Thirty-three years ago, in February 1984, America was stumbling out of back-to-back recessions that almost hammered the American Dream flat. The unemployment rate for January was 7.9 percent, which is high – but better than the 10.3 percent of January 1983. In fact, the unemployment rate for 1983 as a whole was, according to the St. Louis Fed, 9.5 percent – the same as it was in 1982. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has slightly different numbers – 9.6 and 9.7 percent, respectively.) The trend was headed in the right direction, however.
(This Pew Research Center essay delves in-depth into the “Reagan recession.”)
Stories in the news included Michael Jackson’s hair catching fire while he filmed a Pepsi commercial on Jan. 27th; the cable networks A&E and Lifetime debuting on Feb. 1st; the first successful embryo transfer from one woman to another being announced on Feb. 3rd; the movie Footloose premiering on Feb. 17th; and Michael Jackson winning eight Grammy Awards (seven for Thriller and one for the E.T. audiobook) on Feb. 28th.
New music releases for the month included the Footloose soundtrack; Thompson Twins’ Into the Gap; The Smiths’ eponymous debut; Queen’s The Works; The Alarm’s Declarations; and Van Morrison’s Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which had been released in November 1982, still ruled the album charts, as Record’s Top 100 list shows. At the time, I owned – on vinyl or cassette – four of the top 10 and seven of the top 20; and, by year’s end, 20 of the top 100. As February dawned, the top single was – according to Weekly Top 40 – Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” had just cracked the Top 10. By month’s end, the top slot was held by one of the more infectious songs of the year, Van Halen’s “Jump.”
At the time, I was 18 and living the commuter-college life. I lived at home, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus and worked, worked and worked as an usher at the single-screen Budco Hatboro Theater – a fun job that I’d held since the previous summer. (That’s me in the doors in the picture on the left.) This month, however, the employees learned that it was destined to close at some point over the summer, as Budco saw the writing on the wall for single-screen palaces. The building was sold, torn down and a Wendy’s was built on its spot.
My purchases for the month show where my head was at, beginning with Neil Young’s masterful On the Beach, which I picked up on Feb. 1st.
I also bought Stephen Stills – Stills (6th); CSNY – So Far (6th); Stephen Stills/Manassas – Down the Road (12th); Joni Mitchell – For the Roses (12th); and Stephen Stills double-LP Manassas set (17th), which quickly became (and remains) one of my all-time favorites. This song, featuring former Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman on co-lead vocals, is a a minor gem:
And, with that, onward to today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)…
First, though: This issue isn’t one of the magazine’s best. I wasn’t a fan of David Byrne at the time (I’m still not), and never read the interview with him. I also never read the articles about Huey Lewis, Spandau Ballet, Juluka, Philip Bailey and DeBarge. So why choose this month? Because of On the Beach and Manassas. When I saw both in my old desk calendar, well, how could I not go with this month?!
1) The Rolling Stones – “Undercover of the Night.” I won Undercover, a sad-sack Stones album, from WYSP on November 19th of the previous year by calling in on a trivia contest and saying “John Drake” (the real name of Number Six in The Prisoner TV series). I think I played the album once, maybe twice, and never went back. In other words, Anthony DeCurtis – who penned this review – is more generous to it than I obviously am. Of this song, he writes that it “opens the first side with a machine-gun run of synthesized drumming that crashes into a barrage of percussive disco bottom and patented Stones guitar chords.”
2) Paul McCartney – “Pipes of Peace.” This, the second review, goes to show the delay that once existed between release and review. The February issue of Record would have been on newsstands by early or mid-January, I’m sure, but Pipes of Peace had already been out for at least two months by then, as it was released in October 1983 (as I write about here).
In the review, the (apparently tone-deaf) critic Craig Zoller doesn’t mince words: “The only McCartney LP worth holding onto, by any stretch of the imagination, is Wings Greatest because it collects most of his good hits (along with some silly ones). And seeing sluggish hodgepodge efforts like Band on the Run and Tug of War garner critical raves is as bad a joke as hearing the Beatles described as Paul’s old back-up band.” Lest one have any doubts about where he’s headed, he then states of Pipes of Peace: “I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s just another lousy McCartney album with a couple of halfway decent cuts, a load of hummable pablum and the usual no-risk coasting.”
What I find interesting: in back-to-back reviews, a subpar Stones album is saluted while an admittedly mediocre McCartney album is thoroughly trashed. Says much about the mindsets of rock critics at the time…
3) Bob Dylan – “Sweetheart Like You.” I’ve been in something of a Dylan mood of late, having listened to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changing, Bringing It Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 this week, with Freewheelin’ and BIBH both receiving twin spins. But, though I know his ‘60s output as well as most, and bought Slow Train Coming in 1979, by the time the decades turn to the ‘80s… I’m admittedly ignorant. There are a few albums I’ve bought and liked, and a few I’ve bought and disliked. Which is likely why I turn to his ’60s oeuvre whenever I have a hankering to hear him.
Anyway, of Infidels, reviewer John Swenson opens by saying that Dylan “is the most consistently misunderstood figure in pop music history” and closes with “Dylan hasn’t sung this well in some time, a fact which indicates his ultimate commitment to his material.” In between, there’s a lot that makes me want to check out the album, which I may well do in the coming week.
4) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Pink Houses.” Christopher Hill accurately describes the one-time Johnny Cougar’s seventh album: “Uh-Huh, Mellencamp’s first record under his real name, is also his first conscious effort to speak collectively for the people of his state and his state of mind. Though not always successful, the rough grain and savor of parched Midwestern earth that comes through makes this a bracing, provocative antidote to the bleak romancers of the ‘Badlands.’” He doesn’t single out the album’s tour de force, however, which is this song:
5) Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers – “A Woman’s Got the Power.” Anyone from the Delaware Valley circa the late ‘70s and early ‘80s likely remembers the A’s – at least, anyone of a certain age who, regardless of whether you were old enough to get into the clubs, listened to Philadelphia’s two main rock stations at the time, 93.3 FM WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. The homegrown rockers were routinely plugged and played on both, as they should have been – they were damn good.
And this song, which was the title track of their 1981 album of the same name (their second and last on Arista), was played to death – as I remember it, at any rate.
Anyway, of the Big Man and his side band: Barry Alfonso, who reviews Rescue, notes that “the feel captured is right on the mark—such tracks as ‘A Man in Love,’ ‘A Woman’s Got the Power’ and ‘Savin’ Up’ (the last-named a Springsteen composition) have the funky nobility that big-band R&B has always traded in.” He also raves about lead singer John “J.T.” Bowen: “He lends to Clemons the same sort of urban bravura that Clemons brings Springsteen. It may not be new, but it still packs a wallop.”
AND, if two clips of the same song aren’t enough, here’s a third: the A’s performing it live…
Another great post with your usual historical context and personal history as well.
Though I cannot speak of the critics’ mindset of the time (then or now or honestly, any point in between), I loved the Stones Undercover album then and still listen to it quite a bit now.
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