Let Me Hear You Through The Heat

This past weekend I spent my first night away from home since November 2019. Friday morning, I pointed the car first north and then west, toward the Land of Lincoln. It took much longer than expected to get there (first an accident and then construction led to more than an hour of sitting still on the interstate), but eventually I strolled back into Champaign-Urbana, home away from home during my mid-20s.

I’d made arrangements for a couple of meet-ups, first with Bruce Reznick, my advisor. Next year will be thirty years since I completed my doctorate, but Bruce is yet to retire (he’s about a decade older than I). Due to some long-planned renovations in Altgeld Hall, the math building, he’s having to move offices this summer, so I met him on campus. We walked around, got carry-out of some fine Asian cuisine for dinner, and sat at a nearby picnic table to eat and talk.

After checking out of the hotel Saturday morning, I met up with my grad school roommate John, who drove down from Chicago with a friend to hang out for a few hours. We did the Urbana Farmers Market, had lunch at an old haunt, revisited various campus sights (though due to COVID restrictions, we couldn’t enter any buildings other than the bookstore), went to a goat farm/creamery just outside of town, and hit up our favorite frozen custard stand (vanilla with banana and cold fudge–pretty tasty).

I remarked both to Bruce and John how much I enjoy being back in Champaign-Urbana. Obviously, so much has changed in the almost thirty years I’ve been gone, but yet, so much hasn’t–the quad on campus, the area around the park where I took my walk Saturday morning, downtown Urbana. What I came to realize in talking with them was that it’s really being back in Champaign-Urbana in the summer that’s especially enjoyable. Sure, it’s usually a little hotter than one might like (it was sunny and around 90° on Saturday), and not as much goes on culturally as during the school year, but honestly there’s much to recommend about a university town when its 33,000 undergraduates aren’t around. My official duties over the summer were lighter then than on average, so it was easier to be spontaneous (within budget, of course).

On the way back to KY on Saturday night, I kept the car radio off and meditated more on how many of my best feelings about and memories of the grad school years are concentrated in the summers. It wasn’t hard to begin assembling some thoughts about each of those six years, as well as some music that still takes me back there.

1987: I took a couple of classes in the first half of the summer. Math grad students were required to demonstrate reading proficiency in two foreign languages (the options were French, German, and Russian). The two French classes I took my senior year of college placed me in the second half of French for Reading, which went well enough. I also took a course in Probability Theory, in part to get me back on track for dropping a course in the spring.

A couple of years ago I wrote about an early July foray to Chicago with John. He reminded me this weekend that on our way back to Urbana from that trip on I-57, we witnessed any number of cities’ firework displays (it was July 4 weekend, after all). Since it was my Summer of Suzy V, he recalled the dubbed cassette containing her first two albums was playing on my ’86 Camry’s tape deck as we watched the parade of pyrotechnics heading south.

1988: In the spring I’d taken the first Russian for Reading course. Since I didn’t have any summer teaching duties and wouldn’t be dealing with prelim exams until January, I took Professor Hill, the Russian instructor, up on an offer: if I could translate two page-long mathematical passages sufficiently well in a timed setting (dictionary allowed), he would certify I didn’t need to take the second course. I spent a few weeks practicing–I picked a few books off the shelf in the math library, photocopied a page or three from each, and then, with trusty Russian-to-English dictionary in hand, powered through them. Imagine my shock when I got the two passages from Comrade Hill (as my officemates and I had semi-affectionately taken to calling him) and discovered that one of them was a page I’d already worked on in my practice sessions! It has to be the most similar thing I’ll ever experience to winning the lottery. The greatest stroke of luck was in choosing the book; I imagine that its spine had some degree of “memory” from having been opened wide previously (by Professor Hill?), making it more likely I’d get the ‘right’ page. I didn’t let on to him about my fortune (nor did I tell anyone in the math program)–I just accepted the passing mark. Preparation meeting opportunity, indeed.

This was a memorably hot summer, the hottest of my years in C-U, but that didn’t stop John and me from getting out to the golf course frequently. It was the year I recorded my personal best 18-hole score (45 on the front, 40 on the back, and yes, I still have the scorecard).

Union, the debut disk from Toni Childs, was one of many albums getting frequent play at that moment.

1989: In many ways, the lost summer of these years, treading water as I prepared to transition to reading papers with Bruce. Two years ago, I covered much of what went down that summer: playing math camp counselor, getting back into bridge, trips east and west. (There was plenty of golf, too.) When I was in the apartment, I was giving Blind Man’s Zoo more than the occasional spin.

1990: I’ve revisited this summer plenty enough, too: witnessing baseball history in Boston before tending to some bridge business, making the first bits on progress on dissertation research. John got married and settled back into Chicago life; in August I moved into a one-bedroom apartment and was hanging out at Sunday afternoon “barbecues” with relatively new friends.

Kirsty MacColl’s Kite was easily the album I was listening to most then.

1991: Thirty years ago this week I was in Vegas for the first time, with Mark L, Milind, and Chris, as we tried again–unsuccessfully–to win the Flight C (non-Life Master) Grand National Teams at the summer North American Bridge Championships. We stayed in a little hotel on the Strip called Westward Ho, just behind the Circus Circus and across from the Riviera. While I had some minor success at low stakes blackjack tables, I was pleased not to be bitten by the gambling bug. Had the biggest airplane ride scare of my life on the return, somewhere in Iowa: the pilot pulled up suddenly and rapidly out of descent when we were pretty close to touchdown, to circle around and try again. Clearly, I lived to tell.

More about that summer next week, but it was another Season of MacColl, as Electric Landlady had been released in late June. This is not the T-Rex/Violent Femmes song; Kirsty wrote it with Johnny Marr, and has something else entirely in mind.

1992: I didn’t defend my dissertation until late June (on my father’s birthday), but defend I did. A LOT of time that summer was spent in the car, back and forth between IL and KY as I began planning to move back for my new job, and to Canada for another bridge trip. I was listening to pop radio while on the road a little more than usual then, and invariably cranked it when Sophie B. came on.

From time to time, I think about the possibility of spending a few weeks in Champaign-Urbana, most likely during a summer break. (Nostalgia, as you know, is clearly a thing in my life.) One of the larger obstacles to doing so would be figuring out the logistics of living arrangements–could I feasibly find a UofI faculty member who’s going to be out of town for an extended period willing to ‘rent’ to a late-period mathematician and his wife? What about our house?

Maybe it’s a dream that won’t come, perhaps shouldn’t come, to fruition. After all, deeper reflection makes me aware that maybe 90% of what made C-U summers so memorable and enjoyable, so treasured now, were my friends.

Songs Casey Never Played, 7/21/79

Before we take a look at some of the songs on this Hot 100 that topped out below #40, here are three nuggets from what was going on in the upper two-fifths of the chart.

–What was to become the #1 song of the year, “My Sharona,” is debuting on this week’s show, at #34. The expansion of AT40 to four hours the previous October was still giving the staff time to spare, so they played the (superior) LP version with the longer guitar solo. I’m wondering now how often that happened during its run;
–“One Way or Another” bounced back into the Top 40 after dipping to #41 the previous week, all the way up at #29. Had their been a reporting or calculation error? My experience over the past three years with songs re-appearing (“Ariel,” “Way Down,” and “As”) had all involved a two-chart hiatus from the 40, so the single week out broke a pattern of sorts;
–Maxine Nightengale and the Bellamy Brothers, both in this show, each had two Top 40 hits (the Bellamys are in their last week on). It’s quite the coincidence that their other hits also rode the charts simultaneously, back in the spring of 1976. Both times, the two acts debuted in consecutive weeks (the Bellamys came on first in 3/76, while Maxine beat them to the punch this time).

And now, as they used to say, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

91. Waylon Jennings, “Amanda”
Waylon’s Greatest Hits was the one cassette all my high school buds and I had for our cars’ tape decks in the early 80s. It had come to market in April 1979, and the then-five-year-old, gentle “Amanda” had been updated a bit and released as a single. This was its last week on the chart, having peaked at #54 the week before.

89. Helen Reddy, “Make Love to Me”
Mom always had the radio in the kitchen tuned to WLW-AM when my sister and I showed up for breakfast. I’m virtually certain that would have been when I occasionally heard this result of Reddy going disco. It’s also about to fall off, having reached #60.

81. Lazy Racer, “Keep on Running Away”
There’s almost nothing on the internet about this band; according to this blog post from seven years ago, they were a five-man, one-woman studio British outfit assembled by producer Glyn Johns. They put out two albums; this is the lead track from the first, the only thing that ever charted over here. It’s not bad at all, though I think I can understand why it didn’t climb any higher than this.

65. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “You Angel You”
Having covered Springsteen to great success, Mann and company elected to turn their attention to Dylan for Angel Station. I didn’t hear this one back then, but I’m pretty sure I would have dug it if I had–I know I’ll spin it at least a couple of times today. It’s heading down from a #58 high.

58. Peaches and Herb, “We’ve Got Love”
Third single from 2 Hot, on its way up to #44. It’s no “Shake Your Groove Thing,” but it should have climbed a few spots higher than it did.

54. The Who, “Long Live Rock”
The release of the ‘rockumentary’ The Kids Are Alright spawned renewed interest in “Long Live Rock,” which was played toward the end of the film. A promo copy of this single was hanging around the WTLX studios when we got back on the air in the spring of 1983; perhaps I gave it a spin a time or two over the years. This was its peak position. (I noticed that songs 53-41 on this chart all had or eventually did hit the Top 40. No idea if that’s unusual or not, but it feels like it might be.)

This is my blog’s 4th birthday. I don’t know if I’m surprised or not at having kept at it this long. It’s turned out to be a great way to reconnect with old friends and make a number of new ones. I truly appreciate the time any and all of you are taking when you choose to visit here; I hope I can continue to make it worth your while.

In the past I’ve embedded the video that appeared in the original Song of the Day post on each July 20, but this year, I’ll just link to the first time it appeared. Thanks again for your support.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/19/80: Change, “A Lover’s Holiday”

Because of you-know-what, the number 40 occupies an outsized portion of my mental landscape. I’ve noted before the thrill of anticipation in those first years of listening to Casey, not knowing how the show would commence–would it be a song I hadn’t heard before, something on its way down managing to hang on for one more week, or the same tune that had led off the previous week? I perhaps paid slightly greater attention to the subsequent fortunes of debuts in the opening slot, and of course noticed those occasions when a song dropped off after a single week of glory.

When I learned that this week’s 80s offering from Premiere was to be 7/19/80, I thought I remembered that it is the show when “A Lover’s Holiday,” from the Italian/American studio group Change, came on at #40 and then disappeared the following week. Change had three other songs hit the Hot 100 over the next couple of years, but never again made the show. This got me wondering: of the acts across the classic Casey AT40 era (7/70-8/88) with a single Top 40 hit, how many had their song peak at #40? And how many of those lasted on the show for only one week?

To investigate, I used two sources: my own charts and the website Ultimate Music Database. I was breezing through pages–both paper and virtual–pretty quickly, so I’m hoping there are no errors of omission or commission. (In the process, I noticed a couple of things that could be jumping-off points for future posts: a) there were more songs than I expected whose first and last weeks on the show were spent at #40, and b) several artists seemed to have a real knack for hitting #40 on their way up the chart.) The answers to the questions above? I count nine, with eight of them one-week wonders; as we’ll see below, I’m going to grant partial credit to three more, though.

These are the nine, in chronological order:

1. Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke, “Resurrection Shuffle” (8/7/71)
Somehow it’s taken me almost fifty years to get to know this burner. Just like Ben Folds Five almost a quarter-century later, these Brits were a keyboard-bass-drums trio.

2. Ten Years After, “I’d Love to Change the World” (11/20 and 11/27/71)
Another song from a UK blues-rock group, it’s the only one that lasted two weeks at #40. I did hear this one a fair amount growing up, and have always dug it.

3. Gunhill Road, “Back When My Hair Was Short” (6/2/73)
A favorite from the moment I discovered it on the K-Tel album Fantastic. Most likely song here to become an earworm.

4. Red Sovine, “Teddy Bear” (8/28/76)
One of these pieces is not like the others…

5. New England, “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya” (6/16/79)
Guess where these guys were from? Their debut LP was co-produced by Paul Stanley of Kiss; they lasted two more albums before hitting Splitsville.

6. The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” (12/15/79)
I gotta believe this is the best-known song in this list, and probably the one I like most, too.

7. Change, “A Lover’s Holiday” (7/19/80)
A pretty sweet jam–maybe it would have been a much bigger pop hit had it come out 12-15 months earlier? As it was, it was part of a medley that wound up as the #1 dance track of 1980. He’s not heard here, but Luther Vandross contributed vocals to several cuts on the album it came from, The Glow of Love.

8. Rainbow, “Stone Cold” (6/19/82)
Ritchie Blackmore’s band in between iterations of Deep Purple. Lots of blokes shuffled through Rainbow’s lineup over the years; Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell, and Tony Carey were already gone by the time Straight Between the Eyes was released. Roger Glover was back together with Blackmore at this point, though, maybe making a DP reunion all the more inevitable.

9. The Communards, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (3/7/87)
Jimmy Somerville, late of Bronski Beat, teamed up with pianist Richard Coles and had a monster hit in the UK with this cover of Thelma Houston’s #1 song from a decade earlier. (Another possible task for inquiring minds is researching if any other covers of chart-toppers only made it to #40.)

As for the honorable mentions…I found three acts that conceivably could have qualified above, but, following the suggestion of The CD Project, were rejected because they weren’t listed as a separate act in my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles 1955-2002. Nonetheless, I want to acknowledge their consideration.

–Henhouse Five Plus Too, “In the Mood” (2/5/77)
We all know this bunch of cluckers was really just Ray Stevens all dressed up in feathers.
–Sonny Charles, “Put It in a Magazine” (1/22 and 1/29/83)
Charles is grouped in my Whitburn with the Checkmates, Ltd. Some singles credit just the band, others promote ‘Checkmates, Ltd. featuring Sonny Charles’, and the label on “Black Pearl,” their #13 hit from 1969, says they’re ‘Sonny Charles and the Checkmates, Ltd.’ He was strictly solo in the 80s, however.
–Joyce Kennedy (duet with Jeffrey Osborne), “The Last Time I Made Love” (10/6 and 10/13/84)
Kennedy apparently doesn’t merit her own entry in Whitburn (this song is listed under Osborne’s), though the band for which she sang, Mother’s Finest, had a couple of singles chart in the mid-70s. I know that editorial decisions must be made, but I will note that L.T.D. has its songs listed separately from those of Osborne…

Life Has A Funny Way Of Helping You Out

Saturday, July 13, 1996, was not overly hot in north-central Kentucky—the high temp was in the lower 80s—but it was somewhat cloudy and plenty humid. My recollection is that the morning sped by and before I knew it, it was time to tux up and drive the two miles south on U.S. 25 to First Christian Church here in Georgetown. I was to be one of two centers of attention, beginning at 2:30.

Eighteen months earlier there was no indication whatsoever I could be in such a position. But then Martha Kay Lutz entered my life, and nothing would ever be the same. We went ice skating on our second date, and I think it might have been then, holding hands in the midst of the chaos around us as we made our way carefully but not tentatively around the rink, that I thought this could really be right.

We didn’t have a huge wedding party—three attendants each, plus two ushers. The best man, groomsmen, and I whiled away the end of my bachelorhood in the church library playing a few hands of bridge. Right before we walked into the sanctuary, Greg offered me some advice: just look at her and smile.

The ceremony was pretty straightforward and not all that long. Each of us had a cousin sing (Martha’s sang “The Lord’s Prayer,” mine Stölzel’s/Bach’s “Bist du bei mir”). Maybe the most memorable thing for attendees was how long it took most of them to leave—we hadn’t planned it this way, but we wound up greeting and talking with guests in the vestibule as they exited. I don’t regret that at all—it was one way to make sure we saw everyone—but it did put us well behind schedule. There were still pictures to take, so we were rather late to the reception.

Our honeymoon started in the Poconos—part of our wedding gift from Martha’s parents was a week’s worth at any place in their timeshare network. From there, it was on to Niagara Falls (my folks had gone there as well for their honeymoon) and Toronto. Upon our return we got Martha and her things moved in to my—now our—house. And we’ve lived happily ever after.

Yesterday Martha and I spent some time looking through photos of the various events related to the event, from showers to reception. We were fortunate to have so many family and friends celebrate with us. It was sad, though, noting who isn’t here anymore. As folks my age or thereabouts know, twenty-five years goes so fast, yet with so many changes. I’m very lucky to have had Martha by my side for all the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows of the last twenty-five years, and for all those yet to come.

I guess it wouldn’t be a post here if I didn’t do something with music. For the occasion, I’m taking a look at the Hot 100 from our wedding day; that’s an okay idea, dontcha think?

Billboard had implemented a huge change in methodology for compiling its pop chart in late 1991, incorporating Nielsen’s SoundScan and Broadcast Data Systems technology for tracking cassingle sales and airplay, respectively. For chart geeks of the 70s and 80s such as I, it was a shock to the system. Among other major changes, many fewer songs made it to #1, and long-standing records of endurance at the top were shattered.

By 7/13/96, I suppose folks had adjusted to the new chart reality, though. Here’s a decent sampling of what was happening then.

#99. Brooks and Dunn, “My Maria”
#98. Weird Al Yankovic, “Amish Paradise”

One’s a remake of a 70s Top 10 hit, the other’s a parody of a #1 smash from the previous fall. Neither made the Top 40 (peaking at #79 and #53, respectively), and both are in their final week on the chart.

#95. Los Del Mar, “Macarena”
#67. Los Del Rio, “Macarena”
#5. Los Del Rio, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)”

The song you could not escape over the last half of the year. In three weeks, the Bayside Boys Mix would climb to the top and stay there for 14 weeks. Yes, at one point I could do some semblance of the Macarena; no, no one did it at our reception—we had a string quartet, not a DJ.

#93. Lionel Richie, “Don’t Wanna Lose You”
#63. Sting, You Still Touch Me
#49. Whitney Houston and Cece Winans, “Count on Me”
#44. Michael Jackson, “They Don’t Care About Us”
#19. George Michael, “Fastlove”

Several big names of the 80s weren’t finding the going as great by 1996. These are the last Hot 100 appearances for both Richie and Michael (while George was alive, anyway). Sting still had “Desert Rose” to come, and while Houston and Jackson also had some gas in the tank, their #1-making days were at this point behind them.

#91. Garbage, “Only Happy When It Rains”
#79. Spacehog, “In the Meantime”
#65. Beck, “Where It’s At”
#31. Dishwalla, “Counting Blue Cars”

By now, I was mostly listening to the alternative radio station in Lexington, hearing these songs lots that spring and/or summer and liking all of them pretty well, particularly those first two.

As the 90s progressed, many big radio hits weren’t getting released as a single, which could lead to great puzzlement when scanning the Hot 100 (Billboard relented and began including radio-only songs toward the end of 1998). This week, notable non-singles from the top half of the Airplay Chart include “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hands” from the Primitive Radio Gods, “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis, and No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs.”

#69. Bush, “Machinehead”
There was a thing on Twitter several weeks ago that went something like, “You’re on a first date. You ask what the person’s favorite (fill in the blank) is. You get up and leave upon hearing the answer. What was it?” Someone I follow filled the blank with “90s alternative band.” My immediate reaction was Bush; based on the reactions to that tweet, I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.

#55. The BoDeans, “Closer to Free”
I’d been hearing about these guys from Wisconsin since shortly after I moved to Champaign for grad school. Their career was pretty much on the wane until the makers of Party of Five used this song as the show’s theme. After the series won a Golden Globe, “Closer to Free” got released as a single and became the BoDeans’ only hit record. It had gotten to #16.

#43. Natalie Merchant, “Wonder”
#32. Natalie Merchant, “Jealousy”

Merchant scored three Top 40 hits off her debut solo LP Tigerlily, two more than she had with 10K Maniacs. “Wonder,” my favorite of the three, is slowly falling from a #20 peak, in its 32nd week on the chart.

#42. Donna Lewis, “I Love You Always Forever”
#16. Jann Arden, “Insensitive”

I wasn’t ignoring Top 40/CHR radio completely during this period. Both of these big hits were perfectly fine. Lewis, from Wales, would reach #2, while Arden, a Canadian, had already peaked at #12. Neither would hit the U.S. Top 40 again.

#40. Smashing Pumpkins, “Tonight, Tonight”
I think this is the best song on the chart and is one of my favorites for the whole year. The video, an homage to Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune, is breathtaking.

#38. Everything But the Girl, “Missing”
#36. Hootie and the Blowfish, “Old Man and Me (When I Get to Heaven)”

Everything But the Girl had been around for the better part of a decade when they broke through with the #2 smash “Missing.” They could have asked Darius Rucker and his bandmates at that moment about how fleeting fame could be.

(More 90s chart fun: “Missing” spent 55 weeks on the Hot 100, astounding those of us who remember when Paul Davis first broke the 40-week barrier in the spring of 1978 with “I Go Crazy.” There are 10 songs on this chart that spent at least 40 consecutive weeks on it.)

#27. The Gin Blossoms, “Follow You Down/’Til I Hear It from You”
I’d really enjoyed New Miserable Experience, so I was glad these guys from Arizona scored a big hit. But I’m probably happier for Marshall Crenshaw and the royalties I hope he’s still getting for co-writing “’Til I Hear It from You.”

#15. Adam Clayton/Larry Mullen Jr., “Theme from ‘Mission Impossible’”
U2’s rhythm section breaks away from the Pop recording sessions to update Lalo Schifrin’s iconic piece.

#13. Jewel, “Who Will Save Your Soul”
The internet is telling me that Portugal. The Man. is the biggest rock act evah from Alaska, but I’m a little surprised it isn’t Jewel Kilcher. It was impossible to avoid the big hits from Pieces of You for quite a while. This is a good one.

#11. Alanis Morrisette, “Ironic”
What’s a word I could use to describe the fact that one of the most memorable phrases from a 90s song did not occur to me on the day of my own nuptials?

Nope, no irony here.

#7. Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby”
#6. Celine Dion, “Because You Loved Me”
#2. Toni Braxton, “You’re Makin’ Me High”

Braxton’s peak didn’t last as long as that of Carey or Dion, but all three were riding very high 25 years ago. I don’t mind “Always Be My Baby” at all, and I definitely remember seeing the video for “You’re Makin’ Me High” at the time, with Toni and three other women sitting outside an elevator, using oversized playing cards to rate the men who appeared when its doors opened.

#4. Tracy Chapman, “Give Me One Reason”
There were only ten songs that topped the Hot 100 during 1996, and six of them, whose runs at the top spanned 3/23 through 11/2, are in this week’s top seven. Chapman’s song is the only one among this week’s stratosphere that wouldn’t reach #1. It was her second and final Top 10 hit, coming a bit out of nowhere eight years after “Fast Car.”

#3. Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads”
#1. 2Pac featuring KC and JoJo, “How Do U Want It”

Two West Coast hip-hop icons here at the top. “Tha Crossroads” memorializes Easy-E, who’d died of complications from AIDS the previous year. Tupac ascended to #1 this week, two months to the day before he passed on after being shot in Vegas.

When Martha and I got married, we were pretty close to the same age that my parents were when they tied the knot. They made it to their 50th; I look forward to getting there myself with Martha.

Taken two days ago.

Happy 25th anniversary, my dear.

Forgotten Albums: Lush, Lovelife

In the spring of 1996, I was teaching four different courses: college algebra, calculus for business, calculus 1, and differential equations. To be honest I can’t think of any particularly memorable moments in the classroom that semester. Looking over the rosters, I notice that my future colleague in physics (then the son of a current colleague) was a student in DE, a young woman who in four years would become the aunt of one of my son’s better friends growing up was taking business calculus, and there was the oddity of having three students in calculus 1 (out of about twenty-five) whose last name started with Z.

(Why I know this today: I’ve spent some good part of the last couple of weeks going through stacks upon stacks of paper in my office, performing an approximately once-every-decade serious culling. A couple of days ago I came across class lists and printouts of grades assigned from my first decade on the job, the vast majority of which is now about to head to the shredder.)

I was wrapping up my fourth year at Georgetown, so the students who’d started there when I had were about to graduate. My application for tenure and promotion would be submitted after three more semesters, so much of the case I’d be presenting was already in the books. While my inability to recall high points from those early months of 1996 may not speak well of making the most of all of my pre-tenure years, I will point out that in this instance I had at least somewhat of an excuse: I was dealing with wedding plans.

Martha and I knew fairly early in our courtship that marriage was quite possibly in the cards. We’d begun dating in February of 1995, and by Christmas we were actively discussing a summer 1996 wedding. January was a scramble: making our intentions known to parents and searching for an engagement ring, which I presented to her one day shy of the anniversary of our first date. We already had a target wedding day in mind, and so next came securing the church, a venue for the reception, formal wear, attendants, a baker, a photographer, and so on, and so on. It was quite fortunate that, with only five months’ lead time, we got it all to come together on the date we wanted. While I was reasonably involved, credit where it’s due: Martha, with her excellent organizing and planning skills, took the lead on the substantial majority of everything.

It’s a good thing, too, as about a month after the school year ended, six weeks before the wedding, I came down with chicken pox. I’d managed to avoid them while growing up, but apparently I couldn’t hide forever. I’m virtually certain I picked them up from a preschooler at church. Fortunately, my case turned out to be rather mild—I think things were pretty close back to normal after about ten days. (In an odd coincidence, my sister also got chicken pox within a week or so of when I did, from her two-year old who was in day care. Her case wound up being considerably more severe than mine.) I was ready and able to help with any last details, some of which was making plans with out-of-town friends for the days leading up to the wedding.

One of the newer CDs in my collection that spring—perhaps I listened to it during my convalescence—was Lovelife, the third full-length release from Lush. I’d been a fan of theirs since early 1992, when they were part of the British shoegaze scene. Lovelife, as well as their 1994 album, Split, marked a departure from their earlier sound, definitely more conventional pop/rock. (Lush has a song called “Lovelife,” but it’s not this album’s title track–it actually appears on Split.) Co-leaders Miki Berenyi (guitars/vocals) and Emma Anderson (guitars/ethereal harmonies) divided songwriting duties evenly among Lovelife’s twelve tunes. While I don’t like every song on the album, it’s a very solid collection overall. Let’s take a listen to half of it.

Lead track “Ladykillers” was the second of three singles released in the UK and got plenty of alternative play here in the states in the late spring. It bears more than a passing resemblance to “Hypocrite” from Split, but it’s still a great, muscular tune.

Reading up on Lovelife, I’m seeing the term ‘Britpop’ applied to its sound. Maybe so, but one element that’s always struck me is what I consider a 60s vibe on many of its songs, particularly the inclusion of horns, strings, and flute. “I’ve Been Here Before” is the first of three tracks here that to my ears hearken somewhat to thirty years earlier.

“Single Girl” was the first single released; all three made it to either #21 or #22 on the British charts. Seems appropriate for a wedding-themed vid to show up here, no?

Jarvis Cocker of Pulp was recruited to sing along with Berenyi on “Ciao!” This track, in which the two parties battle over who’s better off now that their relationship is over, also served as the title of Lush’s 2001 compilation release.

Generally speaking, Berenyi wrote the rockers, Anderson the prettier tunes. “Runaway,” one of my two or three faves on the album, is in the former camp.

Lush came to an abrupt end later in 1996, when drummer Chris Aclund committed suicide in October, just 30 years old. I’m sorry for the pain he couldn’t bear, and selfishly sorry for the music this wonderful band didn’t get to make as a result. “Olympia,” Lovelife‘s closer and another gorgeous piece, ends with the unfortunately appropriate “And now, time to switch off.” (As a YouTube commenter notes: ‘last line, last song, last album.’)

I couldn’t know then what lay ahead for Lush; I was simply spending my final weeks as a single guy enjoying their new album.

More music from 1996 on Tuesday.

The Good Stuff, Part 2

It looks like the previous time I’d listened to this tape was January 2017. Over the weekend I dug out an email from then I sent James that included a brief commentary on the playlist, kinda like what I’m doing here. It’s amusing/alarming to see how much I’m repeating myself 4.5 years later: the ‘fella’ tag on “Another Tricky Day,” my lack of appreciation for “Tempted,” thinking R.E.M. was the Ventures, etc. I did not check out what I said about Side B before writing this post; that’ll happen after it goes to press.

As for the second half, there are lots of big names, even if it’s not always a greatest hit from them.

The Dukes of Stratosphear, “Vanishing Girl”
In the mid 80s, the guys from XTC decided to record an EP and a full album under a pseudonym, paying homage to 60s psychedelia. This shimmering, gorgeous thing, written by the Red Curtain (Colin Moulding) and sung by Sir John Johns (Andy Partridge), is the lead track off the LP, Psonic Psunspot.

Genesis, “Turn It on Again”
James and I were both fans of early 80s Genesis, playing Abacab and their self-titled album in our dorm room from time to time. Neither one of us had Duke then, but I have always loved this song.

David Byrne, “Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)”
Both of us were digging into Byrne’s early 80s extra-curricular activities by the end of the decade–I’ll still listen to both The Catherine Wheel and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

The Police, “Canary in a Coalmine”
In which Sting decides to rag on a friend with a touch of hypochondria.

The Grateful Dead, “Hell in a Bucket”
Heard “Hell in a Bucket” on AOR radio quite a bit when In the Dark first came out, but I hadn’t seen the video, with that studded collar-wearing duck (among other things), until putting this together.

Now I’m wanting some Cherry Garcia ice cream.

Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk”
One of only two songs on The Good Stuff to make the Top 40–the other was “White Rabbit.” Both peaked at #8.

Madness, “One Step Beyond”
We grooved on “One Step Beyond” multiple times watching MTV in the Transy student center lounge throughout 1984. Kinda feels like this might have been included for nostalgia purposes?

The Violent Femmes, “Prove My Love”
During our senior year, Roger and Chris, a pair of sophomores who lived across the hall from us, were known to play the Femmes’ debut album loud enough for us to hear it. Clearly this eventually rubbed off on James.

The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
A couple of blogger friends have recently revealed their (current) favorite Stones song. Without thinking about it much, I’m inclined to say that “Gimme Shelter” gets that honor from me. James and I weren’t always simpatico when it came to music, but he sure nailed it here.

A few years ago I came across a video featuring Merry Clayton about how she came to find herself in the studio the night this song was recorded.

Robbie Robertson, “Showdown at Big Sky”
I count close to a dozen songs on this tape that were already or eventually wound up in my collection on album or CD. Hard for me to know now which, if any, direction the influence between the two of us was flowing in any given case, Forced to guess, I’d say Robbie Robertson was an album we both picked up on our own; I was mighty fond of “Somewhere Down the Lazy River” after seeing its video.

Led Zeppelin, “Hot Dog”
I just never got around to listening to Zeppelin albums in high school or college, and that carried over across the years. (The same holds true for the Stones and the Dead, to be honest. It occurs to me now that my approach to music buying in the 80s and 90s was similar to what I would later tend to do in drafting fantasy baseball and football teams, looking for the up-and-comer rather than picking the tried-and-true veteran.)

Be that as it may, in this case it means that when I first heard “Hot Dog” on the tape, I was more inclined to think of it as a Honeydrippers outtake rather than an actual Led Zep tune.

The Beatles, “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”
The tape ends with two B-sides from well-known singles released on opposite ends of the 70s. “Hot Dog” was the flip of “Fool in the Rain,” and this second foray into Beatle-land was what came along for the ride when one purchased “Let It Be” on 45. No desire to be ungrateful, but honestly I don’t need to hear this one all that often.

And that’s a wrap. I really appreciate it, man.

The Good Stuff, Part 1

Between 1985 and 1995, I bestowed a dozen or so mix tapes on my college roommate James. The first I’d simply called, “Stuff,” and subsequent cassettes incorporated that word as well in their titles (“Son of Stuff,” “More Stuff Than You Can Shake a Stick At,” etc.). During our occasional conversations now he’ll mention having recently heard a “Will tape” song on the radio. While I think I remember some good portion of what I might have chosen to include on those tapes, I sure would love hearing them again (hint, hint, James)–or at the least getting a peek at the playlists…

In those first years after college James rented a house just a few blocks south and east of downtown. On my visits, he was happy to share musical discoveries since the last time we’d gotten together, some new, others much less so. And somewhere in the middle of it all–it’d have to be 1989 or 1990–James returned the favor of giving the gift of music, handing me two tapes chock full of goodies from his collection. One was called “Somewhat Elderly Stuff,” and unsurprisingly, it focused on the 60s and 70s. The other, which we’re going to examine more thoroughly, spanned a wider range of years and was simply called

I don’t disagree with the assessment.

There was nothing written down on the J-card to use as a cheatsheet; I’ll confess that several years ago I had to use Shazam to ID a couple of these. But let’s get it on–the listening’s going to be fine.

Shaking Family, “Girl on the Edge”
I am pretty certain that James introduced me to this Louisville outfit. The song on the tape comes from their self-titled first album, released on the indie label Big Ole Records (think James picked it up after seeing them perform?). The version below, alas, is the more polished take that appears on their Elektra disk Dreaming in Detail.

One big chasm in our musical tastes at this time apparently was how much attention each was paying to female voices. I was seeking them out left and right; this is the only song on the tape with a woman on lead. Apologies to Grace Slick below.

The Beatles, “She Said She Said”
That said, it’s only fair to note that during the late 80s James prodded me into buying a few Fab Four albums, particularly Abbey Road. Eventually, I’d peg Revolver as my favorite of theirs.

Camper Van Beethoven, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
We discovered this gem independently. Simply brilliant.

The Who, “Another Tricky Day”
It wouldn’t surprise me if James had bought Face Dances while we were still in college. I love me some “You Better You Bet,” but you better believe that this one’s been a long-standing favorite as well…fella.

The Dickies, “Killer Klowns”
One recurring theme on the tape is James’s penchant for the slightly off-kilter tune. Exhibit A: the theme song of the cult movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The Dickies’ EP, with the same name as the film, also includes a cover of that Jetsons’ classic, “Eep Opp Ork (Uh Uh).”

Elvis Costello, “Accidents Will Happen”
Is this my all-time favorite from Mr. McManus? It’s at least in the running, and I’m quite happy it’s making an appearance.

Jethro Tull, “Thick as a Brick”
Okay, so there’s no song on the album with that title, but this edit is pretty darn close to what James included on the tape. Did I mention that James went for prog rock a lot heavier than I did?

Devo, “Uncontrollable Urge (Live)”
My guess is that this comes from the two-LP soundtrack of the 1982 film Urgh!–A Music War, an album I could easily imagine catching James’s eye in the used bin at Cut Corner Records.

The Pursuit of Happiness, “I’m an Adult Now”
Another point of intersection in what was grabbing us at the time. Pretty sure I’ve previously noted this is not my fave tune from Love Junk, but it’s a classic nonetheless.

Squeeze, “Tempted”
Hot Harris takes, part 6,245: I’ve never been a huge fan of “Tempted.” Hard to know for sure why–maybe I don’t think Carrack’s the right singer for it? Does the roundabout of voices in the second verse bug me? Full marks for “I fumble for the clock/Alarmed by the seduction,” however.

Buster Poindexter, “Castle in Spain”
I probably would have enjoyed the Disney tribute album Stay Awake, given the A-list of performers on it. Another fun but off-beat selection here.

R.E.M., “White Tornado”
I’d bought Dead Letter Office back in the day as well, but didn’t listen to it all that much (well, except maybe for the drunken take of “King of the Road“). By the time I slid this tape in a player again maybe two decades later, I was tricked into thinking this might be some long-lost single from the Ventures.

Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
James seems to be mimicking a technique of mine here, closing out the side with a short song as he watched tape inside the recorder spool toward its end. 60s psychedelia was definitely in his wheelhouse, too–the first song on side B, coming next week, will confirm that in its own way.