American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/7/75: Michael Murphey, “Wildfire”

It’s June 10, 2012, a notable day in my son’s life—the day of his baptism. Throughout the spring, he and three other boys have been preparing via a membership class led by our pastor. It’s traditional in our congregation for each person in the class to have an adult sponsor, for conversation and guidance. Ben chose one of my religion colleagues at the college for his sponsor—Ben is good friends with my colleague’s older son. The service goes smoothly, and afterward there are four happy families. Martha’s sister and my mother are also present, and the five of us have a nice lunch out.

It turns out to be a notable day for me as well, the day that parts of my past resurface in the present and go on to shape my future.

My eighty-year-old father isn’t feeling well at all. Two weeks prior, he bailed on flying to Florida with Mom and me to witness my nephew’s high school graduation; he just ate the cost of the ticket. Dad has talked up coming down to Georgetown for the baptism, but as Sunday approaches, he realizes that he wouldn’t be able to endure several hours away from home. In order to minimize my mother’s time away from him, I agree to meet her in Dry Ridge, about midway between us, and ferry her to Georgetown and back.

One of my favorite stations to listen to in the car is WWRW, Rewind 105.5 (“70s and 80s Hits”). I’m aware that old American Top 40 shows from the 70s are being rebroadcast on Sunday mornings, but up until now, I haven’t taken the time to tune in intentionally. Today, though, an opportunity has arisen. I’m at the main intersection of town, heading north, when I flip on the radio. I don’t recognize the song, and I try to guess which pre-1976 year this might be. Casey tells me on the outro that Eddie Kendricks is at #30, with “Shoeshine Boy.” Up next is a cover of “The Way We Were,” by Gladys Knight and the Pips, so that limits the show to either 1974 or 1975. When the Ozark Mountain Daredevils close out the first hour with “Jackie Blue,” all is revealed: I’m listening to 6/7/75.

I meet Mom just as #20 (“Magic,” by Pilot) is playing, and drop her off at the door to the church as Major Harris croons “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.” I learn that Jessi Colter’s “I’m Not Lisa” is #8 as I park the car. Sometime that evening, I root around the internet and find that John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was the final song Casey spun.

That was the start of what’s now been a nine-year re-connection with AT40, closing in on 50% longer than the span I listened to it growing up. It’s become a weekend ritual once again, and I’ve noted before how much it’s taught me about the music of the early 70s. It’s not clear at all this blog would exist had I not stepped back into that world. I’m amused that it was a show from the first weekend of June, exactly 52 weeks before I started keeping my charts, that kicked things off again. It took a few years to realize there was irony involved, as well.

I listened to 6/7/75 in its entirety yesterday (unlike in 2012). When “Shoeshine Boy” came on, I began reliving the trip to pick up my mother; I knew exactly where I was along the way up when unfamiliar songs from Carly Simon, the Temptations, Tavares, Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Seals and Crofts, and Paul Anka all played in a row. The Carpenters, Alice Cooper, Joe Simon, and Average White Band were part of the soundtrack of the return leg. Knowing now how little time my parents had left in 2012, remembering my father’s increasing fragility, thinking about life in the mid-1970s—listening to the middle 90 minutes of the show again was an emotional experience.

Michael Murphey’s “Wildfire” was also a part of that morning nine years ago, sitting at #17. In two weeks, it would jump from #12 to #3, where it would be stymied from further progress by the Captain and Tennille and Linda Ronstadt.

It’s a weekday afternoon, mid-to-late June 1975. Mom and Dad are off attending to things that need to be attended to, and Amy and I are at a farm a few miles outside of Walton, spending time with friends. It belongs to the family of our dentist; their youngest is a boy my age, though he and I don’t go to the same school. One of his sisters, maybe three years older than I, is around, too. Years later, the two of them will jointly take over their father’s practice.

I think we four kids are in a car, likely with their mother, when “Wildfire” comes on the radio. The girl declares it’s one of her current favorites—is it possible that she’s into horses? I like it pretty well, too. The association of the song with the moment will last a lifetime.

These days, the melancholia in “Wildfire” seems to be a foreshadowing of the sheen of sadness I hear and feel when listening to the songs on 1975 shows from later that summer and fall. It’s a sense I didn’t quite realize was present at the time.

Modern Rock Tracks, 6/1/91

It was around this time that I started a subscription to Hoot, a bi-weekly comics newspaper out of Columbus, OH. I’d learned about it on a May visit to a college friend who was doing the med school thing at the Ohio State University. Not all of it was to my taste, but it did serve as an introduction to Zippy the Pinhead and Bizarro. Not sure now whether I kept getting it after I moved back to KY; I do wish I’d held on to at least one copy. It’s long been defunct, but I’ll bet I could find issues in the archives at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at tOSU.

Anyway. Moving on to our next survey of the alternative scene of 30 years ago…

30. Jesus Jones, “International Bright Young Thing”
JJ is tied for having the oldest song on the countdown, as Casey liked to say: 11 weeks, same as “See the Lights” from Simple Minds, to which we tipped our cap back in April.

28. Peter Himmelman, “Woman with the Strength of 10,000 Men”
This one is new to me. It’s based on an encounter the artist had with Susan, who was dying of ALS yet persevered in communicating with others after she lost use of everything except her left eyebrow. Himmelman, originally from the Twin Cities, wrote at length about the experience three years ago here. It’s an affecting, earnest song about an important lesson learned.

26. The Popinjays, “Vote Elvis”
This Brit-pop group had one album that went nowhere under their belt by this point. “Vote Elvis” (I’m unsure which one they’re lobbying for) was a subsequent single that ultimately appeared on 1992’s Flying Down to Mono Valley. Fun track, but “Monster Mouth,” which I’ll play here someday, is that album’s best song.

24. Dream Warriors, “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style”
I wasn’t much of one to seek out rap/hip hop back in the day, though there were acts (De La Soul, Beastie Boys, Arrested Development, Us3) that held appeal. Dream Warriors would have been another had I ever encountered them.

The cute thing here (which I confess I wouldn’t have known without consulting Wikipedia) is that the song being sampled–Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova”–was the theme for the long-running, 70s and 80s Canadian game show Definition.

20. Too Much Joy, “Crush Story”
Is “Crush Story” my favorite song on this chart? It sure is in the running.

The guys from Scarsdale got back together recently and just released Mistakes Were Made, on Bandcamp, in March.

17. Hoodoo Gurus, “Miss Freelove ’69”
A little less Australian music this time than we sometimes get in these MRT forays. This psychedelic track, from the perhaps appropriately named Kinky, commemorated a real-life bacchanalia involving head Guru Dave Faulkner.

15. Material Issue, “Diane”
Somewhere around the spring of 1992, I created a mix tape consisting of songs with women’s names in their titles. I had my choice from among the first three tracks on International Pop Overthrow–“Diane” won the day. What an intro this song has.

14. Fishbone, “Sunless Saturday”
These fellows from SoCal have been a thing of sorts for over forty years, first getting together while in junior high (a couple of them, vocalist Angelo Moore and bassist John Fisher, have been there the whole time–three other original members are back with the band after taking leave at various times). I don’t think I’ve heard much of their music, but man, “Sunless Saturday” sure is a ferocious, unrelenting piece.

13. Dave Wakeling, “I Want More”
From No Warning, his one solo album. Wakeling and Ranking Roger fronted competing 21st century re-formations of the (English) Beat on the two sides of the Atlantic.

7. The Farm, “All Together Now”
The things one didn’t catch in real time, part 28,517: a song about a soccer match on Christmas Day, 1914 between the warring sides on the Western Front of WWI. And yes, there’s good reason for you to think about Pachelbel’s Canon during the chorus.

6. Electronic, “Get the Message”
A year after “Getting Away with It” had charted on this side of the pond, Sumner/Marr/Tennant finally released their debut self-titled disk. “Get the Message” would hit #1 on this chart in three weeks; it’s long been a fave.

5. Violent Femmes, “American Music”
Why Do Birds Sing? was the Femmes’ fifth album. I didn’t think much of “American Music” when I first heard it that spring–too repetitive, too far removed from their epic debut. I’m hearing some of its joy now.

3. The La’s, “There She Goes”
Amazing to me that the La’s just seemed to vanish after this big breakthrough. The Sixpence None the Richer cover is fine, but I’ll take the original every time.

Am I alone in thinking that vocalist Lee Mavers was kinda doing a Frankie Valli thing when he sings, “And I just can’t contain…”?

1. Elvis Costello, “The Other Side of Summer”
Lead track from Mighty Like a Rose. In many ways this sounds like vintage EC, but the string is just about played out: he’d chart with only one more single in the U.S. after this (1994’s “13 Steps Lead Down”).

Not what Costello was on about, but: here we are, on one side of summer 2021; what will we learn by the time we reach the other?

I Hardly Know What To Say

Buddy, just a couple of months after we took him in.

There have been a few times these last few months when I’ve wanted to write but just haven’t found the necessary motivation. Now that the school year is over, I’m hopeful that my muse will return, at least partially. In an attempt to clear the decks, here are abbreviated versions of three posts that have been tossing around my head for a while. The month and title I intended for each are included; only on the third one had I made some meaningful progress earlier. You might detect a recurring theme.

February: I’ll Be Your Sister If You’ll Be My Brother

For my 27th birthday in 1991, Greg and Katie gave me a guinea pig. I’d been hanging out in their apartment regularly for about a year by this point (unrelated but almost interesting fact: their landlord was Alison Krauss’s father), and Pig—their guinea pig—had caught my attention from the get-go. This was the year I had an apartment to myself, so I guess they figured I could stand the company.

She was adorable, with a cute crest of white fur on the top of her head spraying out in all directions. As I hustled her and her carrier into the back seat of my car, I looked down and told her, “It’s just you and me now.” That was approximately the title of a song from Kirsty MacColl’s Kite, and so my new, nervous companion was immediately christened Kirsty.

Taken in my apartment in Lexington, so most likely 1993.

Guinea pigs frequently don’t live all that long; I had Kirsty for just over four years, a little more than half of which was after I’d moved back to KY. On a Friday in March of 1995, I came home from work to find her lying awkwardly toward the front of her cage. She was still alive, but something catastrophic—likely a stroke—had clearly happened. Alarmed, I opened the door, she (as was typical) tried to scramble away from me, I picked her up, and then held her as she died. (Guinea pigs aren’t loving pets, but I’ve always wondered if she’d somehow purposely held on until I returned.) I’d been dating Martha for only a few weeks at this point; I don’t think we’d made plans to get together that night, but I soon called her, and she offered what comfort she could over the phone. I wrapped Kirsty up, placed her in a shoebox, and buried her at the end of my driveway (there was no garage at that house). I wasn’t without a pet for long, though, as a stray cat and her kittens entered my life that summer.

March: There’ll Be (More Than) One Child Born

Chris Leverenz, a retired colleague, passed away at the end of February. While we didn’t socialize together outside of work, over the years we became good friends and confidants. She was my department chair from 1999-2010; many was the time I’d wander down to her office toward the end of the day to seek advice on how to handle some issue that’d arisen in one of my classes. We traveled together to several national conferences, usually when our department was hiring—driving to New Orleans in 2006 and DC in 2009, flying to San Francisco in 2010 and Boston in 2012. Some of our best conversations occurred on those trips. I miss her terribly.

Chris retired in 2017, not long after she discovered that the breast cancer she’d suffered more than a decade earlier (and thought she’d beaten) had returned and gone metastatic. We held a reception for her one Friday afternoon that April; I coordinated with the Alumni Office to get invitations out to alums, particularly those who’d majored in math, computer science, or elementary education, the main points of contact with students over her 35 years of service. It was a glorious event, one of the very best, most memorable occasions in my time at Georgetown.

The day Chris died, I learned that a good friend from church had become a grandmother again just the day before. Not long after, that line from Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die” popped into my head. The theology in the song didn’t match Chris’s remotely, but the thought of others carrying on one’s work has long been a powerful one for me. Touching, heartfelt tributes were many on Georgetown’s Alumni Facebook page after the news broke. It was abundantly clear from them (as it was in the appreciative notes I’d gotten via email four years earlier from alums who weren’t able to attend the retirement reception) that Chris had left a rich legacy, especially in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms scattered across Kentucky.

But there’s one other thing. Earlier in the day of her passing (a Thursday), a tenure-track offer went out to the first-choice candidate for a math position in our department—Chris’s position, one that we’d largely bridged in the intervening four years with a visitor. That offer was accepted on Friday afternoon.

April: American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/24/76: Henry Gross, “Shannon”

Our dog Buddy has really slowed down over the last year. His hind legs have gotten steadily weaker, so much so that negotiating stairs has become almost impossible. Falls are increasingly frequent, and he can’t always get himself up after he’s been lying down for a while. In recent months, walks around our neighborhood have gotten shorter and shorter; he’s now pretty much limited to our yard. There are signs of doggie dementia or some neurological disorder—he’ll sometimes wander around in a restless, almost manic state, unable to settle, and when he’s not sacked out from exhaustion, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. His appetite is still strong, though he occasionally changes his mind abruptly about what he’s willing to eat.

When I was 8 or 9, my sister and I begged for a dog. Frisky came into our lives one summer (Amy thinks it was 1973, but I still wonder if it was ’74).

The date on the back says June 1978.
No date, but I’d guess 1974 or 1975; note the milk box on the porch.

She was a beagle mix, about a year old. At first, we kept her outside, chained overnight to a tree with a doghouse to shelter her as needed. (She was often loose during the day, which occasionally led to trouble, including once digging up a portion of our next-door neighbor’s garden.) Eventually, she moved indoors, but Dad wasn’t about to let her have the run of the house. So, she lived in our basement, confined to the larger, unfinished half. Without the opportunity to run up and down the street as in her younger days, Frisky gained a lot of weight. I’m saddened and rather ashamed looking back now at how little attention I gave her through my high school years—she plays virtually no role in my memories from that time. My mother wound up being the one who mostly took care of her.

When my parents moved to Florence in September of 1983, Frisky was relegated to the garage. I was living my best life as a sophomore in college then, and my sister had just left the nest herself. It may be a mercy that Frisky soon developed kidney issues serious enough to warrant putting her down. I was certainly sad when Mom and Dad told me about her demise, but it took time to realize how much I’d ignored her, how miserable I suspect she was.

The #18 song on 4/24/76 was “Shannon,” a song Henry Gross wrote about Carl Wilson’s then-recently deceased Irish Setter; it’d been killed after being hit by a car (that story had been relayed by Casey on the previous week’s show—by coincidence, Gross also had an Irish Setter named Shannon). The song climbed as high as #6, which is where it was the week I began my charting odyssey. It’s one of many tunes that transports me back to the spring I fell in love with AT40.

On the 9/14/85 show, Walt in Cincinnati wrote in with a Long Distance Dedication request for his two daughters, who were struggling over the recent loss of their dog Snuggles. Of course, Walt asked Casey to play “Shannon.” It would be a couple of years before news (as well as audio evidence) leaked about the profanity-laced tirade Kasem went on the first time he tried to read Walt’s letter—he was most unhappy having to transition to it from the bouncy Pointer Sisters’ song “Dare Me.” Casey makes it sound like this wasn’t the first time his staff had scripted the show in such a fashion. It’s out there on YouTube for the curious.

We don’t know how old Buddy is. Come August, we’ll have had him for eight years, and he was at least five or six when he arrived on our scene. There are lots of things he used to do that I miss: rolling over on his back for tummy rubs, playing ‘sock’ in the basement or backyard (he’d chase and semi-retrieve it for a treat), howling when sirens rang out while he was laying on the deck (his hearing is fairly shot now). He’s never been one to cuddle, but after a few years with us, we gained enough trust from him that he would climb the stairs in the middle of the night to lay on the floor in our bedroom—that happens no more, either.

We know the day is coming when he won’t be able to support himself well enough to get up, even with help, or walk around on his own. Until then, he’s getting special add-ins with his meals, extra treats on occasion, and lots of patience and love.

Forgotten Albums: Brazil Classics 3: Forró Etc./Music of the Brazilian Northeast

If the 1980s were in part about bringing African music and rhythms to greater attention in the Western world (Remain in Light and Graceland, of course, but don’t sleep on Johnny Clegg’s work with Juluka and Savuka, or The Indestructible Beat of Soweto), then the early 90s brought Brazil’s turn to the spotlight. Once again, Paul Simon and David Byrne were among those facilitating the effort. Recently I listened to The Rhythm of the Saints for the first time in a good while; I’d forgotten how deeply those songs had seeped into my bones thirty years ago. It took a little longer for the some of the disks in the Byrne-curated Brazil Classics series to find spots in my collection. Two of them–the first (Beleza Tropical) and the third (Forró Etc.: Music of the Brazilian Northeast) in the series–found particular favor with me, the latter especially. The back cover of Forró Etc. notes, “This is party music…from people who’ve been through hard times…” My recent experiences are not remotely comparable, but I’m still in the mood to celebrate the end of a trying academic year, so let’s fire up the accordion and get moving.

Luiz Gonzaga was most responsible for popularizing Northeast Brazilian music to much of his fellow countryfolk. His career began in the early 1940s; he passed away at age 76 in 1989. Gonzaga has three solo credits and a duet among Forró Etc.‘s eighteen tracks. The disk’s opener is the groovy “O Fole Roncou” (“The Bellows Roared”), recorded in 1973.

Gal Costa’s “Festa do Interior” (I think you can translate this yourself, at least approximately) was a big hit in Brazil in the early 1980s, and understandably so.

Jose Domingos, better known as Dominguinhos, was (according to Wikipedia) a protegé of Gonzaga as a teenager, and in many ways was Gonzaga’s successor as the leader of the forró movement. He appears three times on the album (one of those as a duet). You might have already sussed out that “Querubim” means “Cherub.”

Dominguinhos died in the summer of 2013.

“O Sucesso da Zefinha” (“Little Zefa’s Success”), written and performed by Anastácia, is another excellent example of how this music makes you want to jump up and dance.

“Asa Branca” (“White Wing”) was co-written by Gonzaga in 1947 and is recorded here by his son Luiz Jr., under the name Gonzaguinha. The subject matter–extreme heat and drought, according to the translation in the liner notes–doesn’t synch up at all with the joy of the performance. I’ve long held this is my favorite song on the album.

Gonzaguinha was tragically killed in an auto accident at age 45 in 1991, just about the time this compilation was released.

Jackson do Pandeiro was another leading light of the Northeastern movement. “Chiclete com Banana” dates back to 1960; he had also already passed on (July 1982) by the time Byrne was putting together this compilation.

Not much out there about João do Vale, but his song “Estrela Miúda” (“Little Star”) seems to be moderately well-known.

Eleven more delights await if you find you want to seek Brazil Classics 3 out–it’s great stuff, and I certainly enjoy circling back to it with some frequency.

Stereo Review In Review: May 1978

At fourteen, I was evidently too young to appreciate, to virtually any extent, music outside of what I heard on Top 40 radio. Forty-three years later, the education continues…

Articles
Loft Jazz, by Chris Albertson
Albertson chronicles the developing jazz scene in NYC as it migrated from 52nd Street to lofts in the SoHo district near Greenwich Village, and surveys a five-LP recent release called Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions.

How to Read a Record Jacket, by Steve Simels
Dripping with sarcasm, Simels attempts to decode the significance of all the terminology in liner notes, as their length had exploded over the past decade. Here are two snippets that give you a taste. 1) Producer: “All in all, however, be he hack, artiste, skilled technician, or visionary, his basic function is to sit in the control room and nod knowingly after the musicians have finished a take.” 2) Background Vocals: “This particularly odious form of cronyism was originally pioneered by Stephen Stills, who once not only recorded a chorus consisting of David Crosby, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, John Sebastian, and Mama Cass Elliot, but somehow managed to get all to sound like clones of himself.”

This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance. There’s lots to cover, so let’s get to it.

Best of the Month
–Art Garfunkel, Watermark (PR) “Garfunkel has exactly the right spare, intelligent vocal style for (Jimmy) Webb’s intense, deeply felt lyrics and the nonchalant but enormously secure musicianship the elusive music demands.”
–Gordon Lightfoot, Endless Wire (NC) “…his rockingest album yet…(h)is songwriting is everywhere crafty and in spots exceptionally bright.”
–Jay McShann, The Last of the Blue Devils (CA) “…certainly among the last of a vanishing breed of musicians whose performances are designed to stir the soul and make the feet stomp…”

Recordings of Special Merit
Pop/Rock/Soul/Country:
–Blossom Dearie, Winchester in Apple Blossom Time (PR) “Like a new book by Jean Rhys or a new sculpture by Louise Nevelson, a new album from Blossom is a welcome reminder that there is still civilized, urbane life on this planet…” Maybe like me, you know Dearie best as the singer of “Figure Eight” or “Unpack Your Adjectives”—seems it’s high time I diversify that portfolio. (Schoolhouse Rock asides: I have it in my head that “Figure Eight” was the first of those shorts I ever saw—it was almost certainly my introduction to the infinity symbol. And it’s interesting enough that a little calculus knowledge is used in “Unpack Your Adjectives” as a sign of being brainy.)

–Al Green, The Belle Album (PG) “Admittedly, some of his recent albums have bogged down in banality, but he has broken out of that slump with this one, which should rank among his finest…ironically, the most danceable tracks are the more religious ones.”
–Anne Murray, Let’s Keep It That Way (NC) “Thematically, the album is not focused at all, but sonically (producer Jim Ed) Norman has pointed everything toward the clear and beautiful tones Anne Murray makes.”
–Roomful of Blues, S/T (JV) “…like most rhythm-and-blues combos of the era they re-create, Roomful of Blues combines barrel-house slugging power with a concern for jazz.”

Jazz:
–Double Image, S/T (CA) “…a cross between Balinese music and that of the late Modern Jazz Quartet.”
–Bill Evans, Alone (Again) (CA) “Evans doesn’t just play a tune; he caresses it, embellishes it, and turns it into a new and very personal experience.”
–Charlie Haden, The Golden Number (CA) Four duets, with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and Hampton Hawes.
–Charles Mingus, Three or Four Shades of Blues (CA) “Mingus has never moved with commercial trends…which is one reason his music endures.”

Featured Reviews
–Roberta Flack, Blue Lights in the Basement (PG) “There are some jewel-like moments on it, precious and shimmering, but involvement and depth of feeling seem to be missing almost throughout.”
–Tom T. Hall, New Train—Same Rider and Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson, Waylon & Willie (NC) “Taken together, these albums suggest that country music’s relationship to the world beyond its strongholds is much less predictable now than it was a few years ago…both appeal more to people who don’t know the artists than to people who do.”
The King and I (PK) “…the record so adroitly blends dialogue, ballads, and spectacular choruses that one gets the feeling of attending a real performance rather than of listening to a series of spliced-together excerpts from it.”
Saturday Night Fever (PG) “The music here has an unflagging thrust, yet it is sufficiently varied in style, mood, and instrumentation to transcend the trite strictures commonly associated with disco.”
The Smithsonian Collection (PK) An overview of the first three musical comedy selections in the series: Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, the Gershwins’ Lady, Be Good! (featuring Fred and Adele Astaire), and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
–Muddy Waters, I’m Ready (JV) “Waters proves that whatever the artfulness of the blues—and it is considerable—it derives not from ‘artistic’ pretensions but from professional entertainers’ need to please their audiences.”
–Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy (SS) “…gives you the guitar raunch of the Rolling Stones, the wit and verbal facility of Randy Newman…and some fantasies that make Elvis Costello’s seem as mundane as Barry Manilow’s.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Baby Grand, S/T (JV) “Once in a while it sounds as though a song and a performance are going to amount to something, but…alas, alas, ‘almost’ is a sad and final word.”
–Chet Baker, You Can’t Go Home Again (CA) “Except for one selection, this album is a disappointing, formula-ridden echo of the CTI sound that buried the artistry of so many fine jazz soloists over the past few years.”
–Eric Clapton, Slowhand (NC) “Clapton’s vocals have gotten even craggier and mellower, and I think I wish they were mixed a little louder here…maybe what I really want is for Clapton…to sing out, as in away from one’s own chest, which is where he seems to aim some of this.”
–Randy Crawford, Miss Randy Crawford (JV) “…early Aretha in style and bubbly all the way.”
–Doonesbury’s Jimmy Thudpucker, Greatest Hits (JV) “The album is a satire not only on the superstar figure, eager and kid-pompous song-writing, and the studio world but on the pop music audience itself…but the satire is so accurate that it occasionally becomes what it is intended to ridicule.”
–The Emotions, Sunshine (PG) “This material was apparently pressed by Stax years ago, probably between 1971 and 1974…but (it) sounds amazingly fresh.”
–Judy Garland, The Wit and Wonder of Judy Garland (PK) “It all makes one miss Judy Garland even more, for in her untranquilized moments she was not only a clever woman but a very funny one.”
–Leif Garrett, S/T (PR) “As is usual in most such cases, voice and technique are almost nonexistent, but the production by Mike Lloyd is as artful and cosmetic as a pimple pencil.”
–Andrew Gold, All This and Heaven Too (SS) “…indefensible, a totally tuneless exercise that seems to exist for no other reason than to allow him to demonstrate a bit of a Beatles fetish.”
–Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten-Cent Town (NC) “The slant I have on (this album) is that too many of (the songs) she chose for it suit her image rather than challenging her to grow as a singer. But she is growing anyway. And she is already one of the best.”
–Rupert Holmes, Pursuit of Happiness (NC) “Altogether—and the melodies, arrangements, and soft-spoken vocals do this more than the lyrics—Pursuit of Happiness seems much too accepting of the Way It Is to be coming from the kind of intellect Holmes apparently has.”
–The Jam, This Is the Modern World (SS) “There are, after all, plenty of windy bores on the side of the angels. The Jam isn’t quite that bad, but, with two albums down, it’s beginning to look like they will be.”
–Taj Mahal, Evolution (The Most Recent) (JV) “At times in his various recordings, Mahal has seemed alienated from his listeners and resentful of having to perform for them…In Evolution he’s an entertainer.”
–Meco, Encounters of Every Kind (Edward Buxbaum) “It’s like dancing through a space-time travelogue, for these are very ‘visual’ cuts, with the various settings evoked by appropriate music and sound effects.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/17/86: Phil Collins, “Take Me Home”

Saturday’s attendees, as we appeared in Transy’s first-year student lookbook in 1982. We weren’t arranged this way on my version of the Zoom call.

This is my year for a college reunion (the 35th, if you must know), but, like essentially every other event these days, scheduling something formal has been a challenge. Once the vaccine rollout began gaining steam, my alma mater elected to move Alumni Weekend away from its traditional spring spot on the calendar (Transy doesn’t have a football team), pushing it this year near the end of October. I’m hoping to go.

Back in January, before any such planning had taken place, I’d floated the idea to a few of my classmates over email about holding a virtual mini-reunion in the spring. I brought it back up with one of them in mid-March, and she and I began working on an invitee list and thinking about possible dates. This past Saturday evening, nine folks from the Class of ’86 climbed into our little boxes on Zoom to catch up and share memories (a tenth was unable to make it).

I had a lot of fun over those two-plus hours, even if it wasn’t quite as lively as maybe I’d hoped it would be (given the format and the lofty percentage of introverts among us, that can’t be much of a surprise, though). We shared college-era photos and scans of artifacts, talked about kids and pets, reminisced about classes we’d taken together, profs we’d had, and so on, and so on. The nostalgia was there, but I don’t think any of us were letting it define who we were that night. For me, our 30th gathering five years ago was an inflection point of sorts in renewing some friendships, and my hope is that this event will further that along. We lived in close proximity during a formative period; while we still share that—or at least, what we now remember of it—advancing years and the ever-growing awareness of the finitude of my days make me want to circle back to these old friends and better see what we’ve become (currently three academics, an accountant at a university, a psychiatrist, a home-schooling mom, a retired state employee, an environmental lawyer, and an IT specialist; the one who couldn’t attend is a general practitioner), how we got there, and maybe what we can still learn about ourselves and each other.

(Much of the above may sound anodyne but believe you me, I’m happy that folks want to keep in touch. It was a great time in my life, but I think plenty about mistakes I made then, both social and academic, about how immature I was in various respects. I want to believe I’ve grown—including learning to cut myself some slack—but I’m not the best one to judge that.)

Quite a few of us had been involved with WTLX, so I don’t stand out as the Top 40 music geek with this crowd in quite the same way I do with my high school friends. I did share a picture of one of our posters, and Kevin, the station manager for three years, reminded us about the Top 57 countdown of favorites—as voted on by the student body—we ran our sophomore year (WTLX’s frequency was 570 AM; he promised me he’d forward me that list, which I’m a little surprised I don’t already have).

When I sent out a reminder email last Wednesday, I remarked upon the coincidence that the weekend’s AT40 rebroadcast would be 5/17/86, just a week before our graduation (perhaps unsurprisingly, I also included a list of the week’s Top 10). As it happens, one of the photos shared on Saturday night, with eight of the nine of us in it, had been taken that very day: all too aware of our impending scattering, we’d driven down, along with a couple of friends a year behind us, to my roommate James’s house for a cookout/picnic.

Most of us plus a few others four years later, on 5/17/86. Picture taken by James’s mother, courtesy of Angela Ray.

There may have been a volleyball game or two; I do know that later on, we drove to the nearby road sign that marks the original site of our institution.

“Take Me Home,” the fourth single from No Jacket Required, was sitting at its peak of #7 then, the second of its three weeks there. Phil wasn’t singing about reliving the glories of college, and I can’t even tell what he doesn’t remember. But Transy was home, and felt like home, for the better part of four years. By 5/17/86, I was ready to move on to the next phase. As far as letting my thoughts drift back there now and again these days, though—well, I don’t mind.

Dad’s 45s, Part 12: Back Where We Started

We’ve reached the bottom of the stack of singles I found among my father’s effects. It’s been a fun ride, and I’ve learned some things about decades-old songs, popular artists of long ago, and maybe Dad, too. I started eleven months ago with a few big hits from what I tend to think of as the golden era (late 50s/early 60s) of IRH-approved tunes; as the end neared, it felt right to have the final installment feature some rockin’ songs from that same period. In chronological order:

Gary U.S. Bonds, “New Orleans” (#6, November 1960)

Two of the artists today were also featured in Part 1. “New Orleans” was the first hit for Gary U.S. Bonds. Boy, is it a smokin’ hot track.

Dion, “The Wanderer” (#2, February 1962)

Is there a more brazen case in rock music of the double standard applied to the behavior of men and women than Dion’s back-to-back hits of “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”? (Dad paid no mind, ranking the former at #23 on his list of all-time favorites, the latter at #36.) Maybe it’s not such a shock that they were written by the same man (co-written with DiMucci in the case of “Sue”); as you can see above, it was…

Ernie Maresca, “Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)” (#6, May 1962)

Maresca wrote a few other hits, but this was the only time he charted as a performer (and he actually sings precious little on it, leaving a lot to the backups). If this had been written ten, even five, years later, would one have still yelled “loud and swell”?

Chris Montez, “Let’s Dance” (#4, October 1962)

Montez had five Top 40 hits, four of them middle-of-the-road numbers in 1966. The other was the biggest, the decidedly more uptempo “Let’s Dance.” The organ really makes this one go. (And now you know the address of the house we lived in when I was born.)

The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ Safari” (#14, October 1962)

Growing up, I favored this one over “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Dad did, too: he had “Safari” at #14 on his hit parade, while “U.S.A.” clocked in at #37.

Joey Dee and the Starliters, “Hot Pastrami and Mashed Potatoes (Part 1)” (#36, June 1963)

We wrap up Part 12, as we did Part 1, with a jaunty little number from Joey Dee. This sleeve is fascinating, with class from Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, Murray the K pitching ‘golden gassers’ of (in some cases) just five years previous, and How to Strip for Your Husband: Music to Make Your Marriage Merrier. I must say I didn’t expect the last history lesson on this journey to be focused on Ann Corio, a burlesque performer of the 20s, 30s and 40s.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the series. I guess, though, this isn’t quite the final installment; next month, a postscript.

Charting Out Marches and Aprils of Yesteryear

Premiere went heavy on March shows from the Charting Years (TM pending), light on April. Like last time, there’s a one-of-a-kind chart amongst what I have to share, and it leads things off.

3/5/77
The basement at our house in Walton was divided into two. The “finished” half (on the left as you faced the house) wasn’t carpeted, but it got plenty of use over the years. On the back wall, to the left of a sliding glass door that led to the back yard, was a bed for company (primarily my Great Aunt Birdie). Along the front wall was Dad’s stereo system (turntable/receiver/reel-to-reel/speakers) as well as a couple of cabinets that housed his LPs; a couch faced the stereo, and we had a giant spiral woven rug on the floor in between (that rug is now in my office at school). My father kept an office area of sorts on the side wall, primarily a desk and a small, metal rolling table with drop leaves on which he kept an electric typewriter, a Smith-Corona with a dark green base. While I wouldn’t learn to type until the beginning of 1981, there were a couple of notable encounters with the machine prior to that. One was pulling an all-nighter on a research paper about Greek mathematicians for my geometry class in the spring of 1980; the other, as you can see, was the time I labored over an AT40.

Quirks galore, particularly going ALL CAPS sporadically (the misspelling of the last word in the title of Kansas’s hit, though, was a persistent error through more than half its chart run). I was fascinated by the typewriter back then; however, I suspect the amount of time I spent hunting-and-pecking on this one chart ensured the result was a one-off.

Hello/Goodbye: Enchantment and Deniece Williams each make their first appearance.

3/13/82
I believe it was the Saturday before this that I’d been crowned “Mr. FBLA” at our regional conference, which earned me the right to compete at the state level later in the spring (spoiler: it was a fait accompli that the state President would win there). Random memory: during the talent show at the regional, a couple of girls from another high school did a dance routine to #26 on this chart (which may have been the only time back then I heard it other than on the show).

Hello/Goodbye: First go-round for Prism. Last go-round for Chilliwack and Skyy.

Here are my thoughts at the time:

If one were to rank one’s favorite Air Supply songs, “Sweet Dreams” would be a strong contender for the top slot on my list. “Abacab” and “Love Is Alright Tonite” are long gone from the show, but I’ve got no issue whatsoever with them still hanging around.

3/21/81
We’re seeing more of the wave of tunes that rocked the spring of my junior year coming ashore: #34, #32, #15, and (my favorite now) #14; there’d be several more on the show within three weeks.

This is not the only time this month we’re going to see mention of Chris Montez.

Hello/Goodbye: “Lover Boy” bows in, while it’s sayonara to Tierra, Leo Sayer, and Delbert McClinton.

And you don’t get 1981 without having my tastes at the time foist upon you.

Cougar, April Wine, and Winwood are at #41, #40, and #26, respectively. They’d all be in the top 10 by early May.

3/25/78
When I heard #40 playing during the rebroadcast a few weeks ago, I immediately remembered that I’d misheard its title 43 years prior. I even saw this chart in my head, including the subsequent correction of “Imagine Every Lover.”

Hello/Goodbye: Nobody new; I’m not going to say this is it for Garfunkel, since he and Simon made the show with “Wake Up Little Susie” four years hence.

4/28/79
How did you spell Voudouris upon first hearing it? I didn’t get the second word of the Iron Horse song right in any of its three weeks on the show (it’s “Lui”).

The LDDs were touching and ridiculous, respectively, both from teenage males. The Manilow dedication was to a friend of the writer who’d been in a bad auto accident, had temporarily lost her sight, and was now shutting herself away from the world to prevent something similar from happening again. The other writer was angling to get Ladd to go to the prom with him.

Hello/Goodbye: Saying howdy to the first three acts on the show (put an asterisk on the three former Byrds if you wish). Waving bye-bye to Bell and James.

I don’t have a late April 1979 sheet from WKRQ, so something from earlier in the month will have to do. It does end a several-month gap in my collection; the previous one is from late November of 1978. This is one of the few I have that lists forty songs. It’s interesting to see a few songs that didn’t make AT40 here (Toto, Thorogood, Ronstadt, Clifford), but I have to wonder why they relegated the Village People, Sister Sledge, and the Jacksons to the Extras list.

That’s quite a mix of acts in town that month.

Songs Casey Never Played, 4/28/79

Last time I checked in on songs that couldn’t crack the code to get played on AT40, it was all about stuff I hadn’t heard before. We’re pretty much going back to the same well in this episode.

#96. Space, “My Love Is Music”
Nope, it’s not the UK band that struck with “Female of the Species” in 1996–instead it’s a French collective doing ‘space disco,’ already on their third LP. It’s debuting, and would reach #60 in short order.

#95. Liquid Gold, “My Baby’s Baby”
Let’s stay out on the dance floor with another song in its first week, though we’ve moved across the Channel to Northamptonshire. This sextet wound up with a couple of UK Top 10 hits. “My Baby’s Baby” was released only on this side of the Atlantic, would shoot up to #45 by early June and then dive off the chart from that peak position.

#91. The Fabulous Poodles, “Mirror Star”
In my perusal of Stereo Review magazines from this period I’ve seen these Brits featured a time or two; kinda thinking I should do some more investigation. Is this New Wave? I don’t know, but it is a pretty clever meditation on a misfit kid who becomes a rock idol in his bedroom.

#84. Orsa Lia, “I Never Said I Loved You”
Not much out there about Lia (signing to the doomed Infinity label didn’t help); Wikipedia says she’s from Virginia. It’s not a bad little ballad; reminds me of two or three songs from this period (but don’t ask me to try to name them right now). “I Never Said I Love You” was co-written by Hal David and originally recorded by Barbara Mandrell. This would be as high as it would get.

#67. Ian Matthews, “Gimme an Inch”
Penned by Robert Palmer, first appearing on his album Pressure Drop. It’s the lead track from Stealin’ Home and was Matthews’s follow-up single to “Shake It.” Another one that didn’t climb any higher.

#53. Nicolette Larson, “Rhumba Girl”
Shame on me for not learning about this delight until now. “Lotta Love” is one of my absolute faves from the opening months of 1979, and this Jesse Winchester tune is a worthy followup. Somehow only made it to #47.

#49. Ray Stevens, “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow”
We’ll end on a note of levity, one that pretty well hits its target (and I say that as someone who likes plenty of Manilow). I actually did hear this a time or two way back when, and was probably slightly disappointed that it topped out here.

Stereo Review In Review: April 1984

At this juncture, SR was in the process of giving itself a design makeover. This turned out to be the final issue to include Recordings of Special Merit; featured reviews were also about to become much less of a thing. What were the last albums to get the RSM designation? You’re about to find out.

Articles
–The Compact Disc Bandwagon, by Christie Barter
EMI is now issuing CDs! And RCA is the first to put out a new album simultaneously on LP, cassette, and CD (the Eurythmics’ Touch).

–Musicals on Video, by Louis Meredith
New home-release tapes of A Star Is Born (Garland/Mason edition), A Hard Day’s Night, and (of all things) Heaven’s Gate get the thumbs-up from LM.

This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance. We also have Video Reviews from Meredith, even though he still appears to be a free-lancer at this point.

Best of the Month
–Debbie Campbell, Two Hearts (AN) “…serves not only as a showcase for Campbell’s impressive talents as a singer-songwriter but also as a sampling of the evolving ‘Tulsa Sound’…a stylish integration of country, blues, and rock.”
–The Parachute Club, S/T (MP) “…perhaps the first rock band of the Eighties to fuse an articulate social awareness, almost old-fashioned in its sincerity, with dance music as contemporary as Boy George.”
–The Pretenders, Learning to Crawl (MP) “Although (the album) seems almost mercilessly fixed on the tragic—aging, infidelity, loneliness, desertion, pain, decay—it’s not the ordeal you’d expect. Hynde manages to sidestep self-pity and seize upon a steely, passionate perceptiveness.” There’s a much less aggressive posture here than in their excellent debut disk, but LtC is easily my favorite Pretenders album.

Recordings of Special Merit
–The Everly Brothers, Reunion Concert (JV) Recorded at the Royal Albert Hall on 9/23/83. “Their vocal harmonies and attack are as crisp as ever, and their genial professionalism is infectious.”
–Stéphane Grappelli and Marc Fosset, Stephanova (JV) “(Grappelli’s) playing is as sturdy but intricate as a stained-glass design, and equally as colorful. Fosset, who plays with a touch of (Django) Reinhardt but does not imitate him, supports and complements Grappelli with a frisky delicacy.”
–John Hiatt, Riding with the King (SS) “The songs here will probably remind you of the early Elvis Costello because, apart from the obvious similarity in their voices, Hiatt too has a flair for word play, a good eye for the details of contemporary culture, and an attitude toward relationships that might be described as cautiously cynical. He’s a lot funnier than Costello, however…”
–Patti LaBelle, I’m in Love Again (PG) “This album has plenty for those who already like Patti LaBelle and even more for those aren’t certain that she appeals to their taste.”
–U2, Under a Blood Red Sky (MP) “What comes across (about The Edge’s work) in the studio as a powerful but primitive technique is transformed here…into something nearly archetypal—fiercely rhythmic, clean, agile…(This album) reveals U2 as a band capable of performances that match the intensity of their music.”
–Jane Voss and Hoyle Osborne, Pullin’ Through (AN) “…more than just a deftly concocted mood-brightener—it’s a hot toddy for the soul.” There’s very little of Voss and Osborne on YouTube, so I took matters into my own hands: last week I went on eBay and purchased this LP as well as their previous album Get to the Heart (which had received a Best of the Year Honorable Mention in the February 1982 issue). I guess I’d classify them as retro, as in 1910s-30s retro. There’s a small band to accompany Osborne on piano and Voss on guitar (she does 80-90% of the singing, too). After one listen, I’d say Get to the Heart is the better album; how much you like either of them depends largely on how Voss’s voice strikes you. It’s entertaining stuff, but I think she over-stylizes at times, more often on Pullin’ Through. I don’t regret the purchases, however.

Featured Reviews
–Ian Anderson, Walk into Light (MP) “…rates as the musical shock of the year so far: Ian Anderson’s return from hysteria, brain intact.”
–Dick Hyman, Kitten on the Keys: The Music of Zez Confrey (JV) “(Hyman) plays the pieces with respect and good-natured understanding. Neither overly serious nor excessively frisky, he interprets Zez Confrey as a fully formed musician, which is what he was.”
–John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Milk and Honey and Heart Play: Unfinished Dialogue (MP) “The picture of Lennon that emerges is that of…a cowed husband sitting around in his pajamas, chin propped sadly into his palm, stirring his coffee and sighing into the late afternoon…Yoko Ono’s contributions are far more interesting, probably because…you don’t expect too much.”
–The Pointer Sisters, Break Out (PG) “The sound is enhanced by synthesizers and electronic everything, but the music overrides the gimmickry thanks to the songs’ captivating immediacy.”
–Larry Willoughby, Building Bridges (AN) Cousin Rodney Crowell produced this. “Willoughby is not nearly the poetic writer that Crowell is, but unlike so many others who operate in the mainstream of country music, he never allows his work to veer into cloying sentimentality.”
–PolyGram Re-releases Jazz Classics (CA) Albertson looks at albums from Holiday, Basie/Fitzgerald, and Gillespie, as well as an all-star affair recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl. All were originally released on the Verve label.

Other Disks Reviewed
–Irene Cara, What a Feelin’ (PG) “The best thing about this album is the cover photo of Cara, who is much lovelier than anything she sings here.”
–Duran Duran, Seven and the Ragged Tiger (CA) “Not only does one track sound like the next, but the whole album sounds like something you’ve heard before.”
–Echo and the Bunnymen, S/T (SS) “Only the truly superlative modern production clues you that you’re not listening to your big brother’s scratchy old Iron Butterfly records.”
–Larry Elgart, Hooked on Swing (PR) “Elgart still plays masterly saxophone…but I would prefer to hear him employ his talents without needless retro trappings.”
–Moby Grape, S/T (SS) “This album is a collection of extremely uninspired Seventies country-rock…could just as easily be Firefall or the Little River Band or any number of similar nonentities.”
–38 Special, Tour de Force (MP) “…further indication of its assimilation into the AOR mainstream…there’s a sameness, a generic quality…that caters to the unadventurous ear.”
–Utopia, Oblivion (JV) “…(Rundgren’s) humor here is, for the most part, so self-absorbed and morose that it’s not effective even as a black joke.”
–Luther Vandross, Busy Body (PG) “The trouble with this album, as with his two previous releases, is that he has relied too heavily on the least of his gifts (composing). It reaches true creative heights only when he is singing songs written by others.”

Video Reviews
–Elton John, Visions (LM) “…I’m happy to report that Elton’s goony charm remains intact throughout, but the songs simply do not support all the production gloss.”
Jazz in America (CA) [Featured Review] A look at somewhat recent releases from Dizzy Gilespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Max Roach.
Making Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (LM) [Recording of Special Merit] “… this is an exciting release. For one thing, it doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. More important, Jackson comes off less as a performer than a force of nature..”
–The Men of Chippendales, Muscle Motion (LM) “Ostensibly, this is just another one of those workout programs…but it could turn out to the sleeper comedy video of the year.”
–Rod Stewart, Tonight He’s Yours (LM) “…doesn’t even have much to recommend it on the technical level. Stewart’s not in good voice, the shooting is routine or worse, and the sound suggests an unmixed off-the-board feed.”

Here are three of the tracks from Two Hearts. This is not Glen’s daughter, who spells her name Debby. Campbell passed away from cancer in early 2004. Could be another eBay purchase soon.

The Parachute Club lasted for a couple more albums before parting ways. This was a top 10 hit in Canada in the middle of 1983.

The story goes that Confrey was inspired by a literal kitten skittering across the piano.
One of the true highlights from Learning to Crawl. Bracing television performance here–wish I’d seen Chrissy in concert way back when.