Stereo Review In Review: September 1986

SR’s last connection to the 1960s, at least on the popular side, fades away. Peter Reilly is on the masthead of reviewers, but there aren’t any contributions from him; after an almost twenty-year run, this is the final issue in which his name appears. Reilly came on board with the January 1967 issue, and the first review of his you’d have encountered was a rave of Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. (As it happens, Rex Reed also joined SR with that issue, though he lasted but a few years. I tweeted about Reed’s jaw-dropping Jan 67 take on Revolver last night.)

Article
The Basic Repertoire on Compact Disc, Part 1
The CD era was mature enough at this point to begin curating the best of what was out there, though this is strictly a classical affair. Going alphabetically by composer, Part 1 takes the reader from Bach through Mendelssohn. The second half appears in the October issue.

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, and Steve Simels, with a future regular contributing a little.

Best of the Month
–Steve Earle, Guitar Town (SS) “His songs deal, in part, with traditional country themes—faithless lovers, the continuity of family life, poverty and hard times—but from a remarkably sophisticated and modern perspective, and he can be mordantly funny in a way that would never have occurred to, say, Ernest Tubb.”
–Tonio K., Romeo Unchained (SS) “…the kind of album that will sound good on MTV and make you think anyway.” Simels also references what had become an inside joke: he crowns each of K.’s releases as ‘the greatest album ever recorded.’ That habit continued through January 1999, SR’s final issue, where Simels gets to proclaim the same about Rodent Weekend ’76-’96 (Approximately).

Other Disks Reviewed (* = featured review)
–Anita Baker, Rapture (PG) “…possesses not only a remarkably lustrous voice but also the kind of taste and intelligence that mark her as one of the finest vocal interpreters to emerge in quite some time.”
–*Tony Bennett, The Art of Excellence (Roy Hemming) “…shows that Bennett…is still musically and expressively at the top of his form…”
–*Chuck Berry, Rock ‘n’ Roll Rarities (SS) “…brings together previously unreleased alternate takes and stereo remixes of some of the most familiar tunes in rock history and allows us to hear them as if they were spanking new.”
–The Blow Monkeys, Animal Magic (SS) “Here’s yet another act purveying the effete, post-disco British r-&-b that is all the rage these days, a music inhabiting a space somewhere between bad Culture Club and bad Spandau Ballet (the latter admittedly a redundancy).”
–George Clinton, R&B Skeletons in the Closet (MP) “…his manifesto against the evils of crossover—commercial tendencies that dilute, homogenize, and otherwise bleach funk of its essential nastiness.”
–Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny, Song X (CA) “…the two principals exhibit a mutual rapport that simply begs for further collaboration.”
–The Forester Sisters, Perfume, Ribbons and Pearls (AN) “…neither as progressive as the Judds nor as traditional as the Whites. They are also not nearly as interesting nor as overtly talented…”
–*Peter Gabriel, So (MP) “But it’s not for lack of effort that the album comes up short. Rather, it’s the dimming of Gabriel’s white-hot vision.”
–Howard Jones, Action Replay (MP) “I keep waiting for Jones to come up with a worthy successor to Human’s Lib…”
–Journey, Raised on Radio (SS) “I remain convinced that Journey is the most inexplicable band in America. It’s not that they’re bad…it’s more as if they’re utterly and irredeemably lacking in personality, brains, body odor, or any other recognizably human characteristic.”
–Nicolette Larson, Rose of My Heart (AN) “…the only real complaint I have about her is that she obviously has a severely limited emotional range…”
–Susannah McCorkle, How Do You Keep the Music Playing? (CA) “Simply put, McCorkle is the finest interpreter of sophisticated songs we have today.”
–Bobby McFerrin, Spontaneous Inventions (CA) “McFerrin is often at his best when he’s teamed up with an instrumentalist…a very successful and creative album.”
–Pet Shop Boys, Please (MP) “Like Wham!, the Pets are the kind of group that drives frustrated audiophiles to mutter, ‘I could do that.’”
–Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Like a Rock (SS) ‘…longer on good intentions than inspiration. A lot longer.”
–Jane Siberry, The Speckless Sky (MP) “The arrangements…work at being free-wheeling and innovative, but while there’s lots going on, none of it is much fun or very interesting.”
–The Style Council, Home and Abroad (MP) ‘…succumbs to just about every pitfall that can ruin a concert recording.”
–Randy Travis, Storms of Life (AN) “…proves that he is a serious and worthwhile suitor for the same audience that reveres (George) Jones, Merle Haggard, and George Strait.”
–Van Halen, 5150 (MP) “…Hagar is clearly intent on proving he’s a worthy successor to the King of Raunch-and-Roll. But where Roth could be legitimately funny about his rampaging promiscuity…the best Hagar can manage is a dull, passé crudeness.”
–Wax, Magnetic Heaven (SS) “Everything is cheerful, well produced, and well crafted, but neither Gold nor Gouldman is a particularly interesting singer, and more to the point, their melodic gifts seem to have deserted them.”

Forgotten Albums: Kennedy Rose, hai ku

In the early 1980s, an all-female quartet called Calamity Jane scored four minor hits on the country charts, including covers of Patsy Cline and Beatles songs. When CJ split, two of its members kept on keeping on in Nashville, putting their efforts into songwriting, invariably with one or two other collaborators. It paid off for Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose: between 1983 and 1987, six of their songs went Top 10 country (including two that made #1), performed by the likes of Janie Fricke, Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, and Restless Heart–yes, they co-wrote “I’ll Still Be Loving You.”

At the end of the decade, Kennedy and Rose signed to PANGÆA Records, a label formed by Sting and distributed through I.R.S. Records (which I just learned was co-founded by Stewart Copeland’s brother Miles). They recorded ten songs they’d co-written (mostly with Pat Bunch) between 1984 and 1988, and along with two short instrumental interludes, released the set as hai ku.

Being on a subsidiary of a minor label may have made it doubly hard to get traction; hai ku never charted. The performances defy easy classification, too–while Kennedy Rose obviously have their roots in country music, there’s a folk/pop sheen that makes one wonder how it would be best promoted.

I think Kennedy Rose came to my attention via some combination of a blurb in Rolling Stone magazine and the video for first single “Love Like This” on VH-1. When this occurred exactly is lost to me now, but I became quickly interested in tracking the CD down. It took a while–Record Service in Champaign didn’t seem to carry it. The album has a 1989 date on it, but it sticks in my mind that I purchased it the following year, finally discovering it in a record store inside the Chicago Loop. hai ku got plenty of play in my apartment, but clearly not much elsewhere. Finding its tracks on YouTube is possible these days though many are barely viewed. I’m here today to see if that can be rectified a little.

It’s a shame that the catchy “Love Like This” never caught on. Carlene Carter’s version was the lead single from 1995’s Little Acts of Treason, but even she couldn’t break through with it, reaching only #70 country.

The overarching theme of the album is that of the euphoria one feels being in love with another. The loping “After Your Arms” certainly mines that vein well.

I really like the way “Love Is the Healer” builds.

“Born to Give My Love” was later covered by Martina McBride and the Forester Sisters. It’s a gorgeous, gentle song. I apologize, though, for making you suffer through clips from a Hallmark Christmas movie to hear it.

One of my favorites on the disk is the driving “Nightline,” which cuts against the other tracks in that our narrator is lusting for someone she shouldn’t but can’t help continue pursuing.

Kennedy Rose released a second album in 1994, which I also picked up. Alas, Walk the Line suffered a similar commercial fate. Highlights included “Safe in the Arms of Love,” later a Top 10 country hit by the aforementioned McBride.

If you poke around a little on YouTube, you can find clips of Kennedy Rose’s appearance in support of hai ku on Austin City Limits. As on the album, they share singing duties, harmonizing beautifully. Mary Ann Kennedy shows her versatility in playing percussion and mandolin, while Pam Rose ably handles guitar work. The videos are worth seeking out, even if that appearance didn’t help them launch. I’m glad for the songwriting success Kennedy and Rose experienced–just wish that somehow hai ku had been a bigger thing.

Songs Casey Never Played, 9/13/80

Somehow in doing more than twenty of these SCNP posts, I’ve yet to include one from 1980. Let’s rectify that right here and right now, mostly featuring acts trying to followup on Top 40 hits from earlier in the year, with some personal faves tossed in.

96. Lipps Inc., “Rock It”
Minneapolis studio group tries to capitalize on the biggest dance hit of the year, but are unable to navigate the path from Funky Town back to AT40. They’d rocked it all the way to #64 with this jam, but are now about to fall off the chart, never to be seen again.

86. Ali Thomson, “Live Every Minute”
The younger brother of Supertramp’s bassist falls out of the 40 this week with the delightful “Take a Little Rhythm,” while debuting with his next single. “Live Every Minute” sounds a whole lot like brother Dougie’s band; I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the boys were playing on it, particularly Rick Davies on keyboards. It missed the show by a whisker, reaching #42.

79. Rossington Collins Band, “Don’t Misunderstand Me”
The group formed out of surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lead singer Dale Krantz married Gary Rossington within a couple of years of this song’s charting. Coming down off a #55 high; I’ve always liked it a bunch.

65. The Kings, “Switchin’ to Glide/This Beat Goes On”
This is in the fourth of a twenty-three week ride that somehow ended only at #43. It sure seems I heard at least one band playing this at a state conference dance during my senior year (likely Beta Club, in December 1981).

61. Journey, “Good Morning Girl/Stay Awhile”
Our second double-sided single. Hot take: it’s better than “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.” Liked it enough to have it make my personal top 50 for a few weeks even without it getting to the 40; it’s another one that couldn’t make it past #55.

59. Ray, Goodman & Brown, “My Prayer”
“Special Lady” had been a #5 hit back in the spring for the trio formerly known as the Moments. This was the lead single from Ray, Goodman & Brown II, a faithful cover of the Platters’ #1 song from 1956. It was a couple of weeks away from topping out at #47.

Bonus content #1: A look at what WKRQ in Cincinnati was playing then. The back of this sheet promotes a contest to send a lucky listener and guest to see Elton do Honolulu in mid-November (including seven days’ accommodations and a grand in mad money).

Bonus content #2: My 10 faves from this week, the only one to feature the Stones at the top. It’s plenty soft-rockish, but collectively, IMO this is one of my better Top 10s of the year. If I had a do-over, though, I might swap “Give Me the Night” at #11 with either Eddie Rabbitt or Genesis.

What Did You Hope To Learn About Here?

There’s an American Top 40-related message board I usually visit a few times each week, in part to find out which 70s and 80s shows are going to be offered by Premiere over the coming week or two, in part to learn from the folks who post there (as in other portions of my life, I tend to lurk). The great preponderance of the community is male, and from what I can tell, age-wise I’m somewhere in the middle–most of them seem to be between roughly 45 and 65. This isn’t news if you pay attention to the commercials that Premiere runs each week–we Casey-philes are clearly an aging bunch.

I stopped listening to AT40 sometime in the second half of my first year of college, late winter 1983. Despite that, I stayed fairly on top of the pop music scene for another four or so years, so I’m glad I have the opportunity now to hear those mid-80s shows (I confess I’m not normally all that interested in the 1988 offerings). Many of the younger people on the message board paid attention to AT40 (and other countdown shows) a lot longer than I did; one fellow in particular is a veritable fount of knowledge when it comes to the Radio & Records CHR chart (which was used on Casey’s Top 40 and the late 90s reboot of AT40), at least up to the end of the 20th century.

I’m going on about this because this past holiday weekend, Premiere offered as a bonus the 9/5/98 American Top 40 from Casey’s second run. Curiosity got the better of me. Through the message board I was able to find a station in North Carolina playing it on Monday afternoon (though I missed the first four songs). It was plenty interesting to note differences with–and similarities to–the shows from the years I know pretty well now.

First, Casey definitely sounds older. In September 1998, he was 66 years old, eligible to draw Social Security. The vitality is still there–mostly–yet the toll of the years is making itself known. Hearing him announce “Flagpole Sitta” and “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)” felt a little incongruous.

(Aside #1: Kasem was almost an exact contemporary of my father–he was ten months younger than Dad, and his death in June 2014 came only 6.5 months after Dad’s. Back in the 70s it didn’t remotely occur to me that the two were pretty much at the same points in their lives.)

In 1998 I was 34. Many of the songs on this show–mostly the R&B, rap, and boy-band tracks aimed at a somewhat younger audience–weren’t familiar. That said, three of my favorite songs for the year were played in the third hour: “Torn,” “The Way,” and “One Week.”

(Aside #2: I’d lost much of my sense of connecting music to events in my life by this point, but I actually know what I was doing on Labor Day weekend 1998. Martha and I traveled up to Champaign-Urbana for a mini-reunion with my officemates and their spouses. Paul and Sue still lived there, and we spent much of our time hanging out in their family room.

Sports was on the TV in the background. On Saturday, Sammy Sosa hit his 58th homer, while Mark McGwire notched his 60th–this was the year both of them shattered Roger Maris’s record. Sunday was opening weekend for the NFL and my fantasy football team. 1998 was the only year I won my league, and I learned that weekend how wise I’d been to draft the Seattle Seahawks defense.)

I didn’t care for the updated jingles and bumpers, which were pretty tuneless. In fact, it was hard to discern any kind of musical theme overall–each hour just seemed to start with Casey talking up the next song in the show. As in the mid-to-late 80s, there were stories that had nothing to do with the music (for instance, Casey told about Dizzy Dean when Fastball’s turn came up). One sign of the times–online dating–played a key role in two of the ever-maudlin Long Distance Dedications. On the positive side, I’ll grant it was very good they were using the Radio & Records chart, since Billboard was still three months away from including songs not released as singles on the Hot 100. As a result, we rightly got to hear the top two pop songs for the year, “Torn” and “Iris.”

I’m 100% glad I had the chance to listen to this show–seriously, when was the last time I heard “Hooch,” from Everything? However, it’s not clear how frequently I’d listen were these to become a semi-regular thing; there’s just not enough nostalgia for the late 90s in my bloodstream, I guess.

For the curious, the #1 song 23 years ago was the Diane Warren-penned, Steven Tyler-crooned “I Wouldn’t Want to Miss a Thing,” from the Armageddon soundtrack. For a song feature, though, we’re going two spots lower. Honestly, I never really got why Matchbox Twenty blew up. The songwriting’s only so-so at best, and it’s not like Rob Thomas has golden pipes, either. Nonetheless, the chorus of “Real World” isn’t bad, and the song is plenty fun and catchy if you don’t listen too closely to what’s going on in the verses. Besides, I think most of us could use less hassle these days.

Bearing A Gift Beyond Price, Almost Free

A couple of years ago, my college hired a new professor for our Department of Communication and Media Studies. Among her duties was to resuscitate and serve as advisor for WRVG, our college’s small low-power station, which had lain dormant for much of the 2010s. She’s done a lot in a short period, figuring out how to get the station back on the air (first on campus and more recently as a stream), conducting fundraisers to refurbish the studio (yes, there’s a skeleton that serves as a mascot–his name is Otto, in honor of music going on auto-play when there’s no one around), expanding the library, and overseeing a small cadre of student DJs and other workers, mostly in the midst of a pandemic.

Not long after she started, I reached out to my new colleague to learn a little about the task before her. WRVG had been around in some form much longer than I’ve been at Georgetown (it’s actually got quite a history, only part of which is told at the station’s Wikipedia page), and despite my past experience and long-standing interest in radio, I’d never previously sought to become involved. Maybe a combination of things–our nest had just emptied, some of the folks I’ve met through blogging, learning about the demise of the station at my undergrad institution–raised my interest this time. While dealing with COVID’s impact on my teaching duties has kept me plenty occupied for the past eighteen months, I didn’t forget about WRVG; truth be told, I was harboring hope of hosting a weekly show.

My colleague was receptive to the idea when I emailed her over the summer. Last week she showed me how to work the board, yesterday I watched one of the student DJs for a while, and this afternoon, I turned on the mike and let it rip for sixty minutes. In spite of a technical issue or two and stumbling over my own tongue here and there, I had a blast. The current plan for the fall semester is to mine the contents of my digital library from 2:00-3:00pm Eastern each Thursday that school is in session. I can record my shows, and so I’m hoping to post links to them here–we’ll see. In the meantime, you can listen to the stream anytime you like at wrvg.radio12345.com. I’m definitely planning on tuning in more often.

The show today was a mix of pop/AOR tracks from 1979-1986 and songs I discovered after digging on Pandora around 2008. Here’s one of the latter, the delightful “Falling,” from Texan Ben Kweller’s 2002 album Sha Sha.