Stereo Review In Review: March 1985

The usual lag between records landing in reviewers’ laps and magazines getting published and stuffed in subscribers’ mailboxes means that this time they’re looking at a number of releases from late in the previous year. Also, it’s our first peek at a feature that turned out to be not terribly long-lived.

The Art of Tape Recording, by Ian G. Masters
My equipment was never good enough (nor were the cassettes) to be that concerned when I put together mix tapes, but, having made a few tapes down at WTLX while it was off the air, I have a definite appreciation for Masters’ advice on back-cueing when transferring from vinyl. Bonus points for including a paragraph on recording from the nascent Compact Disk medium.

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Louis Meredith (see below), Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, and Steve Simels.

Best of the Month
–Earl Thomas Conley, Treadin’ Water (AN) “…about as perfect a modern country record as I ever expect to hear…if there were a Record of the Decade award, this one would get my vote.” I’ve listened to (parts of) the three #1 country songs on this album, and I’ll confess this just isn’t my style. What I thought was the best of the bunch is at the end of the post.
–Rickie Lee Jones, The Magazine (MP) “…a return to the kind of mean-street, juke-box world she created on Pirates, but with an important difference. The focus now is not on the denizens of some observed world, but on Rickie Lee Jones herself…” Picked up a cassette of this on the cheap about three years later. Absolutely adore “The Real End,” her last charting song (it peaked unjustly at #83 in October of 1984).

Other Disks Reviewed (* = featured review)
–Ashford and Simpson, Solid (CA) “…it is their best in a long time—and, considering their record, that’s high praise.”
–Philip Bailey, Chinese Wall (CA) “A little falsetto goes a long way with me, and I soon found my attention straying from the vocals to the back-up: faceless stuff that neither offends nor titillates.”
–Rosemary Clooney, The Music of Irving Berlin (CA) “…a graceful, articulate set that brings out the best in the ten Berlin tunes she caresses.”
–Culture Club, Waking Up with the House on Fire (MP) “…while it sports a somewhat richer, more elaborately arranged and polished quality, (it) lacks the strong songwriting and crisp energy of its predecessors.”
Electric Dreams soundtrack (MP) “This music is as false as the boy-girl-computer love triangle that’s the absurd premise of (the movie).”
Give My Regards to Broad Street soundtrack (SS) “To add insult to injury, (McCartney’s) remakes of Beatles tunes…have all the energy, conviction, and authority of a matinee performance of Beatlemania.”
–Al Jarreau, High Crime (PG) “The instrumentation is heavy on metallic synthesizer gimmicks and lean on melody, with no improvisation, and a raucous high-decibel wall of sound is hurled at the listener, so that most of the time Jarreau’s singing seems merely incidental.”
–*The Judds, Why Not Me (AN) “A singer of surprising maturity, (Wynonna) knows how to caress a sculptured melody, arouse a sleepy lyric, and belt one out when the need arises…one of the strongest country albums of the year.”
–Chaka Khan, I Feel for You (CA) “Kahn could be better presented, but (Arif) Mardin at least has her on the right track, especially in the title song…”
–The Kinks, Word of Mouth (SS) “It’s partially redeemed by Davies’s always inimitable singing but not by much else.”
–Anne Murray, Heart over Mind (PR) “Murray has chosen the broad mainstream of pop-vocal music as her performing arena, and within it she is one of its best practitioners.”
–REO Speedwagon, Wheels Are Turnin’ (MP) “REO Speedwagon is to rock what Southern Comfort is to drink—a little too sweet, a little too slick, a little too safe.”
–Romeo Void, Instincts (MP) “Instincts, a Stephen King novel on vinyl, comes as close to finding a musical voice for this macabre generation as any record in recent memory.”
–Sparks, Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat (SS) “…the tick-tock rhythms and synthesizer textures sound a lot less interesting than they did in the early Seventies when the Maels invented them (to give these guys their due, they’ve been an enormous unacknowledged influence on a lot of the New Wave), and at times the cutesy-poo stuff gets a tad out of hand.”
–Richard Thompson, Small Town Romance and Strict Tempo (SS) “Miss either of these at your peril.”
–UB-40, Geffery Morgan (MP) “…surely the angriest expression of this politically and socially concerned band yet released in this country.”
–Wham!, Make It Big (SS) “…the music here has a certain insincerity to it that undercuts the charm they seem to be striving for. Not a bad album, mind you, but I’d stick with the singles.”
–XTC, The Big Express (SS) “Too often they’re so concerned with getting the right odd sounds, with fragmenting meter and line, and with being ‘surprising’ that the songs—the reason we’re listening, after all—get lost.”
–*Frank Zappa, Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger and Them or Us (MP) “It may say less about Frank Zappa’s stature as a composer than about the state of modern music, but The Perfect Stranger is as inventive and intelligent a collection of contemporary chamber music as those of any currently active ‘serious’ composer…Them or Us is a vintage Zappa burlesque, a rude variety show during which the dirty old man casts his leering judgments over a rather predictable assortment of cultural icons and institutions…”

Video Reviews
Last year I looked at issues from February 1984 and August 1985, completely bypassing the fifteen-month period SR included a look at the burgeoning home video scene. Louis Meredith was brought on staff and contributed a few reviews each month, abetted by Albertson and Nash.
–Band Aid, Do They Know It’s Christmas? (LM) “This video is a straightforward documentary account of the recording sessions. The results, well intentioned as they may be, are only moderately entertaining. There’s an annoying air of self-congratulation about the whole business, reminiscent of what you used to see on the Jerry Lewis telethons…”
–Jefferson Starship, S/T (LM) “New depths of perfunctoriness are plumbed in the obligatory halfhearted rendering of the former classic ‘Somebody to Love,’ but even the band’s more recent material sounds, overall, either undernourished…or undernourished and petulant.”
–*Rock and Roll, The Early Days (LM) “Put together by some of the people who earlier gave us the Complete Beatles and Girl Groups videos, the program…gives you a real feeling for the sort of bolt-out-of-the-blue excitement that people experienced when rock-and-roll exploded the complacency of the Fifties.”
–The Rolling Stones, Video Rewind (LM) “Jet-set excess and middle age notwithstanding, this is a band not yet past its prime.”

Jan/Feb Charts, With A Twist

As usual, a number of AT40s from the charting era got played these last couple of months. Here they are; there’s a one-of-a-kind among them.

I must have had a peek at this week’s Hot 100 at Recordland in the Florence Mall, since those two Picks led off the following show.

Hello/Goodbye: Tom Johnston’s solo Top 40 career was super-brief, just two weeks long.

I learned about many a tune from years past via AT40 Extras and Archived #1s. Sometimes, the impact was long-lasting. For instance, there is a direct line between hearing the song played right after “Somewhere in the Night” on this show and then six years later putting it on one of the tapes that indirectly led to starting this blog.

Hello/Goodbye: Nigel Olsson, come on down…

In early 2013, Martha and I spent plenty of time clearing out her parents’ house to prepare it for sale. By the end of January, our efforts were largely concentrated in the basement, which over the decades had turned into a repository for everything they hadn’t wanted to discard (leaving it to us to address, of course). My re-connection with AT40 had begun the previous June, and I had recently learned how the TuneIn app could be used to listen to shows on stations around the world. One of my first go-to stations was KZOY, in Sioux Falls, SD (I still check them out occasionally). This show was the one playing that Saturday eight years ago we whiled away in the basement, organizing and tossing stuff–Casey played up the suspense about the new #1 pretty well.

Hello/Goodbye: Why yes, it’s the first appearance for Buckner and Garcia.

As for my rankings…well, I hadn’t quite gotten burned out on “Centerfold” yet.

Thirteen weeks after I fell and broke my left wrist, I badly sprained my right one (time has dimmed the memory of what I did this time). It being a Saturday and all, I was suddenly desperate for assistance in writing down that week’s countdown. In stepped my mother.

I’m sure I coached her up on #27 and #21, at the least (the error on #37 slipped past me, though).

I look back on my youth and can see now how often my parents were there for my sister and me, supporting our interests as best they could. I can only hope I appreciated it enough at the time, and have paid it forward sufficiently with my son.

(I recovered pretty quickly, as you can tell from the way I was able to fill out the other stuff a few days later.)

Hello/Goodbye: LeBlanc and Carr finally come on board, in their 17th week on the chart. Debby Boone’s done all she can to state her case for being the biggest one-timer ever in the Top 40.

I’d turned 17 the day before I wrote this down; can’t say I remember much about that weekend now at all. There are songs I still like here, but we’re a month or so away from the scene really beginning to turn much more to my satisfaction–“Living in a Fantasy” and “Ah! Leah!” are on the leading edge of that.

Hello/Goodbye: Nada this time.

On the personal ranking front: even if Andy Gibb was in the last throes of his solo career, “Time Is Time” has always been one of my favorites of his, certainly the best thing since “Shadow Dancing.”

Five weeks since the 1980 chart above, and Captain and Tennille are still holding on at #2. You wonder sometimes how real those heart-tugging LDDs are, but I’ll cop to being moved when I heard the first one on this show a few weeks ago: a teen in Vermont thanking her community for raising money for a surgery needed after being in an accident.

Hello/Goodbye: We’re seeing the last of both Bonnie Pointer and Isaac Hayes.

Dad’s 45s, Part 10: Local Legends

Just two obscure entries for this themed episode, but folks from my neck of the woods will know the singer of the first and the subject of the second.

Bob Braun, “‘Til Tomorrow”

Cincinnati was home to perhaps the first daytime television talk/variety show, The 50 Club (there were 50 seats in the audience), hosted by Ruth Lyons beginning in the late 1940s. A few years later, capacity was doubled and the show was rechristened The 50/50 Club. When Lyons retired suddenly in January 1967, her protégé Bob Braun took command and kept the show going until the mid-1980s.

I guess it was during the summers of my youth that I would regularly catch bits of the hour-long 50/50 Club, enough at least so that Braun and his cast became familiar. The format was pretty set by the mid-70s: a couple of guests (often entertainers whose tours had taken them to Cincy), a few songs, and oodles of bonhomie.

Braun was an almost exact contemporary of my parents. Like them, he was raised in the northernmost tip of Kentucky, mere miles from Cincinnati. Mom was a year younger than Braun, and she told us more than once about seeing Braun showing off in his convertible, cruising around Frisch’s Big Boy on a weekend night, back when they were in high school. Maybe I’m misremembering, but I also seem to recall that Braun’s parents were parishioners of the church my father was serving when I was born.

Bob Braun was born to entertain, a natural schmoozer. He made a number of attempts at a recording career, and even had one Top 40 hit: “‘Til Death Do Us Part,” a treacly, mostly-spoken-word piece, peaked at #26 on Labor Day weekend, 1962. His work was decidedly in the easy-listening vein (an exception is 1954’s “Rock and Roll Country Girl“); as you might imagine, this didn’t work out so well as the 60s progressed. (Check out this fascinating clip of a March 1964 appearance on American Bandstand: Dick Clark is trying to help break Braun’s current release, while Braun clearly is sucking up to Clark, both seemingly oblivious to the tidal wave hitting popular music at that instant.)

Another of Braun’s releases wound up in Dad’s stash. “‘Til Tomorrow” is from the Broadway musical Fiorello! (Did you know there was a Tony Award-winning production about the life of Fiorello LaGuardia in the late 50s?) It was released in 1961, while my dad was at that church in Braun’s hometown (lending credence to my speculation above). Braun’s version is not on YouTube, but other recordings are available if you’re curious enough. By the way, Cliff Lash was the bandleader on The 50/50 Club, and the B-side was written by Ruth Lyons.

I’ve gone on long enough, but one more thing–there’s a strong chance non-Cincinnatians are familiar with Braun. After The 50/50 Club ended in 1984, he headed to LA to try his luck as an actor. Braun did score a few parts, including a scene in Die Hard 2, but he made his biggest mark in late 80s/early 90s commercials for Craftmatic beds:

Be Merry, “The Ballad of Adolph Rupp”

Throughout his life, Dad was an ardent (and I do mean ardent) fan of University of Kentucky men’s basketball. Their ascendancy as a national powerhouse came toward the end of my father’s high school days; since he went to college in Lexington, he was able to see them play often during their peak (though a point-shaving scandal led to the cancellation of their 1952-53 season). Somewhere around here I’ve got his ticket stub from the 1958 NCAA Championship game in Louisville, when UK beat Seattle for their fourth title in a decade.

Adolph Rupp was the architect of this dynasty, coaching UK from 1930 to 1972. As Rupp’s career was winding down, a local fan wrote and recorded “The Ballad of Adolph Rupp” under the name Be Merry. It’s typical of the genre, both specific in some of the details yet bland and generic in its praise. Fortunately for you, it is available on YouTube:

There’s no date on the 45, but circumstantial evidence points to it being released in 1970. The B-side is “Kentucky Basketball ’69,” a recap of the mostly successful 1969-70 season delivered by Caywood Ledford, UK basketball’s radio play-by-play man, and a legend in his own right.

I’m So Tired Of Not Being Right

While this post’s title might well apply to life over the last year in various and sundry ways, I’ll forego any complaints today and simply spin a beloved track co-written and sung by the recently-deceased heartland rocker/disk jockey/Cleveland-area legend Michael Stanley. “Falling in Love Again” was a single released from 1981’s North Coast, and fell between MSB’s two Top 40 hits, “He Can’t Love You” and “My Town,” peaking at #64 in the early weeks of my senior year of high school. I like to regale/bore you with tales of how I first encountered songs, but I honestly don’t know about this one–it doesn’t feel like something of that era to me. I did buy the 45 a few years later and stuck it on a tape soon after.

I know our narrator’s focused on picking up a woman he just met in a bar, but man, does this song sound good. Wishing peace to Mr. Stanley’s family.

Fear Is Not The End Of This

Work duties and prepping for the start of the new Strat-O-Matic season have led to lighter blogging the last little bit. I’m finally ready to roll with the second side of one of my last mix tapes, so with further delay…

Dionne Farris, “I Know”
What’s this? A big time, full-blooded, mega pop hit of the 90s? I picked up Wild Seed–Wild Flower pretty early on, after seeing the vid for “I Know” a couple of times, and prior to its ten-week run on top of Billboard‘s Mainstream Top 40 chart. Catchy stuff, so it’s a little surprising that Farris never had much of a follow-up. (The other well-known song on which she appeared–Arrested Development’s “Tennessee”–is on another of my tapes, however.)

The Rave-Ups, “These Wishes”
I’ve raved on about this Pittsburgh-to-LA band before. It’s great to see that all the tracks from The Book of Your Regrets have recently become available on YouTube. That 1988 release was already out of print by the time I started getting into these guys, so it was lucky I stumbled across a copy for sale online in the very early days of the pre-eBay Internet. If this mix tape blogging thing keeps going, “These Wishes” won’t be the last we hear from it.

The Reivers, “Do What You Wanna Do”
Another band (this one’s from Austin) that kept making repeated appearances on tapes. This is from their fourth release Pop Beloved, and is one of just a few of its tracks with a video on YouTube.

Live, “I Alone”
When I first heard “Operation Spirit” during my last months in Illinois, I didn’t predict the kind of success this Pennsylvania outfit would have with their second album Throwing Copper (or the evolution of singer Ed Kowalczyk’s hairstyle, for that matter). The choicest cut from Copper is “Lightning Crashes,” but “I Alone” was the song that really put them on the map and probably catches more of the mid-90s alternative zeitgeist.

Duran Duran, “The Reflex”
What would this song have done on the charts without Nile Rodgers’s remix? It’s definitely not a #1 tune without it.

One of my very faves from Double Duran back in the day; it’s probably slipped a couple of notches over the last quarter-century.

Sam Phillips, “Standing Still”
Back in December I posted a picture of a Usenet review of Kirsty MacColl’s Kite I had printed out back in 1991. It was one of two from that period I’d saved; the other was for Sam Phillips’s Cruel Inventions. The author nods favorably at a line from “Standing Still” (“Starting with ashes I’m building fire”), even going so far as to claim that T.S. Eliot might approve. Don’t know about that, but it’s a standout track on a standout album.

The Jayhawks, “Miss Williams’ Guitar”
If you asked me to name the best concert I ever attended, a strong contender would be the Wilco/Jayhawks show I saw in July of 1995. It took place at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington, which had been exclusively a movie house back when I was in college. My future fianceé was tromping around Germany at the time with her sister, and I was in the middle of my first year working the science/math camp for high schoolers our college offers. Tomorrow the Green Grass was maybe my favorite disk at the time, so I connived to break away from any evening duties I might have had to check them out; my seat was around 8-10 rows away from the stage. Wilco was touring in support of A.M., and they were awesome. But it was the Jayhawks who had my heart at the time, and they weren’t disappointing in the least. One particular highlight occurred when Victoria Williams came out on stage before they played this song–she was dating guitarist Mark Olson at the time (they’d later marry).

The leading possibility for the Louisville cemetery referenced in “Miss Williams’ Guitar” is Cave Hill, just a little east of downtown. Well-known folks buried at Cave Hill include Muhammad Ali and Colonel Harland Sanders; my wife’s paternal grandparents are there, too.

Victoria Williams, “You R Loved”
Apparently I couldn’t resist the temptation to follow up with Miss Williams actually playing her guitar. Some of her many fans in the biz tried hard to break her with 1994’s Loose, but the public sadly wasn’t buying. “You R Loved” comprises today’s sermon; yes, that’s Mike Mills singing backup.

Marti Jones, “It’s Too Late”
Not the first time I’ve spun this track from Match Game here.

Missing Persons, “Destination Unknown”
While I greatly enjoyed “Words” back in the summer of 1982, the followup mysteriously escaped my notice for almost ten years. Deserved much better than its #42 peak in November/December that year; it’s likely Missing Persons’ best song.

Joan Osborne, “St. Teresa”
Maybe Osborne got earlier buzz in my neck of the woods than some other places because she’s a Kentucky native, as I bought Relish in the spring of 1995, months before “One of Us” hit the charts. My top tracks from Relish, though, are the slinky “Ladder” and lead-off song “St. Teresa” (co-written with former Hooters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, who also play on the entire album).

Bill Lloyd, “Trampoline”
Lloyd had been one-half of a moderately successful country duo with Radney Foster in the late 1980s. His 1994 solo disk Set To Pop got a lot of favorable press as a power pop gem, but it never grooved me all that much. The exception was “Trampoline,” a catchy ditty about a girlfriend who just may be bipolar. In an alternate universe, I might have used the line “God bless our daily bread, coffee, and Dramamine” as the title of this post.

Texas, “Future Is Promises”
Another song featured previously in a Forgotten Albums post. Album closers often make good tape closers.

I hope to do this sort of thing again in a few months’ time.