When I was growing up, there was a pattern to meals at home over the course of a week. My mother was a traditional stay-at-home mom, having retired from her elementary teaching career when she learned I was on the way (what I’ve read in recent years makes me realize that the school system may not have given her a choice about leaving or staying), and she took full responsibility for planning and preparing what went on the table. By and large, dinners on weekday evenings were basic meat/potato/vegetable/canned-fruit-or-jello fare, with very little ethnic content. Of course, a number of recipes were in regular rotation. Despite its extreme sodium content, I do miss chipped beef and white gravy (with sliced hard-boiled eggs mixed in) over toast; on the other hand, I never need to have liver and onions again.
It was a little different on the weekends. Saturday mornings were in some ways the high point of the week, since that’s when Mom would whip up pancakes or French toast in the electric skillet (with waffles on occasion–we had an iron in the early days if I’m recalling correctly). During my father’s days as a minister, we’d have a big meal on Sunday for lunch–fried chicken, or a roast that Mom slid in the oven before we left for church. (In later years, when we were attending my grandparents’ church in Erlanger, Sunday lunch became brunch at the Drawbridge Inn, or buffet at the Oriental Wok, or steak tips at York Steak House, or…) Maybe because we were usually stuffed from lunch, maybe because Mom decided she deserved a night off–I never really thought about asking why–as far back as I can remember, Sunday dinner was spartan–invariably for me a bowl of cold cereal and milk, often fixed on one’s own schedule. I didn’t mind in the least, perhaps in part due to my mother not being super-strict about the sugar content of what we could keep on hand. The lack of Sunday evening meal structure may have facilitated my AT40 obsession in the spring of 1976. Since Casey started on WSAI at 6pm, I didn’t have to turn him off in favor of quality family time around the table.
I’m guessing that by that Memorial Day weekend I had wrapped up sixth grade. That meant a sizable transition was looming. Come fall I would no longer have to ride the school bus five times a week to and from the elementary school i Verona six miles away–instead I’d disembark with the “big kids” in Walton, at the combined junior high/high school.
I’ve noted before that one thing I can recall from many of the first shows I heard was the name and position of that week’s highest debuting tune; the 5/29 show was not an exception. Coming on board at #34 was a new group out of Georgia with a song I’m certain that WSAI was already playing (Casey says on the intro there are seventeen acts with their first Top 40 hit this week, more than they’ve had in a while). Starbuck reached #3 by summer’s end with “Moonlight Feels Right,” and while one more minor Top 40 came just about one year later, the well soon dried up. Not even a name change in the early 80s, to Korona, could improve their fortunes.
On that holiday weekend forty-six years ago, I was just one week away from beginning what became a six-and-one-third years chart-keeping odyssey. I can’t recall now when exactly the plan formed, but maybe I hatched it over a bowl of Alpha-Bits (or was it Cocoa Pebbles?) while a groovy xylophone marimba solo came over the airwaves.
Notes and scenes from the end of the first year of college:
1) My May Term class was a lit topics course, Studies in Short Fiction. The professor was Dr. Holmes, the same fellow I’d had back in the fall for my composition course. He’d come to Transy in the early 60s, having been Ivy-trained at Cornell and Columbia. Maybe he had a bit of the patrician in his demeanor but on the whole was eager to engage with students. His comments on papers were generous though occasionally hard to decipher. (He seemed plenty old to me at the time, but I’m able to determine I’m now the age he was then. Yikes.) We read stories in an anthology and also imbibed from Joyce’s Dubliners and a Chekhov collection. As much as I enjoyed writing, looking back at my work I can tell I definitely needed the feedback. I’m glad I took the class–I still have a deep appreciation and affection for the short story format.
2) Having just one class for two hours a day gave one plenty of free time (they didn’t call it “Play Term” for nothing). I’d been maintaining some sort of distance running program, as I participated in a rain-soaked 10K race in mid-May, my second and final effort at that distance. Top 40 radio ruled in James’s and my dorm room, I suspect largely at my behest. (I’ve been trying to bring to mind what James was taking that May–thinking it was a history course, since he was a minor. Would that I could consult him.) For two weeks in May, I taped a ranking of my favorite songs to the door of our room (the outside, of course, so others could bear witness to my excellent taste). The second was that for 5/21, our last weekend before finals.
That spring of 1983 remains one of my favorite periods for pop music, and I’m still very much okay with all ten of these tunes.
3) Voting in the Kentucky primary would occur on 5/24, the same day as my final exam. 1983 was a gubernatorial election year (only KY, LA, and MS choose governors the year before a presidential election). Back in the day the Democratic nominee was highly likely to prevail in November, and that year featured a fierce, three-way competition among Martha Layne Collins (then Lt. Governor), Harvey Sloane (mayor of Louisville) and Grady Stumbo (a physician from the eastern part of the commonwealth). All three would score more than 30% of the primary vote, with Collins eking out a victory over Sloane by a little more than 4500 votes. (She would win in November over Republican nominee and future Baseball Hall of Famer/U.S. Senator Jim Bunning by a little more than 10 percentage points.)
The ads on television must have been incessant that spring, since I’d been inspired also to put this on our door, maybe right below my top 10 list:
About that write-in line…my college and grad school friends can attest that my father wasn’t shy in the least about disclosing his political loyalties to anyone and everyone. The young woman I was dating at the time apparently felt obliged to offer him up as an option.
4) The last entry in the diary I’d started the previous August came on 5/20; this was the first time I’d written in it in four months. It acknowledges the upcoming time apart between my girlfriend and me, notes that my sister’s HS graduation would also be on 5/24, and discusses my high school friend Frank’s relatively-new-yet-very-serious dating relationship (I’ve been asked to be best man at the as-of-then unscheduled wedding). While I wrap up with “maybe I’ll be becoming more acquainted with this book in the near future,” I’d never put pen to it again.
My favorite at the time was #5 in America, in the second of a four-week run at that position. Despite its nod toward novelty, “She Blinded Me with Science” seemed to be a pretty big hit all around me–I’ve noted before how a hall-mate was fond of blasting it at high volume after classes were over for the day. While I wouldn’t see the video for months (I lived in an MTV desert), the 45 quickly found a spot in my collection.
While it wasn’t perfect, on a personal level that spring turned out to be the high point of the year. The next several months would be quite bumpy, and it was entirely of my own doing.
Thirty-four years later, on an unseasonably cool and rainy day toward the end of April 2017, I met up with college friend Pat in Lexington to participate in the local March for Science. James was there as well, with his wife Amy and their two children; most of us carried homemade signs (mine read “Science Makes Our Children’s Future Brighter”). I’d guess that several hundred people gathered next to the county courthouse that afternoon to first walk southeast on Short St. and then northwest on Main St. Afterward, we gathered in a nearby covered space where we could learn about local organizations whose goals likely aligned with those of attendees and grab a warm drink. They had music playing in the background, and it was perhaps no real surprise when at one point Thomas Dolby came over the speakers.
I fear that in the years since we’ve learned that too many folks are blinded to, not with, the stuff.
Let’s stick with the same time period mined in last week’s Songs Casey Never Played; in fact, the intersection of acts addressed below with that post is very much nonempty. Lots of good stuff in this one.
I think these late 70s/early 80s issues of SR are the ones nearest to my heart. The number of reviews in each issue declined starting around 1984, so I look back now and appreciate all the more the density of their efforts during this period. Additionally, as I was moving into my mid- and late teens, I perhaps recognized a higher percentage of the artists being written up.
Article Zita Allen interviews Stevie Wonder Allen gives a brief overview of Wonder’s career to date and then talks with him about his most recent release, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The process Wonder undergoes to create the soundtrack for a movie, with the music keyed to the visual, is involved and interesting.
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Edward Buxbaum, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month –Gene Parsons, Melodies (NC) “Parsons, a former Byrd, has a serviceable plain voice, but he sings with feeling, and in this case he sings only songs he obviously cares about.” –Ray, Goodman, & Brown, S/T (JV) “The prominent bass and the tenor/falsetto have not been in fashion for over a decade, but RG & B restore them to their original roles.” –The Searchers, S/T (SS) “…the result—their first album in almost a decade—is something of a small miracle: a thoroughly modern, utterly captivating record that rocks like mad, retains the essence of the original sound, and in general is as fully (if not more) satisfying as anything churned out recently by the group’s younger heirs.”
Recordings of Special Merit –Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, S/T (EB) “Do yourself a favor: before you dance your way through these songs, sit down and listen.” –Blossom Dearie, Needlepoint Magic Volume V (PR) “To listen…is to be given a painless lesson in how very fine popular singing can be when it is practiced by a real artist. When you add to it Dearie’s wit, style, musicianship, and shrewd whimsey you have a one-of-a-kind listening experience.” –Robert Gordon, Bad Boy (SS) “…probably the best album Gordon’s done, a near flawless mix of period re-creation…and rockabilly/New Wave fusion…” –J. Geils Band, Love Stinks (JV) “J. Geils is probably the ultimate in blues-derived rock bands. Few other groups manage to embellish the two simple and limited forms without overloading them.” –Cheryl Lynn, In Love (PG) “Her splendid new album, the second of her short career, is enough to propel even the stodgiest soul to his feet; it explodes with volcanic force, generating enough energy to fuel a cross-country bus.” –The Specials, S/T (SS) “The Specials do (ska) very well; they know that, as with reggae, the sound is as important as the notes, which means some raggedness around the edges is necessary or the stuff degenerates into Sergio Mendes/Martin Denney island exotica.” –Tavares, Supercharged (PG) “…the ear-catching arrangements and instrumentals are deftly interwoven with the voices, which are employed with polished flexibility.”
Featured Reviews –Three albums by or featuring Chico Freeman (CA) “Freeman’s music gives me hope because it is original without being absurd, because it gets its tonal character from the inherent qualities of the instruments and its direction from his own distinct personality.” –Peggy Lee, Close Enough for Love (PR) “There is a vague disco tinge to the arrangements, but that interferes only about as much as an up-to-date setting for a really important diamond would…” –Mireille Matheiu, Mireille Mathieu Sings Paul Anka (PR) “Like Piaf, like Garland, like Streisand, her combination of torrential emotion and fierce conviction can singe the ears of anyone willing to give her a listen.” –Bonnie Pointer, S/T (PG) “…she compensates for her vocal limitations with musical imagination and a keen sense of what works.” –Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love (NC) “In lesser hands such a venture would have gone belly-up on the New Wave, but this—to the degree anyone can take it on its own terms—is a well-intended, spirited, almost plucky little album.” –Grace Slick, Dreams (Mark Peel, before he was brought on staff) “What I do not hear is the Grace Slick who contributed to such Airplane successes as ‘Greasy Heart’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ and who, most important, contributed something that was, for better or for worse, recognizably and memorably hers.” –Warren Zevon, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (SS) “In any case, slickness is not the problem with (this album). Chalk it up instead to a creative dry spell, celebrate the not inconsiderable virtues of the best things in it, and then hope that Zevon does what he promised he’d do after Excitable Boy—move to New York City.”
Other Disks Reviewed –The Babys, Union Jacks (JV) “The mid-youth malaise they are currently dispensing isn’t interesting to anyone who has passed through it unless it’s expressed in an unusual or startling way.” –The Buggles, The Age of Plastic (SS) “They can’t sing worth a lick, their technological obsessios are already clichés, and for all their studio tinkering, they finally come off about as moderinist as, say, the Electric Prunes.” –D. L. Byron, This Day and Age (NC) “Byron’s songs are mostly the expected nonsense about scrounging around in the streets—him and his version of Wendy, they were born to run, you can bet your tee-shirt on that—and his singing is projected from the same physical spot as Springsteen’s, the voice gathered up in the top of the throat and squeezed out at ya.” –Heart, Bebe Le Strange (JV) “Parts of the album are interesting, parts are dull, and parts are silly; some skill and talent do show through now and then.” –The Jam, Setting Sons (Mark Peel) “They work in two time-honored British traditions: writing sardonically witty lyrics that strike right at the soft white underbelly of the bourgeoisie and affixing to these clever lyrics a barrage of noise from which the conventional musical elements of melody, harmony, dynamic variation, and rhythm seem to be absent.” Clearly, Peel was trying to impress the editors! –The Knack, …but the little girls understand (SS) “Great composers steal, said Stravinsky, while mediocre ones borrow. Well, the Knack borrows like crazy here…and the recorded results prove that Igor was right on the money. There isn’t a note her that suggests an original idea.” –Lipps Inc., Mouth to Mouth (EB) “Somebody’s got to get in there and pull the vocal tracks and the strings forward from time to time, to refocus our attention from the thumping monotony of the beat.” –Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (JV) “Nobody so far has figured out how to use the synthesizer as an instrument instead of a machine, and Numan certainly isn’t a contender for the solution.” –Rush, Permanent Waves (JV) “Loud groups that play overblown material at great length irritate me, but I’m inclined to be charitable with Rush. I suppose what I like about them is that they are personally modest, work hard for a living, and entertain rather than manipulate their audiences.” –Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Against the Wind (Mark Peel) “I am more sympathetic to Seger’s reminiscences. At their most affecting—Seger is often a very affecting songwriter—they deal with the choices made, the friends left behind, the incidents of experience that must certainly weigh heavily on someone like Seger, now looking back down a long hard road.”
Disco, alas, had been in retreat for several months by this time, with me nearing the end of my sophomore year in HS and in possession of a driver’s license for about a month. With softer rock largely ascending to take its place, perhaps it’s not too surprising there were several rockers that had the AT40 door slammed in their faces. Let’s take a quick tour through six of them.
96. The Cretones, “Real Love” The first half of 1980 was this L.A. band’s moment in the sun, such as it was. Debut LP Thin Red Line came out, including their only charting single (it would soon reach #79), and Linda Ronstadt covered three of their songs on Mad Love. It’s feeling like I need to give this album a solid listen or two. Leader Mark Goldenberg went on to write or co-write 80s hits “Automatic,” “Along Comes a Woman,” and “Soul Kiss.”
83. The Knack, “Can’t Put a Price on Love” Top 40 days for Doug Feiger and the boys had ended two months earlier, when “Baby Talks Dirty” stalled out at #38. This bluesy number from ...But the Little Girls Understand was a reasonable enough choice for second single, but we were already moving on. “Can’t Put a Price on Love” had already fallen from a #62 peak.
76. The Babys, “Midnight Rendezvous” If “Midnight Rendezvous” had a bridge and a third verse, it might have been the Babys’ second-best song, behind only “Isn’t It Time.” As it is, I kinda get how it didn’t climb above #72.
74. The Little River Band, “It’s Not a Wonder” I honestly can’t tell you why I know this song as well as I do–I’m certain I heard it more often in record stores (twice at most?) than I did on the radio. That chorus, that guitar lick toward the end, though…they just lodged in my brain instantly. This live version of a song originally on First Under the Wire would soon top out at #51.
61. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Here Comes My Girl” I have nothing new to write about “Here Comes My Girl” that hasn’t already been put in print or pixels. Just a damn fine song that unjustifiably peaked only two spots higher; I suppose most folks who would have purchased a 45 already had the LP.
48. Red Rider, “White Hot” Not sure how “White Hot” escaped my notice back then–“Lunatic Fringe” sure didn’t 18 months later. I guess this was a little before I veered more toward the AOR side of the dial. Pretty sure I could have identified the year it came out just by listening–sounds very much of its time. It wouldn’t climb any higher than this.