From The Archives: Papaw

Today is the 115th anniversary of the birth of my mother’s father, Wilbur Russell Houston (funny how I share his initials but none of his names). He grew up in Grant County, attended my place of employment for one year, and in the late 20s graduated from the Eclectic Medical School in Cincinnati. (The term “eclectic medicine” was first used by Transylvania professor Constantine Rafinesque.) In September 1927 he married Lucille Barton Haskell; they had three daughters, my mother being the middle child. He became a family physician and volunteered for the U.S. Army during WWII, spending about a year toward the end of the war at a medical camp in the Phillipines. He returned to family practice afterward until 1966, when he moved to Eastern Kentucky University to serve as the head of their medical services. Upon retirement in 1973, he moved back to the iconic “old stone house” on US 42 just north of downtown Union, KY (they’d purchased it in the mid 50s). He loved to tend to his gardens and fruit trees there. Toward the end of his life he suffered from macular degeneration. Even though his sight had dimmed, it seemed like he never met a stranger.

On a personal level, one could say I owe him my life–he was the one who introduced my parents to each other! My dad was one of his patients, and one Sunday in 1961, he elected to take my grandmother and mother to Bromley Christian Church, where Dad was pastoring. They took Dad out to lunch after the service; a first date soon ensued, and the rest is history. I have many fond memories from my youth of being at “the farm,” as we called it–holiday family gatherings, picking blackberries, learning to drive his Cub Cadet tractor. He is certainly at the center of many of those! Happy birthday, Papaw.


WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 2, Song 5

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

In the mid-80s I opined that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers might one day be on the short list for the best rock bands evah. I’m pretty sure that didn’t come to pass, but they had lots of quality stuff. Long After Dark doesn’t have my all-time favorite TP&tH songs on it, but it’s plenty solid and it wound up with two other songs on my mix tapes (“Straight Into Darkness” and “Deliver Me”). Here it’s its second single, which got to #21 in early 83.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 2, Song 4

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

If you asked me to fill in the blank for the statement, “The band you most associate with your college years is _____________,” I’d be pretty tempted to say Talking Heads. For my 20th birthday, just a few days after getting on the U2 and Marshall Crenshaw trains, I received Fear of Music from my roommate James (thanks, mon!). From there, it was on: I’m fairly sure that within a year I had their first five albums. I’d been thinking lately that the first two disks haven’t held up all that well over time, but I’m reconsidering this view after hearing “New Feeling” from Talking Heads: 77 just last week in Kroger (!!). Fear of Music and Remain in Light definitely still feel like brilliant achievements.

Their concert movie “Stop Making Sense” was released in late 1984. Seeing it multiple times at the midnight showing at the Kentucky those last two years at Transy is a favorite memory. Their take on this song in the movie is a fun one, but it’s the studio version from Speaking in Tongues that got on the tape.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 2, Song 3

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

It’s really, really hard to beat the catchy, edgy pop of the Cars’ first two albums in the late 70s. Pretty much every track is great (“Don’t Cha Stop” and “Shoo Be Doo” might be exceptions); some are amazing. I don’t think they ever reached those heights again, though I enjoyed a lot of their subsequent material, including much of Heartbeat City.

Ric Ocasek’s elliptic lyrics were fun to listen to; in this song, “Geranium lover, I’m live on your wire” and “They want to crack your crossword smile” are the standouts for me.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 2, Song 2

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

This one’s still a fave. I wondered for a number of years what the backups were singing here–I finally decided it was “Ego, envy, lust.” Googling today tells me it’s “Ego and you lost,” which does make more sense. It reached #22 in early spring 1984. Apparently there are two “official” videos; I’m linking to the one I remember seeing back in the day, even though it’s cut off just a smidge on both the front and back ends.

ETA: The vid I had here originally has been removed from YouTube; this replacement is much better!

SotD: Ben Folds Five, “Best Imitation of Myself”

In fall 95 I spent a weekend in Ft. Wayne, IN, playing at a regional bridge tournament with my friend Mark.  On the way home that Sunday night, I caught a show on the radio featuring Ben Folds Five, a mix of interview and in-studio playing.  I still remember three of the songs they played: “Underground,” “Philosophy,” and “Song for the Dumped.”  The first two of those were featured on their debut disk; the third was recorded later for the follow-up.  I was impressed enough to go out and get the disk, and it’s become one of my all-time favorites.

I remember back in college my friend Warren claiming that Making Movies by Dire Straits might be the greatest album of all-time by a trio; I’d think about making the case that Ben Folds Five (featuring only piano, bass, and drums) deserves to be in the conversation.  It’s got melody and hooks galore (“Philosophy” includes an homage to “Rhapsody in Blue”), interesting off-beat topics (an interview between Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali, the mosh pit scene at clubs), and maybe most of all, energy, confidence, and flair.

My top track on BFF is this one.  It’s a witty take on the question of “who’s really behind that mask?”

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 2, Song 1

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

“You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms. The most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”

“The Breakfast Club” was one of the iconic movies of my college years. I saw it when first released and probably a time or two since; it’s a pretty good flick. Today’s song appears at the end of the movie, as the Club’s essay, quoted above, is read in their voices. My understanding is that Billy Idol was given first crack at it, but it wound up with Simple Minds. Keith Forsey, Billy’s producer, stayed at the helm and it sounds like he tried to make Jim Kerr’s voice a little Idol-esque. It was #1 the third weekend of May 1985.

American Top 40 PastBlast: 7/30/83

One of the great kiss-off songs of the 80s. Lots of good venom here! This was Briley’s only American hit.

Several years ago I assembled the tunes on this countdown into a playlist; a primary reason was for some of the songs present at the bottom: this one (it’s at its peak of #36), “Slipping Away” by Dave Edmunds (its only week on, at #39), and “Pieces of Ice” by Diana Ross. Lots of fun stuff towards the top, too. 83 is turning out to be one of my favorite years for popular music as I look back.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 11

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

I can precisely peg the moment collecting LPs (and subsequently CDs) became part of my identity: a weekend night in February 1984, probably Saturday the 11th. There were a couple of albums I was interested in checking out, so it was over to Cut Corner Records (now CD Central), which in my college days was located over the old Tolly-Ho at the corner of Limestone and Euclid in Lexington. It’s difficult to overstate the impact those two records, along with a third I got a few days later, had on the development of my future musical explorations.

One of the albums I got that night was U2’s War. This is still my favorite of theirs, though Achtung Baby comes close. I don’t have any of their songs on these two tapes, but they were central to my listening at the time.

The other was Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, eponymous record. “Someday, Someway” had been one of my favorites in late summer 82, and I’d read good things about the album. I wasn’t disappointed–twelve magnificent pop songs, all clocking in at 3:10 or under. This is one of its best tracks. His style evolved somewhat over the years but I bought and enjoyed just about everything he put out through the mid-90s.

(Oh, and the third album? Come back Thursday.)

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 10

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

“New wave” sprung out of the punk movement in the latish 70s in the UK but soon spread to the US and other parts of the globe. It’s a term that has been applied to so many bands that it’s been rendered almost meaningless. That said, it’s easy for me to see that my musical tastes through most of the 80s and even beyond clearly aligned most closely with this “movement” and its evolution(s).

Whatever “new wave” is, this song certainly qualifies. A #3 hit in Britain, it made #36 in the US toward the end of 1980.