A Baker’s Dozen From 1980

Originally posted July 18, 2007

When the year 1980 comes along as I’m thinking about music, my train of thought is an express, heading to only one destination.

It was a Monday, December 8 was. It was the second Monday of the month, which meant that I spent the bulk of the evening at Monticello City Hall, listening to the city council debate whatever issues were on its agenda. It sounds deadly dull, but I actually enjoyed covering city government; the ebb and flow of politics and policies over a nearly six-year period gave me insight as to how a city grows.

I don’t recall any of the topics on the agenda, but the meeting was over fairly early. I’d guess it was around 9:30 when the gavel fell and I walked out of the building into the chilly night, headed for my car and my home about two miles out of town. The woman who was then my wife was there, probably involved in some craft project, and there was a football game on television, Miami and New England.

And so I was seated in my easy chair, probably dipping into a bowl of popcorn, when Howard Cosell interrupted the game.

“This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said. “An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot five times in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival.”

I stared at the screen, football forgotten. I recall trying to wrap my head around the weight Cosell’s words carried, not quite grasping it, the news too stunning and too fresh for comprehension or sorrow. Not long after the game ended, the result unnoticed, we retired for the night, and I lay there, still shocked. “Do you think it will be on Nightline?” she asked me.

“I can’t imagine they’d cover anything else.”

“Then go watch it. He was yours.”

I went to the living room. In a short marriage in which both of us so often got so many things so wrong about each other, that was one that she got right about me, and I am still grateful. I watched as Ted Koppel and his reporters and guests sorted through what was known and what was supposed. Then they began the first of thousands of assessments of what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us.

That’s a topic worthy of several volumes – what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us – and not all of the answers can be put into words. The next day was a busy one at work, as Tuesdays always were, but I managed to get home for thirty minutes for lunch. One of the Twin Cities classic rock stations, KQRS, was playing the Beatles’ catalog alphabetically, and as I ate my sandwich, I heard “In My Life.”

As I listened, I finally understood how those folks a few years older than I had felt during the summer of 1977 when they got the news that Elvis had died. Bent over my dining room table, I wept for John; for Yoko, Sean and Julian; for John’s three bandmates; and I wept for all of us who loved the man through his music.

Here’s a random Baker’s Dozen from 1980:

“Sequel” by Harry Chapin, Boardwalk single 5700

“Middle Man” by Boz Scaggs from Middle Man

“Boulevard” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out

“Gaucho” by Steely Dan from Gaucho

“Crush On You” by Bruce Springsteen from The River

“Saving Grace” by Bob Dylan from Saved

“Wildwood Boys” by Jim Keach from The Long Riders soundtrack

“The Last To Know” by Dan Fogelberg from Phoenix

“Every Night” by Richie Havens from Connections

“High Walls” by Levon Helm from The Legend Of Jesse James

“Woman” by John Lennon, Geffen single 49644

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 2464

“Cocaine” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1039

A few notes on some of the songs:

For many people, there is no middle ground when it comes to Harry Chapin: They either love him and his works, or detest him. “Taxi,” especially, seems to draw either scorn or rapture. If it were better known, I’d imagine the same response would apply to “Sequel,” in which, backed by almost the same music as eight years earlier, Harry returns to San Francisco and has “eight hours to kill before the show.” We know where he goes, and of course, he takes a taxi, and he tells us (almost) all about it. Overblown? Yes. Beloved? Yes, that, too. Chapin was a storyteller, and one of the ancillary regrets I have about his death in 1981 is that we never got to hear the end of the tale, which I can only assume he would have called “Finale.”

Jackson Browne’s Hold Out has aged better than I thought it would. Coming after his first four studio albums and the live triumph of Running On Empty, it seemed slight and lightweight – especially in its lyrics; the music was pretty well done – when it came out in 1980. Now, twenty-seven years later, most of the album fares better. But “Boulevard,” which seemed to be the slightest song on the record in 1980, still sounds trite.

Springsteen’s “Crush On You” is one of the most direct and powerful songs from The River, an album stacked with direct and powerful tunes that are balanced by a few of the loveliest ballads the Boss has ever done. I’m not sure being so direct with the object of one’s passion would work in real life, but Bruce and the boys are strong enough here to make the listener think it might.

“Saving Grace” comes from Saved, the second of Bob Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums. It was also the least successful musically, if not commercially, of the three. It’s an album that I would guess that few Dylan fans listen to very often; the Bard of Hibbing is one of my favorite performers and I don’t think I’ve played the record more than twice, maybe. But even mediocre Dylan can hold some interest in performance, and the lyrics have one of two turns of phrase that show that he put some work into it.

I chuckled when songs from both the soundtrack to The Long Riders – a film that told the story of Jesse James – and the LP The Legend of Jesse James popped up during the random play. It was evidently a good year for the original James Gang, 1980 was. Of the two albums, I prefer The Long Riders. Even though the vocal on “Wildwood Boys” is by Jim Keach, the song, and the soundtrack, belong to Ry Cooder, who wrote much of the original material and arranged the rest, some of it traditional, some of it written for the film. The LP The Legend of Jesse James, which I can only call a country-rock opera, is a not-awful attempt to tell the same story through song that Walter Hill told on the screen. The main roles are sung by Levon Helm, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Charlie Daniels; other prominent names on the record include Albert Lee and Jesse Ed Davis on guitar and Bernie Leadon on banjo. Written and produced by Paul Kennerly, the record sounds good in concept but unhappily doesn’t seem to pull together to be as compelling as one would like it to be.

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One Response to “A Baker’s Dozen From 1980”

  1. On Maintenance & A Forgotten Date « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] sure I’d have more to say. I’ve written twice about it, I think, once when pondering the year 1980 and then again on the anniversary of Lennon’s death last year. In any case, I forgot about it […]

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