SotD: Television, “See No Evil”

Guitarist Tom Verlaine passed away earlier today. I’m in no position to do a survey of his life and career–there are plenty of others who can and will do that task justice. Still, Verlaine’s magnum opus is definitely part of the music of my life, so I’ll take time to briefly describe how that came to be.

The August 27, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone was part of the magazine’s celebration of its twentieth anniversary, its attempt to identify the 100 Best Rock Albums of its lifetime. It’s not a shock to hear I’ve always been attracted to that sort of thing, and as you might imagine, I spent quite a few hours poring over their rankings after a copy arrived at the apartment I was sharing with John and Jim. Gratified when I saw an LP from my collection mentioned, mystified frequently when a title was unfamiliar. By this point I probably knew of the album at #38, sandwiched between Innervisions and Purple Rain, but had never heard anything off it.

(Noel Coppage’s brief, color-me-very-unimpressed blurb in Dad’s copy of the May 1977 issue of Stereo Review must have passed under my eyes a decade earlier without registering.)

My interest was piqued enough at the time to file Marquee Moon under “must seek out someday” in my brain; it would be well over a decade, though, before anything of the sort happened. As it turns out, my father was responsible for getting it into my hands.

I’ve noted before that Dad was a collector of various things, music (both rock and classical) being one of his primary avenues of expression. When he latched onto CDs in the 90s, he no doubt took advice from any number of articles identifying Essential Disks Everyone Should Own (TM), which is how I expect that a copy of Marquee Moon ended up in a box underneath the bed in my folks’ townhouse basement bedroom. When I came across it on a weekend visit around 2003 or so, he gladly allowed me to take it home.

I’d guess that Dad never played it, but I didn’t waste time. My recollection is that I slipped it into the CD player in our kitchen one Sunday morning soon afterward. I was immediately captivated by the searing riffs on the opening track.

The album turned out to be a treat from start to finish and became a regular listen over the ensuing years; it’s near the top of my list of disks to recommend to friends who don’t know it. While I doubt I would have appreciated MM that much when it was released in 1977, I do regret not checking it out immediately after the RS write-up in 1987.

I’m also regretting today that I haven’t yet sought out Mr. Verlaine’s other output. That will likely take place in the coming days, but tonight it’ll be “See No Evil,” “Venus,” “Friction,” and the rest from MM. I hope he rests in peace.

Stereo Review In Review: January 1978

The only artifact I have from all the years my father subscribed to Stereo Review is Peter Reilly’s full-page look at Billy Joel’s The Stranger in the January 1978 issue. As best as I recall, my sister and I didn’t get the album until close to the time that 52nd Street was released, but fortunately, Dad held on to his older issues for quite a while. I know now that Joel didn’t just appear out of the ether at the end of 1977; at the time I was probably impressed that someone seemingly relatively new rated such real estate in SR. He owns perhaps an outsized space in my personal musical landscape, for various reasons (you’ll learn more about that in my next post). This review could be a partial key to understanding why.

Rick Mitz Talks with James Taylor
Easily the longest feature piece I’ve come across over the three years of this series. Mitz’s fandom comes across loud and clear as the conversation bounces from the mill that is the music business, to songwriting (“There is a songwriter’s place. There is a place you are at when you write a song, and I’m not there all the time”), to performing (“…I just sort of get into a frame of mind where I’m fated to do it. It’s sort of like Zen archery—there’s the target and I’m the arrow, and there’s the space to be covered between the two of us”), to critical reception of his work (“I listen to my critics and absolutely read my record reviews…when I read something, I take it seriously, even though I know better”), to married life (“Carly is an extraordinary person to know because she is probably as positive as anybody you will ever meet”). It’s a long and winding chat.

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–Ron Carter Quartet, Piccolo (CA) “The sophistication, swing, and high-caliber musicianship offered by the late, lamented Modern Jazz Quartet are to be found in the Ron Carter group, and a commensurate popularity will surely follow.”
–Merle Haggard, A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today (NC) “Anyway, there’s personality and style in what he does, when he’s up to snuff as he is in this album.”
–Pete Townshend/Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix (SS) “…in its best moments it is so alive, so friendly, so inventive, that the lapses hardly matter…you should grab it immediately, no matter which side of the New Wave you’re on.”

Recordings of Special Merit
–The Nighthawks, Side Pocket Shot (JV) “Their songs are lean and spare, designed to allow as much room as possible for instrumental fills and passages…(t)he combo is crisp and driving as always, with the rowdy sense of fun that distinguishes them.”
–Diana Ross, Baby It’s Me (PK) “This new, tamer, warmer Diana is a welcome visitor, and the whole program is distinguished, despite the lush arrangements, by a spirit at once exhilarating and pleasantly civilized.”
–Sanford-Townsend Band, Smoke from a Distant Fire (JV) “Townsend’s lead vocals are forceful and exciting; he is able to sing at the top of his range without exhausting himself or the listener, and when he hits a high note there is a joie de vivre to it that brings a grin.”
–Adam Wade, S/T (PG) “Obviously, this is a disco album, but of an exceptionally high quality. That all too familiar danceable beat is subtly underplayed, permitting Wade to explore the full range of his voice and style.”
–Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blues (SS) “The sound of it is as California-lush as anything the Boys have come up with in the Seventies, with ethereal vocal choirs, relentlessly layered instrumentation, and snippets of melodies that suggest strange, primitive chants.”

Featured Reviews
–Karla Bonoff, S/T (NC) “But nostalgia has practically nothing to do with the appeal of her music. The dramatic buildup she likes to create (she definitely prefers the chorus to the bridge, structurally, and is smart enough to avoid repeating the chorus so much that it gets blunted) is a characteristic, all right, but the way she does it seems to come from no particular time or place.”
–Hodges, James, and Smith, What’s on Your Mind? (PG) “In short, this is not just another girl trio…(they) show all the signs in this first outing of real staying power.”
–Billy Joel, The Stranger (PR) “…it gives the listener a unique opportunity to get into the head and feelings of a now grown-up ex-greaser though a group of songs that are at once a love letter and a farewell to youth, by turns touching, mordant, funny, gross (new sense), melodramatic, and naïve.”
–Randy Newman, Little Criminals (William Anderson) “Most of his melodies are habit-forming on first hearing, and his arrangements have a lapidary quality—perfect setting, perfect fit—that permanently pre-empt the listener’s affections…(t)here are no songs here that once could call less than beautifully crafted…”
–Elvis Presley, Elvis in Concert (John Morthland) Also includes reviews of Merle Haggard’s My Farewell to Elvis and Elvis’ Favorite Gospel Songs by J. D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. “Had Elvis not died between the time it was recorded and the time it was released, it would attract no more special attention than any of his many other dubious albums.”
–Lily Tomlin, On Stage (Lester Bangs) “Just where many comedians turn self-indulgent, Tomlin creates authentic American folklore out of her most intimate material, giving us an oral history that goes beyond comedy to touch the heart…”
–Lester Young, The Lester Young Story, Volumes 1-3 (CA) The first installment of “Columbia’s long-awaited five-part chronological reissue of everything this extraordinary pacemaker recorded for that label.”

Other Albums Reviewed
–The Babys, Broken Heart (JV) “…the producer and the engineer knew their business when it came to miking the instruments and getting good separation. Unfortunately, their efforts were wasted.”
–Harry Chapin, Dance Band on the Titanic (PR) “Harry Chapin is in his usual form here…which is to say that the only thing more pompous and portentous than his songs is his performance of them.”
–Chicago, Chicago XI (PR) “Anything of any real interest that this group was doing surely faded at about III or IV, but their public, easily the most loyal since Edgar Cayce’s, continues to buy their albums in astonishing quantities. Listening to XI was—surprise, surprise—very much like listening to X and IX and VIII and so on. And on.”
–Country Joe and the Fish, Reunion (NC) “Though the album works best as nostalgia despite itself, it does suggest the band could stay together if they want to and give the present and the future, as well as the past, a going-over.”
–Doobie Brothers, Livin’ on the Fault Line (NC) “The group still seems to ride mainly on crossing watered-down soul with that amorphous Southern California non-style of rock, and if their lyrics are emptier than usual here, blame it on the times.”
–Firefall, Luna Sea (SS) “If you’d enjoy an album that has nothing to recommend it except that it supports critical theorizing, this should be just your cup of tea.”
–Jermaine Jackson, Feel the Fire (PG) “His decision to leave the Jackson family group was on target. Jermaine had outgrown the group musically…he comes across as a high-energy performer who infuses his songs with an infectious, boyish fervor that never supplants his emphasis on solid singing.”
–Carole King, Simple Things (PR) “There was a time, and that quite recently, when introspection and soul searching were appropriate. But this kind of precious, totally self-involved tender loving care of one’s own teeny-tiny emotional world has gotten to be a bore.”
–Richard Pryor, Greatest Hits (JV) “But on these tracks, apparently all recorded live, Pryor seems brutal and abrasive, so it is difficult to tell whether he is using his substantial comedic gifts to soothe his rage or using his rage to feed his gifts.”
–Rush, A Farewell to Kings (JV) “I would have enjoyed this album more if Rush had been a little more specific about what they intended to say; as it is, their point remains, if not a closely guarded secret, certainly one that is well chaperoned.”
–The Staples, Family Tree (PR) “The Staples…have delivered another very good session here, particularly the title song, which has an extra measure of that warm gutsiness that is so identifiable in all of their work.”
–Steely Dan, Aja (JV) “The seven selections in Aja are not so much pop songs as they are mood pieces taking a more or less jazz direction…(t)he project is musically successfully, then, but I still miss Steely Dan’s songs.”
–Dwight Twilley Band, Twilley Don’t Mind (JV) “But to anyone who was around when the Liverpudlians held happy sway, Twilley’s music will sound like an old story twice told.”

1982: My Top 100 (At The Time)

If you’ve been checking things out here for a while, you likely recall that I kept track of my personal Top 50 from early Spring 1980 through the end of 1982. One requirement I had in place from the beginning was that any song on AT40 had to have a place on my chart–this meant that big hits in real life that didn’t float my boat as much often languished in the teens and twenties while I was waiting for them to begin their tumbles back down.

A few weeks after I left for college in September 1982, I stopped making my formal weekly AT40 charts, though I have evidence that I was keeping notes on it until March 1983. I dropped doing my own list over the winter break, though–forty years ago today was a Saturday, the day that broke that streak, I suppose.

I left some unfinished business. At the end of 1981, I’d painstakingly tabulated points for dozens of songs based on their positions on my charts over the calendar year and drawn up a list of my Top 100 songs. That didn’t happen for the 1982 charts as the new year dawned. One of my resolutions for 2022 was to go back and compile that list; going in, I didn’t know which of three or four songs would wind up on top.

I could reconstruct the formula I’d used for the 1981 summary from the work I’d kept, so that was employed again: 50 points for being #1, 49 for #2, 48 for #3, etc., 10 points for each week on the chart, plus some bonuses thrown in if a song stayed at #1 for more than two weeks. I used Excel for my calculations this time around–pretty painless other than the data entry, of course.

Anyway, without further adieu, the results–I won’t even keep you in suspense by starting at #100:

2Don’t You Want Me948222
4Only the Lonely8771(3)19
5Do You Believe in Love8431(5)17
6Sweet Dreams8391(3)18
7Hard To Say I’m Sorry8311(2)18
8Hurts So Good825522
8Who Can It Be Now?825418
10Caught Up in You8181(1)18
11Don’t Talk to Strangers8171(2)18
12Take It Easy on Me*814217
13Kids in America810418
14Shake It Up*8081(3)17
16Theme from ‘Chariots of Fire’8001(1)17
17I Love Rock ‘n Roll797317
18Eye in the Sky7881(3)17
19The One You Love**7831(3)15
20You Should Hear How She Talks About You777317
20You Can Do Magic777217
22Open Arms775216
24Tainted Love7721(1)17
25’65 Love Affair759317
26Never Been in Love7161(4)15
28Key Largo7111018
29Somebody’s Baby705316
30Always on My Mind688417
31Man on Your Mind666315
32Heat of the Moment663615
34Ebony and Ivory645916
35Love Is Alright Tonite620516
35You Don’t Want Me Anymore620614
37Hot in the City617715
38Did It in a Minute614414
39Under Pressure*6101(2)13
39Spirits in the Material World610615
41Hold Me606915
42Nobody Said It Was Easy599414
44Eye of the Tiger5861518
45Our Lips Are Sealed*5841(2)12
46Think I’m in Love583513
47The Other Woman580714
48My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)*5761(1)12
49We Got the Beat5721115
50Jack and Diane5661117
51Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)544713
52That Girl542913
53You Could Have Been with Me*526815
54I Ran (So Far Away)525813
55Keep the Fire Burnin’521713
56I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)*5141313
57Someday, Someway5121214
58Steppin’ Out**511210
59Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me510814
61Blue Eyes4991013
62Cool Night*4981012
62Make a Move on Me498912
64Up Where We Belong**497912
65Pac-Man Fever4961114
65Even the Nights Are Better4961314
67Waiting for a Girl Like You*495310
69Wasted on the Way4931113
71Through the Years484613
72Harden My Heart*480912
73I’ve Never Been To Me4741514
74Take Me Down473912
75Empty Garden4721012
76Sweet Time467912
77Angel in Blue4641113
79Leader of the Band*4601915
80New World Man459811
81Goin’ Down458712
82Play the Game Tonight4561012
84Turn Your Love Around*4451411
85Let It Whip4422016
86Without You (Not Another Lonely Night)4411312
86I Keep Forgettin’4411513
88Get Down on It430911
89Love Will Turn You Around420911
90Body Language4121211
91Waiting on a Friend*4071511
92Heart Attack4051613
93Hooked on Classics*3961410
93Let Me Tickle Your Fancy3961512
95Break It Up3951311
96Love in the First Degree3841712
97Bobbie Sue3831311
98Hold On3811611
98Shadows of the Night**3811(3)8
100It’s Raining Again**37978

*was on the chart for at least one week in 1981
**would have been on the chart for at least one week in 1983

It turned out not to be that close for the top spot. Overall I can’t complain too much about how the top ten turned out, though I think Huey was probably top 3 in my heart, and I wouldn’t have Johnny Cougar nearly so high now.

I’m a tiny bit surprised to see “Don’t You Want Me” all the way up at #2. That said, I’ve come to recognize over the last couple of years its importance (yes, along with “Tainted Love”) in being the leading edge of the Second British Invasion. I just finished reading Tom Breihan’s The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music, in which he devotes a chapter to “Don’t You Want Me” for essentially that reason (with immense credit to MTV for its role in it all).

The song that lost out the most due to bad timing was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which was #1 the last week of December 1981 and the first week of January 1982, and didn’t make the Top 100 either year. On the other hand, both “Physical” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You” were on both Top 100s, due to their chart longevity. It’d perhaps be worthwhile to take a cue from the AT40 staff and include more (or all) of a song’s run in this exercise–of course, that couldn’t be done with songs that hung on into some of 1983…

Anyway, laugh as you will at the results; I’m glad to have ranked them at last. Here’s to the best for all of us in 2023.

I am still on Twitter, though a) I’m enjoying it less all the time, and b) I completely understand why some folks have chosen to bail. That said, I’ve begun exploring other social media outlets. Here are the coordinates of my extremely minimal presence at two other places:

Post.News: @wmharris

You’re more than welcome to follow me and/or to let me know where/how to find you in those or other spaces.