A Baker’s Dozen from 1983

Originally posted September 5, 2007

This is a busy week around here. The Texas Gal took the week off from work, and we’re investing a lot of our time in sorting through stuff, trying to make room.

Our apartment is not small, by any means, but we are both collectors, and the space available to expand collections – books for both of us, records and CDs for me and fabric and yarn for her (gathered not for its own sake but for use in quilting and crocheting) – becomes more limited as time slithers on.

So we spent yesterday going through closets and identifying things that we could live without. This morning we took a carload of stuff to the local Goodwill store. And we have the garage to go through yet, a back wall of boxes in which resides more surplus. The hope is to winnow the boxes on the back wall enough so that boxes currently in the apartment – filled with things we wish to keep but do not at the moment need – can be shifted to the garage.

That will leave us more room in the apartment, until we fill the created space with books, music and textiles. Eventually, I fear, we will have to either rent a storage unit somewhere nearby or make a breakthrough in physics that will allow us to store things in a fourth dimension, one that allows easy access for retrieval.

Luckily for me, mp3s take up very little real space, leaving it possible for me to spend a morning rummaging through the sounds of 1983. That was the year I left Monticello and its weekly newspaper and went to graduate school at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

It’s a very fine school (next year, it will celebrate one hundred years since its founding as the world’s first journalism school) and a challenging one. Drawing students to Columbia, Missouri, from all over the world for its graduate and undergraduate programs, it taught me at least as much out of the classrooms and labs as it did in them. During the eighteen months I spent in Columbia, I got to know students from all over the U.S. as well as from Germany, France, South Africa, the U.S.S.R. and China, to name just a few. After six years in a small Minnesota town – a good town, but a small town nevertheless – graduate school brought me into a much larger and more complex world.

I spent twenty hours a week working as a graduate assistant, helping edit the Columbia Missourian, a daily paper written by students at the journalism school and edited by faculty members. Classes were rigorous, but basically, beyond my work at the newspaper, graduate school boiled down to reading and writing, two of my core strengths. So I enjoyed it immensely, and I did well.

There was plenty of time for fun, too, of course: Intense discussions over beer and pizza at a place called Shakespeare’s. Beer and burgers and talk at the Old Heidelberg. Beer and talk and good music at the homes of any number of my fellow students, grad students and undergraduates alike. (The beer was generally dark and plentiful, though not particularly distinctive; I had not yet become too discerning or demanding about my brews.)

And being on a college campus put me in an environment where I once again heard a lot of newer music. I wasn’t as immersed in the music as I had been as an undergrad, I suppose. But I think I was more attuned to the tunes than I had been while working at the newspaper in Minnesota.

And then there was MTV. Late in 1983, I had cable television installed and I spent a fair amount of time with the television tuned to MTV, playing it in the background, kind of like radio with pictures. (This was back when MTV’s main purpose was to play music videos, an activity that has since become rare, if not nonexistent on the network.) So I heard a lot of new music that way, too.

As a result, I’m more familiar with the music from 1983 than I thought I would be when I began to assemble today’s random Baker’s Dozen:

“They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman, MCA single 52347

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Romance” by Gordon Lightfoot from Salute

“Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top, Warner Bros. single 9576

“Help!” by Isaac Scott from Big Time Blues Man

“Ta ‘Me Mo Shui” by Clannad from Magical Ring

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Kate Wolf from Give Yourself To Love

“It’s Cold Outside Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present

“Crawdad Hole” by Big Joe Turner & Roomful of Blues from Blues Train

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, Columbia single 03906

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by the Eurythmics, RCA single 13533

“Breaking Us In Two” by Joe Jackson, A&M single 2510

“Holiday” by Madonna from Madonna

A few notes on some of the songs:

Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” is one of those tunes that brings MTV to mind. The song is a witty pastiche of the early 1960s girl group sound, and the video itself is witty, especially the final shot of Tracey riding off with the slumming Paul McCartney. I love the chimes, too, which I’ve always kind of heard as a salute to Phil Spector.

Isaac Scott, who died in 2001, was a legend in Seattle. His bluesy take on the Beatles’ “Help” is an eye-opener. If I’m not mistaken, I found this track at the blog Rato Records, where Rato on occasion posts collections of obscure covers of Beatles songs. Many of those covers are a little bit lame; some of them are superb. This one falls in the latter category.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I discovered – probably through Enya, who was a member before her solo career – Clannad. Sitting firmly in a niche between new age and traditional, Clannad offers a sometimes breathy but often gorgeous take on Celtic music. Magical Ring might be the group’s best album.

Give Yourself To Love is an album of live performances released in 1983, a few years before Kate Wolf died from cancer. Her take on Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” is one of the better versions I’ve heard of that well-covered tune.

Big Joe Turner was one of the elemental forces in Kansas City R&B in the 1950s, and Blues Train, his 1983 album recorded with Roomful of Blues, sounds as if it came from KC sometime during those years. To repeat a Dave Marsh line, dated but never out of date.

Never having been a big Madonna fan, I’m unsure if this version of “Holiday,” which was on her self-titled debut album, is the same as the version that was released as the single. A six-minute dance single would not be unheard of, but I can’t find any information that tells me if the album track and the single were identical.

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