While this post’s title might well apply to life over the last year in various and sundry ways, I’ll forego any complaints today and simply spin a beloved track co-written and sung by the recently-deceased heartland rocker/disk jockey/Cleveland-area legend Michael Stanley. “Falling in Love Again” was a single released from 1981’s North Coast, and fell between MSB’s two Top 40 hits, “He Can’t Love You” and “My Town,” peaking at #64 in the early weeks of my senior year of high school. I like to regale/bore you with tales of how I first encountered songs, but I honestly don’t know about this one–it doesn’t feel like something of that era to me. I did buy the 45 a few years later and stuck it on a tape soon after.
I know our narrator’s focused on picking up a woman he just met in a bar, but man, does this song sound good. Wishing peace to Mr. Stanley’s family.
Work duties and prepping for the start of the new Strat-O-Matic season have led to lighter blogging the last little bit. I’m finally ready to roll with the second side of one of my last mix tapes, so with further delay…
Dionne Farris, “I Know” What’s this? A big time, full-blooded, mega pop hit of the 90s? I picked up Wild Seed–Wild Flower pretty early on, after seeing the vid for “I Know” a couple of times, and prior to its ten-week run on top of Billboard‘s Mainstream Top 40 chart. Catchy stuff, so it’s a little surprising that Farris never had much of a follow-up. (The other well-known song on which she appeared–Arrested Development’s “Tennessee”–is on another of my tapes, however.)
The Rave-Ups, “These Wishes” I’ve raved on about this Pittsburgh-to-LA band before. It’s great to see that all the tracks from The Book of Your Regrets have recently become available on YouTube. That 1988 release was already out of print by the time I started getting into these guys, so it was lucky I stumbled across a copy for sale online in the very early days of the pre-eBay Internet. If this mix tape blogging thing keeps going, “These Wishes” won’t be the last we hear from it.
The Reivers, “Do What You Wanna Do” Another band (this one’s from Austin) that kept making repeated appearances on tapes. This is from their fourth release Pop Beloved, and is one of just a few of its tracks with a video on YouTube.
Live, “I Alone” When I first heard “Operation Spirit” during my last months in Illinois, I didn’t predict the kind of success this Pennsylvania outfit would have with their second album Throwing Copper (or the evolution of singer Ed Kowalczyk’s hairstyle, for that matter). The choicest cut from Copper is “Lightning Crashes,” but “I Alone” was the song that really put them on the map and probably catches more of the mid-90s alternative zeitgeist.
Duran Duran, “The Reflex” What would this song have done on the charts without Nile Rodgers’s remix? It’s definitely not a #1 tune without it.
One of my very faves from Double Duran back in the day; it’s probably slipped a couple of notches over the last quarter-century.
Sam Phillips, “Standing Still” Back in December I posted a picture of a Usenet review of Kirsty MacColl’s Kite I had printed out back in 1991. It was one of two from that period I’d saved; the other was for Sam Phillips’s Cruel Inventions. The author nods favorably at a line from “Standing Still” (“Starting with ashes I’m building fire”), even going so far as to claim that T.S. Eliot might approve. Don’t know about that, but it’s a standout track on a standout album.
The Jayhawks, “Miss Williams’ Guitar” If you asked me to name the best concert I ever attended, a strong contender would be the Wilco/Jayhawks show I saw in July of 1995. It took place at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington, which had been exclusively a movie house back when I was in college. My future fianceé was tromping around Germany at the time with her sister, and I was in the middle of my first year working the science/math camp for high schoolers our college offers. Tomorrow the Green Grass was maybe my favorite disk at the time, so I connived to break away from any evening duties I might have had to check them out; my seat was around 8-10 rows away from the stage. Wilco was touring in support of A.M., and they were awesome. But it was the Jayhawks who had my heart at the time, and they weren’t disappointing in the least. One particular highlight occurred when Victoria Williams came out on stage before they played this song–she was dating guitarist Mark Olson at the time (they’d later marry).
The leading possibility for the Louisville cemetery referenced in “Miss Williams’ Guitar” is Cave Hill, just a little east of downtown. Well-known folks buried at Cave Hill include Muhammad Ali and Colonel Harland Sanders; my wife’s paternal grandparents are there, too.
Victoria Williams, “You R Loved” Apparently I couldn’t resist the temptation to follow up with Miss Williams actually playing her guitar. Some of her many fans in the biz tried hard to break her with 1994’s Loose, but the public sadly wasn’t buying. “You R Loved” comprises today’s sermon; yes, that’s Mike Mills singing backup.
Marti Jones, “It’s Too Late” Not the first time I’ve spun this track from Match Game here.
Missing Persons, “Destination Unknown” While I greatly enjoyed “Words” back in the summer of 1982, the followup mysteriously escaped my notice for almost ten years. Deserved much better than its #42 peak in November/December that year; it’s likely Missing Persons’ best song.
Joan Osborne, “St. Teresa” Maybe Osborne got earlier buzz in my neck of the woods than some other places because she’s a Kentucky native, as I bought Relish in the spring of 1995, months before “One of Us” hit the charts. My top tracks from Relish, though, are the slinky “Ladder” and lead-off song “St. Teresa” (co-written with former Hooters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, who also play on the entire album).
Bill Lloyd, “Trampoline” Lloyd had been one-half of a moderately successful country duo with Radney Foster in the late 1980s. His 1994 solo disk Set To Pop got a lot of favorable press as a power pop gem, but it never grooved me all that much. The exception was “Trampoline,” a catchy ditty about a girlfriend who just may be bipolar. In an alternate universe, I might have used the line “God bless our daily bread, coffee, and Dramamine” as the title of this post.
Texas, “Future Is Promises” Another song featured previously in a Forgotten Albums post. Album closers often make good tape closers.
I hope to do this sort of thing again in a few months’ time.
Coincidence or not, I began buying less music and making fewer tapes in the months after meeting my future wife in 1995 (and if it’s not coincidence, I’d do it all over again, dear). Besides, I was in my early 30s–maybe I was already getting a little long in the tooth for the alternative scene?
1995 was the last year I made mix tapes, too. It’s been a little while since I took a look at a tape, so let’s queue up one of my last gasps at the art form:
Weezer, “My Name Is Jonas” Not long before I started this blog, I did a short Facebook series on my five favorite Weezer tunes (not that I have an extensive knowledge of their body of work). “My Name Is Jonas” clocked in at #4; if you must know, “The Good Life” was #1.
That Blue Album is a mighty sweet disk, you know?
Sugar, “A Good Idea” I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to include a song about a dude drowning his girlfriend (I hadn’t paid any attention to the lyrics, no doubt–had just dug the sound). I’m going with the notion that it is a good idea not to link to the vid, though.
The Darling Buds, “Burst” A #50 hit in the UK toward the end of 1988. It’s track two on Pop Said…, and was perhaps the first indication that the Buds were going to be of great appeal to yours truly.
Adam Schmitt, “Illiterature” Title song from Schmitt’s second album, which came out in late summer of 1993. Even if it’s louder, darker, and not nearly so winsome as World So Bright, Illiterature definitely has its moments. I think this is one of three songs from it that graced mix tapes; I really love its energy.
Madder Rose, “Car Song” One of those cases where you buy a CD based on that song you heard on the radio. There are elements of the grunge sound that I like moderately well, like the extra guitar crunch that comes after being fairly quiet, as we get here on the refrain (the female vocals of Mary Lorson are another attractive element). Completely unrelated to the tune of the same name that came later from Elastica. I should go back and give Panic On another listen or two.
The Cocteau Twins, “The Itchy Glowbo Glow” “Carolyn’s Fingers” was the song that reeled me into the world of the Cocteau Twins, but these days I think this dreamy thing just might be the best cut on Blue Bell Knoll. I want it to go on and on, as it takes me to some other place that I just don’t want to leave.
Lush, “Undertow” Emma Anderson wrote the majority of the tracks on 1994’s Split, but it’s Miki Berenyi’s contributions, particularly “Kiss Chase,” “Hypocrite,” and “Undertow,” that stand out to me.
The Call, “The Walls Came Down” Our first of three trips back to my college days on this tape. I’m forever grateful to Warren for tuning me into these guys. Michael Been looks so young here…
Danielle Brisebois, “What If God Fell from the Sky” Yes, it’s Stephanie from late-era All in the Family, all grown up and doing that mid-90s music thing. She co-wrote this with Gregg Alexander of recently-reconstituted New Radicals fame (Brisebois was a member of the band, too). I’ve not researched it, but I’ve long wondered if this song was based on personal experience.
Matthew Sweet, “We’re the Same” 100% Fun is my favorite Matthew Sweet album–it’s just solid from end to end. “We’re the Same” was the second single. I must say I’m not convinced of the musical prowess of the band in the video.
Buffalo Tom, “Taillights Fade” I’ve written about “Taillights Fade” before, and how it reminds me of my first weeks on the job here at Georgetown. I can’t explain how and why it speaks to me, but it sure does.
Blur, “Boys and Girls” This didn’t sound anything like the Madchester-ish “There’s No Other Way,” their previous hit. (The same applies to “Song 2”–woo-hoo!) Completely loopy, but I still like it.
I was today years old when I learned that Damon Albern inserted a line of German right before “But we haven’t been introduced” (Du bist sehr schön–my wife tells me that’s “You’re very pretty”). I’d always heard it as “Deep obsession,” which I guess makes some sense, too.
Scandal, “Goodbye to You” I’m strongly inclined to say that mid-1982 to mid-1983 (I’ll leave the exact endpoints vague for now) is now my favorite twelve-month period of 80s music. I think it’s the mainstreaming of new wave sensibilities, morphing into the second British Invasion, that makes the period shine. “Goodbye to You” is a prime example of what makes me think fondly of it all.
Marshall Crenshaw, “Let Her Dance” And we close out the first half with Marshall doing Bobby Fuller up nicely. I couldn’t not link to this silly but nonetheless cute video set to it. I want to believe these three are siblings, but the height differential between the guy and the twins makes me dubious…
This was SR’s 25th anniversary issue. The monthly column from Editor-in-Chief William Livingstone traces changes in the magazine’s name (originally HiFi & Music Review, soon HiFi/Stereo Review, it finally shortened to simply Stereo Review in November 1969). He also anticipates the 50th anniversary issue in 2008; alas, just sixteen years later SR morphed into Sound & Vision.
Article 2008: A Sonic Odyssey, by Alan Lofft Speaking of looks twenty-five years into the future, Lofft chats with some folks in the A/V development biz to get their takes on the evolution of how we will consume media. The opening quote, from an assistant GM at Matsushita, is a doozy: “We’ll have a small digital player with no moving parts and little plug-in memory modules, each with several hours of music stored in solid-state memory circuits. You could take the module in to a record dealer who would slip the cartridge into a machine, punch a code into the console, and thirty seconds later hand it back to you. You’d pay your bill and away you’d go. Furthermore, the original musical information would not be in the retail outlet; it would likely be down-linked by satellite from a central data bank.”
There are also quotes from execs on the Compact Disc (“At this point, it’s at least 50 per cent more expensive than a conventional disc…While it certainly has some advantages, it’s not clear to us in the industry that the large population of record buyers will necessarily see them.”) and HDTV (“Talk of HDTV seems to suggest that the present standard can’t permit a really good picture, and that is absolutely wrong. I bristle at the attention given HDTV when one is comparing it with what is a poor use of the current standard.”) Sounds like there’s some turf protection being attempted here…
If it’s a February issue, it must be time for SR’s:
Records of the Year Cats (Original London Cast) Marshall Crenshaw, S/T Lena Horne, The Lady and Her Music Wynton Marsalis, S/T The Police, Ghost in the Machine Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights
Honorable Mentions Gary U.S. Bonds, On the Line Aretha Franklin, Jump To It The Griffith Park Collection, S/T Billy Joel, The Nylon Curtain Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Wise Guy King Crimson, Beat Cleo Laine and Dudley Moore, Smilin’ Through Susannah McCorkle, The Music of Harry Warren Merrily We Roll Along (Original Broadway Cast) Mark Murphy, Bop for Kerouac Dolly Parton, Heartbreak Express Claudia Schmidt, Midwestern Heart Sippie Wallace, Sippie
For almost the past decade, Stereo Review had also handed out a Certificate of Merit to a leading light in American music. This year’s award went to Eugene Ormandy.
Our reviewers are the usual suspects: Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
This is the penultimate appearance for Coppage, who’d actually passed away at the tender age of 44 in December 1982. I’ve found no mention of his untimely death in the SRs of early 1983; Alanna Nash simply took over his beat beginning with the April issue. Coppage is buried in his native Ohio County, Kentucky (which is neither near Ohio nor on the Ohio River; it is, however, adjacent to Muhlenberg County, home of the Everlys and a little mining town called Paradise). He’d spent his later years in New Hampshire; there’s a nice tribute to him in the January 1983 newsletter of the Monadnock Folklore Society.
Best of the Month –The Roches, Keep On Doing (NC) “The Roches refer mainly to a world of their own creation; they are so far beyond borrowing that they’ve forgotten how.” –Utopia, S/T (MP) “(The fifteen songs) run the gamut from head-bangers to tear-jerkers, and all sport hummable melodies, amusing lyrics, and smart arrangements.”
Featured Reviews –Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge, Jazz Masterpieces and Roy Eldridge, The Early Years (CA) “Eldridge (on the former) continues to bear traces of Armstrong’s early influence, but he developed a highly individual style in the Thirties, a style that the young Dizzy Gillespie used to emulate with confusing perfection.” –Peter Gabriel, Security (MP) “…ambitious, original, and profound. Fusing one of man’s oldest art forms, ritual drumming, with state-of-the-art electronics, Gabriel has transposed the elemental rhythms and spirit of native African music into a modern, technological context.” –Lionel Richie, S/T (PG) “With so much clutter, noise, and outright foolishness in popular music these days, Lionel Richie’s album debut is an event, and the record itself is one to treasure and listen to again and again.” –Linda Ronstadt, Get Closer (NC) “Ronstadt’s eclecticism this time is more quirky than trendy, but her voice is great.”
Recordings of Special Merit Rock/Soul/Country: –Daryl Hall and John Oates, H2O (SS) “I miss the exhilarating sense of artists hitting their stride that characterized their last two (LPs). Yet…even the throwaways are serenely well crafted.” –Kool and the Gang, As One (PG) “Some records are bathed in such a happy spirit that listening to them is like taking a short, revitalizing vacation…If you can’t afford to travel, play this record instead.” –Iggy Pop, Zombie Birdhouse (MP) “I guess you could call (this) Iggy Pop’s vision of the global village: not a world united by benevolent technology but a savage place where the first law is eat or be eaten and whose natives carry on their backs not baskets but TV sets.” –Luther Vandross, Forever, For Always, For Love (PG) “All the elements blend with inconspicuous ease. Vandross suggests rather than shouts, making music that flows with a coolly sensual grace.”
Jazz: –Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis, Triple Treat (CA) “…prepare yourself for a good taste of bubbly swing, some marvelous interplay, and a sound as rich and creamy as the three scoops of ice cream depicted on the cover.” –Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society, Man Dance (CA) “But this is funk with substance, and if you have but an ounce of soul you will find it entrancing.” –Tom Scott, Desire (PG) “(Scott) has had so much practice in mixing musical styles that it is no wonder he does it so well…this time around he has gone beyond gloss to produce a set that scintillates with lively tunes and gritty performances…” –Jimmy Smith, Off the Top (CA) “No, this is Smith of the jazz man, surrounded by an elite group of his peers, swinging through an enduring no-charts session.” –Spyro Gyra, Incognito (MP) “Neither visceral nor cerebral, Incognito…just glides effortlessly by on its spry, crafty melodies, surehanded arrangements, and flawless production. It covers a lot of musical terrain with maddening ease…”
Other Albums Reviewed –Toni Basil, Word of Mouth (PR) “About a minute or so into this album…I got the feeling that (Basil’s) was a visual act. It would almost have to be, given the frantic convolutions of her vocal style.” –Neil Diamond, Heartlight (NC) “There’s an interesting contrast here between how seriously Neil Diamond takes himself and how seriously the songs take anything.” –Dire Straits, Love Over Gold (SS) “What’s worse, the man has clearly swallowed his rave reviews and now believes he has Something to Say…Knopfler’s guitar playing remains spectacular, but, given the hot air that surrounds it, it’s impossible to care.” —Fast Times At Ridgemont High soundtrack (SS) “…if this is the music that real kids actually listen to while they’re out raising hell, then we are probably nurturing a generation of accountants…It’s all inoffensive and utterly without quirks of any kind. Frankly, I’d rather play Pac-Man.” –Jefferson Starship, Winds of Change (NC) “Most of the lyrics are the moon/June kind of thing Tin Pan Alley hacks were writing thirty years ago, and said hacks probably would have come up with better tunes.” –David Lindley, Win This Record! (JV) “…the songs are a mixture of good times and a specialist’s whims. Too much of the album is given over to Caribbean rhythms and to Lindley’s own material, which is obscure, faintly paranoid, and dependent on the sexual slang of his circle of friends.” –Diana Ross, Silk Electric (MP) “…another three-ring effort…that succeeds more often than it fails.” –Steel Breeze, S/T (NC) “Most of these songs are all hook and no substance and rely heavily on synthesizers (you know how I feel about those), but these boys have still managed to fashion a catchy little sound of their own.”
While a substantial majority of the slabs in my father’s 45 stash are songs I know at least a little bit, there are several that are completely unfamiliar. I’d venture that a few are likely unknown to very many folks today, either. Here are four that didn’t come close to scoring big nationally–only one of them even sniffed the Hot 100. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to say, though.
Ralph Marterie and his Orchestra, “All That Oil in Texas”
Marterie was a big band conductor, born in Italy but living most of his life in the States. This is from 1954, so I can’t tell for certain that it didn’t chart, though I’m not finding it in any mentions of his band’s work. To my ears, the music isn’t that far off from what Bill Haley was doing.
Why is it here? I have a theory. My father’s maternal grandfather bought a plot of land not far from Lubbock, TX way long ago–probably in the latter years of the 19th century. It stayed in the family until maybe 15-20 years ago, split among around a dozen heirs. Oil companies drilled on it for several decades, to no avail. It wouldn’t surprise me if the title just happened to catch Dad’s eye in the record store one day.
Two other notes: –the flip side is the band’s take on the March from Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges; –the disk is notably heavier than the typical 45 made a few years later.
I’m not wholly certain that this cover of the Hank Williams classic is actually the A-side; Discogs lists the other song, “It Wouldn’t Happen with Me,” first more frequently. The latter has more of that Jerry Lee bravado you expect, comparing himself favorably to Elvis, Jackie Wilson, and Fabian, but I can understand why neither song charted.
While we were living in Stanford in the early 70s, Lewis made an appearance at a tiny theater in Crab Orchard, another small town tucked away in a corner of the county. Dad always regretted not driving down the road fifteen minutes to check out the Killer (Lewis receives mention in the linked article).
The Grandison Singers, “Little Liza”
There’s very little out there about the Grandison Singers. Depending on where you look, they’re either a trio or a quartet, originally a Black gospel group. This is the standard better known as “Little Liza Jane,” and it’s pretty rousing, decidedly informed by the group’s gospel roots (unfortunately, I can’t find anything from the Grandisons on YouTube). The flip is “Grandison Twist,” an attempt to cash in on the dance craze of the day (the single appears to be from 1962). It’s not bad at all, name-checking “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Willie and the Hand Jive.” I want to know more about what happened to the folks in the group; based on this single, I’d like to hear more of their music, too.
Willie Lee Perryman was better known as Piano Red, with a career that began in the 30s; that linked Wikipedia page indicates he had a couple of songs make the national R&B charts in the 50s. Somewhere along the way Perryman also acquired the moniker Dr. Feelgood. He and his band reached #66 in June 1962 with this song, which one might consider to be in the vein of “Baby Got Back” (the opening lines are “Hey all of you women, now don’t come around unless you weigh around four hundred pounds”). As with the others featured today, I’m really curious how this wound up in Dad’s collection.
The B-side is the original recorded version of “Mr. Moonlight,” later covered by the Fab Four.
When I think of this point in time thirty years ago, just about the first thing that comes to mind is Operation Desert Storm, which officially began in mid-January and came to a close right as February did. The ground phase that ended it all was surprisingly short, just five days. On the last weekend of the month, I was in downtown Chicago, at a bridge tournament with Mark L when the announcement came over the PA that tanks were on the move. There was a lot of applause throughout the ballroom in response, though not at our table.
As for our first check-in with the nascent alternative scene for the year…while a number of these songs are awesome, I’m not feeling quite as much cumulative love this go-round as I have other times. We’ll look for things to get better later in the year, but we might as well take a peek.
28. Cocteau Twins, “Heaven or Las Vegas” Songs are beginning to stay on the MRT chart longer on average–more and more frequently going forward, I’m getting to choose between two opportunities to write ’em up. This one was #21 back at the beginning of December and is now on the way down after a peak of #9.
27. The Pogues, “The Sunny Side of the Street” Next time I’m in need of a pick-me-up, I may turn to this jaunty thing.
24. Inspiral Carpets, “This Is How It Feels” I noted the silliness of the lyrics of “Commercial Rain” last time out, but the Carpets bounce back here with a thoughtful piece.
23. Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, “Fly Me Courageous” I’d heard “Honeysuckle Blue” quite a bit on WPGU a couple of years earlier; they latched on to this one, too. Last March I’d made plans for a quick trip to the DC area to see 10K Maniacs with Greg and Katie, which obviously got postponed–these guys were scheduled to do a show in the area that weekend as well, though I doubt we would have gone.
18. The Charlatans UK, “White Shirt” “Then” is sitting at #11 in its 15th week on, while this third single from Some Friendly is debuting.
14. Danielle Dax, “Tomorrow Never Knows” What happens if you cover the Beatles using a Madchester backing track and female vocals? I believe it’s this.
13. The Darling Buds, “It Makes No Difference” Two songs in a row produced by Stephen Street. A strong contender for my very favorite Buds tune. It’s close between this and #5 for best song on the chart.
12. Jellyfish, “That Is Why” Saw Bellybutton featured at Record Service in Campustown for months on end, but never came close to pulling the trigger on a purchase. Please tell me how misguided I was. This is much better than “The King Is Half-Undressed,” which I passed over back in October.
10. They Eat Their Own, “Like a Drug” Obscure band from LA that came and went very quickly. This is their one notable song, but it’s quite the song. I think I’ve got this CD somewhere still, no doubt courtesy of Greg.
9. The Mission UK, “Hands Across the Ocean” These guys got their start after two of them left The Sisters of Mercy. Based on this song, I’d take them over SoM any day.
5. Lush, “Sweetness and Light” This one slipped by me in real time–it’d take the release of “Nothing Natural” a year later for Lush to catch my attention. Started off as sort-of protegees of the Cocteau Twins but evolved a more rockin’ sound by the mid-90s, led by twin guitar attack of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. Their ascent was derailed by the suicide of drummer Chris Aclund in 1996; they broke up not long after. A Top 5 90s band in my head.
4. Happy Mondays, “Kinky Afro” They get to the chorus and I’m suddenly having flashbacks to “Lady Marmalade.” Dig it, but it’s not quite at the level of “Step On.”
3. Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now” Sounds entirely of its time–about events of its time–yet somehow I don’t consider this a dated piece. Maybe it’s the infectious, unwarranted optimism…
2. Chris Isaak, “Wicked Game” I think Isaak’s pretty good, and I’m definitely glad he made some coin off of this song, but there are plenty others of his I like better.
1. Sting, “All This Time” Am I the only one who didn’t consider Sting an alternative/college rock artist by this point? I hear “We’ll Be Together” on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave, and it just sounds out of place. Ditto for this perfectly fine pop song.
My guess is it’s not uncommon for folks who work at college radio stations to take a souvenir or two on their way out the door—given the state of the WTLX library in the fall of 1983, surely those who came before us had absconded with much of the good stuff that had at some point been there (there were hundreds of LPs in a closet, very few of which looked interesting to this then-Top 40 snob; as I believe I’ve noted before, there was no doubt a failure to recognize many quality platters). At least some of my peers and, I must confess, yours truly, may have also succumbed to this temptation. My roommate James trundled off with a few Dr. Demento disks from the 1983-84 school year and a multi-LP history of Canada, but I think he considers the big prize to be an album from West Virginia psychedelic/Christian band Mind Garage (side one of 1970’s Mind Garage Again! includes covers of “Tobacco Road” and well-known hits from Little Richard, Elvis, and the Stones, while side two was comprised of the band-penned The Electric Liturgy).
Warren took something completely different. One Saturday night in the spring semester of 1984, he, James, and I were hanging down in the station, rummaging around the library, looking I suppose for hidden gems (WTLX was off the air on Saturdays). Among a stack of reel-to-reel tapes was one with a handwritten title that immediately raised eyebrows: Uncle Pervy. Well, you know we had to check it out. Fortunately (?), the station’s ancient reel machine was still functional, and soon we were learning about the, er…, unseemly proclivities of the title character and hearing a lot of heavy breathing. It went on for several minutes, clearly sprung from the fevered imaginations of a couple of our predecessors at the station. I’d guess it was done sometime in the mid-to-late 70s; one wonders about their level of sobriety at the time of recording. I’ll admit the three of us were much more entertained by this discovery than perhaps we should have been, and that name became part of our shared lexicon over the next couple of years. Warren reports the tape is currently buried in a closet at his house.
(Aside: I wonder if the perpetrators of the UP tape have stayed in touch over the years, or see each other at reunions. Do they have a laugh about that drunken night in the radio station? There’s zero chance they’ll ever see this article, but maybe they didn’t realize they left the evidence behind, never thought someone might come across it?)
(Another aside: In messaging about all this with my friends earlier this month, Warren mentioned an album from the library he coveted but didn’t take, only to find the station’s copy (a magic-markered ‘WTLX’ on the cover was a dead giveaway) for sale a few years later at one of the used-record stores in Lexington. Makes me realize that folks weren’t always getting stuff from the station for personal collections—I imagine some of it turned into cash for Budweiser, Thunderbird, or pot.)
As for me, I didn’t (as far as I recall) spirit away any vinyl or reels when I graduated. No, I’d long had my eye on the single copy of Billboard I noticed the first time I ever set foot in the station. Dated 1/31/81, it was more than five years out of date when I liberated it from the basement of Clay Hall—despite the admonition in the upper left corner of the front page, I guess I figured no one would need it anymore or miss it. (That no one had disturbed it in the interim probably says something about the level of housekeeping we maintained.)
It’s now forty years old, and of course I still have it—let’s celebrate its birthday by taking a gander at and sharing a few of the goodies inside.
–On the cover is an advertisement for Grace Slick’s latest solo record, Welcome to the Wrecking Ball. Take a look at the breathless copy her record company provided.
Au contraire, said Steve Simels about six months later in Stereo Review: words he used to describe Slick’s efforts include ludicrous, sad, pointless, posturing, desperate, and depressing. (I’ve never heard anything from it, so I can’t weigh in.) She’d be back with the Starship within eighteen months, eventually enjoying maximum success singing about corporation games.
–The first installment of a five-week series on the 1981 Grammy nominees for Record of the Year is in this issue. They’re leading off with the eventual winner, “Sailing.” The article recaps Cross’s difficulty in landing a contract and mentions that the original choice for second single was “I Really Don’t Know Anymore” (Michael McDonald apparently put the kibosh on that). Hindsight and all that, but I can’t imagine that one being much of a hit.
–“Plasmatics Melee in Milwaukee” recounts an incident at the Palms on 1/18. Wendy O. and the band’s manager faced multiple charges, including battery, and in Williams’s case, “suggestive stage movements with a sledgehammer and with her own body” violated a city ordinance. The article includes allegations by the manager that police officers engaged in an “aggressive body search” of Williams; when she fought back, she was hit with resisting arrest. You can find additional information here.
–In “Doors Selling,” a VP of sales for Elektra notes that all twelve of the LPs from Jim Morrison and company sold more in 1980 than any year previous; ten are now gold.
–The Singles Radio Action sheet reports that nationally the Prime Movers are “9 To 5,” “Woman,” and “Hey Nineteen,” while the Top Add Ons are “Hello Again,” “Hearts On Fire,” and “What Kind of Fool.”
–WLUP in Chicago is running a contest featuring five “montage(s) of rock song snippets aired as sonic puzzles to be deciphered by listeners.” The first solver of each wins a cool $100K. The article focuses on the efforts of rival station WMET to play spoiler by ‘decoding’ the montages for their audience.
–Under Hits of the World, Ultravox’s “Vienna” is #16 in Britain, “Looking for Clues” from Robert Palmer sits at #17 in Canada, and Kate Bush is #3 in France with “Babooshka,” all evidence that taste in music here in the States at this moment was rather lacking.
–On the album reviews page: 1) Top Pop Album Picks are Marvin Gaye’s In Our Lifetime and the triple-LP Sandanista! from the Clash; 2) First Time Around, which highlights debut disks, features Stiv Bators, The Teardrop Explodes, and Yello; 3) Recommended LPs include The Skill by Australian AOR band The Sherbs (which found a spot in my collection within a year) and the latest effort from a struggling singer who’d recently scored a gig on General Hospital, playing some cat by the name of Noah Drake. Working Class Dog is described as “Catchy, mainstream rock produced by a young pro that sounds like perfect AOR fare.” Notably, “Jessie’s Girl” is not listed among its ‘Best Cuts.’
–The Hot 100 is missing, perhaps cut out to be posted on a wall at the station (alas, reviews of new singles were on the other side of that page). We do have the album chart, though. LPs in the Top 50 I eventually owned are Crimes of Passion (#2), Hi Infidelity (#12), Making Movies (#26), Christopher Cross (#31), Glass Houses (#35), and Remain In Light (#50). (My sister had Paradise Theater, which is bowing in at #18.) In the wake of John Lennon’s murder, there are scads of Beatles and Lennon albums strewn throughout the chart (and of course, Double Fantasy is #1). Dark Side of the Moon is in its 348th week on the chart, holding steady at #137 (Second in longevity is The Cars—136 weeks—barely hanging on at #198.)
If you want to view this issue in its almost entirety, you can find it (minus the Hot 100) at worldradiohistory.com.
I’ve wondered from time to time how it is that magazine wound up in WTLX’s studio, and maybe why there weren’t any others. How active had the station been during the 80-81 school year? Were they trying to do a pop hits format? If so, why were there so few records, including 45s, from that time frame just two years later? I suppose I speculated about this last question up at the top; I’m just sorry that whatever momentum there had been before my cohort’s arrival on campus had stalled out.
We don’t play nearly enough Kate Bush around here, so even though I wouldn’t hear it for another six years (until I purchased The Whole Story), here’s “Babooshka”—a dark inversion of Rupert Holmes’s “Escape.”
Whether it was fully intentional or not, one of the things that happened after I began buying LPs much more frequently (usually at Cut Corner Records) in the spring of 1984 was stocking up on previously owned copies of Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac albums. I skipped over Live, but the other four wound up in my hot little mitts in fairly short order. While not the classic that Fleetwood Mac and Rumours are, I found Mirage rather charming from the get-go. After listening to it again a couple of times over this past week, here’s a decent approximation of its tracks ordered in terms of personal preference.
12. “Only Over You” The one song on the album I wouldn’t miss. I can confirm Wikipedia’s claim that Christine McVie offers “special thanks for inspiration to Dennis Wilson” for this song on the lyric sheet.
11. “Straight Back” Stevie contributed just three songs to Mirage; maybe she was holding back a bit for The Wild Heart? This one might not have been out of place there.
10. “Empire State” Buckingham had quite a few punchy, sub-3:00 pieces appear on FM albums over the years, including three on Mirage. This ode to NYC opens up side two.
9. “Can’t Go Back” When I bought Mirage, I knew only the hits. I kinda remember the first time I played the album on my stereo back in the dorm: I recognized upon hearing “Can’t Go Back” rev up right after “Love in Store” that I’d made a sound purchase.
8. “Hold Me” That “Hold Me” reached #9 on my personal chart is more a tribute to its lengthy run than my high esteem, though I fully admit it’s a quality piece. Still not sure about that “damage/manage” rhyme, however.
7. “Book of Love” Three of Buckingham’s five contributions, including “Book of Love,” were co-written with co-producer Richard Dashut. This one’s a mid-tempo meditation on end-of-relationship angst (i.e., getting dumped).
6. “Love in Store” I don’t really think of the two Christine-penned singles as fully hers, since Lindsey (and Stevie, to a lesser extent) has such a strong vocal presence on both. This is sitting at #22 for the third week on this show; it’d turn out to be the Mac’s last appearance on AT40 for more than four years.
5. “Eyes of the World” Steve Simels singles this song out for praise in the October 1982 issue of Stereo Review, particularly noting Buckingham’s acoustic/electric guitar interplay toward the end. What stands out for me now is the single word “eyes,” repeated over as a sort of chorus, foreshadowing what was to come on Go Insane.
4. “That’s Alright” A gently-rollicking kiss-off, as maybe only Nicks could pull off.
3. “Oh Diane” A top 10 hit in England; I’d like to know what it might have done as a fourth single stateside.
2. “Wish You Were Here” Since I never got around to repurchasing Mirage on CD, I’d put it aside for a long time. When I finally wheeled it out again on YouTube, I was struck by how well I could sing along with “Wish You Were Here.” It must be on one of the now-broken mix tapes I made my senior year that I absolutely must find a way to fix. Simply a stunner.
1. “Gypsy” I’m pretty irrational in my love for “Gypsy.” Outside of “Silver Springs,” it’s my favorite song from Nicks. I’ve always liked the extended version in the video, and I’m a sucker for all that joyful dancing in the rain, too. But why is only just now that I’m picking up on the phrase “velvet underground” in the opening line?
Time for part two of my interview with Erik Mattox about his radio show The UnCola, which you can listen to live on Tuesdays at 8pm on Asheville FM or anytime you like at the show’s blog. (Here’s part one, in case you missed it.)
WH: You said you do your own tech work, so the intro to your show, the bumpers that you haven’t asked other people to record, those are things you’ve put together yourself?
EM: Right. Yeah.
WH: Let’s just take the intro and the bumper that you run after the second song each hour. I recognize pieces from the Eurythmics, and there’s a James Brown sample, and there’s the Buggles. What are the other ones? I’d love to know what else you’ve sampled.
EM: Okay, let’s see. The one that starts with the Buggles, it has “You are…” in it, the “listening to” actually comes from a recording program I had, so that’s just a robot. Of course, then it says “the UnCola” (from a 70s commercial). The “Bam! Who’s next?” is from a Pharcyde album. They were a hip-hop group who did skits in between some of their songs.
When I was doing shows for African American Music Appreciation Month last year, that was the first time I’d listened to my intro in a while. I’m realizing it doesn’t tell you anything about my show. I really need to change it. I start off with James Brown (“Keep It Funky, Pt. 1”), I forget where the drum roll is from—it sounds like it’s from Edwin Starr’s “War,” but I don’t think it is—and I’ve got the Pharcyde in there again, I’ve got a What’s Happening sample in there. And of course I use the Eurythmics’ “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To).”
Early on, I did a show dedicated to WLIR, and I contacted some of the WLIR DJs to do bumpers for me. And one of them—Andy Geller, the guy who does all the voiceovers and promos for the Oscars—he did an hour-long bumper for me, including, (drops voice to sound like Geller) “You’re listening to Erik Mattox, on the UnCola at Asheville FM.” It sounds so good and professional. As soon as I heard it, I’m like, “I’m using that.”
WH: I know which one you’re talking about.
EM: And people have recognized his voice, and they ask me, “Is that the guy from the Oscars?” And I’m like, “He was actually a DJ at a radio station, but yeah.”
WH: Can I still get an UnCola bumper sticker?
EM: Do I have UnCola bumper stickers?
WH: Back in 2010, you advertised on your show’s website that you could write in and get one.
EM: Oh my god, I’ve completely forgotten about that. I don’t know if anyone ever took me up on it. Maybe they did. If I do have one still, please send me your address, and I’ll send one to you. I don’t think that they were done very well. If I have one, I will definitely send you one even if it’s something that you want to just put on a water bottle.
WH: Thank you!
WH: You touched on this a little bit at the very beginning, but now that you are over the airwaves in Asheville, what do you see as the role of your show, of Asheville FM—what do you see as the community role of the station?
EM: One thing we didn’t talk about earlier as Asheville FM got started…I was so excited and I immediately wanted to be involved in lots of different areas. I did publicity and promotions, and I joined the Board. In 2011, I became the Board President, and I served for about five years, until we got on the FM airwaves. We’ve been able to grow exponentially, and fundraising has greatly improved. We now have a station manager who’s paid, we have an underwriting manager who’s paid.
Our role here in the community is to be a voice for people from all races, all genders, and give them a place where they can feel heard, because people don’t always feel heard. Not only do we do that with music, obviously, but we have talk shows, we have Spanish language programming, we have a sports show, we have a kids’ show, and we have a podcast program where we take underprivileged children that don’t get an opportunity to do anything outside of school, any extracurricular activities, and get them involved in creating their own radio shows, so that they can see the power in that. And we get involved with a lot of other nonprofits’ causes within the community and because we are not beholden to any corporate entities—we raise money ourselves—we can be as unfiltered as the FCC allows us to be. And we can show viewpoints from a neutral vantage point, so that we’re not swinging one way or another and we can give people news that doesn’t have any sort of bias to it, letting people know what’s going on—this is a tourist town, so a lot of that is geared towards letting people know more of the real stuff that’s happening here. There are some independent papers that are like that as well, but we’re the main radio outlet for that. Continuing to do that, continuing to get into schools, educating younger people and show that this is something they can do, either as something that they’re paid to do in the future, or just because they love to do it—all of that is important.
We want to be as inclusive as we possibly can. I’ve rejoined the Board this year and I hope especially with everything going on, to really reach out and team up with a lot more folks to bridge the large gaps we have in the community. Black people, Latinos—those are two big sectors here that just need to have their voices heard in order for their stories to be heard, in order for justice to start taking shape and equality to start, so that it’s not theory, it’s actually practice, it’s people actually working towards a goal. I think there’s a lot of stuff in the ether, but people don’t necessarily know how to go about helping, even if they really want to. We want to be able to be a conduit for that for folks.
WH: Going back to your show, do you have any special plans for the upcoming year? You don’t have to give me any spoilers.
EM: I come up with stuff as I go along. I tried planning ahead early on; I think there was a year where I actually listed that on the blog. Probably new volumes of the special shows I do. I’m also trying to find artists that I haven’t done tribute shows for that mean a lot to me. I kind of take it one week at a time, and I probably should plan a lot better. I’m happy when I sometimes plan two weeks ahead of time. This is a fun time of year for me, because in January I know I’m going to do a couple of shows where I’m just looking back to the previous year.
I think there was one year where I did an “In Memoriam” show where I played songs from artists that had passed away in the last year. It was cool to do but I don’t want to do that again. It’s hard to imagine that someone like Little Richard passed away, an architect of roll and roll, and it wasn’t bigger. It felt like it needed to be a lot bigger for people, and so you see that disconnect already for older artists. It happens already for 60s artists, and it’s going to happen for 70s artists, too, and I want to get there and do those tribute shows before that happens.
WH: Is there anything that you hoping to talk about tonight that I haven’t asked?
EM: I don’t know—your questions were great. I didn’t really think about what I wanted to talk about, because I’m not exactly sure how to talk about myself and what I do very well.
WH: I get that.
EM: I’m just very appreciative of the fact that we are financially supported by folks and I’m allowed to do this every week. I thought for sure there’d be a point that I’d not want to do it anymore, like years ago. I’ve been way more consistent in the last four years than I had been—2020 was the first year where I did an original show every single week. I’m amazed that I still want to do it and I go, “Oh yeah, that’s cool, I should play that,” and I don’t get bored doing it. I have a feeling that if I stop doing this, I probably won’t do it anyplace else. I will say that if I have at any time turned anyone on to a certain artist they didn’t know about and they got into that artist, that’s all I really want. I’ve been told, “I didn’t know that person, I really like them…” That’s really to me the thrill of still being able to do this. There’s a well that just never ends with music. I can’t believe I can still find older music that I’ve never heard before. It’s amazing.
WH: I’ve listened to many of your shows over the last two-and-a half years. I’ve learned a lot, for sure, and I just enjoy it. One thing I remember really impressing me was a Jonatha Brooke song you played…
WH: …early on in the time I was listening to you. So I’ll say you’ve had an impact on me.
EM: That’s cool. I’ve probably seen her live about 5-6 times. She’s amazing, and like everybody needs to know who she is. Everybody. I don’t understand why…well, I don’t want to go down that path…but she is so incredibly talented, it’s ridiculous. She has a beautiful voice. Her songs are just amazing. What a great catalog she has. And just by herself with a guitar, she’s a great live show, though with a band, it’s even better. If you get an opportunity—if she comes anywhere near you… She hasn’t been to Asheville in like ten years; she used to play here all the time.
WH: It was “Last Innocent Year,” off of 10¢ Wings.
EM: I love that album.
After I stopped recording, Erik asked me why I had wanted to talk with him. I told him about how I’d play-acted being a DJ during my junior-high years, enjoyed being at WTLX, my college station, and that I was just plain curious about how he managed his show from week-to-week. What I didn’t say is that in some ways he’s living one of my dreams, getting to play music I like for other people.
Many, many thanks to Erik for taking the time to chat. I had a blast, and hope we have the chance to get together to talk again soon.
At the start of my second year of blogging, I re-purposed a dormant Twitter account originally intended to tweet out assignments to my students and began putting out links to new posts. One of my first followers was @theuncolafm; I soon learned that Erik Mattox, that account’s proprietor, hosts The UnCola, a weekly radio show dedicated to “forgotten pop from the last 50 years,” Tuesday evenings from 8-10 on Asheville FM, a low-power station in western North Carolina. I became a fan of the show almost immediately, and over roughly the last two-and-a-half years, have enjoyed both listening live via its internet stream and to archived shows on The UnCola blog. (Erik also writes with deep knowledge of and strong affection for 80s tunes at Music In The Key Of E.)
After a while I realized I was curious to learn more about Erik’s show and the station. I recently reached out about getting together over Zoom for an interview (disclaimer: I’m not a journalist, nor have I pretended to be one since my junior year of college). A couple of weeks ago, we talked for more than an hour one evening.
Today and tomorrow, you get to check in on our discussion, which, as they say in the biz, has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
First up: how The UnCola came to be, what goes into putting a show together, and recurring features/special programs.
WH: How did your relationship with Asheville FM and your radio show come about?
EM: I had been away from Asheville for about five-and-a-half years. I was living in New York, working in the film commercial industry. My wife and I moved to Savannah for a short time and we came back here. I’d been approaching radio stations in this area before I left, and I had been doing some podcasting and live deejaying up in New York. When I moved back here, I tried to get in touch with a low power community radio station, and unfortunately they were in the midst of kind of splitting up. Maybe six months later, I was in a record store around the corner from my house and heard someone talk about wanting to start their own radio station. I got back to my house, I looked them up, contacted them, and immediately started joining meetings and helping them build the station, which was only a five-minute walk from my house, behind a coffee house. They had a lot of DJs from the other station, but they were looking for some new folks. I got lucky to be there in the beginning and be in there helping out and getting it started from the ground up.
They asked me what kind of show I wanted to do, and I really was not sure. I didn’t want to limit myself…. I’m going to give a short answer—there really is a long answer! One show that I really, really have enjoyed over the years for a long time is Barry Scott’s The Lost 45s, where basically he plays all the songs that were Top 40 hits that we’ve completely forgotten about. And I thought, why don’t I do the opposite of that, where I play songs people have completely forgotten about that weren’t even in the Top 40. And that way, I opened myself up and could call it a pop show. I wouldn’t limit myself, because pop can include tons of different genres, and so, in thinking of a name, I thought pop, I thought soda, and then immediately thought of Seven-Up, which was not soda, or the UnCola. And that’s where it got started, and it’s allowed me to continue since September 2009.
WH: You had no prior radio experience?
EM: I’ve never had paid radio experience. I did work at a campus radio station when I was a freshman in college, I’ve done some internships at radio stations, and I’ve done some free work for stations. Asheville FM got its start when the 2011 Local Community Radio Act opened up broadband to low power community FMs to apply for a license. It took many years for us to get that, so we started online only. We were able to get on the FM airwaves in 2015. It’s funny because locally, people weren’t taking us seriously, but we were able to reach an international audience almost immediately. People around the world found out about us, and we created fans worldwide before we had notoriety here in town, which was very interesting.
WH: So you have direct contact with listeners on other continents?
EM: Obviously, social media helps with that. One of the things I did was to reach out to artists and have them create bumpers for me. A lot of artists I reached out to are international, and they were like, “You’re playing my music in America? How awesome!” Because with traditional radio…they couldn’t just release a single to radio, or take it to the U.S…that just didn’t happen in 2009. So I was able to have people get interested and spread it that way, too. I wasn’t the only show to do that—there were a lot of shows that did, as well.
WH: Do you have a sense of how wide your listenership is? Is it possible to track that in any way?
EM: We do have access to Arbitron ratings, and there’s another one we have for low power FMs, but we can’t afford the advanced detailed version, so I only know from people who contact me and who I’ve reached out to. We had a big map of the world, and anytime someone has contacted us at the station, we’ve always put a pin in that country. At one point, we had somewhere between seventy and eighty countries pinned on that map. That’s pretty cool for a tiny little station.
WH: From listening to your show, it’s clear that you play an immense range of music and musical styles. Have your interests always been so wide?
EM: (Pauses.) Yes. Always. I grew up in New York, so right there you have every musical style at your fingertips. I grew up playing the viola, so I had classical music. My parents always had music playing, whether radio or records, and, growing up in the 70s, the variety was already there for you to sample. And even more so in the 80s, when there was a visual was added to it. Just the genre new wave is diverse enough. There was a station called WLIR, which was on Long Island, that was infamous mostly for playing new wave, but they broke everybody that was popular in the 80s. Madonna wasn’t new wave, but they had no problem playing her. They had no problem playing Wham! They had no problem playing Pete Townshend’s singles. There were so far ahead of everybody else—they would go over to England, buy records, and then play them on the air when you couldn’t find it anyplace. What they did in the 80s inspired me, because that’s what I want to do—I want to find music that people don’t know about and expose them to it.
WH: How big is your record/tape/CD/file collection?
EM: (Laughs.) I started out as a tape collector. I eventually got rid of all my cassette tapes, except for the mix tapes I’ve made. Vinyl—I’ve cataloged everything on Discogs, just in case of an emergency—I have approaching on 8000 albums. Digitally? Oh my god; I’m somewhere between 9 and 10 terrabytes of music backed up now. Part of that is I’m keeping more and more stuff either in FLAC or WAV format, so they’re bigger files. I do that partly for myself, because I’m getting older and for my hearing, but also for my kids, who one day will be interested, and I can go, “Here you go—here’s your library. Start listening.”
WH: I was looking at the early entries on your show’s website/blog and noticed that a number of the recurring features you do now, such as the XTC Song of the Week, were there from almost the very beginning. Do you have a favorite feature, either one that you still do, or maybe one you’ve discontinued?
EM: There are two. The first one would be The WestCoast Breeze. I started that because in 2009 there wasn’t this moniker ‘Yacht Rock’ for 70s and 80s soft rock yet. I kept discovering one band after another that I’d never heard before and I was, I’ve just got to get this out to folks. So many international bands were trying to get that LA sound. I began by doing that once a week, and I would do an annual full show. I even spun it off into a second show on Asheville FM for almost four years, to fill in a space on the schedule.
The other is one I did last year for about three months. De La Soul’s second album, De La Soul Is Dead, is unstreamable because of all the samples. I wanted to do a show where I played all of the songs they sampled from start to finish but that would have taken six or seven hours. So instead, every week I would pick one song, play five songs sampled in it, and then I’d play the song itself. That was fun to do.
WH: Are there features that you’ve stopped doing that you might bring back someday?
EM: I think I keep revisiting a lot of the same features. I’m always trying to figure out whether there’s something I should add. My show sometimes might not have any features, or they might have a few of them. Some of them are just excuses to go, “Oh, I’m going to play a disco song now,”, so I can have something to introduce it by, so it’s not too jarring. I will say this, though: it’s a mixed blessing that I’ve been able to be on the air for this amount of time where some of my musical heroes have passed away. Being able to honor them musically with a tribute show has been really cool. I try to do it in a nontraditional way where I don’t go, “Here are the hits.” I try to really dig to find some obscure stuff that they were a part of. It’s part of life that these folks are gonna pass away, like in 2016 when we had Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty, and Walter Becker, and George Michael. It was too much! But I’m honored that I have this privilege to do that and share that with folks.
WH: I fear your opportunities to do that are going to only increase.
EM: I’m also trying to jump ahead of it, too. I thought to myself, I don’t want to put together an Elton John show one day…I want to do an Elton John show while Elton John is alive—it’d be so completely different. So last year I did.
WH: Tribute shows are one kind of special show that you do. Are there other special shows that you particularly like to do?
EM: I love when I am digging into just one decade. Especially the 80s, the 70s, too. Because then when I’m going to do that show, I really, really take a lot of time to find artists that I’ve never played before. And songs that I’ve never played before. I keep track of all of that because I’m kind of a stats nerd, which I’m sure you can appreciate…
WH: Uh, just a bit…
EM: So I keep track of who I play, and sometimes I’m surprised, I’m like, “I haven’t played this artist in ten years on my show? I have no idea why.” That’s fun for me to do. But I struggle with 90s shows for some reason. 90s is a hard thing for me to pull together. I think I spent most of that decade really looking backwards. I don’t know what it is about it.
WH: Looking back over the eleven-plus years you’ve been doing this, can you see an evolution from your earlier shows to what you’re doing now? Can you articulate any aspects of that evolution?
EM: Doing the show by myself, I’m my own producer, so I have to be better technically, and I think I can get in and out quicker. I’m not the kind that tries to hit the post. I think that I am better about using my words when I need to, and at having the songs fit together better, rather than be so random. I try to find themes sometimes, even small themes within my sets. And I think I’m better at doing that, so that it’s not just a jarring, all-over-the-place mess. I am a lot more cohesive with my song selections. On the other hand, I can’t believe that my voice doesn’t sound better…my voice still sounds the same, I still stammer, I still slur, talk too fast, but sometimes I just get excited about talking about stuff.
WH: How do you go about preparing for one of your standard shows? You just touched on this a little bit, but how do you pay attention to the sequencing?
EM: I have big databases of songs, separated by decade. I take a look and say, “OK, I need some more from the 90s, I need some more from the 2000s, or the 70s…” I go look in a million different places. I’ve been recently looking at old Billboard magazines and at old Record World magazines. I’m amazed at the stuff I’ve found in there. YouTube has been—it’s amazing how that has become a very big reference for me. I find a lot of really hard-to-find music there. It used to be very easy—people would just post music on blogs. MySpace was a great place to find music—people would do tribute sites to obscure bands and put stuff on there. Do you remember iMeem? It was a free site where you could upload music—I discovered a ton of stuff there. I’m always looking for a new way, a new avenue to find stuff.
If I’m creating a five-song set, I like to do songs from at least four different decades—if I’m lucky, I can get five different decades. I want to make a seamless mix from five different decades, that’s kind of how I’m picking it.
I’ve streamlined when I play newer music. This past year, I’ve been putting it in one five-song block, rather than mixing it throughout. I’m enjoying doing it that way. I don’t know if I’ll continue to do it, but it makes it easier—people can focus on, “This is the new stuff right now.”
If I’m digging for vinyl, I can transfer it digitally. I don’t do that as much anymore, because of the time it takes. There’s still stuff that I can’t find online, but sometimes I figure out that I have it already—I just didn’t realize it!
WH: What’s your greatest recent discovery of “new” old music from the 70s or 80s, that you’ve come across in the last year or so? Something that you didn’t know about previously.
EM: Nothing hits me right off the bat from that era, but I will say that there’s a band called Baby Grand who put out two albums in the late 70s, and I constantly go back to those and listen to them. I’m amazed at not only how well they done, how well they were performed and produced, how complex they are, but that someone was allowed to do this, and put it out. The producer and two of their members became the Hooters and did something completely different. I love finding albums like that, that are just like, there was no chance in hell it was ever going to be popular when it came out. It’s obvious it was done because someone just really appreciated the artistic vision of these musicians and were hoping to expand the genre. It’s cool when you discover stuff like that, and so I keep going back to them.
WH: I’ve been digging through old Stereo Review magazines, and I recently came across one that had a review of one of Baby Grand’s albums, I think from ‘77. (Ed: It was the May 1978 issue.)
EM: That was their debut.
Tomorrow: Bumpers, bumper stickers, and Asheville FM’s role in the community.