Posts Tagged ‘1980s’

Last night, I found myself watching Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on HBO Max. I first saw the film last fall, when Diane and I journeyed into Durham on a weekend afternoon to see it at the historic Carolina Theatre; although those were days of miracle and wonder, aka no masks or social distancing, there weren’t many folks in attendance. Part of that was due, no doubt, to it being a late-day matinee, but I’d wager a larger factor was that its target audience was content to wait for the film to show up on TV.

Anyway, then and now, I found it a well-done documentary filled with cogent insights from Linda and such friends and colleagues as Peter Asher, John Boylan, David Geffen, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Dolly Parton and J.D. Souther, as well as many clips that could well have been (and likely were) lifted from YouTube – there were only a handful I hadn’t seen before, in other words. (The Rare TV Appearances DVD collection features many of them, too, including the footage of her being interviewed at her Malibu home.) Which was and is fine. At the Carolina Theatre, it was cool to see them play on a movie screen; and last night, it was cool to see them flicker across our 42-inch TV. (Although I can pull up YouTube on the TV, I rarely do – surfing the site is much more of a computer experience for me.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt Live. Given the idiosyncrasies of YouTube, where unauthorized videos come and go, some of these will likely go missing in the days, months and years ahead, so play them early and often….

1) Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert. Linda appeared on the March 14th, 1974, episode of the music series. (The other performers that night: Jackson Browne and the Eagles.) Her set features “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heart is Like a Wheel,” “You’re No Good,” “You Can Close Your Eyes” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

2) Passaic, NJ, 12/6/1975. Although the one-hour, seven-minute concert is in black and white, Linda’s vocals are accented by the hues of the heart. The set: “Colorado”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Love Has No Pride”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Many Rivers to Cross”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Lose Again”; “Faithless Love”; “Roll Um Easy”; “Hey Mister That’s Me Up on the Jukebox”; “I Can’ Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”; “Desperado”; “Love Is a Rose”; “You’re No Good”; “Heat Wave”; “Rivers of Babylon”; and “Heart Like a Wheel.”

3) Los Angeles, 10/3/1977. This audio-only treat captures an entire concert from Linda’s Fall 1977 tour. (Sound quality is very good.) The set: “Lose Again”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Blue Bayou”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Faithless Love”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Crazy”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “Desperado”; “Love Me Tender”; “Simple Man, Simple Dream”; “Love Is a Rose”; “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”; band introductions”; “Tumbling Dice”; “You’re No Good”; “Heart Like a Wheel”; and “Heat Wave.”

4) The FM concert sequence. Linda figures in a subplot of this forgettable 1978 movie, as the staff of one radio station sets out to broadcast a concert of hers that’s being sponsored by a rival station. Incidentally, the concert sequence wasn’t recorded in L.A., where the film is set, but the Summit in Houston – likely on November 17th, 1977, as she played there that night.) The songs: “Tumbling Dice,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and “Love Me Tender.”

 5) Boston 7/22/1983. This audio-only delight captures the final night of the Get Closer tour. (Sound is so-so, but more than listenable.) The set: “Tumbling Dice”; “It’s So Easy”; “I Knew You When”; “Get Closer”; “Easy For You to Say”; “I Can’t Let Go”; “Party Girl”; “All That You Dream”; “Blue Bayou”; “Willin’”; “That’ll Be The Day”; “Prisoner In Disguise”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Bandit & a Heart Breaker”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “Back in the U.S.A.”; “Heat Wave”; “Blowing Away”; and “Desperado.”

And one bonus…

Rally for Nuclear Disarmament, 6/12/1982. Not Linda’s entire set, unfortunately, but part of it. (It’s a playlist, so when one clip ends, the next should kick in.) Sound quality is subpar, but still fun to watch.

What is it about certain artists that keep us returning to them time and again? I’ve yet to put my finger on it, other than this rather simple explanation: Their music caresses our souls. Whether one’s at a concert, in the car or at home, in the den, great music transports you away from the immediate and into a netherworld of the artist’s – and your – making. (That’s the thing critics often leave out of the equation: music ain’t played in a vacuum. Like Marvin and Kim sang, “it takes two, baby. It takes two.”)

One example: The past few days have found me flashing back to one of my favorite bands of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, 10,000 Maniacs. I woke on Friday with “Hey Jack Kerouac” ringing in my ear, and have been indulging myself with their songs since. Yesterday and again today, I slipped down the YouTube rabbit hole and found many delights…

1) “Suspicious Minds.” In addition to seeing the band in September 1992, Diane and I saw them twice at the Mann Music Center during the summer of 1993. Great shows, both. One of the highlights was when they performed this Elvis Presley song. Here they are, not long before, performing it at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield, Mass.

2) Live in St, Louis, 6/9/93. Clocking in at two hours, this is almost the entire concert, which was much-bootlegged at the time. Only the closing “Let the Mystery Be” is missing.

3) MTV Rock Inaugural Ball, 1/20/1993. A magnetic performance by the band, who are joined by Michael Stipe for “To Sir With Love” and “Candy Everybody Wants.”

4) Live in Buffalo, 7/4/1989. Here’s another much-bootlegged show, this one from when they opened for the Grateful Dead. 

5) Live in Milan, 9/15/1987. Here they are in Milan, performing a tremendous 10-song set for Italian TV. 

And one bonus…

“Hey Jack Kerouac.” From the band’s Unplugged swan song in 1993…

When the history of 2020 is written, what will be said? That Rolling Stone released a remastered rendition of its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list? No, of course not – but it is a distraction from the machinations of the tinpot despot, so I’ll run with it. 

For those counting at home, this Top 500 is the magazine’s third stab at an all-encompassing album countdown. It first released a Top 500 in 2003, which was slightly tweaked in 2005 for a book, and then substantially reworked in 2012. The lists received just criticism, however, due to the artists being predominately white, male and rock-oriented. Artists of color, for example, made up a little more than a fifth of the featured acts, while women were less than 10 percent. As a result, this time around, the editors started from scratch. The introduction notes that “tastes change, new genres emerge, the history of music keeps being rewritten” before explaining that Top 50 lists were solicited from “more than 300 artists, producers, critics, and music-industry figures.” The lists were tabulated and weighted, forming the basis for the 500, which was then kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch until September 22nd, when it was posted to the Web.

The main headline, I suppose, is that the list is indeed more diverse. Artists of color account for 33 percent of the 500, while women account for almost a fourth. (Note: my estimates are rough.) Also, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is now No. 1, supplanting the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which trips all the way out of the Top 20 to No. 24; it’s now deemed the third best Beatles album, behind Abbey Road (No. 5) and Revolver (No. 11). To my ears, What’s Going On is a vinyl paradox, forever timeless and timely; it’s never not relevant. I consider it one of the greatest albums of all time, so have no issues with its placement.

I also have no major issues with the overall order. These lists are not of “all time,” but of their time; they reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, and that moment is generally set by those younger than me. That said, the list is an ethnocentric enterprise, with its selections limited to albums that impacted U.S. music fans. For example, unless I missed one or both, the Jam and Paul Weller are MIA despite their success and influence in the U.K.; and the Stone Roses’ stellar debut, which routinely places at or near the top of U.K. best-album lists, ranks No. 319 here. The results also skew heavily towards Baby Boomer favorites, with 46 percent of the 500 hailing from the 1960s and ‘70s (less than in 2003, but still a lot), but that shouldn’t be a surprise – that’s when the album as an art form was at its zenith (now, too often, it’s little more than Spotify fodder). Also, I’d wager many of those polled first heard them (or songs from them) while driving with their parents, so there’s a nostalgia factor involved, too.

I do find the inclusion of recent albums to be annoying. As I explained in my post on NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums by Women list, the main reason for excluding a recent album is that “we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor.” It’s the difference between infatuation and love.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums AWOL from Rolling Stone’s Top 500. They’re all past “essential” picks of mine; I’m listing them in alphabetical order. I should note that they hail from my personal Top 25 Albums off All Time list, where they share space with several hundred other albums. (As I joke somewhere, there are a lot of ties.) Also, they all hail from the 1980s, as the decade gets short-shrift in the countdown…

1) The Bangles – All Over the Place (1984). The Bangles rose from the ranks of the Paisley Underground to score some big hits by mid-decade, yet they’re routinely overlooked in these sorts of overviews. But, as their full-length debut ably demonstrates, they were nothing short of wondrous.

2) The Jam – Snap! (1983). I find the inclusion of compilations somewhat suspect on a list of all-time greatest albums, but if those are the rules of the road, then Snap! deserves inclusion. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest best-of compilations of all time.

3) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ’N Roll (1981). As I say in my recap, “The pages of history textbooks are filled will legions of folks who shaped the world, but – academia being what it is – many important people receive cursory mentions or none at all. Like Joan Jett.” In short, she turned the world on with her guitar.

4) The Long Ryders – State of Our Union (1985). The Long Ryders never got their just due in the U.S., yet are a crucial link in the Americana timeline, one bridge (of several) between Gram and Uncle Tupelo. As I note in my piece, this album “integrates rock ’n’ roll, R&B, country and folk into a tasty whole, contains glorious guitar work and incisive lyrics, and features melodies that burrow into the brain like a groundhog beneath a back deck.”

5) Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1987). Tracy Chapman’s debut is rightfully in the Top 500, though arguably too low at No. 286, but the artists who set the stage for that album’s mega-success during the “hair metal late eighties” (as RS stereotypes it) aren’t included. Suzanne Vega’s first two LPs were integral albums that helped shape the soundscape of the mid- and late ‘80s. This, her sophomore set, reached No. 11 on the album charts; and the single “Luka” reached No. 3. It’s a perfect album.

Diane and I watched the cinéma vérité documentary Seventeen last night. I ordered the DVD two weeks ago based on the Amazon description, which describes it as “the unvarnished story of a group of seniors in their ultimate year at Muncie’s Southside High School, hurtling toward maturity with a combination of joy, despair, and an aggravated sense of urgency.” It also notes that it won “the first Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival” and was deemed too controversial to air on PBS. 

The Muncie in question, I should explain, is Muncie, Ind., a small Midwestern city that gained a semblance of notoriety in 1929 when it was the focus of Robert and Helen Lynd’s sociological study of a typical American community, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture, and again in 1937 for their Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts. 

Scheduled to air on PBS during the spring of 1982 as part of the Middletown series, a follow-up of sorts to the long-ago Lynd studies, it was yanked from the schedule due to a controversy concerning its content and claims that at least some minors may not have fully appreciated the ramifications they could face from appearing in it. Also, if this contemporaneous New York Times report is accurate, there were questions about whether filmmakers Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines influenced at least some of what they document. At one point, for instance, pie-eyed Lynn – the film’s central protagonist – is in bed and talking to Joel, who’s behind the camera, as if she were a good friend, which raises doubts about the veracity of the fly-on-the-wall experience; and at a house party full of underage revelers, Kreines is heard offering to contribute a few bucks to a beer run when the keg runs dry.

Anyway, after being nixed by PBS, Seventeen took the theatrical route, where it won praise from critics and snared that Sundance award. But I never heard anything about it, then or in the decades since, until searching for documentaries about the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were an odd time, when last-wave baby boomers and first-wave baby busters (aka Gen Xers) came together as the unique FM subculture known as Generation Jones. 

In any event, the early 1980s turns out to be the 1980-81 school year; and the film opens with an interminable Home Ec class that sets the tone for what’s to follow. The first half focuses primarily on Lynn, who’s white, and her troubled relationship with a black classmate, John. The troubles aren’t just between the two of them, however. At one point, Lynn’s mom mentions that a cross was burned in their front yard the night before, but seemingly shrugs it off as a nothing event. She is perturbed, however, by harassing phone calls from John’s friends, who dislike the idea of him seeing a white girl, and soon enough both she and Lynn are talking about how they’ll defend themselves with a gun, if necessary. In the second half, after breaking up with John, Lynn begins dating a white kid, Keith, and hanging with a crowd that drops the N word with malice – likely the children of those who burned the cross in her yard.

The kids, in essence, are adrift; what they contemplate about the future is anyone’s guess – and for a documentary about high-school seniors, that means it’s rudderless, too. Just about every high-school senior I’ve known or met is looking ahead – some with hope, others with dread, but all dream of what’s to come. Aside from the unlikeable subjects, however, the only constants are the drinking, drugging and racy/sexual talk, much of which is braggadocio that, at least to me, seems spoken in hopes of shocking the cameraperson. 

With graduation closing in, a social studies teacher – in the only class beyond Home Ec that’s shown – observes that success in life is “nothing more than a combination of hard work and luck.” The same is true, to an extent, for these sorts of documentaries. Hard work is much in evidence, but luck is not – the cameras capture the dregs of high-school life. The only scene that came close to moving me was towards the end of the film, after Keith learns that his good friend Church Mouse succumbed to injuries sustained in an auto accident; he calls into a radio station and requests a song in his pal’s memory – Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.” Grief is not an experience readily captured on camera, but it’s here and it’s real.

Seger’s music – “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the second side of the Night Moves album, plus “Horizontal Bop” – plays prominently in the background of several scenes, either via the radio or someone’s turntable, which speaks much to his popularity at the time. Tom Petty’s also heard, plus Wings, Motown and assorted other known songs. It is somewhat cool hearing the music as it was often heard at the time.

Over all, though, I’d hoped Seventeen would or could serve as a metaphor for its era, but instead it’s a look at the lives of outliers. I doubt these kids – at least as they’re presented on camera – reflected their school or Muncie, and they definitely don’t represent the world I knew in suburban Philadelphia. As such, it’s a disappointment – more Real World than real life.