Stereo Review in Review: March 1978

Gonna sneak this month’s issue in under the wire. This is a fun one; you can take a look at the whole thing here; credit once again goes to americanradiohistory.com.

Articles
Semi-Pro Recording: How to Make Your Own Master Tapes, Vincent Ficara and Peter Ponzol

How to Get Into the Music Business, Rick Mitz
Includes a reading list—books and periodicals about songwriting, along with trade magazines. We also get “Advice from the Experts,” including Clive Davis, the pres and vice-pres of Chappell Music, the late Johnny Mercer, and 28-year old Tommy Mottola, already managing Hall and Oates. What does the future-and-now-once Mr. Mariah Carey have to say? “The number-one thing I listen for in a tape is the songs. They are the essence and the heart of what’s going to become a career…a great visual image and the ability to excite and turn on an audience—those are the other qualities I look for…personally, I would rather hear the raw vocal and piano or guitar because I want to hear the song.”

I also learned that Mottola really is being name-checked in “Cherchez la Femme,” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. I’ve been wondering for several years now if that was just coincidence, but it turns out he was their manager, too.

Cassette Tape Progress: One Expert’s View of Past, Present, and Future Developments, Robert Donadio
Advances in ferric oxide and chromium dioxide tapes, and what might be next (pure metal? digital tape?).

On to the musical highlights—I’ve pulled a few choice quotes this time. Our reviewers are Chris Albertson, Edward Buxbaum, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
Earth, Wind and Fire, All ‘n All  (PG)
Hank Williams Jr., The New South (NC)
Lou Rawls, When You Hear Lou, You’ve Heard It All (PR)

Recordings of Special Merit
Rock/Pop/Country/Soul:
Ashford and Simpson, Send It (PG)
John Denver, I Want to Live (NC)
Electric Light Orchestra, Out of the Blue (JV)
Tommy James, Midnight Rider (JV)
Rick Nelson, Intakes (NC)
Esther Phillips, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby (PG)
Queen, News of the World (JV)
Paul Simon, Greatest Hits, Etc. (JV)
Rod Stewart, Foot Loose and Fancy Free (NC) [“This one, in fact, is set up something like a vintage Rolling Stones record: something a little gross, like ‘Fat Legs,’ (sic) to get your attention…”]
Neil Young, Decade (SS)
Flat Picking Guitar Festival (NC)

Jazz:
George Barnes, Blues Goiing Up (CA)
Art Blakey, The Finest of Art Blakey Big Band (CA)
Dexter Gordon, Sophisticated Giant (CA)
Mike Nock, Almanac (CA)
Randy Weston, Randy Weston (CA)

Featured Rock/Pop/Country/Soul/Jazz Reviews
Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True (SS) [“…the influences are so thoroughly digested, even at this early stage in his career…” “…his lyrics…are the most cruelly, tellingly misanthropic broadsides since middle-period Dylan.”]
Don McLean, Prime Time (PR)
Peter Allen, It Is Time for Peter Allen (PR)
Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again/Porter Wagoner, Porter (NC)
Donna Summer, Once Upon a Time (EB)
Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron, The Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet in Paris, International Festival de Jazz, May 1949 (CA)

Selected Other LPs Reviewed
Beatles, Love Songs (JV)
David Bowie, Heroes (SS)
Natalie Cole, Thankful (PR)
Joni Mitchell, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (NC)
Talking Heads, 77 (JV) [“…it has still to be demonstrated that punk/New Wave is either musically or commercially important.” “…though they try hard it is doubtful that this album would ever have been released without the punk hype.”]
Tammy Wynette, One of a Kind (NC)

Forgotten Albums: Steve Forbert, Streets of This Town

Like my college, the church I attend has gone the Zoom route for gathering dispersed people for face-to-face conversations. Our minister isn’t doing live services–he’s working with congregants to piece together abbreviated services that are recorded in advance–but today a couple of the adult Sunday School classes got together over Zoom for a while. It’s good to see people’s faces and hear their voices after weeks away from one another (the same holds true for my students–I’m not having class per se online, just Q & A sessions at our regularly scheduled meeting times–I may be a little surprised at how much of a lift I’m getting from interacting with them).

But this morning, rather than watch the pre-recorded service with Martha, I was in the basement gathering thoughts about my next set of Calculus II notes and videos (if you’ve been wondering what my voice sounds like, my YouTube handle is cayleytable–there’s some really enthralling calculus content there, letmetellya) and attending the church of Steve Forbert, specifically his 1988 album Streets of This Town. A couple of songs from it have been knocking around my head as of late, resonating with how I’m feeling about the current times. Streets was a comeback album of sorts, Forbert’s first release in several years. It didn’t sell all that much, but the little buzz it generated reached my eyes or ears; I got it through Columbia House as I was building my nascent CD collection.

Here are a few selections.

Track 3 is “I Blinked Once.” So much feels impermanent right now.

My two favorite tracks are the ones that would have been side-enders had I bought it on vinyl. “As We Live and Breathe” is truly uplifting to listen to, and it offers me some small measure of hope today.

“Hope, Faith, and Love” is another cut that reminds me to look for the good out there.

It was the rocker “Wait a Little Longer” that flitted through my brain this morning and led to this post today.

The CD ends with the quiet “Search Your Heart.” “Don’t take gloom for granted/And don’t bridge time to time/And if you search your heart/You’ll ease your mind.”

So ended the sermon. I’ll try to take what I can from it and go forth to be as good a math professor and person as I can be in the coming weeks.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/26/77: Andrea True Connection, “N.Y., You Got Me Dancing”

So, life has been rather different these last couple of weeks as I, along with so many other college educators, have been forced to completely revamp the structure and delivery of our courses. I don’t mean to whine, but at times it’s been overwhelming and plenty stressful (and I know that holds for many of my students). I suspect this will remain the case for the duration of the semester. Efficiency has plummeted, and I still spend much too high a percentage of the day checking on the latest developments in the spread of and fight against COVID-19. My friend Warren, who teaches English at a small college in South Carolina, and I compared our respective situations messaging on FB over the weekend. He’s feeling relatively Zen about matters, seemingly recognizing what he can and can’t control. I am nowhere near there yet; while I’m not exactly waking with anxiety in the middle of the night, worries aren’t held at bay easily or often, either (it probably doesn’t help that I have a bit of a hypochondriacal streak). I’m sufficiently introverted that staying cooped up at home for days at a time hasn’t bothered me much. Yet.

My guess is that dealing with classes will make it harder to break away to write, at least for the next little bit. I’m hoping it will do me good to indulge occasionally, even if I’m not sure I can completely afford it.

Last weekend’s 1977 and 1984 AT40 rebroadcasts were both thorough delights; I even listened to the former twice, on two different upstate NY stations. The national commercials, particularly those for Purple Mattress, felt largely disconnected from current reality (ads for online degrees from Arizona State University were an exception of sorts). The local spots and news break-ins, though, reflected well what’s going on in the Empire State, including one from, coincidentally enough, a regional mattress firm. They were pitching a variety of deal sweeteners to entice folks to scurry in and make a purchase before the close of business on Sunday (after which stores would be shuttered for an indefinite period). Crafty–and nimble–salesmanship, I thought. I wonder if it convinced anyone to drop by.

Leading off the 1977 show was the second and final Top 40 appearance for porn actress-turned-singer Andrea True (Casey called her a solo female act on this show, ignoring her Connection). Like the recently-blogged “Dreamin’ Is Easy,” this was a 45 I picked up in the late 80s. It doesn’t groove me nearly the way that “More, More, More” did a year earlier, but that’s okay.

(Rambling stream-of-consciousness aside: “More, More, More” was one of the first three singles I ever bought, in June of 1976. Got it at Sears not long after they moved to Florence, one of four anchor stores for a mall that opened a few months later. There’s a water tower adjacent to the mall that was originally painted with the words “FLORENCE MALL.” It was soon determined that advertising a commercial enterprise in a such a manner was legally dubious, at best; my uncle, C. M. “Hop” Ewing, mayor of Florence at the time, devised a brilliant branding solution: transform the M to a Y’.

There’s a major interstate that runs right past the tower and mall. This is still a significant local landmark after almost 45 years. And by the way, his daughter, my cousin Diane, is now mayor of Florence.)

“N.Y., You Got Me Dancing” reached #27 a month after debuting. Not trying to be glib, but I’m so sorry it’s going to be a good while before N.Y. gets dancing again.

Not The People That We Dream

This evening, this very moment, I’d planned to be in Alexandria, VA, on a quick weekend getaway to visit my good friend Greg and his family. I’d made arrangements to give exams this morning so that I could hop a nonstop flight into Dulles from Lexington. The attraction? A concert, of course–10,000 Maniacs. Almost thirty years after Greg had first tried to get me to go with him. This time last month, I thought it was going to actually happen. Even if it was Mary Ramsey and not Natalie Merchant on vocals, it would have been grand. Alas.

Here’s the song that would have kicked off the show (at least according to setlist.fm). Feels somehow appropriate to play it tonight.

Stay safe, everyone.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/12/83: Steel Breeze, “Dreamin’ Is Easy”

When I refer to my “charting years,” I’m talking about the 6/5/76 through 10/2/82 AT40 shows, the period during which I produced (with a few weeks’ exception in Sept/Oct of 1976 and Nov/Dec of 1977) a (relatively) carefully written piece of paper with each week’s countdown. It actually took a few more months after October of 1982 before I truly gave up listening and writing down the songs, though.

In my stack of unfiled 70s/80s pop music-related materials are several sheets of notebook paper with the skinny. They start with the 9/25 countdown–apparently I took the time to transfer two weeks’ worth of notes to make my final ‘official’ charts. Here are three of them:

The one on the left has the 10/30 list, with information about 11/6 and 11/13 alongside (I wonder now what I was taping–and I see there are some chemistry calculations, too). The middle one has all of December, including info about 12/25, which was preempted by the first half of the year-ender (I presume I went to Recordland at the Florence Mall for that–old habits died slowly). The right sheet is a tiny bit interesting in that it’s for 1/15/83, with info about the previous week encoded.

I’d forgotten that I’d kept this up for so long–I have complete records up through 1/22. After missing part of 1/29 and the next two weeks completely, there’s one final entry:

It’s 2/19/83, with the numbers from 2/26 too. My recollection is that the show was being broadcast on Sunday mornings at this point. You can see that’s someone else’s handwriting on #29-#25. A couple of days ago, I showed this picture to James, my roommate–he confirmed my suspicions that I’d enlisted his aid, perhaps while I went down the hall to take a shower. He told me he has vague memories of being asked to help and feeling slightly fearful of making an error. You did just fine, man!

The song at #39 on the above sheet, “Dreamin’ Is Easy,” by Sacramento’s very own Steel Breeze, was one I liked fairly well at the time. It was in the middle of a three-week run at its peak of #30 by the 3/12 show rolled around. Several years later, I remembered it enough to want to snag a used copy of the 45 as part of a decently large haul. I’ll easily take it over “You Don’t Want Me Anymore” these days.

One other note about this show: it was Neil Diamond’s last week ever in the Top 40.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/16/74: Stealers Wheel, “Star”

I guess it’s been more than a month now since I’ve done one of these…thinking that for the next little bit this series will mostly be brief posts about songs that didn’t reach the Top 20.

I’m certain I heard the #6 hit from Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You,” back in the 70s; it was a hit here in the U.S. the spring I was 9, but Gerry Rafferty’s massive “Baker Street” almost certainly ensured it got some recurrent play at the end of the decade. It’s only over the past few years I’ve discovered that Rafferty and fellow Wheel Joe Egan were two-, not one-, hit wonders. “Star” had only a don’t-blink-you’ll-miss-it three-week 33-31-29 run on AT40 (this show is the middle of those). It’s a fantastic pop delight, though, well worth seeking out today. Yes, it’s another song that muses on the potential perils of musical success–I presume it’s at least semi-autobiographical–yet it was also prescient regarding the upcoming fate of Stealers Wheel: “After all you’ve been through tell me what will you do/When you find yourself back on the shelf.”

I’d be interested in reading a biography of Rafferty, who clearly had battles with various devils over the years. Rafferty left Stealers Wheel for several months in between their first two albums. He and Egan had an acrimonious break-up not long after Ferguslie Park, the album containing “Star,” was released. That ultimately led to delays in the resumption of what became Rafferty’s shooting-star-like solo career.

I Can’t Close My Eyes

The week about to end has been Spring Break at my institution, but heading into it, I was wondering what things would look like on the other side. Events surrounding the spread of COVID-19 around the world seemed to begin quickening last week and have only sped up since. It became apparent by Monday evening that it was unlikely classes would be resuming as normal upon completion of the break, and late Wednesday afternoon, the news broke: three additional days of break, to be followed by remote instruction, at least through April 3. I’ve been thinking since about how I’m going to make this transition–it’s going to be unlike anything I’ve attempted before. The college has identified some potentially useful tools for us and is providing a modicum of training in their use. It’s now time to get after it, I suppose.

Other than a few errands on Monday around where I grew up and several trips to the grocery, I’ve tried to keep myself remote throughout the week. I’m teaching a class in mathematical modeling this semester, and the book we use contains a unit on disease modeling; in particular, there’s a section on a model for the 2003 SARS outbreak. Just a few weeks ago, the class and I implemented it using one of our software tools, and we saw the impact of quarantining: it did indeed “flatten the curve,” allowing the outbreak to last longer but at a lower intensity throughout. I think perhaps I should have, but I didn’t realize then we were heading toward this pandemic.

One thing I’ve come to realize this week is that, at least where I live, social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean staying cooped up in the house all day. With the impending arrival of spring, it’s getting to be nice enough now for lengthy walks around the neighborhood, with or without the dog. Martha and I were out Wednesday afternoon with Buddy when a song I haven’t heard in maybe a quarter-century popped into my head.

It’s from the Questionnaires, a band out of Nashville that had two LPs stiff before breaking up. “Window to the World” was the title song from the debut, released in 1989. I imagine the CD got placed in my hands by Greg, on one of our raids on the cutout bins. It’s possible you’re (more) familiar with the version that Shawn Colvin recorded for her 1994 album Cover Girl.

So why did I think of it this week? It’s foolish to speculate about how connections are made in my brain, but it is true that lots of folks’ windows to the world are changing radically right now, and we’re quite likely to see heroes rise (and fall, I fear) in the months to come.