Archive for the ‘1984’ Category

Who doesn’t want to review records?

Growing up, I certainly did. I devoured Rolling Stone, Record, Creem, Musician and other music periodicals less for the articles and more for the reviews, which I usually read first. Due to the lag between a record’s release and the review, on occasion I already owned an LP (or cassette) before I read the critic’s take. One thing that fascinated me: Why I sometimes liked something the reviewer didn’t. Another thing that fascinated me: the reverse. 

The former irked me, the latter made me feel smug. But neither changed my opinion on the necessity of reviews. I was always on the lookout for something new (or new-to-me), and the magazines covered things that never made the playlists of my local radio stations, MTV or VH1. As a result, I often bought things based on a review, with new releases discovered via the magazines and catalog items from the Dave Marsh-edited Rolling Stone Record Guide. Few were four- or five-star reviews.

Over time, I came to recognize the names of said reviewers. Some found folk sanctimonious and others thought prog-rock priggish, and even more treated pop like a dirty word. (I generally subscribe to the second myself.) But the only bad reviews were those that didn’t delve beyond the rudimentary yea or nay to explain or defend the assessment, and also didn’t detail the artist’s journey. Everyone has their own criteria for what is and isn’t good music, after all, and it’s easy to be dismissive of what one dislikes. (I’ve been that in the past, though not often in these pages.) Some fans want technical precision. Others seek emotional resonance, a melody they can hum along to, and/or lyrics that shed light on the human condition. And yet others are happy with just about anything that has a good beat that they can dance to…

As I’ve matured, I’ve come to the realization that there is no right or wrong. Not really. There’s preference and personal peccadilloes – aka so-called “guilty pleasures.” That’s about it.

Anyway, I still lean on reviews – both online and in print. Whenever my wife and I visit a B&N, I pick up the British music magazines Uncut and Mojo, buy a high-octane coffee drink in the cafe, and read the reviews of the new releases and archival reissues. What I look for is tailor-made to my tastes: Is it dreamy, upbeat, reflective, melody-centric, reminiscent of the Beatles, Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers or the Velvet Underground? Joni, Linda or Neil?

Unlike yesteryear, of course, it doesn’t cost me more than my Apple Music subscription to check out whatever I’ve just read about. (Though, since I rarely use headphones, I have to wait ’til we’re in the car going home.) That happened last week with Melody’s Echo Chamber’s latest release, Bon Voyage. It’s the brainchild of Melody Prochet, who’s akin to a French Hope Sandoval with an airier vibe.

(Sometimes, of course, I stumble upon cool artists through other means – Erin O’Dowd, who I discovered on Kickstarter, springs to mind. Nichole Wagner, who I found via a Nanci Griffith fan group on Facebook, is another. Both are worth checking out.)

All of which leads to this, one of my first reviews to make it to print – on September 18, 1984, in the Ogontz Campus News, the newspaper for what’s now known as Penn State Abington. I doubt if anyone beyond the newspaper staff and contributors read it. (And I was just a contributor; I’d pop into the office, find the editor of the entertainment section, and turn something in. On spec. Sometimes it made it into the paper; sometimes not.) Reading it now makes me laugh and cringe at the same time – but it was the first step in the journey to me launching the original Old Grey Cat website and, then, this blog. (I post-corrected a few glaring errors that slipped through the newspaper’s crack proofreading squad…)

Here’s an unlikely opening: On May 24, 1984, President Ronald Reagan introduced the Navy’s first female ensign, Kristine Holderied, during a press event at the White House.

That clip, I should mention, is well worth watching in full. It features all of President Reagan’s public events on this specific day. In addition to Holderied, he meets with National Wildlife Federation president Jay Hair; the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s mother and father of the year; AMVETS’ commander; and Chiu Luu, who arrived in this country from Vietnam in 1979. Luu, I should mention, taught himself English after arriving on these shores and, by the time of this meeting with America’s 40th’s president, was graduating as valedictorian from City College of New York. 

The clips are interesting for several reasons. First and foremost: Reagan’s affection for those he meets. He doesn’t seem to think of these greetings as a chore, in other words, or as something to be endured, but as events to be cherished. When you see him reading the notes on Luu prior to meeting with the young man, one sees admiration sink into his face and demeanor.

I share that, along with this: I wasn’t a fan of Ronald Reagan or many of his policies. But I did agree with him when it came to his unbridled optimism in America, and his belief in the “shining city on the hill.” He articulated it throughout his time in the public spotlight, but summarized it best in his January 1989 farewell address:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Note that he didn’t say the doors were closed.

But back to May 24, 1984, which was a Thursday. Light rain fell in the Delaware Valley, which saw a high of 75 and low of 54. I’d just wrapped my first year at Penn State Ogontz, one of Penn State’s satellite campuses; worked as an usher at the now-defunct Hatboro Theater; and had purchased a slew of albums over the past few weeks, including the Flying Burrito Brothers’ self-titled third album on the 1st; the Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around on the 3rd; Gram Parsons’ G.P. and Return of the Grievous Angel, also on the 3rd; Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual on the 11th; Todd Rundgren’s Healing on the 14th; Rogers Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking on the 18th; and, on the 24th, Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Yet to come: Spinal Tap’s This Is Spinal Tap and Van Halen’s 1984, both on May 29th.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: May 24, 1984 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the week ending May 26th). Unlike other looks back, I’m going to hop, skip and jump down its rungs…

1) Deniece Williams – “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” This effusive song, which is ingrained in my brain due to its inclusion in the Footloose movie, landed at No. 1 this week. As I said above, I worked as an usher at a movie theater – and the film flickered across our fraying screen for at least two weeks, and I worked more nights than not. Unlike the other Footloose songs, it’s one I never grew tired of.

2) Cyndi Lauper – “Time After Time.” Rising from No. 6 to No. 3 is this classic Cyndi Lauper song, which she co-wrote with Rob Hyman of the Hooters.

3) The Go-Go’s – “Head Over Heels.” In its 11th week on the charts, this infectious single reaches No. 11. Here they are performing it at the Greek Theater in August ’84…

4) John Mellencamp – “Authority Song.” Mellencamp’s “I Fought the Law” rewrite rises a notch, from No. 16 to 15…

5) The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods.” Further down the charts, at No. 34 (up from No. 36), is this classic tune from Paul Weller’s second band. It was the lead single from the Style Council’s debut album, which was titled Café Bleu in the U.K. and My Ever Changing Moods in the U.S. 

And three bonuses…

6) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Dancing in the Dark.” Entering the charts this week, at No. 36, is this lead single from Springsteen’s now-classic Born in the USA album, which would be released on June 5th. Brian De Palma directed the video, which features a young Courteney Cox as the fan the Boss picks to dance with him on stage.

7) Joe Jackson – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want (’Til You Know What You Want).” Jackson’s Body and Soul, from which this song is drawn from, is a true overlooked gem. That this song would eventually hit No. 15 was a surprise to me then and now, given how out of step it was with the times. This week, it’s still on its slow upwards climb, landing at No. 29.

8) Wang Chung – “Dance Hall Days.” One of the week’s power plays, at No. 45, is this nostalgic New Wave pop tune from the U.K. band. In a sense, their “Come Dancing” or “Ballroom Dancing”… 

(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.)

In today’s age, the double album seems almost quaint: two vinyl slabs that, combined, hold anywhere from 70 to 100 minutes of music. But they were a Big Deal back in the day, as that second slab substantially upped the cost to the consumer. Instead of $5.99-7.99 (plus tax), which was the average price of an LP when I began buying them in the late 1970s, a fan had to plunk down almost twice that ($9.99-11.99) – unless it was an Elvis Presley compilation on Pickwick, that is. I picked up the 2-LP Double Dynamite for $3.99 at a Montgomery Ward. (Of course, one look at the song list explains the low cost.)

Many double (and triple, for that matter) albums captured live shows; others were compilations that sometimes included previously unreleased material or hard-to-find b-sides. Double LPs of all-new material, on the other hand, were relatively rare, though any music fan worth his or her salt can reel off dozens of such titles, including ones by Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Who, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and Allman Brothers, not to mention Pink Floyd, the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Husker Du.

Most, though not all, now fit onto one CD, and play no longer than many “albums” released as one disc in the ‘90s and ‘00s, when it seemed (at least to me) fairly common for new releases to clock in at over an hour; and, in the download/streaming age, time constraints just seem moot. But most CDs that run longer than 45 minutes contain – dare I say it? – songs that should have been left in the vault. In the days of limited space, only the best of the best were pressed onto vinyl.

Yes, of course, exceptions abound. But they’re exceptions.

Anyway, with fans and critics of a certain age being who and what they are, lists proliferate of the greatest double albums of all time. Here’s one; here’s another; and here’s yet another. If you Google the term, you’ll find dozens more.

And yet, on just about every list I’ve seen, one stone-cold classic – “a sprawling masterpiece,” according to AllMusic – is usually overlooked: today’s essential pick, Stephen Stills’ Manassas.

Stills, of course, first turned ears as the driving force behind Buffalo Springfield in the mid-‘60s; and again with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Young in 1969 and ’70. He released a great, self-titled solo debut in 1970; a near-great second solo set in ’71; and, in 1972, paired with former Byrd-Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman to found Manassas, a talented group that could play just about everything, including rock, folk-rock, country, bluegrass, Latin and the blues.

Among the group’s personnel: steel guitar great Al Perkins and phenomenal fiddler Byron Berline, both of whom had played with Hillman in the Flying Burrito Brothers; keyboardist Paul Harris; Blues Image founder (and percussionist extraordinaire) Joe Lala; and CSNY alum Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels and Dallas Taylor on bass and drums.

Oh, Stones bassist Bill Wyman sits in on one song, too. (According to Dallas Taylor, Wyman was ready to leave the Stones for Manassas – but wasn’t asked.)

Manassas, the album, is a mosaic of musical styles accented by top-notch playing and great songs. Split into four thematic sides (“The Raven,” “The Wilderness,” “Consider” and “Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay”), it alternately reflects and resonates with the soul; delves into the philosophical; and rocks with precise abandon. It’s an electric album. It’s an acoustic album. Some songs are imbued with hope, others heartbreak and longing.

And it’s hook-laden.

One highlight: “Both of Us (Bound to Lose),” which features a wondrous Hillman intro, a cool mesh of Cuban rhythms and country overtones, gorgeous guitar solos, and harmonies that can’t be beat.

Another: “Fallen Eagle,” a song I sing to myself whenever I see too much of Donald Trump on TV.

And another, “Colorado”:

And another, “How Far”:

Oh, and there’s this gem from Side 4 (“Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay”): “The Treasure (Take One),” a winding treatise on love and “oneness.”

By virtue of my age, and the lack of non-CSN songs played on the radio, I didn’t discover the album (and its followup, Down the Road), until Feb. 12, 1984, when I picked them up at the Hatboro Music Shop. The double-LP set came with a cool fold-out poster that featured a photo montage on one side and the lyrics on the other; and, as I often did in those days, I read the lyrics along with the songs as they unfolded.

I was blown away by it. I still am. And I’m forever mystified as to why it slipped – along with Stills’ other early ’70s solo sides – into semi-obscurity. It did well, chart-wise. After its release on April 12, 1972, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, where it shared space in the Top 10 with David Crosby & Graham Nash’s self-titled debut and Neil Young’s Harvest.

Side 1 “The Raven”:

  1. Song of Love
  2. Medley: Rock & Roll Crazies; Cuban Bluegrass
  3. Jet Set
  4. Anyway
  5. Both of Us (Bound to Lose)

Side 2 “The Wilderness”:

  1. Fallen Eagle
  2. Jesus Gave Love Away for Free
  3. Colorado
  4. So Begins the Task
  5. Hide It So Deep
  6. Don’t Look at My Shadow

Side 3 “Consider”:

  1. It Doesn’t Matter
  2. Johnny’s Garden
  3. Bound to Fall
  4. How Far
  5. Move Around
  6. The Love Gangster

Side 4:

  1. What to Do
  2. Right Now
  3. The Treasure (Take One)
  4. Blues Man

Here’s the album in full, courtesy of YouTube:

(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.)

Although it seems daft to me now, in the early and mid-‘80s I often bought albums on cassette, and cassette only. I’d love to say that, for a time, I did so due to me taking not one, but two buses to travel to and from Penn State’s Ogontz campus (now known as Penn State Abington), which for a time I did, and that during those hour-or-so trips I listened to music via a Walkman clone. Or that I later purchased them for the tape deck that I installed in my ’79 Chevette.

The truth is, however, that I bought them because I bought them, which I’d been doing off and on since my folks gave me a cassette deck that plugged into my Radio Shack compact stereo/turntable in the late 1970s, though the trend picked up steam after Christmas 1982, when they presented me with a Sanyo Mini AM/FM Cassette Recorder Stereo. Sometimes I went with the cassette because the vinyl wasn’t in stock; and other times just because. In some cases, I eventually bought the same album on vinyl – but there was no rhyme or reason as to what got duplicated. Some touchstone albums in my life, such as Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Lone Justice’s debut and Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., never made the jump to vinyl (though all, in time, made the leap to CD) while others that weren’t did.

Another touchstone album that I never picked up on vinyl: the Bangles’ All Over the Place, which – says Wikipedia – was released on May 23, 1984. I didn’t purchase it until the fall, however – on October 15th, a Monday, according to my desk diary, four days before another touchstone album, David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name…, came into my life. (It may seem incongruous to love both, yet I did…and still do.)

That is, I didn’t buy the vinyl until yesterday, when I stopped in HHH Records a used-vinyl store near me, and found it for $4. (Clean LP, no pops, crackles or snaps.)

As I wrote in my long-ago review of Susanna Hoffs’ Someday album, thanks to Rolling Stone, I’d been aware of the Bangles since March 1983, though I didn’t actually hear them until their videos for “Hero Takes a Fall” and “Going Down to Liverpool” received play on MTV in the spring and summer of ’84.

(Leonard Nimoy’s friendship with Susanna Hoffs’ parents accounts for his appearance in the video, from what I’ve read.)

The band was the focus of a Michael Goldberg-penned article in Rolling Stone that September and, presumably, a review around the same time, though my lack of access to the RS Archives means I can’t confirm the latter (and I have no memory of reading one).

Wayne King did offer a less-than-glowing review of their debut LP in the September issue of Record magazine, however. The words that would’ve caught my eyes: “bouncy guitar group sounds,” “soaring vocals” and “mid-‘60s fixation.” The criticism itself…eh. I’d already seen the videos. They sounded good to me. It was just a matter of when, not if, I invested in the LP…or, in this case, cassette.

To my ears then and now, All Over the Place echoes the mid-‘60s, specifically the Beatles and Byrds, while sounding very much of its own time. I.e., it’s both retro and modern, and – simultaneously – ahead of the curve. “Hero Takes a Fall” is one example. Another is “Tell Me”…

And another is “Dover Beach.” (Check out Vicki Peterson channeling her inner Dave Davies at the 3 minute mark.)

Really, to me, All Over the Place – despite topping out at No. 153 on the Billboard charts – is reason enough for the band (Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbie Peterson and Michael Steele) to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (Additional reasons came along later in the decade, of course.)

Anyway, here they are on Late Night With David Letterman in November of ‘84…

Side 1:

  1. Hero Takes a Fall
  2. Live
  3. James
  4. All About You
  5. Dover Beach

Side 2:

  1. Tell Me
  2. Restless
  3. Going Down to Liverpool
  4. He’s Got a Secret
  5. Silent Treatment
  6. More Than Meets the Eye

Here’s the album in full, via YouTube…

I should mention, the playlist includes a bonus track tacked onto the CD at some point in time: a cover of the Grass Roots’ first hit, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which the Bangles released as the b-side to “Hero Takes a Fall.” (As I point out in my (un)Essentials essay on Jan & Dean’s semi-classic, semi-kitsch Folk ’n Roll album, however, the Grass Roots weren’t the first to release the song. The surfer duo was.)