Category Archives: U2

Today’s Top 5: 1985

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

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Today’s Top 5: #Remember911

wtc82Every other day of the week, month, year and decade began the same as it did that Tuesday morning. I rolled out of bed, communed with the cat, made and drank coffee, and hopped online for a spell. That meant, at the time, checking my email, reading the latest digests from the Rust List and Lee Shore (Neil Young and CSN email groups), and then scanning the headlines on MSNBC (now NBCNews), CNN and the Philly Inquirer. It’s a routine I still keep, actually, though the email groups have been replaced by Facebook and, some days, Twitter.

Weather-wise, it was a nice late-summer/pre-fall day in the Delaware Valley; by the time I left for work, a few minutes before 9am, it was in the mid-60s. The car radio was tuned to KYW-1060, the all-news radio station; I hadn’t even backed out into the street before learning that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. It was thought to have been a tragic accident involving a small plane. Minutes later, news broke that another plane had crashed into the south tower.

My main memory of the day: watching the tragedy unfold on a TV in the chief assignment editor’s high-walled cubicle office. It was beyond comprehension. It still is.

For today’s Top 5: #Remember911. The first four videos come from the America: A Tribute to Heroes broadcast, which aired 10 days later. The last comes from U2’s halftime performance at the 2002 Super Bowl.

1) Bruce Springsteen – “My City of Ruins”

2) Alicia Keys – “Someday We’ll All Be Free”

3) Dixie Chicks – “I Believe in Love”

4) Neil Young – “Imagine”

5) U2 – “Where the Streets Have No Name”

And two bonuses (also from America: A Tribute to Heroes)…

6) Mariah Carey – “Hero”

7) Sheryl Crow – “Safe and Sound”

Today’s Top 5: April 1983 (via Musician)

IMG_1096April 1983: high-school graduation was a month and change away. I’d yet to attend a concert, outside of some nondescript local band (named Lightning, if memory serves) that played the high school one Friday or Saturday night in ’81 or ‘82. That would change the following month, though, when I saw not one, but two cool shows: the Kinks at the Spectrum and Roxy Music (with Modern English opening) at the Tower Theater.

Back to this month: I continued a trend that began in late ‘82, picking up not one, not two, but five Lou Reed albums (his self-titled debut, Berlin, Metal Machine Music, Street Hassle and a 5-LP French compilation that, sadly, went AWOL during my Happy Valley days); four Velvet Underground albums (White Light/White Heat, their self-titled third LP, Loaded and Live at Max’s Kansas City); Roxy Music’s Avalon and 4-song High Road EP; and…Bananarama’s Deep Sea Skiving?! Yep. They were really saying something…


One funny story about Metal Machine Music. I’d read Diana Clapton’s bio of Lou, the no-star Rolling Stone Record Guide review and…I had to hear that double-LP set for myself. I just did. So, I hightailed it for my bedroom upon my return home, slipped the first of the two LPs from its sleeve and placed it onto my turntable…

Yeah, it’s bad. No, strike that. It’s worse than bad. But, I was 17. Optimistic. So I kept waiting for it to get better. A few minutes passed. Then some more. And then there was a knock at my door. My father, a concerned look on his face, entered. “Is your stereo broken?” he asked.

I never played it again.

Anyway, you might think from the list of purchases that I was a lunatic speed freak. In truth, though, I was just a quirky geek. I studied too much, belonged to the Chess and World Affairs clubs, went out some, and took the train into Philly on the occasional weekend to catch movies not available in the suburbs, like Ciao! Manhattan and Piaf: The Early Years. Musically, I veered from the esoteric to MOR; the month before, for instance, I picked up four Linda Ronstadt LPs (the new Get Closer, her first Greatest Hits, Hasten Down the Wind and Simple Dreams) in addition to four Lou Reed albums (Transformer, Live, Coney Island Baby and Legendary Hearts), the Mamas & the Papas’ Greatest Hits, Phil Collins’ Face Value and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

Twenty-three albums in two months sounds like a lot. Hell, it is a lot. But I didn’t shell out big bucks. Far from it. I frequented a used-record store that was a mere 15-minute bike ride away. For the price of one LP in a mall store (or the local indie shop I also frequented), I came home with three, four, sometimes five albums. I also belonged to the RCA Music Club, which served up large discounts – and, as the case with Phil Collins, when I forgot to send back the slip, sometimes received an album I wasn’t that interested in. To the point: in looking at what I bought that March and April, only four were new – Get Closer, Face Value, and the two Roxy Music releases.

Wait, make that five: I also bought, that March, the cassette of Bob Seger’s The Distance, which I’d received on vinyl for Christmas. (I did that, sometimes, on the assumption that store-bought cassettes sounded better than homemade tapes.)

IMG_1111Bob Seger was, and still is, one of my all-time favorites. (Above my desk, in fact, is a framed, limited-edition lithograph of the Against the Wind album cover.) Which is why, back in the day, I picked up this specific edition of Musician magazine; it features an excellent profile/interview of the Midwest rocker, by Timothy White, which focuses on The Distance.

He actually challenged himself when it came to recording the LP – no mid-tempo songs, no nostalgic numbers.

IMG_1103One subject of discussion: songs he left behind and/or was still tinkering with. “I’ve got looseleaf notebooks, stacks of ‘em, with lyrics in them!” he says. “I have 100 finished songs in the can and 400 half-finished, dangling pieces like ‘Thunderbirds’ was…I’ve been writing for eighteen years, and I’ve got every tape I ever wrote on, and every notebook. I’ve always worked on the premise that the ones you continually remember are apt to be the best ones. I’ve got one I’ve been working on, off and on, for six years, called ‘Quiet Wars.’”

IMG_1104

He also talks about his burgeoning friendship with Bruce Springsteen: “I spent about six to eight hours with him in his car, driving around L.A., up and down the hills. Funny thing is, when you just talk to Bruce for brief periods of time you don’t get any sense of how deep he really is, since he’s quite shy, very reticent. But when he loosens up, you really see this guy is no dummy, that he’s extremely bright.”

Musician: Ah, but is he a good driver?

Seger: (Laughter) I didn’t really notice. I was too busy listening to his philosophies and to his album tapes. He’s got fierce moral values and principles—chiseled in stone—and you have to admire him for that. He told me the story behind Nebraska, and to see the dedication in his eyes and hear him speak about that record, it almost took on a life of its own in his mind. We stopped at the top of Mulholland and played each other’s records. I thought my tape deck was loud—his was ungodly. When we got to my stuff, me, [Jimmy] Iovine and Bruce were in his car at the top of Mulholland in this little shopping center, and this was about twelve o’clock at night. And this girl, way at the other end of the shopping center—a good 200 yards—was standing on her lawn in her bathrobe. We woke her up! And she was waving at us, motioning, ‘Turn it down!”

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_11021) Bob Seger – “Roll Me Away.” In the interview, Seger recalls a trip he made in July 1980: “I climbed onto my bike and rode out of Michigan, straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, covering 300 miles a day. Jackson Hole was where my back muscles gave out. It was an experience of renewal, but sometimes a punishing one: nearly freezing to death in northern Minnesota—in the summer!—two days later having to strip down to just a pair of shorts in the 105 degree heat of South Dakota; roaring by myself through the Badlands; slipping past the Tetons. You’re really embraced by nature and the elements in a way you just can’t be in a car, and the vistas aren’t chopped off by a roof or sun visor. Out on the plains, you can see storms coming from hundreds of miles away, wondering if they’ll swoop down on you or drift by. The sun seems hotter, the cold seems sharper, the night seems deeper.”

IMG_10972) The Three O’Clock – “She Turns to Flowers.” David Fricke’s “The Return of Garage: New Thrash from the Psychedelic Past” article was among my introductions to a West Coast music scene that, while I didn’t experience it first-hand due to living on the other coast, represented (and still represents) to me everything good about the ‘80s generation. “[C]onsider the case of the Salvation Army. (They now call themselves the Three O’Clock after the real Salvation Army raised a stink about their name.) The mock day-go cover of their debut album on Frontier, The Salvation Army; song titles like ‘She Turns to Flowers’ and ‘While We Were in Your Room Talking to Your Wall’; and the odd backwards guitar solo suggest either severe acid damage or a novelty gag record. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The band plays with a raw punchy abandon, Clash ’77-style, and profess a respect for classy production values drummer Danny Benair says will be demonstrated on their upcoming EP.

IMG_1121“‘This band doesn’t just want to own crappy Vox amps with buzzes in them,’ declares Benair, who joined the group shortly after the album was made. ‘We take this style and put it out in a positive manner, which is pop songs with some strange twists. If we’re going to emulate anything, it’s the production qualities of the late 60s with the Beatles and early Pink Floyd.’

“The startling thing is about the Salvation Army/Three O’Clock is singer/songwriter/bassist Michael Quercio, at nineteen barely old enough to remember the original psychedelic rush of Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play.’ His songs are not a lot of abstract nonsense in an ancient pop-art dialect but a natural expression—and dramatically engaging even in their rough demo-like form—of his influences. Where most of his friends grew up digging AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, Quercia swears by the Byrds, the Left Banke and Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett-era only.”

IMG_10983) The Bangles – “The Real World.” The Bangles receive a glancing reference in the article itself (for shame, David Fricke, for shame!), but are featured in the “Selected Guide to Boss New Wax” addendum: “More go-go than the Go-Go’s, this all-girl troupe (until recently known as the Bangs) play a spritely 60s folk-pop with shimmering Shangri-Las harmonies and crisp ringing guitars. Their new 12-inch EP features four solid originals, but they’ve been known to cover Love, the Seeds, Simon & Garfunkel and the Merry-Go-Round.

IMG_10994) Neil Young – “Mr. Soul.” Dan Forte reviews Neil’s January 25th concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco: “Having recently compared his 60s and early 70s output to Perry Como in the rock press, Neil proceeded to play ‘Heart of Gold,’ ‘Old Man,’ ‘Ohio,’ ‘Helpless’ and an hour’s worth of older compositions, proving in the process that some things never lose their relevance. While Crosby, Stills & Nash seem to be desperately trying to recapture their former magic, Young appears to have one foot firmly in the past with the other securely in the present and an eye cocked toward the future.”

Forte explains that the concert often jumped from the old into the new, such as in switching from “After the Gold Rush” to the vocoder-rich “Transformer Man,” which was from his new Trans LP. A paragraph later, Forte writes: “Young closed with his electronic-but-familiar version of ‘Mr. Soul’ (also from Trans). Again juxtaposing organic and synthetic (acoustic and electronic) with his encores, ‘Comes a Time’ and ‘Computer Age,’ he demonstrated the blanket critique that has followed him throughout his career: you either love him or you hate him, with no shades of grey in between.”

IMG_11055) U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Kurt Loder reviews U2’s third LP, War, which he says is their best yet. “It’s that rare concept album that holds up (with minor lapses) from beginning to end—perhaps because these four Irishmen have a more intimate acquaintance with war and suffering and the resultant unquenchable yearning for peace than most other modern-day rockers, the Clash included. When Bono Vox sings, ‘There’s many lost, but tell me who has won,’ he’s not just really saying something—he’s said it all.”

Loder later writes: “What’s perhaps most encouraging about War is the extent to which U2 have been able to breathe some air into their monolithic sound. Thus, the modal whomp that’s at the heart of their attack here recedes a bit to allow some welcome instrumental detailing—the elegant bass of ‘As the Seconds Go By,’ the chattering guitar figure of ‘New Year’s Day,’ the free-booting drums on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’—along with the more characteristic muscularity of a track such as ‘The Refugee.’ This loosening up, while in no way vitiating their considerable power, has made them a lot more likable on a human level.”

And…one bonus:

IMG_11066) The Call – “The Walls Came Down.” J.D. Considine, in his Rock Short Takes column, spotlights the Call’s second release, Modern Romans, though he fails to mention this (to my ears, at least) classic song. He also gets singer-guitarist Michael Been’s name wrong and makes a daft comparison of the Call to the Doors: “[T]his album establishes the Call as a contemporary group actually doing what the Doors were reputed to have done. Not that they’re soundalikes—lead singer Michael Keen sounds more like a macho David Byrne that the Lizard King—but the call does achieve the same sense of drama and challenge the Doors went after. Only the Call do it without the bullshit factor.”