Posts Tagged ‘Roxy Music’

Chart Digging: May 26, 1979

Friday, May 27th, 2011

While pondering tunes heard early in his Seventies childhood the other day, the writer at Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas mentioned that he no doubt heard some of them while in the back seat of his family’s turquoise AMC Gremlin. I mentioned in a comment that back in those days, my then-wife and I had a friend who drove a Gremlin, though hers was yellow with black stripes, and I added that we ourselves had owned an AMC Hornet (green, of course).

And that got me thinking about the spring of 1979, when we got that 1974 (I think) Hornet, replacing the clunky and decaying Ford Galaxy that the other half of the household had been driving for a few years. (We’d already upgraded the vehicle in my side of the driveway, going from a clunky 1967 Falcon wagon to a 1972 Toyota Corona with a stop at a 1971 Plymouth Duster along the way.)

We’d been talking about retiring the Galaxy for some time, but our conversations continued to carry the tone of “We’re going to have to do something one of these days,” rather than the urgency of “We need to replace that car this month before it falls apart.” And then, one evening, she noticed an ad in the shopping supplement published by the Monticello Times offering a Hornet for sale for what seemed a reasonable price. The car was just outside the little burg of Becker, about eight miles away.

The next day was a Thursday, a slow day at the newspaper, and the Other Half was able to get away from her office as well, so we drove to Becker. The car looked and drove fine, and though neither of us was too mechanically inclined, we noticed no obvious flaws, so we told the seller we were interested and headed back to Monticello to check out financing.

And here’s the part that seems remarkable to me: From the Times offices, I walked across the parking lot to the local bank at about one o’clock that afternoon. Ten minutes later, I was sitting across the desk from George, one of the owners of the bank. And fifteen minutes later, I was walking back to my own desk in the next building after depositing something like $900 in my checkbook to buy a car.

That doesn’t seem like that much money these days, but according to an online inflation calculator, that $900 was the equivalent of about $2,600 these days. And all it took was a brief conversation, some simple work on a short loan form and less than half an hour. The equivalent transaction these days, I imagine, would take at least a couple of days.

But as I think about it, there were a number of things that made that transaction easy: First, the bank was an independent bank, and George – being one of the co-owners – was the final authority. My application didn’t have to be shuffled up a paper chain through three or four managers. Second, George’s bank was the only bank in town: The Other Half and I had accounts there, as did the Monticello Times, so George probably had a good idea of our financial circumstances even before he looked anything up. And if something went wrong, all George had to do to find me was walk across the parking lot. Third, and this pretty much trumps everything else: Monticello was still a small town, with about 3,000 people. And at the time, that’s how business was done in a small town. Maybe it still is, but I have my doubts.

Anyway, by the time the sun set that evening, the Hornet was in our driveway, and we were most likely listening to the radio as the evening wore on. And we likely heard at least a couple of the Billboard Top Ten from the fourth week in May of 1979:

“Reunited” by Peaches & Herb
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
“In the Navy” by the Village People
“Love You Inside Out” by the Bee Gees
“Goodnight Tonight” by Wings
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” by the Jacksons
“Just When I Needed You Most” by Randy Vanwarmer
“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman
“Love is the Answer” by England Dan & John Ford Coley

Well, if we heard some of those that evening – and I imagine we did – it might have been a long evening indeed. The only record I ever liked of any of those – and I still like it a lot – was the Sister Sledge single. That Top Ten shows me clearly the reasons I spent a lot of time listening to a light jazz radio station in those days.

As usual, though, a closer look at the Billboard Hot 100 from that week – dated May 26, 1979 – reveals some interesting tunes and tales. Musically, one of the best things I see as I look down that list was a tune by three one-time members of the Byrds that was sitting at No. 78. “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” by McGuinn, Clark & Hillman had peaked a week earlier at No. 33 and was on its way down the chart. The group’s self-titled album, the source of the single, got as high as No. 39. A second single from that album topped out at No. 104, and a second album, City, got only to No. 136 in 1980. But “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” does have some charm:

Over the course of his career, the late Frank Zappa had five singles reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. Of course, Zappa being Zappa, those singles were, well, different. Thirty-two years ago, the acerbic and surreal “Dancing Fool” was sitting at its peak position of No. 45, giving listeners across the country Zappa’s skewed view of the disco craze. I’m not sure it mattered to him, but the record would end up being Zappa’s second-highest ranking record ever. (“Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon Unit, went to No. 32 in 1982.)

Another take on the wide outbreak of disco fever (and yes, the Other Half and I did watch Deney Terrio’s syndicated show on Saturday evenings) came from Roxy Music, whose forlorn “Dance Away” was sitting at No. 58 during the fourth week of May in 1979. The tune, like much of the album Manifesto, was more accessible than had been earlier Roxy Music projects. As All-Music Guide notes: “[T]rading sonic adventure for lush, accessible disco-pop isn’t entirely satisfactory, even if it is momentarily seductive.” I’m not sure I agree entirely. In any event, the single peaked at No. 44.

I’ve listened to “Church” by Bob Welch, the one-time member of Fleetwood Mac, a couple of times since I saw it listed at No. 86 in the Hot 100 from this week in 1979, and I still don’t know what to make of it. In some ways, I hear a lost great single, very much of its time but better than most of the stuff on the radio in those days. But I’m also hearing bits and pieces of other stuff from the time, as if Welch were imitating groups and performers who themselves were influenced by the early 1970s Fleetwood Mac. And I hear echoes of the Mac’s own Mystery to Me album from 1973. At any rate, the single went only as high as No. 73. On the other hand, the album Three Hearts – the source of “Church” and a follow-up to 1977’s French Kiss – got to No. 20.

In 1978, Chris Rea had a No. 12 hit with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” and the album Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? went to No. 49 (although the title track of the album went peaked only at No. 71). In the spring of 1979, Rea’s “Diamonds” peaked at No. 44 and was sitting at No. 93 during the fourth week of May. It doesn’t seem to have had the charm that made “Fool” a hummable hit. Although Rea never cracked the Top Forty again, he’s done some interesting stuff, and I’ll likely be writing about one of those interesting tracks next week.

Smack dab at the bottom of the chart for May 26, 1979, is a relic of one of the worst programming decisions in television history. Charged with reversing the decline of NBC Television in the late 1970s, Fred Silverman evidently decided that the best way to find a hit was to throw lots of crap at the wall and see if any of it stuck. One of his ideas was to craft – and the word is used loosely there – a series around a duo of young Japanese women who sang disco songs in phonetically rendered English. The show, officially titled Pink Lady also featured American comedian Jeff Altman (which provided the show with its popular title of Pink Lady and Jeff). Wikipedia notes: “The format of the show consisted of musical numbers alternating with sketch comedy. The running gag of the series was the girls’ lack of understanding of American culture and the English language; in reality, Pink Lady did not speak fluent English. Jeff would then attempt to translate and explain the meaning of things which led to more confusion. The series also featured Pink Lady performing various songs . . . along with interaction with celebrity and musical guests. The group would end the show by jumping into a hot tub together.” The show was ranked No. 35 by TV Guide on its list of the fifty worst television shows ever TV Guide. And at No. 110 in the Billboard Hot 100 from May 26, 1979 was “Kiss In The Dark” by Pink Lady.

‘Pain! Burning In My Heart . . .’

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I wonder how likely this story is in today’s music and radio world:

Some local kids decide to form a band, and through hard work, a love of music and a little bit of radio luck, the band records some songs, has one or two of them pressed on a 45 (or burned on a CD these days, I guess) and the music finds its way onto the air and to the top of the local Top 40 stations’ playlists.

It reads like the concept for a B-list movie, one that’s not truly awful but is nevertheless utterly predictable, its script packed to the gills with rough and ready clichés and with clueless lines like the earnest “Our record’s too good not to make it!” or the cynical “Freakin’ radio weasels! They say our freakin’ sound is out of date!”

But during the years I was a radio listener – the late 1960s and early 1970s, in case you haven’t been paying attention – stories like that (although perhaps without the radio weasels) happened frequently, from the largest markets on the coasts to the smaller markets in the Midwest and South. In my exploration of Blogworld, I often come across stories of still-beloved bands that had local hits with 45s and/or albums. My pal Jeff at AM, Then FM wrote just this week about the upsurge of “fierce Wisconsin nostalgia” for an early Seventies band named Clicker, a wave of nostalgia that it seems he had a hand in creating with earlier posts.

In Minnesota, several local bands during the early rock era reached the local charts, delighting their cadres of fans in the Upper Midwest. One of those bands, the Trashmen, hit the national stage and saw their immortal record “Surfin’ Bird” spend two weeks at No. 4 on the Billboard chart as January turned into February in 1964.

Another one of those local records played a part – how large, I’m not sure – in completing my metamorphosis to committed Top 40 listener. I’ve mentioned before that it was during the last half of August 1969 when I really began to listen to Top 40 radio. Finding myself hanging around with St. Cloud Tech’s football team during the two weeks of summer practice, I realized that the radio – likely tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities – was providing a pretty good soundtrack for my life, at least for that portion of it spent on the sidelines of a football field and in the locker room across the way.

There were a lot of good records on the air. According to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, the Top Ten on KDWB for this week in 1969 was:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Pain” by the Mystics
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon        
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White

Of those ten, and there are some great ones in there, the one that matters here this morning is “Pain,” the No. 4 record from forty-one years ago this week. The Mystics were a Twin Cities group (originally called Michael’s Mystics), and the single was released on the Metromedia label. According to ARSA, “Pain” had been the No. 1 single on KDWB for the preceding week, and the same was true at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other main Top 40 station of the time.

And when “Pain” came on the air, there was something about it that made it stand out even in the elite company of hits from the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and the rest. The hard-charging horn-laced introduction is what grabbed me, I think. The tale told by the lyric is okay, but I think it was the horns. I don’t know who to thank for the arrangement; the credit on the 45 reads only “A Path Production.” But almost every time “Pain” came on the radio that late summer and early fall, I’d stop what I was doing and just listen. It remained one of my favorite songs long after it fell down the charts and its airplay ended.

Not that I did anything about it. If I’d been thinking at all, I would have headed out to Woolworth’s or Kresge’s or Musicland and gotten myself a copy of the record. I didn’t.

But I was enamored enough of the record to pop for a ticket to a high school dance a couple weeks into the school year. The ticket cost all of fifty cents, I imagine. I had no plans of getting on the dance floor, nor did my pal Mike, who went with me. We’d be content to hang along the gym wall in the old Central School, listening to the tunes and watching the girls on the dance floor. We were there for one reason only: The band for the dance was the Mystics, and we wanted to hear “Pain.” And, of course, about two hours into the three-hour dance, the Mystics obliged. Satisfied, Mike and I made our ways home.

It was, I think, the first time I’d heard a radio hit played live by the original band. And that memory is sweet.

It was years before I ever heard the song again; in fact, after a while, it would be years before I even though about “Pain” again. You know how life goes: Things happen and more things happen, and some of the things you thought you’d never forget end up pushed to the back on the shelves of memory, gathering dust until someday for some reason, something pushes one of those things to the front of the shelf, where it seems shiny and new again.

It was the mid-1990s, so call it twenty-five years since I’d heard the Mystics’ single. One of the guys who played in the band at Jake’s had played, if I recall correctly, in another well-known Twin Cities band, Danny’s Reasons. During a break one night, he was telling tales, and he mentioned the Mystics.

“The Mystics?” I asked. “The guys who released ‘Pain’?” The very ones, Larry said. I hadn’t thought about “Pain” for years. The conversation wandered on as I made a mental note to check the singles bins at Cheapo’s every once in a while. And a couple of weeks later, when I saw a poster for a record show at no more than eight blocks from my home, I made a note to head out on Saturday and see what I could find.

Well, I found a copy of “Pain.” In its original Metromedia sleeve. For something like $100. The fellow obligingly pulled the 45 from the sleeve and put it on the turntable. I listened to the record for the first time in about twenty-five years, looked at the price tag on the plastic sleeve and shook my head. “Not this time,” I told the fellow regretfully.

From then on, I’d check for the record sporadically at the places where I bought my LPs. After I moved further south and east in Minneapolis in 1999, I had new places to check. No luck. And once the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud in 2002, well, there were really no places to check except on-line stores. I took a look this morning.

There is one copy of “Pain” offered for sale through Music It’s priced at $46.92. One copy of the 45 was priced at $75 at the Global E-commerce Mega-Market (GEMM) but was evidently sold this morning. Prices like those have been pretty consistent over the past eight years, when there’s been a copy of the record on the market.

But I don’t need those copies. On a January Saturday in 2003, the Texas Gal and I made one of our occasional trips to the small town of Pierz to stock up on bacon at Thielen Meats. On the way back, we came through the very small town of Royalton, on U.S. Highway 10 about twenty miles north of St. Cloud. An antique shop was doing business in what appeared to be an old bank building, so we pulled over and went in.

I’m not sure what the Texas Gal looked at, but in the second room I entered, I found a tall rotating rack filled with 45s carefully put into paper and then plastic sleeves. I began digging. And about midway down the second side, I did a double-take: “Pain” by the Mystics. Eyebrows raised, I looked for the price, and I did another double-take: two dollars.

Needless to say, the record came home with me. And a few years later, when the Texas Gal gave me a USB turntable for Christmas, “Pain” was the first record I pulled from the shelves to convert to an mp3. It still sounds as good as it did coming out of the speakers on an August day forty-one years ago this week.

(The record shown and used in the video is the original release, according to reader Yah Shure, not a later release, as I originally stated. My copy of the record is Metromedia 130, and the record is credited to simply “The Mystics.” It’s worth noting that the Grass Roots also recorded “Pain,” releasing it as an album track on their 1969 LP Lovin’ Things. They did a good job, but they’re not the Mystics, you know.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 31
“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia 130 [1969]
“Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)” by Lulu from New Routes [1970]
“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 [1975]
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, Cotillion 44251 [1979]
“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]
“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen 29141 [1984]

Sometime in February 1970, I was home from school for a day, and I had the radio on as I was sitting up in bed sniffling or coughing or whatever I was doing. I stopped dead still, however, when I heard the quiet introduction to Lulu’s “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You).” I listened, entranced, as she took the song from that quiet start to unexpected places. I knew Lulu from “To Sir With Love,” which went to No. 1 in 1967, but this sounded like a different singer, one dealing with much more than a schoolgirl crush. From crayons to perfume, indeed. Lulu’s warm and intimate performance took the record to No. 22 in that late winter.  Add to that performance the fact that I was just beginning to know what it was like to be a fool for someone, and you have all you need to make a song a favorite for life.

Lulu – “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)”

There are no emotional connections, no tales of hearing my life in the music, with Jigsaw’s “Sky High.” It’s just one of those records that has always been fun to listen to. The heartbreak content of the lyrics, to tell the truth, doesn’t seem to work, mostly because the guys from Jigsaw – the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits says the quartet came from England while All-Music Guide says the band was founded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1966 – seem to be having too much fun singing about their love being blown sky high to be grieving too much about it. And it is fun, from the opening twanging – what instrument makes that sound? – through the swirling strings and punchy horns of the introduction onward. “Sky High” spent two weeks at No. 3 in December of 1975.

Speaking of fun, from the instant I hear the drum figure and quick piano runs of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” there’s a smile on my face. The disco proclamation of kinship spent two weeks at No. 2 during June of 1979, brightening the summer and providing that season’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team with an anthem. With their athletic skills thus supplemented, the Pirates – led by thirty-nine-year-old Willie (Pops) Stargell – won baseball’s World Series that fall, winning the final three games to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. And seeing the Orioles lose – just like the effervescent vocals and sly beat of “We Are Family” – is always a reason to smile.

I love album covers. Not to the extent that I have any framed and displayed on the walls of the study, although I do have a large poster of the cover to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the wall. But I’ve enjoyed over the years the art of good album covers, and I’ve also enjoyed over time the utterly inept work put into bad album covers. But only once have I ever bought an album based only on the look of the cover. It was the summer of 1989. I’d returned to Minnesota after my generally unhappy time on the Dakota prairie, and I was celebrating my return by touring Minneapolis-area record shops. In a shop in the suburb of Richfield, I came across a cover illustration so arresting that I bought the album without having the slightest idea what I would hear.

The record was Avalon, the 1982 effort by Roxy Music. All I knew of Roxy Music at the time was that the group was British. I had no awareness of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera or any of the other members of the group over the years; I didn’t know about Siren, Manifesto, Country Life, or any of the other albums. I was clueless. But the cover to Avalon fascinated me. I took the record home and, luckily, I liked it, especially “More Than This” and the title tune. In later years, I explored the rest of Roxy Music’s catalog, and I found the earlier albums well done but a little brittle and fussy, not nearly as warm and inviting as Avalon. It’s fine when tracks from those earlier albums pop up at random. But I don’t go looking for them. Avalon I do, especially that shimmering title tune and “More Than This,” which was a No. 6 hit in Britain (No. 103 here in the U.S.).

It was almost winter – the second week of December 1984 – when Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” entered the Top 40. Even in the relatively mild winter of mid-Missouri, the wind whistled around the corners of the house, making winter seem harder. To me, that matched the sonic dish that Henley had served, and I had the sense that he was singing about things much more fundamental than the passing of one warm season:

Out on the road today,
I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac.

A voice inside my head said ‘Don’t look back.
‘You can never look back.’

The final verses – I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun . . . I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong – are more traditional for making a pledge of fealty. But what sticks with me from the record – which went to No. 5 during the second week of February 1985 – is that warning, one I ignore frequently but with greater misgivings as the days race by: ‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.”

(Sequence of Mystics’ name and of record’s release have been corrected since post was first published; thanks for the info, Yah Shure.)