Posts Tagged ‘Mike & The Mechanics’

A Baker’s Dozen From 1986

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 10, 2007

Well, 1986.

In late 1992, as the year was nearing its end, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth characterized it as the annus horribilis, or horrible year. As 1986 turned into 1987, I felt the same way.

The year had started all right. A consortium of weekly newspaper publishers for whom I’d been covering government in Wright County as a freelancer had decided in December, not unexpectedly, not to continue the arrangement into the new year. And as January approached, I sought new employment. It wasn’t urgent, as I was married at the time and had been house-husbanding while I was a freelancer. But I wanted to get back into the workforce on a more substantial basis.

I was already teaching one course – a weekly night class: Introduction to Mass Communication – at St. Cloud State, so in mid-January I drove from Monticello to St. Cloud and the campus to nose around for possible additional jobs there. I dropped in at the university’s public relations office, where the director was a long-time family acquaintance. (My father had retired only two years earlier after thirty-three years as a teacher and administrator.) He took my resume and told me, regretfully, that he didn’t foresee any openings in his operations.

The next day he called. The main writer in his office had given him a week’s notice, and he wondered if I would fill in while a search began for her replacement. He added that I could certainly apply for the permanent position. So the following Monday, the last in January, I began to commute to St. Cloud every day. The thirty-mile drive, I learned, gave me time to organize my day in the morning, and time to wind down from it in the evening.

On my second day in the public relations office, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in the Florida sky just more than a minute after it was launched. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but that horrible event can be seen in retrospect as an omen. In about May, my life – not a bad one at the time, as these things go – began to disintegrate as well, unraveling at the seams like a poorly sewn garment.

I don’t want to rehash the events of 1986, and I don’t want to bore anyone else with them. Let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, I could sit in my easy chair in Monticello and see, figuratively, the tatters of my life on the floor. It took a long time to clean up the mess and an even longer time – with a couple of false starts – to create a new garment in which to live my life.

So I wasn’t listening much to music in 1986, having other things on my mind. And in retrospect, that was good. If I had been attentive to music, then many of the tunes from the year would carry a layer of grief with them and would be nearly intolerable to hear even today. As it turned out, I generally absorbed the music of 1986 at a later date, so listening to the year’s music is not an unhappy exercise.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1986

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, A&M single 2857

“Precious Memories” by Bob Dylan from Knocked Out Loaded

“I Ain’t Drunk” by Albert Collins from Cold Snap

“Shanghai Surprise” by George Harrison with Vicki Brown, Shanghai Surprise soundtrack

“All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics, Atlantic single 89450

“Under African Skies” by Paul Simon from Graceland

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA single 52756

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, EMI America single 8307

“The Spirit” by the Moody Blues from The Other Side Of Life

“Something So Strong” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5695

“Still Around” by Robert Cray from Strong Persuader

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range from The Way It Is

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Welcome to the Boomtown” is one of the best singles that I think almost everyone forgets about. Its atmosphere, its story and its production values all sparkle as it tells its tale of dissolution, ennui and despair in the big city. Although Columbia, Missouri – which I’d left in 1985 – was no double for L.A., the reference to Denny’s always makes me think of the Denny’s along the freeway in Columbia. I would occasionally stop by for a late-night omelet, and the cast of characters I saw regularly there could easily populate a story set in any city about lives whirling into hard habits and out of control.

The Bob Dylan track is one of the lesser songs from one of his lesser albums. I had hoped that if a track from Knocked Out Loaded popped up during the random run, it would be “Brownsville Girl,” the eleven-minute epic Dylan wrote with playwright Sam Shepard. That track contains two of the more fascinating, disruptive and frankly strange verses ever to appear in a Dylan song:

“Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
“We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile.
“Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
“She said, ‘Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while.’
 
“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of bummin’ a ride back to where she started.
“But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
“She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead.’ You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
“She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’”

Sounds like Bob Dylan meets Sam Shepard to me.

If you don’t recall “Shanghai Surprise” even though you’re old enough to do so, that’s not really startling. It was the title tune to a film starring Madonna and Sean Penn, then newlyweds. George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced it, which is how the one-time Beatle ended up doing the soundtrack, which was never released as an album. There are a few single-sided 45s of the title tune out there, selling for more than $1,000. “Shanghai Surprise,” along with “Zig-zag,” a song from the film that had been released as the b-side of the single “When We Was Fab,” ended up as bonus tracks on a 2004 CD reissue of Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine.

“Amanda” came from Third Stage, Boston’s long-awaited and long-delayed third album. In general, I have little affection for the music labeled arena rock. Boston, however, I like, and “Amanda” may be my favorite track by the group. Listening to it today for the first time in a while, though, I hear echoes of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from three years earlier.

The Robert Cray tune is an album track from Strong Persuader, the record that made Cray famous and, to my mind, signaled the blues boom that was to come in the 1990s. Cray’s R&B-tinged blues have aged well.

I was glad to see something from Peter Gabriel’s So show up during the random run. I was never much of a fan of Genesis, so I was surprised by the depth and beauty of the album. Even twenty-one years after its release, it remains fresh and truly beautiful at points, which is a rare thing.