Posts Tagged ‘Creem’

Every Monday, we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast while scanning the sports section of the morning newspaper, and headed to the bus stop, where we waited with a motley crew of kids from the neighborhood. At school, we navigated the halls on the way to and fro’ class, and fled at day’s end unless we had an after-school activity of some kind. The next morn, we did it again. And again after that, times three, until summer break came.

After school, depending on weather and mood, we played in the street or the park, rode our bikes or walked to independently owned music and book stores in our small town’s business district, or hiked the long hill to the Village Mall, where we browsed the chain-store versions of the same. The main difference: the folks behind the counter at those independent stores knew my name. At the chain stores? They only knew my cash.

In 1982, social media would have meant talk radio. Cable TV was around, but channels weren’t many. In the Philly area, the most important to get was PRISM, an HBO-like premium channel that, in addition to movies and specials, carried the home games of the Flyers.

In some respects, life was less hectic. The news cycle played out in drips and drabs via the newspapers and evening newscasts, not the incessant drumbeat of disagreements that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. But, make no mistake, life was no less difficult then as now. June 1982, for example, saw America stuck in a wretched recession: Inflation clocked in at 7.2 percent while unemployment was 9.8 percent.

I was 16, going on 17.

New movies released this month include Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Grease 2 and Blade Runner. True story: one day later this month, after school had let out for the summer, a friend and I trekked to the Village Mall, which was home to a two-screen Eric movie theater. He took in Poltergeist. I took in…Grease 2. That’s just how I rolled.

The top TV shows for the just-concluded 1981-82 season included Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Alice, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close for Comfort, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. (Of those, I only watched the last two on a regular basis.)

In the world of music, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were atop the charts with “Ebony and Ivory” – a 45 I still own – for all of June. Other hot hits included Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ cover of “Crimson & Clover.” (As always with all things charts, I rely on Weekly Top 40.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: June 1982 via Creem. Joan Jett graces the front cover of the issue and, via an ad, the back.

1) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ’n Roll.” The Iman Lababedi-penned cover article chronicles Joan Jett’s ascent from the generally ignored Runaways to this point in time, when she was on a roll, having finished a seven-week run at No. 1 with “I Love Rock ’n Roll” on May 1st, and then cracking the Top 10 again this month with “Crimson & Clover,” to say nothing of her platinum-selling I Love  Rock ’n Roll album.

2) Quarterflash – “Harden My Heart.” “In the United States, statistics show, a girl is walking out on her no-good man every 15 minutes. Statistics also show that 15 minutes later they’re going out and buying the Quarterflash record.” So begins music journalist Sylvie Simmons in this in-depth profile of the Portland, Oregon, band, which – to my ears – always sounded somewhat like Pat Benatar. Interestingly, the songs weren’t written by singer (and saxophonist) Rindy Ross, but her husband, guitarist Marv Ross.

3) The Jam – “A Town Called Malice.” Penny Valentine checks in from Britain with a good piece on the Jam. “Not since the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ has a record so well captured an urban mood and sent out its own warning: ‘Better stop dreaming of the quiet life/‘Cause it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus/‘Cause those rosy days are few.’”

She also delves into the album the song springs from. “So ‘Gift,’ an indecisive, incomplete, somewhat directionless collection musically and a set which reflects Weller’s own confusion between a salvation that lies with love and individualism or collective action, somewhat accidentally reflects exactly the political climate at the moment.”

4) Van Morrison – “Cleaning Windows.” Richard Riegel has the lead review, of Van Morrison’s Beautiful Vision, in the Records section. Of this song, he writes that “‘Cleaning Windows,’ which opens Side Two of Beautiful Vision, picks up some of the threads of ‘Summertime in England,” and is the most interesting song on the new set as a result. ‘Cleaning Windows’ stars Van Morrison as a repatriated Belfast window washer, who measures his life in the number of sparkling panes he’s left behind…”

He also laments that “nowhere else on Beautiful Vision does Van Morrison allow us such crystalline metaphors for his life. All 10 cuts have his trademark beautiful-vision melodies but lyrically too many of the other songs celebrate those vague bromides favorited by Bob Dylan in recent years, songs in which the satisfaction of the singer’s belief is supposed to substitute for acute lyric detail.”

5) The Call – “War-Weary World.” Riegel also contributes his take on the Call’s eponymous debut to the Rock-a-Rama roundup: “Clenched-jaw, urban-melodrama-verging-on-paranoia, a la Talking Heads, but far icier and more detached music than David Byrne would ever allow his disciplined-to-funk urban soul to express.”

IMG_5448June 1979: I was a month shy of my 14th birthday and living a suburban life not that different from what was depicted in The Wonder Years or Freaks & Geeks – that is to say, I woke up, ate breakfast and left for the (school) bus stop; and, after school, hung out with friends. We played variations of baseball, football, basketball and hockey in the street, at the park and in a friend’s driveway, depending on what the sport called for.

A radio was almost always blaring.

Although a decade removed from the hurly-burly upheavals of the ‘60s, the aftereffects of that era hung in the air and on rock radio, where the same-old, same-old acts held a tight grip on the playlists. (In retrospect, it’s not a surprise that the music industry entered a sales slump right about then.) I’d begun tuning into Philly’s rock-oriented WMMR and WYSP, but listened primarily to WIFI-92, a Top 40 FM station that played anything that was a hit. If it made the charts, it played a part in my life that spring and summer simply because WIFI – like every Top 40 station known to man – had a tight playlist. Donna Summer, for instance, was hot stuff, an omnipresent force. Here she is on The Dinah Shore Show

I also bought 45s and the occasional LP, and liked just about every act I heard, though none more so than Paul McCartney & Wings, whose “With a Little Luck” the year before kickstarted my music obsessiveness – as I wrote about here.

The hits of the year can be found on “The Top 25 of 1979” playlist I created on 8Tracks/Handcrafted Internet Radio a few years back. Among the featured acts: Donna Summer, Chic, the Knack, Anita Ward, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart and Blondie. It is, in its way, a good representation of what WIFI-92 was like, minus the deejay patter. They’re all songs I heard there first.

Hit TV shows that year included Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Eight Is Enough, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. I watched them all, and more – I was, am and will always be something of a TV junkie. Among the movies released in the year’s first half: Norma Rae, Hair, The China Syndrome, Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, The In-Laws and Rocky II. I only saw The In-Laws. (“Serpentine, Sal! Serpentine!”) in the theaters, though.

In the wider world: Foreshadowing events in the States, the Conservatives swept to power in England the previous month and installed Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. In April, the presidency of Jimmy Carter – unfair though it may have been – met its caricature when he was attacked by a “killer” rabbit. For the year, unemployment was relatively low, at 5.8 percent, but the wage-killer known as inflation was outrageously high: 11.3 percent.

IMG_5427This issue of Creem is, in its way, a solid reflection of the era. There’s the cover story on Blondie, whose “Heart of Glass” mega-hit broke them through to the big time even as some derided its disco flavoring; and includes articles on Bad Company, Dire Straits, the Police, and punk music. There’s funny advice in “A Rock Star’s Guide to Rock Criticism” for how rockers should field questions from critics; and a funny article about how doomsday is nigh – Name That Tune had gone disco! (Click on the image to the left to read the whole piece.)

Well, enough of the introduction. Here’s today’s Top 5: June 1979 (via Creem).

IMG_54261) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” As I mentioned a few weeks back, I – like many folks – initially thought Debbie Harry was Blondie. This article is a good reason why: Blondie was a band, but the focus was on the bottle-blonde lead singer, right down to the headline that claims “Blondie Plucks Her Legs!”. The slant is, at the start, somewhat…silly. Here’s one question/comment to Harry from Nick Tosches, who penned the piece: “Your legs. They’re great. Do you shave them or wax them?”

Harry says neither, explaining that instead she plucks them “one hair at a time.…It takes about a week for each leg.” Later, regarding drugs, she offers this insight: “I know it sounds crazy coming from somebody like me, but the most satisfying feeling I have is when I’m completely straight and accomplishing something. The feeling of accomplishment is what I really like, what I really get off on. I think that love is better when you’re straight, no matter what anybody says. Everything is better when you’re straight, except fucking up.”

She also dispels the notion that Blondie is a new wave group. “We’re a pop group. We feel that we’re part of the new wave, but when it comes down to musical definitions, we’re definitely a pop group. We always tried to be a pop group.”

IMG_54462) Bad Company – “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” There’s both an article on the band and a review of their latest album, Desolation Angels. In the article, Paul Rodgers lays out his vision of rock ’n’ roll: “I don’t think you should ever, like, bring politics and stuff that surrounds you every day—all that depressing stuff—into music. People want to go and see groups to get away from all that. I know I do. The lights, the atmosphere…they can forget everything else.”

The review by Kevin Doyle is, in a word, forgettable. It takes Rogers & Co. to task, in a roundabout way, for what he hears as their generic sound without singling out any song from the new album to use an example. True, their sound was somewhat cookie-cutter; I’m not arguing that. But snideness without context serves no one but the author. Not that I care, that much, in this instance; I’ve never been a Bad Company fan, though I admit to enjoying some of their songs on the radio. One of those songs is “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” Every time I hear it, I’m thrust back to the morning when I walked into my middle school’s pre-homeroom holding pen, i.e. the cafeteria, and heard it blasting from someone’s boombox.

IMG_54333) Rickie Lee Jones – “Danny’s All-Star Joint.” I love early Rickie – and latter-day Rickie, too. Her 2015 Other Side of Desire album is among the year’s best. “Chuck E.’s in Love” was her first hit, of course, and I remember hearing it on the radio, where it was deliriously out of place no matter the station, but I didn’t buy her debut album until after hearing “Danny’s All-Star Joint” on a double-LP Warners compilation called Monsters, which sold via mail-order for an obscenely low price – two bucks, I think. This short-take review of her debut by one Michael Davis notes that “she’s nyro to Laura when she goes for them high aches and she’s closer to bratty Patti when she goes for them gutter giggles.”

IMG_54304) Joe Jackson – “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” Michael Davis also pens this take on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp LP: “1979 started out drenched in disco but as the months bumble by, it’s looking better and better. True, there’s lotsa new groups styxing to proven formulas but there’ve also been plenty of major record company by artists intent on being themselves.” (Styxing instead of sticking?! Good pun, sir!)

Next paragraph: “Like this guy, Joe Jackson. You could put him next to the Police, the Jam and early Elvis the Caustic and he’d feel right at home—in other words, he doesn’t. You could tag him as English, out front and, yeah, sharp—but after a couple of listens, the labels come off and not because of shoddy workmanship.”

Third paragraph: “Mainly, you’ll just listen to his songs—sparse farces about real life hassles, half of which stem from those thorny opposite sexers. His voice is always way up in the mix, pretty risky unless you’ve got the tunes and the ability to put ‘em across. Joe does.”

IMG_54215) The Boomtown Rats – “Rat Trap.” Before “I Don’t Like Mondays” broke them in the States, the Rats tried to make a go of it with the release of A Tonic for the Troops, their second U.K. album but first in the U.S. The record label swapped out a handful of songs for select numbers from their first U.K. LP, which met the same fate as the Jam‘s maiden efforts, though for different reasons. If the Jam were too English, the Rats were too eclectic. “Rat Trap” sounds like a Dublin spin on classic Springsteen; and other songs, such as “She’s So Modern,” echoed Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and other new-wave acts. I was one of a few folks – and the only person amongst my friends – to buy the LP, which hit the record stores in February of that year. Until “Monday,” I never heard them on the radio; my memory says I learned of them from the Kenny Everett Video Show, which was syndicated in the U.S., but my timeline may be confused. It could well have been from a record review.

Anyway, the tongue-in-cheek Creem profile says: “After scurrying out of Dublin’s crumbling pubs to play their first gigs as the Nightlife Thugs, these rodents decided to show their true bubonic colors: much to their surprise, their furry brand of rabid rock crept across the continent like vermin on a sailor’s scalp, leaving thousands breathless and itching for more.”


IMG_5067Another day, another music magazine: That, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, was part of my life. I subscribed to Rolling Stone and, as a few past Top 5s show, Record – the latter came at a discount for RS subscribers, if I remember correctly, so it was a no-brainer. I also read Creem, Circus and Trouser Press. (There are others that I should name, and would if I remembered them.) Some months I bought one or two, others none; $1 or $1.50 may not seem like much in today’s world, but back then it put a dent in one’s wallet.

Anyway, this specific issue of Creem, dated November 1981, came into my life because of the cover story on Pat Benatar. I was 16 and quite the fan – In the Heat of the Night and Crimes of Passion, her first two LPs, were part of my collection. She had a big voice and the music rocked and/or smoldered.

And, sometimes, she and her band sounded a lot like Blondie – especially on her debut. “We Live for Love,” for example, or “Rated X.” What wasn’t to like, right? Oh, I know, I can hear the choir of rock snobs chortling at my mainstream taste. The hipster mentality on what and what not to like annoyed me then and annoys me now, though back then I just didn’t know it. But, yes, to the point: Pat Benatar was mainstream. Her music was at once combustible and contained, and accented by her operatic vocals and tough-gal persona.

And, not only could she sing and strut, but – as the (mostly positive) Creem feature explains – she did housework! “When I get back home from a tour,” she says, “I like to vacuum as a form of therapy.” She even cleaned her hotel rooms before the maids could get to them.

All of which leads to today’s Top 5: November 1981 (via Creem). It’s more a snapshot of the previous few months, however, since Creem – like the other magazines – often reviewed items months after their release.

1) Pat Benatar – “Fire and Ice.” The lead single to her third album, Precious Time, was basically a pastiche of her previous hits, bringing together the moody dramatics of “In the Heat of the Night” with the punchy “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” while adding a pinch of “Treat Me Right” for good measure. The album was her third in three years, and recorded during near-constant touring, so it’s safe to say she and the band were running on fumes. I liked it, but not as much as Crimes of Passion, and still like some of its tracks all these years later. Was it flawed? Yes. Even my 16-year-old ears thought the “Helter Skelter” remake was ill-advised. Yet, it had its charms – Side 1, especially.

IMG_50692) The Pretenders – “Message of Love.” This issue also has an in-depth article on the Pretenders that’s interesting. “There’s nothing wrong with being commercial. What’s wrong is to change your sound to try and be commercial. But if you have a commercial sound, don’t be ashamed of it.” So says Chrissie. There’s also a negative review of their second album, Pretenders II, by one Jim Farber: “Welcome to the Pretenders’ nightmare—an entire second LP to fill, hopefully living up to a big box-office debut, and just about all Chrissie and company can come up with are a bunch of industrial waste Def Zeppelin riffs.”

At the time that I read that review, I had their first album – which I loved – on a cassette that a friend had made for me the year before; their March ’81 EP, Extended Play, on vinyl; and, due to the distance between release and review, The Pretenders II. The EP had two of II’s songs – the brilliant “Message of Love” and sublime “Talk of the Town” – plus a live (and incendiary) “Precious,” as well as two other cool tracks (“Porcelain” and “Cuban Slide”). I played it to death; and when II came out, I was thrilled…until I listened to it. “The Adultress” and “Bad Boys Get Spanked” are supposed to be (I think) sexy and saucy, but are just embarrassingly second-rate. And the other new songs aren’t much better. Still – it was a second album. Those can be a bear.

kookoo3) Debbie Harry – “Backfired.” I admit it: I was one of those “Heart of Glass” Blondie fans who initially confused Debbie Harry for Blondie. She was blonde – from a bottle, perhaps, but blonde nonetheless – and the focal point of the band. I was wrong, of course, and no point drove it home better than KooKoo, her solo debut. At the time, I found the collaboration between Debbie & Chris Stein and Nile Rogers & Bernard Edwards just…odd. In fact, the most memorable thing about the album, I thought, was the acupuncture cover. I played it twice, maybe three times, and moved on. So imagine my surprise when I read, months later, a positive spin on it in Creem, which called KooKoo “very good” and “the kind of pop record that will sell by the truckload and deserve to.” I wondered if we’d listened to the same music.

But, the thing is, listening to this track – the first single – for the first time in 30+ years? I like it.

IMG_50704) Hall & Oates – “Private Eyes.” There’s a full-page ad for the duo’s Private Eyes LP, which was released in September of ’81, and by the time I bought the magazine – in October – the title tune was shooting up the charts. Seeing it now, however, makes me think back to the first Hall & Oates song that I was familiar with: “Kiss on My List,” which was a hit the year before. I wasn’t a fan of the duo, but wasn’t a hater – they just weren’t my cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong: I eventually bought their Rock & Soul, Vol. 1 best-of on cassette and later upgraded to CD. Certain songs of theirs were (and are) brilliant; others, such as this No. 1 smash, less so. It sounded like “Kiss on My List” with different lyrics.

IMG_50725) Kim Carnes – “Bette Davis Eyes.” Here’s the thing: certain songs – whether or not you like them – become part of one’s generational fabric. “She Loves You” is one example; “Billie Jean” another; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” yet another; and “We Belong Together” one more. And for anyone between the ages of 13 and 30 in 1981, or even 8 and 35, this is likely one of those songs. I never owned it (or anything by Carnes, for that matter); and why would I? I can hear it in my head at just about anytime because it’s been seared into my memory banks. It was a massive hit, riding the No. 1 slot for not one, not two, but nine weeks. WIFI-92 played it non-stop.