The kid who wants to escape his stultifying hometown is a pretty familiar figure in our culture. I am guessing he’s existed at least since the hunter-gatherers settled down in one place and took up agriculture—since someone first looked up from drudgery and hoped there was a world of opportunity beyond the horizon. I was never that kid. (As I’ve written previously, I liked it fine where I was.) But as much as I loved my hometown as a kid, I knew that it was highly unlikely I was going to live there as an adult. I was going to be in radio, and I expected to swim in a bigger pond.
But at the same time, working at my hometown station seemed like a dream job. I thought it would be great to be “21st Century Stan.” The original Stan was the one who did the morning show on the hometown AM station, rising before the farmers every day for nigh unto 40 years to read the news and the weather and the farm reports. I knew how much we’d depended on him and the station over the years, and I couldn’t think of a better calling for a radio man. (I still can’t.) But it never happened, and I’d always known it wouldn’t. And it’s probably a good thing. Today, my town isn’t what it was when I left it. Where it once seemed vibrant and alive, it now seems tired and run-down. (My sister-in-law, who relocated there with my brother and their son a few years ago, calls it a giant trailer park.) I haven’t been back there much recently, although we hit the outskirts on the way to the farm for a family birthday party this past weekend. I wish I’d had time to drive around a bit and visit a few landmarks, crowned as they were by what’s passing for autumn color this year.
So in place of a longer visit, here are a couple of oddball October songs. Both were hits in the fall of 1976, which is my single favorite season, and as I wrote about “Lowdown” a couple of weeks ago, both of them put me behind the wheel of my first car (a 1974 AMC Hornet, like this, only robin’s egg blue) on the way to various potentially delicious adventures. “Devil Woman” was the biggest American hit for Cliff Richard, reaching Number 6 in late September. Fronting the Shadows, Richard had been staggeringly popular in the UK, with nine Number One hits between 1958 and 1968. He had scored only a handful of minor hits in the States as of 1976, and nothing since 1968. “Did You Boogie” is by Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids, who first became famous thanks to their appearance in American Graffiti. By the end of the 70s, they were in the role Sha-Na-Na had previously had to itself—the 50s revivalists all the kids dug. Want proof? They opened shows for Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath. “Did You Boogie,” which features Wolfman Jack, peaked at #29 on this date in 1976.
“Did You Boogie” was intended to be nostalgic in 1976, of course, and it still is, although no longer in the way the band first intended. It doesn’t put me in the back row of the movie-show, but it does put me back in that car, and on those adventures. “Devil Woman” does, too. And that’s why they sound like October to me.
“Devil Woman”/Cliff Richard (buy it, along with other songs gloriously essential and perfectly godawful, here)
“Did You Boogie”/Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids (buy it, along with other oddities, here)