Forty years ago today, a Saturday, saw America faced with a slumping economy—the worst, in fact, since the 1974-75 recession, which was fueled by OPEC’s oil embargo and its aftermath, when energy costs soared. This downturn, however, wasn’t caused by outside factors, but the Federal Reserve’s sustained attack on inflation. At one point the year before, for instance, the Federal Funds Rate topped 20 percent. The tight monetary policy translated into hard times for those sectors of the economy that depended on bank loans of every size. As Tim Sablik of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond observed in this analysis:
“Unemployment during the 1981-82 recession was widespread, but manufacturing, construction, and the auto industries were particularly affected. Although goods producers accounted for only 30 percent of total employment at the time, they suffered 90 percent of job losses in 1982. Three-fourths of all job losses in the goods-producing sector were in manufacturing, and the residential construction industry and auto manufacturers ended the year with 22 percent and 24 percent unemployment, respectively.”
As evidenced by the above image of the Inky, Argentina’s seizure of the Falkland Islands shared space above the fold of the first page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The broadsheet’s sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, also slapped the pending war on its front page—but below the more tabloidy headline about a city doctor accused of art theft.
All that being what it may, I was 16 and finishing up my junior year of high school. It was a rainy day and night with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the 40s (all temps Fahrenheit, of course). That meant that I likely stuck close to home, probably reading music magazines, listening to music, watching TV…and working on the screenplay for The Adventures of Terrific Man. (“Ah, ha, ha. ha!”) For those curious, this Inquirer clipping shows what graced the boob tube this night:
If I did venture out, it would have been to hang out with friends at someone’s house or the small arcade at the Village Mall, which was a 20-minute uphill slog from my front door. The mall also housed the Eric Twin Horsham, a two-screen movie palace, next door to the arcade; this day, its offerings were Raiders of the Lost Ark and I Oughta Be in Pictures. (Closer to home, the Budco Hatboro Theater had a Disney flick on tap, which means it was a no-go for teenaged me.) While I did see Raiders of the Lost Ark in a theater, I doubt it was this day or night—walking in the rain, while a great song, is just not fun on a chilly day.
One side note: Unlike years past, when older films could be found playing various movie houses, by this point the vast majority of selections are recent. That change was due, in large part, to the new home for older films—cable TV.
Anyway, given that it was a Saturday, the Inquirer’s Arts section—dubbed People—is fairly light, as any major feature would have been slated for Sunday’s mammoth edition. The Daily News didn’t publish Sundays, but it generally saved its high-profile entertainment pieces for Friday, as the Saturday edition tended not to sell as many newsstand copies. Thus, the only major music-related items (of interest to me, at any rate) are two from the Daily News: A Rolling Stone-syndicated profile of Joan Jett penned by Christopher Connelly (who went on to work for MTV and then ESPN); and Billboard’s Top 10 charts.
At the time, I would have been proud to say that I owned three of the Top 5 pop songs. Looking back now, however, it’s remarkable to me at just how divorced from day-to-day life the hits are; they’re little more than escapism set to pleasing beats. (And the one song that does dovetail into popular trends, “Pac-Man Fever,” is a kitschy novelty tune.)
And, with all the said, here is today’s Top 5: April 3, 1982.
1) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ’N Roll.” One reason for the Joan Jett piece in the Daily News is the surprise success of this epoch-shattering song, which is in its third week (of seven) atop the charts. I’ve featured the single before and, no doubt, will do so again. It’s gritty and great (as is its album home).
2) The Go-Go’s – “We Got the Beat.” This week, the Go-Go’s hold steady at No. 3 with this infectious tune, while their debut LP, Beauty and the Beat, remains atop the album charts for the fifth (of six) weeks in a row.
3) Olivia Newton-John – “Make a Move on Me.” ONJ shed her wholesome image with her Physical album, which was released in October 1981. The title track, which ruled the charts for 10 weeks, was the initial single; this was the second. Tacky ‘80s production aside, it’s a tasty pop song that hits its zenith in the charts this week—No. 5.
4) Hank Williams Jr. – “A Country Boy Can Survive.” Regardless of one’s opinion of Hank, there’s no denying the pulsating power of this song, which is No. 7 on the country charts. It’s moody, bluesy, country, rock and just plain great. (Its album home, The Pressure Is On, is as good, by the way.) I wasn’t a fan yet, but within a few years would be filling my collection with pretty much everything he released. This song was the main reason why.
5) Emmylou Harris – “Tennessee Rose.” Emmylou is another artist who, at this stage of my musical development, I’d yet to discover but, within a few years, would become enamored with. (Cimarron, its album home, is worth checking out, too.)
And one bonus: Given that Pac-Man fever was indeed sweeping the nation, here’s the hit version by Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia. Although I was an arcade rat who could play Space Invaders for a long time on a quarter, and mastered Pac-Man as well, I have no memory of this particular song. None. Nada. Zip. But it was the No. 9 pop song in the land this week, so… here it is. Listen at your peril.