn more about Erik’s show and the station. I recently reached out about getting together over Zoom for an interview (disclaimer: I’m not a journalist, nor have I pretended to be one since my junior year of college). A couple of weeks ago, we talked for more than an hour one evening.

Erik Mattox on the left, your humble blogger on the right. Both of us were hanging out with our music collections…

Today and tomorrow, you get to check in on our discussion, which, as they say in the biz, has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

First up: how The UnCola came to be, what goes into putting a show together, and recurring features/special programs.

WH: How did your relationship with Asheville FM and your radio show come about?

EM: I had been away from Asheville for about five-and-a-half years. I was living in New York, working in the film commercial industry. My wife and I moved to Savannah for a short time and we came back here. I’d been approaching radio stations in this area before I left, and I had been doing some podcasting and live deejaying up in New York. When I moved back here, I tried to get in touch with a low power community radio station, and unfortunately they were in the midst of kind of splitting up. Maybe six months later, I was in a record store around the corner from my house and heard someone talk about wanting to start their own radio station.  I got back to my house, I looked them up, contacted them, and immediately started joining meetings and helping them build the station, which was only a five-minute walk from my house, behind a coffee house. They had a lot of DJs from the other station, but they were looking for some new folks. I got lucky to be there in the beginning and be in there helping out and getting it started from the ground up.

They asked me what kind of show I wanted to do, and I really was not sure. I didn’t want to limit myself…. I’m going to give a short answer—there really is a long answer! One show that I really, really have enjoyed over the years for a long time is Barry Scott’s The Lost 45s, where basically he plays all the songs that were Top 40 hits that we’ve completely forgotten about. And I thought, why don’t I do the opposite of that, where I play songs people have completely forgotten about that weren’t even in the Top 40. And that way, I opened myself up and could call it a pop show. I wouldn’t limit myself, because pop can include tons of different genres, and so, in thinking of a name, I thought pop, I thought soda, and then immediately thought of Seven-Up, which was not soda, or the UnCola. And that’s where it got started, and it’s allowed me to continue since September 2009.

WH: You had no prior radio experience?

EM: I’ve never had paid radio experience. I did work at a campus radio station when I was a freshman in college, I’ve done some internships at radio stations, and I’ve done some free work for stations. Asheville FM got its start when the 2011 Local Community Radio Act opened up broadband to low power community FMs to apply for a license. It took many years for us to get that, so we started online only. We were able to get on the FM airwaves in 2015. It’s funny because locally, people weren’t taking us seriously, but we were able to reach an international audience almost immediately. People around the world found out about us, and we created fans worldwide before we had notoriety here in town, which was very interesting.

WH: So you have direct contact with listeners on other continents?

EM: Obviously, social media helps with that. One of the things I did was to reach out to artists and have them create bumpers for me. A lot of artists I reached out to are international, and they were like, “You’re playing my music in America? How awesome!” Because with traditional radio…they couldn’t just release a single to radio, or take it to the U.S…that just didn’t happen in 2009. So I was able to have people get interested and spread it that way, too. I wasn’t the only show to do that—there were a lot of shows that did, as well.

WH: Do you have a sense of how wide your listenership is? Is it possible to track that in any way?

EM: We do have access to Arbitron ratings, and there’s another one we have for low power FMs, but we can’t afford the advanced detailed version, so I only know from people who contact me and who I’ve reached out to. We had a big map of the world, and anytime someone has contacted us at the station, we’ve always put a pin in that country. At one point, we had somewhere between seventy and eighty countries pinned on that map. That’s pretty cool for a tiny little station.

WH: From listening to your show, it’s clear that you play an immense range of music and musical styles. Have your interests always been so wide?

EM: (Pauses.) Yes. Always. I grew up in New York, so right there you have every musical style at your fingertips. I grew up playing the viola, so I had classical music. My parents always had music playing, whether radio or records, and, growing up in the 70s, the variety was already there for you to sample. And even more so in the 80s, when there was a visual was added to it. Just the genre new wave is diverse enough. There was a station called WLIR, which was on Long Island, that was infamous mostly for playing new wave, but they broke everybody that was popular in the 80s. Madonna wasn’t new wave, but they had no problem playing her. They had no problem playing Wham! They had no problem playing Pete Townshend’s singles. There were so far ahead of everybody else—they would go over to England, buy records, and then play them on the air when you couldn’t find it anyplace. What they did in the 80s inspired me, because that’s what I want to do—I want to find music that people don’t know about and expose them to it.

WH: How big is your record/tape/CD/file collection?

EM: (Laughs.) I started out as a tape collector. I eventually got rid of all my cassette tapes, except for the mix tapes I’ve made. Vinyl—I’ve cataloged everything on Discogs, just in case of an emergency—I have approaching on 8000 albums. Digitally? Oh my god; I’m somewhere between 9 and 10 terrabytes of music backed up now. Part of that is I’m keeping more and more stuff either in FLAC or WAV format, so they’re bigger files. I do that partly for myself, because I’m getting older and for my hearing, but also for my kids, who one day will be interested, and I can go, “Here you go—here’s your library. Start listening.”

WH: I was looking at the early entries on your show’s website/blog and noticed that a number of the recurring features you do now, such as the XTC Song of the Week, were there from almost the very beginning. Do you have a favorite feature, either one that you still do, or maybe one you’ve discontinued?

EM: There are two. The first one would be The WestCoast Breeze. I started that because in 2009 there wasn’t this moniker ‘Yacht Rock’ for 70s and 80s soft rock yet. I kept discovering one band after another that I’d never heard before and I was, I’ve just got to get this out to folks. So many international bands were trying to get that LA sound. I began by doing that once a week, and I would do an annual full show. I even spun it off into a second show on Asheville FM for almost four years, to fill in a space on the schedule.

The other is one I did last year for about three months. De La Soul’s second album, De La Soul Is Dead, is unstreamable because of all the samples. I wanted to do a show where I played all of the songs they sampled from start to finish but that would have taken six or seven hours. So instead, every week I would pick one song, play five songs sampled in it, and then I’d play the song itself. That was fun to do.

WH: Are there features that you’ve stopped doing that you might bring back someday?

EM: I think I keep revisiting a lot of the same features. I’m always trying to figure out whether there’s something I should add. My show sometimes might not have any features, or they might have a few of them. Some of them are just excuses to go, “Oh, I’m going to play a disco song now,”, so I can have something to introduce it by, so it’s not too jarring. I will say this, though: it’s a mixed blessing that I’ve been able to be on the air for this amount of time where some of my musical heroes have passed away. Being able to honor them musically with a tribute show has been really cool. I try to do it in a nontraditional way where I don’t go, “Here are the hits.” I try to really dig to find some obscure stuff that they were a part of. It’s part of life that these folks are gonna pass away, like in 2016 when we had Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty, and Walter Becker, and George Michael. It was too much! But I’m honored that I have this privilege to do that and share that with folks.

WH: I fear your opportunities to do that are going to only increase.

EM: I’m also trying to jump ahead of it, too. I thought to myself, I don’t want to put together an Elton John show one day…I want to do an Elton John show while Elton John is alive—it’d be so completely different. So last year I did.

WH: Tribute shows are one kind of special show that you do. Are there other special shows that you particularly like to do?

EM: I love when I am digging into just one decade. Especially the 80s, the 70s, too. Because then when I’m going to do that show, I really, really take a lot of time to find artists that I’ve never played before. And songs that I’ve never played before. I keep track of all of that because I’m kind of a stats nerd, which I’m sure you can appreciate…

WH: Uh, just a bit…

EM: So I keep track of who I play, and sometimes I’m surprised, I’m like, “I haven’t played this artist in ten years on my show? I have no idea why.” That’s fun for me to do. But I struggle with 90s shows for some reason. 90s is a hard thing for me to pull together. I think I spent most of that decade really looking backwards. I don’t know what it is about it.

WH: Looking back over the eleven-plus years you’ve been doing this, can you see an evolution from your earlier shows to what you’re doing now? Can you articulate any aspects of that evolution?

EM: Doing the show by myself, I’m my own producer, so I have to be better technically, and I think I can get in and out quicker. I’m not the kind that tries to hit the post.  I think that I am better about using my words when I need to, and at having the songs fit together better, rather than be so random. I try to find themes sometimes, even small themes within my sets. And I think I’m better at doing that, so that it’s not just a jarring, all-over-the-place mess. I am a lot more cohesive with my song selections. On the other hand, I can’t believe that my voice doesn’t sound better…my voice still sounds the same, I still stammer, I still slur, talk too fast, but sometimes I just get excited about talking about stuff.

WH: How do you go about preparing for one of your standard shows? You just touched on this a little bit, but how do you pay attention to the sequencing?

EM: I have big databases of songs, separated by decade. I take a look and say, “OK, I need some more from the 90s, I need some more from the 2000s, or the 70s…” I go look in a million different places. I’ve been recently looking at old Billboard magazines and at old Record World magazines. I’m amazed at the stuff I’ve found in there. YouTube has been—it’s amazing how that has become a very big reference for me. I find a lot of really hard-to-find music there. It used to be very easy—people would just post music on blogs.  MySpace was a great place to find music—people would do tribute sites to obscure bands and put stuff on there. Do you remember iMeem? It was a free site where you could upload music—I discovered a ton of stuff there. I’m always looking for a new way, a new avenue to find stuff.

If I’m creating a five-song set, I like to do songs from at least four different decades—if I’m lucky, I can get five different decades. I want to make a seamless mix from five different decades, that’s kind of how I’m picking it.

I’ve streamlined when I play newer music. This past year, I’ve been putting it in one five-song block, rather than mixing it throughout. I’m enjoying doing it that way. I don’t know if I’ll continue to do it, but it makes it easier—people can focus on, “This is the new stuff right now.”

If I’m digging for vinyl, I can transfer it digitally. I don’t do that as much anymore, because of the time it takes. There’s still stuff that I can’t find online, but sometimes I figure out that I have it already—I just didn’t realize it!

WH: What’s your greatest recent discovery of “new” old music from the 70s or 80s, that you’ve come across in the last year or so? Something that you didn’t know about previously.

EM: Nothing hits me right off the bat from that era, but I will say that there’s a band called Baby Grand who put out two albums in the late 70s, and I constantly go back to those and listen to them. I’m amazed at not only how well they done, how well they were performed and produced, how complex they are, but that someone was allowed to do this, and put it out. The producer and two of their members became the Hooters and did something completely different. I love finding albums like that, that are just like, there was no chance in hell it was ever going to be popular when it came out. It’s obvious it was done because someone just really appreciated the artistic vision of these musicians and were hoping to expand the genre. It’s cool when you discover stuff like that, and so I keep going back to them.

WH: I’ve been digging through old Stereo Review magazines, and I recently came across one that had a review of one of Baby Grand’s albums, I think from ‘77. (Ed: It was the May 1978 issue.)

EM: That was their debut.

Tomorrow: Bumpers, bumper stickers, and Asheville FM’s role in the community.

Stereo Review In Review: January 1987

I’ve been doing some advance reconnaissance for the 2021 edition of SRIR, and maybe two-thirds of the issues I plan to examine this year have been tentatively selected. As of this moment, I don’t expect there to be any that came after this one, but we’ll see. While it’s possible I could have read this while home on my first winter break from grad school, nothing feels familiar; maybe Dad had already let his subscription expire…

Ann Ferrar Talks with the Bangles
“Walk Like an Egyptian” was riding high on the charts when this issue appeared, but the interview must have taken place several months earlier, as “Manic Monday” is the only song from Different Light to receive mention. Ferrar catches up with them on a night they’re to appear at Catch a Rising Star in NYC; the article touches on their 60s influences, notes the opportunity that having four vocalists presents, and addresses comparisons to the Go-Go’s (natch) and Bananarama.

Steve Simels on Starting a Compact Disc Collection
Simels takes a look at ten favorite discs that one might consider as the CD-era begins its fast rise. His choices include Wish You Were Here, Synchronicity, Scarecrow, Beggar’s Banquet, Hounds of Love and two from the Who.

Our reviewers this month are stalwarts Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, and Steve Simels.

Best of the Month
–Talking Heads, True Stories (MP) “The songs these stories inspired, an American-made gumbo of rock-and-roll, gospel, Tex-Mex, and mariachi, are simple yet absorbing…dissecting the facts and perceptions of the characters’ lives and rearranging them in strange, unreal ways.”
–Timbuk 3, Greetings from Timbuk 3 (SS) “…one of the sharper debut albums of the year. The basic sound…is a sort of sardonic, bluesy, neo-folk rock, with occasional forays into peripherally related styles like reggae.”

Other Disks Reviewed (* = featured review)
–*Beat Rodeo, Home in the Heart of the Beat (MP) “The alliance between pop, punk, and country creates what I can only call a mournful playfulness—the country in Beat Rodeo wants to make these songs sad, but the pop keeps winking at you.”
–George Benson, While the City Sleeps (PG) “Best of all, there are times when he engages in his special manner of singing in unison with his agile guitar improvisations…You can’t ask for too much more—except, perhaps, for a little jazz.”
–The B-52’s, Bouncing Off the Satellites (MP) “I feel a little silly playing this record when anyone else is around, but I sneak a listen whenever the opportunity presents itself…”
–Suzanne Ciani, The Velocity of Love (MP) “Ciani is clearly trying to create a soundtrack for a love affair…What she ends up with, though is the kind of gauzy, breathless stuff a ‘ladies’ man’ puts on to go with a candlelit dinner…”
–Duke Ellington, New Mood Indigo (CA) “Because Ellington recordings are available in such abundance, this release, which has the earmark of a grab bag, loses some of the interest it might otherwise merit.”
–John Fogerty, Eye of the Zombie (SS) “…a snoozer, the sound of a genuine rock original approaching self-parody.”
–Phyllis Hyman, Living All Alone (PG) “…plays up the finest qualities of Hyman’s lusty, full-throated voice and sensual delivery with songs that reflect a full range of moods in tasteful, rhythmically varied arrangements.”
–James, Stutter (AN) “All in all, this is a most challenging and creative romp through a lyrical and melodic house of horrors where you never know what kind of twisted image waits around the corner.”
–Huey Lewis and the News, Fore! (MP) “With the Tower of Power horns at the hot end and the News’s patented a cappella vocals at the cool end, there’s plenty of material here for all those prom bands out there.”
–*Lyle Lovett, S/T (AN) “Sophisticated and sinewy whether he’s writing about twisted love or the high and low life of society, he has a lot of the New Breed of Nashville scared silly.”
–Out of the Blue, Inside Track (CA) “It does not take a keen ear to predict that (this group) has a bright future on the jazz scene, and though it echoes the last great period in jazz history, it sounds far fresher than so-called New Age music.”
Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume II (SS) “…an album that, among other splendid accomplishments, validates Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious…While the music ranges from the genuinely excellent to the surrealistically awful, there’s never a dull moment.”
–Toto, Fahrenheit (MP) “Toto has always been able to take mediocre material and make it sound great…Fahrenheit begins to show songwriting ability that approaches the level of (their) tremendous musicianship.”
–Tina Turner, Break Every Rule (AN) “…impressive and sometimes stunning. But it is also a portrait of a superstar playing it safe.”

Dad’s 45s, Part 8: 1970-71

Let’s wrap up the 70s portion of this series with the last seven singles from that decade. For some now unknowable reason, my father pretty much stopped buying 45s around the end of 1971 (though there are a few from later–“Crocodile Rock,” “Annie’s Song,” “Back Home Again,” and “I Can Help”–that wound up in the kids’ stash). I’m surprised to see a couple of these here.

Johnny Cash, “What Is Truth” (#19, May 1970)
Next-to-last Top 40 hit for the Man in Black. Honestly, I was unfamiliar with this one, but I can see why Dad might have liked it.

Ray Stevens, “Everything Is Beautiful” (#1, May/June 1970)
This one stirs old, old memories–it had to have gotten decent play in the house. I know that Stevens and I don’t remotely see eye to eye on any number of things, but I’ll admit to being a fan of both of his #1 hits.

Ray Price, “For the Good Times” (#11, January 1971)
Very nice song; it’s another one, though, that just doesn’t match what I’d consider the Platonic ideal of an IRH fave. Fifty years ago this week, it was already on the way down, at #16.

Elton John, “Your Song” (#8, January/February 1971)
Another one that was charting half-a-century ago, sitting at #11. Dad liked quite a bit of Reg’s catalog, so I can’t be shocked that he got on board from the very start.

Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee” (#1, March 1971)
Our second Kristofferson-penned piece. It would debut on the Hot 100 at the end of January. A true, pure classic; glad to find it here.

Lou Rawls, “A Natural Man” (#17, December 1971)
I love Rawls’s voice, but I did not expect this at all. Kudos, Dad.

Don McLean, “American Pie” (#1, January/February 1972)
Part II is on the flip side, of course. I remember one morning a few years later hearing an interpretation of “American Pie”‘s lyrics on WLW’s James Francis Patrick O’Neill show, while eating breakfast–whatever ‘expert’ was in the studio with JFPO simply talked over the record as it played. I presume the commentary was at least semi-accurate–I’m pretty sure that’s when I learned that Bob Dylan was the Jester.

I’d say there are maybe four installments to go; hope you’re ready for lots of 60s action.

November/December Charts of Yore

I’m in a pattern of putting these up after every two months’ worth of shows; why stop now?

For a fine blow-by-blow of this chart, you’ll want to check out Neck Pickup here. Just for the record, the missing LDD was “Love Will Keep Us Together.”

Hello/Goodbye: The first three songs on the show were by newbies.

As for my rankings, it’s great to see old pal Al Stewart on top. I’m disappointed in myself for not letting Boz get any higher than #13, though.

This comes from my lazy period, a couple of weeks after I’d broken my left wrist. It’s one of three lists on a single 8.5″ by 11″ sheet (the last three weeks of November are on it).

Hello/Goodbye: Player, High Inergy, and Bob Welch all bow in for the first time.

Next, a couple more of WKRQ’s lists. The 1977 chart is the second one in my collection; this may be just about been the time I began listening to them. Overall it feels like they’re a little behind the times–a lot of songs in the bottom half of the chart had already faded nationally. I hated that Kenny Loggins song back then. As for 1980, I’m not surprised to see the Stones so high, nor the Kansas and Seger cuts present.

And here are the backs. Don’t remember Bruce Ryan, but I doubt I was listening in the mornings in late 1977, anyway. Regarding the $1 million prize: Cincinnati radio had a huge promotion war in the second half of 1980. An upstart Top 40 station started it by giving away $500,000 to a listener in the late summer, followed by a like prize to a school. As you can tell, Q102’s owner upped the ante; hope Mary used the money wisely.

Bonus 1977 coverage! I re-discovered this putting this post together. It’s on the back side of the sheet with the above 1977 chart. I believe the correct chronological order is left-bottom-right, but don’t ask what the * and @ symbols mean, ’cause I don’t remember. Sorta like Q102, certain songs were hanging around for a loooong time: for instance, “Easy,” “Give a Little Bit,” and “Whatcha Gonna Do?” had been gone from AT40 for over a month by this point (I had all three 45s, though, and I’ll bet I played them a bunch). I guess maybe I’ve always been a chart maker…

Four more below the fold…

Continue reading “November/December Charts of Yore”

Forgotten Albums: 3 Mustaphas 3, Heart of Uncle

When I began teaching assistant duties in the fall of 1987, the students in my two Calc I recitation sections were only about five years younger than I was. Whether that made the job easier or harder, well, you’ve got me. On one hand, even if I didn’t come from the Chicago suburbs like so many of them did, we still had roughly the same popular culture references to draw upon. I could be their advocate as the need arose with the professor who ran the course and lectured three times each week. On the other, while I knew how to do first-semester calculus, that hardly meant I understood it well enough, or had enough experience with it, to help my charges better grasp course material during our Tuesday-Thursday Q&A sessions. Regardless, at least one of them must have had an okay experience: I ran into Dave occasionally around campus over the following couple of years, and in the spring of 1990, he invited me to join his fantasy baseball league (took 2nd place that year, and 3rd in 1991).

The following semester I was given complete charge of a trigonometry class. A valuable experience, but I struggled with having so much responsibility for the first time. The worst of it was determining final grades in borderline cases. After the semester ended, I received a lengthy, impassioned, typed letter from Kathleen, who’d wound up on the low end of such a decision. She and I had met in my office shortly after grades had been posted to talk about the situation, and her letter arrived in my departmental mailbox early the next week. The grade assigned had real world consequences; it would keep her from admission to the program of her choice in the College of Education. “I know this is what the numbers say but sometimes you have to look past the numbers, William, and take more of the student and the efforts into account…As students, we generally get what we deserve and we are well aware of this. In this situation, however, I do not feel that I have gotten what I deserve.” It was a very close case, and to this day I’m unconvinced I did the right thing by electing not to change Kathleen’s grade.

My remaining assignments as a TA were, with one exception, second-semester calculus. In the fall of 1988, I had two sections, taught back-to-back. This was the only time I wasn’t teaching in Altgeld Hall, the math building; instead, I was in Henry Administration, just south of Altgeld. Calc II is a fun class to teach, assuming you’re into that whole calculus thing to begin with. In my experience, though, it tends to be the hardest course in the sequence for students–determining which integration technique to use or which convergence test to apply to an infinite series can definitely be a challenge the first time through. I think my confidence (as well as my ability to explain) was on the rise by this time. I do still have the notes I made more than thirty years ago, and I continued to reference them with some frequency in my first decade or so on the job.

Kathy was in my first section that fall. A few weeks into the term, she asked me to attend an “invite a teacher to dinner” function her sorority was hosting at its house on a Friday evening. For someone who hadn’t imbibed of Greek life as an undergrad, this was an opportunity I felt I shouldn’t miss, and it turned out to be plenty interesting.The women of the sorority broke into singing a couple of times, and quite a number of fellows from a frat dropped by mid-event (I have no idea if this was expected or not) to start a back-and-forth songfest. However, this wound up being the last time I saw Kathy, as she dropped the class the following week.

I had a high school student in the other section. Kie was a senior at Uni High, a small, selective school located on campus–perhaps one or both of her parents were professors. Not terribly surprisingly, she was among the very best students in the class. She was also the most curious and inquisitive, occasionally staying after class to ask about generalizations or extensions of an example or a topic. Over the course of the semester, I learned that Kie was precocious in more ways than just mathematically. Altgeld Hall has a carillon in its tower; it normally just chimes every quarter-hour, but during the week there’s a daily fifteen-minute “show” right before noon. Kie provided that entertainment on Thursdays, and once I climbed up into the tower with her to watch her maneuver what looked like organ pedals (but were at hand level). She also had a weekly show at WEFT, Champaign-Urbana’s community radio station. I tuned into it once or twice. Her musical interest at the time was dub poetry, which has its origins in reggae.

(And now, an abrupt transition after that long intro…) I’m pretty certain it was on WEFT–maybe on the show right after Kie’s, maybe several weeks later–that I first learned of the wildly creative 3 Mustaphas 3. A collective of musicians in the UK, their conceit was they came from the Balkans and were all nephews (and a niece) of the fictitious Patrel Mustapha. They played a dizzying array of instruments, sang in a multitude of languages, and mashed together musical influences from all over the globe in an onslaught of rhythms, tempos, and time signatures. The group’s catchphrase–“Forward in All Directions!”–sums things up pretty well.

Eventually I came across the Mustaphas’ 1989 release Heart of Uncle at the Urbana Free Library, and my officemate Paul ripped it onto a cassette for me (fear not, I eventually bought a copy of the CD). I don’t have much “world music” in my collection, but Uncle is one of the most fascinating and entertaining disks I own.

Things kick off with “Awara Hoon,” sung in Hindi:

One of my favorites is the rollicking “Trois Fois Trois (City Version).” This time we’re treating to vocals in French and Spanish. It’s reprised in a ‘Country Version’ later on the album.

Several of the tracks are instrumental; I’ll embed two of them for you. First is “Sitna Lisa,” which combines elements of Celtic and Middle Eastern music.

Next is “Vi Bist Du Geveyzn Far Prohibish’n?” It’s a spirited piece that only becomes more frenzied as it builds.

“Kem Kem” is sung in Kiswahili with some beautiful harmonies.

The one tune sung in English is “Taxi Driver (I Don’t Care).” It’s pretty tame in comparison to most of the other songs.

And I’ll wrap up with the riveting and haunting “Aj Zadji Zadji Jasno Sonce,” sung in Macedonian.

As it turns out, back in Kentucky, my college roommate James and his wife Amy independently discovered the Mustaphas via their even more eclectic 1990 album Soup of the Century. That disk turned out to just about be it for 3M3–an outtake/remix album ensued, as well as a live album several years later. Maybe they felt that the string had just played itself out on this venture, and they were ready to move to other pursuits. Regardless, it’s a ride I’m glad to have found and taken.

One of the great things about teaching college is the ongoing opportunity to meet a wide range of promising young adults. That continued of course at Illinois after the fall of 1988–I still recall a number of students specifically, and wonder how things turned out for them–but for some reason, the moments you carry around in your head for years afterward happened less frequently after those initial semesters in the classroom. (I think I tend to have stronger memories of students from my first years at Georgetown, too, for what that’s worth.)

AT40’s Top 100 of 1984, Part 2

Here’s the second half of what I wrote down on the weekend of 12/29/84.

Only three peak position errors on this part of the show, and two involved Lionel Richie: #48 only reached 7, #40 made it to just 5, and #31 got to 3.

Even if I wasn’t right all the time about how high songs got, one thing that really stood out to me writing this chart down was how well year-end rank correlated overall with peak position, and how few non-Top 10 tunes even made the show. This was so different from what I’d seen in the late 70s, when songs that didn’t even crack the top 20 in real time could sneak onto the year’s Top 100, due to their longevity on the charts. According to this thread at one of the AT40 Fun & Games message boards, Casey’s staff had started using a ‘power point’ system in 1982, based only on top 50 performance (historically, Billboard used all of a song’s Hot 100 life–one need only also listen to the 1971 year-ender that Premiere provided to 70s affiliates this year to see that in action), awarding bonuses for weeks in the top 10 and big points for multiple weeks at the top. I also learned there that AT40 went back to using Billboard‘s rankings in 1985, which may explain in part why “Out of Touch,” “I Feel for You,” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” were so high at year’s end in both 1984 and 1985.