1979 – the year of the Iran hostage crisis, the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and Margaret Thatcher becoming Britain’s first female prime minister. While all of these were tragic events (The English Beat’s Dave Wakeling, for one, would most likely classify the 11-year-reign of the Iron Lady as a tragic event), none of it mattered to me.
In 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, save for maybe some TV, like the original, campy BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and WKRP IN CINCINNATI, or trying to figure out who I liked more – Laverne OR Shirley (some episodes it was both of them).
At age 12, I hadn’t really understood the whole “dysfunctional” dynamic of things, people, environments, music. WKRP was a fictional (and yes, dysfunctional) radio station, and it, too, didn’t matter to me, at first anyway. But, WKRP was different than the real-world goings on. WKRP was fun, funny, smart, and was an integral part of the year that would change my life forever.
With the unintended help of WKRP, I truly discovered music that year – granted, it was mostly pop music, mostly by way of WIGY-FM, a Top 40 station out of Bath, Maine. My favorite DJ at WIGY (Y106 FM) was Willie Mitchell. He had been at WIGY for around 8 years at that point, and had this likeable, confident way about him. I even managed to win a few albums during his afternoon slot, one of them being the 1980 Dire Straits gem, MAKING MOVIES.
WIGY also aired Casey Kasem’s AMERICAN TOP 40 program on Saturdays and Sundays, from 8:00am to noon. I can’t remember at what point in early 1979 I started listening, but when I discovered it, I was glued to the program immediately and every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet.
At first, I used to keep a record of the chart each week in a notebook. If my family was away from Central Maine that weekend, visiting my grandparents in Downeast Maine, for example, I would ask (er, make) my poor parents (and brothers and sisters) to try and find the countdown somewhere on the radio so I wouldn’t miss it. Keep in mind this was many years before the Interweb, and you couldn’t just look this stuff up. AMERICAN TOP 40 took the 40 top songs off of BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 singles chart, and I also couldn’t go to the local bookstore and rummage through the pages of BILLBOARD magazine to find out what was No. 1 on the Hot 100, or any songs I may have missed hearing that week. At least not right away.
Up until WKRP and WIGY and AMERICAN TOP 40, music played almost no role in my life to that point. My mom liked Country & Western music, especially Jim Reeves and Charley Pride, the latter of which she still owns many of his albums (from the 60s through the early 80s). My dad liked Rock ’n’ Roll and some Soul. I remember living in Southwest Harbor, Maine (the self-proclaimed “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island) and my first music memories included listening to a 5th Dimension album with my dad.He also had this K-Tel record titled MUSIC POWER, featuring some popular hits of the day, including The Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl,” “Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room” by Brownsville Junction, Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” “Little Willy” by The Sweet and a minor Top 40 hit by a band called Lighthouse, titled “Pretty Lady,” which I still enjoy to this day. The late, great Jim Croce was also a fixture in the Raymond household, and still is.
My first 45’s were the “Theme From S.W.A.T.” by Rhythm Heritage and “Convoy” by C.W. McCall, both No. 1 songs on the Hot 100 in early 1976 and both of which were broken (for whatever reason) by 1979. The only other 45’s I remember owning prior to 1979 were Billy Joel’s “My Life” and John Williams’ “Theme From Close Encounters Of The Third Kind,” which I still own, though quite beat up after almost 40 years.
45’s were more of a commodity for me in 1979. Whatever money I received that year, and some years to come, were spent on 45’s. Of the 25 No. 1 songs on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in 1979, I think I owned 19 or 20 of them. And that’s just the No. 1’s. The first 45 I bought with my own money was Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Do I wish it had been Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass,” ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” or The Knack’s “My Sharona?” Perhaps, but I still enjoy the song (not to mention the fun 1993 cover by Revolting Cocks), and, you know, the collection had to start somewhere.
Speaking of Blondie, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my first heavy duty music crush – Blondie’s Debbie Harry. I hadn’t even had my first kiss yet (that would come in 1980) and there was Debbie. Holy shit! Stunningly beautiful and talented. Who else could unite disco fans and punk fans with a hit song (“Heart Of Glass”)? ’Twas no easy feat, but Debbie and Blondie did it.
In October 2013, my dear and longtime friend, Shawn Mullin, took me to see Blondie perform in their hometown of New York City for one of the final concerts at the famed Roseland Ballroom. Debbie was 68 years old then (2 years older than my mother), and when she walked out on that stage, Shawn’s and my grade school and junior high crushes, respectively, came rushing back. She totally rocked that stage; they all did. The following year, Blondie celebrate their 40th anniversary and released their 10th studio album, GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD. It was my favorite album of 2014, and I’m still digging it.
The pop music from 1979 will forever hold a special place in my heart because it was the year I started getting into music. When the 2011 J.J. Abrams / Steven Spielberg sci-fi film, SUPER 8, was released, I took my sister and my 10-year-old niece to see it. Michael, one of my best friends, once half-joked that he’d seen that movie before – it was called E.T. I can see some similarities, but for me, I absolutely loved the film. Part of the love for this film stemmed from it being set in 1979, and the main characters were 12 years old, same as me that year. So, I had that connection going. A couple of hit single staples from that year were also featured in the film – the aforementioned “My Sharona” by The Knack and “Don’t Bring Me Down” by the Electric Light Orchestra, two of my all-time favorite songs to this day.
Even though “My Sharona” was 1979’s “song of summer,” I think it has one of those weird distinctions (at least for me) of being referred equally as a 70s song and an 80s song. It had that kind of feel. Another song for me that fits that category is “Pop Muzik” by M (real name Robin Scott). I’ve always contended that “Pop Muzik” epitomized the music of a decade – not the decade it came from, but the next one. And, not surprisingly, it remains as another of my all-time favorites.
Pop muzik, er, music would be a constant in my life for years to come. There were some songs outside of the pop music realm that found their way to me early on, but more on that another time.
Much of this blog will involve time in one way or another (an unintentional 1979 Blondie reference), through autobiographical references like this debut post, my WMPG-FM radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (now in its 20th year), or the 80s itself, whether it’s newer stories about 80s artists or favorite 80s albums, songs or movies, or just thoughts to share along the way.
When the 80s ended, I don’t think I felt or had the connection to the 80s I do today. STUCK IN THE 80s actually started as a one-off radio show in November 1992 when I came back to WUMF (13 watts of alternative power at the University of Maine at Farmington!). Months later (in early 1993), upon moving to Farmington, Maine (in the Western part of Maine, not far from the Sugarloaf Mountain ski area) months later, I was asked to come back to my radio alma mater and continued STUCK IN THE 80s for a semester or two (on Sunday nights, no less; the WMPG version of the show has always aired on Sunday nights).
When I started STUCK IN THE 80s on WMPG in May 1996, it was only on a guest-hosting basis, and, at the time, like many radio shows on WMPG, it existed to fill a music void left by commercial stations in the Portland, Maine area. In the beginning, I would concentrate only on alternative rock and dance music, and wouldn’t even play Madonna for awhile, because you could hear her almost everywhere else at the time.
The show officially started in September 1996, and still in the same time slot on Sunday nights (7-9pm Eastern). Over the years, the show has branched out, highlighting new music from 80s artists, cover songs galore, and even features some pre-80s punk.
I started the show at age 29, and will turn 49 in February 2016. I’ve decided to end STUCK IN THE 80s in late August 2016 after 20 years on the air at WMPG. More on that later on. Trust me – lots of time left to delve into that…
As for the name of the blog, FOREVER YOUNG: MY LIFE STUCK IN THE 80s, “Forever Young” is partially derived from the brilliant 1984 Cold War Classic by Alphaville. It’s also partially due to the fact that the 80s keep me young. It’s true – some of my friends even say I’m “aging in reverse,” which is nice, considering I’m outside of a year away from turning 50.
My dear and über-talented friend, Hope, who helped me get the blog going and who changed the dynamic of the original title of the blog by dropping one word (thank you Hope!), recently said to me that I am a grownup, moving forward with my life and the 80s by my side, and as a part of me; that I’m a grown man who manages to combine my favorite decade – music and culture – with my life now. And, she’s right. Most days, while I may look younger than I am, I am getting older. No stopping that. But, there’s something about the 80s (the music in particular) that passionately and without prejudice propels me into the space/time continuum, and I don’t even need a DeLorean to do it. And, if I ever make it to the 80s and beyond, I know the music and movies of the 80s will keep me “Forever Young”; of that, I’m sure…
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this debut blog post, and I hope you’ll stick around for many more, well before 50 finds me. It’s my first blog of any kind, so you could say it’s pretty special to me, kinda like the “pop muzik” of 1979. Music from the Fall of 1979, such as “My Sharona” or “Pop Muzik” or “Dreaming” by Blondie (one of my “desert island discs”), is where the 80s started for me, so what better place for me to start sharing the story of FOREVER YOUNG: MY LIFE STUCK IN THE 80s…