Category Archives: Madonna

Today’s Top 5: June 3, 1986

I have no idea as to where I was, or what I was doing, on this day in 1986. I can say, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, that it was a Tuesday and a fine, fine day and great night, given that we enjoyed a high of 72 and low of 48. I can also say, based on the basic timeframe: I’d recently finished my junior year at the Penn State mothership, and was back home for the summer. I was working, working and working at a department store while also taking (or about to take) a summer class at Penn State’s Ogontz campus: physical education.

The photos are from a few months earlier. The one at the top is my dorm room, minus my messy bed; the second is me, at my desk in said dorm room. (I’d be in a different dorm and room, and have a different roommate, when I returned to the mothership in the fall.) You may not be able to tell from the second picture, but those are paisley patterns dotting my shirt – a nod to the Paisley Underground. As I’ve written before, I was an English/Creative Writing major, deejayed a folk show on the student-run radio station and enjoyed a boatload of fun despite being a year too young for the bars.

Among the day’s headlines: Secretary of State George Shultz took a hard line against South Africa’s apartheid policies; the Supreme Court ruled that cable-TV operators were protected by the First Amendment; and the U.S. Senate broadcast its floor debate on TV for the first time. Also: former (and future) Go-Go released her debut album, Belinda, which included “Mad About You.” According to Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending June 7th, that catchy song was one of the week’s “power plays,” having jumped from No. 59 to 49.

Other recent releases that caught my ear: Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, Lou Reed’s Mistrial and Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Like a Rock. Also receiving frequent play: the Bangles’ Different Light, which had been released in January; Emmylou Harris’ Thirteen, which was released in February; and others that I’ve long-since forgotten. Other, older albums in frequent rotation included Lone Justice’s debut, the Long Ryders’ State of Our Union, Jane Wiedlin’s solo debut and the Three O’Clock’s Arrive Without Traveling, plus whatever else I singled out in my 1985 roundup. (Many of my favorites for 1986 are here, but most had yet to be released by this point in the year.) Of course, there were my mainstays, too, including the Beatles, Neil Young, Janis Joplin and Hank Jr.

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: June 3, 1986 (based on the charts ending the 7th).

1) Madonna – “Live to Tell.” Most of my friends were not Madonna fans. They were into prog-rock, rock and/or folk music, and save for one dismissed her without listening to her music. I did not. To my ears, her first two albums were good, not great, affairs; True Blue, for me, was (and remains) her best work. This, its lead single was, and remains, a thing of wonder; and was No. 1 this week.

2) Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years.” Jumping from No. 22 to 16 is this soulful gem from the Manchester band’s 1985 debut.

3) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Rain on the Scarecrow.” The title tune to Mellencamp’s classic 1985 album Scarecrow, rises from No. 26 to 22. (I’ve featured the album before, of course.)

4) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Like a Rock.” Jumping 10 notches to No. 28 this week is this tune from the album of the same name. On the one hand, the song is yet another variation of Seger’s patented nostalgia-soaked formula, which dates (at least) to Brand New Morning’s “Railroad Days” in 1971. On the other hand, formulaic or not, it’s a damn good song – and just gets better the older I get.

5) Janet Jackson – “Nasty.” Looking back, one thing (among many) that I can definitely fault myself for is missing Janet Jackson’s third album, Control. (By decade’s end, when I was working in a CD store, I’d realize what I missed; and, in fact, saw her on her Rhythm Nation tour – a future Of Concerts Past entry, no question.) In its fourth week on the charts this, one of her iconic songs, clocked in at No. 33. (“What Have You Done for Me Lately” was No. 19, for what that’s worth.)

And one bonus…

6) The Bangles – “If She Knew What She Wants.” Another “power play” track, this gem from Different Light climbs to No. 42; and here they are on the Letterman show performing it with the house band:

Today’s Top 10: It Was 30 Years Ago Today…

psu_desk_86001Thirty years ago today I was but a few weeks into my senior year of college. The picture to the left is of my desk in my dorm room, and it tells much about me then – a print of the Gilbert Williams painting “Celestial Visitation,” which is probably known to most as the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1982 Daylight Again album; beside it, the fold-out poster that came with Madonna’s True Blue LP; my Ballad of Sally Rose button, which I purchased the previous year when I saw Emmylou Harris in concert, is beneath it; and, beneath that, a picture of the Beatles, circa 1967, that was taken by Linda Eastman (though I didn’t know it at the time). To the left of that: a postcard from the Wings Fun Club that looked cool to me; and, beneath that, a Marilyn Monroe postcard. I can’t make out the rest, but suffice it to say that I had one foot in the past, another in the present, and an ear for hip country sounds.

According to the Weather Underground, September 5th, 1986, was a rainy day in State College, home of the Penn State mothership, with a high of 75 degrees and a low of 55. Hot movies that summer included She’s Gotta Have It, Stand by Me and The Fly; and Shanghai Surprise, which starred Madonna and Sean Penn, had cratered at the box office the previous weekend. In America at large, the economy was still in the midst of rebounding from the nasty recession of 1981-82; the unemployment rate at the start and end of the month clocked in at seven percent – not a great number, but much better than the double-digit rates of late 1982 and early ’83 – and inflation, at all of 1.8 percent, was a non-factor.

The state of my personal economy was fairly good, too: I had a summer’s worth of savings thanks to full-time shifts at a department store back home. I continued selling my plasma twice a week like clockwork, most weeks, and rented out my student pass for Nittany Lion home games; while I attended every tailgate, I actually only saw one game during my two years at main campus. (And no regrets about that, either.) My expenses consisted primarily of fast-food, alcohol and cigarettes.

Looking back, the ‘80s were somewhat like a snow globe: America was shaken at its start, but everything settled into place by decade’s end. That the era is often derided for its fashion miscues, pop music and political retrenchment is a shame; there was much good to be found. As for 1986? It’s likely remembered most for the tragedy that begat the year, the Challenger disaster –

– but the year was far more than that sad day.

Anyway, inspired both by Herc’s Hideaway’s recent countdown of the Top 100 Albums of 1984 (the link takes you to the Top 10; navigate to older posts and you’ll find his 11-90 entries), here’s my Top 10 from ’86. Why that year? Well, “It Was 30 Years Ago Today” has a nice ring to it…

1) Paul Simon – Graceland. Selected track: “The Boy in the Bubble.” Rolling Stone recently ran down 10 Things You Didn’t Know about the album, which was released on Aug. 25, 1986. To my ears, it sounds as fresh today as it did then. The title track is sheer genius, and I almost spotlighted it, but this song contains what may well be the one line I quote more than any other (by any artist): “Every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.”

2) The Bangles – Different Light. Selected track: “If She Knew What She Wants.” Yeah, some folks may not rank this album quite as high as me, but – I loved it then, and I love it now. Back when it was released, in early ’86, much of my music purchases was on cassette – they took up less room and, too, I had a cassette deck in my car. I actually played my original tape so much that you could hear the music on the flip side bleeding through.

A quick side-note: Those top two picks are easy enough for me to recall, as I noted them at the time; and have kept them on one list or another every year since. Numbers 3 on – I’m guesstimating to an extent, as they’re albums that I loved then and still enjoy today. Where, exactly, they fall…that’s up for (internal) debate.

3) Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Selected track: “Honky Tonk Man,” the lead single to Dwight’s debut album, is a remake of a classic Johnny Horton song. It’s just plain intoxicating; and, at the time, it sent out a signal that Yoakam was pursuing a more purist sound than the era’s Urban Cowboy-flavored norm.

4) Steve Earle – Guitar Town. Selected track: “Guitar Town.” Another country-music outsider, another great debut. It was considered too country for rock audiences and too rock for country folk, but it found its niche with those of us who liked both.

5) Belinda Carlisle – Belinda. Selected track: “Mad About You.” The former (and future) lead singer of the Go-Go’s released her solo debut during the early summer, and it’s a gem. As with the four preceding entries, it’s an album I still listen to on a regular basis. And here’s some trivia: Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran) plays the guitar solo on this song; and the album also features former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber and non-Rolling Stone Nicky Hopkins in addition to fellow Go-Go Charlotte Caffey, who wrote one of the songs and co-wrote four others.

6) Robert Cray – Strong Persuader. Selected track: “Smoking Gun.” As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, part of my time at Penn State included spinning discs on the weekend Folk Show on WPSU. I first learned of Cray in late ’85 or early ’86 from a fellow deejay, and – as a result – already owned one of his other albums, Bad Influence, which was a good, not great, affair. This release was simply phenomenal, and this song… well, you kinda know something’s an instant classic when a bar band in the boondocks, aka Bellefonte, Pa., plays it – and that’s exactly what happened sometime in… egads. Late ’86? Early ’87? God only knows…

7) Madonna – True Blue. Selected track: “Papa Don’t Preach.” Yeah, yeah, some people will undoubtedly smirk upon seeing Madonna’s name in this list, but I have no shame. I loved it then, as evidenced by the poster above my dorm-room desk, and still find it enjoyable today. It was also the last of her albums that I liked from start-to-finish.

8) Van Morrison – No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Selected track: “In the Garden.” One of my favorite Van albums, and one of his all-time best. Words really don’t do it justice.

9) Nanci Griffith – Lone Star State of Mind. Selected track: “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret).” I discovered Nanci through the Folk Show the year before; one of her songs was on a Fast Folk Musical Magazine sampler (this one, in fact) that I found in WPSU’s record library; and this song, which was originally recorded for her 1978 debut, was another that I showcased on occasion.

10) Lone Justice – Shelter. Selected track: “Wheels.” Lone Justice Mach II wasn’t on a par with the original lineup, and this sophomore set wasn’t as strong as the original lineup’s 1985 debut. Yet, even with that, it contains some of Maria McKee’s greatest songs, including “I Found Love,” the title cut, “Dixie Storms” and this.

In retrospect, there are other albums I’d rank higher than a few of these – Janet Jackson’s Control, for instance, deserves mention – but I didn’t become familiar with them until the late ’80s, when I worked in a new-fangled CD store. But that’s a post for another day…

Today’s Top 5: Summer 1985 (via Record Magazine)

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.