Category Archives: 1984

Today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)

record284008Thirty-three years ago, in February 1984, America was stumbling out of back-to-back recessions that almost hammered the American Dream flat. The unemployment rate for January was 7.9 percent, which is high – but better than the 10.3 percent of January 1983. In fact, the unemployment rate for 1983 as a whole was, according to the St. Louis Fed, 9.5 percent – the same as it was in 1982. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has slightly different numbers – 9.6 and 9.7 percent, respectively.) The trend was headed in the right direction, however.

(This Pew Research Center essay delves in-depth into the “Reagan recession.”)

Stories in the news included Michael Jackson’s hair catching fire while he filmed a Pepsi commercial on Jan. 27th; the cable networks A&E and Lifetime debuting on Feb. 1st; the first successful embryo transfer from one woman to another being announced on Feb. 3rd; the movie Footloose premiering on Feb. 17th; and Michael Jackson winning eight Grammy Awards (seven for Thriller and one for the E.T. audiobook) on Feb. 28th.

record284009New music releases for the month included the Footloose soundtrack; Thompson Twins’ Into the Gap; The Smiths’ eponymous debut; Queen’s The Works; The Alarm’s Declarations; and Van Morrison’s Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which had been released in November 1982, still ruled the album charts, as Record’s Top 100 list shows. At the time, I owned – on vinyl or cassette – four of the top 10 and seven of the top 20; and, by year’s end, 20 of the top 100. As February dawned, the top single was – according to Weekly Top 40 – Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” had just cracked the Top 10. By month’s end, the top slot was held by one of the more infectious songs of the year, Van Halen’s “Jump.”

hatborotheaterAt the time, I was 18 and living the commuter-college life. I lived at home, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus and worked, worked and worked as an usher at the single-screen Budco Hatboro Theater – a fun job that I’d held since the previous summer. (That’s me in the doors in the picture on the left.) This month, however, the employees learned that it was destined to close at some point over the summer, as Budco saw the writing on the wall for single-screen palaces. The building was sold, torn down and a Wendy’s was built on its spot.

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My purchases for the month show where my head was at, beginning with Neil Young’s masterful On the Beach, which I picked up on Feb. 1st.

I also bought Stephen Stills – Stills (6th); CSNY – So Far (6th); Stephen Stills/Manassas – Down the Road (12th); Joni Mitchell – For the Roses (12th); and Stephen Stills double-LP Manassas set (17th), which quickly became (and remains) one of my all-time favorites. This song, featuring former Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman on co-lead vocals, is a a minor gem:

And, with that, onward to today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)…

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First, though: This issue isn’t one of the magazine’s best. I wasn’t a fan of David Byrne at the time (I’m still not), and never read the interview with him. I also never read the articles about Huey Lewis, Spandau Ballet, Juluka, Philip Bailey and DeBarge. So why choose this month? Because of On the Beach and Manassas. When I saw both in my old desk calendar, well, how could I not go with this month?!

1) The Rolling Stones – “Undercover of the Night.” I won Undercover, a sad-sack Stones album, from WYSP on November 19th of the previous year by calling in on a trivia contest and saying “John Drake” (the real name of Number Six in The Prisoner TV series). I think I played the album once, maybe twice, and never went back. In other words, Anthony DeCurtis – who penned this review – is more generous to it than I obviously am. Of this song, he writes that it “opens the first side with a machine-gun run of synthesized drumming that crashes into a barrage of percussive disco bottom and patented Stones guitar chords.”

record2840122) Paul McCartney – “Pipes of Peace.” This, the second review, goes to show the delay that once existed between release and review. The February issue of Record would have been on newsstands by early or mid-January, I’m sure, but Pipes of Peace had already been out for at least two months by then, as it was released in October 1983 (as I write about here).

In the review, the (apparently tone-deaf) critic Craig Zoller doesn’t mince words: “The only McCartney LP worth holding onto, by any stretch of the imagination, is Wings Greatest because it collects most of his good hits (along with some silly ones). And seeing sluggish hodgepodge efforts like Band on the Run and Tug of War garner critical raves is as bad a joke as hearing the Beatles described as Paul’s old back-up band.” Lest one have any doubts about where he’s headed, he then states of Pipes of Peace: “I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s just another lousy McCartney album with a couple of halfway decent cuts, a load of hummable pablum and the usual no-risk coasting.”

What I find interesting: in back-to-back reviews, a subpar Stones album is saluted while an admittedly mediocre McCartney album is thoroughly trashed. Says much about the mindsets of rock critics at the time…

record2840133) Bob Dylan – “Sweetheart Like You.” I’ve been in something of a Dylan mood of late, having listened to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changing, Bringing It Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 this week, with Freewheelin’ and BIBH both receiving twin spins. But, though I know his ‘60s output as well as most, and bought Slow Train Coming in 1979, by the time the decades turn to the ‘80s… I’m admittedly ignorant. There are a few albums I’ve bought and liked, and a few I’ve bought and disliked. Which is likely why I turn to his ’60s oeuvre whenever I have a hankering to hear him.

Anyway, of Infidels, reviewer John Swenson opens by saying that Dylan “is the most consistently misunderstood figure in pop music history” and closes with “Dylan hasn’t sung this well in some time, a fact which indicates his ultimate commitment to his material.” In between, there’s a lot that makes me want to check out the album, which I may well do in the coming week.

4) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Pink Houses.” Christopher Hill accurately describes the one-time Johnny Cougar’s seventh album: “Uh-Huh, Mellencamp’s first record under his real name, is also his first conscious effort to speak collectively for the people of his state and his state of mind. Though not always successful, the rough grain and savor of parched Midwestern earth that comes through makes this a bracing, provocative antidote to the bleak romancers of the ‘Badlands.’” He doesn’t single out the album’s tour de force, however, which is this song:

record2840145) Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers – “A Woman’s Got the Power.” Anyone from the Delaware Valley circa the late ‘70s and early ‘80s likely remembers the A’s – at least, anyone of a certain age who, regardless of whether you were old enough to get into the clubs, listened to Philadelphia’s two main rock stations at the time, 93.3 FM WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. The homegrown rockers were routinely plugged and played on both, as they should have been – they were damn good.

And this song, which was the title track of their 1981 album of the same name (their second and last on Arista), was played to death – as I remember it, at any rate.

Anyway, of the Big Man and his side band: Barry Alfonso, who reviews Rescue, notes that “the feel captured is right on the mark—such tracks as ‘A Man in Love,’ ‘A Woman’s Got the Power’ and ‘Savin’ Up’ (the last-named a Springsteen composition) have the funky nobility that big-band R&B has always traded in.” He also raves about lead singer John “J.T.” Bowen: “He lends to Clemons the same sort of urban bravura that Clemons brings Springsteen. It may not be new, but it still packs a wallop.”

AND, if two clips of the same song aren’t enough, here’s a third: the A’s performing it live…

 

 

Today’s Top 5: November 1984 (via Musician)

IMG_0993November 1984: Have I covered this month before? No, apparently not. Oh, I have a Top 5 that covers the previous month and also penned a remembrance of a Walter Mondale rally I attended (though not for the politics) that same October. It feels like I have, though, and I likely would’ve pivoted to an Of Concerts Past piece this week except for this:

On Friday, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band canceled tonight’s concert in Greensboro, N.C., to protest the state’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law.

As happenstance would have it, earlier in the week, while contemplating what this post should be about, I came across this exchange in a Chet Flippo-penned article in the November 1984 Musician magazine:

Musician: Are you going to vote this year?

Springsteen: I’m not registered yet. I think I am gonna register and vote my conscience. I don’t know much about politics. I guess my politics are in my songs, whatever they may be. My basic attitude is people-oriented, you know. Kind of like human politics. I feel that I can do my best by making songs. Make some difference that way.

I’m not sure whether that means Bruce never voted before ’84 or just that he hadn’t in a long time, given that one’s voter registration doesn’t lapse overnight. That aside, it shows how he has grown from not knowing much about politics (or, perhaps, not wishing to discuss them) in 1984 to become a reliable liberal champion in the present. He campaigned for John Kerry in ’04 and barnstormed the country as part of the Vote for Change tour in ’08, after all. Anyone shocked or surprised or outraged that he decided to take a stand on this issue hasn’t been paying attention through the years; they’re likely the same folks who (still) mistake “Born in the U.S.A.” for a jingoistic paean.

Anyway, enough about the political and onto the music. Here’s today’s Top 5, as drawn from the November 1984 edition of Musician:

IMG_09941) Lindsey Buckingham – “Go Insane.” There’s a solid piece by one Sam Graham about Buckingham: “For the moment, [he] has canceled his reservations for insanity. The events of the past couple of years – in particular the torturous breakup of a six-year relationship – took him perilously close to the brink of personal and professional madness, but Buckingham has reeled himself back in. And the reel he used, the album appropriately titled Go Insane, not only loosely chronicles those events but serves as a cathartic release from them.”

The piece concludes with: “‘My life is so simple now. I’m living more or less alone, and all my focus is on this record. [Fleetwood Mac’s plans are uncertain at best.] That’s fine for the time being, although it can get lonely. I mean, I can’t handle going down to Le Dome to meet people.’ What he can handle is regaining some control over his life. ‘I lost my power in this world,’ [he] sings in ‘Go Insane,’ ‘cause I did not use it.’ That power, he observes, is ‘the power of discipline, the power to progress. There was a time when I really did think I’d lost it. But in the end, making this album was a reaffirming experience. I think I’m gaining some of that power back.’”

IMG_09962) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Street Fighting Man.” Chet Flippo’s interview with the Boss is basically about the Born in the U.S.A. album and tour. Of the album, Springsteen says “I wanted the record to feel like what life felt like. You know, not romantic and not some sort of big heroic thing. I just wanted it to feel like an everyday, Darlington County kind of thing. Like ‘Glory Days,’ it sounds like you’re just talking to somebody; that’s what I wanted to do.”

He expounds on that a few questions later: “Born to Run and Nebraska were kind of at opposite poles. I think Born in the U.S.A. kind of casts a suspicious eye on a lot of things. That’s the idea…. These are not the same people anymore and it’s not the same situation. These are survivors and I guess that’s the bottom line. That’s what a lot of those characters are saying in ‘Glory Days’ or ‘Darlington County’ or ‘Working on a Highway.’“

And, finally, regarding the tour:

Musician: You’re doing the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” as an encore. Is that a political statement?

Springsteen: I don’t know. I like that one line in the song, “What can a poor boy do but play for a rock ’n’ roll band?” It’s one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll lines of all time. It just seemed right for me to do it. It’s just fun. In that spot of the night it just fits in there. After “Born to Run,” we got to go up. That’s the trick. ‘Cause it’s hard to find songs for our encore. You gotta go up and then you gotta go up again. It has tremendous chord changes, that song. 

IMG_10013) U2 – “Pride (In the Name of Love).” J.D. Considine reviews U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, a good-but-not great album that includes, in my opinion, one of the greatest singles of the ‘80s, “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Considine says that it “sidetracks its tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King’s non-violent struggle for civil rights through brash sloganeering. In a way, it’s almost a slap at their earlier songs, in which the desire to say something subsumed the message itself, until it sinks in that King died for ideas as basic as these slogans, a realization that’s as invigorating as it is frightening.”

IMG_10024) Rickie Lee Jones – “It Must Be Love.” Anthony DeCurtis opens his review of The Magazine with: “Blending early 60s R&B crack, beat-poet lyricism and cabaret jazz ease, Rickie Lee Jones’ best tracks turn the tough trick of using entirely familiar elements to disorient listeners’ expectations. Her infinitely elastic voice is the main instrument of this aural upset, wrapping itself around everyday words and feelings in ways that restore their meaning and wonder.”

As a whole, though, he thinks Rickie Lee overreaches, and offers something of a confused conclusion: “[It] falls short of its greatest artistic goals, but its many achievements wouldn’t have meant so much within the context of any less full-hearted effort.”

IMG_10035) The Everly Brothers – “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” So, after a decade apart, Don and Phil came together for a much-praised reunion concert in London in 1983 and then recorded EB ’84, their first studio album in 11 years, with producer Dave Edmunds. This Paul McCartney-penned tune is (rightfully) called “charming,” but the uncredited reviewer isn’t thrilled with the rest. Frankie Miller’s “Danger Danger” is “stompy and undistinguished”; Jeff Lynne’s “The Story of Me” is “mawkish”; and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” is called “an oddball choice.” Dave Edmunds, too, is taken to task for his heavy-handed production, which – according to the writer – is laden with reverb, echo and compression.

 

Today’s Top 5: October 1984 (via Record Magazine)

IMG_0764October 1984 is basically a blip on the radar of time, with only two notable events occurring in its 31 days: astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first woman to walk in space on the 11th; and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards on its final day. In America, Reagan v. Mondale was in full swing but, really, everyone already knew the outcome.

On the personal front: This was a good month in my life. No, let me rephrase: This was a great month. On October 22nd, I attended a rally for Walter Mondale – no, that wasn’t the great part. This was: I met Stephen Stills, who was (and remains) one of my favorite musical artists, at the event. (You can read about that here.)

The month didn’t start off so well, however: On October 3rd, I received a speeding ticket and, that same day, locked my keys in my car. Doh! The ticket, thankfully, was rescinded; the officer, bless his heart, forgot to sign it.

I picked up some good LPs, including two masterpieces that are on my (nonexistent as of yet) Albums Everyone Should Own list: Crosby & Nash’s Wind on the Water and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Anyway, this issue of Record features a cover story on the Jacksons and their hot “Victory” tour that I’ve never read. For me, the issue is notable because of Bill Flanagan’s excellent interview of Lou Reed and an interesting essay by Peter Buck.

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1) Lou Reed – “New Sensations.” In the interview, Lou talks about his current New Sensations album, which I picked up in June, and more. “I’m part of the baby boom generation. The first generation that grew up on rock. Right out of the ‘50s, that’s me. Along with that, for better or worse, comes a lot of ‘50s attitudes—which, to my mind, as I’ve gotten older, has not been a good thing. I mention in ‘New Sensations’ that it’s something I’m trying to work past. I want to get past that ‘50s view that I really have been in, either by manifesting it or going in the other direction and rebelling against it. What I want to do is go past it. I would hate to have to live with those tacky kind of attitudes. I want more out of life.”

In the next paragraph, he explains that “Faulkner wrote only about the swamp. James Jones wrote only about the war. But I didn’t want to write just about dope and New York…I did my drug songs. I don’t want to make that my war, my swamp, my city. That’s not what I’m primarily interested in. I’m interested in emotions, things that happen to people.”

The interview closes with: “I’ve said this before: what if Raymond Chandler approached rock ’n’ roll? Well, you might get Street Hassle. What if a real writer came in? Just like they brought real writers like Faulker out to Hollywood to write screenplays. That’s what I wanted to do in a rock ’n’ roll format. I’m still at it. It’s like sitting and listening to Brecht and Weill’s ‘Song for the Seven Deadly Sins’; there’s a song for every sin out there. There’s endless things to write about. You could do that with rock, too. That’s what I want to do.”

IMG_07682) Sheila E. – “The Glamorous Life.” Craig Zeller reviews Sheila E.’s debut in conjunction with the Time’s Ice Cream Castle because of their shared Prince connection. Of The Glamorous Life, which I’d picked up over the summer, he writes: “Not surprisingly, the head-and-shoulders standout here is the title cut wherein Sheila E. goes after high living with an exuberant lunge that’ll have you racing your engines. It’s the kind of heel-clicking thrill seeker that makes you wanna take the curve on two wheels. And, brother, does she raise some thunder on those drums! Ever see the video where she’s whacking out the rhythm in a gleeful frenzy? I just did and it’s time for another cold shower. All in all, I’m not sure I’d give you the Time of Day, because it’s the glamorous life for me.”

IMG_07693) R.E.M. – “Can’t Get There From Here.” R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck pens an essay titled “The True Spirit of American Rock” in which he asserts that “even though British bands are selling millions of records, that doesn’t tell the whole story about what’s happening musically in the States. There’s deeply-heartfelt music being made by American bands that most people in this country are ignoring and that the British don’t even get to hear.” He offers Husker Du, Mission of Burma and the Replacements as three examples.

He also explains that “[a] lot of British records that are big in this country take the passion and spirit of American soul music and turn it into supper-club, MOR slush that’s the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of Las Vegas. Words like ‘passion’ and ‘spirit’ are the flavor of the month these days; they get tossed around so often that they’ve lost much of their meaning. Still, the music I like most is done by people who convey a sense of self, a feeling that they’d continue making music even if they weren’t making records. Music is a part of their lives, not just a vehicle to stardom. I can’t define it exactly—good music can run the gamut from Hank Williams to Black Flag—other than to say I’m moved by music made by real people for real reasons.”

IMG_07704) The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods.” Anthony DeCurtis has the Final Word this issue:

“Except for the Brit-punk detonation, the ‘70s and early ‘80s offered little to listeners who like social significance to spike their sounds. The surreal remoteness of huge stadium and arena shows by demigod pop stars publicly dramatized the chasm of alienation those years cracked between bands and their audience, between the world of millionaire entertainers and the everyday concerns of working people.

“While that chasm has in no way been fully bridged, politically conscious music has resurged in the last few years from many (sometimes surprising) sources and for many reasons.”

Paul Weller’s Style Council gets a nod for its 1984 release, My Ever Changing Moods (known in Weller’s home country as Cafe Bleu; it was renamed in the States to match the single, which hit No. 29 on the Billboard charts). “The Style Council’s Brechtian disc is extremely subversive,” says De Curtis.

5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Born in the U.S.A.” De Curtis also singles out Springsteen’s 1984 release in his essay: “Springsteen chronicles American working-class like in the wake of Vietnam, an economic ‘recovery’ that benefits the managerial class almost exclusively, and external conditions that turn the patriotic fervor working people have always felt into a humiliating ironic joke. The triumph of Born on the U.S.A. is Springsteen’s ability to depict the human cost of oppression without condescending to, sentimentalizing, or caricaturing the people whose lives form his subject.”