SotD: Sufjan Stevens, “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”

I wish this song were three-to-four times as long as it is.  The haunting piano line, the unusual time signatures, the understated vocals–it all adds up to one mesmerizing tune.  The images provided by the person who posted this to YouTube only enhance the experience.

There are several great tracks on Stevens’ Come on Feel the Illinoise–I’m suspecting others will appear in the space eventually.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 5

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

Over the years I’ve tended to enjoy the music I’ve heard that’s come from Australia. Throughout my high school years, Little River Band singles were usually among my favorites. I like Rick Springfield more than some, though he hardly has an Aussie sound. Men At Work were huge my freshman year of college. Later in the 80s, there was INXS, Midnight Oil, The Church, and Icehouse, among plenty of others. If you allow New Zealand in the mix, then you can toss in Split Enz and Crowded House (“Don’t Dream It’s Over” is in my personal Hall of Fame for singles). Perhaps my favorite album of all time is 16 Lovers Lane by the Go-Betweens.

This Australian band never got much traction in the US. I imagine I first heard this song on MTV in Fall 1984 and pretty quickly rushed out to buy the single. I loved, loved, loved this, and I guess I still do. The interwebs tell me it reached #2 in Australia but only #65 in the US. I think it should have been a big hit here, but this wasn’t the first or last time the public’s tastes didn’t conform to mine.

For the record, the full title of the song is “Heaven (Must Be There)”.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 4

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

When I was a freshman, WTLX wasn’t very active. The following year, my classmate Kevin took over as station manager and definitely got things going. One area he had to address was the station’s music library. There was a lot of vinyl in it, but the vast majority was either out of date or too obscure (a few songs from what we inherited make an appearance in this series, however). Kevin used our music budget to aggressively add to the library his three years as manager. While most of the $ went to 45s, he judiciously added LPs as well, mostly greatest hits collections. This comes from one of those LPs.

“Cocaine” was the B-side of a two-sided single (with “Tulsa Time”); it peaked at #30 in August 80. The whole 7-plus minutes was regularly played on top-40 radio in Cincinnati back in the day.

During recording, the needle jumped the groove on this song four times. I played the tape so much in the late 80s that those skips are part of the song for me now.

American Top 40 PastBlast: 7/25/81

Jim Steinman wrote some of the most overwrought music of the late 70s/early 80s. We first encountered him on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell (“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”). Perhaps his crowning achievement came in October 83 when he wrote the songs in spots #1 and #2 (“Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Making Love Out of Nothing At All”).   He also penned Barry Manilow’s last Top 40 song (“Read ‘em and Weep”). To be honest, I liked the Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler songs pretty well, but man, some of his metaphors are really tortured.

In the middle of all that, he released the album Bad For Good under his own name, though he didn’t do vocals on all of the songs. (I’m thinking the title tune is a Paul Hunter song.) One of those sung by Rory Dodd (he’s best known for “Turn around, bright eyes” in “Total Eclipse”) was released as a single and made it to #32 in the late summer of 81 (it’s #37 here). Yes, it’s got most of the histrionics of his other stuff, but I’m really fond of it–I guess I relate to its theme of the power of music! Takes me back to a particular moment in time, right before my senior year in HS.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 3

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

By complete coincidence, the next song is from the other, much better known, rock band to emerge from Champaign in the 70’s.

I started buying 45s in the summer of 1976 and continued (at least occasionally) until just about the time they stopped producing them. I frequently would check out the B-sides and over the years came across many gems (my favorite is almost certainly Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs,” the flip of “Go Your Own Way”). I first encountered this song as the B-side of “Keep on Loving You.”

One of the few albums I owned in high school was Hi Infidelity. Listening to this one, “Out of Season,” and “Tough Guys” (all of which I prefer to a couple of the singles) takes me back to late summer 1981, just before my senior year of HS…

American Top 40 PastBlast: 7/25/70

American Top 40 was first broadcast the weekend of July 4, 1970 on seven radio stations, mostly in CA. For the first ten months of the show’s existence, they used Billboard chart data from the following week (for instance, the 7/4/70 show used the 7/11/70 chart). I’m citing the chart date above, so this countdown was the third one overall. It’s no surprise that Casey’s delivery and style evolved in the eighteen years he did AT40. Based on shows I’ve heard over the past five years, it took him over a year to hit his stride, particularly in developing his storytelling chops. In the very early days, his patter was overall more rushed and clipped than later on.

Melanie Safka is best known for her #1 hit “Brand New Key,” which plenty of folks find really annoying (I’m okay with it); this one was her first hit. It was at its peak position of #6 on the first AT40 broadcast, and had fallen to #10 here. It’s about her experience performing at Woodstock. I find it pretty powerful. The Edwin Hawkins Singers (“O Happy Day”) are doing the backup work. Pleased to find a video for this one, though I have no idea why she’s hanging around with those big concrete pipes…

SotD: Maria Taylor, “Song Beneath the Song”

Ms. Taylor is absolutely right that subtext is important and “true meaning” is often not as it might first appear.  I fully expect there’s a song beneath my song in some (much?) of what I think, feel, and write.

Sometimes, though, that top layer is awfully nice, as it is here.  It’s another one of my Pandora discoveries.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 2 (woohoo)

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

YouTube veterans know that when a song doesn’t have an official video, there’s often one consisting of just a still shot of the album cover for the visuals. Suffice it to say that you may see a fair amount of that sort of thing in this series. I hope you’re checking in for the music…

Today’s tune is from 75. It was a big regional hit in the Midwest and climbed to #68 late that year. I remember hearing it quite a bit on album rock stations when I was in high school. Since I don’t listen much to classic rock anymore, I don’t know how much it gets played much today, but I still think it’s a great one. In doing a bit of research on Head East for this post, I learned that they essentially formed in one of my old stomping grounds: Champaign, Illinois.

SotD: Vulgar Boatmen, “Katie”

In August 91, my last year of grad school, I moved into an apartment with my friend Greg.  It was a bit of an unconventional situation: Greg was married, and his wife Katie was moving to College Park, MD, to pursue a doctorate in applied math at the university there.  He was a couple of years out from finishing his own degree in EE, so they decided to live apart until he got done.  Greg and I had become close friends over the previous 18 months due largely to our mutual interests in bridge and music, and I was the obvious choice for a roommate, at least for that first year.

Early on, Greg suggested we share a “Song of the Day” with one another each evening.  While we certainly didn’t follow through on it every day, it was a great way to expand each other’s musical horizons.  I suspect this ritual had an influence on the direction my tastes evolved in subsequent years.

In that spirit, occasionally, maybe even somewhat regularly, I’ll post a Song of the Day here.  Since there’s usually a tune spinning around in my noggin, I likely won’t lack for material!

While I don’t remember if this was ever officially one of Greg’s choices, I know he introduced it to me.  I purchased Pop Beloved by the Reivers around this time and when Greg heard their version of “Katie,” he no doubt soon afterward popped the original, by the Vulgar Boatmen, into the CD player for me to hear.

WTLX Mix Tapes: Side 1, Song 1

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

In late May 85 I spent a couple of nights down in the old campus radio station at my alma mater putting together two mix tapes. I cued up records one after another and just let the tape run. In August 16 I listened to them for the first time in quite a while. Over the next six weeks or so, you can listen to the songs from those tapes, one a day, in the order they were recorded. There are songs that were hits at the time, album cuts from the early 80s, various obscurities, etc., etc. A few are certainly cringe-worthy in retrospect. You’ll also be getting a number of reminiscences from me along the way. My hope is that at least occasionally I’ll bring back some fond musical memories. All song rankings given refer to the Billboard Hot 100.

Side 1, Song 1: This song was beginning its ascent of the charts at recording time, on its way to #1. Here, have some Phil Collins.