American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/30/74: Neil Diamond, “Longfellow Serenade”

The evidence points to the picture being taken in late 1972—I’ve long thought the occasion was Thanksgiving. My sister and I are wearing long sleeves, squeezed between Grandma and Aunt Birdie on a settee in my great-aunt’s living/dining room. We’re each holding a toy—they need only the flimsiest of excuses to have a gift for us, and joining them for dinner certainly qualifies. Amy has just received a paint set, I a scale-model 1972 Mercury Cougar. Aunt Birdie is adoringly regarding her sister’s grandchildren, while Amy and I are almost looking in the direction of the camera. Only Grandma gets it right—this makes me think that Dad is the photographer—a faint smile on her lips, one that perhaps belies her condition. Somewhere I think there must be a few other photos from that sitting, but this is the one that got placed in an album by my mother. It could be the final picture ever taken of my grandmother.

Grandma’s mental state had been deteriorating for a couple of years at this point. “Hardening of the arteries” is what I remember Dad and Aunt Birdie calling her ailment, but it surely was some form of dementia. Over time it became clear that she could no longer live by herself in the farmhouse on U.S. 42, so she moved back to the house in Warsaw in which she’d been born at the end of the 19th century, where sister Birdie, three years her junior, could better attend to her. It wasn’t very long after the picture was taken that she became bedridden, and from there it was just a matter of time until moving her to a nursing home was necessary. Dad chose Woodspoint, a facility in Florence, 10 miles away from us and almost three times as far for Aunt Birdie. With no place of that sort in Walton or Warsaw, though, it was close to the best he could have done.

There are no fond memories of visiting Grandma at Woodspoint. I can still conjure up its smell, an unpleasant mixture of cleaning solution and urine. To see her, we turned left upon entering, and left again into her room about halfway down the hall—her window was on the front of the building. She was always in her bed, invariably unresponsive. Aunt Birdie went to Woodspoint several times a week, and no doubt Dad saw her plenty, too. Amy and I were there only every few weeks if I’m recalling correctly.

Grandma lasted in this condition for quite a while.

I don’t remember anything about our Thanksgiving celebration in 1974, two years after the picture. Chances are, Aunt Birdie stayed with us over the holiday weekend, making trips to Florence during the day.

One Wednesday evening toward the end of January 1975, Mom, Amy, and I were watching the weekly installment of Name That Tune on television. The phone rang, pulling Mom away from Tom Kennedy’s playful banter with the contestants. It was Dad, letting us know that Grandma had passed. I don’t know that Amy and I had been told that her end might be coming soon.

Dad had revered his mother throughout his life, though I recall hearing him say afterwards something to the effect of, “That wasn’t my beautiful mother in there; she had been gone for some time.” Nonetheless, I believe her physical death hit him hard.

I’ve mentioned before that listening now to the American Top 40s Premiere rebroadcast in 2014, when I was spending most weekends with my ailing mother, sends me back to her townhouse (especially the ones from the 70s). The last weekend I spent with her there was the one following Thanksgiving; the show they played was 11/30/74. While her favorite song from the show was almost certainly John Denver’s “Back Home Again,” I’d bet that “Longfellow Serenade” wasn’t too far behind (she was a pretty big Neil Diamond fan). Neil’s first hit after moving to Columbia Records was hanging out at its peak of #5.

It’s a morning in the fall of 1974. A fifth-grade boy and a fourth-grade girl are at the table for breakfast. Since it’s getting colder out, maybe this morning their sweet mother Caroline has fixed oatmeal or cream of wheat on the stove. As usual, the kitchen radio is on, tuned to WLW. The morning DJ, James Francis Patrick O’Neill, doesn’t play all that much music—he’s a performer at heart—but today he spins a new song from Neil Diamond. The boy doesn’t remotely parse that it’s about seduction; he just likes the way the chorus soars. He’s also certainly not thinking about the weight his father is carrying, or about his grandmother’s state. If anything, he’s wondering about what will happen in Mrs. Layne’s class this day, or what he’ll do with the friends on his street after school, or…

…as Diamond’s voice fades after weaving his web of rhyme, it’s suddenly forty years later: the morning of Saturday, November 29, 2014. The fifty-year-old considers what he still has to do before heading home that evening. He’s made arrangements for his mother to spend a few days at a Hospice Care facility, beginning Sunday evening—“respite care.” Someone from the companion care service will be showing up soon so that he can run a few more errands. In conversations with his mother, he’s eliding what will happen at the end of the coming week, though he doesn’t yet know the full details himself. He doesn’t consider there might be parallels with the situation his father had faced in the early 1970s.

Tomorrow he’ll return to drive Mom over to the facility and help her settle in. She’ll have just spent her final night in her home.

Stereo Review In Review: November 1976

Hmmm…I wonder where they got the idea for repeating Linda’s name?

Perhaps my earliest clear memory associated with SR comes from this issue (the cover does ring a bell, but that’s not it). It’s likely the main reason I scooped a copy off of eBay back in the spring.

Articles
Neil Sedaka Comes Back, by Robert Windeler
Essentially a career-to-date overview in the span of two pages. Alas, Sedaka’s resurgence was practically over by the time the article went to press.

Linda Ronstadt Linda Ronstadt, by Noel Coppage
Coppage caught up with Ronstadt in Asheville, NC, prior to a show, and she talks at length about the benefits of getting older (“I’m more assertive, people don’t take advantage as much as they used to…and I have a much better sense of what I’m worth now. I mean as a person, not musically or successwise…), her take on other music (reggae is great, disco is not), and one pitfall of success (“…you’ve sort of priced yourself out of range for a relationship with most anybody, except for other people who as famous as you are and are equally neurotic, and you don’t want to have anything to do with them.”) Coppage is impressed: “She is one of the least guarded, least defensive persons, celebrated or not, I’ve talked with lately.”

He also reviews her latest, Hasten Down the Wind. “If one aspect of the recording does stand out, it’s the growth (she) is showing as a vocalist. Her phrasing is slowly but surely becoming exquisite, and the ornamentation she uses is less and less likely to be overdone…”

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, and Joel Vance. Steve Simels wouldn’t appear as a reviewer until the March 1977 issue, but he’d been penning a monthly column for a few years by this time. The Pop Beat discusses at length Live at CBGB’s, a 2-LP showcase for hopeful up-and-comers that had played shows at the influential club over one weekend in June. In particular, Simels lifts up Mink DeVille, the Shirts, the Miamis, and the Laughing Dogs as acts to watch.

Best of the Month
–Carly Simon, Another Passenger (PR) I’m guessing I started rifling through Dad’s collection of SRs sometime in the second half of 1977. Fortunately, he hadn’t tossed older issues (immediately, anyway), so I got to examine issues that went back at least to this one. A paragraph from the review of Another Passenger made a deep impression, even if I didn’t fully understand it.

“This ability to deal honestly and directly with emotional life has always been one of Carly’s major strengths, and it permeates all her songs here.”
Vaudeville: Songs of the Great Ladies of the Musical Stage (PK) “Miss (Joan) Morris’ singing is, as I have suggested, perfection itself, and Mr. (William) Bolcom’s accompaniments flutter flatteringly around her like moths around a flame.”
–Doc Watson, Doc and the Boys (NC) “There’s not a lot of flashy flat-picking here, nor is the full-band sound cluttered. Watson has a good feel for balance…a good feel, in fact, for just about everything related to music.”

Recordings of Special Merit
Rock/Pop/Country/Soul:
–Tony Bennett, Ten Rodgers and Hart Songs (PR) “Tony Bennett’s expertly nonchalant recital here, beautifully produced and recorded, full of the ease and the assurance and the audible pleasure of an Old Pro reveling in his kind of material, is a fine tribute to the authentic immortals of the American theater.”
–Country Gazette, Live (NC) “These are not the hottest soloists you can find in old-time music…but they were playing off one another when these tapes were made, and the song selection is just goofy enough to work.”
–Flamin’ Groovies, Shake Some Action (JV) “The reconstituted group dresses a la mode 1964, in sedate suits, and their music reflects the same period…A lot of bands have attempted this approach, but few have done it so unselfconsciously and entertainingly.”
–Hickory Wind, Fresh Produce (NC) “…an impressive regional band now apparently attempting to go national, is from West (by God) Virginia…It’s all right with me if they go national, and it won’t hurt the nation, although I think this album could’ve been even better than it is.”
–Bobby Short, My Personal Property (PR) “He sings everything here with his customary perfect diction, his usual chic-beyond-chic phrasing, and his own obvious rapture at doing what he does so very, very well.”
–The Stills-Young Band, S/T (NC) “…all promises to be well if Stills and Young really can get along in the ego-testing job of co-fronting a band. They’ve aged and wised up some, of course, and they project such different personalities that you wonder if they won’t turn out to be complementary.”

Jazz:
–Anthony Braxton, Creative Orchestra Music 1976 (CA) “…confirms my belief that Anthony Braxton is one of the most important creators on the American music scene today.”
–James Dapogny, Piano Music of Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton (CA) “There is, of course, nothing like the real thing, but this comes closer than any previous attempt.”
–Earl Hines, Live at Buffalo (JV) “Like all Hines recordings, this album is an Event.”
–Sam Rivers/Dave Holland, S/T (CA) “This album, being on a small label, probably will not get as wide a distribution as Rivers’ previous releases, but it his best work to date: two masterly pieces of impressionistic playing by two uncompromising musicians.”

Featured Reviews
–Arista Re-releases of Jazz on the Savoy Label (CA) Eight double-LPs, from (among others) Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Erroll Garner, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane/Wilbur Harrison. “All in all, this is a good set of releases containing some exceptionally fine performances. The mastering of the Forties material could have been better, and more thought could have gone into the planning…As it is, they are all certainly worth your attention.”
–John Denver, Spirit (William Anderson) “The Rule of Cool is very simple—Thou shalt not be moved, delighted, shocked, surprised, or, above all, enthusiastic, and if thou art thou shalt not show it—but John Denver behaves (far out!) as if he had never even heard of it.”
–Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, S/T (Paulette Weiss) “My feet and I agree: (this) is by far the most satisfying disco album we’ve heard yet. It may even acquire Best-Ever status if the world does indeed end shortly…At least I won’t go out with a whimper, but with a boom-chicka-boom.”
–Jane Olivor, First Night (James Goodfriend) “There are some gorgeous performances on this record, and no real duds, and what the performances reveal is that she isn’t limited to one kind of song or one kind of singing.”
Put the Hammer Down! (NC) A compilation of CB- and trucker-related tunes. “…I have no intention of buying a CB radio—in fact, I’d be happier if my local Radio Shack store had sold at least one fewer of those, the one that keeps broadcasting through my stereo equipment—but…I’ve been having a good time listening to this and imagining speed limits being broken and Smokey Bears worn to a frazzle all over the place…”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Aerosmith, Rocks (JV) “My friends, hear what I say. This album is/No more substantial than the hiss of fizz/Atop a gin and tonic. Listen to it;/You’ll agree that Aerosmith have blew it.”
–Alice Cooper, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (PR) “There’s nothing much here for you unless you dig one-note showmanship and a threadbare idea.”
–Jon Anderson, Olias of Sunhillow (NC) “I don’t know whether to blame Herman Hesse or Stanley Kubrick for influencing these young men—most of whom seem to be associated with the rock group Yes—to do things like this, but there are two groups you can’t blame: musicians and English teachers.”
–George Benson, Breezin’ (JV) “(Benson) has a light touch and an airy, delicate way of playing that would be considerably more impressive, I suspect, if it weren’t compromised by the ‘pop-jazz’ settings of this album.”
–David Bowie, Changesonebowie (PR) “The world of cinema seems to have discovered in him the male equivalent of Hedy Lamarr, a glamorous sleepwalker, but Bowie on records is too often only a figment of some producer-promotor’s overwrought imagination.”
–Chicago, Chicago X (PR) “Just how long the public intends to keep on buying the same mild-mannered Muzak rock, release after release, is even more a puzzle than why Chicago keeps on recording it.”
–Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left (NC) “I can’t seem to find the atmosphere—time of day, proportion of shade to light, whatever—in which to drift with it. And I don’t know what else you’d do with it.”
–Jack Elliott, The Essential Jack Elliott (PK) “With a strong, true baritone, overflowing energy, and good humor in the face of even the grimmest material, Elliott carries on a worthy tradition…projecting everything he does with a zest and forthrightness that are enormously appealing.”
–Grateful Dead, Steal Your Face (NC) “Here, ironically, the live audience apparently influences the musicians to play the music rather than meander about refining it and generally being esoteric.”
–The Kinks, The Kinks’ Greatest Celluloid Heroes (PR) “Somehow the Seventies have made a lot of pop irreverence seem more like sour brattiness than healthy fun.”
–Steve Miller Band, Fly Like an Eagle (NC) “The thing about Steve Miller is, his hits drive me up the wall…’Take the Money and Run’ has me tearing hair I can’t afford to lose and ‘Rock’n Me’ sent me on a run to the Yellow Pages to look for a product to decontaminate one’s entire auditory system.”
–The Monkees, Greatest Hits (NC) “Anyway, you can use this record to make your hi-fi set sound like a little transistor radio. Or you can use it to strike matches as I’m doing.”
–Orleans, Waking and Dreaming (NC) “The songs here…are pretty good as pop songs go these days, and there are no serious technical flaws in the vocals or instrumentals, but juices are missing somewhere.”
–Graham Parker, Howlin’ Wind (JV) “Parker is so busy being a bluesman (even down to the dark glasses) that the fine musicians behind him almost have to sneak in their licks where they can—whenever he leaves room.”
–Cliff Richard, I’m Nearly Famous (PR) “…an album that finds him sounding pretty much the same as he always did—like a careful, well-rehearsed performer working ‘in the rock style’.”
–Esther Satterfield, The Need to Be (PR) “Problem is, like most young performers she pushes too hard and too long at the dramatically effective.”
–Peter Tosh, Legalize It (JV) “Music that is subservient to such narrow socio-political purposes is no more ‘music’ than are advertising ditties for margarine, automobiles, or toothpaste.”
–Jerry Jeff Walker, It’s a Good Night for Singing (NC) “Walker’s spontaneity is a blessing, but a lot more discipline could be activated without jeopardizing that.”

Time To Play B-Sides: ABBA

For a big chunk of the second half of the 70s, you could count me among those enraptured by singles from ABBA. It began with “SOS” in the fall of 1975 (I don’t have specific recollections of hearing “Waterloo” on the radio a year earlier, though it may have gotten play in Cincinnati); the piano introduction, the melody, and the harmonies in the chorus are all fantastic, but it might be the part starting with “When you’re gone/How can I even try to go on?” that most charmed 11-year-old me. It’s still among my very favorites of theirs.

While follow-up “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” was fine enough, the next four singles, charting in the U.S. between June 1976 and August 1977–“Mamma Mia,” “Fernando,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”–all completely blew me away. My sister bought Arrival, which allowed me to discover the magnificent “My Love, My Life.” “The Name of the Game” was another huge winner in early 1978, while “Take a Chance on Me” was maybe a notch below. By the time Voulez-Vous was released in the middle of 1979, my ardor for ABBA’s craft was beginning to cool, and truth be told, maybe the middle-teen I was began to think he was too cool for them (I don’t believe I was the only one, either). Their last two U.S. Top 40 hits, “The Winner Takes It All” and “When All Is Said and Done,” don’t do much for me now.

I didn’t leave ABBA completely behind, though. I had college friends who had never wavered as fans, and I learned from them about lesser singles or album cuts (“Angeleyes,” “Eagle”) they greatly enjoyed. Somewhere in the mid-80s I picked up a drill-hole copy of the cassette I Love ABBA, which I listened to occasionally in the car between Illinois and Kentucky during the grad school years (seemingly always while driving the I-465 beltway around Indianapolis). Probably purchased it for “My Love, My Life,” but I remember it most now for introducing me to the infernal “Slipping Through My Fingers.” More recently, I was more than happy to purchase the 2-CD ABBA Forever Gold when I was assembling my Ten Years of AT40 Songs collection about a decade ago. Like many others, I’ve come to embrace my ABBA fandom of the 70s; I’ve got a CD copy of Voyage on my Christmas wish list.

The three ABBA 45s I bought way back when were “Fernando,” “Dancing Queen,” and “The Name of the Game.” I’m pretty sure that “Dancing Queen” came first, with “Fernando” getting picked up several months after it had charted. 1977 was the year I did most of my checking out of flip sides, and both of these had memorable songs on the back. For “Fernando,” it was “Rock Me,” from ABBA. Björn sings a rough, almost lascivious lead; the tune has the feel of a cabaret number. It wasn’t the ABBA I was used to, but I liked it anyway.

“That’s Me,” the other side of “Dancing Queen,” remains one of the great discoveries I made flipping my 45s over. I’ve wondered over the years what makes our narrator “not the kind of girl you’d marry”–a closer read of the lyrics makes me wonder if Carrie isn’t really meaning that he’s not the kind of guy she’d marry?

Maybe it’s just me, but I would have chosen “That’s Me” as third single from Arrival over “Money, Money, Money.”

Even if it was just a year later, I was already investigating B-sides much less often by the time “The Name of the Game” got added to my burgeoning collection of 7″ vinyl. Thus it wasn’t until I Love ABBA that I regularly listened to “I Wonder (Departure).” While this one is not nearly as much my style, in looking through the comments on the video embedded below I was struck time and again how the song has spoke to people across the years as they embarked on new adventures. “But who the hell am I if I don’t even try?” I see the appeal, and understand the sentiment.

It’s been fun watching, reading, and listening as ABBA has returned to style over the last 25+ years. I rented Muriel’s Wedding from Blockbuster in the 90s, saw Mamma Mia! when it was the high school musical during my son’s senior year. I can’t foresee ever checking out the upcoming hologram show in London, but the memories and CDs will suffice–they can do magic, after all.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/13/82: Donald Fagen, “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)”

One of the extra-curricular activities I pursued soon after getting to college was writing for the campus student rag, The Rambler. I hadn’t done journalism of any sort in high school—Walton-Verona was really too small to have a newspaper, and my schedule hadn’t allowed me to work on the yearbook staff. Nonetheless, as someone who liked writing pretty well, I jumped at the chance to take on assignments and talk to folks around campus. Publication during the fall of 1982 was usually weekly, sometimes every other week. Looking through the issues from that November, I see a few nuggets of personal interest and/or curiosity.

11/1/82 (the issue is actually undated, but the contents point to this as the likely publication date)
Headline: Professor writes Lexington history
History professor John D. Wright, Jr., one of the few members of the Transy faculty remaining from my father’s time there 30 years earlier, had recently authored Lexington: Heart of the Bluegrass, covering the city’s 200+ year history. Dad, who’d been a history major, held Dr. Wright in high esteem and they maintained occasional correspondence well into the 21st century (I came across a kind note from Dr. Wright when going through my father’s effects after his passing—it was from just a few years previous). I regret somewhat that I didn’t take one of Dr. Wright’s classes.

Headline: Bacchus coming to Transy’s campus
A chapter of a national student organization working toward responsible alcohol consumption by college students was soon to be established.

Headline: Art Course Offers Students Chance to Travel
Yours truly gets his second byline, about an upcoming May 1983 course that included visits to museums in NYC and DC.

Headlines: Tennis team wins NAIA District and State and Women’s field hockey team wins state championship
It was a good fall for women’s sports on campus. The tennis team had earned a trip to the national tournament the following spring.

11/15/82

Headline: New admissions director takes charge on Jan. 1
William Hanger would be coming to campus from Miami University (OH), reuniting with his former boss and recently-installed Transy president David Brown. He was actually to serve as Vice President for Enrollment, with a charge of increasing the number of students on campus from its then 650-ish to 1000. Both Hanger and Brown would depart Transy several months later, in the summer of 1983, when the powers-that-ultimately-be decided a change in leadership was necessary. An internet search informs me that Hanger returned to Miami and worked in Institutional Relations there until his retirement (he passed away about three years ago).

Headline: A Gown for His Mistresses delightful play; acting sterling
A review of the fall theater production, a farce by Georges Feydeau. By the way, the play’s title is incorrect in the headline—there was only a single mistress involved. Pretty sure I went and saw this.

Announcement: Wind Ensemble plays Dec. 1

That fall we were a very tiny and indeed unconventional group: five flutes, two trumpets, and one each of clarinet, bassoon, horn, trombone (moi), and tuba. Six of the eleven of us were first-year students. The ensemble did grow steadily in size throughout my time there.

11/22/82
Headline: Transy community debates value of May Term
Transy had what we called a 4-4-1 calendar, with two thirteen-week terms, followed by one four-week term in May (the numbers refer to how many classes are taken per term). I honestly have no recollection of this hullaballoo, but my reading between the lines is that President Brown had floated the idea of either moving to a more traditional two-semester model or placing the short term in January. The article outlines arguments, both pro- and con-, about making a change and is accompanied elsewhere in the issue by an editorial, as well as pictures of and quotes from several students and a couple of faculty reacting to the possibility of something new (almost everyone appears to prefer the status quo). In the end, nothing happened, and the calendar today is the same as then.

Headline: Greek sing is a success
Fraternities and sororities tended to dominate the social scene at TU. Greek Sing was an annual rite, sponsored (at least in 1982) by the Chi Omega sorority. The author gives a rave review, finding something award-worthy in each performance (official winners Phi Mu did an American Bandstand send-up, while Delta Sigma Phi sang Broadway tunes).

Headline: BACCHUS urges better behavior
The fledgling organization hosted a cocktail hour in the cafeteria and elected officers. The article mentions that BACCHUS (Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students) is currently “an ad hoc committee of the Student Government Association. But after this school year, it will be on its own.” I don’t recall that this effort got any sort of long-term traction.

Headline: Hall stays busy at Clay-Davis
Your humble blogger had another article, this time a feature on the head resident advisor (whose last name was Hall) for my dorm, named jointly for Henry Clay, and yes, Jefferson Davis—he’d studied at the 1820s incarnation of Transy while in his early teens. It’s been demolished within the last decade.

There’s no mention in any of these issues of The Rambler, but other items in my Bin of College Memories remind me that 11/13/82 was Parents’ Weekend. My folks, who needed only the faintest excuse to come visit me, drove down for the day. We doubtless attended some of the formal functions (I wrote four years ago about President Brown challenging students to a “naming bee” as part of the weekend’s festivities; I participated, and you can read about the outcome here). Afterward, they took me to the mall to shop for a new winter coat, one that lasted me until sometime after I went to Illinois.

During the second quarter of the 70s, my father became quite interested in stamp collecting (I did too, to a lesser extent). On those rare occasions when I happen to think about the International Geophysical Year, an image of the U.S. stamp issued in celebration of it often springs to mind:

I had to have seen this somewhere around 1974.

Donald Fagen is sixteen years older than I am, so he didn’t have to learn about I.G.Y. through philately. His song about the eighteen-month-long endeavor captures both the imagination (space travel, Spandex) and the misplaced optimism (undersea rail, eternal youth) of the era. Nearly twenty-four years after I.G.Y. had ended, I was studying to become a programmer, though whether I ever had the vision or compassion necessary to help create a just decision-making machine is up for debate. That November weekend my parents came to visit me, “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)” was at #33, moving toward a #26 peak two weeks later. (Side note, expressed with an appropriate amount of shame: while The Nightfly is revered by friends from many phases of my life, somehow it’s never found a spot in my collection. I don’t even know if I’ve ever listened to it in its entirety. Don’t hate on me for this–I’m certain I have a redeeming quality or two.)

My Rambler collection is less complete following the 1982-83 year. Part of that, perhaps, was me getting more involved in other aspects of campus life, but the paper’s student leadership began faltering, too. A re-set was necessary during my junior year (they even ignored the Rambler’s storied 70-year history and—at least for a while—dialed things back to Volume 1). Recent developments include a move to online-only publication in August 2016, a kerfuffle that made the news in the spring of 2019 regarding discontinuation of paying an outside part-time advisor (I’ve not able to determine how the situation was resolved, but it apparently it was in some fashion), and of course much more sporadic publication in these pandemic times.

Forgotten Albums: Sam Phillips, Omnipop (It’s Only a Flesh Wound, Lambchop)

There weren’t many music artists in the first half of the 90s whose work I enjoyed more than Sam Phillips. While I’d heard “Holding on to the Earth” on the radio when The Indescribable Wow was released in 1988, I didn’t add it to my collection until being blown away by her 1991 album Cruel Inventions. She completed a trifecta of close-to-perfect pop in the spring of 1994 with the Beatles-influenced Martinis and Bikinis. That summer I got to see her perform a few songs at a small festival in Washington, D.C. while visiting Greg and Katie. It was very good news when, less than a month after my wife and I returned from our honeymoon in the summer of 1996, news of a new Phillips disk dropped.

Good news until I brought it home and spun it a few times, that is.

It’s not that Omnipop (It’s Only a Flesh Wound, Lambchop) is a terrible record. It is, however, a decided drop-off from her earlier work. Many of the vocals are dour, and it feels like Phillips made a conscious decision to de-emphasize tuneful melodies. There are stylistic elements–particularly the use of a horn section–reminiscent of the late 60s, and I’ll admit they’re often used to good effect. In listening to (most of) Ominpop‘s songs this week for the first time in a good while, I recognize they’re familiar enough now to say I gave the record more chances a quarter-century ago than I remembered. It’s perhaps the case that a few are better than I initially gave them credit for then.

The album kicks off with “Entertainmen.” As the title suggests, there are multiple plays on words to be discovered (“post-humorous” and “a girl worth wading for”), as Sam tersely describes a set of damaged, and damaging, relationships.

Phillips is angry, and is letting us know. Case in point: “Plastic Is Forever.” She’s feeling alienated by technology (television in particular), and in turn she’s making music that’s at least a little alienating. The song does contain my favorite lyric on the album, though: “Pain is pleasure when it’s televised.”

One of the most appealing cuts is “Zero Zero Zero!” (which served as the title of her 1998 compilation disk). It’s got both 60s retro chic and Polynesian steel guitar, and is actually a bit of a romp–what more could one want?

Not that Phillips ever came close to a hit record, but as “Power World” fires up, one could be forgiven for thinking there’s a kernel of a single buried within. It’d greatly benefit from a more engaging chorus, though.

“Faster Pussycat to the Library!” is hands-down the best song title on the record, and may well beat out anything else from 1996. Phillips is credited with playing chamberlain in the liner notes, and this is one of the songs on which you hear it.

All the guys from R.E.M. co-wrote “Slapstick Heart,” the closer, with Phillips, although they don’t play on it. I’m a little curious to know how the collaboration came about. Again, not much melody, but there are interesting sounds.

My sense is that Omnipop‘s relative lack of positive reception precipitated an end to the relationship between Phillips and Virgin, her record label (purely a guess, but I wonder if the compilation was released simply to fulfill a contract). She’s continued recording, having released three albums on the Nonesuch label and several more on a smaller outfit over the last twenty years. I’ll confess that I haven’t given her 21st century music the level of attention it merits; perhaps I can correct that soon. You certainly can’t go wrong with any of her 1988-94 output, though.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/2/85: Glenn Frey, “You Belong to the City”

I don’t remember when I decided I wanted to go to graduate school, but I believe that seed was well planted before I even spent one day in college. The whole school deal was something I did pretty well, at least when it came to test-taking; I imagine that as early as age 16 I wasn’t ready to concede it might end one day. If you’d asked me when I started at Transy what I’d be studying in four years, the answer would have been computer science. By the end of my sophomore year, though, the needle was pointing much more in the direction of mathematics. The experience I had programming at IBM during the summer of 1985 didn’t do anything to sway me back toward CS, and early in my senior year my math professor mentor loaned/gave me a journal with rankings of math grad programs, assistantship information, etc. I began considering in earnest about where I might find myself in twelve months. Right or wrong, one thing I decided fairly early on: I’d be looking out of state–the University of Kentucky didn’t hold sufficient appeal. I zeroed in particularly on Big 10 schools.

My good friend Mark H, another math/CS double major, was also thinking about grad school (though in computer science), and by October we began planning a road trip. We settled on visiting the flagship universities of Wisconsin and Illinois, though my recollection is we didn’t set up any appointments. On Saturday, November 2, Mark and I headed north and a little west in my 1981 navy Chevy Citation. I had contacted Maria—the sister of one of my best friends from HS, a pen pal, and a sophomore at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb—who graciously made arrangements for Mark and me to crash in her dorm on our way to America’s Dairyland. We stayed long enough into Sunday to watch the start of the Bears-Packers game, then wended our way to a motel on the outskirts of Madison in time to see Walter Payton’s TD run keep da Bears undefeated (William “The Refrigerator” Perry had his one career TD catch in the first half).

Maria had badly cut her finger working for NIU’s dining services a couple of days earlier. The stylish hat I’m wearing was a purchase from Filene’s Basement when I’d visited MA relatives in August.

Thirty-six years fuzzes a lot of memories, you know? On Monday the 4th I visited Van Vleck Hall, where UW-Madison’s math department is housed; the following day included the first of the hundreds of times I was in Altgeld Hall in Urbana-Champaign. I chatted a little with the Director of Graduate Studies for math at both schools, while Mark made his visits to the respective CS buildings. I guess we each got our own sets of vibes about the places. Looking back, it feels a bit odd to have been focusing on the future in this way when I had months of college still to enjoy. I don’t know that anything was ultimately accomplished by going, other than getting a few days’ break on the road with a good friend. I do think the trip was when it began to hit me and some of my Transy friends that our time together had an end in sight.

It should surprise no one who knows me that music I heard over those days stuck in my memory more than some of the events. The two biggest hits at the time, “Part Time Lover” and “Miami Vice Theme,” came over the car radio early and often. I heard “Talk to Me” from Stevie Nicks for the first time, on the road between Madison and Bloomington, IL on Monday night. And James Taylor’s remake of “Everyday” cropped up a few times, too (Mark favored AC/soft rock more than I did, so tuning in to AOR stations was kept to a minimum).

Also among the strongest musical associations I have with the trip is the sax solo that opens the album version of Glenn Frey’s second contribution to the Miami Vice Soundtrack, “You Belong to the City” (#6 on this show, heading to #2). In my mind’s eye, Mark and I were heading out to grab dinner after watching some more football in that Madison motel. I wasn’t remotely connecting the song to the quest about which Midwestern city I might soon ‘belong to,’ as pat a story that might make—I was just a 21-year-old who paid far too much attention to music playing in the background, and who was hoping to make progress toward the next step.

I wound up applying to Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and two schools in the northeast. I went 3-for-5 on acceptances/assistantship offers, and y’all know which way I went in the end. Mark elected to pursue a master’s at Washington University in his hometown of St. Louis; we got together 3-ish times a year throughout my time at Illinois. Maria and I saw each other a few times over that period, too, and we’ve reestablished an email connection in the last couple of years.

Note: I’ve started recording my Thursday afternoon radio shows and uploading them to Mixcloud. You can click here, but I’ve also added a link in the Blogroll. The October 21 show featured many other songs from the fall of 1985.

Stereo Review In Review: October 1982

I don’t intentionally pick issues that feature the same artists over and again, but nonetheless there are several repeat appearances here from just the last few installments in this series, including Gary U.S. Bonds, Fleetwood Mac, Susannah McCorkle, and August Darnell (he’ll be back next month, too). C’est la vie.

This is one of the first SRs to come out after I went off to college. I have no specific memories of leafing through it, though I likely would have done so by the time of my first Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty heavy on reviews, so perhaps we should just dig in.

Article
A Guide to Hi-Fi Furniture, by Carl W. Spencer
An overview of the latest/greatest in consoles and cabinets of various sizes, shapes, and materials, from full-wall to modular to standalone, from solid oak to acrylic. The article starts on page 71; the pictures are definitely fun.

Our reviewers this month are a typical bunch: Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly , Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–Sippie Wallace, Sippie (JV) “It is rare today for a major label to release good—no, make that great—old-fashioned jazz lovingly performed in high style and recorded with excellent sound.” Wallace, eighty-three at the time of this recording, began singing professionally before World War I. Bonnie Raitt, who appears on Sippie, had been hanging with Wallace for about a decade at this point.
–Original Broadway Cast, Merrily We Roll Along (PR)  “…Sondheim’s music and lyrics again demonstrate his cool detachment from his characters, his generally dark and sorrowful view of the unsatisfying messes people can make of their lives.”

Recordings of Special Merit
Pop/Rock/R&B/Country:
–Gary U.S. Bonds, On the Line (JV) “The success of the Bonds/Springsteen association is based on their common experience as entertainers with years of boondocks one-nighters behind them.”
–The Gap Band, IV (PG) “The Gap Band promises to become the best vocal-instrumental group in Souldom since the Commodores were at their peak.”
–Genesis, Three Sides Live (MP) “Most of the songs are even more convincing here than in their original versions.”
–Juice Newton, Quiet Lies (NC) “She’s presented here roughly the same way that (Emmylou) Harris is, with vaguely country songs set to vaguely L.A.-rock arrangements, with evidence of good taste in both areas.”

Jazz:
–Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond, S/T (CA) “…no serious lover of modern jazz should be without these historic sides.”
–Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams, Third Plane (PG) “…a brilliant distillation of the music that these men, now recognized as among the main transmitters of the jazz tradition, once played as young Turks of the Sixties.”
–Al Cohn/Scott Hamilton/Buddy Tate, Tour de Force (JV) “The Tokyo crowd is enthusiastic, and understandably so. I hope this album sells as well as Toyotas do.”
–Earl Hines, Paris Session (JV) “…the greatest pianist in the history of jazz, bar none.”
–Thelonious Monk, The Thelonious Monk Memorial Album (CA) “…it is as much a parade of brilliant sidemen as it is a distillation of Monk’s own creativity during an important period in this career.”
–The New York-Montreux Connection, S/T (CA) “…offers lots of big names playing fine, even exciting jazz at the 1981 Montreux and Kool New York jazz festivals.”
–Muggsy Spanier, At Club Hangover, Volume 2 (JV) “Spanier was no genius, but he was surely special, gifted, and true to his own muse.”
–Phil Woods, Birds of a Feather (CA) “I have learned to expect fine things from the horn and imagination of Phil Woods, and…fine things are just what this album offers.”

Featured Reviews
–Rosemary Clooney, Sings the Music of Cole Porter (PR) “Rosemary Clooney, who has been demonstrating just how good a pop-jazz singer she is…now proves herself to be an elegant, easy stylist as well.”
–Randy Crawford, Windsong (PG) “For those who have been fortunate to follow her progress through the years, it should bring the warm glow of a promise fulfilled.”
–Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Wise Guy (CA) “This is urbanized island music full of sophisticated, thoroughly musical subtleties.”
–Epic’s Lost Soul, Volumes 1-3 (PG) “While this set does not satisfy the need for a comprehensive reissue of historic r-&-b recordings, it does serve to demonstrate how very much is lost each time a promising record is ignored.”
–Susannah McCorkle, The Music of Harry Warren (CA) “…McCorkle delivers the Warren material with tender loving care and respect.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Air Supply, Now and Forever (PK) “…the music conveys a certain Outback innocence, even in its more urbane moments, that is rather appealing.”
–Blondie, The Hunter (NC) “It’s not always good, but at least it isn’t conservative.”
–Rosanne Cash, Somewhere in the Stars (NC) “There aren’t many veterans of three albums who have committed to vinyl as few clunkers as Rosanne Cash.”
–The Dukes of Hazzard (NC) “My kids—who have, thank God, just about outgrown the show—think the album is a bad joke. Much of it is.”
–Roberta Flack, I’m the One (CA) “This is Flack at her heavy-hearted best.”
–Fleetwood Mac, Mirage (SS) “I hasten to add, however, that this album’s lapses are not cases of the usual superstar indulgence. Fleetwood Mac remains of the few ensembles currently selling records in large quantities that doesn’t insult your intelligence…”
–Heart, Private Audition (JV) “The principal defect of the new album is their vocal stridency on the hard rockers; they sound like they’re having a tantrum.”
–Kansas, Vinyl Confessions (NC) “Most of this album is tuneless, inarticulate, repetitive, and boring. Apart from that…”
–Chuck Mangione, Love Notes (PK) “The sturdy, good-humored playing, full of repetition, is sometimes more numbing than entertaining.”
–Men At Work, Business As Usual (MP) “Men at Work would do well to take a vacation from the burden of ‘art’ and relax a bit.”
–The Steve Miller Band, Abracadabra (JV) “There’s no substance to it, but it is cleverly crafted pop…”
–The Alan Parsons Project, Eye in the Sky (NC) “…seems more than ever a poor man’s Pink Floyd. The style is grandiose, but the more you listen, the less you hear…”
–Queen, Hot Space (MP) “…apparently supposed to be Queen’s ‘funk’ album, but I don’t think that’s an adequate excuse for this whack over the head.”
–Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around (NC) “Since Rogers already had the middle of the performing road covered…I don’t see what’s to be gained by his taking up with middle-of-the-road material.”
–Patrice Rushen, Straight from the Heart (PG) “…makes it clear that Patrice Rushen’s real range is much greater than she has yet displayed.”
–Richard Simmons, Reach (PR) “I know that I’d have to become as huge as Orson Welles before I would even vaguely consider listening to Simmons’s hysteria-flecked whimsey again.”
–Donna Summer, S/T (Irv Cohn) “Three of the songs rank just behind her classics—a small percentage, perhaps, compared with her hit-packed albums of the past, but nothing to sneeze at.”
–Survivor, Eye of the Tiger (JV) “There’s nothing wrong with Survivor except that you’ve heard all their stuff before…”
–Thompson Twins, In the Name of Love (SS) “Nowhere on this album is there a detectable trace of emotion, sweat, or any human quality whatsoever.”
–X, Under the Big Black Sun (SS) “This band enjoys being miserable far too much for their own good, which makes them spiritually closer to the Eagles than to the Jefferson Airplane, and at least in my house that’s not a compliment.”

Songs Casey Never Played, 10/20/84

The 10/20/84 countdown is plenty familiar to me, as it’s one I’d assembled for an iPod playlist in the mid-aughts. Instead of waxing eloquent about that show or one of its songs, though, we’ll look at some tunes that were lurking below. A quick count reveals that exactly half of the lower 60 tracks on the week’s Hot 100 didn’t get as high as #40 (you got me if that’s a typical number or not for the 80s); here’s a little bit about six of them.

#92. Ralph McDonald with Bill Withers, “In the Name of Love”
McDonald has co-writing credit for “Where Is the Love?” and “Just the Two of Us.” This song has more than a little of the latter’s vibe–Bill Withers’ voice will do that for you–but I sorta get why it couldn’t fight past a #58 peak.

#79. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Two Tribes”
This video, featuring a battle royale between Reagan and Chernenko pseudo-lookalikes, could only have been created in 1984. Frankie say he’s disappointed “Two Tribes” would make it only to #43 in the states (it went #1 all over Europe, and was the #2 song for 1984 in the UK and Belgium). Maybe it paved the way for the decent success that “Relax” had when it was re-released a few months later, though.

True story: My wife was in Moscow on March 10, 1985, the day Konstantin Chernenko died. She spent her first year after college studying in Hamburg, and she and a couple of friends had flown to the Soviet Union on a tour over spring break. Letters sent home to her parents reported that the group’s trip to the Kremlin got moved up a day (it would be closed to the public when originally scheduled due to funeral preparations), and included an eyewitness account of standing along Gorky Street while dignitary-filled vehicles sped into Red Square on March 13, the day of the funeral.

#76. Roger Hodgson, “Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)”
Hodgson and Supertramp had gone Splitsville following …Famous Last Words…, and neither was the same afterwards. The group did manage a Top 40 hit with “Cannonball” in the late spring of 1985, but Hodgson could only muster a climb to #48 with this semi-sequel to “The Logical Song,” from In the Eye of the Storm.

#69. Scandal featuring Patty Smyth, “Hands Tied”
Smyth and company had tough luck following up “The Warrior.” Both the second and third singles from Warrior–“Hands Tied” and “Beat of a Heart”–flamed out at #41. Neither is as good as “Goodbye to You” or “Love’s Got a Line on You,” mind you, but that’s still a mighty fine quartet of songs that missed on making it to Casey-land.

#60. The Everly Brothers, “On the Wings of a Nightingale”
I was dimly aware of this attempted comeback at the time, though I’m doubting I heard it on the radio. Written by Paul McCartney, “On the Wings of a Nightingale” is a thorough delight. Listening now, it’s deeply disappointing it didn’t climb higher than #50.

#48. Maria Vidal, “Body Rock”
Vidal occupies a mildly interesting niche in 80s rock history, at least according to Wikipedia. She’d been a member of Desmond Child and Rouge, and somewhere along the way had acquired the nickname Gina, ostensibly based on a resemblance to Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida. When Child got to hanging with the members of Bon Jovi later on to bang out lyrics for some new tunes, he remembered what he’d called Maria and included that name as one of the primary characters in a huge hit.

As for this track, it’s the title song to a bad, bad movie. This is as high as it got, perhaps better than it deserved.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/10/87: The Other Ones, “Holiday”

There is a very large yet finite number of ways that English words can be combined to form song titles (though one could make a strong argument that the combinations songwriters select aren’t always sensical). Thus, over time one might expect there to be multiple hits having the same title but different lyrics. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but back in the early 80s, the most frequently occurring title for songs reaching the Top 40 since 1955 was “Call Me”–I’d guess “Hold On” or something else has overtaken it by now.

I got to thinking about repeat titles after looking over the first few songs played on the 10/10/87 show, as two of the debut tunes have titles making at least their second trip to the Top 40 (and aren’t remakes, of course). After a little research on the Ultimate Music Database, I could count five such rock-era song titles on this show (no promises I didn’t overlook something). Here’s a quick rundown, including info about the titles’ previous tours of duty:

“Here I Go Again.” Whitesnake, with a little help from the late Tawny Kitaen, is sitting at #1. But the title appeared first on a #37 hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in October 1969. (Plenty of Smokey-related action on this show: “When Smokey Sings” is at #20, and the man himself has “One Heartbeat” at #14.)

“Carrie.” Europe is way up there as well, at its peak of #3. Back in the spring of 1980, Cliff Richard had a haunting song of the same name reach #34.

“Victim of Love.” The other three duplicate titles on this show didn’t get anywhere near the rarified air of the Top 10. Bryan Adams is the victim this time, stuck at #32; almost eight years earlier, Elton John had managed to climb only one spot higher than that.

“Holiday.” The Australian-German sextet known as the Other Ones embarks on their one and only trip to the forty, starting at #36; they’d peak at #29 the following week. No slight to Smokey, but this title has the most star power behind its previous incarnations: both the Bee Gees (November 1967) and Madonna (January/February 1984) reached #16 on their own “Holiday.”

“Notorious.” Loverboy’s at #39 and was destined to advance only one position. Duran Duran had been on less than a year earlier with the biggest–by far–of the earlier hits, having gotten to #2 in January.

I’m not overly inclined to do much research to see if five recycled titles is high or low; logic dictates that the number of such titles should increase over time. Just as a sanity check, though, I checked out the chart from one year later. The 10/8/88 chart has–I believe–six such titles (“I’ll Always Love You,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Fallen Angel,” “True Love,” “Chains of Love,” and “Desire”)–and a seventh, “It Takes Two,” is at #41 and would join them the following week. Unlike what happened a year earlier, three of those ’88 titles date back to the ’50s.

The Aussies in the Other Ones were two brothers and a sister (the female was a twin of the younger male); they all had made their way to Berlin by 1984. Earlier in 1987, they’d hit the U.S. charts with the #53 “We Are What We Are.” (I heard it a few times back then; listening to it again now, it’s better than I remembered.) “Holiday” made a much more favorable–and lasting–impression, even if it also disappeared pretty quickly. In 1992 I ripped it from a CD in Greg’s collection to a mixtape.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/9/82: Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Southern Cross”

I’m often aware of the date when it rolls around each October, but this year it was more front and center in my mind than usual, likely because it was on Thursday.

She and I had met back in May over dinner, seated at the same table with our parents, another family, and a college administrator, the three high school seniors recipients of a generous scholarship. Come fall, we had chemistry together and were both in the Tuesday afternoon lab, assigned adjacent stations. We began hanging out some at lunch and dinner and otherwise, and on a Thursday evening about a month after classes started, acknowledged our mutual interest in each other. It was the first serious dating experience for both of us.

The other night I was rummaging through my bin of 80s correspondence for letters from my college roommate and came across a thank-you note she had written me just a few days before we started dating. (The previous Saturday I had driven her to a nearby cross-country meet where my sister and some of her HS friends were running.) I flipped the note over and noticed that the paper on the back was a little thinner in the upper left corner—I must have placed a square of adhesive there and stuck it to the wall of my dorm room. When I opened it, on the face opposite her handwriting and under a small circle of clear contact paper, there was a four-leaf clover. I’m certain that hadn’t come with the note, but I can’t remember for the life of me now how it came to be placed there. I’m guessing I’d come across it that autumn and considered it a portent.

That wasn’t the only change in my life at the time. The weekend immediately following was the first that I didn’t make a formal accounting of the songs on AT40 in six years. I still have notes that extend into early March of 1983, but none of them were ever converted into a chart.

Debuting at #36 on the show that kicked off this new era (and sailing toward a #18 peak) was “Southern Cross,” the second single from CS&N’s Daylight Again. My recollection is that the summer’s “Wasted on the Way” was a song she particularly liked; I had a more favorable reaction to this follow-up.

We lasted as a couple for fifteen months. We were compatible in many respects, and I could recount to you several ways in which she’s had a lasting, positive impact on me. In the end, though, my immaturity doomed us. It’s one thing to look back and acknowledge you had a lot of growing to do; it’s another entirely to understand that someone else had to pay that cost as well.

That note is the only item remaining from the letters we exchanged over breaks while dating–I’d tossed them all sometime before I left home for grad school. I imagine the note had been separate from the rest.

Obviously, I didn’t fail all the time, and failing certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to do. However, at ages 18 and 19, it was all too easy.