March 8, 1991: Full House

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(Pictured: the cast of Full House puts on the ritz, 1991.)

March 8, 1991, was a Friday. Headlines include the demobilization of American troops in wake of the Persian Gulf War, which officially ended on February 28 with the end of coalition combat operations. Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division are due back in North Carolina today. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney says that barring a new outbreak of fighting, 5,000 soldiers per day will be coming home. In Los Angeles, 15 police officers are suspended today in the wake of the beating of motorist Rodney King after his arrest this past Sunday morning. A videotape of the beating was first broadcast nationally on Tuesday. The Los Angeles DA announced today that he will seek indictments of some officers. In Bowling Green, Ohio, the local police blotter includes the following from earlier this week: several incidents of home and car vandalism, birds running loose down the corridors of the local mall (they had apparently escaped from a pet store), obscene questions from a man claiming to be taking a door-to-door survey, and a woman reporting that somebody took her garden hose from outside her home and put it in her basement.

In men’s college basketball, conference tournaments are in progress before the NCAA tournament field is announced on Sunday. Teams in contention for top seeds include North Carolina, Syracuse, Ohio State, Duke, Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada-Las Vegas, and Arizona. Six games are played in the NBA tonight. In a battle of division leaders, the Chicago Bulls need a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Utah Jazz 99-89. Michael Jordan of the Bulls leads all scorers with 37 points. Another top team, the Boston Celtics, beat the Los Angeles Clippers 104-98. It’s the 45th win for the Celtics, tying them for most in the league with the Portland Trail Blazers, who have the night off.

In a document released today, the FCC has announced that as of February 28, 1991, there are 10,863 radio stations and 1,469 TV stations licensed in the United States. These figures do not include FM and TV translators or low-power TV stations. On TV tonight, ABC’s TGIF lineup includes episodes of Full House and Family Matters as well as the premiere of Baby Talk, a sitcom loosely based on the Look Who’s Talking movies. Also on ABC tonight is the final episode of Going Places, a sitcom about TV comedy writers living on the beach in Los Angeles, and the news magazine 20/20. NBC presents episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, Hunter, and Dark Shadows, a remake of the original 60s series, starring Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins. CBS airs episodes of the western Guns of Paradise, Dallas, and a colorized repeat of the first episode of I Love Lucy. FOX presents America’s Most Wanted and Against the Law, a legal comedy/drama. At the movies this weekend, you can see The Silence of the Lambs, Home Alone, and Dances With Wolves, Julia Roberts in Sleeping With the Enemy, New Jack City starring Wesley Snipes, and The Doors, which stars Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.

Nirvana plays Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Scorpions play Irvine, California. Hall and Oates play the Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville, Indiana, near Chicago, and Neil Young plays Miami with Sonic Youth opening. Jazz saxophonist Stan Getz plays Paris. It will be his last show before his death in June. New Kids on the Block play Little Rock, Arkansas. On the new Cash Box charts that come out tomorrow, “Written All Over Your Face” by the Rude Boys is #1 on the R&B chart. The #1 country song is “Lovin’ Blind” by Clint Black, at the top for a second week. On the pop chart, the #1 song is “One More Try” by Timmy T.

Perspective From the Present: In the spring of 1991, I’d been program director of the little station in Clinton, Iowa, for about a year. We had live, local shows in the morning and afternoon, but we got the rest of our programming via satellite. I did the afternoon show. After dealing with a day full of programming minutiae, it was a fine thing to go into a room, shut the door, and be alone for a while. My shows weren’t great, but weren’t horrible either: decent, workmanlike, small-market radio. I didn’t yet know Clinton was the last stop of my full-time radio career, although in retrospect it’s hard for me to imagine where I thought I might go from there.

Coming Wednesday: we’ll go inside the American Top 40 show from the weekend of March 9, 1991.

I Don’t Love a Rainy Night

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(Pictured: Eddie Rabbitt, 1981.)

Forty years ago this week, Eddie Rabbitt hit #1 on the Hot 100 with “I Love a Rainy Night.” It’s got to be one of the more unlikely #1 hits ever. Why it resonated with people is hard for me to explain: it’s just one of those records that caught a particular updraft at a particular moment. Similarly hard for me to explain is why I dislike “I Love a Rainy Night.” It’s super-catchy and it sounds good on the radio. I like Eddie Rabbitt fine on his other big pop crossovers like “Suspicions” and “Drivin’ My Life Away.” But I don’t like “I Love a Rainy Night” and I never have, and it’s just one of those things about myself that I (and you) have to accept.

Last weekend, I asked people on Twitter to name a record for which they have an irrational dislike. While I didn’t go viral or anything, I got a few responses, which I will annotate below.

“Lady”/Kenny Rogers
“Endless Love”/Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
“Lady” is one of those songs you played on the air for the first time and thought, “Oh, god, we’re going to be playing this every two hours for the next six months,” and that’s pretty much how it happened. I don’t think my own dislike for “Endless Love” is especially irrational. It’s terminally bland, and while the label says it runs 4:36, it feels like 10 minutes to me.

“You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. Lots of people would tell you that disliking “You Light Up My Life” isn’t irrational at all—that it’s one of the most hate-worthy hits of all time. But it barely seems worth the effort now, considering how it’s been disappeared from pop-music history, as if we’ve repressed just how popular it was at the end of 1977.

“That’s All”/Genesis. I have never minded this myself, but I can see how somebody might. It takes four minutes to not do very much.

“Fields of Gold”/Sting
“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”/Police
Music history is full of artists who needed the leavening influence of collaborators to keep them from getting lost up their own external orifice: Lennon/McCartney and Henley/Frey are merely the most famous. To the extent that the Police were ever punk, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland must have been responsible. Sting’s solo work is as punk-opposite as the Captain and Tennille. A lot of it sounds like it was produced in a biologically secure lab; some of it sounds like it was made with no human involvement at all.

Somebody chimed in to defend “Fields of Gold” as “noble and nostalgic.” I can understand how a person might hear it that way. But when I listen to it,  I feel nothing one way or the other.

“Stand”/R.E.M. There are handful of critically acclaimed performers whose work moves me not at all, to the point at which friends who are fans cannot imagine how it could be so. Elvis Costello is the biggest, but R.E.M. is another. That doesn’t make critics and fans wrong. It’s just don’t hear it.

“Anything by Yes, but especially The Yes Album and Tales of a Boring Ocean.” I love that the original 70s Yes existed, as a testimonial to the combined power of virtuoso musicianship, esoteric philosophy, and recreational drugs. And I love that Tales From Topographic Oceans exists for the same reason, although I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single second of it. The Yes Album strikes me as fine, though. I will always crank the opening of “Yours Is No Disgrace,” and “Starship Trooper” scratches the same itch in me that Emerson Lake and Palmer did. But yeah, I never need to hear “I’ve Seen All Good People” again.

“Anything with Michael McDonald singing lead.” Welp, that’s certainly an opinion all right.

Your irrational dislikes are welcome below. Not hatred with the red-hot fire of a thousand suns, but just dislike, with extra points if you don’t have a reason. The readership has done a fabulous job of elevating the level of the discourse here in the last few months. I am expecting big things outta you guys this time.

Programming Note: 1991 seems to me like it should be maybe six or seven years ago, but I’m told it’s been longer than that. We’ll spend all of next week in 1991, so stop back.

Picture Postcards From 1994

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Does anybody here besides me remember Joshua Kadison?

Kadison’s first hit, “Jessie,” hit the Hot 100 in late 1993, and it rose to #26 at the end of January 1994 in a 22-week chart run. It was #11 on adult contemporary for five straight weeks that winter. In the summer of ’94, “Beautiful in My Eyes” got to #19 in 21 weeks on the Hot 100 and went to #4 on AC. Finally, “Picture Postcards From L.A.” hit a Hot 100 peak of #84 in November, although it lasted into January 1995 on the AC chart, peaking at #16. The album containing all three singles, Painted Desert Serenade, ran the charts for 52 weeks and got to #69 (nice). Although Kadison would release a followup album at the end of 1995, neither it nor its singles went anywhere, and he hasn’t returned to the American charts. I haven’t heard him or played him on the radio since then.

On “Jessie,” Kadison sounds like Elton John, both in his vocal timbre and his piano style—so much so that when you google “Jessie,” the first thing that comes up under “people also search for” is “Elton John Jessie song.” It’s romantic, tasteful, extremely unthreatening VH1 suburban soccer mom pop music, and in the video, Kadison is panty-dropping handsome. None of that has to be bad, and “Jessie” isn’t, not really.

But I can’t exactly say that it’s good, either. I remember playing it on the radio and wanting to throw a heavy object when Kadison sang the following verse:

She asked me how the cat’s been
I said “Moses, he’s just fine”
But he used to think about you, all the time
We finally took your pictures down off the wall
Jessie, how do you always seem to know just when to call
She says “Get your stuff together, bring Mose and drive real fast”
And I listened to her promise
“I swear to God this time it’s gonna last”

There’s never a single moment in the song when you feel like these are real people, or this is a real experience. Again, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it feels off nevertheless. Do we really need to know the cat’s name, or is it in there for the sake of the syllables? And does Jessie like the cat more than she likes Joshua?

Nearly everything you can find about “Jessie” online quotes the Wikipedia article about the song. It speculates that Jessie is actress Sarah Jessica Parker, Kadison’s romantic interest at the time. However, again according to Wikipedia: “This has never been confirmed, and it has also been pointed out that Parker has never been known to be called ‘Jessie’ or own a cat named Moses.” That’s kind of legalistic, isn’t it, Wiki Writer? In addition, the footnote with that factoid directs a reader to the “Jessie” entry at Songfacts. And Songfacts, far from being an unimpeachable source, is vastly more full of shit than Wikipedia a lot of the time.

Just because you have a footnote doesn’t mean you have confirmation. After all, this blog you are reading right now is cited as a credible source by at least one Wikipedia entry, and we all know that ain’t right.

And isn’t Moses supposed to the singer’s cat?

Where the “Jessie” video put Kadison on the beach with his piano, the “Beautiful in My Eyes” video has him in front of a dancing string quartet, his hair blown picturesquely by a wind machine. The song is even more radio-friendly than “Jessie,” if such a thing is possible. While the lyric is less distinctive (“You’re my peace of mind in this crazy world / You’re everything I’ve tried to find / Your love is a pearl”), the melody on the refrain is an all-timer, and it’s not surprising that “Beautiful in My Eyes” ended up the somewhat bigger hit.

(Wikipedia and Songfacts are johnny-on-the-spot for “Beautiful in My Eyes” too, quoting what are supposed to be Kadison’s actual words explaining that it’s a song about how “you’ll always be beautiful in my eyes.” The HELL you say.)

I remember thinking in 1994 that, when you played them up against the other stuff getting adult contemporary airplay that year, “Jessie” and “Beautiful in My Eyes” sounded 20 years out of date. Not throwbacks, not homages, but songs that had been recorded around 1974 or ’75 and sealed in a vault. I still can’t decide if I like them or not. They remain uniquely weird, a thing entirely unto themselves.

In My Distance

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From time to time over the years I’ve written about the seasonal teaching job I have. This season, I am teaching about as much as I normally would, but it’s all online, from the comfortable chair in my office. I miss traveling a little bit. I find that the best thing about the travel, apart from the off-day brewery stops, might be the little epiphanies, the little things you learn about life and everything else when you’re away from home and alone in your head for most of every day. This piece from 2016, slightly edited, is about one of them. 

The other night, I was driving around in the Minneapolis suburbs after teaching my class, looking for a place to get a quick sandwich.

The work is not strenuous—I do not unload freight cars—but it can be wearying. I have to be “on” for my students for up to six hours at a time, friendly and encouraging and responsive, and I spend most of the time on my feet. . . .  And it can be isolating: apart from interacting with my students, the only people I talk to most days are convenience-store and hotel clerks, waitstaff, and the occasional bartender.

Despite all this, I do not necessarily pine for home on these trips. The majority of my other work is always done on the laptop, so I continue to do it wherever I am; being away is merely a change of scene, like one of my trips to the bagel shop extended to a week. If I pine for anything on these trips, it’s the same things I pine for at home: lost innocence, second chances, that kind of thing.

I was in a hurry when I filled up the CD bag for the car ride, so I grabbed a handful of discs from the Time-Life Sounds of the Seventies series, which I bought back in the 90s. . . . I don’t listen to those CDs much anymore. When I do, they don’t contain any surprises—they’re made up of one old warhorse after another.

So I am trying to find a decent sandwich the other night and growing annoyed with my limited options. I am not really listening to the music, it’s just there, as I scan the horizon for something that’s not going to be too heavy for 9:30 at night (McDonalds, Burger King, etc.) or something that’s not Subway (which I eat only when there’s absolutely no alternative). So add to the weariness the growing desire to find some goddamn thing to eat so I can go back to the hotel and take off my shoes.

Then “After Midnight” comes on,” followed immediately by “Green-Eyed Lady” and “Fire and Rain,” all of which were on the radio that first fall I discovered it, the fall of 1970. And there it is: a glimpse of my lost innocence. For about 10 minutes, I am reminded how it was to be 10 years old, unformed clay, about to learn what I am supposed to be. I will learn it from Eric Clapton, Sugarloaf, James Taylor and all the rest of the people on the radio, especially Larry Lujack and the other WLS DJs. And since I am 10 years old, nearly all of what I have yet to do remains undone, so a river of second chances flows away in my distance.

Those songs, and the other songs from the fall of 1970 and in the years beyond, the ones that I hear in my head even without a radio . . . it occurs to me that they have done everything for me across all the years, everything but save my life, and I suppose they’ve probably done that too.

They told me who I would be, and now they tell me who I am.

If this were fiction, I would crest a hill and find a little diner with a perfect menu and a waitress who looks a little like my mother. But I end up buying a nondescript convenience-store sandwich and a bag of chips, because sometimes it gets late and you really need to get home.

Well, not home, exactly, but back to the hotel. Those old songs had already taken me home, to the place in my head and my heart that’s home, in a way no other place is ever going to be.

What Would You Say

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(Pictured: Hurricane Smith, unlikely singing star and later, a breeder of horses.)

Norman “Hurricane” Smith was first a recording engineer, best known to history for his work on the Beatles’ albums up through Rubber Soul, and later producer of Pink Floyd’s early material, including the single “See Emily Play.” But he was not of their generation—he was pushing 40 when the Beatles came up—and so when he began recording himself at the age of 48, his work reflected a different taste. In the winter of 1972, the deeply odd “Don’t Let It Die” went to #2 in the UK, but a much bigger hit was to come.

“Oh Babe What Would You Say” hit #4 in the UK in the summer of 1972. It hopped the Atlantic and landed at two of America’s most influential radio stations, CKLW in Detroit and WFIL in Philadelphia, at the end of October. It was mostly an East Coast hit for a while, not getting much action farther west until December. For example, it’s a top-five hit at WRKO and WMEX in Boston before it ever charts in Chicago, at WCFL in mid-December. It doesn’t appear on a WLS chart until the second full week of January. By the end of January, it’s in the Top 10 in dozens of cities, and it spends the weeks of January 20 and 27 at #2 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart, behind Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” It records its first local #1 at WHIO in Dayton, Ohio, during the week of February 5, and it goes #1 at KXOK in St. Louis for the week of February 17, 1973. In the same week, it hits #1 in Cash Box and peaks at #3 on the Hot 100. Also in February, Julie Andrews performs it with a giant blue Muppet on a TV special, and Smith himself sings it on The Tonight Show. But every record runs its course sooner or later, and “Oh Babe What Would You Say” is gone from most charts by the end of March. For all of 1973, its highest local ranking is #8 at KRUX in Phoenix and WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina. On Billboard‘s 1973 Top 100, it’s #57; in Cash Box, it’s #31.

Although I liked the song, I didn’t buy the 45. (I am continually baffled by the buying choices of the younger me.) And I wish knew whether “Oh Babe” got much radio play after 1973. I don’t remember hearing it a lot, although there’s no reason it would have made any greater impression on me than anything else from the winter of 1973, if I heard it in the few years following.  It would occasionally resurface: Peggy Lee occasionally sang it in her nightclub act, and comedienne Kaye Ballard did it, with the same giant blue Muppet that had duetted with Julie Andrews, on a 1977 episode of The Muppet Show. (The Muppet Show debuted on Disney Plus last week, so you can’t say this website isn’t topical every so often, if only by accident.)

It wasn’t long, however, before “Oh Babe” took a place among the largely forgotten hits of the past, at least for most people. In the early 80s, when I started sneaking records home from my radio job to record them to cassette, “Oh Babe What Would You Say” was one of the first ones I grabbed. And when it appeared on Rhino’s Have a Nice Day 70s anthology in 1989, that volume was one of the first ones I grabbed.

The sax player on “Oh Babe What Would You Say” is a guy named Frank Hardcastle, who had served with Smith in the Royal Air Force. The dude had chops: the solo in the middle sounds like it’s improvised. It’s the hook of that horn as much as Smith’s old-timey vocal that made the song into a hit. It’s easy to visualize Smith and Hardcastle in the 1940s, young men sitting in some club, eyeing the local girls, and listening to a band that honks like they would on a future day.

In the winter of 1973, not-quite-13-year-old me hears “Oh Babe” without a clue about how it refers to the bygone time when its musicians were young. Instead, I think about a particular pretty girl and imagine saying to her, “Have I a hope or half a chance to even ask if could I dance with you?”

I have neither.

If you’d like to hear “Oh Babe,” I recommend this clever version of it, which features the moment not-quite-13-year-old me dreamed of, at about one minute in.

(Note to Patrons: The comments on Wednesday’s post were far more interesting than what I wrote originally, and I thank all who participated.)

The Only War

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(Pictured: Alice Cooper and friend on stage in Roanoke, Virginia, on March 10, 1973.)

While doing a bit of research the other day, I found myself poking around the edition of Billboard dated February 17, 1973, as one does. Here’ some of what’s inside:

—Willis “Bill” Wardlow has been named associate publisher of Billboard. Over the next several years, Wardlow would be responsible for occasionally jiggering the Billboard charts to reward or punish record labels, and to do favors for industry friends. As we learned a few years ago, his manipulations led to Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” spending only 12 hours at #1.

—A full-page ad plugs Alice Cooper’s upcoming American tour and the band’s new single, “Hello Hurray.” The tour opens in Rochester, New York, on March 5, and it will be grueling, with 52 shows in 90 days. Between April 25 and May 5, the band will play 10 shows across the South in 11 days. The last date is set for June 3 in New York City.

—A review of Bruce Springsteen’s recent show at Max’s Kansas City in New York suggests that while Springsteen is not yet Bob Dylan’s 70s heir, he “shows definite signs of acquiring the mantel.” Other reviews cover separate Las Vegas shows by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition and the Supremes, a triple-bill of Al Green, the Spinners, and the Sylvers at the Forum in Los Angeles, Lou Reed at Alice Tully Hall in New York, and the opening night of a weeklong stand at the Bitter End in New York by jazz/funk player Roy Ayers and his group Ubiquity. Ayers’ show is opened by “a promising black comedian, Jimmy (sic) Walker, a man with an undeniably racy sense of humor.” Is it the same Jimmie Walker who will be in the cast of the TV sitcom Good Times a year in the future? Probably.

—A full-page ad with the heading “Grand Opening” features a cartoon woman with blonde hair, pursed red lips, and high heels, wearing a nightgown through which her nipples are clearly visible. Her hands are at her waist, seemingly ready to untie the gown. Below the tie are the words “lift up.” There is no other text on the page. Whoever scanned the issue for World Radio History has also scanned what looks to be a lifted flap: underneath are the covers for two albums. One I cannot identify, since the title isn’t legible; the other is Under the Skunk by Laurie Kaye Cohen. A similar ad appears on another page with the “Grand Opening” headline reversed and the women seen from the back, with another flap that can be lifted. Under that flap is a shot of the woman’s underwear; appearing below are the words “pull down.” Whether anything is under that, I can’t tell; there’s no corresponding scan. Even by the standards of 1973, the whole thing is astoundingly offensive—but Billboard likely collected a fortune for it, considering how elaborate it was. The Cohen album was released on the Playboy label; if they’re the ones who placed the ad, it explains a lot.

—A full-page ad from Brunswick pushes a coin-operated air hockey table that’s about the same size as a standard pool table, calling it “the fastest profit maker you’ve ever seen.” This point is illustrated by a bikini-clad woman sitting on the table, hiding her seductive smile behind a fan of obviously fake paper money.

—On the Easy Listening chart, “Dueling Banjos,” billed only to Deliverance Soundtrack, is the new #1 song. “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend” by Lobo is at #2 after two weeks at #1. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack is already at #6 in only its third week on the chart. On Hot Soul Singles, “Love Train” by the O’Jays is the new #1, replacing “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by the Spinners. Also in the Top 10 are Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown. On the Hot 100, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John holds at #1. “Killing Me Softly” and “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver are new in the Top 10. The biggest move in the Top 40 is made by Dr. Hook’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” up 11 spots to #19, although “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato debuts within the Top 40 at #25 from #50 the week before. The new #1 album is The World Is a Ghetto by War, dropping Carly Simon’s No Secrets to #2. A full-page ad celebrating War’s rise to the top contains the line, “Let Us Pray From Now On, We Are The Only War.”