Up through the summer of 1984, life was still pretty carefree. After that, it was the stress of graduation, marriage, my internship, my old roommate’s wedding, finding a place to live and all the other crap that comes along with “growing up.” But, man, I packed a lot of living into those first eight months of that year. Most notably, I got the experience of riding in Bike-A-Thon on a team of complete rookies that made a big statement for those two-weeks of qualification, daily interviews with the school paper and, finally, the race itself. And, all of that was awesome, but it did not compare to winning the campus intramural basketball championship.
You see, when the season started, I began on our dorm’s B team, which was okay. But, I knew I could play on the A team. Their reasoning was that these guys had been playing together for two years and felt they had a shot at the championship. So, when the tournament rolled around, I played two games early in the morning on a Saturday in January. I had two decent games, scoring 10 and 15 points in the games, but our team got ousted by some pretty good teams.
As the second game was ending, I went on an eight-point tear in the last minute to bring our team within three points as the game ended. After the game, some of the guys on the A team came up to me and asked me to play in the rest of the tournament that day because their shooting guard was injured. So, I stepped in never realizing I would be starting. We were playing the defending campus champions, and they were focusing on our 6’8 offensive lineman, who later had a cup of tea in the NFL with the Packers, and our 6’5 defensive end who would later be signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Plus, we had a silky smooth point guard who called himself “Magic.” Our small forward was my 6′ roommate.
The great thing about playing with guys who know how to play basketball is that they understand how to move the basketball to the open player, having the confidence they will make the basket. So, when the big went into our big guys, they would kick it out. Since the other team didn’t know me, I was left open all day long. That meant I was playing horse in the driveway all by myself again. The absolutely dumbest thing is that those guys let me torch them for three quarters as I racked up 28 points. By the fourth quarter, when they finally stuck someone on me, we were up 20 points. It was then that things got fun, as I would simply give a shot fake, drive and kick to one of the bigs, and the game was essentially over. Now, it was on to the championship game.
In the championship game, the other team was way too focused on me, which left the big guys open on reverse passes. I did score in double figures but not like that first game. It was so fun to play with guys that caliber. If I am expected to be the best player on my team, we are in trouble. But, when I am the third option, that’s when I can be dangerous. Fortunately, we had four terrific athletes that took the pressure off of me. And, by playing team ball, we won the championship. The best part was the other four said they wished they had played with me all season long, which was pretty cool of them.
That happened to be the last real competitive basketball game I ever played in. Sure, I played against college kids in Oxford, Ohio, all the time, in addition to being in some leagues in my late-twenties and early-thirties. And, of course, I played with other teachers and old guys every morning for a couple of years and in student-faculty games. But, those were just to “stay-in-shape” games, not at all early-twenty-somethings going at each other. Of course, I did spend that evening in and out of ice baths trying to flush the lactic acid out of my legs. But, it was worth it, getting another championship during that junior year.
But, man, 1984 had some terrific music! After the success of Thriller, it seemed like the industry was primed for the mega-selling albums that spawned about half-dozen hit singles. Lester Bangs’ worst nightmare was coming true as rock music had become a commodity.
So, let’s get this ball rolling.
“Weird Al” Yankovic – In 3-D (1984). Other than maybe Cheech & Chong, no other comedy person did more for rock music than did “Weird Al.” If your song was not parodied in some manner by this genius then your song did not matter in our culture. But his true brilliance was seen in the shot-for-shot parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video, which, of course, was titled “Eat It.” And, this album represents Yankovic’s finest moment, though that one is truly difficult to ascertain since he has maintained his excellence throughout his career. Still, to this day, I will lobby for his “Polkas on 45” as he definitive statement as he set classic rock staples to polka music in medley form. There should be a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the clown prince of rock, “Weird Al” Yankovic!
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984). There was a time when Bruce Springsteen was one of the five biggest stars in the universe, and that time lasted from 1984 through 1986. This album made him a star amongst stars, but it was the adjoining tour that sent him through the roof. Everything he had worked for came to fruition on this album that is full of great songs, great playing and great energy. And if you strip away all of the hit songs, “Bobby Jean,” his ode to Little Steven Van Zandt, who was about to depart the E Street Band for a solo career, remains the best song on the album. And, I will always have a special place in my heart for “Dancing in the Dark,” which I used to describe as The Boss doing his best Duran Duran impression. Lastly, will someone PLEASE read the lyrics to “Born in the U.S.A.”? It’s not exactly the biggest ringing endorsement of conservatism.
Bryan Adams – Reckless (1984). You know, I will be honest. I loved Bryan Adams’ first two albums and was excited for this one to be released. Initially, the album let me down. Then, for some reason, maybe it was just the whole Heartland Rocker moment, but this album blew up. And, now that we are sneaking up on 40 years onward, I find the album to be pretty good. And, I have always loved that he teamed up with Tina Turner on “It’s Only Love.”
Cocteau Twins – Treasure (1984). For the uninitiated, Cocteau Twins are a English band that was integral in the development of a strain of alternative music now referred to as “dream pop.” Their music is ethereal and relaxing, yet with enough of an edge to engage some of the most ardent hard rockers around. This band has not received the notoriety they deserve, as the cracked open a door that was followed by diverse artists as the Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and to a lesser extent, Sixpence None the Richer. They were definitely swimming against the sounds of the time by creating something absolutely timeless.
Daryl Hall & John Oates – Big Bam Boom (1984). The dynamic duo of the Eighties concluded their unprecedented run of high quality music with this hip hop-influenced album. Maybe the boys were simply worn out by this point, but you can tell they were ready to pull back a bit and reduce the craziness that had been created around them. In retrospect, when compared to the other albums during this fantastic run, this album seems like they relied upon studio wizardry to cover up some songs be a little below their standards. Regardless, “Out of Touch” remains a milestone.
Echo & the Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984). The Bunnymen made a great debut, then experimented a bit on their sophomore release by adding some Cocteau Twins-like touches. But, everything came together beautifully on this third album. The cut to remember is the majestic and haunting “The Killing Moon,” which throws a large shadow over the rest of the album, however unfair that is. This is an ornate and intricate album that has subdued guitars, evocative strings and the Jim Morrison-like vocals of Ian McCullough.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome (1984). Through 1983 and into 1984, the Liverpool band Frankie Goes to Hollywood was making the largest musical waves since the Sex Pistols nearly a decade earlier. The band had released two classic singles in the Eighties milestone “Relax” and the overtly political “Two Tribes,” all of which were produced by the scolding hot Trevor Horn. Additionally, the band was something of a cultural phenomenon across the pond with their “Frankie Says…” T-shirts selling like hotcakes. So, when it was announced that the band’s debut album would be a double album, critics were immediately decrying this album before it every hit the retail market. Now that the dust has settled over the past 35+ years since its release, this is a pretty good album. Although it reeks of parachute pants, cocaine (though I have no idea what cocaine smells like), AIDS-era condoms and Eighties technology, it does so in nostalgic way.
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984). The rock opera of the Eighties created by a hardcore band who never lost touch with their pop side. This was the first album that described the underbelly of white America as trickle-down economics swept the world. This is a brilliant album that fuses the sonics of thrash guitars with the speed of punk on amphetamines AND crack, while still remaining in touch with their inner Knack. Not a fun album at all, but one based in reality.
Los Lobos – How Will the Wolf Survive? (1984). Talk about a left-field hit! Even for the Eighties, who would have predicted that a band from East LA, who were predominantly Hispanic, would bring together a mix of Tex Mex, Americana, the bastardized rockabilly of X and pure Mexican culture to the mainstream? And, this represented the band’s full-length debut. Fortunately for fans of the band, this album was only a starting point for the band, as they went on a trajectory that is most comparable to Radiohead in its breadth. I really cannot say enough about Los Lobos.
Madonna – Like a Virgin (1984). This was the album that broke Madonna into the stratosphere. After this one, every little girl around the world was dressing like her. All of a sudden, we collectively let go of our Cyndi Lauper fixations and realized that Madonna would be our queen during the Eighties and beyond. Oh, and who produced this album? Nile Rodgers, of course!
Metallica – Ride the Lightning (1984). During a time when glam metal was beginning to exert its dominance over the rock world, along comes this little San Francisco metal band who played a new kind of sound that people called thrash metal. They sped up the Motörhead sound, put wild guitar playing into it, and simply rocked our minds. And, although their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All, caught the ears of the metal underground, this album was the one that propelled the band a bit above ground. This is the sound of Rush being sped up, steroided up and played very loud.
Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984). Minutemen were yet another West Coast band that based their whole vision in the punk aesthetic. They were a very nimble trio of musicians who were able to shift from punk to the blues to jazz to all other kinds of noise. Unfortunately, they never got the opportunity to see their careers into the alternative age they spawned as an automobile accident ripped guitarist D. Boon way too early from this world. During a stellar year for music from the underground by the likes of R.E.M., Los Lobos, The Smiths, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and so many others, Double Nickels on the Dime still leads the way for me.
Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain (1984). My goodness, was their ever such a cultural measuring stick than what Prince wrought with this album, movie and set of singles? Honestly, not since The Beatles had a musical artist unleashed such a powerhouse move. This was the moment to which His Purple Badness had been working his whole life. And, then he had attained everything. What was next? The freedom to follow his muse in any direction he felt fit. Of course, the bandwagon jumpers and other hipsters left him the moment he did not release Purple Rain II. But, those who recognized his genius were in for the musical trip of all-time. And, for a moment, Prince was the largest star in a big year for musical stars (I’m talking about Michael, Madonna, The Boss, Van Halen, Wham!, etc.).
And that wraps up Day 1 for 1984. Until next time, follow the words of the prophet Casey Kasem when he said, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Peace.