Forgotten Albums: Texas, Southside

By the end of the 80s, the easiest way for a new(-ish) act to grab my attention–and my dollars–was for it to feature a female vocalist. I’m repeating myself, but at this point on the solo side I was into Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Toni Childs, Marti Jones, Sinéad O’Connor, Basia, and Jane Siberry, among others (looks like I need to do a Marti write-up someday!). Women-led groups may have been a little sparser in my collection (10,000 ManiacsLone Justice, Cocteau Twins, and ’til Tuesday were there, but it was still a while before fave shoegaze acts like Lush and My Bloody Valentine appeared on the radar). Here’s another that popped up just before the 90s hit.

Somewhere around the time fall classes began again in Illinois I started seeing a video supporting a fivefour-some that featured Sharleen Spiteri, a guitar-slinging 21-year-old brunette with a powerful alto. “I Don’t Want a Lover” doesn’t exactly strike me as late 80s VH-1 fare now, though odds are that’s where I encountered it.  It wasn’t long before I secured a CD copy of Southside, the debut disk from the Glasgow-based Texas and stuck it on a cassette for trips in the car.

“I Don’t Want a Lover” went Top 10 in England and reached #77 in their only US Hot 100 appearance (it debuted on the 9/9/89 chart). I’m bummed that the video I saw thirty years ago isn’t available on YouTube, even if it is just a performance clip. Still the best song on the disk.

 

The next two selections follow a similar formula: two rounds of verse/chorus, solo, bridge, return to the chorus to the fade-out. “Everyday Now” and “Thrill Has Gone” were the third and second UK singles, respectively. Nice to see a real video for “Thrill Has Gone,” which had just the right amount of country vibe for me back then.

 

 

My second favorite track then was and probably still is “Fool for Love.” Our narrator’s letting her former lover know of his new status, and maybe the reasons why.

 

They chose the right song for the closer. “Future Is Promises” is a slower, more somber piece about trying to pry away a girlfriend’s boyfriend. The bridge expresses equivocation, though: “Take the chance and make the move/But don’t think that I will approve/For once I’ve finally realized/Being with her wasted your life.”

 

Southside is one of the CDs I moved over to my office several years ago in a spasm of reorganization, right around the time I brought a bunch of disks home from my parents’ house after cleaning it out. I don’t listen to it all that often anymore, but still think it’s a solid offering. Over the next four or so years, I picked Texas’s follow-up albums Mothers Heaven and Rick’s Road; neither wound up appealing the way Southside did.

And I think that was pretty much it for Texas on this side of the pond. Over in Britain, however, Spiteri and company became stars with their next two releases, White on Blonde (97) and The Hush (99). Both went to #1 there, each spawning multiple Top 10 singles. I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m going to be checking out this afternoon.

It’s Only Life After All

Thirty years ago today, I took a rental car south from San Jose, connected with the coastal highway at Monterey and continued down about as far as Big Sur. We’d had non-stop sun in the Bay Area the whole week, but the places I traveled that Tuesday were socked in with clouds:

CaliCoast1

You can see that the cloud cover didn’t extend far inland at all:

CaliCoast2

After turning back north, I stopped in Monterey for a while. Got to encounter a little wildlife, too:

CaliCoast3

After a good seafood dinner at a restaurant on the bay, I drove back to the hotel. A day on my own, taking in some great scenery, put me in a better frame of mind.

Watching Sportscenter in my room that evening, I learned that Dave Dravecky, the Giants’ hero just five days earlier, broke his arm throwing a pitch in the sixth inning at Montreal, ending his baseball career. A recurrence of his cancer was subsequently found; eventually his left arm and shoulder were amputated. He’s been a motivational speaker for a number of years.

What might I have heard in the car on the road that day? Let’s investigate some of the songs on the 8/12/89 Hot 100. As usual, I’m ignoring lots of tunes that just weren’t my scene (cough, hair metal, cough), but I have found a number of nuggets and oddities to remark upon.

#97: Paul Shaffer, “When the Radio Is On”
I’d completely forgotten that Shaffer released this “hip-hop/doo-wop” single featuring, among others, Will Smith, Dion, and Johnny Maestro. I don’t think Paul’s fooling anyone with that five o’clock shadow biker/rapper schtick. “When the Radio Is On” would make it only to #81 in a two-month run.

 

#95: Graces, “Lay Down Your Arms”
This was Charlotte Caffey’s attempt at commercial success outside of the Go-Go’s. I have the Graces’ CD Perfect View, and it’s got some pretty good songs on it. Meredith Brooks, whose song “Bitch” you couldn’t escape eight years later, was also in the group. This should have gotten higher than #56.

 

#70: Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”
Don’t lie to me–you see John Cusack holding up his boombox in your mind’s eye when this song comes on the radio, no?

Gabriel had reached #26 in the fall of 86 with “In Your Eyes.” I suppose folks thought it could/should have done better (I know I do), so they released it again after it played such a prominent role in Say Anything…  Alas, it only made it to #41 the second time around.

 

#68: Robert Palmer, “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming”
I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea to have Bobby P cover this Jermaine/Michael groove. It’s already topped out at #60.

Just a few weeks ago I re-discovered the original version of “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming,” sorting through a pile of cassettes containing music I’d dubbed from the radio back in the early 80s (more on that perhaps some other time); it was B-side of Jermaine’s single “Do What You Do.”

 

#60: Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”
In a rare confluence of my musical tastes with those of the buying public, there were three songs on this Hot 100 I was actively cheering on: “Oh Daddy” (#85) and “Let the Day Begin” (#75), which were discussed last week, plus the stunning “Closer to Fine,” from the Georgia-based duo Indigo Girls. Unfortunately, in the coming weeks all three would stall out in the 50s (#58, #51, and #52, respectively).

I’m a big enough fan of the Indigo Girls’ work (love their harmonies) to have made them the seed band for one of my Pandora stations. Greg’s wife Katie overlapped with Emily Saliers and Amy Ray at Emory University, outside Atlanta–I’ve never thought to ask her if she knew of a prof there with a Rasputin poster.

 

#58: The Cure, “Love Song”
The highest new entry on the Hot 100 this week, and by far the most successful single the Cure ever had, surprisingly hitting #2 (I mean, it’s a good song, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the folks buying singles would embrace Robert Smith and company to that extent).

 

#57: Beastie Boys, “Hey Ladies”
The Boys are now in the upward arc of their career, though I prefer “Whatcha Want” and “Sabotage.” Maybe it was just a little too soon to try to re-live the Saturday Night Fever era…  Got as high as #36.

 

#49: Eddie Murphy, “Put Your Mouth on Me”
Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever heard this until a few days ago; it hadn’t registered with me that Murphy wasn’t a one-hit wonder. This is on its way up to #27.

 

#47: Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”
Another one that had already stalled at #41. Honestly, this is a pretty disappointing song, given the star power present–it’s as if Houston just didn’t want to mix it up with the Queen all that much.

 

#45: De La Soul, “Me Myself and I”
I’ve not listened to that much hip-hop over the years, but this is really, really good. Clever video, too, though I haven’t tried to research how LL Cool J felt about it. “Me Myself and I” had already peaked at #34.

 

#40: Bee Gees, “One”
They’re ba-ack! “One” was the Gibb brothers’ first Top 40 hit in six years, and their final song to go Top 10, peaking at #7.

 

#35: Milli Vanilli, “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You”
#32: Milli Vanilli, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”

I didn’t play around with the dial on the radio on that day trip down the coast, keeping it tuned to a Top 40 station the whole time. That meant I got to hear a number of new/recent releases for the first time that day. One was “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” which became Milli Vanilli’s second #1 hit. Three others had yet to hit the chart: Madonna’s “Cherish,” Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” (released as a single on this date thirty years ago), and Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” (which wouldn’t be available for another week).

 

#22: Soul II Soul, “Keep On Movin'”
Dynamite, awesome track. The British dance scene was making some fine music at this moment (see also Lisa Stansfield’s “Been Around the World”). The strings bring to mind Barry White’s 70s stuff, but “Keep On Movin'” fortunately lacks his emphasis on “come over here, baby, lay down beside me”-type mannerisms. Caron Wheeler and Jazzie B know how to bring it. Reached #11.

 

#18: Jeff Healey Band, “Angel Eyes”
My friends Mark H and Lana got married in November 90; they requested this song for their first dance as husband and wife. It would get to #5.

 

#16: Simply Red, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
I wasn’t a big fan of this former #1 song at the time, but I wasn’t really familiar with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ version then, either. I’ve grown to like it okay, but it was better done the first time.

 

#6: Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted”
The songs in this Top 10 that I actually liked are ones I’ve already mentioned this summer (“Batdance,” and especially “So Alive”), so I’m briefly pausing here just to remind everyone again that Paula Abdul was basically unstoppable at this moment: three #1 songs, including this one, and a #3 in 89, plus another #1 in the early part of 90, all from Forever Your Girl.

 

#1: Richard Marx, “Right Here Waiting”
Mentioned only so that you aren’t left wondering. The second single from his sophomore release Repeat Offender (was that truth in advertising?), his third #1 song in a row, ascending to the top in just its sixth week.

Early the next morning I dropped the rental off at the airport and headed back to Cincy, the big vacation over and my fourth year of grad school on the horizon.

And with that wrapped up: I’m expecting posting to be lighter for the next three or four weeks. School’s almost back in session for me, the boy’s soon to leave for college, and there’s a major project about to go down in our house. I won’t disappear completely, but I’m thinking just maybe my energies should be focussed more in those directions for a while. Wish us well.

California Nights

Wednesday, August 9, 1989, was a long day. I woke up on an Air Force base in the northern wilds of Maine, and went to bed in a Motel 6 in San Jose. In between, I made connections in Boston and Dallas.

PlaneTixAug89

Not long after arrival at SJC, I met up with officemates John and Paul, along with their SOs Anna and Sue, respectively. We’d converged in sunny California for the wedding of our other officemate Will, to Kate, a fellow math grad who’d started at Illinois a year after we did.

Today, three vignettes from that week spent on the west coast:

1) On 8/10 Kate went with us to see the Giants play the Reds at Candlestick Park. My home team had finished second in the NL West the previous four seasons, but the Reds were not in contention this year—I guess the Pete Rose betting scandal was a distraction? (Rose would accede to banishment from the sport just two weeks after this game.) The Giants, on the other hand, were heading toward the division title and a World Series berth.

It was a mildly notable game, featuring the comeback of southpaw Dave Dravecky to the mound after almost fifteen months away (he’d had a tumor removed from his pitching arm the previous October and was returning after aggressively pursuing recovery). We watched a remarkable performance from the left-field bleachers—Dravecky pitched eight solid innings, touched only by a 3-run HR in his final frame of work. The Giants held on to win, 4-3. This was also the game in which I’ve come closest to catching a batted ball; Matt Williams’s two-run jack landed just two rows directly behind us.

2) The wedding was late Saturday morning at a Catholic church. Paul, Sue, John, and I were all members of the wedding party. Here I am with John, all tuxed up thirty years ago this morning.

WRHJLP081289

The reception afterward was fairly low-key, in the back yard of either Kate’s parents’ or sister’s house. At one point, I wandered off to the edge of the patio and allowed my thoughts to drift about two thousand miles away. Many of my Transy friends were attending another wedding that day, one to which it wasn’t appropriate for me to be invited. I might well be making this up, but it’s just possible I looked east and lifted an imaginary champagne glass to wish that other happy couple the best before rejoining the festivities around me.

3) The five of us packed into Paul and Sue’s car on Monday morning (yes, they’d driven from Illinois) and headed off to the Napa Valley, where we met the newlyweds for some winery hopping. We probably hit four or five spots, but the only one I specifically remember is V. Sattui, in St. Helena. (Back then, I seemed to favor dessert wines such as Gewürztraminers, so that’s probably the kind of stuff I sampled that day; I’m much more of a cabernet sauvignon guy now.) A picture that one of us, probably Anna, took that day of grapes on the vine got blown up to poster size and graced a wall at Paul and Sue’s house for years afterward.

By the time we were heading back toward San Jose, I was getting restless. I hadn’t rented a car (John and Anna had), so I’d been at the mercy of others for transportation. There was one full day left in Cali, and I decided I’d use it to break away for some sightseeing on my own. Back at the hotel, I made arrangements to pick up a car the next morning. Other than the time we’d spent on the beach near San Francisco’s Presidio the day before, I hadn’t seen much of the water. So I headed south, to hook up with U.S. 1 and catch some of the coast. A little more on this come Thursday.

I didn’t find any tunes from summer 89 with lyrics that seemed right for the head of this post, so instead, you get two different older songs sharing a title that’s tangentially related. First, it’s Lesley Gore performing one of her last hits, from 67, on an episode of Batman:

And then there’s the lead-off track from the U.S. version of Sweet’s 78 LP Level Headed:

There’s Something Good Waitin’ Down This Road

The first half of August was one of the busier and more memorable periods of my 1989, featuring (literally) cross-country travel. This week and next I’ll try to hit highlights without getting too bogged down in those darn weeds.

On Thursday, August 3, I flew out of Cincinnati, headed northeast (and I do mean northeast). Final destination: Loring AFB, Maine, mere miles both south and west of New Brunswick on the Canadian border. I got there by landing at nearby Presque Isle International Airport, via Boston. The reason? To spend a few days with my old HS friend Frank and his family: Lisa and their two daughters, one of whom was just a few months old.

Frank had gone through AFROTC at the University of Kentucky and was commissioned upon graduation. By this time he was a pilot for the Air Force, in the midst of the slowly unfolding but lengthy series of moves across the years that so many career military folks must grapple with. We’d remained fairly close friends through college and had stayed in decent touch in the three years since we both had left Lexington. The best way for us to have some time to hang together clearly was for me to travel to wherever he was.

Loring existed because of its proximity to Europe as well as the Soviet Union via the Arctic Circle. (The base closed five years after my visit; the end of the Cold War greatly reduced the probability of needing to launch a bunch of bombers toward those places quickly.) The geo-political realities of August 89 wound up putting a crimp in our plans—some threat which Frank couldn’t reveal put him on alert for much of my visit, meaning he had to stay close to his plane for long stretches of time. So on the Sunday I was there, it was just Lisa, the girls, and I who drove four hours each way to visit beautiful Québec City. Occasionally Lisa and I struggled getting the carriage up or down stairs, but it was a completely delightful day—I’d totally love to visit again. I’d had just enough French at this point to think I could try to tell waitstaff what I wanted to order for lunch, but quickly learned that wasn’t the case.

The trip was far from a complete bust in terms of longtime friends getting together. Frank and I did get to catch up and talk—just not as much as we would have liked. We’ve seen each other maybe a half-dozen times in the three decades since, including less than two weeks ago. Our experiences and views about the world are fairly different, but one of the really gratifying things I took from our recent mini-reunion is that he and I still fall easily into conversation. Some things that date all the way back to 82, even earlier, haven’t changed much, and I’m glad about that. (On the other hand, I just learned the infant I pushed around Québec is getting married this fall.)

My Illinois life intervened briefly while I was in Maine. One of my fellow grad students managed to track me down (guess he got my parents’ number from the math grad office, and they gave him Frank’s number—communication was much harder, for both good and bad, before cell phones and email) with an offer. He was recruiting assistants for an experimental calculus class, based on the theories of Uri Treisman. Treisman sought ways to help students from underprivileged backgrounds succeed in college math and science classes. This program would have the students meet for additional time outside of the standard lecture/recitation model, working in groups on handouts; TAs would receive training on facilitating follow-up discussion. Classes of this type turned out to be successfully implemented at colleges and universities across the country during the 90s. I was being given a chance to gain valuable experience with an innovative and meaningful program, and it was extremely short-sighted of me to turn the opportunity down. It’s likely the single largest profession-related regret I have. I suppose I thought in the moment that I’d be busily getting involved in research with my new advisor—progress on that front in 89-90 wound up being much slower than I anticipated.  The reason to say yes would not have been to burnish my résumé, though it certainly would have done that—I expect the experience would have informed my teaching style much for the better.

The two videos I specifically remember seeing on MTV in Frank’s home on the base during the six days I was there are those of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” and Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Seeing the animated clip for Petty’s song now reminds me how dream-like it is, in that things that make no sense yet might feel plausible in the middle of the night keep happening to our hero and his short, cigar-chomping friend. I bought the Full Moon Fever CD sometime later in the fall, and now I can’t hear the fadeout of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” without expecting Petty to break in tell me he’s briefly pausing the music to even us CD listeners up with folks who have to flip over an LP or cassette prior to “Feel a Whole Lot Better” playing.

The following Wednesday, it was back on a plane to Boston—I took particular note of the Atlantic Ocean both coming in to and flying back out of Logan. But a return to Cincinnati wasn’t the plan; by day’s end, I would also be seeing the Pacific.

Modern Rock Tracks, 8/5/89

What was happening in the world of music that might get played on Postmodern MTV/120 Minutes at the beginning of August 89? A bunch of kick-ass songs, that’s what.

#30. Darling Buds, “Let’s Go Round There”
Pop Said… came out in the States in early 89, but the Darling Buds had been releasing singles in the UK for a while before that. They experienced middling success there, and none here, until a slightly remixed version of “Let’s Go Round There” clawed its way onto the lower strata of this chart. They’d have more success the following year on the MRT chart with a couple of tracks from the followup album Crawdaddy. I’ll glom onto just about any excuse to play some Buds.

 

#26. Texas, “I Don’t Need a Lover”
Odd name for a band from Scotland. Their debut album Southside got a lot of play in my car for a good while–it’ll crop up as a Forgotten Album in the coming weeks. They got big in Europe and other parts of the world, particularly in the late 90s, but never caught on in the U.S. Always liked this song quite a bit.

#19. Chris Isaak, “Don’t Make Me Dream About You”
Isaak’s third album, Heart Shaped World, had come out in June, and this was its first featured track.  The album tanked at the time, but became a smash eighteen months later after “Wicked Game” was featured in the David Lynch flick Wild at Heart.

#15. Mary’s Danish, “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight”
This isn’t the Mainstream Rock chart, so one doesn’t necessarily expect too many of the entries to rock out. Mary’s Danish, who were based in L.A., is bringing the heat on this track, though. The voices of co-leads Gretchen Seager and Julie Ritter play off each other nicely.

 

#11. “Radio Silence,” Boris Grebenshikov
Grebenshikov is one of the figures present at the birth of rock music in Russia in the 70s and 80s. This is the title track of the one album he released in the West, produced by Dave Stewart.

 

#10. Adrian Belew, “Oh Daddy”
Belew was born in the same city I was (think there’s a fifty-fifty chance it was the same hospital, too), and grew up not too far from my hometown–Warren tells me some of his HS teachers reported having Adrian (who was known as Steve then) as a student. He’s played guitar for a loooong list of bands, but is best known for his work with King Crimson. There are also a few solo albums to his credit; the fourth of those, Mr. Music Head, came out spring 89. It included his best shot at a real hit single, though Belew had to go meta to do it. “Oh Daddy” features questions from then 11-year-old daughter Audie (which now makes her…oh, I don’t want to think about it) about his lack of chart action.

 

#6. The Call, “Let the Day Begin”
Warren has introduced a lot of good music to me over the years, but his greatest gift in that regard is likely the Bay Area band The Call. They had three complete, absolute classics in”The Walls Came Down,” “I Still Believe,” and “Let the Day Begin,” plus a slew of songs almost as good (I’m especially fond of their 86 release Reconciled). True commercial success eluded them, however unfair that may be. In two weeks it’ll have been nine years since leader Michael Been passed away at age 60. This is probably my favorite song on this list.

 

#5. Hoodoo Gurus, “Come Anytime”
Fun, fabulous Aussie rocker. Always a treat to crank; shoulda been a hit single.

 

#3. Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”
You couldn’t stop Doolittle in the summer of 89, you could only hope to contain it. For some reason I heard “Here Comes Your Man” much more frequently back then than “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” which could explain why I like it more even today.

#2. Public Image Ltd, “Disappointed”
I didn’t pay any attention to this one thirty years ago, but it’s got plenty of appeal now. Lydon is as shrill as ever, and that’s okay. We get a new way to interpret the phrase, “That’s what friends are for.”

#1. B-52s, “Channel Z”
Cosmic Thing was the first album from the B-52s following the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson almost four years earlier. The sorta-title song “Shake That Cosmic Thing” had been on the MRT chart for a few weeks before this, but the ascension of “Channel Z” gave the first indication that they were soon to graduate from cult favorite status.

 

Come back next week for the quarterly visit to the Hot 100 of thirty years ago.

I’ve Seen The Future And It Will Be

When I arrived in Champaign-Urbana in August of 86 I’d been learning about bridge for a little over two years and trying out duplicate for about sixteen months. One of the first things I did after hitting town was figure out where the local club met. I learned there was an open game on Monday evenings in the meeting room at a motel not terribly far from campus. Karen, who ran the game, arranged for me to play with Brian; I biked out to my car in the lot beyond the football stadium and drove there in time to meet my partner and discuss a convention card (a piece of paper that, in the interest of fairness, discloses your partnership’s bidding and play agreements to the opponents).

I was a total novice with very little understanding of the game. Brian probably didn’t have too many more years on him than my twenty-two, but he had much more experience, much keener card sense, and much stronger table presence. I’d played against some fine players before, but most of my experience had occurred when the room was full of folks much closer to my level. This felt like a shark tank, and I was chum. Brian and I finished well below average that first night; after the same thing happened the next couple of weeks, I thanked him for his time and slunk back to the dorm, licking wounds and turning attention to other pursuits, such as coursework.

I didn’t give bridge up completely. Mark H had moved back to St. Louis, first for a Masters in CS from Washington University, and then IT work at a couple of major corporations with a local presence. He and I met up a few times for tournaments, in St. Loo or some downstate IL city. At that point, while I wanted to play well, it was more about the company, hanging with a friend—any Masterpoints we won were gravy.

Sometime in the spring of 89 I got wind that a bridge club was forming on campus—maybe I saw a flyer in the Illini Union, next door to the math building. Since the dream had not died completely, I showed up for the initial meeting. The organizers were Mark L and Marc; there were several folks in attendance. I don’t recall now how things proceeded, whether the cards came out that first night or not, but it wasn’t long at all before the Illini Bridge Club became an ongoing endeavor.

It turned out that Mark L was a first-year grad student in math—maybe our paths had crossed before that night, but maybe not. I eventually learned that he’d also started playing duplicate in April 85. He was an evangelist for, and a teacher of, the game, much more so than I. Early that summer Mark got me back to the Champaign bridge club—by 89 they’d relocated from the motel to a strip mall on the west side of town, and there were now sessions on some afternoons that were perhaps less intense. My comfort level, if not my results, rose.

In July, I attended my first national bridge convention. The ACBL runs three each year, usually mid-March, late July, and around Thanksgiving. The locations vary (right now, they’re close to wrapping up this year’s Summer Nationals in Vegas); in the summer of 89, they had conveniently chosen Chicago. Perhaps in part inspired by resuming somewhat regular play, I arranged with Mark H to go for the weekend after my duties at the math camp ended. On Saturday, in one round of an open game for players under 30, we encountered a couple of 12-year-olds, one male, one female. He turned out to be the then-record holder for the youngest Life Master in ACBL history. (They cleaned our clocks.) On Sunday, we retreated to the 0-20 Masterpoint room, where the competition was much more suited for us. We won a team game playing with two Chicago-area women and received a trophy that was maybe ten inches tall (that’s one thing I actually tossed out a few years ago). A good time, one that maybe helped continue to stoke my interest.

Come fall, the Illini Bridge Club kept growing. I believe it became a sanctioned ACBL club, making it eligible to award Masterpoints. Mark L helped publish an IBC newsletter (I do still have copies of those). I attended often but not quite weekly, and I remember quite a few IBC folks: Josh, Chris, Brian, Jordan, Jon, Kevin, Kelly, Nancy, Don, and Spencer (a former calculus student). Some became good and long-time friends.

Before too long, I realized that Mark L seemed to see some promise in me. He recruited me to join him on teams that competed in events, mainly for non-Life Masters, whose prize for winning was a trip to a national tournament. We enjoyed remarkable success: over the next three years, he and I, along with a rotating collection of teammates, went to four Nationals. It’s not clear to me that Mark’s initial confidence was well-placed, but I’m incredibly grateful for it, and for the friendship we’ve maintained to this day.

Meeting Mark through the IBC was an inflection point in my social life at Illinois. As a result, I was introduced to a whole host of folks, both fellow students and people from the area who loved to play bridge. At the beginning of 90, I fell in with another group of grad students who showed up at the Champaign bridge club independently of the IBC. They—Greg, Katie, Toby, and Karl—became the core of my social circle for the last two-plus years in C-U. I’ve jokingly said that bridge may have kept me in school an extra year; I’m not sure that’s really the case, but even if so, it was worth it.

Batman, the Nicholson/Keaton/Basinger flick that launched a franchise of sorts, was released toward the end of June that summer. I know I saw it sometime soon thereafter, but where and with whom has disappeared into the ether. It remains the only one of the various Batman movies I’ve seen. Prince’s “Batdance” got a lot of play at the time, but it has to be among the least heard #1 songs from the 80s now. It’s an odd duck, no doubt—mainly an extended jam with samples of the movie’s dialogue and the occasional interjection from the Purple One. Maybe because it is so underplayed now that I really don’t mind when it comes on.

The Joker still inspires—I see that another “origin of the character” movie is coming out later this year—but he seems to be a much darker and grim thing now than what Cesar Romero or even Jack cooked up back in the day. Ten years ago I spent a week in Kansas City, grading AP Calculus exams. The Dark Knight had come out almost a year earlier, but one of the late Heath Ledger’s lines from the movie still resonated with the 17- and 18-year-olds of 2009: it feels like there’d been some sort of social media campaign launched, as time and again—perhaps on questions that stumped them—we found “Why so serious?” written in the exam booklets we were marking.

SotD: Donna Summer, “This Time I Know It’s for Real”

In the spring of 89 I caught wind of a summer employment opportunity: three professors in the math department ran summer camps for high school students, and they were in need of a grad student to watch over their charges in the dorm. Maria, a good friend of Kate and the incumbent in the position, wasn’t able to do it again and tipped me off.  I’d had three years of similar experience for computer camps at Transy, so I figured I had at least a decent shot of snagging the job. I applied, interviewed, and was fortunate to be hired by Professors Jerrard, Paley, and Dornhoff.

Like the science/math camps I’ve done at the college where I work, the students arrived on a Sunday afternoon and left twelve days later (according to the records I’ve kept, the dates were July 9-21). My duties were important, but limited: I had no interaction with the campers during the academic part of their day—I was there simply to maintain control on the floor when the students were in the dorm. I don’t know why, but the camp didn’t use university housing; instead, we were staying in Hendrick House, a privately-owned facility on the east edge of campus (there were a few such enterprises around campus during my time in C-U, including one right next to Sherman Hall, but many more exist now).

All told, there were about thirty high schoolers taking one of two courses of study. I still have the official pictures of the groups—more were enrolled in Computers and Math than in Convex Sets and Combinatorics (that second topic sounds pretty cool to me, though). From what I remember of my interactions with them, they were bright and well-behaved (if you’re actively choosing to go to a summer math camp, the probability of being a troublemaker is pretty low). They did contrive to have a toga party of sorts on the final evening, but even that didn’t remotely get out of hand. At least two wound up enrolling at Illinois, as I saw them on campus sometime in the fall of 90.

No particular music I associate with this event, so I’ll just lay Donna Summer’s last Top 40 hit on you today. It’d been Fall 84 since she’d gotten much notice, when “There Goes My Baby” had reached #21. It’s no “Hot Stuff,” but to be honest, “This Time I Know It’s for Real” is one of my favorites of hers; I hear convincing excitement about being in love (of course, she’d been happily married to Bruce Sudano for almost a decade) . Summer was around 40 when she recorded this, so perhaps in a different place from her Queen of Disco days—the Stock Aitken Waterman sound seemed to suit, at least for one song. The director of the video definitely put together something to match—everyone is acting pretty happy to share in Donna’s joy. I assume those are her two young daughters we see toward the end? The clip was on VH-1 plenty during the song’s run on the charts (it was coming off a #7 peak by mid-July).

Sorry there aren’t any wacky escapades to relate about my experience watching over the math campers—maybe the main thing about those two weeks was that I earned some $$, most of which went to pay for August’s travel. I would have loved to do it again, but the next summer a bridge tournament conflicted with the dates…hmmm, looks like I’m getting a little ahead of myself on a couple of fronts.  We’ll come back to bridge next week.

Forgotten Albums: Marshall Crenshaw, Good Evening

Late June of 89 found me back in Kentucky for several days. I had no teaching or class duties that summer, so there’s little doubt I would have headed home to see Dad for his birthday on the 25th, a Sunday. By the end of the following week, I was back on the road, but before returning to IL, I made a two-night stop in Louisville to see various friends.

Mark H and Lana had driven over from St. Louis for the weekend so that Lana could visit with family in the area; Mark broke away from that to hang out with me for a couple of days. Along the way, we met up with two of my long-time pen pals.  Becky still lived in town, in between her junior and senior years of college, so we got together with her one evening. The next day, we were with Kristine and her husband—by this point she was in vet school, spending the summer in Louisville doing training at a clinic. The four of us spent a muggy afternoon at Churchill Downs, where the highlight of my limited horse-betting career occurred. One race had a small field, five or six horses, one of which was a prohibitive favorite. Mark and I quickly calculated that if we bet on each of the other horses to win, we’d make okay money so long as any of those non-favorites crossed the line first. Needless to say, our gambit paid off—we’d have done better if we’d been disciplined enough not to make a couple of side bets, though.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at a record store, of course; it was that weekend that I learned Marshall Crenshaw’s fifth album, Good Evening, had hit the stores.  Mark always carried his boom box with him, so I got to listen to it in our hotel room the night I bought it.

I noticed two things right away. First, the title—was he telling fans this was the last record he was doing for Warner Bros? (It was, as it turned out.) Second, Crenshaw had a hand in writing a much lower percentage of the material on Good Evening (only 50%) than any other of his records. That also spoke to me of an unsettled situation with the suits—was the record company pushing that on him in hopes of spurring sales?

The production, from David Kershenbaum and Paul McKenna, is plenty slick, but I’ve wound up enjoying most of the songs on this album over the years. It’s time to take a listen to a few.

The opening track, “You Should’ve Been There,” got things off to a good start. It’s one of two songs on Good Evening that Crenshaw co-wrote with Leroy Preston, formerly of Asleep at the Wheel. And it’s got Wisconsin’s BoDeans doing backup vocals.

 

Crenshaw tended to have excellent taste in what he chose from other songwriters. Here’s “Valerie,” a fun Richard Thompson tune.

 

A  couple tracks later, we get some John Hiatt: “Someplace Where Love Won’t Find Me.”

 

On balance, it wasn’t a bad call to use outside material, as two of Marshall’s own contributions are my least favorite songs on the disk. However, he did write the very good “On the Run,” and he made a good call in playing it on Letterman (though I kinda doubt it happened in 91, since he released Life’s Too Short that year).

 

Whoop! Whoop! Danger, Will Harris, danger! We have a Diane Warren sighting! What did I say about good taste in choosing others’ songs? Here’s the most prominent signal of record label involvement on this project; I wonder if there were expectations of releasing it as a single. Actually, I think Marshall does a fine job with “Some Hearts”—certainly a hundred times better than Carrie Underwood did when she made it the title song of her first album.

It feels like many of my posts right now are circling around just a few artists. It’d be remiss of me not to mention that Syd Straw is one of the two female backup singers here.

 

Good Evening ends with my favorite, a cover of Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance.” Just a great, great tune, and Crenshaw does it complete justice. Twenty years later, it was fun to hear the original come on at the end of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. And somehow it took me all these years to learn that Phil Seymour has a cool version of it as well.

 

All told, Good Evening was not Crenshaw’s best, but there’s plenty worth hearing every so often.

 

Drowning in the Tide

At the beginning of the year, I sketched an outline of the events and songs from thirty years ago that I thought I might feature in the Destination 89 series. Now essentially at the halfway point of the year, I took a look this morning to see how closely I’ve kept to it. The verdict: very well through mid-April, less so since. I hadn’t gone into this planning on doing periodic reviews of Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart, though that’s been a good deal of fun.

But I’ve slipped on getting to a few songs I’d planned on writing up in June–no time like the present to take care of it. Let’s see what I had in mind:

k. d. lang, “Trail of Broken Hearts”
lang got a good amount of play on VH-1 in the middle of 89 with this single from Absolute Torch and Twang. I wound up buying the disk more or less in real time; her voice is a gift. I always loved watching the big sky scenes in this clip.

 

Fetchin Bones, “Deep Blue”
Greg introduced me to Monster, the fifth album from North Carolina band Fetchin Bones, about a year after it was released. The raucous “Love Crushing” would appear on the Modern Rock Charts in August and September of 89, but this much softer number (apparently not representative of their overall work) appealed to me much more, enough to include on a mix tape I made in 91. Since there’s a video, maybe it was the second single?

 

Syd Straw, “Think Too Hard”
Last October I wrote about the Golden Palominos’ 85 song “(Kind of) True,” and how much Syd Straw’s vocal performance had drawn me to it. By 89, Straw had gotten a contract, releasing her debut solo disk Surprise at the beginning of June. “Future 40s (String of Pearls),” with Michael Stipe on backup vocals, was the first featured track (it too would make the Modern Rock chart in August), but “Think Too Hard” was the one that really got my attention.

 

Stan Ridgway, “A Mission in Life”
Mosquitos had been released a little before the albums from lang, Fetchin Bones, and Straw–they all came out in June. It would still be a few months after this before I borrowed it from my friend Jon. “Goin’ Southbound” was on the Modern Rock charts earlier in June, and I could have featured it in my writeup then. But I really wanted to play “A Mission in Life,” the last track on the disk, instead. For whatever reason, it didn’t make an impression thirty years ago; it’s only been the last eighteen months that I’ve really paid close attention to and fallen in love with it.

One of the YouTube commenters writes: “This song sums up the stupidity and mundanity, but ultimately, the affirmation of life for me really. It has everything covered, boredom, the futility of life, loneliness, cheating on your partner etc. And yet, it makes me want to be nothing else but alive and part of the problem. Genius!!”

Can’t disagree too much with that. It’s a masterful, moving piece.

 

I’m closer to back on track now. July and August were busy months for me thirty years ago, with a fair amount of travel mixed in. More on that soon.

Modern Rock Tracks, 6/3/89

When the first week of June 89 rolled around, the Modern Rock Tracks chart in Billboard was less than a year old. The first MRT was published in the 9/10/88 issue; sitting atop was the mighty fine “Peek-A-Boo,” from Siouxsie and the Banshees. The chart is given a home on page 16, along with the Album Rock Tracks chart, and that’s where it seemed to stay–I’ve found it there in all the subsequent issues I’ve examined so far. There’s a note under the banner each week: “Compiled from Commercial and College Radio Airplay Reports.” Might be interesting to dig around for more detail on the methodology…

But let’s look now at some of what was rocking college towns across the US thirty years ago today:

#25. Concrete Blonde, “God Is a Bullet.”
I think I first encountered this L.A. band my first year in grad school, seeing their video for “Still in Hollywood” in the evenings on MTV a few times. While “Joey,” their pretty big hit from the second half of 90, is by far the song of theirs you’re most likely to know now, this scorcher is better. It rocks heavier than my usual fare, but some combination of Johnette Napolitano’s vocals and the subject matter (still oh-so-germane today) completely sucked me in; it wound up on a favorite mix tape I recorded in 91. Turn. It. Up.

 

#21. Depeche Mode, “Everything Counts.”
A live version of their single from six years earlier. We were just months away from seeing “Personal Jesus” and the rest of Violator dominate the modern rock scene for the better part of a year.


#14. XTC, “King for a Day.”

“Mayor of Simpleton” had topped this chart for five weeks back in April; this time it’s Colin Moulding’s turn with the pen and at the mic as the follow-up from Oranges and Lemons takes its shot (it reached only #11). It’s another one whose lyrics still seem applicable now. Excellent song.


#10. Bob Mould, “See a Little Light.”

Hüsker Dü had broken up a couple of years before, and the first solo efforts from two of its members had surfaced. Grant Hart went first, releasing his 2541 EP in late 88 (that title cut is mighty awesome). Bob Mould then came out with Workbook; this first featured cut was quite the departure from the days of Dü.

 

#7. 10000 Maniacs, “Trouble Me.”
In My Tribe was totally my scene for most of the latter half of 87, so there’s little doubt I bought Blind Man’s Zoo as soon as it came out. Zoo turned out to be my least favorite Maniacs major-label album (Natalie Merchant era), though, and I wasn’t an especially big fan of this single (which reached #44 on the Hot 100 in August).


#5. Pixies, “Monkey Gone to Heaven.”

My first exposure to this Beantown band, soon to be followed by “Here Comes Your Man.”  I get why a lot of folks dug them.

 

#4. Joe Jackson, “Nineteen Forever.”
Jackson was coming close to the end of his first pop/rock phase by this point. He ended the 80s with Blaze of Glory; this track was the only one from it to receive much attention.


#3. Cult, “Fire Woman.”

These guys from the UK really aren’t my thing, though I’ll cop to thinking “She Sells Sanctuary” is a pretty good song. “Fire Woman” wound up being their most successful track stateside, hitting #46 on the Hot 100 and #2 on this chart.


#2. Love and Rockets, “So Alive.”

Three-fourths of Bauhaus hung together after the split in 83 to form Love and Rockets. I liked “No New Tale to Tell,” sung by David J, a fair amount when it came out in 87. Since Daniel Ash is the vocalist on “So Alive,” it didn’t click with me at first that this could be from the same band. Very solid track, and soon to be a chart-topper here for five weeks.

 

#1. Cure, “Fascination Street.”
My only Cure purchases were a cassette copy of the singles compilation Standing on a Beach and a 45 of “Why Can’t I Be You?” There’s absolutely a lot of good stuff among their earlier work. It was fasc…, er, interesting to watch them explode in popularity as the 80s wound down. This spent seven weeks at the top of the Modern Rock Tracks chart, but their biggest splash was yet to come.