Finding My Way

Originally posted June 3, 2009

My blogging colleague jb, whose musings and memories gather at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, closed his recent examination of No. 40 songs from several summers this way:

“By 1982, I had my first full-time radio job, and the summers that followed would rarely be remembered in their totality the way summers used to be. And life has never been quite the same since.”

I imagine most folks who read jb’s words this week will nod in agreement. On first thought, I was tempted to say that the shift he’s talking about happens when we and permanent work take our grips on each other, but I’m not sure that’s right. Having thought about it for a day or two, I think that the change in our lives is not so much the beginning of work but the end of preparing for that work, whatever it may be. And, yes, once that time comes, one summer seems very much the same as the next, as do winters, as do, eventually, years.

For me, the summer of 1977 would turn out to be the final act in my long tale of preparation. I’d returned to St. Cloud State in the spring, taking basic reporting and another course that quarter and looking ahead to some workshops in the summer. All of that would add up to another minor to add to my degree, one that I hoped would make me employable at some newspaper, somewhere. Along the way, during spring quarter, I’d blundered into becoming the Arts and Entertainment editor at St. Cloud State’s student newspaper, the University Chronicle. A major dispute during the winter quarter had led to the departure of the paper’s editors, leaving the editor-in-chief alone to shepherd the newspaper along with a diminished staff.

Maybe a week into the spring quarter, a friend of mine and I – whiling some spare time away in the snack bar at Atwood Center – glanced through the latest edition of the Chronicle. There were some pieces riddled with errors and others that were awkwardly written at best. The worst offenders were in the Arts section. My friend and I decided to go ask the editor – whom we knew only vaguely – if he thought things might get better.

Frazzled and harried, he sat at his desk and listened to our commentary, then shook his head. “Better? Not until I get some people in here who know what they’re doing.” He looked at me. “You wanna be the Arts editor?”

I said yes and found myself learning as I went. It was a time of shuffling through reams of press releases for arts stories on campus that would provide good copy and good photos, of all-night paste-up sessions, of recruiting writers, of struggling to write and edit reviews of movies, plays and music. It was also a great deal of fun. And I learned I was good at it. I stayed with the paper past spring and through the two four-week summer sessions, and sometime during the summer, my adviser and I met in his office. “I tell you,” he said, shaking his head, “when I heard in March that you were going to edit the Arts section, I was worried.” I nodded. I’d been a bit concerned at the start as well. “But I have to tell you,” he went on, “all spring and summer, that’s been the best part of the paper.”

To be honest, I’d had a similar thought a bit earlier. As quarter break ended and the first summer session began, I sat at my desk in the newspaper office and looked through spring quarter’s editions. “We did pretty well,” I thought. It hadn’t been perfect, but the errors – some of them mine alone, some shared – were things I could learn from, which was the point. Another eight weeks of the newspaper, I thought – accompanied by workshops in television news and filmmaking to sharpen my writing and editing skills – and I might even be ready to do this somewhere else and get paid for it.

And here’s a little bit of what was on the radio that week, as I thought I might have found the place I belonged.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 4, 1977)
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 (No.24)
“Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 10491 (No. 36)
“On the Border” by Al Stewart, Janus 267 (No. 51)
“The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 45399 (No. 60)
“Fly at Night” by Chilliwack, Mushroom 7024 (No. 79)
“Feel the Need In Me” by the Detroit Emeralds, Westbound 209 (No. 93)

“Mainstreet” was the second of two great singles Bob Seger released from his Night Moves album, the other being the title track, which went to No. 4 in the early months of 1977. As June began, “Mainstreet” had just hit its peak of No. 24. Seger had sixteen more Top 40 hits, reaching into 1991, but to my ears, none of the others were ever as good as “Night Moves” or “Mainstreet.”

As June began, “Lido Shuffle” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 11, the third single from Scaggs’ Silk Degrees album to climb into the Top 40. If nothing else from this selection of six singles will wake you up, “Lido Shuffle” will.

“On the Border,” like many of the songs from Year of the Cat and 1978’s Time Passages, sounds like no one other than Al Stewart. “Year of the Cat” had reached No. 8 in early 1977, and “Time Passages” would go as high as No. 7 in late 1978. “On The Border” just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard in any record a more accurate prediction of where American life was headed than in the last verse of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” which forecast the 1980s rise of the yuppie:

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender.
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Musically gorgeous and lyrically prescient in its pessimism, the record spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and peaked at No. 58

The Canadian band Chilliwack had found some success in its home country by the time mid-1977 came along, but the U.S. Top 40 was still out of the band’s reach. “Fly By Night,” with its ballad-into-boogie-and-back structure, seems now as if it should have hit, but the record had peaked at No. 75 and was in its last week in the Hot 100 as June began. Chilliwack would hit the U.S. Top 40 in 1981 with “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and in 1982 with “I Believe,” which went to Nos. 22 and 33, respectively.

The Detroit Emeralds’ “Feel the Need” almost didn’t make the Hot 100 at all, peaking at No. 90 and sitting in the bottom ten of the chart for five weeks. From what I can tell by sifting through some information on the ’Net, I think the record was a re-release or a new edit of a record that had been released a couple years earlier, but I’m not at all certain. I’m not even sure I have the catalog number correct. (Someone out there knows the story, I hope.) But man, it’s a nice piece of work, and I think it should have fared a lot better than it did. (The Detroit Emeralds had two hits in 1972, “You Want It, You Got It,” which went to No. 36, and “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms),” which reached No. 24.

Some Kate Taylor News
I got a pleasant email yesterday from Sandy Hicks, Kate Taylor’s manager. She said “We are happy to supply folks with CDs of all her early albums.” Those interested, she said, should email her and she’ll write back with details, and buyers can settle up through Kate’s website.

Hicks added: “Kate’s nearly finished with her new album, due out in late July. For the first time in her career, the album is all her own original songs.” Release details, Hicks said, are on Kate’s website, as is a schedule of performances set for this summer and autumn in the U.S. Northeast.

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One Response to “Finding My Way”

  1. Thom Hickey Says:

    Thanks .. Evoked lots of memories .. Especially the pretender .. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox. I’ll be returning.

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