Archive for the ‘1980’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Released in June 1980, Jackson Browne’s Hold Out album is notable for two reasons. Critics disliked it, as evidenced by Rolling Stone‘s Kit Rachlis calling it “probably the weakest record he’s ever made”; and, powered by the singles “Boulevard” and “That Girl Could Sing,” the platter spun its way to the top of the charts, becoming his first (and only) No. 1 LP. 

It’s also notable within my life for another reason: It was the first current Jackson Browne LP that I purchased. As I’ve written before, my journey into music fandom began in earnest in the spring of 1978. Everything was new to me, even the old; I was, literally and figuratively, a kid in a candy store. I picked up the “Doctor My Eyes” 45 at some point that summer and followed it on occasion with a few of his LPs; I had a hierarchy of fallbacks when I went to record stores, and Jackson’s were usually third, fourth or fifth down the rung. By the time I picked up Running on Empty, which was released in late 1977, it was late 1979. (In some respects, in those days, he was singing about things that were beyond my years – but that was part of the appeal.)

In any event, I came home with Hold Out not long after hearing “Boulevard,” the first single, on either WMMR or WYSP.

“Down on the boulevard/they take it hard/they look at life with such disregard/they say it can’t be won/the way the game is run…” Those lyrics echoed life then and echo life now, some 40 years later. “The hearts are hard and the times are tough.” Amen.

“That Girl Could Sing” was another immediate favorite. Written for singer-songwriter/backup vocalist Valerie Carter, it’s an evocative portrait of a free spirit: “She was a friend to me when I needed one/Wasn’t for her I don’t know what i’d done/She gave me back something that was missing in me/She could of turned out to be almost anyone/Almost anyone/With the possible exception/Of who I wanted her to be…”

Those are tracks 3 and 4 on the LP; the opener, “Disco Apocalypse,” sets the stage for them quite nicely, detailing the mindless appeal of the era’s club scene; in some respects, it’s “The Pretender” for the disco age: “In the dawn the city seems to sigh/And the hungry hear their children cry/People watch the time go by/They do their jobs and live and die/And in their dreams they rise above/By strength, or hate, or luck, or love…”

Cowritten with David Lindley, “Call It a Loan,” – about the fear that comes with falling in love – is another highlight.

The remainder of the album is as strong. Lyrically, sure, at times it teeters on the brink, especially on the song for Lowell George, “Of Missing Persons,” but – melodically and sonically speaking – it just sounds great. Warm. It could well have been recorded yesterday.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I wore out the album’s grooves at the time. In truth, I moved on to other albums, other songs. As one does. In the decades that followed, I’ve played Late for the Sky or Running on Empty many, many times – and, until a few months ago, Hold Out not once. A month or so ago, however, I found myself stuck in stop-and-go traffic on the 15/501 during my evening commute. “That Girl Could Sing” began circulating and percolating in my brain, and I remembered lying on the floor of my old bedroom and reading the lyrics on the record sleeve as Jackson sang them. There was and is something magical and mystical about the first listen, of having the music usher you elsewhere. 

I’ve listened to the album quite a bit in the weeks since that ride home. As one does. I’m surprised at how well it’s aged and that, at their best, the lyrics are sage and true in detailing matters of the heart. Hell, I even like the closing “Hold On Hold Out,” which every critic I’ve read lambasts for its schmaltzy declaration of love.

The track list:

Diane and I were driving in the car this morning, on our way to brunch, with SiriusXM tuned to – what else? – E Street Radio, which was playing the February 2, 2016 concert from Toronto. It was the sixth date on that year’s River tour, which was tied to the 35th anniversary of the album and, too, the Ties That Bind box set released in 2015. (We’d see him 10 days later in Philly.)

For those unfamiliar with the specifics of that tour, Bruce and the band performed The River from start to finish. In this Toronto show, he introduced “Independence Day” – a song he wrote in 1977, debuted in concert in 1978 and recorded in 1980 – with a monologue similar to what we heard in Philly. “It was the first song I wrote about fathers and sons,” he explained. “It’s the kind of song that you write when you’re young and you’re first startled by your parents’ humanity.”

Today, the fourth verse stood out to me: “Well, Papa, go to bed now, it’s getting late/Nothing we can say can change anything now/Because there’s just different people coming down here now and they see things in different ways/And soon everything we’ve known will just be swept away.”

It’s about the father-son dynamics unique to Springsteen’s own (self-mythologized) life, obviously, and yet it’s also more. It’s about the changing realities everyone confronts, at some point, in his or her life. When young, such change is expected and embraced. In the song, it leads the narrator to set out on his own. But for the old? Though the world we knew is no more, the memories – and our faded hopes – remain. That’s when bitterness sets in.

Linda Ronstadt’s Live in Hollywood features songs you know – or should know – as performed by the powerhouse singer at the Television Center Studios in Hollywood on April 24, 1980, for an HBO special. Three tracks appeared on the delightful 40th anniversary edition of Simple Dreams and, through the years, all have appeared on bootlegs sourced from the FM simulcast that accompanied the special’s broadcast.

The track list: “I Can’t Let Go”; “It’s So Easy”; “Willin’”; “Just One Look”; “Blue Bayou”; “Faithless Love”; “Hurt So Bad”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “How Do I Make You”; “Back in the USA”; “Desperado”; and “Band Introductions.”

The night’s set, however, consisted of “I Can’t Let Go,” “Party Girl,” “It’s So Easy,” “Willin’,” “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You),” “Just One Look,” “Look Out for My Love,” “Mad Love,” “Cost of Love,” “Blue Bayou,” “Lies,” “Faithless Love,” “Hurts So Bad,” “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” “Band Introductions,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “You’re No Good,” “How Do I Make You,” “Back in the USA,” “Heatwave” and “Desperado.” 

Eight of those songs are MIA from Live in Hollywood, which is the first official live album in Linda’s canon. Sometimes less is more. In this case? The subtractions shift the focus away from Mad Love, which was released two months prior, and turn the album into something akin to a live best-of. These are songs that, by and large, still get radio play. I heard four on my local oldies station this week, for example.

In any event, backed by a crack band, Linda melds pop, rock, country-rock and the era’s new-wave stylings into a delectable whole. Her cover of the Hollies classic “I Can’t Let Go,” on which she and backup singer (and good friend) Wendy Waldman trade vocals, is a thing of aural beauty. It’s uptempo, fun, and the perfect opener. Another highlight is, as one might expect, “Just One Look.” Here’s the official clip:

The J.D. Souther-penned “Faithless Love” is positively spine-tingling; Linda’s raven-flavored vocals on “Blue Bayou” and “Hurt So Bad” soar into the stratosphere; and her dusky soprano shares the spotlight with the band on a rollicking “You’re No Good.”

That’s the legendary session player Danny “Kooch” Kortchmar on guitar, I should mention –  and hiding behind drummer Russ Kunkel is Linda’s longtime compadre (and producer) Peter Asher on percussion and backing vocals.

In short, Live in Hollywood is an impeccable representation of a singer at the peak of her powers. Definitely check it out.

 

Thirty-eight years ago tomorrow, as I write, the No. 1 song on the Billboard pop charts was “Coming Up” – but not the catchy tune by one-man-band Paul McCartney from his madcap McCartney II endeavor, but the slightly less catchy live version by Paul McCartney & Wings (Mach III), taken from a December 1979 concert in Glasgow on what turned out to be the final Wings flight. 

Columbia Records, his label home, apparently didn’t think the American public would appreciate his sped-up vocals, so – although the live version is clearly the B-side on the 45, where it’s paired with the eccentric “Lunchbox/Odd Sox” – they promoted the Wings rendition as the A.

And lest fans who bought McCartney II be upset that the song they heard on the radio wasn’t on the LP, Columbia included a special one-sided single of the live version. It even came with a helpful “play other side” instruction on the flip side.

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Let me back up, albeit for a moment: I was 14 on this day, soon to be 15; and having a good time – it was summer, after all. No school. That meant late nights and late mornings, hanging with friends, and – yep, you guessed it – listening to plenty of music. In my neck of the woods, that meant tuning in WIFI-92, WMMR, WYSP and WIOQ.

In the wider world, Ronald Reagan was gearing up to accept the Republican presidential nomination in Detroit in a mere 11 days. President Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was in the midst of stamping out an insurgency within his Democratic Party, as he was being challenged by Ted Kennedy, and wouldn’t secure his second shot at the Oval Office until the following month, at the Democratic National Convention in New York.

The reason for the tepid enthusiasm for Carter: the economy. Unemployment was rising – it crested at 7.8 percent this month, its highest mark since he took office in 1977, and inflation was at obscene levels – 13-plus percent for the month, and 13-plus for the year. There was also the matter of the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis.

The big movies of the day included Fame, The Empire Strikes Back, Urban Cowboy, Bronco Billy, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, and, released on this very day in 1980, The Blue Lagoon. I don’t remember seeing any of them in the theaters, though I did eventually see all of them on PRISM, the local premium cable channel that also carried the home games of the Philadelphia Flyers.

As far as TV – it was summer, and summer meant reruns.

And when it comes to music – well, that’s what today’s Top 5: July 5, 1980 (via Billboard, which I occasionally bought), is about. Here are a few selected highlights…

1) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet – “Against the Wind.” Dropping out of the Top 5 to No. 6 is this classic Seger song, which I rate not just with his best, but with the best of all time. It’s the title track to one of my “essential” albums.

2) Olivia Newton-John – “Magic.” In its seventh week, the Xanadu single inches up two spots to No. 14. Here she is lip-syncing to the song on The Midnight Special

3) Carole King – “One Fine Day.” “One Fine Day” is a song with a rich history – written by King and Gerry Goffin, it was first a hit for the Chiffons in 1963, when it reached No. 5 on the pop charts. Seventeen years later, King recorded it for her Pearls: Songs of Goffin & King album, and released it as a single. It reaches No. 16 this week (on its way to No. 12).

4) The Blues Brothers – “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Saturday Night Live’s John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd turned a love for the blues into a side project with legs. They released a hit album in 1978, and a hit movie and hit soundtrack in 1980. This week, the lead single from that soundtrack bounces (like a rubber biscuit) up seven spots to No. 22.

5) Pete Townshend – “Let My Love Open the Door.” Townshend had an unlikely Top 10 hit with this uptempo ditty, the lead single from his classic Empty Glass LP. This week, it’s No. 35 (on its way to No. 9).

And two bonuses…

6) Irene Cara – “Fame.” Cara sounds so much like Donna Summer on this, the joyous title track to the hit movie, that it almost seems unfair to say so. That said, I love the song and performance. 

7) Linda Ronstadt – “Hurt So Bad.” Falling from No. 26 to 80 in its 13th week on the charts is Linda’s spine-tingling rendition of the Little Anthony & the Imperials hit from 1965. (It hails from her 1980 Mad Love album, of course.)