Posts Tagged ‘Go-Go’s’

Life has been upended and, even once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, likely won’t right itself for years. My hunch is that most folks will continue to congregate via the internet and that, by and large, many retail establishments will fade away faster than they would have, otherwise. In the U.S., after all, department stores and shopping malls have been on the verge of disappearing for a decade-plus. Why deal with the hustle and bustle (and possible COVID-19 exposure) when one can order what one wants and needs online? Malls, especially, are destined to become relics…

…which saddens me. I spent many hours hanging out at a mall and even more working in one.

Anyway, earlier this week, I pulled out my deluxe edition of Wings Over America and re-watched the Wings Over the World TV special for the first time since the massive set’s 2013 release. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Paul McCartney’s oeuvre, the 75-minute documentary – which first aired in the spring of 1979 (March 16th on CBS; April 8th on BBC 2) – chronicles his 1975-76 flight around the globe with his post-Beatles band, Wings. Unlike the 1980 Rockshow concert film, which presents a typical concert, it includes offstage footage alongside live clips, plus features a few archival delights, such as Wings Mach I performing “Lucille” at their first rehearsal in 1972.

I first saw it on that March night, a Friday, when it aired in the time slot reserved for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – 11:30PM. I was 13, an 8th grader and, on Fridays, often stayed up late to watch Carson and, sometimes, the music-centric Midnight Special, which followed at 1:00AM. 

Life was different then. In my suburban enclave, our main street was home to many mom-and-pop shops, though the only ones I frequented were the record store, bookstore and newsstand. The movie theater, owned by Budco, got my business, too. Twenty minutes away was a relatively small shopping mall – it housed many wonders, including a video arcade where I spent much time and many quarters, and a movie theater with not one, but two screens. 

Back on point: Wings Over the World fueled my Wings fandom, which was already over the top, and the disco-light “Goodnight Tonight” (backed with “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”) – released a few weeks later – further fanned those flames. 

But McCartney and his old band, the Beatles, weren’t the only objects of my musical passion. Olivia Newton-John, as I’ve noted before, was Totally Hot; and, honestly, I liked pretty much everything I heard in those days, and most of what I heard came courtesy of WIFI-92, a Top 40 station in Philadelphia that usually provided the soundtrack when my friends and I played baseball, football and basketball in the street. “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb was played often that spring, as was “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones.

In the wider world, the economy was – as it always was in the ‘70s – stumbling. As this census report summarizing the year notes, “The median money income of households in the United States was $16,530 in 1979, an increase of 10 percent over the 1978 median of $15,060. However, after adjusting for the 11.3-percent increase in prices between 1978 and 1979, the 1979 median was slightly lower than the 1978 median.” (For comparison’s sake, the median household income in 2019 was $63,688.) The NBC Nightly News on May 6th, 1979, features a report on the driving force behind the year’s rising costs: gasoline. (Or, to be precise, a lack thereof. Some states, including California and Pennsylvania, introduced even-odd rationing.) 

If you take the time to watch the Jessica Savitch-anchored broadcast in full, you’ll also see a report on a massive anti-nuclear energy rally in Washington, D.C., that was inspired by the previous month’s Three Mile Island meltdown, plus a profile of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). It’s a good reflection of the year. Another reflection can be found in these films: Manhattan, Love at First Bite, The China Syndrome and Norma Rae.

I didn’t see those films at the time, however. My $5/week allowance only went so far – 45s were a dollar and albums ranged from $4.99 to $7.99; add in the music magazines I bought and… it’s easy to understand why I listened to the radio.

With all that said: April 25th, 1979, was a Wednesday – a school day. The temperature was in the high 50s by the time I reached the bus stop in the morning and rose to 77 by the time I arrived home in the afternoon – perfect weather for outdoor fun. I’m sure we hit the streets to play a game of some kind while WIFI-92 blasted; and that night, after homework, I’m sure I turned on the TV to watch Eight Is Enough and Charlie’s Angels. 

I should add that, back then, a large chunk of music – aka disco – was little more than escapism set to a beat. As many of my entries on the 1970s document, the economy was rarely on a sure footing that decade – inflation and unemployment were part and parcel of the era. My hunch, as this pandemic fades, is that a similar silly fad will sweep the land. People need mindless diversion.

And, based on the charts from from Weekly Top 40, here’s today’s Top 5: There Was a Time… (aka April 25th, 1979):

1) Amii Stewart – “Knock on Wood.” Sad to say, this is the first version of “Knock on Wood” I heard – Eddie Floyd’s classic version would come in a few years. Anyway, this week, Amii’s disco-fied remake jumped from No. 3 to No. 1, a perch it would hold for all of one week. It’s disco, obviously, as disco was all the rage, and may well turn some stomaches as a result – but c’est la vie. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.   

2) Gloria Gaynor – “I Will Survive.” Holding steady at No. 2 is the stereotypical disco anthem, which was released on October 23, 1978. Within its first two years, according to its Wikipedia page, it sold 14 million copies.  

3) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” Rising from No. 8 to No. 3 is Blondie’s breakthrough hit, which was on its way to No. 1.  

4) Frank Mills – “Music Box Dancer.” In retrospect, what I loved about WIFI-92 – and other Top 40 stations – is that they pretty much played everything that made the pop charts. The only genre they cared about, in other words, was “hit.” This tune is a great example: Originally recorded in 1974, and used as the b-side to a newer song, it found its way onto the airwaves due to the program director at an Ottawa pop station who heard and liked it. It gained traction and, over the course of several months, landed on the Easy Listening charts in the U.S. before transitioning onto the pop landscape. This week, it clocks in at No. 4, where it’ll hold steady for another week, then lurch to No. 3 and fall fast to No. 15. 

5) The Doobie Brothers – “What a Fool Believes.” Written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the infectious slice of blue-eyed soul lands at No. 5 while on its way to No. 1. Loggins released a version of the song five months before the Doobies on his 1978 Nightwatch album, but his remained an album track.

And two bonuses…

Rising up to No. 6 is this silky-smooth love song by Peaches & Herb, which – as I said above – flashes me back to 1979 with every listen. Here’s some trivia, though, which surprised me when I first learned it a few years ago: There have been seven Peaches through the years, and the one singing here (Linda Greene) is the second.

Debuting this week on the charts (at No. 79): “Deeper Than the Night” by Olivia Newton-John, the second single from her Totally Hot album, which was released in November 1978; it would eventually top out in the charts at No. 11 in early June

It may seem that, of late, that I’ve been surfing my “essential” albums as if on some sort of erratic spacetime wave, lurching one way before lurching another. I’m not. No, instead I’m replicating the way the mind works, which isn’t as logical as we like to think. As often as Memory X leads to the next stop on the timeline, aka Memory Y, it also leads us back or ahead to a tangentially linked event days, weeks, months or years before or after X occurred.

For instance, when I think of CSN’s Daylight Again, which I picked up in January 1984, my mind doesn’t leap ahead to any of the CSN-and-related albums I splurged on in the weeks and months that followed, or even to when I first saw them in concert eight months later. No, my mind’s eye centers on a spring day in my freshman honors English class. Our assignment: bring in a 45, LP or cassette, play a song from it, and then dissect it.

Yeah, I know: Fun times!

My pick is beside the point – though, given my recent CSN/Stephen Stills obsession, I’d wager fairly predictable. No, my appearance is more important: I had longish hair. A mustache. Unshaven, as it was an off-work day for me. Bedecked in jeans and a flannel or paisley shirt, with a leather jacket draped over the back of my desk chair. And the distinct scent of cloves exuded from me – I smoked clove cigarettes in those days. I looked and smelled far from the clean-cut Young Republicans of the day, in other words, and more like a holdover from Ravi Shankar’s Sunday afternoon set at Monterey Pop.

At the front of the class, a young woman – who looked like a picture postcard for everything preppy and peppy – surprised me by playing “Beneath the Blue Sky,” a song by the Go-Go’s from their recent Talk Show LP. She explained how the lyrics echoed the Cold War concerns of the day – a thematic anomaly not just for the group, she said, but for the pop music of the day.

When she was finished, she took her seat beside me and asked how she’d done. “Good,” I assured her, before telling her how I thought Talk Show was a great album.

Befuddlement swept her face. “You like the Go-Go’s?!”

“Of course,” I said. “What’s not to like?” (As my desk diary shows, I bought it two weeks after its release, on May 31st.) I recommended she give the Call’s Modern Romans a spin, as “When the Walls Came Down” seemed like it might be up her alley.

Like many in those days – and these days, for that matter – she made certain assumptions about me based on my yesteryear fashion sense. (Just as, to be fair, I assumed certain things about her based on her polished looks.) 

Anyway, “Beneath the Blue Sky” – written by Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin – is a cool song. Lyrically, it’s a smart call for peace that goes the person-to-person route. Musically, it’s pop and perky, which was the canvas the Go-Go’s often worked from, yet complements the words.

To back up a moment, the Go-Go’s were a breath of fresh air in the sometimes stale climate of the early ‘80s. Their 1981 debut, Beauty and the Beat, swatted away the ‘70s cliches of the breezy SoCal Sound by blending elements of pop, punk and surf-rock into snappy songs that never went on too long. It’s perfect, just about, and – to my ears – their best work.

As a whole, Talk Show is moodier and, at times, lyrically downbeat, with tracks tackling – in addition to the Cold War – isolation, breakups and depression, as well as the old stand-by of romantic attraction. It’s more rock than pop, with raucous guitars accenting many of the tracks.

“Head Over Heels,” the infectious first single, just missed the Top 10. Written by Charlotte Caffey and Kathy Valentine, it’s a bit of an outlier due to the prominence of the piano.

Written by Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin, “Turn to You” – the second track and single (which topped out at No. 32) – better makes the case for raucous guitars.

(If you didn’t click play on the video, you should. It features a young Rob Lowe as well as four-fifths of the Go-Go’s making like Joyce Hyser in Just One of the Guys a year before that movie was released.)

Another highlight: the Jane Wiedlin-penned “Forget That Day,” a dramatic tour de force that’s also the longest song in their canon.

“I’m the Only One,” written by Kathy Valentine, Danny B. Harvey (of the Rockats) and Carlene Carter, flat-out rocks.

“Capture the Light,” another Wiedlin-penned tune, is my favorite song on the album; it features one of Belinda’s best-ever vocals and lyrics that mean more than most. “Everybody wants/To touch the stars/Take a piece of happiness/Hold on tight/Keep trying hard/To capture the light…”

As most fans know, behind the scenes the band was at loggerheads for a myriad of personal and creative reasons, with the tensions undoubtedly fueled in part by their hard slog to success. (In a sense, the LP’s cover reflects the divisions within the band.) Overnight success is rarely overnight, and the pressure to stay on top takes a toll, including on those who got there with you. As a result, on Talk Show the effervescent fun of a few years earlier is replaced by more serious – aka adult – concerns. While it may not be the equal of Beauty and the Beat, it is a great work.

It was also, despite the retro-hippie mode I was in for much of the year, my favorite album of 1984.

The track listing:

 

 

Once upon a long ago, aka the late ‘70s, children searched for treasure. We pedaled banana-seat bikes to discount department stores – a K-Mart or Montgomery Ward, say – in hopes of striking gold in the record bins. Everything was cheaper there, but the titles were sparse, so in time we rode instead to a nearby music shop whose proprietor let us browse for what seemed like hours on end. And when we settled on a simple single, he thanked us for our purchase and wished us a good day. Later, we set out up a long and steep hill for a rinky-dink mall that housed a Sam Goody’s. The worker-clerks were more gruff and dismissive, and never thanked us for our cash, but it stocked a wider selection. 

In short, we sought the sounds we heard on the radio. Some stations were formatted Top 40, others rock, disco and R&B/soul. It never mattered. We turned the radio dial and were enthralled by almost everything we heard. We were lost in music. Caught in a trap…

“We” is me, of course, just as I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. Everything I heard, even the old, was new or new-to-me. But children grow into teens, 10-speeds replace banana seats, and the appetite for more (on the cheap, as we had limited budgets) led us to used-record stores.

But my record buying notwithstanding, in the late ‘70s and early ’80s the music industry suffered a major slump. Hand in hand with the downward spiral, radio retrenched. Few new artists were featured, and those who were – Dire Straits, for example – often sounded like the old. For the most part, punk and new wave could only be read about, not heard via the airwaves, on this shore. And though I liked much of the old, as this blog attests, I also wanted to hear a lot of the new.

That’s when the days of buying albums from reviews alone began.

About the same time, in the late ‘70s, I stumbled upon ITV’s The Kenny Everett Video Show. A British program, it aired throughout the U.S. thanks to the magic of syndication – in the Philly area, it was Saturday or Sunday afternoon. In addition to his outlandish (and not always funny) comedy, Everett – a British deejay by trade – featured a who’s who of established and rising British musicians. Paul McCartney & Wings were in the same episode as the Boomtown Rats, for example.

Yeah, listening to that song now, it sounds more Springsteen-esque than new wave, but that’s not the point. It was new. Everett’s show ran the gamut of cool to kitsch, mind you, but at least most of what he featured was different. Kate Bush, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, Rachel Sweet and the Pretenders were among the showcased acts

That clip of the Pretenders, by the way, hails from March 15, 1979 – nine months prior to their self-titled debut album being released in the U.K. and 10 months before it was issued in the U.S.

The Midnight Special and Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert were among the other outlets for music on TV, though – like rock radio – they focused primarily on the tried and true, not the new and untested. Solid Gold was for the hits. America’s Top 10, too. Slump or not, the music industry had become a Big Business, and Big Business is often short-sighted when it comes to seeding future growth. 

Unless they’re an upstart. Like MTV. 

The channel began life on August 1, 1981, but at first was only available in a handful of markets (aka the swamps of Jersey). Many viewers, including myself, didn’t actually experience it until the following spring or summer, thanks in part to a smart public relations campaign that played out on most of the other Warner Cable-owned channels: I Want My MTV!

My aunt visited us that summer of ‘82, and I remember her commenting about how the TV – thanks to 16-year-old me – was usually tuned to MTV.

Now, MTV received its share of criticism at the time  – and some of it was deserved. The biggest issue: The lack of artists of color, which its programmers claimed was due to its AOR-like format. (AOR, of course, is album-oriented rock; and about the only artist of color featured in that format at the time was Jimi Hendrix.) 

The reality, however, was that MTV’s approach to AOR wasn’t in keeping with AOR radio. Far from it. Duran Duran, for example, broke big in the U.S. because MTV played – and played, and played, and played – the videos for “Hungry Like a Wolf” and “Rio” in late ’82. Here’s the former:

I never heard that song on Philly’s twin pillars of rock radio, WMMR and WYSP. Only MTV. As the years progressed, however, they cast their net wider and began to reflect music fans like me, who enjoyed pretty much everything. But in the beginning, “have video, get played” may as well have been its mantra. Here’s one example: Romeo Void, whose “Never Say Never” was a staple of its early days.

Joan Jett, the Go-Go’s, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Van Halen, and the Bangles are just a handful of the artists and acts whose success (or mega-success, in some cases) can be traced to their videos being placed in heavy rotation. John Cougar’s another.

Spicing the non-AOR AOR format: the “veejays” who introduced the clips.

The original five consisted of the always cool J.J. Jackson, formerly of WCBN in Boston and KLOS in L.A.; hip Mark Goodman, formerly of WMMR in Philadelphia and WPLJ in New York; struggling actor Alan Hunter, who appeared in David Bowie’s “Fashion” video; actor-model Nina Blackwood; and my favorite of the bunch, Martha Quinn, who once appeared in a McDonald’s commercial and later was cast as Bobby Brady’s wife in the short-lived The Bradys comedy-drama. (Fun fact: Like me, Martha spun folk records on college radio.)

All of which leads to this: In March or April 1983, I sent a letter to Martha. Maybe it was to share a piece of trivia. Or maybe it was to ask that one of my many favorites get more play. In turn, she wrote back…

Do kids still write fan letters? Do they get autographed keepsakes – for free – in return? So much has changed since 1983 – some for the better, some for the worse. The digitalization of memories, for instance, has its pluses, as everything is in the cloud just waiting to be browsed. But here’s a downside: Young folks today will never know the pleasure of coming across a long-forgotten autographed picture inside a manila envelope…

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”…