Before They Make Me Run

In mid-June 1978, I walked into one of the two independent record stores in town. As I was browsing through the albums, I had brought enough money to purchase three albums. I was on a mission to purchase two specific albums: REO Speedwagon’s You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish and Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf. Those two were definite. The third one was going to be one in which I was going to purchase according to the recommendation of the guy working there that day.

So, I walked up to the clerk and asked him which album was “hot” right now. He told me that I didn’t want the hot album since it was the Grease soundtrack. Instead, he lead me to the just-released Rolling Stones’ album Some Girls. The Stones?!?! The clerk and I had just been disparaging the Stones’ 1977 live album, Love You Live. We had been playing the album in the store just six months earlier, when neither of us could take it any more. Sorry Stones fans, especially to you, Troy Swafford, but that album sucked. So, totally on the clerk’s endorsement, I bought the album. Since I had purchased the album BEFORE the Stones got sued over the unauthorized use of famous women’s images on the cover, I still have an unedited cover. Lucky me…I guess. Unfortunately, thousands of records with this cover are still available so it is not as rare as I hoped it would.

Needless to say, when I got home, I listened to REO first, which was a pretty good listen. Then, it was on to Meat Loaf. I was surprised when I found out that Bat Out of Hell was actually a good album. After Meat was done cooking, it was time for the Stones. I was not ready for what I was about to hear. When the needle popped into the grooves of the vinyl, I heard the opening bottom end of one of the band’s greatest song, “Miss You”. The rock gods were stealing back the dance floor, much as Blondie would do later in the year with “Heart of Glass”. Okay, I was hooked, but I also knew these guys were pushing 40, and no rock artists of that age had created new, exciting music. At least, that’s what the Sex Pistols and rock critic Lester Bangs were telling me.

So, if “Miss You” was the Stones statement on disco and the dance world and how those genres were long part of the rock world, the next song, “When the Whip Comes Down” starts to reclaim the punk sound from the punks themselves. Yes, the lyrics were alluding to masochism, but it was also a statement to the Sex Pistols, The Clash and the rest of the UK punk scene since it seemed to have a ground zero of Malcolm McLaren’s fashion boutique called SEX. The clothing sold there included sadomasochism wardrobe, so with that knowledge, you begin to understand the politics of that song, not only by incorporating punk’s sound, but also by making a veiled threat against the punks who were attempting to throw the Stones off their throne.

As Side One plays on, the Stones remind us a couple of things about them. First, they were the masters of rock music as they blast through a Motown cover of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” reminding everyone that the Stones grew up in the R&B and Blues worlds. Then, song four, “Some Girls”, that the Stones were the original punks as the use foul language and chauvinistic lyrics against the groupies that they have come to know over the years. And, finally, the Stones end Side One with “Lies”, with lyrics that are aimed at their detractors: the punks and the critics. Basically, Side One was the Rolling Stones reclaiming their crown over the rock world.

As the turntable clicked off as Side One ended, I bounced across my old teenager bedroom to flip that album over in anticipation. I was hooked on this album. But, my relatively small sample of album listens had taught me that occasionally you will get an album that has one great side and one clunker side. So, as Side Two began, I was dumbfounded by the music of that first song. Wait! The Stones were playing country. I knew that they dabbled in country in the late-1960s/early-1970s while they were hanging out with than country gadfly Gram Parsons. But, during those years, their version of country was way different than what I was hearing as “Far Away Eyes” played on. Then, as I began to listen more closely to the lyrics that were being sloppily sung, I noticed parody and sarcasm, both which were right in my wheelhouse. Not only were these “old” geezers showing me that they could play any genre, but they also had mastered parody in their lyrics about televangelists.

After that aside, the Stones got back to the hard, fast rocking that the punks were trying to make theirs. But all of a sudden, The Stones were showing they still had life in their instruments. They burn through “Respectable”, and then through Keith Richard’s cowboy song “Before They Make Me Run”. The latter song became one of my running songs that year, especially when I took a recorded tape of the album to Colorado for that national track meet. When I had that song in my mind, I ran well. The beat seemed conducive to running, at least it worked for me.

After those two rocking songs, the Stones gave us a ballad, “Beast of Burden”. But, come on! This is NOT going to be a normal ballad. Nope, Mick and Keith dipped back into the masochistic lyrics to provide lyrics that worked on three levels: the level to offend, the veiled directives to the UK punks and a word or two to those groupies hanging around them with the hope of one the Stones falling in love with them. It wasn’t going to happen.

And, just when I thought the Stones would cruise out the last song on the album, they saved arguably the best song for last: “Shattered”. That song is an amalgam of nearly everything they did on the album. They were “out-punking” the punks, out dancing the dancers and out-rocker the-now-classic rockers. The Rolling Stones were closing out their Some Girls album with one of their greatest songs of all-time.

When the album ended, I was blown away. My jaw was probably lying on the floor. All I could do was stand up, grab my basketball and go outside to shoot 500 shots. There was nothing else I could do when I had just listened to one of the great albums of all-time. By the way, I will experience this kind of euphoria just a couple of more times between that moment and the end of 1984. There are many albums that I love to listen to, but there are few that totally blew my minds. And, Some Girls was my first. Remember, I had no intention in buying this album when I arrived at the record store that day.

The Summer of ’79

If you were in high school during the Summer of ’79 then you’re middle aged, possibly even considered “old”. It was the last summer of the “Me Decade”, though I felt like we’ve become more egocentric in the previous decades than compared to the ’70s. I’ll leave that one for the sociologists and historians to hash out. I’m hear to talk about rock music in all of its forms of glory.

During the Summer of ’79, my musical horizon expanded seemingly in a logarithmic fashion. All of a sudden, Central Indiana radio was blaring new wave, power pop, rap, funk, and for a very short time you thought that maybe the local stations were catching up to the rest of the world. It was simply that summer, but what a summer it was, musically speaking. That summer, I discovered Talking Heads (Fear of Music), Joe Jackson (Look Sharp!), Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”), Frank Zappa (“Dancing Fool” from Sheik Yer Bouti), The Cars (Candy-o), Bram Tchaikovsky (“Girl of My Dreams” and “Lady from the U.S.A.”), Funkadelic (“Aqua Boogie”), just to name a few. One of my all-time favorite bands became my favorite band that summer, Cheap Trick, due to the success of “I Want You to Want Me” and their ‘Cheap Trick at Budokan’. But, that summer belonged to a band that I feel gets a hard knock. That band blasted out of L.A. and seemed to be playing everywhere I went that summer. The Summer of ’79 was the summer that young people my age got a STD-sounding disease called The Knack. “My Sharona” was the first single and became the biggest selling song of the year. Their debut album was the great Get the Knack. And, all of us teens, well, we got the whole thing.

But, for some reason, the Boomers didn’t get the Knack. I read poor review after poor review of the album in my sacred music magazines. Rolling Stone and Creem magazines were blasting the Knack’s appropriation of the Beatles’ images, when we all understood the parody and how the Knack was honoring the Beatles. The critics hated the Beatesque sound, while the youth understood the whole joke. But, what is forgotten by everyone is that their debut album is a straight-up, bona fied classic.

The whole purpose of New Wave or Power Pop or Punk or whatever you want to call the “alternative” music made back then was post-modern in both sound and image. Bands that sold far less than the Knack were praised for this appropriation. Yes, the Knack got bad advise from their management team to keep them from interviews in big magazines (Rolling Stone has always acted like a little girl who doesn’t get their way when artists turn down their requests for interviews. The magazine will always try to destroy the artist’s career in retribution. And, the turned down a spot on Saturday Night Live, as well. But, remember this: Aykroyd and Belushi were gone from the cast that year, so they felt their exposure was limited. Still, the members have all stated regret. The last straw happened when the band’s management turned down a performance spot on the Grammy Awards Show in March 1980. The final nail in their coffin was that the Knack listened to their label to release another album in less than a year. Everyone could have used a break, especially the creative force in the Knack, Doug Fieger. To compensate, the members of the band turned to drugs to pick them up. But, as we know now, drugs ain’t good for anybody.

However, the Knack did give us one of the finest albums from our youth. Get the Knack is loaded with great songs, with nods toward their ’60s music heroes The Who, The Kinks and, yes, the Beatles, as well as Badfinger and Raspberries. The best part of the album is the discovery that all the members of the Knack are terrific musicians.

Get the Knack opens with one of the greatest opening four songs that I have EVER heard on an album. The album kicks off with the rocking, seemingly amphetamine-charged “Let Me Out”. This was a call-to-arms of a generation tired of endless guitar solos and virtuoso drum solos. Now, we were getting a simple, straight-ahead rock song that would be a fantastic concert opener.

Their is barely a break between “Let Me Out” and the next song, “Your Number or Your Name”. Now, the momentum slows half a step, as the singer (Fieger) pleads to a girl that he just needs to know her phone number or, at the very least, her name. Guys can all relate to that moment when you met a beautiful young lady and get had to get her number or her name. Most of the time, I was too awkward to talk to the girl, so I simply tortured myself as I left the dance.

The third song was Fieger’s first song whose title is the name of a girl, “Oh Tara”. Fieger is great at voicing the unrequited love of a teenage boy for a teenage girl.

It is with the fourth song that we begin to see the nasty side of Fieger. The song is “(She’s So) Selfish”. The singer has had it with his own ineptitude with talking with women. So, the problem as got to be the girl. Now, this girl has a reputation, whether that reputation is deserved or not is up for debate, but she won’t show her reputation to the sing er, so he’s pissed. So, what’s a pissed off teenage male to do? Uh, write a song knocking the girl’s image to smithereens. Classy me? No! But, isn’t it what every teenage guy feels when in that situation? Unfortunately, yes. The only thing is that we don’t write a highly infectious song set to a modified Bo Diddley beat at a break neck pace.

On the next-to-last song of Side 1, the Knack turns down the speed a bit for their first ballad of the album. The song, “Maybe Tonight”, has some Beatlesque effects, all the while giving a passing nod to a couple other power pop ancestors, Small Faces and the Hollies. Once again the singer is putting his, uh, horniness to words and music, but with a sense of resignation that his elusive dream surrounding his virginity will never take place.

Finally, Side 1 ends with the great male putdown to an “experienced” girl who shuns the singer’s advances with “Good Girls Don’t”. So, the singer takes out this girl that he is only dating for one reason, and guess what? She’s too easy for the singer! Wow! The guy really wants romance before the connection as his first. So, he’s never going to be a guy who accumulates may notches on his bedpost with this attitude. I will always remember getting so mad that our high school radio station General Manager/Teacher would not let us play that song. As a teen, I was appalled, but as a parent I get it. Well, that radio experience is a whole other story. Next!

Of course, we get up, turn over the album, and cue the needle to play the first song on Side 2, “My Sharona”. What can I possibly say about “My Sharona” that hasn’t been said before? First, it is a great, great song. It should be remembered as one of the greatest of all Fieger and Sharona did get together for a short yet intense relationship that burned out within a couple of years.

Now, its on Side 2 that the album begins to loose a little momentum. But, how could a band on their debut album be expected to maintain the high quality of their first seven songs? “Heatbeat” is a run-of-the-mill power pop song that is nice, but not of the high quality set by Side 1 and “Sharona”. The same can be said for the third song on Side 2, “Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)”. The songs are serviceable, but not classic. I could say that they are the type of songs that when played live, the band can stretch it’s collective muscles and display their strengths in a concert setting. But, the studio versions are a little on the boring side.

Next, we get our third song about a specific girl, “Lucinda”. It is a great power pop love song to a girl. My guess is that Fieger used Lucinda in stead of Sharona. Regardless, the song is bitter.power pop ballad song that contains an awesome guitar solo that utilizes a “talk box,” as popularized by Peter Frampton on “Do You Feel Like I Do”. I honestly always have felt this song was placed so the listen could catch his or her breath before the last two songs.

On the next-to-last song on the album, “That’s What the Little Girls Do”, Fieger is singing about all the different way in which he has had his heart broken by a girl. He does a great job putting into words how guys get not only their hearts broken by girls, but also their egos. No one has said that in a song until the Knack did.

To close out the album, the Knack offers up “Frustrated”. This is the “Satisfaction” for the older Generation X-ers. Now, Fieger has expressed our true emotions about all the parameters of a relationship. Yes, guys are wanting “it” all the time back then, and most of the girls in their teens want their Prince Charmings and unicorns and fireworks that everyone has a different opinion how the deed should go down, leading to all of the tension of the lyrics.

1979 holds a special place in my heart from a musical standpoint. I was beginning to dabble in the non-AOR world of punk, funk, power pop and anything else that was not REO, Styx, Foreigner, Neil Diamond, etc. I could not wait to get to college to see how my musical tastes diversified. And, Get the Knack played a huge role in the development. It’s a shame that the critics played such a heinous role in the demise of the Knack. We could have really had the voice of the older Gen X generation before U2 and R.E.M. and Tom Petty all moved in to fill that void after the Knack exploded and the Clash imploded and the Police popped after being somewhat bloated. Forget “Knuke the Knack”! Long live Get the Knack!

You Wanted the Best, and You Got It!

Let’s go back to Christmas 1975. It seemed as though everyone in my world all got a copy of the classic album ‘Kiss Alive!’ My neighbor friend, Kim & Lori Dunwiddie, got a copy. My good buddy Mike Bond also got a copy. Even though that album was at the top of my Christmas wishlist, I did not receive a copy, though I did get Elton John’s ‘Greatest Hits’ & ‘Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy’. By most standards, I had a fantastic Christmas. But, being a self-centered, bratty teen, I pined for ‘Kiss Alive!’ However, the big ticket item that I got for Christmas 1975 was a combination record player, cassette player/recorder & 8-track tape player that was built like a radio station’s console, complete with a working microphone. So, that DJ record system would come into play soon enough

Now, when it came to Christmas Breaks, Mike Bond and I traded back and forth staying at each others’ house. On New Year’s Eve that year, Mike was at my house. We had planned a fun night of “DJ-ing”, listening to the 1975 year-end music countdown, listening to his copy of ‘Kiss Alive!’, watching ‘Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve’ & a special Bay City Rollers concert recording that played at 1 AM New Year’s Day right after the ‘Dick Clark’ special. When you are hyperactive teenage boys, all of that is possible!

But, to be honest, we DJ-ed most of the night. We did a Top 10 countdown with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” being the number one song that year. I don’t remember the order of the songs, but I do know that KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” and “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers were on that list. Of course, we recorded the whole show, which we thought was brilliant but, in retrospect, it was probably a squirrelly teenage boy mess.

So, what was it about ‘Kiss Alive!’ that appealed to teenagers back then? First, the music was aggressive, simple and fun. There was no mixture of rock and roll with some vaudeville showmanship, which is what truly captured our imaginations. From the start of the album with JR Smalling’s now classic introduction, “You wanted the best, and you got it. The hottest band in the land…KISS!” all the way through the last song “Let Me Go Rock and Roll”, the listener was hit over the head with simple hard rock songs that paid homage to glitter albums and songs by great artists such as Slade and the New York Dolls. Then, inside the gatefold album were concert images of an audience. Inside, you could read personalized notes from each band member to you. On the back cover was a photo of a packed crowd of the audience from a concert venue. But, in the front of that photo was a huge sign of hand-drawn faces of the members of KISS with the band’s name above the faces. The sign is being held by some teenage males ready for the concert.

Then, the band had the brilliant idea to include a small program that showed the band in action. You saw the demon spitting blood or getting ready to breathe fire. You can also see the cat playing drums on a high raiser, or Space Ace playing a guitar that was shooting out fireworks. How could all of the photos, the facial make-up and the hard rock pop songs not capture the imagination of a teenager, especially the males.

The music was simple, plodding music that was played aggressively at a loud volume. Something else that captured my imagination was Paul Stanley’s between-song banter with the crowd. The whole double-album could capture a teen’s imagination. Side One was perfectly sequenced to capture my attention, from the opening number of “Deuce”, through “Strutter”, “Got to Choose”, “Hotter Than Hell” to the last song on that side, “Firehouse”. For me, the middle two sides lost a little of the momentum set by Side One. The highlights of Sides Two and Three were “C’mon and Love Me” and “Black Diamond”. But the momentum was recaptured on Side Four.

Side Four begins slowly with “Rock Bottom” but builds with each successive song. Paul Stanley’s introduction to “Cold Gin” is as classic as the song. The third song is the one we have all been waiting for, “Rock and Roll All Nite”. Paul introduces the song, then the band joins together to blast the song into the listener’s chest and works its way down, making you want to both dance and make-out with that special girl you couldn’t even begin to talk to, even though you two have been “going steady” since the beginning of the school year. The whole concert ends with “Let Me Go Rock and Roll”, a call-to-arms to all teens listening to join their fanclub called “The Kiss Army”.

All in all, the album changed everything. Like I said, I was listening to the Bay City Rollers (though I think the early stuff by the band is some of power pop’s finest material) and mostly Top 40 music until “Kiss Alive!” came along. After that album, my tastes began to move in all directions. Within the next year, I will be listening to Rush, Thin Lizzy, Parliament, Ramones, Queen, et al. Still, ‘Kiss Alive!’ is the album that changed my musical tastes forever. It’s no wonder that so many people my age started metal bandsin the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Over time, I have come to enjoy the CD version of this album because you can listen to the complete concert without ever needing to “flip” sides. Still, I still love vinyl because of the warmth of the sound. One last thing: Thanks Ace, Gene, Paul & Peter for opening up my musical world.

Ever Feel Music Is Your Only Friend?

What is it about music?  Scientists have studied music over the years, heck, even decades, and the way humans associate emotions with certain songs.  And, this is especially true for us up to the age of around 30 years-old.  As we are growing up, everything is new and exciting, so it become easy to associate both good and bad experiences with various songs.  That’s why some of us developed something of a kinship with certain types of music that first captured our attention with the type of music, followed by the lyrics.  To some of us who were socially awkward in our teens, much of this music became the way in which we communicated with our feelings.  Like me.

When I was initially hooked by rock, it was the music. The first artist whose music that hooked me was “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper.  I loved the aggression of the song at the time, as well as the lyrics’ rebellious nature.  Fortunately for me, my uncle, a former high school history teacher, and aunt, bought me the 8-track tape version of the album upon the recommendation of his students.  Those same students recommended that my uncle and aunt buy me 8-track tapes of Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ by The Rolling Stones.  Right there it is, my first jump into the pool.  Finally, at the tender age of 10, I had finally found a way to communicate my feelings and emotions.

Those three tapes seemed to explain most of what was troubling my precocious soul.  Elton and Taupin explained the melancholia that seemed to be nagging at me.  “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” seemed to be saying that everyone feels some yearning, whether that yearning was for a different life path, a sense of loss of one’s youth or a loss of someone important to one’s life, be it through death, break-up or a family being uprooted.  At the age of 10, there was no way I could articulate to my peers the thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing at such a young age.  A psychologist took a crack at me, but she could not explain this, yet Elton could.  It was at this moment that I knew that rock and roll was going to be one outlet for my mental anxieties.

Now, I can listen to most of my records, and they will transport me back to a time and situation during some point in my life.  See, I associate Cheap Trick’s classic first four albums with successful track and cross country performances.  I listen to my ‘Billboard’s Top Hits of 1975’ and a couple of songs whisk me back to my first slow dance or my first kiss.  On the unfortunate side, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ ironically reminds me of my parents’ divorce.  Put on Chic or Sugar Hill Gang, and I experience some many basketball memories, both good and bad.  My Rhino collection of ‘New Wave Hits of the ’80s’ take me back to college.  The Style Council’s first two releases remind me of when I first met, dated and fell in love with my wife.

Yes, I collect music now.  And in that collection, I have locked away much of my memories.  From my 7-inch 45s, through my vinyl albums and into my CDs, I have collected excellent music, as well a soundtrack to my life.  The purpose of my blog is to unlock some of those memories while critiquing the music.

Welcome to my music collection as my music learns to unleash those memories locked into their grooves.  So, let’s sit back and see where this endeavor takes us.  Have a great weekend.