At Home With The Radio: 1981

January 13th, 2021

I’ve noted here on occasion that during the times when I was a reporter in Monticello – November 1977 into August 1983 – there were numerous Saturday evenings when the Other Half and I turned off the TV and let KSTP-FM keep us company from the Twin Cities.

Here’s some of what we would have heard had we spent an evening like that forty years ago this week. Courtesy of the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, this is the Top Ten from KSTP-FM released January 13, 1981, forty years ago today:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon
“The Tide Is High” by Blondie
“Every Woman In The World” by Air Supply
“Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan
“Love On The Rocks” by Neil Diamond
“I Love A Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt
“Never Be The Same” by Christopher Cross
“I Made It Through The Rain” by Barry Manilow
“It’s My Turn” by Diana Ross
“Suddenly” by Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard

That likely would have been one of those evenings when – thirty minutes in – one of us would have turned to the other and said, “Some good music tonight,” and the other would have murmured “Yeah, there is,” while involved in a Stephen King novel (me) or a crafting project (her).

But how does that set play forty years later? I admit I had to duck out to YouTube to refresh my memories of two of those – the Newton-John/Richard record and the Cross single. The first is okay, carrying reminders of the indigestible movie Xanadu, and the second is decent, but even after listening to it this morning, it remains unmemorable, even though the entire Christopher Cross album is in the digital stacks.

But there are a couple of gems in that Top Ten: The John Lennon record would still have been making us a little sad, as it had been just more than a month since he was murdered, but it remains a good record; and “Hey Nineteen” is one of Steely Dan’s less opaque offerings, at least.

The others there that can still evince a smile from me forty years later are the records by Eddie Rabbitt, Blondie and Barry Manilow. That last – “I Made It Through The Rain” – is the kind of bittersweet schmaltz aimed directly at romantic fools such as I. And for all its flaws – and there are several – it’s a good memory.

I can, however, do without the records from Diamond, Ross and Air Supply.

About half of those ten are among the 81,000 sorted tracks on the digital shelves. Have any of them made it into the iPod and thus my day-to-day listening?

Well, just the records by Eddie Rabbitt and Blondie. “Hey Nineteen” should be in there (and likely will by the end of the day), and I’m thinking about the John Lennon record. And the Manilow.

So what do we feature today? Well, why not something from Xanadu? That’s a rhetorical question; there may in fact be many reasons why not. And why? Just because it showed up here today.

So, here’s “Suddenly” by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard. As well as making the Top Ten at KSTP-FM (and peaking at No. 9 there), the record went to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.

Saturday Single No. 719

January 9th, 2021

So, looking for something to listen to today, we’re going to play some Games With Numbers, and turn today’s date – 1/9/21 – into No. 31. Then we’re going to take that number over to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive and look at four station’s surveys from across the country from fifty years ago today and check out No. 31.

As we do, we’ll note the No. 1 and 2 records of the week at those various stations.

We’ll start on a ship off the coastline of the Netherlands, where the pirate station Radio Veronica broadcast Top 40 to the Dutch from 1960 into 1974, when Dutch legislation shut it down. In 1971, the station was still rockin’, and the No. 31 record on its January 9 Top 40 & Tipparade was “Indian Reservation” by Don Fardon, up two spots from the week before. (Radio Veronica’s list notes that the record on its library is on the Young Blood label, and a check of the actual record confirms that the survey compilers trimmed the record’s full title, which is “(The Lament Of The Cherokee) Indian Reservation”

Fardon’s version of the song, according to Second Hand Songs, was recorded in 1967, and went to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, so it’s interesting that Radio Veronica was playing Fardon’s version just as the Raiders’ hit version was about to show up, being recorded during February 1971, though the Raiders shifted the title to “Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian).” Maybe there’s no connection; as I said some time ago, as we look back, things that happened about the same time sometimes seem connected but really aren’t.

The No. 1 record on Radio Veronica fifty years ago today was George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” and the No. 2 record was the Tee Set’s “She Likes Weeds,” which is a new one to me. (The record turns out to be about a witch who likes weeds and grows her own, so there’s a clear 1971 subtext there.)

From the North Sea, we’ll jump back to the U.S. and land at Sarasota, Florida, where the Wixie Tunedex from WKXY has “1900 Yesterday” by Liz Damon’s Orient Express sitting at No. 31. The record was new to the Tunedex and, in the interest of space, I guess, was credited to only Liz Damon.

Just the sight of the record’s title sets the tune playing in my head, sweet and lush as it was, and I let my internal record player get as far as the bridge before I pull myself back to the task at hand and check out the top of the Wixie Tunedex from fifty years ago today.

The No. 1 record on WKXY on January 9, 1971, was “Knock Three Times” by Dawn, while Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” sat at No. 2.

From Florida, we’ll jump to the West Coast and stop off at KGW in Portland, Oregon, where the More Music survey from January 9, 1971, lists James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” at No. 31. That’s another one that starts playing in my head, but we’ll cut it short this time. There’s not much to say about Taylor’s record that’s likely not been said somewhere many times. So we’ll move on.

Sitting at No. 1 on the More Music survey was “My Sweet Lord,” with “Knock Three Times” at No. 2.

And we end our quick tour with a little bit of cheating. The files at ARSA could not supply me with a January 9, 1971, survey from the Midwest (or even the Mideast) that had more than thirty records in it. So we’re going to pretend that two days don’t matter when we’re dealing with things fifty years in the past and take a look at the Twin Cities’ KDWB and its 6+30 from January 11, 1971.

So what was sitting at No. 31 on my home station during the second week of January 1971? We find “If I Were Your Woman” by Gladys Knight & The Pips in its first week in the survey. That’s another one that plays in my head fairly well but more from familiarity than from affection.

The No. 1 record at KDWB fifty years ago this week was “Knock Three Times,” with “My Sweet Lord” parked at No. 2.

So, we’re left with Don Fardon. Liz Damon and her crew, James Taylor, or Gladys Knight and her gang. Life would have been a lot more interesting if the Tee Set’s “She Likes Weeds” had been sitting at No. 31 in the North Sea.

I don’t know how often the other three have been featured here before – or even if they have – and I don’t care. I love “1900 Yesterday,” and it’s been shared only once in the 2,500-some posts in the history of this blog. So here’s “1900 Yesterday” by Liz Damon’s Orient Express, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Moody Blues: 1978

January 7th, 2021

For almost a year now, the CD of the Moody Blues 1978 album Octave has been sitting on top of a pile of the group’s later albums on a bookcase near my desk. And during those eleven months – ever since I shared here my assessment of Seventh Sojourn, the group’s 1972 album – I’ve thought to myself, “I need to write that post.”

And yet, I didn’t and didn’t, instead pulling something else out of my mind and reference books to share here nearly three times a week. And I wondered: Was I lazy, not wanting to organize myself enough to actually think and write clearly about the album? I certainly know the album, having had it on my shelves since early 1979. As one of my characters in a bit of fiction asked another, “What’s the tale, Dale?”

And upon another listening this week, I came up with my answer. With one major exception, I really don’t like the album. Nine of its ten tracks leave me pretty much empty. Those nine tracks sound okay musically: the ballads are sweet, and the up-tempo tracks lope along as they should. Lyrically, those nine tracks tell familiar stories in familiar ways: love stories, self-discovery, a little bit of cosmic wonder.

And that all sounds like something you’d be pleased to have playing in the background in early 1979 as you catch up with friends: Who’s getting married, who has a new job, who’s having a first baby, whose parents aren’t doing so well. That’s what we talked about during those years, our first years of being out on our own. We were young professionals offering our competence to the world for the first time.

And on the stereo, there were the Moody Blues offering their competence to the world, and – with one huge exception – that’s all that Octave offerred: competence without any seeming inspiration. The five long-time members of the group – Graeme Edge, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Justin Hayward – had returned from time away from the band, five years or so, and offered an almost entirely forgettable set of tracks that were pleasant in the background but lacking substance when given more careful attention.

Coming to that realization over the past week depressed me. Octave was the third of the group’s massive catalog that I’d ever owned; I’d gotten the 1968 album In Search of the Lost Chord in 1972 and found the hippie mysticism a little silly but listenable. I got 1972’s Seventh Sojourn for Christmas that year, and loved the album, less mystical but still pertinent and enjoyable musically. And I also knew the 1970 album A Question Of Balance well, having heard it across the street at Rick’s many times.

So realizing this week that I don’t like the album bummed me out. A little more thought brought me to understand that – with one major exception – I didn’t much like the album in 1979, either. And that brought me to think about – and here things get markedly personal – my life back then. I had a job I loved as a reporter for the Monticello Times. I was newly married. I was losing touch with my college friends and not replacing them. And looking back forty-some years, the only memories of that life that aren’t tinged with sorrow are the memories of my job.

So sorrow-laden memories of the times float along as I listen. Trying to sort things out, a few of the tracks did seem better than the others as I listened this week: Despite its ponderous and clichéd introduction, “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” is a decent piece, “Had To Fall In Love” is a pretty track, and “The Day We Meet Again” is all right. But there’s no way I can accurately assess and review the album without delving into the mostly unhappy life I was living when the album came into that life. Call it a grade of Incomplete and leave it that way on the transcript forever.

There is, of course, the one exception I’ve mentioned several times: “Driftwood,” the fifth track on the album and the last track on Side One in the LP configuration, towers above anything else on the album. It’s a melancholy track, to be sure, but its sadness, its sorrow, is couched in perhaps the most beautiful music the Moody Blues ever made, capped by the metaphor of the title and chorus: “Don’t leave me driftwood on the shore.”

No person was about to leave me as driftwood back then, but – looking back as fairly as I can – perhaps I sensed that life outside the newsroom was leaving me behind in some ways, and thus, “Driftwood” spoke to me. Or maybe that’s bullshit, and it was the sweeping melody, the bittersweet lyrics, the French horn, and the saxophone that pulled me in. I don’t know, and despite my frequent need to assess and analyze the stops and turns in my life, I’m just going to say that “Driftwood” can stand alone as perhaps the best thing the Moody Blues ever did and one of the tracks I have most loved over the years.

Saturday Single No. 718

January 2nd, 2021

Okay, so I was confused two days ago when I said I’d be back here yesterday. New Year’s Eve felt like a Friday, so I was anticipating posting a Saturday Single the following day. Then yesterday turned out to be Friday.

It’s been hard keeping track of days, anyway, a statement that’s likely not surprising to anyone out there. The disruption in our routines over the past year have often left me trying to track back, wondering what television show I watched the night before or trying to remember something else from the day before that would help me put it on a peg and thus identify the current day.

The one thing I do have that helps me lock in my temporal fix is Wednesday, garbage day. Now, the truck comes by early Thursday morning, so that’s technically garbage day for this part of the city. But the trash goes out to the alley the afternoon before, making Wednesday the day of the week that offers a task than cannot be farmed out to another day, thus providing one bit of certainty during the week.

So even though it’s a Saturday, we’re going to celebrate a Wednesday song: “A Wednesday In Your Garden.” Written by Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, it first showed up on that band’s 1969 album Wheatfield Soul. According to Second Hand Songs, there have been only a handful of covers of the song in the fifty-plus years since.

One of those covers came my way this Christmas, when the Texas Gal gave me the Staple Singers’ Come Go With Me, a seven-CD box set that collects the six albums the group did for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and adds a seventh CD of non-album B-sides and some live work from the 1972 Wattstax concert.

And on the 1969 album We’ll Get Over, we find “A Wednesday In Your Garden.” The Staples take a few liberties with the lyrics, dismissing the “long black funeral gown” for a line I can’t hear clearly.

Doesn’t matter. Here’s the Staple Singers’ take on Randy Bachman’s “A Wednesday In Your Garden.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

As The Year Ends

December 31st, 2020

I’m overwhelmed again, as this awful year lurches to its ending. I don’t know how much better 2021 will be, but one has to hope for something at least a little bit better. My level of optimism shifts from one day to the next, and it’s quite low this morning.

As I’ve struggled with stuff this week, I keep reminding myself that the Texas Gal and I are lucky. We’re safe, warm and dry, and we are not dependent on jobs for our income, having both retired. So many have it so much worse than we do that I feel a bit churlish nattering on about my dismay.

So I’ll be back tomorrow and in a better mood, one would hope. Here’s “Things Get Better,” the opening track from Delaney & Bonnie & Friends’ 1970 live album On Tour With Eric Clapton.

Saturday Single No. 717

December 26th, 2020

And the holiday is over.

It was a pleasant one here, with plenty of goodies and with gifts between the Texas Gal and me parceled out one-at-a-time every few days or so starting about December 10 (a pattern we fell into about fifteen years ago and have liked).

There are plenty of goodies left: about a third of a charcuterie tray – meats and crackers and cheese – is yet in the fridge, as is at least two-thirds of a large lasagna. And even the cats have leftover treats, courtesy of the new family just to our east; sixteen-year-old Sydney stopped by yesterday afternoon with a stocking full of cat treats. We’ll have to ask the newcomers what brand the goodies are, as the cats seem to like them a great deal.

We Zoomed for a while yesterday afternoon, checking in with my sister and her husband and my nephew in the Twin Cities suburb of Maple Grove and with my niece and her husband and their two toddler boys in a Chicago suburb. And we made phone calls to the Texas Gal’s sisters and to a few other folks we know who were alone for the day.

So even though we went nowhere, it was a busy sort of day, and it’s left an odd sort of weariness, perfectly suited, I guess, for the odd sort of year we’re having. So, as the morning mist outside my window begins to differentiate itself from the cloud cover, I’ll ask the RealPlayer to sorts its 82,000-some tracks for the word “odd.”

We don’t get a lot to work with, which does not surprise me, and what we do get is not inspiring. So I’m going to turn to the most odd thing I’ve come across in recent months.

Adriano Celantano is an Italian multi-talent: actor, director, producer, singer-songwriter. In 1972, according to what I’ve read, he had the idea to write a song with lyrics that sounded English but were actually nonsense. So he wrote and produced “Prisencólinensináinciúsol,” enlisting his wife, Claudia Mori, for some vocal parts.

Wikipedia says: “Celentano’s intention with the song was not to create a humorous novelty song but to explore communication barriers.” The website quotes Celantano: “Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did. So at a certain point, because I like American slang – which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian – I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”

That’s a little more high-minded that what I’ve read elsewhere, which is that Celantano thought that English-sounding lyrics were so popular in Italy that he figured he could have a hit with a record of gibberish if it just sounded like English.

Either way, it worked. “Prisencólinensináinciúsol” went to No. 5 in Italy and in the Netherlands, to No. 2 on the Belgian Wallonia chart and to No. 4 on the Belgian Flanders chart, and to No. 6 in France. The Germans, however, didn’t seem to get the joke, as the record went only to No. 46 in West Germany.

It’s kind of a hoot, so here’s “Prisencólinensináinciúsol” in its basic form. There is a video out there from an Italian television show setting the record in a large dance routine, with Mori’s lyrics lip-synced by Italian actress Raffaella Carrà, and that’s kind of fun, but for now, the original is today’s Saturday Single.

Merry Christmas!

December 25th, 2020

It’s early Christmas morning, and it’s quiet here. The Texas Gal is still sleeping, likely with Little Gus the cat keeping her company after his breakfast. The other two cats have probably found their morning nap places, too. And it’s quiet as I write, with only the sound of warm air blowing from the vents keeping me company.

We’re staying home today, nibbling during the day on a charcuterie tray and dining this evening on a homemade lasagna. We’ve got a few television series we’re running through, so we’ll likely watch some episodes of those, and no doubt the jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table will get some attention, as will the new box sets of music. (More about those later.)

So, Merry Christmas to all our friends out there! In this strangest – and for some, stressful and sad – holiday season, may you find yourself among those whom you love in the places you call home. If at all possible, may you be joyful and be at peace!

Here’s a lovely piano version of one of the few Christmas songs I post here. It’s pianist Ilio Barantini taking on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” from 1971. It’s from Barantini’s 2019 album Merry Christmas All Over The World.

Some Bits Left Out

December 23rd, 2020

We took a couple of hours the other day to catch up on the HBO documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. We enjoyed the music and the memories, learned a bit more about how the Brothers Gibb put together their sound, and – for my part, anyway – felt more than a little bit sad for Barry, the last surviving Gibb brother, as he talked about his memories of fellow Bee Gees Maurice and Robin and their kid brother, Andy.

Over the years, I’ve said something like “There are three parts to the arc of the Bee Gees’ career,” citing the Beatlesque phase of the mid- to late 1960s (covering the period from their first album and hits to 1969’s Odessa), the “pulling-it-back-together” phase from 1970 through 1974, and the disco/megastar phase from 1975 to 1980.

Probably over-simple, and I kind of missed one: The songwriting and production phase, which overlaps the last of my three phases. From 1978 on, the Brothers Gibb wrote and produced hits for so many folks that any hour on the radio was going to bring you two or three records with the Bee Gees’ fingerprints on them, stuff by Samantha Sang, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, and so many more (including brother Andy).

What I thought was just as interesting as the stuff the documentary reminded me about was the stuff that it left out entirely. There was no mention of the 1978 film version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an utter failure that featured Peter Frampton as well as the Bee Gees. (The best – and kindest – reaction I’ve ever read about the mess came from Beatle George Harrison: “I think it’s damaged their images, their careers, and they didn’t need to do that. It’s just like the Beatles trying to do the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones can do it better.”)

And there was at most a veiled mention of the period in 1969 and 1970 when the group split, with Robin Gibb trying out a solo career. No mention of Robin’s album Robin’s Reign or the album that Barry and Maurice put out at the same time, Cucumber Castle (a title taken from a track on the 1967 album The Bee Gee’s 1st). Neither of the two albums is very good, though I think Robin’s is the lesser of the two. On the other hand, that opinion might stem from the fact that I’d never heard Robin’s Reign until I found it online ca. 2007, while I first heard Cucumber Castle across the street at Rick’s in 1970 (and it made its way onto my shelves in 1989).

Given those caveats, the HBO film was well done and pleasant watching (and listening). I was especially tickled to learn that Barry’s falsetto – the group’s secret weapon during the period when they owned the world – was discovered pretty much by accident while recording “Nights On Broadway” for Main Course (which happens to be my favorite Bee Gees’ album).

Here, from 1970’s Cucumber Castle, is the quirky “My Thing.”

Saturday Single No. 716

December 19th, 2020

At times over the years, I’ve used one post or another here as kind of a note on a bulletin board, something to remind me to start a new project or to pick up on a series of posts interrupted and since set aside. This is one of those posts.

It’s been ten months since I added to the series of posts intended to examine the catalog of the Moody Blues. I dug into the group’s 1972 album, Seventh Sojourn, in February, just before the world went askew, and have never gotten back to that project, never examined the next stop in the group’s journey, 1978’s Octave.

But I reckon that delay is all right. After all, it took the group six years to get from Sojourn to Octave. If I can do so in a little more than ten months, well, that’s not too bad. So sometime in the next week, that long-delayed project should resume.

As a teaser, I’m offering here the track that might be the second-best the album has to offer. I’m not exactly where “One Step Into The Light” fits among the tracks from Octave. Musically, it’s very much like late 1960s Moodies stuff (which may or may not be a good thing), and lyrically, it lapses into the kind of mysticism that left a lot of people either laughing or leaving the room during those late 1960s days:

One step into the light
One step away from night
It’s the hardest step you’re gonna take
The ship to take you there is waitin’ at the head
Of the stairs that lead up through your opened mind

Above the dark despair
Shines a light that we can share
Close your eyes and look up in between your brows
Then slowly breathing in
Feel the life force streaming in
Hold it there, then send it back to him

All the old things are returning
Cosmic circles ever turning
All the truth we’ve been yearning for
Life is our savior, savior, savior
Save your soul

The river of living breath
Is flowing through the sun
He was there before the Earth began
The world will drag on you
Use his love to pull you through
Find the mission of your life and start to be

All the old things are returning
Cosmic circles ever turning
All the truth we’ve been yearning for
Life is our savior, savior, savior
Save your soul

There’s one thing I can do
Play my Mellotron for you
Try to blow away your city blues
Your dreams are not unfound
Get your feet back on the ground
The truth will set us free, we cannot lose
We cannot lose
We just have to choose

But still, there is – to my Moody-friendly ears – a kind of stately grandeur about “One Step Into The Light.” And that, along with its utility as kind of a Post-It note to remind me of my task next week, makes it today’s Saturday Single.

Chart Digging, December 1969

December 18th, 2020

Having played around the other day with the albums from this week in 1969, I thought we should look at the Hot 100 for that week as well. Here are the Top 10 records from the third week in December 1969:

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
“Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder
“Take A Letter, Maria” by R.B. Greaves
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat & Tears

Wow. There’s not a one of those I wouldn’t welcome anytime. If forced to trim two records from those twelve, I’d likely take out “Down On The Corner” and “Take A Letter, Maria,” but only because I had to.

Maybe I love those records in large part because they were among the first batches of records I ever heard rise to the top in the Top 40. I started listening sometime in August 1969 and by December, I had gotten used to the cycle: New record shows up and catches my ear, so I wait for the next time I hear it, and it gets the same reaction from lots of other listeners and climbs up the ladder.

I dunno. But it seems that the records from, oh, the first year-plus of Top 40 listening – August 1969 to December 1970 – belong to me more than records from any other time of my life. There would be a few exceptions, sure, for stuff that came along later during the years I call my sweet spot, but after 1970, I’m not sure I could find a Top Ten in which every record was something I liked.

Has that appreciation for those twelve records lasted for fifty-one years? Let’s look at the iPod and see. Well, ten of the twelve are there. Missing are the B.J. Thomas and Blood, Sweat & Tears records. They should have been there.

Let’s take a look now at the bottom of the chart, at No. 100, and see what we find. It’s a record in its first week on the chart that would enter the Top 40 in early February 1970 and eventually peak at No. 7.

And even my mother liked it. Sometime in February or March 1970, she’d hear it coming from my radio as she came upstairs and stop and listen in the doorway for a moment. Then, as she headed to do whatever it was she was doing, she said something like “Why can’t more of your music be like that?”

Here are the Hollies and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”