Category Archives: The Pretenders

Today’s Top 5: March 1983 (via Weekly Top 40)

fullsizeoutput_13a4I’m tripping the memory fantastic to the magical month of March 1983 this morning. On this exact day that year, a Saturday, I hopped on my 10-speed bicycle and pedaled my way to one of the record stores that I often haunted – Memory Lane Records in Horsham, as it was a great day for a bike ride: 52 degrees (Farenheit) and relatively sunny.

The biggest story in the news was M*A*S*H, which aired its final, 2 1/2-hour final episode the previous Sunday. On the sports front, the Flyers were in the midst of a winning streak – 21 wins, 3 losses and 3 ties since the New Year – while on their way to an early playoffs exit. The night before, the 76ers had suffered their first loss (to the hated Boston Celtics) since February 4th; they were 26-3 since the New Year, and headed for the NBA Finals, where they’d sweep the Lakers.

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All things considered, life was good; and it was only made better by that day’s purchase: Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind, which features “That’ll Be the Day” and three Karla Bonoff-penned songs, including the wondrous “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me.” It instantly became one of my favorite Ronstadt songs.

As I mentioned in my Top 5 for April 1983, I was in the midst of something of a Ronstadt deep-dive this month: I purchased Simple Dreams on the 1st, and followed it with a succession of her other albums, including Get Closer on vinyl. I’d bought it on cassette the previous fall, but felt the need to observe the platter spinning ’round and ’round. Linda, I should mention, had just appeared on The Tonight Show on March 3rd. Among the songs she sang was the wondrous, Jimmy Webb-penned “Easy for You to Say.” (And, yes, I’ve featured this clip before.)

I also picked up Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on vinyl, and four Lou Reed albums, including the classic (and oft-overlooked) Coney Island Baby.

Anyway, enough about me. Onward to today’s Top 5, as drawn from Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending the 5th.

1) Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean.” The No. 1 song this week was this propulsive piece of pop music. Say what you will about his latter life and music, but at this stage MJ was sheer brilliance on vinyl – and, as importantly, video.

2) The Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang.” Cracking the Top 10 is this classic single from Chrissie Hyde and Company, which would eventually land – along with its brilliant b-side, “My City Is Gone” – on the 1984 album Learning to Crawl.

3) Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone.” The Dutch band that gave the world one of the greatest driving songs of all time, “Radar Love,” also hit the charts with this 1983 single, which inched up from 18 to 16 this week.

4) Don Henley – “I Can’t Stand Still.” Former (and future) Eagle Don Henley’s first solo flight was with the solid I Can’t Stand Still album, which was released the previous August. It’s probably best known as the original home of “Dirty Laundry,” but this power-play track (at No. 48), the title song, is quite good, too.

5) Robert Hazard – “Escalator of Life.” Nowadays, Hazard is probably best remembered for writing the Cyndi Lauper classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” But he was also a big deal in the Philly rock scene, where he and his band, the Heroes, headlined area clubs and had songs played (and played and played) on Philly’s radio stations. In fact, though he had a few videos (including this one) featured on MTV, I’d wager 90 percent of the sales for “Escalator of Life,” a new entry at No. 83, came from his Philly-area fans.

And, as a bonus: Harzard & the Heroes on American Bandstand performing the same song…

Today’s Top 5: December 1982 (circa Record Magazine)

IMG_0896By December 1982, when this issue arrived in my mailbox, America was suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate, which had been inching upwards since before Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, accelerated that fall, and clocked in at an astounding 10.8 percent for the month. As this Bureau of Labor Statistics report documents. “the sharpest job cutbacks took place in the goods-producing sector“ and “every major manufacturing industry registered some decrease.”

Times were tough, in other words, and getting tougher.

But you wouldn’t have known it by me. I was 17, a high-school senior and, this month, spending money like there was no tomorrow. First, though: for Christmas, I received – among other things – a Sanyo Mini AM/FM Stereo Radio Cassette Recorder (aka, a mini boombox) and the new Bob Seger album, The Distance.

The only problem: I had few cassettes. Thus, I dipped into my birthday and Christmas cash and, between Christmas and New Year’s, picked up the tapes for Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, Zuma, Tonight’s the Night, After the Gold Rush and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass; and Lou Reed’s Rock ’n’ Roll Animal and Berlin. I also joined the RCA Music Club and ordered Glenn Frey’s No Fun Aloud, The Eagles’ Live, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, Pete Townshend’s All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti on cassette. Two other albums that I bought, on vinyl, early in the month: the Velvet Underground and Nico and the VU Once Upon a Time two-LP collection.

The spending didn’t stop there, either. I took in a few movies, too: 48 Hours, An Officer and a Gentleman, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Ciao! Manhattan.

48 Hours, which I saw at the now-defunct Eric Theater at the Village Mall in Horsham, was simply bizarre. The projectionist must’ve left the booth, as the theater snapped into darkness after the first reel for a good 20 minutes. We, a sparse afternoon audience, just sat there, eyes on the white screen, waiting…and waiting…and chomping popcorn. When the movie finally did kick in again, it was the third reel – so I never knew what transpired in the film’s second 20 minutes for the longest time.

Ciao! Manhattan, of course, is a somewhat arty film, which meant I took the train into Philly and walked from Reading Terminal to South Street, where it was playing at the TLA. The late Edie Sedgwick, who starred in it, had fascinated me since I’d read Jean Stein’s Edie: An American Biography earlier in the year. (The New York Times’ review of that book is here.) This may blow some people’s minds, but it was my fascination with Edie that led me to check out the Velvet Underground and, shortly thereafter, Lou Reed, as they were all part of Warhol’s Factory scene during the mid-‘60s.

Anyway, to the matter at hand: the Who grace the cover of this particular issue; they’d released It’s Hard in September and were in the midst of what they said was their final tour. Also mentioned on the cover: Jefferson Starship, Men at Work, Miami Steve, Jimmy Page, the Pretenders, ABC, Joan Jett and the Blasters.

Of all those names, the one that most excited me was Joan Jett…but there was no Joan Jett article inside! Oh, Dave Marsh, in his “American Grandstand” column, lambasted Jett consigliere Kenny Laguna for his role in the Bow Wow Wow “Louie Louie” ripoff “Louis Quatorze” – but that was it. No other mention.

Today’s Top 5:

IMG_09021) The Who – “Eminence Front.” Pete Townshend, says writer Jonathan Gross, “looks kind of ‘slip kid,’ thanks to a new, tousled, boyish coif and a lean year off booze and drugs. Rehabilitation has soothed his complexion and brought out the blue in his sad hound-dog eyes.” Townshend comes off somewhat obtuse: “What we’re doing is…what we’re saying…what we must do…keep everything that we’ve done and everything we represent and everything we stand for alone and solid so that it will remain a solid traditional pillar in rock which will always be a barometer.”

IMG_0898He’s more his sharp-edged self in a letter to the editor, chiding Dave Marsh for taking the Who to task for their sponsorship deal with Schlitz Beer in his October “American Grandstand” column: “To end his crass little ‘expose’ with an inference that the Who are now motivated only be greed indicates that this ace rock parasite, now working on a book about the Who, is taking leave of his senses.” Later, after reminding all of the weight the Who name carries, he notes that “Marsh is writing a book about us and not about the equally worthy Keith Jarrett or Tom Waits, Schlitz is using our concert tour as a way of keeping their name before the public. In a sense, they have been just as good to us in their patronage as Marsh has been in the past. They gave me this typewriter by the way; it has a memory erase section. Maybe Marsh should get one. If I was forced to choose between the two levels of exploitation—Marsh or Schlitz—I would think twice about having my life dredged over again by a critic and take the beer. Or at least the price of the beer.”

All that said – It’s Hard isn’t the first album any Who fan is going to reach for – it would likely be one of the last. Though Townshend, as evidenced by his Chinese Eyes set, was still capable of delivering the goods on his own, post-Moon he missed the mark when writing for the band. Perhaps that’s why “Eminence Front” was the set’s best song…he’s up front.

IMG_09052) The Pretenders – “My City Was Gone.” There’s a brief article by Suzanne Whatley on Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers, who were seeking permanent replacements for the late James Honeyman-Scott, who o.d.ed, and Pete Farndon, who – according to the article – split from the band after Honeyman-Scott’s death in June 1982. (He o.d.ed himself in April 1983.) The article states that “Hynde and Chambers cut a single, ‘Back on the Chain Gang,’ which has been released in England on the Real label. Accompanying the two Pretenders in the studio were guitarist Billy Bremner, late of Rockpile, and bassist Tony Butler, who played on Pete Townshend’s Chinese Eyes LP.”

Whitley adds that “[t]he B-side of ‘Chain Gang’  proves to be one of Hynde’s more interesting compositions. Titled ‘My City Was Gone,’ the autobiographical account of the singer’s return to her native Ohio finds Hynde surveying the overbuilt and now-unfamiliar terrain while weighing her memories with quiet, revealing despair.”

IMG_09033) Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – “Men Without Women.” Wayne King reviews longtime Springsteen sideman Steven Van Zandt’s debut LP, of which this is the title tune. Van Zandt’s vocal, he says, “evokes the nasal pitch of Keith Richards”; and the album, at a whole, “is a profound, deeply-felt statement of belief in the transcendent capacity of rock ’n’ roll; its joyful noise should inspire those who listen as greatly as it does those who create.”

IMG_09044) R.E.M. – “Gardening at Night.” Nick Burton tackles the debut EP of this new band from Athens, Ga.: “If you can imagine a cross between the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Jam, you’ll have a good idea of R.E.M.’s strange but effective hybrid approach. Chronic Town, a five-track EP, was produced on a garage band budget, and the resulting trashy sound makes for a striking aural backdrop.”

Burton wraps things up with: “It would be nice to add that R.E.M.’s lyrics match their musical sparkle, but Michael Stipe’s vocals are pushed so far back in the mix that it’s difficult to understand exactly what he’s singing about. I’ve listened to this record countless times, and I still don’t know if the songs deal with moody introspection or disco roller skating. But Chronic Town is worth checking out, if only for the music. Unlike so many EPs, this one’s consistently fascinating.”

IMG_09075) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).” Hey, no mention beyond the cover isn’t going to stop me from featuring the former Runaway when given the chance. Who else could I go with? Jefferson Starship, who by this point had devolved into an ordinary arena-rock band? Why bother? So, here’s Joan from October 1983 performing a Gary Glitter song that she recorded for her pre-I Love Rock ’n’ Roll album, Bad Reputation, which was given a big push after the success of her sophomore effort.

 

 

Today’s Top 5: November 1981 (via Creem Magazine)

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.