WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 3, Song 7

Note: This series originally appeared on Facebook in a slightly different form, Aug-Sept 16.

Here’s another album rock staple of the early 80s from another Midwestern band (this time from Michigan). I’m not sure I ever heard anything else by them. Certainly brings back to mind those high school days, though. It reached #52 in late 80.

From The Archives: The King of Rock and Roll

A few disconnected reflections on the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis A(a)ron Presley:

1.  I have a memory–accurate or not–of how I heard about Elvis’ death. I was 13-and-a-half years old. We weren’t back in school yet–I was soon to enter 8th grade. What I see in my mind’s eye is riding in the car with my mother and my sister. Once we were old enough, Amy and I fought over who would get to sit in the front seat with Mom on out-of-town trips. At some point we came to the sensible compromise that one of us rode shotgun on the way out, the other on the way back. My recollection is that as the older child, I got first dibs on the front seat, but maybe Amy has a better memory about that.

So, we’re in the car (a blue 70 Ford Fairlane Torino), heading south on US 25 between Florence and Walton (I visualize it as around the intersection with Industrial Road), listening as we did in those days to 1360 WSAI. It’s a late Tuesday afternoon, and it’s hot. I believe that car didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows would have been down, and I probably would have been in the back seat.   When the DJ broke the news about his death, it was quite a surprise, but really, I was too young and not cognizant enough of his historical role to mourn. While I know my dad loved “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” I didn’t grow up listening to lots of Elvis. I’m certain that we heard a ton of his music on the radio over the next few days, though.

2. My grad school officemates were John, Paul, and Will (one of the reasons I went by William in grad school). We shared 123 Altgeld Hall, in the basement, from Jul 87 to Jul 92. I don’t exactly recall how it started, but over those first couple of years we built a shrine of sorts to The King. Of course we had to have a velvet Elvis, which wound up hanging over my desk. Aside from postcard-sized pictures and a commemorative plate, our main source of material was the Weekly World News: some of the featured headlines were “Painting of Elvis Weeps Real Tears,” “Caveman Looked Like Elvis,” “Elvis is Alive!,” “Haunted Elvis Lamp Sings ‘Burning Love’,” “The King Has Lived Many Times Before,” and “Elvis Talks to Me From The Grave” (the WWN had a hard time deciding whether he was truly gone or not). Before we left Illinois, we talked about bundling our collection of “memorabilia” in a manila envelope, lifting one of the tiles of the dropped ceiling and placing it up there as a time capsule of sorts–I think we did that?

ElvisShrine1

ElvisShrine2

3. Over Labor Day weekend in 87 I flew down to Memphis, where my high school friend Bill was working. While there, I did make the pilgrimage to Graceland, taking in the cars, the jungle room, the grave, etc., etc. I’m sure I picked up a thing or two for the shrine. As it was just after the 10-year mark of his passing, I’d lost out on the chance to join the festivities noting that anniversary.

4. Now that I’m older and have some perspective, I can definitely say that my favorite Elvis period is what came right after his 68 Christmas special: “Kentucky Rain,” “In the Ghetto,” and in particular “Suspicious Minds,” the only song I’ve ever done karaoke to. The drugs and the fried-peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches hadn’t really taken their toll yet, and maybe he actually had acquired an ounce or two of maturity by then; I see it as the sweet spot of his career. While I find his very early stuff pretty good, his film career and the flavor of musical kitsch that came with it aren’t anything special to me.

5. He had talent and he had charisma, but Elvis also had very little self-control. It was all too easy to poke fun at him because he didn’t keep it together when he could have had the world on a string. That’s not to take away anything from his musical achievements or his fans, since in the end it really was a loss that he didn’t give himself the chance to make great music in his 40s and beyond.

6. Elvis almost was on the first AT40 chart I recorded: the double-sided “Hurt/For the Heart” dropped off that week from its peak of #28 (“Bohemian Rhapsody” is another one that fell off then). He had two appearances in 77: “Moody Blue/She Thinks I Still Care” (reached #31) was on in February, and “Way Down” was there right before he died–it re-charted in the aftermath (#31 the first time, #18 the second). Out of all the tribute songs that were written immediately following, only one–“The King is Gone” by Ronnie McDowell–made the Top 40, reaching #13. Yes, it’s both saccharine and maudlin, but it’s also honest and from the heart. Elvis, you have been missed.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 3, Song 6

Note: This series originally appeared on Facebook in a slightly different form, Aug-Sept 16.

The accident at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station occurred in late March 79.   Several months later, a series of No Nukes concerts was held at Madison Square Garden and a triple album featuring performances from the shows was subsequently released. It sold reasonably well.

Dan Fogelberg wasn’t a part of these concerts, but it’s clear where his sympathies lie on this song, which also came out toward the end of 79. I’m a little surprised that it doesn’t seem to appear on any of his compilation disks–is it just too dated by its topic? Too political, too preachy? It was sound of this song–the hooks, the passion–and not the lyrics that attracted me.

The pace of nuclear construction in the U.S. certainly took a big hit in the 80s and beyond; I assume the accidents at TMI and Chernobyl and the attendant public concern over safety played important roles in that. However, in June, the first new U.S. nuclear power reactor in 20 years began production in Tennessee. Four additional reactors, all in Georgia and South Carolina, are currently scheduled to come online in the next 3-4 years.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 3, Song 5

Note: This series originally appeared on Facebook in a slightly different form, Aug-Sept 16.

I love the 1976 album Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs. Yes, it’s a little disco-ish, but there are numerous fabulous tracks on it: “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” “Georgia,” “What Do You Want the Girl to Do,” “We’re All Alone,” etc. I’m not ashamed to say it was one of the first albums I ever purchased.

While his follow-up disk stiffed, 1980’s Middle Man spawned a couple of nice hits. It also contained this fun song, another I’m thinking I heard first via album rock stations.

From The Archives: W-V Beta Club, Spring 1982

Sometime after my high school senior yearbook was published, I must have had the opportunity to rummage through the photos they’d taken for it to take what I wanted.  This is one that didn’t make it into the yearbook, for one pretty obvious reason.  At least everyone else in it looks great!

I think the occasion is a year-end induction ceremony for new Beta Club members, even though all but one of the students pictured here was about to graduate.

BetaClubSpring82

SotD: Five Man Electrical Band, “Signs”

Yesterday I served as Worship Leader during our Sunday morning service at First Christian, Georgetown. Part of that job is to issue the invitation to offering, which I did thusly:

Those of you who are my Facebook friends are likely aware that I regularly post there about popular songs from the 70s and 80s. Well, today I have a confession to make, but before I do, it would help for me kinda do a Facebook-like thing about a 70s song.

“Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band, a group from Canada, was a big hit in the summer of 1971. (Some of you a little younger than I might remember instead the cover by the hard rock band Tesla from 1990.) For those of you not familiar with it, the song has a distinctly hippie vibe. Its main conceit is that the narrator is frustrated by signs of exclusion that he sees all around him: they say things like “Long-haired freaky people need not apply,” “Anybody caught trespassin’ will be shot on sight,” and “You got to have a membership card to get inside.” But then, in the last verse, he spots a sign with a different kind of message: “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down, and pray.” When the time for the offering comes, he realizes he “didn’t have a penny to pay,” but he doesn’t let that hold him back, saying, “I got me a pen and a paper, and I made my own little sign. ‘Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ‘bout me, I’m alive and doin’ fine.’” (Show ‘my own little sign,’ fold it, walk over to a deacon, put it in collection plate, return to lectern.)

So, my confession: this isn’t the first time I’ve done what I just did. About 18 months ago, I heard this song on a Sunday morning as I was getting ready to come here. That inspired me: unbeknownst to my wife, right before the offering that day, I got me a pen and paper, made my own little sign, and put it in the plate. I’ve been wondering what the Trustees thought when they came across it counting the money!

And now, my point: as we come to this time in the service, even if we aren’t putting any pennies in the plate as it’s passed today, we can give thanks that God is indeed thinking about us and look inside to consider what kind of sign we might display to reflect those thoughts outward in the coming week. Let us give, and plan to give, with joy.

Here’s to displaying signs of goodwill to those we encounter in the coming days–the world could use much more of that.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 3, Song 4

Note: This series originally appeared on Facebook in a slightly different form, Aug-Sept 16.

In 78, between Animals and The Wall, David Gilmour recorded his first, self-titled, album. A copy of it somehow wound up at WTLX. I believe that this is the first of four consecutive songs that come from albums in the music library we inherited in 83.

I have no recollection of how I came to be familiar with this song–would WEBN have still been playing it in the early 80s? This may be heretical, but I probably like it more than I do anything from Pink Floyd.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 3, Song 3

Note: This series originally appeared on Facebook in a slightly different form, Aug-Sept 16.

Foreigner’s 4 was one of the albums I bought my senior year in high school. My two favorite songs on it these days are probably “Urgent” and “Luanne.” This one is the opening track; for some reason, I still find the lyric, “Having the time of my night life,” which comes near the fadeout, amusing.

American Top 40 PastBlast: 8/18/84

Summer is apparently a great time for hit songs with the word “summer” in the title: “Summer in the City” by Lovin’ Spoonful (in 66), “Summer” by War (76), “Summer Nights” by ON-J and Johnny Revolta (78), “Hot Summer Nights” by Night (79), “First Day of Summer” by Tony Carey (84), “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams (85). Something tells me this is not a coincidence.

Here’s another entry in that pantheon, from three British women, their first big US hit. They had a couple other get to the top 10, most notably a remake of Shocking Blue’s “Venus.” The video is clearly low-budget, but I guess you’ve got to start somewhere. Got to #9; it’s on the way up at #32 here.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 3, Song 2

Note: This series originally appeared on Facebook in a slightly different form, Aug-Sept 16.

I’ve been looking over my playlist, trying to figure out how many band members/artists in this series have passed away so far–after all, it’s been at least 31 years since their recordings were made. To this point, I can think of Gary Richrath (REO), Benjamin Orr (Cars), and Howie Epstein (Heartbreakers)–feel free to remind me of others in the comments if you wish. There are a few big names yet to come, and of course, we’ve got one today.

Glenn Frey had the greatest success of his solo career in 85. This song was wedged in between his #2 hits “The Heat Is On” and “You Belong to the City,” from Beverly Hills Cop and Miami Vice, respectively. My recollection is that it wound up being the basis for a Miami Vice episode. Unfortunately, it looks like the ‘official video’ isn’t available on YouTube. It’s another of the tunes that was in the process of climbing the charts when I made these tapes, on its way to #12.