Posts Tagged ‘I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me’

(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.)

As I write, it’s a gray, damp May morning in the Delaware Valley. And while the Earth’s revolutions around the sun push us, ever-so-slowly, into a soggy afternoon, I’m spinning back into the past – to one of my favorite years, 1985.

On the very first day of the first post-Orwellian year, a new channel named VH1 debuted on many cable systems across the nation, including mine. Its name was short for Video Hits One, and it aired music videos. And only music videos. But unlike its sibling channel MTV, its focus was less on the hot pop and rock hits of the day, and more on adult fare. Like jazz, soul, adult contemporary and even some country.

College, work, and life kept me busy. I was 19, attending the commuter-college paradise that was Penn State Ogontz (now Penn State Abington), and working as many hours as possible as a sales associate at a department store at the Willow Grove Mall. What free time I had was mostly music-centered – LPs, stereo, headphones, music magazines. But one day that late spring or summer, and I can’t remember when, I clicked onto VH1 – and was greeted by this video:

I bought the corresponding LP, Rhythm & Romance, not long thereafter, on July 17th, and was instantly smitten with the album as a whole. It marries the SoCal rock aesthetic, updated for the ‘80s, with a country heart. The opening track, “Hold On,” features a taut guitar solo. 

The third song was a Benmont Tench-Tom Petty song, “Never Be You,” that Maria McKee first sang on the Streets of Fire soundtrack the year before…though I didn’t learn that for quite some time. (This was pre-Internet, remember. Not all factoids were a mouse click away.) 

Other highlights include “Second to No One.” I never saw the video before now, and must say that it’s quite stunning.

Also: “Halfway House,” which include these truly insightful lyrics: “We’re all in the halfway house/Or so it sometimes seems/Trying to find the truth inside/Instead of getting by on dreams.”

“Never Gonna Hurt,” another favorite, is as spiky as Rosanne’s hair on the cover – it sounds like a lost Jam classic.

Actually – see the track list below? Those are the highlights. All 10 songs. Rhythm & Romance is one of those albums best listened to from start to finish.

A few years back, Rolling Stone published an excellent salute to the album in honor of its 30th anniversary. It included this surprising bon mot from Rosanne’s memoir, Composed: “I still cannot stand to listen to Rhythm & Romance,” especially the “sophomoric, navel-gazing songs.” It just goes to show that, sometimes, the artist is wrong. To my ears, Rhythm & Romance is a classic.

In the year since it was released, of course, Rosanne has released a string of good, great and equally essential albums; and Diane and I have seen her in concert many times. But whenever I hear or think of her, I can’t help but to think of this album.

Side One:

  1. Hold On
  2. I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me
  3. Never Be You
  4. Second to No One
  5. Halfway House

Side Two:

  1. Pink Bedroom
  2. Never Alone
  3. My Old Man
  4. Never Gonna Hurt
  5. Closing Time

The year 1985 is likely best remembered for the simultaneous Live Aid concerts that occurred in London and Philadelphia on Saturday, July 13th. There were many performances that day and night – some good, some not, and many somewhere in-between – but the one that probably had the biggest impact, at least in the U.S., was U2’s. Their 18-minute set epitomized, and still epitomizes, everything good about this crazy little thing called rock ’n’ roll:

In every other respect, the year – like 1986 – was a transitional time. I wrote about it in my Top 5 for April 1985, so hopefully won’t repeat too much of myself here. In short: America was still rebounding from back-to-back recessions that occurred earlier in the decade. Unemployment stood at 7.3 percent at year’s start and fell to 6.7 by year’s end. Inflation was, thankfully, almost a non-entity, averaging 3.6 percent; and since the average wage increased by 4.26 percent from 1984, that meant most employed folks came out .66 percent ahead.

me_chevette_85As I’ve mentioned before, in ’85 I worked part-time as a department-store sales associate and, during the summer, worked full-time hours. I had no complaints. I had a car – a 1979 Chevette, dubbed the “Hankmobile” by my folks because I plastered an “I’m a Fan of Hank Jr.” bumper sticker on the back. (Yes, I was – and remain, to an extent – a fan of Hank’s, though that’s grist for another post somewhere down the road.) The Hankmobile got the job done – perhaps not in style, but so what? I bought a tape player, installed it and was good to go. (That’s me, sometime that summer, beside the car.)

Among the year’s top films: Back to the Future, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Color Purple, Witness, Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club rank among my most-watched films of all time – just as my wife can watch Remember the Titans ad infinitum, I can watch those over and over and over again.

The year’s top songs included “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!; “Like a Virgin and “Crazy for You” by Madonna; “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner; “I Feel for You” by Chaka Khan; “Out of Touch” by Hall & Oates; “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears; “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits; “We Are the World” by USA for Africa; and, yep, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.

The year’s top news stories included President Reagan’s controversial visit to a Bitburg, Germany, military cemetery; and the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. Closer to home: the Philadelphia Flyers’ phenomenal goalie, Pelle Lindbergh, died in a car accident; and Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode dropped a bomb on the city – literally – that caused 65 homes to go up in flames.

For me, the year is noteworthy for other reasons, too: After two years of commuter-college life at Penn State’s Ogontz campus (now known as Penn State Abington), I headed to the mothership, University Park, in State College, Pa., in late August. It was, indeed, a “Happy Valley.” I had a good roommate that first year, made good friends (one of whom became my roommate my second year), and – like most everyone else I knew – partied way too much. I joined the Folk Show staff on WPSU, contributed to a quarterly student magazine, and discovered the joy of selling plasma twice a week.

That same fall, an independent record store opened in town: City Lights Records, where I often whiled away time and money. Here’s a student film from 2008 that tells its story:

img_2094Anyway, enough of the introduction; it’s time for today’s Top 5: 1985. As in, my Top 5 albums from that storied year… (all of which, small surprise, I’ve previously featured in these pages.)

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice. Two words – and one name – as to why this tops my list: Maria McKee. The Little Diva, as she was nicknamed at some point in her career, is absolutely riveting throughout. Truth be told, to my ears, when she sings – whether with Lone Justice or on any of her stellar solo albums (and they’re all stellar), there’s no one better. Ever. That’s how I feel in the moment, at least. True, the delirium passes when the music ends, but man! I never want it to end.

2) The Long Ryders – State of Our Union. I wrote in my Top 5: Summer 1985 list that the Ryders “basically laid down the blueprint of the alt.country/Americana movement a decade before it became popular”; and this LP, to my ears, is their tour de force. As with Lone Justice’s debut, it’s an album – originally vinyl, then CD and now that CD digitalized as FLAC files – that I’ve returned to time and again through the decades. It never gets old. “State of My Union,” a Chuck Berry-infused, tongue-in-cheek tour of the South, is one of my favorite tracks, but they’re all great.

3) John Cougar Mellencamp – Scarecrow. A damn good album. “Minutes to Memories,” which I featured in my Top 5 for October 1985, is one highlight; “Small Town” is another. On this album, and the one (Lonesome Jubilee) that followed, Mellencamp tackled subjects and themes – the rural reality of the Reagan Age and small-town life, primarily – too often avoided by his rock ’n’ roll peers, no doubt because they hadn’t lived it. He had, and it shows.

4) Emmylou Harris – Ballad of Sally Rose. I’m sure I rank this higher than most would, but it’s the album that made this boy a fan. As I wrote in my remembrance of her 1985 concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I bought it on vinyl on February 17th; picked up a double-album cassette of Pieces of the Sky and Elite Hotel on March 2nd; and saw her play Sally Rose from start to finish on March 29th. Perhaps it was that condensed introduction – some might say, instant obsession – with her music, but…wow. This set still packs an emotional punch. (For those not aware, it’s a fictionalized account of her relationship with Gram Parsons.)

5) Rosanne Cash – Rhythm & Romance. And, finally… Rosie! As I explained in that Summer 1985 piece, I discovered Rosie and this album via VH1.

And a few runners-up…

The Three O’Clock – Arrive Without Traveling

10,000 Maniacs – The Wishing Chair

Jane Wiedlin – Jane Wieldin

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel

IMG_5044Summer 1985: If it seems like a lifetime ago, well, it was. At the time, I was 20 and worked in the Domestics department of a major department store, where I learned to fold towels and sheets, and deal with oft-obnoxious customers in a polite manner. And, after two years of living the commuter-college life at Penn State Ogontz, I was also preparing to head out to the mothership, State College, for my final two years of school.

Those are my first thoughts, at any rate, when looking at the cover of this specific issue, August 1985, of Record, the Rolling Stone music-only offshoot. Another: Record had shed its newsprint origins and gone glossy, a move that wouldn’t help it from being discontinued within a year. Also, by this point in its brief existence, it had fallen behind the times despite always being distributed a month ahead of the cover date. This issue’s main features, for instance, focused on Robert Plant, Tom Petty and Joan Armatrading, all acts who dated to the previous decade (and, in Plant’s case, the decade before that); and portable cassette players, which would soon give way to portable CD players. IMG_5060

Newer artists were provided much less space. But even an anachronism has its merits, and that comes with today’s Top 5, which is drawn from its pages. Why? It’s the first issue I grabbed when I snaked a hand into the box that holds my old copies.

Another thought: the 1980s weren’t as awful a decade, musically speaking, as is commonly assumed by folks who either didn’t live through them or, conversely, were too old to enjoy them. There were many good sounds to be heard; the difficulty came in discovering them. Rock radio, at least in the Philly area, had retreated into the tried-and-true; it was rare that actual new acts received airplay. Well, that’s not quite accurate – new acts were played, but only those that mimicked the old. It was one of the reasons why, for all their faults, MTV and VH1 were important – they played new artists who mined new sounds.

IMG_50461) Rosanne Cash – “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.” A full-page ad in a magazine primarily geared to a rock audience says much about Rosanne Cash’s Rhythm & Romance, which was released in May 1985. The set apparently upset the country establishment due to the straight-up rock held in some of its grooves – that’s what this recent Rolling Stone article says, at least. And there was plenty of ’80s-styled rock: “Hold On,” “Halfway House” and “Pink Bedroom,” for instance. There was also some adult-contemporary gauze strewn throughout, such as on this track. I remember seeing the video for it on VH1 and thinking Rosanne looked cool. Sexy. And I loved the song, which has a bit of a Carly Simon vibe. I bought the LP not long thereafter, and have been a fan ever since.

IMG_50642) Madonna – “Into the Groove.” Believe it or not, there was a time when Madonna wasn’t an icon. By the summer of ’85, she’d accrued a legion of fans thanks to the previous year’s Like a Virgin album and its singles, starred in a talked-about music video (“Material Girl”) and Desperately Seeking Susan, and weathered a sex scandal of a sort (salacious photos from her past were published in Playboy and Penthouse). Many a pop star has started as strong, of course, only to fade away; so regardless of what one thinks of her, the fact that she stuck around says something about her (or, maybe, us). This issue reviews her May 1985 concert in Atlanta: “Perhaps every generation needs reminding that rock and sex are sometimes indistinguishable. At the moment, Madonna’s the apostle of the body gospel, and, as her show makes apparent, it’s hard to recall a more fetching zealot.” Sounds a tad over-the-top to me. In any event, “Into the Groove” was the top-selling 12-inch single this month; and, like much of her music from the ’80s, is fetching and fun.

IMG_5051

3) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The ill-fated Southern Accents, initially meant to be a concept album, wasn’t a great album – but it was better than Petty’s previous effort, the generic AOR clunker Long After Dark. This specific song was an MTV mainstay in ’85 due to its Alice in Wonderland theme.

IMG_50534) The Long Ryders – “I Had a Dream.” For anyone unfamiliar with the Ryders, well, shame on you. They basically laid down the blueprint of the alt.country/Americana movement a decade before it became popular. This particular song, which MTV added that summer into its rotation, comes from Native Sons, their album from 1984 that featured a cover that paid homage to the Buffalo Springfield’s never-released Stampede LP.  (Not that I knew that at the time.) Why MTV added the song, given that it wasn’t new, mystifies me; perhaps the Ryders were finally afforded a budget for a video, who knows? It’s a great song, though – one of their best. The video, on the other hand…. it’s very much of its time.

IMG_50585) Lone Justice – “Sweet Sweet Baby (I’m Feeling).”  Whenever I listen to anything that features the mercurial Maria McKee, I can’t help it: I fall for her voice with the same ferocity as I first did in April 1985, when I picked up the debut Lone Justice album on cassette based on a Rolling Stone review. It’s one of the greatest debuts of all time, to my ears. (Like the Long Ryders, the group hit the stage a generation too soon – a decade later and they’d have been at the forefront of the nascent alt.country/Americana movement.) As the reviewer, one James Hunter, notes, “With the commitment of her approach—the aim and attitude of Chrissie Hynde executed with the abandon and once-and-past angst of Dolly Parton—McKee’s something to hear.” This song, which was written by Maria, Little Steven and Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers, is a delicious stew of country, rock, R&B and gospel. But the review also points out the anachronism the magazine had become: The album was released in April, but not reviewed until August.