Posts Tagged ‘1985’

Here’s a new, occasional series: Albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.

First up: Lone Justice’s self-titled debut, which was released on April 15, 1985.

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Flashback to that April: I read a review in Rolling Stone touting the album as a good, not great, affair that was highlighted by the vocal power of the girl singer, who supposedly possessed a style reminiscent of Janis Joplin.

I bought it (on cassette) days later, on April 17th; and the album proved great, not just good, to my ears. As I wrote in Top 5: April 1985, it “was a shotgun blast of sonic newness that infused country-rock with punk, rock, gospel and soul. The music roared, soared and seeped from the speakers, and the mercurial Maria McKee’s vocals forged palpable emotions from the simplest of phrases.” I loved it, in other words; and made damn sure to play tracks from it on my college radio show—”You Are the Light” more often than not, as I deejayed a folk music show…

…but, on occasion, “Don’t Toss Us Away” – which, it should be mentioned, was written by her brother Bryan MacLean. But what the hell? Some (early) Sunday mornings I slipped in “Ways to Be Wicked,” too.

And is there a better song, by anyone, than “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling)”?! When I listen to it, I think not. After it’s over? Sanity settles in. But to borrow from a review for the Lone Justice This World Is Not My Home compilation that I penned for Da Boot way back when, “her sweat flows from the speakers as if from her brow, and her heart … hell, her heart beats like a rhythm section all its own.”

  1. “East of Eden” (Marvin Etzioni) – 2:37
  2. “After the Flood” (Maria McKee) – 3:40
  3. “Ways to Be Wicked” (Mike Campbell, Tom Petty) – 3:28
  4. “Don’t Toss Us Away” (Bryan MacLean) – 4:19
  5. “Working Late” (Etzioni) – 2:45
  6. “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling)” (Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, McKee, Benmont Tench, Steven Van Zandt) – 4:12
  7. “Pass It On” (Etzioni, McKee) – 3:40
  8. “Wait ‘Til We Get Home” (Etzioni, Hedgecock, McKee) – 3:18
  9. “Soap, Soup and Salvation” (Etzioni, McKee) – 4:04
  10. “You Are the Light” (Etzioni) – 3:59

IMG_1016April 1985 wasn’t a particularly busy month for me, music-wise, but it was a monumental one nonetheless. On the 17th of that month (31 years ago to the day as I write) I picked up, on cassette, an album that – I hesitate to say that it changed my life, so I’ll say instead that it re-affirmed certain things.

The album in question, Lone Justice’s self-titled debut, was a shotgun blast of sonic newness that infused country-rock with punk, rock, gospel and soul. The music roared, soared and seeped from the speakers, and the mercurial Maria McKee’s vocals forged palpable emotions from the simplest of phrases. It helped, too, that she – and, presumably, the band – was about my age. It was the first time, I think, I heard someone my age singing about things I cared about in a style that I loved. It made me – someone who was often mining the past for musical revelations – feel like I wasn’t alone.

IMG_1018And three days later, I bought an LP that did it again: the Long Ryders’ Native Sons.

First, though: I was a few months shy of turning 20, a college sophomore attending one of Penn State’s satellite campuses while living at home. I worked part-time at a department store, though “part-time” is a bit of a misnomer. I often put in more than my scheduled 16-20 hours (Tuesday and Thursday nights, Saturdays and/or Sundays); the week of the 8th, for instance, I clocked 38 hours, though a large chunk of that was due to helping with inventory. The week prior, I worked 26 hours in total. I say so with certainty not because I possess total recall, which I’m glad I don’t, but my desk calendar, where I often tracked such things. (It’s a habit I wish I’d maintained, but – as I’ve noted elsewhere – I pretty much stopped after I departed for the Penn State mothership in the fall.)

IMG_1029In the wider world, the economy – as it had been for years – was sluggish, as evidenced in part by the 13 cent/hour raise I received on the 18th: unemployment was over seven percent and the gross national product was growing at a measly one percent. Most folks liked the Gipper, however, who’d just won re-election the November before, so he escaped blame. The economy was what it was, in other words. People just accepted it. The top-rated TV shows consisted of Dynasty, Dallas, The Cosby Show, 60 Minutes and Family Ties. Popular movies included The Breakfast Club, Ghoulies and Desperately Seeking Susan. The No. 1 single was “We Are the World.”

The Philadelphia Flyers, my favorite hockey team, had just clinched their division and were about to charge through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals (where they lost to the Edmonton Oilers). The late goalie Pelle Lindbergh (1959-85), in his last full season, was a wonder to behold.

In the months leading up to that April day, I saw two concerts: a Tribute to the Byrds at the Tower Theater (with Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, Rick Roberts, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Pure Prairie League – it was a far better show than the clueless reviewer claims) and Emmylou Harris at the Academy of Music. Albums that I picked up, in that same span, included the Byrds’ Untitled and Sweetheart of the Rodeo; Flying Burrito Brothers’ Last of the Red Hot Burritos; Emmylou Harris’ The Ballad of Sally Rose, Pieces of the Sky and Elite Hotel; Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast; Husker Du’s New Day Rising; and the Velvet Underground outtake collection VU.

Contrast those purchases with the Top 10 singles for the week ending April 20th (via WeeklyTop40):

1 WE ARE THE WORLD – USA For Africa
2 CRAZY FOR YOU – Madonna
3 NIGHTSHIFT – Commodores
4 ONE MORE NIGHT – Phil Collins
5 RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT – DeBarge
6 I’M ON FIRE – Bruce Springsteen
7 OBSESSION – Animotion
8 DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME – Simple Minds
9 ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK – Murray Head
10 MISSING YOU – Diana Ross

Yeah, I was out of step with the times. And, with that said, onward to today’s Top 5, April 1985:

IMG_10321) Lone Justice – “Ways to Be Wicked.” This song was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell for Damn the Torpedoes, but left behind. Jimmy Iovine, who co-produced that classic album, brought it with him when he signed on to produce Lone Justice’s debut a few years later.

According to the liner notes in Tom Petty’s Playback box set, Maria became upset after the fact when she realized – as a result of a Petty interview – the double entendre that “ain’t afraid to let me have it, ain’t afraid to stick it in” packs when sung by a gal.

2) Lone Justice – “Fortunate Son,” “Ways to Be Wicked,” “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling),” “Don’t Toss Us Away” and “Wait ‘Til We Get Home.” One of the biggest regrets of my life: I never saw Lone Justice in concert. I have seen Maria a half dozen times in the years since (and given the infrequency of her tours, that’s saying something); and met her in 1993 at the (long-gone) Tower Records on South Street in Philadelphia. (It’s where she autographed the above CD cover.) This live performance from the Ritz in NYC in ’85 is incendiary…and makes me rue missing them all the more.

3) The Long Ryders – “Ivory Tower.” I bought Native Sons on the 20th based entirely on a Rolling Stone review, just as I did with Lone Justice. It wears its influences on its sleeve – literally, as the cover is a recreation of the cover for the never-released Buffalo Springfield album Stampede. (Not that I knew that at the time.) And the grooves pay tribute to the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byrds in addition to the Springfield – it’s basically an amalgamation of three of my favorite groups. Like Lone Justice, they mined the past while forging a new sound.

This song, written by the band’s former bassist Barry Shank, features former Byrd Gene Clark on harmony vocals.

huskerdunewday4) Husker Du – “Celebrated Summer.” On the 8th of the month, I picked up New Day Rising on cassette – my second HD album. As with Zen Arcade the year before, I quickly formed a love-hate affair with it (and Husker Du as a whole); I wanted to like it and them more than I did. I’m not sure what didn’t connect with me. It’s packed with strong melodies and songs, but – for me – too often devolves into a minefield of noise. Maybe they needed a better producer.

5) The Fugs – “Nova Slum Goddess.” I bought this on the 27th. The Fugs, for those unfamiliar with them, were a satirical 1960s-era NYC band fronted by the poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg. I’m not sure how or why I got into their music, but I found them funny. I played tracks from this live album, Refuse to Be Burnt Out, on the Folk Show every so often.

And one bonus…

6) Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” I didn’t buy this song for years, but it’s one I’ve always loved, and given that it was in the Top 10 at the time… well, why not feature it? The Breakfast Club, which it hails from, is one of those movies that never gets old (for me, at least). I do wonder, though, how this song would have gone over if Bryan Ferry – who was asked to record it first – had released it.

IMG_5332I first picked up Musician magazine in the early 1980s. As the name indicates, it was geared to musicians – of which, I wasn’t one. I didn’t buy it for the pictures of instruments and tech gear, though they all looked nice, but the profiles of musicians and record reviews.

This issue, as evidenced by the picture, featured John Cougar Mellencamp on the cover; and has an insightful five-and-a-half page article about him. The Indiana rocker, at the start of his career, hit a few obstacles, essentially flooring the gas pedal without first opening the garage door. He signed with Tony DeFries, David Bowie’s manager, who insisted on the “Cougar” moniker, released a few slipshod albums – his first, Chestnut Street Incident in 1976, sold a grand total of 12,000 copies – and earned a reputation of being a Grade A jerk. “I really didn’t have any handle on my career,” Mellencamp explains. “I was just insecure enough to listen to anybody who’d been in the business a long time—I figured they knew more.”

IMG_5333He gradually learned that there was more to rock music than looking the part, however. “I Need a Lover” (1978), “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” (1980) and “Hurts So Good” (1982) were solid stepping stones, serviceable tunes that wouldn’t cause anyone to change the radio station. And then ”Jack and Diane” happened. The reaction to that imperfect, but heartfelt song caused him to rethink his approach to music. Like “Hurts So Good,” it hailed from American Fool (1982); a four-star song on a two-star album, in other words. Uh-Huh (1983), his next effort, was better – “Pink Houses” is a classic slice of heartland rock, and “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” are damn good, too. But those songs didn’t foretell just how good he’d become; his next two albums, Scarecrow (1985) and Lonesome Jubilee (1987), stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best albums of the 1980s.

scarecrowThe Wikipedia entry gives conflicting release info for Scarecrow – September is cited in the first paragraph, but November is listed in the quick-hit section on the right. AllMusic lists November, too, but I recall playing the cassette, which came with an extra track (“The Kind of Fella I Am”), long before Thanksgiving – and this Billboard record chart from September 1985 that I just found proves me right.

Anyway, at the time, I was a junior at the Penn State mothership in State College, aka Happy Valley. I’ve covered the same timeframe here and here; there’s not much to add. I’d like to list the albums and singles I purchased this specific October, but my desk calendar, where I kept track of such things, remained at home with most of my things. I suspect, though, that it was none. Money was tight, and most of my cash went to non-dining hall food and other essentials, like pencils, typing paper and beer.

In fact, there were a few weekends when I hit the road in order to spend Saturday at the department store where I worked – when I didn’t have a Folk Show gig, of course. October 4th was one such example. I made money other ways, too: I rented out my season football pass; and sold my plasma twice a week. On the former: demand wasn’t great (or I was a bad scalper); I made 15 or 20 bucks a pop. On the latter: I possessed strong antibodies, I was told, so earned more than the going rate. My memory says it was $10 the first go-round and $15 the next.

About the Folk Show: I’d been on-air a total of two, maybe three times, by October’s end. The first teetered on disaster: a cart tape malfunctioned. Flustered, I muttered “What the fuh…” into the microphone, catching myself just in time to block the the final “ck” from slipping out. I’m sure the listeners were laughing their heads off.

As for Today’s Top 5, culled from this Musician:

IMG_53521) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Minutes to Memories.” The early and mid-1980s were a hard time for rural America: family farms were failing, and the reverberations expanded beyond the farms to the many businesses supporting them. On the Scarecrow album, Mellencamp took what he’d learned from “Jack & Diane” and “Pink Houses” and applied it to the reality that surrounded him in small-town Indiana – as Timothy White says in the review on page 109, “It’s a rock ’n’ roll Grapes of Wrath.”

There are many excellent songs on the album, but – to my ears – the best is ”Minutes to Memories,” written with childhood friend George Green. It spins the tale of an old man offering a young ‘un advice gleaned from his life’s experiences:

On a Greyhound 30 miles beyond Jamestown,
he saw the sun set on the Tennessee line.
He looked at the young man who was riding beside him.
He said, ‘I’m old, kind of worn out inside.
I worked my whole life in the steel mills of Gary
and, my father before me, I helped build this land.
Now I’m 77 and, with God as my witness,
I earned every dollar that passed through my hands.
My family and friends are the best thing I’ve known.
Through the eye of the needle, I’ll carry them home.’

‘Days turn to minutes
and minutes to memories.
Life sweeps away the dreams
that we have planned.
You are young and you are the future,
so suck it up and tough it out,
and be the best you can.’

Near the end, there’s a dramatic reveal: the young man, now older himself, is the narrator, and sharing the same hard-earned wisdom with a younger man – his son, perhaps:

The old man had a vision, but it was hard for me to follow.
I do things my way and I pay a high price.
When I think back on the old man and the bus ride,
now that I’m older, I can see he was right.

Another hot one out on Highway 11.
This is my life, it’s what I’ve chosen to do.
There are no free rides, no one said it’d be easy.
The old man told me this, my son, I’m telling it to you.

It’s a remarkable song from an undeniably great album.

IMG_53502) Neil Young – “My Boy.” Jimmy Guterman disliked Old Ways: “Neil Young’s desire to make real country music may be sincere, but succumbing to formula isn’t how to do it. ‘Old ways can be a ball and chain,’ Young sings. So can new beginnings.”

Despite having the trappings of country music, including fiddles and guest turns by outlaws Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, the album isn’t that far from the Comes a Time and Harvest blueprint. It doesn’t match either in terms of quality, mind you, but compared to the albums that it followed (Everybody’s Rockin’) and preceded (Landing on Water), it was an aural oasis. This touching song became a semi-staple during my days on the Folk Show.

3) Dwight Yoakam – “Guitars, Cadillacs.” After a failed stint in Nashville during the Urban Cowboy era, Dwight headed west to L.A., where his brand of honky-tonk music fit in with the burgeoning “cowpunk” scene. He released an EP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., on an independent label; and earned enough rave reviews to get picked up by Reprise, which re-configured the EP into a full-length album the following year (which is when I bought it).

Writes J.D. Considine: “It’s one thing to cut a ‘Ring of Fire’ that makes the man in black sound like a city slicker, quite another to write ‘Miner’s Prayer,” a genuinely affecting Kentucky lament.” The title tune is a classic –

IMG_53554) Bryan Ferry – “Slave to Love.” The ever-suave Ferry sits for an interview with future Billboard editor Timothy White, talking about Roxy Music and his solo Boys and Girls LP, which had been released over the summer. “I didn’t want the album to be Avalon, Part Two, but it does have a continuity in that at least 10 of the musicians on both records are the same. And I’m the same composing-wise that I was on the previous album. But it has some differences as well. I’m always seen my Roxy catalog as my main body of work, as opposed to my solo career, and I do see Boys and Girls as coming from my Roxy work.”

As far as checking out the competition: “Currently, I don’t listen to what anybody else is doing in music because there are so many things that seem to remind me a bit of what I do or have done. It gets incestuous. [laughter] At the end of the day, you just have to know that no one can be you, and at best there can only be superficial similarities. I’m just getting further and further into myself.”

I owned the album; and, to my ears, it was Avalon, Part Two sans the hypnotic pull of the original – actually, Avalon, Part Three, given that Roxy Music’s live High Life EP (later released as the full-length Heart Still Beating CD) was, kinda sorta, Part Two.

5) David Bowie – “Heroes.” Hooked on Digital? asks the headline of Scott Isler’s in-depth article about compact discs, which were far from mainstream in 1985. Only 3300-4500 titles were in print (vs. 85,000 LPs) – a lack of printing plants was one reason. Another: the need to renegotiate royalty agreements. The article also dwells on the analog v. digital differences in both recording and listening; and predicts the increasing scarcity of vinyl. Doug Sax, the president of Sheffield Lab and the Mastering Lab, and Emiel Petrone, a senior vice-president at Polygram Records and chairman of the Compact Disc Group, “agree the LP will linger on only as a high-end curio for audiophiles willing drop a couple thou on a cartridge alone.”

Now, Bowie isn’t mentioned in this article. What’s the connection? Those first months at Penn State, I fell in with a guy who not only owned a CD player, but had an eclectic CD collection that included titles by Kitaro, Michael Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis…and David Bowie (the original RCA issues, for anyone who’s curious). This song was always one of my favorites to listen to with headphones –

IMG_5179This is the last issue that I have of Record magazine. Whether this was the last issue, I do not know, though that’s my hunch – the mailing slip lists my subscription’s end date as June 1986, and I can’t imagine I would’ve tossed those issues out. (I was something of a packrat when it came to anything music-related. I still am, though less so.) Anything is possible, though.

Anyway, by the time I received this issue in the mail, I was 20; and starting my second semester at the Penn State mothership. An English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing: that was me. I was also a deejay, though I was not all that I played; as I’ve written elsewhere, I was one of the rotating hosts on the Folk Show, which aired on the student-run WPSU-FM. “Folk,” on my twice-monthly stints, had a rather broad definition, especially when in my preferred 6am-10am Saturday- or Sunday-morning slot; I played everything from stereotypical folk music (Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near) to the Fugs and even Elvis Costello circa Almost Blue. “A Good Year for the Roses,” which I discovered via a listener request, became a semi-staple for the rest of my days on the air.

Another semi-staple: Neil Young’s haunting rendition of “Home on the Range” from the Where the Buffalo Roam soundtrack.

All of which leads to Today’s Top 5: January/February 1986 via Record magazine. It’s really more of a 1985 overview…

1) Don Henley – “The Boys of Summer.” Henley, who’s back on top of the charts with his Cass County album, graces the cover of the issue, as the above picture shows; and inside is an interview conducted by Bud Scoppa, who calls him a “seasoned 38-year-old artist” in the introduction. Henley was two albums into a successful solo career after a decade-long stint with the Eagles, and flying high on the strength of the hit “Boys of Summer” from Building the Perfect Beast, which had been released the previous fall. “I’m not ashamed of having been in the Eagles,” he says in the interview. “I think we accomplished a great deal and added some pretty good music to the annals of rock ’n’ roll. Some of it was crap, and I hated some of it, but when you’re in a group, you can’t get everything you want.”

I liked the Eagles; and I liked Henley’s first solo effort, I Can’t Stand Still. Building the Perfect Beast, I thought (and still think), was slightly better – not a four- or five-star release, mind you, but enjoyable nonetheless. “Sunset Grill” and “A Month of Sundays,” for instance, are excellent. But no song of his, not even with the Eagles, is as good as the one he crafted with Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: “The Boys of Summer.”

“I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac/A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back…”

IMG_51852) Bruce Springsteen – “My Hometown.” This issue includes a Critic’s Poll of the best of everything for the preceding year. Thirty-two of the magazine’s contributors put forth their picks, and the results were tallied: Henley’s “Boys of Summer” was voted the top Single of the Year; and Springsteen was voted Artist of the Year. Since releasing Born in the U.S.A. in 1984, he’d embarked on a mega-successful tour that played arenas and stadiums; to paraphrase the piece, he won over a legion of new fans while retaining the longtime faithful, who didn’t hold his newfound popularity against him. “[P]eople still believe they can expect something from Springsteen—and, in the age of diminished expectations, that’s saying something.”

A few months back, thanks to a gift certificate our friend Luanne gave me to HDTracks, I picked up (i.e., downloaded) the high-res reissue of Born in the U.S.A. Not a five-star album, but one that – like Building the Perfect Beast – has its moments, many of which were released as singles. (In fact, seven of its 12 songs became Top 10 hits.) “My Hometown,” especially, resonates with me now in a way it didn’t back then.

IMG_51893) Suzanne Vega – “Marlene on the Wall.” “A walk for New York’s updated folkie Suzanne Vega, on the strength of her melodic, poetic Suzanne Vega LP,” says the Best Debuts paragraph in the Critics Poll. I first heard Vega when I played this song on the air early one morning; a fellow Folk Show deejay recommended her at a staff meeting, I think.

The other artists singled out: Lone Justice, Guadalcanal Diary, Sade, Whitney Houston, Zeitgeist, Dwight Yoakam, Katrina and the Waves, Fishbone and Freddie jackson.

IMG_51954) Neil Young – “After Berlin.” There, on page 40, is a full-page ad for Neil Young in Berlin, an 11-song strong representation of a 1982 West Berlin concert that was due out on VHS on January 13, 1986. There’s also a review of the video, which basically laments its brevity: “[W]hat lingers is the hunger for a show with the scope Young’s career demands. Still, Young’s phenomenal guitar work (the man’s improvisation rides an arc between convulsion and exorcism) ignites incendiary versions of ‘Cinnamon Girl,’ ‘Like a Hurricane’ and ‘Hey Hey, My My,” and these, plus the side-splitting techno-ballet performed by Neil and fellow space cadet Nils Lofgren on ‘Transformer Man,’ make Berlin, at the very least, worth a rental.”

The review doesn’t mention “After Berlin.” It’s a great lost song – and, by that, I mean part of its greatness is that it was left behind, forever etched in a specific place and time. He wrote it in the afternoon, played it that night and never looked back. “Can’t go back to where I started from/the road goes on and on….”

IMG_51985) Richard Thompson – “When the Spell Is Broken.” Another Folk Show staple. Thompson, of course, came from Fairport Convention, the English folk-rock band that also introduced the world to Sandy Denny; and his work with wife Linda was widely heralded. This song leads off his 1985 Across a Crowded Room LP, which the Critics Poll lists as No. 9 on the Albums of the Year list; the album is also named “Most Overlooked.” As a whole, it’s said, it was inspired by his divorce from Linda.  This song, my favorite from the set, features barbed guitar and lyrics: “Don’t swear your heart/from the very start/love letters you wrote/get pushed back down your throat/and leave you choking/when the spell is broken.”