Archive for the ‘1981’ Category

‘And Watch The River Flow . . .’

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 13, 2010

It was around this time in 1972 that I bought my first Bob Dylan album. I’d heard Dylan plenty of times before, certainly: Just in the couple of years since I’d started listening to the radio, he’d had a Top Ten hit with “Lay, Lady, Lay” during the summer of 1969 and then reached the Top 40 in late 1971 with “George Jackson.” And I’d likely heard John Wesley Harding on one evening or another, hanging out at Rick’s. And that doesn’t count the other times I heard his songs just as part of the music around me before I really started paying attention.

But on a January day, I bought Dylan’s music for the first time. I actually bought two albums that day. Rick’s birthday was coming up soon, and he wanted Nashville Skyline. So I grabbed that at Musicland and then pawed through the rest of the Dylan records. I found a copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II and scanned the jacket. A pretty good mix. So brought it home with me, and as I wrapped Rick’s gift, I dropped my new record on the stereo.

And the first track was happily familiar: A rolling roadhouse piano accompanied by a twanging guitar announced the presence of “Watching The River Flow,” a song that had been released as a single during 1971. (It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 41.) The rolling piano made it clear that the record had been recorded under the influence of Leon Russell, who in the first years of the Seventies was about as hot any performer ever was, sitting in on God knows how many major recording sessions, spearheading Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in early 1970, playing at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971 and seeing two of his own albums – Leon Russell & The Shelter People and Carney – hit the Top 40.

So the first sounds I heard from the first Dylan album I owned were and still are tasty ones. The track – which Russell co-produced with Bob Johnston – popped up the other night on the RealPlayer as I was reading, and the guitar and piano riff captured my attention just as quickly and fully as it had thirty-eight years ago. I nodded along through Dylan’s tale of countryside ennui and laziness, and then wondered, as I frequently do, who had covered the song and if I had any of those covers.

I dug into those questions the next morning. And I found that “Watching The River Flow” has not had a large number of cover versions released.

As “Watching The River Flow,” All-Music Guide finds a total of sixty-one recordings on CD, including Dylan’s work. (The song’s title is sometimes listed on LPs and CDs as “Watchin’ The River Flow,” but some of those variants are included in the database under the correct title; whether all of them are, I don’t know. I’d dig deeper, but AMG’s search function seems balky this morning.) Among those have recorded the song are the Asylum Street Spankers, the Boogie Woogie Company, Robert Crotty, Chris Farlowe, the Gadd Gang, Steve Gibbons, the Heart of Gold Band, Gordon Johnson, Ollie Mitchell, Zoot Money, the Porch Rockers, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wynn and Pete York.

I have four cover versions of the song, by Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Steve Forbert and the Minnesota-based bluesy Lamont Cranston Band. None of the four really quite get to the level of the original. Russell recorded his version for a 1999 project called Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan that’s actually pretty good. Russell’s cover is one of the few on the CD that doesn’t seem to work; it’s just a little too relaxed.

Joe Cocker’s version was part of his 1978 album Luxury You Can Afford, and bears witness to Cocker’s difficulties at the time. Like the rest of the album – and like a few other albums through the mid- to late 1970s and beyond – the recording seems to lack focus. It’s not awful, just not as striking as Cocker’s earlier work was (and as his work has at times been since 1987 or so).

Forbert recorded his version as “Watchin’ The River Flow” for a project titled I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road. The CD and its predecessor were collections of Americana-tinged recordings put together for their association – or potential association, as seems to be the case with Forbert’s contribution – with Interstate 10, which crosses the United States’ southern tier. (The highway begins in Jacksonville, Florida, then parallels the coast of the Gulf of Mexico before crossing Texas and the desert southwest and ending in Los Angeles, California.) Forbert’s version is pretty good; I like it best of the four covers I’m offering here.

The Lamont Cranston Band’s cover of “Watchin’ The River Flow” is a live version recorded in December 1980 at the Cabooze bar in Minneapolis. It was included on a 1981 LP titled Bar Wars that was released mostly in the Twin Cities area, I assume. While I like some of what the band does with the song, I think it’s just a little too fast. But that’s me.

Here, then, are the original and four covers:

“Watching The River Flow” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II [1971]
“Watching The River Flow” by Joe Cocker from Luxury You Can Afford [1978]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Bar Wars [1981]
“Watching The River Flow” by Leon Russell from Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan [1999]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by Steve Forbert from I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road [2001]

Saturday Single No. 168

July 6, 2022

Originally posted December 26, 2009

The day has gotten away from me, what with sleeping in a little, shoveling another bit of snow from the walks, grabbing a quick lunch at a local joint and running a few errands.

But I’m reluctant to let a Saturday go by unnoticed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve left this place blank on a Saturday since I began this blog in early 2007, but I think I can still count them on one hand. Certainly, two hands will suffice; I’m not yet forced to include toes.

So between shoveling and errands, I was rummaging through the “F” section of the LPs, looking for something interesting I’d not yet ripped or posted. I rejected a few ideas – I wasn’t in the mood for either Robben Ford or Firefall – and ended up pulling out a solo album by Mick Fleetwood, founder of and drummer for Fleetwood Mac.

The album is titled The Visitor, and it was recorded in early 1981 in the West African nation of Ghana. Some of the album is rock with backing provided by a mix of western and African musicians (along with a couple of guest artists, including George Harrison). And some of the album is African and African-influenced music, with the African musicians taking the lead and the members of Fleetwood’s band – George Hawkins on bass and Todd Sharp on guitars – and other guests joining in.

I’m not sure how far ahead of the curve toward world music Fleetwood was, given that The Visitor was recorded in 1981. That was eight years before Paul Simon released Graceland, which, it seems to me, was seen as a milestone. Peter Gabriel included Youssou N’dour as a guest vocalist on “In Your Eyes” on his 1986 album, So. And those are just the first two that come to mind as I write off the top of my head. I imagine there were other big-time musicians who explored African culture on their records before Fleetwood did so on The Visitor. But I wonder how many; I do have the sense that – as I said above – Fleetwood was ahead of the curve.

Having pulled The Visitor from the shelf, I’ll set it in the increasingly large pile of things I plan to rip to mp3s. I think I’ll get to it fairly quickly. In the meantime, here’s a preview: The title track from Fleetwood’s album, sung by the Ghana Folkloric Group, with Fleetwood on drums, Hawkins on piano and Mike Moran on the Prophet 5 synthesizer. It’s “The Visitor,” today’s Saturday Single.

“The Visitor” by Mick Fleetwood & the Ghana Folkloric Group et al.
From The Visitor [1981]

(Note from 2022: After this was posted, several folks left comments about other Western artists who had explored Third World music before Fleetwood did. Sadly, those comments and names are lost in email archives.)

Saturday Singles Nos. 156 & 157

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 24, 2009

I’ve written before about how my love for soundtracks and movie themes predated my interest in rock and pop. Well, forty years later, as I continue to expand the boundaries of my rock and pop universe, I continue as well to listen to soundtracks, renewing acquaintances with previously heard composers, artists and works, as well as finding new folks and music to hear. And I still find myself digging, from time to time, into television themes, a category that seems to divide itself into three subfolders: those themes I heard while watching favorite shows in years gone, those I hear while watching favorites these days, and those themes I’m aware of – both then and now – that come from shows I don’t recall seeing.

When I search for “television theme” on the RealPlayer, I get back a list of eighty pieces. (That doesn’t yet include the more than one hundred mp3s from television westerns I found and wrote about the other day; those have yet to be sorted and indexed.) And a run through the titles can be quite a trip:

The earliest television theme I have is Miklós Rósa’s unmistakable piece for “Dragnet,” which first went on the air as a radio drama in the late 1940s and then came to television in 1951. The radio version lasted until 1957, the first television version ran until 1959, and the show was revived on television from 1967 to 1970. The mp3 I have is, I think, the theme from the early television show. (One of the difficulties in dating and sorting television themes is that the themes are often tinkered with from one season to the next, and it’s difficult to know which season’s theme one has.)

The most recent comes from 2006: the evocative theme by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden for Friday Night Lights, whose new season starts this week on DirecTV. We don’t have that service, so we’ll have to wait until next spring, I think, to see the new episodes on NBC. I will have a hard time waiting; I truly think that Friday Night Lights is one of the great television dramas ever made.

Between those extremes in time fall a lot of good themes, a lot of very dorky bits of music, and a number of tunes that lay right into the middle. A while back, I offered a selection of television themes, and I might do so again in the next few weeks. But this morning, I’m thinking about one theme in particular.

Late last evening, while the Texas Gal was studying, I scanned the DVD shelves and pulled down a box that I’d set aside when we moved and hadn’t gotten back to since: Hill Street Blues: The Complete First Season, a gift – with its companion second season – from the Texas Gal a few years ago. Back in the 1980s, when each week’s episode of Hill Street Blues was essential watching at my house, I would have put the drama—edgy for its time – in the top spot of my list of best television series of all time.

Since then, there are some television series that have been better, although not many. A few that I’m sure of are The West Wing, The Sopranos and Deadwood. I’ve never watched The Wire nor Homicide, omissions that will be remedied, but they might belong in a list of the top ten television dramas of all time; I know that the Texas Gal will reserve a spot for ER, and I’d likely concur. I mentioned Friday Night Lights above, and there are other recent dramas that might push HSB down the list a little further, but without actually pulling that list together, I’m pretty certain that Hill Street Blues stays in the top ten.

Even if that’s not the case, it doesn’t take away from the quality of the show or the pleasure I – and others, I assume – get while watching the first season unfold on my screen, with the second season box waiting for me to get to it. (A check at Amazon this morning showed no other seasons currently available; I hope that will change. There was a link to a firm offering a box set of the full series, but I have a hunch that’s a counterfeit.)

And that pleasure includes the little shiver I still get from the introductory piano chords of Mike Post’s theme for the show. Whether it’s the version from the show itself with the voice of the dispatcher and the sound of sirens or the version released as a single – it went to No. 10 during the autumn of 1981 – that little shiver is still there. And here they are, today’s Saturday Singles:

“The Theme from Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, television theme [1981]

“The Theme from Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, Elektra 47186 [1981]
(Featuring Larry Carlton on guitar)

‘Finders, Not Keepers . . .’

November 3, 2021

So, if there had been a quiet evening listening to the radio forty years ago this week – and there likely was, as the Other Half and I did not watch a lot of television – what would we have heard as we sat and read in our mobile home just outside Monticello?

We’d likely have tuned the radio to the Twin Cities station KSTP-FM, styled KS-95 in its promotions, with its tagline newly revised just a year earlier to celebrate the hits of “the Sixties, the Seventies and today!”

And forty years ago today, on November 3, 1981, the station’s top ten was:

“Hard To Say” by Dan Fogelberg
“Arthur’s Theme” by Christopher Cross
“The Old Songs” by Barry Manilow
“Just Once” by Quincy Jones feat. James Ingram
“The Night Owls” by the Little River Band
“We’re In This Love Together” by Al Jarreau
“The Theme From Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post
“Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates
“Here I Am” by Air Supply
“Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner

The only one of those for which I really needed a reminder this morning was “The Night Owls.” Ten seconds in, I recalled the record and was still, forty years later, unimpressed.

(There was an odd moment, too, regarding “Just Once.” The survey, as presented at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, credited the record only to Jones, and I thought to myself, “That’s a James Ingram record, isn’t it?” I grabbed my reference books and realized that I’d forgotten the song was from Jones’ album The Dude; the KS-95 survey as presented online had neglected to credit Ingram.)

Anyway, nine of those ten would have been a familiar and generally pleasant set of music forty years ago. Which of them would I like to hear these days? Let’s see how many of them are among the 2,700-some tracks in the iPod. It turns out to be just two: the Al Jarreau and the Mike Post, which is kind of how I figured it would go. As pleasant as some of the other eight might be, they really don’t matter to me.

And it’s not like the records from No. 11 through No. 20 on that survey from forty years ago offer great riches, either. There is one nugget, though, at No. 15, that I would probably put in my Top Ten from that long-ago year. And it’s a record that’s evidently been mentioned just once in the fourteen-plus years I’ve been throwing stuff at the wall here: “I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)” by Lulu.

It was a major comeback record for the Scottish singer who’d first tickled the lower level of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964 with “Shout” and then flew to the top of the chart in 1967 with “To Sir With Love.” By 1981, Lulu had been absent from the charts for eleven years, but “I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)” went to No. 18 in an eighteen-week stay on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.

And I still think it’s a great record:

The Moody Blues: 1981

August 27, 2021

Here, we resume a long-dormant project: An assessment of the massive oeuvre of the Moody Blues, looking today at the 1981 album Long Distance Voyager.

It hasn’t quite been forty years – the conversation I recalled this morning happed in the autumn of 1981 – but it’s close enough. I was out for lunch with the new photographer for the Monticello Times – our previous, long-time guy had left for grad school in Missouri during the summer – and we were still in the stage of getting to know each other.

I mentioned that over the previous weekend I’d picked up Long Distance Voyager, the most recent release by the Moody Blues. It had come out the previous spring and had been on my want list for a bit, especially since I’d heard “Gemini Dream,” the album’s first single, during the summer, and had been hearing “The Voice,” the second single from the album, on the radio in recent weeks.

(At the time of the conversation I’m remembering, in fact, it’s quite likely that “The Voice” was nearing its peak position of No 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the album itself spent three weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1981.)

“I do really like ‘The Voice’,” I likely would have told Andris, “and there are a couple of other tracks that I think are really good, but I want to hear them a few times.”

“Hmpph!” Andris looked at me over his menu. “I don’t like the Moody Blues at all. I don’t like the Wall of Sound.”

We found other things to talk about.

Forty years later, I still like Long Distance Voyager. Despite some flaws, it remains for me one of the most listenable albums in the Moody’s lengthy discography, from the opener, “The Voice,” right up to the end of “Nervous.” Then come the last three tracks, “Painted Smile/Reflective Smile” and “Veteran Cosmic Rocker,” all written by Ray Thomas.

The first of those tries to hard to be cute, with circus music and simplistic lyrics that – had I written them in 1981 – would have made me cringe. Then, with “Reflective Smile,” Thomas lapses into one of those bits of bombastic narration that mar the Moodys’ releases from the late 1960s. And in “Veteran Cosmic Rocker,” Thomas tries so hard that the track verges on parody.

Up until then, however, Long Distance Voyager offers plenty that I do like: “The Voice,” once we get past the Moody’s usual quasi-dramatic introduction, propels us into the album with lyrics that are both mystical and a call to action (I think). I also like the other two tracks that came out as singles: “Gemini Dream” got to No. 12; “Talking Out Of Turn” came out after the title track and stumbled, reaching only No. 65.

The best thing on the album, however, is John Lodge’s “Nervous,” which could have used a better title (as my blogging colleague jb noted in his perceptive assessment of Long Distance Voyager two years ago). Intense, compelling, and propulsive, the song, with its refrain of “Bring it on home/let’s bring it on home (your love)” would have been a perfect place to end the album instead of Thomas’ strange and sophomoric trilogy.

In fact, I think that the first time I listened to the album, I expected it to end after “Nervous,” and I thought to myself “That’s a really short album, isn’t it?”

So, forty years down the road, what grade do I give to Long Distance Voyager? Thinking of it that way, I’m reminded of a long-ago student of mine who turned in superior work for eight weeks of the quarter and then faltered. I knew life was throwing some challenges his way, and he ended up with an A after a good final exam.

But there is no final exam for the Moody Blues here. The first eighty percent of the record was A or A-minus quality, but the ending was full of nonsense that – because it comes at what should be a climactic moment – saddles the album with inescapable flaws. The record gets a grade of B-minus (and is lucky to get that).

Here’s “Nervous.”

On The Radio: March 1981

March 31, 2021

Forty years ago today – March 31, 1981 – was a Tuesday, and I was no doubt sitting at my electronic terminal at the Monticello Times. As I noted not quite six years ago Tuesday was a writing day:

From seven in the morning until about four in the afternoon, I’d have been at my desk, turning out copy: An account of the previous evening’s meeting of the Monticello City Council; stories covering the previous Friday’s football games at the high schools in Monticello and nearby Big Lake, as well as coverage for the other fall sports at the two schools and their attendant junior high schools; highlights from the weekly sheriff’s reports in Wright County and Sherburne County; a feature story or two; and coverage of anything out of the ordinary that might have occurred during the past seven days in that small town.

There would have been very little music during the day, probably only what I heard in the car as I drove: to work in the morning, to and from lunch, to home in the later afternoon and then to and from work again in the evening, when I would do some final phone interviews for last-minute stories and we began to paste together that week’s edition.

It was around March 1981 when the Other Half and I purchased our first and only new car, a 1981 Chevette, which we thought was a decent vehicle. Beyond automotive value, it had an FM radio, so I was no doubt listening to the Twin Cities’ KSTP-FM as I drove. Here’s the Top Ten from KS-95 – as it was called – released forty years ago today:

“Morning Train” by Sheena Easton
“Hello Again” by Neil Diamond
“Just The Two Of Us” by Grover Washington, Jr. (with Bill Withers)
“What Kind Of Fool” by Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb
“Crying” by Don McLean
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood
“Somebody’s Knockin’” by Teri Gibbs
“Woman” by John Lennon
“9 To 5” by Dolly Parton
“Angel Of The Morning” by Juice Newton

That’s not a bad stretch of listening, actually, better than I expected. I got weary of the McLean single and of “9 To 5,” but the rest was not bad. Still, only four of those tracks are on the digital shelves here: those by Winwood, Washington/Withers, Lennon, and – surprisingly – Newton. And only “Just The Two Of Us” and “While You See A Chance” have made it to my day-to-day listening in the iPod.

I note one other interesting thing on the KS-95 survey: At No. 16 is Bruce Springsteen’s “Fade Away,” down three spots from the week before. Now, during the three or four evenings a week I was home in those days, the Other Half and I would often turn off the television and turn on KS-95. But I don’t recall ever hearing “Fade Away” during any of those evenings forty years ago. I wasn’t, of course, into Springsteen at the time, but still . . .

Here’s the single version of “Fade Away,” highlighting the organ work of the late Danny Federici. It’s slightly shorter, based on the listed running time, than the version on The River.

Peter, Gary, Chubby & Gladys

March 31, 2021

Originally posted July 2, 2009.

Talking a walk around YouTube this morning, I found a few things of interest.

Here’s Peter Kaukonen with a nifty rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” from what looks to be a relatively recent performance at the B.B. King Blues Bar & Grill in New York City.

Here’s Gary U.S. Bonds in what appears to be a 1981 ( not 1989, as in the original post) television performance of the Bruce Springsteen-penned “This Little Girl Is Mine.”

I also found a video, evidently from 1961 (with subtitles added later), of Chubby Checker singing and dancing his way through “Let’s Twist Again.”

And finally, with a performance of “Every Beat Of My Heart” followed by “So Sad The Song,” here are Gladys Knight and the Pips during a 1977 performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

I think that tomorrow, we’ll pull one random song from every year of the 1960s, just as we’ve recently done for the 1970s and the 1980s. But we’ll see what might otherwise pop up between now and tomorrow morning.

At Home With The Radio: 1981

January 13, 2021

I’ve noted here on occasion that during the times when I was a reporter in Monticello – November 1977 into August 1983 – there were numerous Saturday evenings when the Other Half and I turned off the TV and let KSTP-FM keep us company from the Twin Cities.

Here’s some of what we would have heard had we spent an evening like that forty years ago this week. Courtesy of the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, this is the Top Ten from KSTP-FM released January 13, 1981, forty years ago today:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon
“The Tide Is High” by Blondie
“Every Woman In The World” by Air Supply
“Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan
“Love On The Rocks” by Neil Diamond
“I Love A Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt
“Never Be The Same” by Christopher Cross
“I Made It Through The Rain” by Barry Manilow
“It’s My Turn” by Diana Ross
“Suddenly” by Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard

That likely would have been one of those evenings when – thirty minutes in – one of us would have turned to the other and said, “Some good music tonight,” and the other would have murmured “Yeah, there is,” while involved in a Stephen King novel (me) or a crafting project (her).

But how does that set play forty years later? I admit I had to duck out to YouTube to refresh my memories of two of those – the Newton-John/Richard record and the Cross single. The first is okay, carrying reminders of the indigestible movie Xanadu, and the second is decent, but even after listening to it this morning, it remains unmemorable, even though the entire Christopher Cross album is in the digital stacks.

But there are a couple of gems in that Top Ten: The John Lennon record would still have been making us a little sad, as it had been just more than a month since he was murdered, but it remains a good record; and “Hey Nineteen” is one of Steely Dan’s less opaque offerings, at least.

The others there that can still evince a smile from me forty years later are the records by Eddie Rabbitt, Blondie and Barry Manilow. That last – “I Made It Through The Rain” – is the kind of bittersweet schmaltz aimed directly at romantic fools such as I. And for all its flaws – and there are several – it’s a good memory.

I can, however, do without the records from Diamond, Ross and Air Supply.

About half of those ten are among the 81,000 sorted tracks on the digital shelves. Have any of them made it into the iPod and thus my day-to-day listening?

Well, just the records by Eddie Rabbitt and Blondie. “Hey Nineteen” should be in there (and likely will by the end of the day), and I’m thinking about the John Lennon record. And the Manilow.

So what do we feature today? Well, why not something from Xanadu? That’s a rhetorical question; there may in fact be many reasons why not. And why? Just because it showed up here today.

So, here’s “Suddenly” by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard. As well as making the Top Ten at KSTP-FM (and peaking at No. 9 there), the record went to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.

Into The Eighties

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 24, 2009

I generally don’t spend a lot of time contemplating the 1980s. The years of big hair, thirtysomething and “Greed is good” don’t attract me much. I find myself, as regular readers no doubt figured out early on, much more interested in the 1960s and the 1970s, the years when I did the bulk of my growing up.

I do tend to subscribe to the theory that we never cease growing up. There is always work to be done, and there always will be. For me, some difficult parts of that work came in the 1980s, making some of those years hard. On the other hand, some of the finest years of my life – professionally and personally – came during that decade, so on the plus-minus scale, it’s mostly, I would guess, a wash.

But according to the numbers I shared here a few weeks ago, I’m not all that much interested in the 1980s, as least as far as the music of the decade goes. Here are the numbers of mp3s, sorted by decade since 1950, as I reported a few weeks ago:

1950s: 1,152
1960s: 8,820
1970s: 13,445
1980s: 3,327
1990s: 4,525
2000s: 5,319

There are fewer songs from the 1950s than from any other decade because, turning six just before the decade ended, I remember so little of those years, both in a large sense and musically.

If I were asked what song from the Fifties I remember most from hearing at the time, it would be a tie between Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” (No. 1 for six weeks in 1958) and David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” (No. 1 on three different charts in 1958 as well). Those are fun, which has its place, but not exactly the kind of artistry I like to recognize here.

Leaving the 1950s, then, as something incomplete, the numbers above show an interesting tale: I clearly have much less interest in the 1980s than I do in any of the other decades I remember. And I’m not sure I know why.

I used to think it was the music: arena rock and synthpop and drum machines and dancepop are what come to mind. I know I wasn’t listening to much pop music when the decade started. As I spent time on various college campuses through the decade, as a grad student, a writer and a teacher, I heard more current music than I had in a while. I liked some of it, and as I dig further into that lost decade these days, I find I like more of the music than I would have expected. (That means that on another day down the road, when I run the numbers, that imbalance may have diminished a bit.) So it might not have been the synthpop and the drum machines and the dance pop. (Arena rock remains less than attractive.)

I called the 1980s a lost decade just above. That might be a bit harsh, but it’s not far from the truth. I didn’t care for a lot of what I saw happening in public affairs or in popular culture, so I think that for chunks of the decade, I just checked out – from music, from most television, from film, from current fiction and nonfiction and from current events (with the exception of those that immediately affected how I was earning my living at the time as a reporter, a public relations writer or a teacher). And at the same time, I was looking for a place to roost, moving from Monticello, Minnesota, to Columbia, Missouri, and back to Monticello. From there, I spent a summer in St. Cloud, then moved to Minot, North Dakota, for two years, and finally ended the decade in Anoka, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis.

And here’s a random selection from each year of that decade of drifting:

1980: “One Love” by Sniff ’N’ The Tears from The Game’s Up
1981: “The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age
1982: “Tables Turning” by Modern English from After the Snow
1983: “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” by Bob Dylan, New York City, April 23
1984: “None But The Brave” by Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A. sessions, New York City
1985: “Minutes to Memories” by John Cougar Mellencamp from Scarecrow
1986: “Love You ’til The Day I Die” by Crowded House from Crowded House
1987: “Isolation” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart
1988: “Let The Rain Come Down On Me” by Toni Childs from Union
1989: “The Last Worthless Evening” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence

That’s kind of an interesting mix. I do have a few thoughts:

As much as I like most of Fogelberg’s work, and as beautiful as I thought The Innocent Age was when it came out, its lush orchestration is sounding more and more overblown as the years pass.

The Dylan track is an early version of “Tight Connection To My Heart,” which showed up on Empire Burlesque in 1985; you can find this version on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3. It’s interesting to compare the two and get a look at Dylan’s creative process, looking at what he retained and what he changed. The Springsteen track is from the third CD of The Essential Bruce Springsteen. It sounds more relaxed – but no less muscular – than the songs that made it on to Born In The U.S.A., if that makes any sense.

The Crowded House tune is a lot more, well, angular than the stuff I know best by the band. I have a soft spot for “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” but the lushness of that ballad wasn’t a fully accurate picture of the band, either. The truth was, I guess, in the middle.

I’ve never known Sniff ’N’ The Tears’ work well, so we’ll let “One Love” pass. As to the Modern English track, “Table Turning” is kind of just there, with nothing – to my ears – that differentiates it from a thousand other songs from the same period. It certainly pales next to the same album’s gorgeous “I Melt With You.”

The Toni Childs’ track is from a cryptic album I’ve loved since 1988. The Mellencamp and Cocker can go without any comment. I do wish that a different Henley tune from The End of the Innocence had popped up. From the first time I heard “Heart of the Matter,” I’ve thought that Henley asked the key question about the 1980s:

“How can love survive in such a graceless age?”

Well, love did survive, of course, as did I and most of us who were around for those years. But they truly were, in so many ways, graceless. As do most years, however, they at least left some good music behind.

Chart Digging: Four Julys

July 25, 2018

It seems that there were only four times during the years that interest us here that Billboard published on July 25: 1960, 1964, 1970, and 1981. The gaps between years – one remarkably short and another remarkably long – came for two reasons. First, I think that the magazine shifted its publication date from Monday to Saturday, creating the four-year gap between the first two charts we’ll look at; and then, the insertion of Leap Year Day – February 29 – into 1976 shifted days, so that July 25 moved from a Friday in 1975 to a Sunday in 1976.

All of that leads us to confirm an idea hatched here some years ago that anything that happens because of February 29 does nothing but cause trouble. Anyway, we have four instances of a Billboard Hot 100 to examine this morning, and we’re going to play some Games With Numbers, turning today’s date, 7-25, into No. 32 and see what treasures may lie at that spot in those four charts. We’ll also, as we customarily do, check out the No. 1 record for each of those weeks. So let’s get underway:

During this week in 1960, when a six-year-old whiteray was wandering through the summer before second grade, he and his pals were probably unaware of anything on the Hot 100 except perhaps Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polkadot Bikini” because the title was fun to sing and it was a little bit daring. I’m not certain what my pals knew beyond that fifty-eight years ago, but I certainly was unaware that “Pennies From Heaven” by the Skyliners was sitting at No. 32.

In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn describes the group from Pittsburgh as a doo-wop outfit, and that certainly held true for 1959’s “Since I Don’t Have You,” but the group’s cover of “Pennies From Heaven” sounds more like Vegas and the Rat Pack than an East Coast serenade from a brownstone’s step. The record had peaked the week earlier at No. 24 and was on its way down the chart. It was the last of three Top 40 hits for the Skyliners, although they kept trying, releasing singles into the late 1970s.

I wasn’t listening to KDWB at the time, of course, but from what I can see at Oldiesloon, “Pennies From Heaven” never reached the station’s survey.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 fifty-eight years ago today was Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.” (And in my head, I hear Golden Earring.)

We jump ahead four years to the summer of 1964, when sixth grade (and an intense crush on a young lady who lived about ten blocks south on Kilian Boulevard) was approaching but still out of sight. Parked at No. 32 fifty-four years ago today was the classic “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, heading toward a three-week stay at No. 1. Do I remember it from then or just from repeated hearings over the years since? I have no idea (and that’s true of many records from before, oh, 1967 or so). Over the next year, the Dixie Cups placed five more records in or near the Hot 100, including the classic “Iko Iko,” which went to No. 20 in 1965. (That record, Whitburn notes, was a reworking of “Jock-O-Mo,” written and recorded in 1953 by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford & His Cane Cutters.)

At KDWB, “Chapel of Love” peaked at No. 3, parking there for three weeks.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 fifty-four summers ago this week was “Rag Doll” by the Four Seasons.

By the summer of 1970, the next time Billboard released a Hot 100 on July 25, I was a dedicated Top 40 listener, so one would expect familiarity at No. 32. And that’s just what we get with “In The Summertime” by Mungo Jerry. The record came from a skiffle band from England, with Ray Dorset on vocals, and it was seemingly everywhere that summer, reaching No. 3 in the Hot 100. (It also went to No. 30 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.) But I’m not altogether sure where I heard it, as the record never made the KDWB 6+30 survey, according to the lists at Oldiesloon. Well, no matter where I heard it, it seemed to be everywhere, and the lines “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal. If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel,” seem now to be awful advice.

As it happens, “In The Summertime” is a perfect one-hit wonder, as the group never had any other records reach the Hot 100 or even bubble under.

(As the note below from faithful reader Yah Shure makes clear, “In The Summertime” did get plenty of air play on KDWB, which is what I recalled. I clearly messed up the search somehow and did not trust my memory and look again. Note added August 7, 2018.)

The No. 1 record in the July 25, 1970, Hot 100 was “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters.

And from 1970, we jump to July 25, 1981, smack in the middle of one of the six summers I spent as a reporter for the Monticello Times. As I’ve noted many times more than once here, I was listening less and less to Top 40 during those days, first because I had less leisure time and also because I liked what I was hearing less and less. Still, I do remember that week’s No. 32 record, “America” by Neil Diamond.

One of three Top Ten hits from Diamond’s movie The Jazz Singer, “America” had peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks on the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. (The other two hits from the movie were “Love On The Rocks,” which went to No. 2, and “Hello Again,” which peaked at No. 6.) Diamond, of course, had a lengthy list of records in the Billboard charts, with the 2009 edition of Top Pop Singles showing fifty-six records in the Hot 100.

There are no 1981 surveys from KDWB at Oldiesloon, nor are there any from WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Sitting at No. 1 thirty-seven years ago today was “The One That You Love” by Air Supply.