April 1983: high-school graduation was a month and change away. I’d yet to attend a concert, outside of some nondescript local band (named Lightning, if memory serves) that played the high school one Friday or Saturday night in ’81 or ‘82. That would change the following month, though, when I saw not one, but two cool shows: the Kinks at the Spectrum and Roxy Music (with Modern English opening) at the Tower Theater.
Back to this month: I continued a trend that began in late ‘82, picking up not one, not two, but five Lou Reed albums (his self-titled debut, Berlin, Metal Machine Music, Street Hassle and a 5-LP French compilation that, sadly, went AWOL during my Happy Valley days); four Velvet Underground albums (White Light/White Heat, their self-titled third LP, Loaded and Live at Max’s Kansas City); Roxy Music’s Avalon and 4-song High Road EP; and…Bananarama’s Deep Sea Skiving?! Yep. They were really saying something…
One funny story about Metal Machine Music. I’d read Diana Clapton’s bio of Lou, the no-star Rolling Stone Record Guide review and…I had to hear that double-LP set for myself. I just did. So, I hightailed it for my bedroom upon my return home, slipped the first of the two LPs from its sleeve and placed it onto my turntable…
Yeah, it’s bad. No, strike that. It’s worse than bad. But, I was 17. Optimistic. So I kept waiting for it to get better. A few minutes passed. Then some more. And then there was a knock at my door. My father, a concerned look on his face, entered. “Is your stereo broken?” he asked.
I never played it again.
Anyway, you might think from the list of purchases that I was a lunatic speed freak. In truth, though, I was just a quirky geek. I studied too much, belonged to the Chess and World Affairs clubs, went out some, and took the train into Philly on the occasional weekend to catch movies not available in the suburbs, like Ciao! Manhattan and Piaf: The Early Years. Musically, I veered from the esoteric to MOR; the month before, for instance, I picked up four Linda Ronstadt LPs (the new Get Closer, her first Greatest Hits, Hasten Down the Wind and Simple Dreams) in addition to four Lou Reed albums (Transformer, Live, Coney Island Baby and Legendary Hearts), the Mamas & the Papas’ Greatest Hits, Phil Collins’ Face Value and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
Twenty-three albums in two months sounds like a lot. Hell, it is a lot. But I didn’t shell out big bucks. Far from it. I frequented a used-record store that was a mere 15- or 20-minute bike ride away. For the price of one LP in a mall store (or the local indie shop I also frequented), I came home with three, four, sometimes five albums. I also belonged to the RCA Music Club, which served up large discounts – and, as the case with Phil Collins, when I forgot to send back the slip, sometimes received an album I wasn’t that interested in. To the point: in looking at what I bought that March and April, only four were new – Get Closer, Face Value, and the two Roxy Music releases.
Wait, make that five: I also bought, that March, the cassette of Bob Seger’s The Distance, which I’d received on vinyl for Christmas. (I did that, sometimes, on the assumption that store-bought cassettes sounded better than homemade tapes.)
Bob Seger was, and still is, one of my all-time favorites. (Above my desk, in fact, is a framed, limited-edition lithograph of the Against the Wind album cover.) Which is why, back in the day, I picked up this specific edition of Musician magazine; it features an excellent profile/interview of the Midwest rocker, by Timothy White, which focuses on The Distance.
He actually challenged himself when it came to recording the LP – no mid-tempo songs, no nostalgic numbers.
One subject of discussion: songs he left behind and/or was still tinkering with. “I’ve got looseleaf notebooks, stacks of ‘em, with lyrics in them!” he says. “I have 100 finished songs in the can and 400 half-finished, dangling pieces like ‘Thunderbirds’ was…I’ve been writing for eighteen years, and I’ve got every tape I ever wrote on, and every notebook. I’ve always worked on the premise that the ones you continually remember are apt to be the best ones. I’ve got one I’ve been working on, off and on, for six years, called ‘Quiet Wars.’”
He also talks about his burgeoning friendship with Bruce Springsteen: “I spent about six to eight hours with him in his car, driving around L.A., up and down the hills. Funny thing is, when you just talk to Bruce for brief periods of time you don’t get any sense of how deep he really is, since he’s quite shy, very reticent. But when he loosens up, you really see this guy is no dummy, that he’s extremely bright.”
Musician: Ah, but is he a good driver?
Seger: (Laughter) I didn’t really notice. I was too busy listening to his philosophies and to his album tapes. He’s got fierce moral values and principles—chiseled in stone—and you have to admire him for that. He told me the story behind Nebraska, and to see the dedication in his eyes and hear him speak about that record, it almost took on a life of its own in his mind. We stopped at the top of Mulholland and played each other’s records. I thought my tape deck was loud—his was ungodly. When we got to my stuff, me, [Jimmy] Iovine and Bruce were in his car at the top of Mulholland in this little shopping center, and this was about twelve o’clock at night. And this girl, way at the other end of the shopping center—a good 200 yards—was standing on her lawn in her bathrobe. We woke her up! And she was waving at us, motioning, ‘Turn it down!”
Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5:
1) Bob Seger – “Roll Me Away.” In the interview, Seger recalls a trip he made in July 1980: “I climbed onto my bike and rode out of Michigan, straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, covering 300 miles a day. Jackson Hole was where my back muscles gave out. It was an experience of renewal, but sometimes a punishing one: nearly freezing to death in northern Minnesota—in the summer!—two days later having to strip down to just a pair of shorts in the 105 degree heat of South Dakota; roaring by myself through the Badlands; slipping past the Tetons. You’re really embraced by nature and the elements in a way you just can’t be in a car, and the vistas aren’t chopped off by a roof or sun visor. Out on the plains, you can see storms coming from hundreds of miles away, wondering if they’ll swoop down on you or drift by. The sun seems hotter, the cold seems sharper, the night seems deeper.”
2) The Three O’Clock – “She Turns to Flowers.” David Fricke’s “The Return of Garage: New Thrash from the Psychedelic Past” article was among my introductions to a West Coast music scene that, while I didn’t experience it first-hand due to living on the other coast, represented (and still represents) to me everything good about the ‘80s generation. “[C]onsider the case of the Salvation Army. (They now call themselves the Three O’Clock after the real Salvation Army raised a stink about their name.) The mock day-glo cover of their debut album on Frontier, The Salvation Army; song titles like ‘She Turns to Flowers’ and ‘While We Were in Your Room Talking to Your Wall’; and the odd backwards guitar solo suggest either severe acid damage or a novelty gag record. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The band plays with a raw punchy abandon, Clash ’77-style, and profess a respect for classy production values drummer Danny Benair says will be demonstrated on their upcoming EP.
“‘This band doesn’t just want to own crappy Vox amps with buzzes in them,’ declares Benair, who joined the group shortly after the album was made. ‘We take this style and put it out in a positive manner, which is pop songs with some strange twists. If we’re going to emulate anything, it’s the production qualities of the late 60s with the Beatles and early Pink Floyd.’
“The startling thing about the Salvation Army/Three O’Clock is singer/songwriter/bassist Michael Quercio, at nineteen barely old enough to remember the original psychedelic rush of Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play.’ His songs are not a lot of abstract nonsense in an ancient pop-art dialect but a natural expression—and dramatically engaging even in their rough demo-like form—of his influences. Where most of his friends grew up digging AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, Quercia swears by the Byrds, the Left Banke and Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett-era only.”
3) The Bangles – “The Real World.” The Bangles receive a glancing reference in the article itself (for shame, David Fricke, for shame!), but are featured in the “Selected Guide to Boss New Wax” addendum: “More go-go than the Go-Go’s, this all-girl troupe (until recently known as the Bangs) play a spritely 60s folk-pop with shimmering Shangri-Las harmonies and crisp ringing guitars. Their new 12-inch EP features four solid originals, but they’ve been known to cover Love, the Seeds, Simon & Garfunkel and the Merry-Go-Round.
4) Neil Young – “Mr. Soul.” Dan Forte reviews Neil’s January 25th concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco: “Having recently compared his 60s and early 70s output to Perry Como in the rock press, Neil proceeded to play ‘Heart of Gold,’ ‘Old Man,’ ‘Ohio,’ ‘Helpless’ and an hour’s worth of older compositions, proving in the process that some things never lose their relevance. While Crosby, Stills & Nash seem to be desperately trying to recapture their former magic, Young appears to have one foot firmly in the past with the other securely in the present and an eye cocked toward the future.”
Forte explains that the concert often jumped from the old into the new, such as in switching from “After the Gold Rush” to the vocoder-rich “Transformer Man,” which was from his new Trans LP. A paragraph later, Forte writes: “Young closed with his electronic-but-familiar version of ‘Mr. Soul’ (also from Trans). Again juxtaposing organic and synthetic (acoustic and electronic) with his encores, ‘Comes a Time’ and ‘Computer Age,’ he demonstrated the blanket critique that has followed him throughout his career: you either love him or you hate him, with no shades of grey in between.”
5) U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Kurt Loder reviews U2’s third LP, War, which he says is their best yet. “It’s that rare concept album that holds up (with minor lapses) from beginning to end—perhaps because these four Irishmen have a more intimate acquaintance with war and suffering and the resultant unquenchable yearning for peace than most other modern-day rockers, the Clash included. When Bono Vox sings, ‘There’s many lost, but tell me who has won,’ he’s not just really saying something—he’s said it all.”
Loder later writes: “What’s perhaps most encouraging about War is the extent to which U2 have been able to breathe some air into their monolithic sound. Thus, the modal whomp that’s at the heart of their attack here recedes a bit to allow some welcome instrumental detailing—the elegant bass of ‘As the Seconds Go By,’ the chattering guitar figure of ‘New Year’s Day,’ the free-booting drums on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’—along with the more characteristic muscularity of a track such as ‘The Refugee.’ This loosening up, while in no way vitiating their considerable power, has made them a lot more likable on a human level.”
6) The Call – “The Walls Came Down.” J.D. Considine, in his Rock Short Takes column, spotlights the Call’s second release, Modern Romans, though he fails to mention this (to my ears, at least) classic song. He also gets singer-guitarist Michael Been’s name wrong and makes a daft comparison of the Call to the Doors: “[T]his album establishes the Call as a contemporary group actually doing what the Doors were reputed to have done. Not that they’re soundalikes—lead singer Michael Keen sounds more like a macho David Byrne that the Lizard King—but the call does achieve the same sense of drama and challenge the Doors went after. Only the Call do it without the bullshit factor.”