Posts Tagged ‘Fixx [The]’

Driving On Ice With No Clue

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 13, 2009

When I went to graduate school at the University of Missouri, I lived in a mobile home park on the south edge of the city of Columbia. The park was on at the top of a hill on Grindstone Creek Road. (The road is still there, according to Google Earth, but the mobile home park is gone.) Heading into the city from my home, Grindstone Creek Road twisted and turned its way down the hill to a major intersection; from there, the university campus was located up another hill, though the roads were straight and the hill not so steep.

For most of the time I went to graduate school, I had no problem getting to and from school and the offices on campus of the Columbia Missourian and, later, the office of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Through the last four months of 1983, I’d had no difficulty with the weather; I’d actually chuckled a little at the way folks clutched their coats and huddled over in the face of a thirty-degree breeze (-1 Celsius).

One day during the first couple weeks of January of 1984, I woke up to learn that an overnight storm had left a skim of ice on the ground, topped by about three inches of snow. I shrugged, got dressed and headed out. I swept the snow of my car – a Toyota that I’d named Toby; I’ll tell his tale someday – and headed through the mobile home park toward the gate on Grindstone Creek Road.

With the defroster clearing away the fog on the windshield, I watched as about four or five cars went past me, heading down Grindstone’s hill. Every one of them was sliding around the curve to the south, fish-tailing as they came through the short straight stretch by the mobile home park and then fishtailing around the curve where the twisty, downhill portion of the road began.

I know how to drive in snow and – when absolutely necessary – on icy roads. My record isn’t perfect: I’ve gotten stuck a few times and had a fender-bender or two, but I grew up driving in winter. Those folks I watched coming past the mobile home park and heading down the hill that morning had no clue. There was no way I was going to pull out onto Grindstone and put myself in their paths. I drove back to my place and stayed put until the traffic had settled down.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 14, 1984)

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, Atco 99817 (No. 2)

“Church of the Poison Mind” by Culture Club, Epic/Virgin 04144 (No. 27)

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA 52316 (No. 32)

“In A Big Country” by Big Country, Mercury 814467 (No. 57)

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 04301 (No. 70)

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol 5271 (No. 100)

Ah, the Eighties! Not one of my favorite decades musically, although I had some very good years during that time. (There were one or two years that were real stinkers, though, so that may color my perception of the decade.) I’m not at all sure how well any of these have aged. Well, except the Dylan, as its production is not tied to what one might call “The Classic Eighties Sound.”

Actually, the Dylan track sounds darn good, with a good lyric and melody. The credits on the album Infidels list Sly Dunbar on drums and percussion, Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Alan Clark on keyboards, Dylan on guitar, harmonica and keyboards and Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor on guitar. Knopfler and Dylan co-produced. I don’t know which of the two guitarists – Taylor or Knopfler – is playing on “Sweetheart Like You,” but, well, just listen to it. (The record peaked a couple weeks later at No. 55.)

As to the others – all of which I selected pretty much on whims – I think “In A Big Country,” with its bagpipes and broad ambitions, still works. In fact, I like it a whole lot more in 2009 than I did in 1983, when the album The Crossing was released. The single eventually went as high as No. 17 and was Big Country’s only Top 40 hit.*

Similarly, I like Culture Club’s “Church of the Poison Mind” more than I did back then. Still, what makes the track work is not so much Boy George and the rest of the band; it’s the vocal from Helen Terry that lifts the record up from the rest of the pack. By January of 1984, the record was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 10.

Of the other three, I think the Yes single is the most memorable, though not necessarily the best; still, it reached No. 1 in the next week’s chart and stayed there for another week, the only Top Ten hit in the career of the long-lived and oft-altered group.

The Fixx’s single isn’t – to my ears – very memorable. It had reached its peak at No. 32 in the January 14, 1984, chart. And the Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” – which is either the best or second best of these six records; call it a tie with “Sweetheart Like You” – was just ending a long stay on the Hot 100. In a twenty-week run, the Motels’ single had gone up to No. 9 before falling back.

It’s possible – maybe even likely – that’s some of these are album versions instead of the singles. And as always, bitrates may vary.

Bonus!
Sadly, I don’t have the record or the mp3, but at Dr. Forrest’s Cheeze Factory, I found a link to the video for the No. 16 record on the January 14, 1984 Top 40: “The Curly Shuffle” by Jump ’N The Saddle:

That’s just one more bit of nonsense that proves that a good novelty single can make the charts in any era. Nyuk-nyuk!

*Shortly after this post was published, a kind reader who knew more than I about Big Country informed me that the bagpipe sound in “In A Big Country” had actually been created by electronically altering guitar sounds. Note added November 16, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 9, 2008

A year or so back, I wrote about my first working summer, the summer I ended up cleaning and waxing floors with Mike and learning, along the way, to use one of those rotary floor scrubbers and polishers.

I saw a fellow using one of them somewhere the other day – I’ve wracked my brain and cannot remember where – and it brought me back to that summer. It also reminded me of a day in the autumn of 1983, not long after I’d started graduate school.

At the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, there is a covered walkway between Neff Hall and the building that houses the Columbia Missourian, the newspaper written by students and edited by teachers and graduate students. As I came through the walkway one autumn morning, I saw one of the maintenance men, an older fellow whose name I sadly do not recall, using a floor polisher with streams of students walking past him.

Sympathizing, I said to him, as the flow of students clogged, “Kind of hard to hit all the spots with all this traffic, isn’t it?”

He thought I was being critical. He stopped the machine and spun the handles toward me. “You wanna give it a try?”

I thought about trying to explain what I had meant and decided that wouldn’t work. So I shrugged and handed him my briefcase. I grabbed the handles, reminded myself – after twelve years – what it would feel like. I glanced over at the janitor, who was looking at me with a gleam of anticipation in his eye.

I squeezed the handles, and the polisher pulled me slightly to the right. I adjusted the weight, and – it came back to me in an instant – began polishing the floor right next to where he’d been working. Push forward slightly and go one way, pull back a little and go the other way.

The janitor smiled wryly and chewed his cheek. “You’ve done that before,” he said.

I nodded. “That’s one of the ways I got through my undergraduate years,” I told him.

I stopped the machine and took my briefcase, and he resumed polishing the floor. I spent another fifteen months taking classes at Mizzou, and every time I saw him from then on, he shot me a wink and a smile.

And here’s some of the music that I might have heard that evening when I was doing janitorial duties in my own home.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983, Vol. 2
“Love Is The Law” by the Suburbs from Love Is The Law

“Easy Money” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man

“Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, Harvest single 5195

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA single 52316

“Rings” by Leo Kottke from Time Step

“Murder By Numbers” by the Police from Synchronicity

“Oh, What A Night” by Tracey Ullman from You Broke My Heart in 17 Places

“Finally Found A Home” by Huey Lewis & The News from Sports

“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners from Too-Rye-Ay

“On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. single 04594, from the film, Eddie And The Cruisers

“Man of Peace” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Poison Arrow” by ABC, Mercury single 810340

“True” by Spandau Ballet, Chrysalis single 42720

I’ll admit to not knowing a lot of these at the time they came out. I retreated from pop and rock as the Seventies moved into the Eighties, bored for the most part with what I was hearing and thus not keeping up with things as New Wave and Punk wandered into the room. In many ways, I’m in the same circumstance with a lot of the music from that time as I was in 1969, when I began to catch up with the years previous to then. But I have a few thoughts:

I’m still not impressed with Duran Duran. I wasn’t back then, when they were on MTV a lot (those were the years when MTV played music videos almost all the time), and I’m not now. They’re an inescapable part of the Eighties, though, in the same way that, oh, Alice Cooper was in the Seventies. (And I know I’ve offended two sets of fans there. Sorry.)

I’m not sure if one can lump the Suburbs and ABC into the same category, but the songs by those groups here are propulsive and fun (and that last adjective is odd when one considers the topic of ABC’s “Poison Arrow”). Another one of these songs that can be described the same way but is less consciously “New Wave” – if that really means anything – is “Come On, Eileen,” which in its single edit went to No. 1 in early 1983.

I guess “Easy Money” is the place on An Innocent Man where Billy Joel makes his nod toward Stax/Volt or something similar. I don’t know if it works in the context of the album, but hearing the song on its own, well, it just sounds like a mismatch. (The review of the album by Steven Thomas Erlewine at All-Music Guide also gauges the song as a Stax/Volt tribute. Erlewine makes the point that although the bulk of the album is an homage to pre-Beatles pop, Stax/Volt showed up after that time, putting “Easy Money” out of place on the album.)

“Rings” by Leo Kottke is a remake of the 1971 hit by Cymarron, and Kottke comes off pretty well. I almost lost my coffee laughing when I heard Leo sing, “Got Mel Blanc on the radio” instead of “Got James Taylor on the stereo.”

“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Brown Beaver Band is the best non-Springsteen Springsteen ever.