Songs Casey Never Played, 3/30/85

This series has made only one visit to 1985 to date, so let’s take another trip there. Many of these songs I knew pretty well back in the day, and one is a contender for my top ten of the year. Let’s roll it…

#93. Alphaville, “Forever Young”
Classic fear-of-nuclear-annihilation cut, not to be confused of course with songs of the same title by Dylan or Rod. I’m amazed now this didn’t climb any higher at the time, though it was one of those songs given a second chance in the late 80s, reaching #65 in December 1988.

#89. Maze, “Back in Stride”
Maze, led by Frankie Beverly, had been hitting the R&B charts regularly since 1977. This was the first of two #1 songs they had there, and it would turn out to be their fourth and final song to reach the Hot 100, getting just to #88. Nice jam.

#79. Los Lobos, “Will the Wolf Survive?”
Title-ish track from their well-received major label debut, on its way to a peak one position higher; I remember both it and “Don’t Worry Baby” getting play on MTV. I’m glad for the success they enjoyed a couple of years later with songs from the La Bamba soundtrack, but I absolutely adore their underappreciated early 90s albums The Neighborhood and Kiko.

#64. Alan Parsons Project, “Let’s Talk About Me”
The Top 40 days had ended for the APP the previous year with the #34-peaking “Prime Time.” The video for this first single from Vulture Culture is completely over the top, but I still find it, as well as the song itself, a little disquieting. The clip’s message about the cost of addiction to electronics rings true to this day. But I’ve always wondered about the song’s narrator: are his complaints justified, or is he just wallowing in self-pity?

I didn’t realize at the time that I’d heard David Paton, the vocalist on “Let’s Talk About Me,” singing the line “Leaning on my pillow in the morning light” ten years earlier.

#55. John Waite, “Change”
Another second-chance tune. “Change” was originally a single that stiffed from Waite’s 1982 solo album Ignition. The folks putting together the Vision Quest soundtrack thought it should get another try, but alas, it was soon to stall out at #54. This is right up there with “Isn’t It Time” for me in terms of Waite-sung songs; love the video, too.

#51. Go West, “We Close Our Eyes”
Given how much I saw this vid, on MTV, I’m a little surprised “We Close Our Eyes” topped out at #41. The British duo of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie got theirs a few years later, though, with the Top 10 “King of Wishful Thinking” and a high-performing AC cover of “What You Won’t Do for Love.”

Forgotten Albums: Shawn Colvin, Fat City

Shawn Colvin is best remembered for her 1997 smash “Sunny Came Home,” which scaled the heights of various Billboard charts (#7 Hot 100, #4 Mainstream Top 40, and #1 Adult Contemporary, among others) and took home Grammy hardware for both Song and Record of the Year in 1998. It’s a good one, complete with catchy melody/chorus and a memorable bridge. I’d been following Colvin’s career for a number of years by then, including attending an engaging concert with my future wife in June 1995, at Bogart’s in Cincinnati. The breakthrough was welcome in these parts, even it wound up lasting for just that one hit record.

A Few Small Repairs, the album on which “Sunny Came Home” appears, was Colvin’s fourth release. It’s neither the one of hers I’ve listened to most nor like best, however. Those honors go to sophomore effort Fat City, which came out not longer after I began my teaching career, in the fall of 1992. While all but one song was written or co-written by Colvin, there’s a ton of star power contributing bits and pieces throughout the record. She’d gotten a great deal of positive buzz from her debut Steady On, and one suspects that Fat City was expected to be the launching pad for a commercially successful career.

The first song I heard from Fat City was “Tennessee.” I was in Oxford, OH, attending a conference on teaching at Miami University, availing myself of the opportunity to listen to my go-to modern rock station, WOXY 97X, in the evenings. To be honest, I hadn’t been as enamored of Steady On as the critics, but “Tennessee” forced me to re-evaluate. Richard Thompson works the guitar solo, and yes, that’s Bela Fleck on banjo.

Colvin’s next record was Cover Girl, full of remakes of such acts as the Police, Talking Heads, Steve Earle, and Dylan. The one song she didn’t write on Fat City was “Tenderness on the Block” by Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, appearing on the latter’s Excitable Boy. Here’s a performance of it from just over four years ago.

My favorite Shawn Colvin song is easily “Round of Blues.” It’s already appeared in this space on one of my old mixtape write-ups, and you’ll see mention of it again in December, in a Modern Rock Tracks post. The album’s Wikipedia page notes that producer Larry Klein wrote the music for the bridge. I wish it’d been a hit.

Another winner is “Climb On (A Back That’s Strong).” Bruce Hornsby plays piano and sings backup; you can also hear Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s voice in there, as well.

“Set the Prairie on Fire” was co-written with Elly Brown, whom I know from her days in the late 80s/early 90s band Grace Pool. Not only is session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner present, but Booker T. Jones is in the house, playing the Hammond.

The other song on Fat City that received a measure of radio love (this time, Adult Contemporary) was the album’s last track, “I Don’t Know Why.” It’s a lovely yet melancholy piece, and it garnered a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1994 Grammys.

I’m guessing that Fat City‘s sales did not meet expectations. Nonetheless, it showed Colvin was growing and developing, worthy of further investment. I imagine Columbia was ultimately pleased they kept her on.

Stereo Review In Review: March 1982

Maybe it’s not too soon to do another of these? Regardless, here’s a look back at the issue of SR that was mailed out to subscribers four decades ago.

It’s a Special Tape Issue. Ralph Hodges discusses Tape Futures (what may be coming soon in backings, binders, and magnetic materials); Craig Stark tests a raft of Bargain Tapes (conclusion: stick with name-brands); and Gary Stock reviews the current state of Taping and the Law (is home video recording of television shows a violation of copyright law?)

Forty years later, it all sounds so quaint (not to mention antiquated).

We have what I consider more or less the classic lineup of reviewers: Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–George Jones, Same Ole Me (NC) “Through it all, (Jones) keeps the back of your mind from forgetting the basic premise of the honkytonk: it is the place you go to when something’s wron. Whatever that might be, when Jones sings it sure ain’t the music.”
–Mark Murphy, Bop for Kerouac (CA) “I have not always cared for the music Murphy sings, but I have never been deaf to this talent, and I am overwhelmed by the way it all seems to work its way to the surface here.”
–Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Reactor (SS) “Nonetheless, this new album sounds like (Young)’s basically goofing around. But as a textbook on how to make music out of the sounds of a scrap yard, it will do very nicely.”

Recordings of Special Merit
American Musicals: Jule Styne (PR) “…Kenneth Tynan wrote that Jule Styne was ‘the most persistently underrated of all popular composers.’ After listening to this rerelease package of three of Styne’s most memorable Broadway shows, I think I agree with Tynan.”
At Home Abroad (PK) The Smithsonian releases an archival reconstruction of a 1935 Broadway show.
–Duke Ellington, Symphony in Black (CA) “…the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble does reasonably and splendidly re-create the essence of early and middle Duke.”
–Barry Manilow, If I Should Love Again (PR) “Unlike many of his contemporaries, Manilow never plays down to his audiences, nor does he attempt to flatter or cajole them (as Neil Sedaka sometimes does).
–Penguin Café Orchestra, S/T (MP) “…suggests what might happen if a string group like David Grisman’s were plopped down in a rural English pub and plied with two or three rounds before they’d played a note.”
–Vangelis, Chariots of Fire (Irv Cohn) “The themes are simple, almost hymn-like, but sumptuously augmented by rich electronic effects, including what sounds like swelling strings and thrumming percussion.”

Featured Reviews
–Martin Briley, Fear of the Unknown (JV) “He is a generously gifted songwriter but almost frighteningly misanthropic. The album is a marvel, but you may not want to hear it very often if you’re the kind of person who pays close attention to the lyrics.”
–John Entwhistle, Too Late the Hero (NC) “Better still, the record offers some relief from the blandness being committed all around us in the name of pop music these days.”
–Tim Hardin, Memorial Album (NC) “His work was not idealistic in narrow political terms but aesthetically, in the manner of Byron and Van Gogh…(a)nd in the manner of Byron and Van Gogh and countless other romantics before him, he sought and edge. But, as we all know now, edges can cut.”
–Frank Sinatra, She Shot Me Down (Henry Pleasants) “…the album is memorable not for what he does with melodies but for what he does with words.”
–Ringo Starr, Stop and Smell the Roses (JV) “…the best album that Ringo Starr has ever made, mostly because he’s allow to be himself…It is madcap, funny, rowdy, spiteful, nostalgic, and convincing.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Bee Gees, Living Eyes (NC) “This finds the Bee Gees wending their way back from the disco grave site, at times hip deep in the weeds that are already growing there. Back to where, though?”
–The Cars, Shake It Up (MP) “…it rocks along a deliberate, precarious path, avoiding both outright pop and electronic minimalism.”
–Elvis Costello, Almost Blue (NC) “Costello made the apparently commonplace assumption…that anybody can come in cold and perform country music—and it blew up, I’m happy to report, right in his face.”
–Karla DeVito, Is This a Cool World or What? (SS) “Karla DeVito is a terrific singer and performer, cute as a bug’s ear, and one heck of a swell human being, but she has what sounds like a terminal case of Steinman’s Disease.”
–Earth, Wind & Fire, Raise! (CA) “…reflects not so much poor artistic judgment as it does a general feeling of having reached a dead end.”
–Kiss, (Music from) The Elder (MP) “Never mind that this is bad music. It isn’t even a passable stab at a fantasy comic book.”
–The Knack, Round Trip (SS) “…a tedious failure, something like hearing a second-rate bar band trying to play late Beethoven quartets.”
–The Steve Miller Band, Circle of Love (NC) “…even at his best…either Miller presumes his listeners can block out his lyrics from their heads or else he presumes his listeners are double-digit-IQ mouth breathers.”
–Rush, Exit…Stage Left (JV) “Rush really needs a bigger sound to match their imagination. As it is, the earnestness and energy begin to pall, especially on a two-disc live album like this one.”
–Rod Stewart, Tonight I’m Yours (JV) “…I don’t agonize much over Rod Stewart’s alleged artistic decline. He is still a highly professional and occasionally very exciting singer, as this latest album…abundantly demonstrates.”
–Luther Vandross, Never Too Much (PG) “Admittedly, Vandross has a very appealing, resonantly full, and flexible singing voice, but his material…and interpretation are hardly anything to shout about.”

Friday Night Discoveries

Over the last couple of years a table in our basement has regularly turned into Jigsaw Puzzle Central. We tend to tackle 1000-piecers; the most recent effort–a collage of seashells that shows some promise of challenge–began a couple of evenings ago. If we aren’t listening to an AT40 rebroadcast while we work on puzzles, chances are strong I’ll be browsing the CD shelves for background music. On Friday, I plucked off two disks that I hadn’t listened to before, and found a few interesting tunes that were new to me. Let’s hit some highlights.

Eighteen months ago I wrote about several slabs of vinyl that a Lexington record store donated to my college radio station (it’s where WTLX purchased its 45s). One of those was the EP Party of Two, from the Rubinoos. Until the middle of last week, I’d completely forgotten that somewhere along the way I had acquired the Wounded Bird reissue of it, complete with three bonus tracks and three demos. While I was thrilled to realize I had a copy of “If I Had You Back,” I found other fun tracks as well. I think my new favorite song is “The Girl.”

Easy to hear the influence of Rundgren, who produced. A mighty swell bonus track is “Stop Before We Start,” a tune about nipping an affair in the bud–amazing this almost never saw the light of day.

I highly recommend this disk if you come across a copy somewhere.

After we were done with the Rubinoos, I slipped a compilation from EMI/Capitol Special Markets into the player called Lost Hits of the ’70s. I’d purchased it well over a decade ago because it includes Cheryl Ladd’s “Think It Over” and it’s the one CD I could find out there that has it (part of my quest to collect all the Top 40 songs that hit between June 1976 and May 1986). All told, twelve of the collection’s twenty songs hit the Top 40, and I was familiar with a couple of the eight that hadn’t. Among the remainder, three stood out on first listen.

McGuinness Flint was named after two of its members, bassist for Manfred Mann Tom McGuinness and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers drummer Hughie Flint. “When I’m Dead and Gone” was a big hit in the UK and made it as high as #47 here in February 1971.

Another group made up of musicians formerly of other bands is American Flyer. Past affiliations included the Blues Magoos, Velvet Underground, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. They hit #80 in November 1976 with “Let Me Down Easy.” If the vocalist sounds familiar, you heard Craig Fuller sing “Amie” with Pure Prairie League a year or two before.

This has a nice, smooth sound, but I confess that I’ve become less enamored in recent years of the use of “woman” in song lyrics to address one’s mate (Cliff Richard’s “Dreamin'” is a prime offender in this regard). I get that not using an actual name might be a way to have the song speak to a more general audience, but neither my wife nor I can imagine me addressing her that way. (Yes, “The Girl” has related issues.)

Lastly we have twins Cherie and Marie Currie with a Russ Ballard composition, “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Cherie had been the vocalist for the Runaways; after they split she got together with Sis to record a few tunes. This one reached #95 for three weeks in October and November of 1979. It feels like maybe I’ve heard it a time or two before? I’m digging on it pretty hard right now, particularly the unexpected guitar chord downward progression in the chorus.

(Their album Messin’ with the Boys includes a straightforward but inferior cover of “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).”)

I don’t know if there are future installations of Music Found While Puzzling in the wings–wouldn’t shock me, though.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/5/88: Aerosmith, “Angel”

A couple of months ago I, like lots of folks, got sucked into the Wordle vortex. I’ve always had an affection for logic puzzles, including playing a decent amount of Mastermind in my youth, so this development was not exactly shocking. It’s quickly become a part of my morning routine: get up, let the dog outside, try my first two words while she’s eating her breakfast, mull over the positive and negative inferences while she goes out a second time, hope to discern the answer by the fourth line. (It doesn’t always work out that way, of course.) I’m part of a couple of small Facebook communities devoted to sharing results of our daily efforts, and I’ve also become intrigued by Quordle, and to a lesser degree, Nerdle.

A few days ago, the Wordle answer was NASTY; for the rest of the day, Miss Jackson’s jam from the summer of 1986 bounced around my head. This got me to wondering, too: how many other song titles of Top 40 1980s hits could show up inside those five green boxes? Based on a quick-but-fairly-careful examination of 80s charts, I think the answer is that there are twenty-eight songs, with twenty-six unique words.

Not all five-letter song titles qualify, at least as I understand Wordle’s rules. Proper nouns are out, so say goodbye to JESSE, GYPSY, JAMIE, BRUCE, KYRIE, and VENUS. Next to go are plurals, meaning YEARS, SOULS, GIRLS, and TEARS are also right out (meaning poor Rick Springfield misses out twice). Lastly, the judges here are disqualifying PRIDE due to the parenthetical portion of its title.

That leaves the following, presented by year:
1982: TRULY
1983: none
1988: ANGEL
1989: STAND
*yes, it’s more of a 1979 song, but it was ‘still’ in the Top 10 in January 1980
**debuted the last week of December 1984, but it’s a 1985 song for me all the way

Congrats to the Cars and Heart for double representation. I missed the first 199 Wordles, so I don’t know if any of these besides NASTY has appeared to date. Perhaps honorable mention status should be extended to HELLO AGAIN (twice, giving the Cars a third appearance today, all from Heartbeat City, even), SUPER FREAK, HUMAN TOUCH (have a bone, Rick), and especially SHINE SHINE. Feel free to identify omissions.

Aerosmith had begun their comeback after re-forming in 1985, but the bucks didn’t start raining on them again until 1987’s Permanent Vacation. The second time a song called “Angel” made it in the 80s would become Tyler, Perry, and company’s biggest hit to that point, reaching #3 (it’s #36 on this show). It’s not a particular favorite in these parts, but I’ll give it full marks today for providing a hook for this post.