Playing With the Boys

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(Pictured: the Fixx, in ’86.)

Here’s some of what else was on the Hot 100 during the week of August 16, 1986, a week recently featured on American Top 40, and at this blog.

54. “Throwing It All Away”/Genesis
74. “Sweet Love”/Anita Baker
79. “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”/Robert Palmer
92. “Take Me Home Tonight”/Eddie Money
93. “Paranoimia”/Art of Noise with Max Headroom
These five Hot 100 debuts would go all the way into the Top 40. Even “Paranoimia,” with vocal interjections by the famous computer-generated celebrity pitchman.

65. “Twist and Shout”/Beatles. I didn’t mention it in either of the two posts I wrote about this week’s AT40, but my radio station didn’t play several of the big hits of the summer of 1986. Our music came from a service, so we had little control over what we played, or didn’t. We never played “Baby Love,” even though it was a Top-20 hit, or the Run-DMC version of “Walk This Way.” (That might be the reason I can’t remember Andy Taylor’s “Take It Easy.”) Same thing with “Twist and Shout” when it returned to the national chart thanks to its inclusion in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” from the movie of the same name.

72. “Wrap It Up”/Fabulous Thunderbirds
82. “Tuff Enuff”/Fabulous Thunderbirds
A remarkable number of artists had two songs in the Hot 100 this week: Kenny Loggins, Genesis, Janet Jackson, Billy Ocean, Billy Joel, the Moody Blues, Robert Palmer, Simply Red, Patti Labelle, Michael McDonald, Van Halen, El DeBarge, the Jets, Level 42, and somebody else I have likely missed because I always miss somebody. But I wouldn’t miss the Fabulous Thunderbirds, whose blast to success in the middle of the 1980s was pretty unlikely. Their brand of R&B-infused roadhouse blues was not exactly top-of-the-mind with listeners on a steady diet of dance beats, English hairstyles, and high-concept music videos.

75. “Every Little Kiss”/Bruce Hornsby and the Range. This song made the Hot 100 first, but the #1 hit “The Way It Is” would be the band’s breakthrough later in 1986, resulting in the return of “Every Little Kiss” to the chart the next year.

77. “Secret Separation”/The Fixx. At some point in 1985 or 1986, the Fixx played the basketball arena at our local college. The night of the show, the opening act finished, the house lights came up, and people lit out for the concession stands. After 20 minutes or so, a guy came out and started fiddling with the drums in the way drum techs do. But after another minute, he started pounding out a beat, and the rest of the band strolled out from the wings. The show started while the house lights were still up. The Fixx was pretty good that night—and “Secret Separation” is the best thing they ever did.

85. “It’s You”/Bob Seger. Another Hot 100 debut, and a Seger single you probably don’t know. “It’s You” is from the Like a Rock album, and is lighter and less crunchy than most of Seger’s 80s singles. Nevertheless it’s pretty good, although it would peak only at #52.

86. “The Other Side of Life”/Moody Blues
96. “Playing With the Boys”/Kenny Loggins
98. “Walk Away Renee”/Southside Johnny and the Jukes
MTV was still a music-video channel in 1986, and the videos for each of these three Hot 100 debuts is a different exemplar of the form. “The Other Side of Life” puts literally thousands of record-company promotional dollars on the screen. It has the familiar what-the-hell-am-I-watching feel that MTV viewers of the 80s will remember, and it’s preceded by the obligatory 90-second playlet that opened so many videos back then. “Playing With the Boys” is a song from the Top Gun soundtrack, but it doesn’t use any clips from the film. Instead, it features a group of extremely pretty people playing volleyball, and I am guessing most of its budget went for spandex and hairspray. “Walk Away Renee,” a languid cover of the 60s hit, is shot in black and white and features a pretty girl sadly packing a suitcase while Southside Johnny sings in the street outside her window.

99. “Victory Line”/Limited Warranty. “Victory Line” is the kind of thing that crossed radio station music directors’ desks by the dozens in the middle of the 80s—melodic, jangly pop-rock that’s pleasant for three minutes but doesn’t stick with you much longer than that. Until I started researching this post, I had forgotten that Limited Warranty opened for Eddie Money in our town back in 1986. It’s the only show I’ve ever watched entirely from backstage, which was pretty cool.

Except I somehow lost the hat that I wore to the show. I miss that hat.

August 26, 1974: From the Sidelines

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(Pictured: John Denver.)

August 26, 1974, was a Monday. By Congressional resolution, it’s Women’s Equality Day. Aviator Charles Lindbergh, first to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, dies at age 72. President Gerald Ford, in office just 17 days, issues a statement on Lindbergh’s death. Following a cabinet meeting that focuses on the economy, he speaks to 160 baseball players set to compete in the Little League World Series. This evening he briefly attends a reception in honor of Herb Stein, outgoing chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. NBC Nightly News leads with Lindbergh’s death; CBS and ABC save it for the end of their broadcasts, leading instead with Ford’s cabinet meeting and an economic summit set for the end of September. Six named typhoons are currently located in the eastern Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico: Ione, Kirsten, Joyce, Lorraine, Maggie, and Polly. It’s the largest number of simultaneous Pacific storms since records have been kept; the number won’t be equaled again until 2015. The recently renamed U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, now known as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, announces a new emblem to go along with its new name.

In sports, seven games are scheduled in the majors. The division-leading Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Los Angeles Dodgers all have the night off, but the Oakland A’s lose to the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1. There was one game in the World Football League yesterday; the Jacksonville Sharks defeated the Hawaiians 14-8 to start the eighth week of the regular season. Five games will be played on Wednesday and one more on Thursday. This week, John Matuszak of the NFL’s Houston Oilers will jump to the WFL’s Houston Texans, signing a million-dollar contract and debuting in Wednesday’s game against the New York Stars. During the second quarter, he will be served with a restraining order, and he will have to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines.

Elton John is featured in the current People magazine talking about his forthcoming film role in Tommy, his homes in Beverly Hills and London, and his new and record-setting $8 million contract with MCA Records. In St. Paul, Minnesota, oldies station WYOO adopts a new identity during a live broadcast from the Minnesota State Fair. U100 has a high-energy rock format intended to compete with WDGY, KDWB, and KSTP. The format and station identity will last until 1976. The Washington Post publishes a lukewarm review of Joni Mitchell’s Saturday night concert in Columbia, Maryland. Tonight, Rush plays Cleveland, only its second headlining show with new drummer Neal Peart, who replaced John Rutsey earlier this summer. Deep Purple plays Hartford, Connecticut, and Chicago plays in suburban Detroit. Liza Minnelli plays the Ohio State Fair and Elvis plays Las Vegas. Aerosmith plays Worcester, Massachusetts. At the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, John Denver’s shows this week are being recorded for an album that will be called An Evening With John Denver, to be released in 1975. Tonight’s performance of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” will eventually be a #1 single.

At WMYQ in Miami, “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace holds at #1. Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” is #2 and “Having My Baby” by Paul Anka is #3. Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff” leaps from #10 to #4. Two songs are new in the Top 10: “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim at #8 and “Wildwood Weed” by Jim Stafford at #9. The hottest record in Miami is “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe” by Barry White, up to #12 this week from #28 the week before. Another major mover is “Wild Thing” by Fancy, up to #13 from #22 last week. Three songs are new on the WMYQ survey: “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” by Stevie Wonder, “Then Came You” by Dionne Warwick and the Spinners, and “Earache My Eye” by Cheech and Chong.

Perspective From the Present: It is possible that this day was my first day of high school in Monroe, Wisconsin. We usually went back to school before Labor Day, although not always on the Monday before. Whenever it was, my first day of high school should remain one of the more memorable days of my life, but as I wrote a few years ago, I actually don’t remember anything about it at all.

For more about the World Football League and this bygone week in television, click here

Listening to the Pioneers

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The Pioneer Era of Recording spans the period from the late 1880s, when Thomas Edison’s 1877 invention, the phonograph, became simple enough to be operated by non-experts, to about 1920, when electrical methods of recording replaced Edison’s old acoustic methods. Some of the most famous songs ever written first appeared during the Pioneer Era, performed by people who became popular, bankable stars. The vast majority of those stars, however, are almost entirely forgotten a century later.

I have had a longstanding interest in the Pioneer Era, and I have written about it at this website now and then. The latest episode of my podcast is about the Pioneer Era. It describes the birth of the era, profiles a few of the big stars, and even includes bits of some significant Pioneer Era songs. You can listen to it right here:



Follow my Soundcloud for new episodes, or subscribe to this website to be notified of new episodes (and every other damn thing we do here). The podcast is also available at Google Play, Tune In, and Stitcher. I hope you find this episode interesting, and your comments are welcome.

Walk This Way

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(Pictured: Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines with Michael McDonald in his video for “Sweet Freedom.” I’ve used the pic before, but I’m bringing it back so you can see yet again the worst Chicago Bears knockoff jersey in the world.)

This is the second installment of various ruminations inspired by the American Top 40 show from August 16, 1986.

31. “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)”/Glass Tiger
22. “One Step Closer to You”/Gavin Christopher
Listing these songs separately is a distinction without a difference; they are remarkably similar. If I’m recalling correctly, my radio station got rush reservice on the automation tapes that announced “One Step Closer to You” as being by Christopher Gavin. But that too is a distinction without a difference.

30. “Walk This Way”/Run-DMC. Other rap records made the Hot 100 (“The Message,” “The Breaks,” “Rapper’s Delight,” “Planet Rock”), and Blondie’s “Rapture” had been to #1, but Run-DMC was the first rap act to crack the Top 40. While rap was growing in popularity in 1986, I suspect that a lot of people heard “Walk This Way” as a novelty remake and never bought another rap record. Given, however, that within the next decade, rap and hip-hop would become the dominant form of pop music, its success is one of history’s pivot points.

27. “Man Size Love”/Klymaxx
12. “Sweet Freedom”/Michael McDonald
Everybody’s got one obscure movie they love beyond all others, and mine is Running Scared, a buddy comedy featuring the amazing chemistry of Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, playing Chicago cops who want to quit and move someplace warm, but end up saving Crystal’s ex-wife from a drug dealer instead. (Crystal to the villain, played by Jimmy Smits: “You hurt that lady and you will never be dead enough.”) Running Scared never got above #6 in the weekly box office rankings that summer, but four songs from its soundtrack charted, and these two went into the Top 15.

24. “Stuck With You”/Huey Lewis and the News 
23. “Yankee Rose”/David Lee Roth
Of all the Huey Lewis records in the world, “Stuck With You” is the Huey-est. Of all the David Lee Roth records in the world, “Yankee Rose” is the crappiest. (The opening segment of the video contains something to offend almost everybody, even before the song starts.)

21. “Invisible Touch”/Genesis
16. “Danger Zone”/Kenny Loggins
13. “Sledgehammer”/Peter Gabriel
9. “Take My Breath Away”/Berlin
4. “Higher Love”/Steve Winwood
2. “Glory of Love”/Peter Cetera
Any one of these might qualify as the song of the summer for 1986, and I don’t think any of them have been off the radio since then. But on the other hand:

19. “All the Love in the World”/The Outfield
18. “Baby Love”/Regina
17. “Suzanne”/Journey
15. “Friends and Lovers”/Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson
10. “The Edge of Heaven”/Wham
8. “Rumors”/Timex Social Club
5. “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”/Jermaine Stewart

It’s strictly via the eyeball test, but it seems to me that a lot of big hits from 1986 (and not just these) disappeared without a trace as soon as they dropped out of current rotations. Apart from Casey reruns, I am pretty sure nobody has played any of these songs on the radio since 1986. “The Edge of Heaven” was Wham’s sixth Top-10 hit in two years, and their last; they would chart one more time as Wham before George Michael became exclusively a solo act.

6. “Venus”/Bananarama. I cannot remember what I thought of this record in 1986, when I was the morning jock and program director of a Top-40 station. I can tell you now that “Venus” was the kind of record that made your station sound hot and hip, and as a soundtrack for summer fun, you couldn’t do better.

3. “Mad About You”/Belinda Carlisle. I can’t remember how I felt about this in 1986 either, but hearing it again the other day all I could think was, “Holy smokes, this is the best thing on the show.”

1.”Papa Don’t Preach”/Madonna. Casey says that “Papa Don’t Preach” is Madonna’s fourth #1 hit, which ties her with Olivia Newton-John for second place all-time among female artists behind Diana Ross. That’s quite a statistic, from the pre-Mariah, pre-Whitney, pre-Janet, pre-Rihanna world. That Madge accomplished it in less than two years makes it even more impressive. Also impressive: her creative development since her first chart hit in 1983. “Papa Don’t Preach” takes her a long way from the chirpy boy toy who made “Holiday” and “Like a Virgin”—but she had even further to go.

As did we all. Although, as I wrote in the earlier installment, not all of us knew it at the time.

“After 1986, What Else Could Be New?”

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(Pictured: Billy Joel picks up a guitar, 1986.)

It’s a reasonably common literary trope, I guess: that fading, end-of-summer vibe, the last couple of weeks of summer vacation when you were still in school, or an August week or weekend spent away from work, at the lake or in the mountains in adult life. Such tales almost always involve something slipping away, changes coming, holding on to something precious, that kind of thing. It’s a fertile field for a memoirist to plow, and you’ve read a lot of stuff like that. (And not just at this website, where we specialize in it.)

What we can’t always see clearly is what those times felt like while we were living them. Did I look at the calendar back there in, say, August 1972, see the first day of school looming there, and think, “I should hang onto these days because they will soon be gone”? How about August 1976, as my summer of all summers turned toward the autumm of all autumns? Or August 1986, by which time I was out in the working world? Did it feel to me like summer was fading, or was I too busy with the day-to-day routine of programming a radio station and hosting a morning show?

Today, there are narratives, but they’re retroactively applied. For 1986, it’s not just the narrative of a summer, but of the arc of my career and ultimately, my life. Today, I know that I had already made a critical choice that would change the course of my career. And the narrative had a second part that had nothing to do with the first: leaving my radio station in December and moving to a new city in January 1987.

If, in my head, the summer of 1986 had a narrative while I was living it, it wasn’t either of those.

That’s a weird way to introduce a few thoughts about the American Top 40 show from August 16, 1986, but it’s what I found myself pondering as the show went along. I have just enough of the word count left to get started; we’ll finish it up in a future installment.

40. “Two of Hearts”/Stacey Q. During the football season of 1986, I made a bet with a DJ friend on the outcome of a game between the colleges in the towns where we worked. The loser had to sing along with “Two of Hearts” on the winner’s show. I hated “Two of Hearts” back then. Today I realize that what I hate is the stuttering electronic “I-I-I-I-I-I need you” effect. The rest of the song isn’t nearly so awful.

(I won the bet.)

38. “Take It Easy”/Andy Taylor. I have utterly no memory of “Take It Easy,” but I do remember the spate of Duran Duran side projects, including Arcadia, Power Station, and various solo singles. Apart from Power Station, none of them did much for me, and I dug Power Station because I was a Robert Palmer fan.

37. “Modern Woman”/Billy Joel. “Modern Woman” is probably meant to sound like a progressive take on 80s relationships but it comes off smug nevertheless; Billy can’t hide his condescension even though “she’s got style and she’s got her own money.” Notable lyric line: “After 1986 what else could be new?”

36. “Digging Your Scene”/Blow Monkeys
34. “The Captain of Her Heart”/Double
I adored “Digging Your Scene” back then, and I still like it today, even though the Blow Monkeys sound to me like they want to be funky but not break a sweat. “The Captain of Her Heart” represents an impressive level of white-boy soul for two dudes from Switzerland.

35. “Hanging on a Heart Attack”/Device. Device was fronted by Holly Knight, who would become one of the most esteemed songwriters in the business over the next three decades. I can’t say whether or not I like “Hanging on a Heart Attack,” but I can tell you that few records sound more like 1986.

Coming in the next installment: songs of the summer, songs that disappeared, and a ton of iconic 80s stars and hits including Huey Lewis and the News, Genesis, Wham, Lionel Richie, Madonna, and a bunch of others. Stay tuned.

[jingle out]

Bad, Wild, and Crazy

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(Pictured: police look for clues in the house where Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were murdered by members of the Manson Family on August 10, 1969.)

In August 1969, I spent a few days with my favorite cousin at his house. I remember picking up the paper one afternoon to read a story about some terrible murders that happened in Los Angeles. I didn’t recognize the names of anyone involved, although they would become familiar to me as I read the papers over the next several months: Tate, LaBianca, Folger, Frykowski, Sebring, Parent, Manson, Van Houten, Krenwinkel, Atkins, Kasabian, and others. By the time I started listening to the radio in 1970 and hearing news on the hour, Charles Manson and his family members were on trial. Over the years, the Tate-LaBianca murders and the Manson Family held a grim fascination for me; at some point in high school, I would read prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s story of the case, Helter Skelter, in a single weekend.

Fifty years after the murders—a half-century to the very weekend—I read another book about the case in a couple of days. Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill claims that the theory of the case advanced by Bugliosi—that the murders were inspired by Manson’s interpretation of the Beatles’ White Album and were intended to start a race war—was simply not the reason, and that Bugliosi hid and/or distorted evidence in his desire to get a conviction that would advance his career. (One of Bugliosi’s colleagues, reviewing O’Neill’s research, told the author that it would be sufficient to get the 1971 verdicts against the Manson Family overturned.)

As to exactly what was the reason for the killings—that’s where it gets murky. O’Neill shows time and again the strange ways in which Manson was seemingly protected by the LAPD and the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department and by various probation officers, but he never found out why. He explores Manson’s connections to music-industry figures Dennis Wilson and Terry Melcher, but doesn’t connect many dots. Before he’s done, O’Neill gets into the possibility that the FBI’s political surveillance program, COINTELPRO, and the CIA’s Operation CHAOS program, which spied illegally on Americans perceived as domestic enemies, might have been involved in the case. O’Neill even suggests a possible connection between the Manson murders and the famous CIA mind-control program MK-ULTRA.

As it is my practice to look sideways at MK-ULTRA—it is frequently a one-size-fits-all explanation for all manner of lunacy—I found the last part of the book disappointing. The first half, in which O’Neill retells the story of the murders and the trial, and details his ten-year investigation into what happened, is much better. If you have an interest in the Tate-LaBianca case (and especially if you read Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter back in the day), O’Neill’s book is worth reading. It’s a well-written and fast-moving tale of events that still retain the capacity to shock, and the unsolved mysteries that still surround them a half-century later.

Also on the Reading List: If murder and mind control don’t appeal to you, read Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the 80s Changed Hollywood Forever, by Nick de Semlyen instead. It’s about the period from Animal House through Groundhog Day, late 70s to early 90s, when Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, and John Candy were among Hollywood’s most prominent stars. Not every one of their movies was good—if Chase was offered more than one project at a time, he frequently chose the worst one, and Aykroyd had more misses than hits—but the best of them (Animal House, Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Vacation, Ghostbusters, Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop, Groundhog Day) are among the most reliably entertaining films ever made. They did not replay the same premise every weekend. Their stars and their filmmakers had recognizable personalities and styles. The movies were not focus-grouped into existence and marketed the same way.

Wild and Crazy Guys is a fast read, partly because you don’t want to put it down, not necessarily because it’s filled with previously unknown revelations, which it isn’t, but because it covers a bygone-and-much-missed era in pop-culture history, a time when Hollywood’s ambitions weren’t as small as they are today. It will make you want to dig into your DVDs, visit the public library DVD section, or find a stream to revisit movies you remember from decades ago.

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