song of the day – “Cuyahoga” | R.E.M. | 1986.

lifes rich pageantOne of my friends and longtime supporters of my little 80s radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (Sunday nights 7-9E on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine) reminded me that on this date (7.28) in 1986, R.E.M. released their fourth full-length studio album, the brilliant LIFES RICH PAGEANT. 

LIFES RICH PAGEANT was recorded at John Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Belmont, Indiana and mastered by the incredible Bob Ludwig (before he made Portland, Maine his mastering home), this was the album that started the transition from R.E.M. being a College Rock band to something much bigger. 

R.E.M. SPIN 1

R.E.M., photographed for SPIN magazine, 1986.

Featuring such gems as “Superman,” “Begin The Begin,” “I Believe,” “These Days” and “Fall On Me” (a personal favorite of R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe), LIFES RICH PAGEANT is my favorite 80s album by the Athens, GA Alt-Rock heroes.  It also houses one of my all-time favorite R.E.M. songs, “Cuyahoga.”

“Cuyahoga” actually refers to the Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie at Cleveland, Ohio.  According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the name Cuyahoga is “believed to mean ‘crooked river’ and from the Mohawk Indian name Cayagaga, though the Senecas called it Cuyahoga, or ‘place of the jawbone’.”

At one time, the river was so polluted, it became famous for it, and in 1969, actually caught fire.  One of the lyrics in R.E.M.’s eco-friendly song mentions this: “Let’s put our heads together, start a new country up / Underneath the river bed we burned the river down / This is where they walked, swam, hunted, danced and sang / Take a picture here, take a souvenir…” 

An argument could be made that the serious pollution issues and 13 fires in a 100-year span on the Cuyahoga River (especially in 1969) helped spark the environmental movement in the United States, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972).  Also in 1972, Randy Newman’s song “Burn On” referenced the events of the Cuyahoga (and can be heard in the opening credits for the 1989 baseball film set in Cleveland, MAJOR LEAGUE).

cuyahoga river

The Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Today, the Cuyahoga River is in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (established in 2000) and is designated as an American Heritage River.  And, while it’s a much healthier river than it was 40 years ago, there’s still a lot to be done on the Cuyahoga.  I know they’ll get there.  At one time, Maine’s Kennebec River, a 170-mile river that happens to run along the street where my parents’ house is in Central Maine, was once heavily polluted, so much you couldn’t fish or really boat in it, but over the years, the river is thriving and then some (though it could use some rain right now). cuyahoga

You know, like many others, I may have started my love for R.E.M. with “The One I Love” in 1987, but in 2016 (and for many years now), a great deal of my 80s love for R.E.M. continues to reside in LIFES RICH PAGEANT, and the beautiful and brilliant “Cuyahoga.” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1nIMThAKPI

R.E.M. SPIN 2

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song of the day – “Tonight It’s You” | CHEAP TRICK | 1985.

One of the things that amazes me to this day is the where, when, why and how a song evolves from being just a song by a band or a singer to being a FAVORITE song by a band or a singer. 

On this date in 1985, Cheap Trick, one of the hardest working Rock bands out there, whose music I had enjoyed since the 1979 live version of “I Want You To Want Me,” debuted at No. 93 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 with “Tonight It’s You.”tonight it's you

From Cheap Trick’s eighth studio album, STANDING ON THE EDGE, “Tonight It’s You” was the Rockford, Illinois band’s first single to reach the Hot 100 in three years, and the last time they had reached the Top 40 in this country was back in early 1980 with “Voices” (from 1979’s DREAM POLICE album).

“Tonight It’s You” had a great first week on the Hot 100, moving from No. 93 to No. 73, and from there steadily rose an average of 2-3 positions each week.  By the time “Tonight It’s You” reached its No. 44 peak in mid-October 1985, I was more than a month into my first semester at college, attending the (then) New England School of Broadcasting (now Communications, or NESCom for short).  “Tonight It’s You” would stay on the Hot 100 for 17 weeks total, a longer stay than some songs that reach actually No. 1.

standing on the edge

Cheap Trick’s 1985 album, STANDING ON THE EDGE.

 

As to the where, when, why and how “Tonight It’s You” became my favorite Cheap Trick song, well, I think where and when happened while at NESB.  I went there to become a radio broadcaster, and part of the training was to have one weekly morning news slot and one weekly radio DJ slot on the Husson College (now Husson University) radio station, WHSN. 

whsn

Today, they may be Bangor’s Rock Alternative, but back in 1985, WHSN aired Adult Contemporary (AC) music.  I can’t remember if “Tonight It’s You” was considered “AC enough” to be aired on WHSN or if I aired it on my own volition (which I prolly did and is prolly the “how” in this equation), but somewhere along the way, a chord stuck inside of me that semester and I fell right in love with “Tonight It’s You.” 

In the original poetic-like ROLLING STONE review by the amazing David Fricke for STANDING ON THE EDGE, he mentioned this about “Tonight It’s You”:  “‘Tonight It’s You’ is gorgeous Top Forty mischief, reminiscent of the Raspberries’ 1973 neo-operatic nugget, ‘Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).’  Cascading acoustic guitars decorate axeman Rick Nielsen’s wall of monster fuzz while singer Robin Zander wails in front of sheetmetal harmonies. The cumulative effect is like three or four hit songs vacuum-packed into one.”

Cheap Trick would not have another Hot 100 hit until 1988, when their big comeback album, LAP OF LUXURY, gave them their first and, to date, only No. 1 song, “The Flame.”  I don’t know about you, but I can actually hear a bit of “Tonight It’s You” in “The Flame.”  I might not have been conscious of the similarity or inspiration right away, but after nearly 30 years, you’re bound to notice stuff like that.

With my dear and sensationally-talented friend, Hope, I saw Cheap Trick for the first time in 2015 on Portland’s Maine State Pier (opening for Peter Frampton), and they were phenomenal.  Though “Tonight It’s You” wasn’t performed, it was certainly worth the multi-decade wait. Cheap_Trick_Bang,_Zoom,_Crazy..._Hello

This year, Cheap Trick is on the same live bill as Joan Jett and Heart, and the tour was in Mansfield, Massachusetts a few nights ago.  They are also touring in support of their new album (released on 4.1.2016), BANG, ZOOM, CRAZY… HELLO.  It is their first studio album in seven years, and was not only well-received, but it’s their highest-charting album here in America since LAP OF LUXURY back in 1988.

As for the “why” in regards to “Tonight It’s You” being my favorite Cheap Trick song?  Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I do know I can definitely feel the honest passion in Robin Zander’s vocals: “All I want is a place in your heart / To fall into / All I need is someone to love / And tonight it’s you…”  He sings it like he means it, and I believe him.  And, “Tonight It’s You” will always have a place in my heart to fall into…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL251usi-K8

cheap trick

song of the day – “Walk This Way” | RUN-D.M.C. featuring STEVEN TYLER and JOE PERRY of AEROSMITH | 1986.

The first half of the 1980s were not good for the “bad boys from Boston,” Aerosmith.  Along with drug and alcohol addiction issues for some members, the albums ROCK IN A HARD PLACE (released August 1982) and DONE WITH MIRRORS (released October 1985) were both certified Gold, but were labeled as major disappointments for the band.  I honestly thought after DONE WITH MIRRORS was released, Aerosmith was done for good.  Little did I know a miracle for the band was less than a year away, and the source of the miracle was prolly a surprise for almost everyone.

raising hellWhen producer Rick Rubin was working on RAISING HELL, the third studio album for the Hollis, Queens, NYC Hip Hop group, Run-D.M.C., he found himself listening to the 1975 Aerosmith album, TOYS IN THE ATTIC (still the band’s best-selling studio album to date).  Run-D.M.C.’s Joseph Simmons (Run) and Darryl McDaniels (D.M.C) had no idea who Aerosmith were at the time, and did not like Rick Rubin’s suggestion to cover the album’s “Walk This Way” (a No. 10 hit for Aerosmith on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in January / February 1977).  Jam Master Jay, however, was open to the idea.

Well, Run-D.M.C. eventually recorded the cover of “Walk This Way,” and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were brought in to add extra vocals and guitar, and they appeared in the music video.  Having Steven and Joe on the song (and video) proved to be quite the brilliant move.

run dmc steven tyler joe perry

The unlikely – but brilliant – pairing of Rap royalty and Rock royalty…

Parent album RAISING HELL had been out for a month and a half when the single for “Walk This Way” was released on July 4th, 1986.  With help from its wildly-popular music video, “Walk This Way” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 73 on this date in 1986.  (Aerosmith hadn’t appeared on the Hot 100 since early 1980, when “Remember (Walking In The Sand),” their cover of The Shangri-Las’ 1964 hit, stopped at No. 67.)

walk this way single

The cover of “Walk This Way” ended up being a huge hit, spending a week at No. 4 in late September 1986 (and also reached the Top 10 on BILLBOARD’s R&B and Dance charts).  It was the first proper Hip Hop song to reach the Top 5 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100, and it not only helped to break Run-D.M.C. and Hip Hop music into the music mainstream, it paved the way for other Hip Hop acts like LL Cool J, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, while at the same time, was largely responsible for a huge comeback in the career of Aerosmith. 

Around the globe, the turntable-scratching and drum machine-heavy cover of “Walk This Way” reached No. 1 in New Zealand, and the Top 10 in the U.K., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Holland, Norway and Switzerland.  It was certified Gold in the U.S. and Canada, and the video for “Walk This Way” was also nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in 1987.

NERDY FUN FACT: In ROLLING STONE’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the original Aerosmith version of “Walk This Way” is ranked at No. 346 on the list, while the version with Run-D.M.C. is ranked at No. 293.

These days, Joseph Simmons (Run) is a practicing minister (Reverend Run; he released an album in 2005 as Rev Run) and recently had a couple of cable series, REV RUN’S RENOVATIONS and REV RUN’S SUNDAY SUPPERS.  In 2014, Darryl McDaniels (D.M.C.) started his own comic publishing imprint, DARRYL MAKES COMICS, and is still involved in the music industry.  On October 30, 2002, Jam Master Jay was tragically shot and killed in a Jamaica, Queens, recording studio.  Sadly, to date, no one has been prosecuted for Jay’s murder. 

JMJ mural 2002

A tribute mural to Jam Master Jay, 5 Pointz, New York.

Rewinding back to 1987, Aerosmith released PERMANENT VACATION, their ninth studio album, and it sold over 5 million copies in both the U.S. and Canada, and gave them their first Top 20 hits since the original “Walk This Way,” including their biggest hit (to that point), the No. 3 smash ballad, “Angel.”  I saw them on this tour, and they were abso-effing-lutely glad to be back. 

To this day, I am more than certain the second life for Aerosmith wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that incredible collaboration with producer Rick Rubin and the three amazingly-gifted Rap pioneers from Hollis, Queens, NYC…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B_UYYPb-Gk

run dmc

(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “99 Luftballons” | NENA | 1984.

Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers.  Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.

I recently met a couple of nice folks from Germany at WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine, following my little 80s radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s.  Many years ago, STUCK IN THE 80s highlighted acts from Germany and Austria, along with other songs in German, like Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.”

nena

Nena lead singer Gabriele Susanne Kerner.

Their wonderful visit to WMPG reminded me of this show from years ago, and also reminded me how much I love “99 Luftballons” by Nena.  The band Nena was formed in Berlin in 1982, and named after the nickname of lead singer Gabriele Susanne Kerner. 

I wasn’t exposed to much of anything in German in my youth, but somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1983, I heard “99 Luftballons” for the first time, and got sucked right in, like taking in the helium from a balloon.

Don’t let the fun beat fool you – this Cold War Classic had a very interesting story behind it.  You’d think something as fun and harmless as releasing a bunch of balloons in the air would be an okay thing to do.  Unless of course, it’s 1983, and the Cold War is in full go mode.  The balloons, in this case, 99 of them, show up on the radar as UFOs, both sides think it’s a nuclear attack, and then… it really is.

99 luftballons video

From the “99 Luftballons” video.

“99 Luftballons” was released in Germany in February 1983 and made its way on to the BILLBOARD Hot 100 two weeks before Christmas 1983, and by late January 1984, found its way to the Top 40.  “99 Luftballons” certainly had the momentum to reach No. 1, but Van Halen and their monster hit, “Jump,” had other plans. 

“99 Luftballons” had to settle for a peak position of No. 2 on the Hot 100, spending a week there in March 1983.  “Jump” spent 5 weeks at No. 1, and even prevented Cyndi Lauper’s huge feminist anthem, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” from reaching the top.

99 luftballons single

Around the globe, the anti-war message of “99 Luftballons” and its English-language counterpart, “99 Red Balloons,” was well-received, reaching No. 1 in the U.K., Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.

In comparing the German and English versions of this song, as much as I love and adore “99 Luftballons,” I cannot stand (and cannot emphasize how much I cannot stand) “99 Red Balloons.”  The band never even liked the English version (and have never performed it live), and the lyrics aren’t even a direct translation.

NERDY FUN FACT: I remember watching VH1 Classic in 2006, where they were holding a video-thon, if you will, to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief, and you could pledge money to have videos you pick to be aired on the channel.  Someone donated $35,000 to have both the German and English versions of “99 Balloons” play for an entire hour.

Somewhere along the way, I found a 12” remix of “99 Red Balloons,” and, well, let’s just say that some songs shouldn’t be remixed… ever.  But, as for the original German-language version of this Cold War Classic, I’ve got a lot of fond memories, and unlike the balloons in the song, there’s no way I’m letting them go…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La4Dcd1aUcE

nena band

song of the day – “Blue Eyes” | ELTON JOHN | 1982.

Everyone and their mother knows that England’s Elton John has been one of the biggest Rock stars on the planet for a long, long time.  He is BILLBOARD’s third-biggest artist of all-time, and for more than 30 years, Elton John charted at least one song on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 every year between 1970 and 2002, and between 1971’s “Your Song,” his first Top 40 hit on the Hot 100, through his most-recent, 1999’s “Written In The Stars” (with LeAnn Rimes), he has had over 50 Top 40 hits, including nine No. 1 songs.

Out of the wealth of Classic Rock gems like “Your Song,” “Candle In The Wind,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” my favorite Elton John song is prolly among the songs least likely to be a favorite for most: “Blue Eyes,” from his 1982 album, JUMP UP!jump up

Though JUMP UP! was certified as a Silver album in the U.K. and a Gold album here in the U.S., it was not a critically well-received album.  It did, however, give Elton two memorable global hits, “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Garden)” (Elton’s moving tribute to John Lennon), and the wonderful “Blue Eyes.”

Elton John had some well-known musicians on “Blue Eyes,” including Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and longtime bassist for Elton John, Dee Murray (both passed away in 1992), and Academy Award-nominated film composer James Newton Howard (MAJOR LEAGUE, PRETTY WOMAN, THE FUGITIVE, THE SIXTH SENSE, the first two films of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, THE HUNGER GAMES films).  SIDE NOTE: James Newton Howard scored the music for a number of films directed by gifted TV and film legend Garry Marshall, who passed away yesterday (7.19.2016) at the age of 81.

blue eyes

“Blue Eyes” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 on July 10, 1982, wedged at No. 82 between future No. 1 song, “Who Can It Be Now?” by Men At Work, and “Someday, Someway,” the one and only hit (but what a hit!) by the very talented Marshall Crenshaw.  “Blue Eyes” would go on to spend three weeks at No. 12 in October 1982 and ranked at No. 62 for all of 1982.  Elton John was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1983 for “Blue Eyes.”

Around the globe, there was also a bunch of love for “Blue Eyes,” as it reached the Top 10 in the U.K., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland and Switzerland.  Speaking of Australia, the music video for “Blue Eyes” was filmed there, at Sydney’s famed Bondi to Bronte walk.  The song and the video were both dedicated to Elizabeth Taylor.

blue eyes video

From the “Blue Eyes” music video…

To borrow from Elton himself, it’s a little bit funny how “Blue Eyes” didn’t start out to be my favorite Elton John song.  Truth be told, I wasn’t really a big fan of it when the song was popular.  But, it grew on me.  Over the years, it’s lovely piano simplicity has been a comfort, like many other songs by Elton.  Today, I can’t imagine my life without it, and I’m awful proud to call it my favorite Elton John song…

“And I am home again…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CiyKeSnSxk

elton john 1982

song of the day – “Hot In The City” | BILLY IDOL | 1982 / 1988.

The air temperature in Portland today (7.15.2016) got up to 91 degrees, which (if I recall correctly) is pretty uncommon for the Forest City, located right on Casco Bay (well, some parts anyway).  It doesn’t get above 100 degrees in Portland, Maine very often (maybe just four times ever?).  The hottest day I remember while living in Portland was on July 3, 2002. 

march 2015 wmpg time n temp

A beautiful shot of the Time & Temperature Building at night (with WMPG!), blended in with part of the beautiful Portland, Maine skyline, March 2015.  Photograph by Corey Templeton.

One of the tallest buildings in downtown Portland is called the Time & Temperature Building, as it, appropriately enough, flashes the time and temperature (and a short message in the 4-character space sign) 24 hours a day, while facing three sides of the city.  On that hot July day, the Time & Temperature Building showed either 100 or 102 degrees, while the official temperature at the Portland International Jetport (four miles away) for that day was 95 degrees. 

Why do I remember that particular July day of all days?  Well, that was the day I scored the first big interview for my little retro radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s – with the incomparable Cyndi Lauper.  I also got to meet her in Manchester, New Hampshire that night, where she was opening for Cher.  Truly one of the best days of my life.

billyidolWell, with it being so hot today (or rather, hot for Maine standards, anyway), this Billy Idol gem (from his 1982 self-titled, full-length debut album) just seemed right.  That album was released 34 years and a day ago, on July 16, 1982, and “Hot In The City” was the first single released from the album.  “Hot” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 on July 3, 1982, and just over a month later, found its way into the Top 40.  It would go on to spend 4 weeks at No. 23 in September / October 1982, and finished at No. 90 for all of 1982.  Around the globe, “Hot In The City” was pretty hot in New Zealand, where it reached No. 5, Austria (No. 10) and Australia (No. 18).

hot in the city 82“Hot In The City” wasn’t just the first single from the BILLY IDOL album; it was also his first single to to reach the Hot 100.  It’s hard to believe all these years later, but the original version of “Mony Mony,” his popular cover of the Tommy James classic, just missed the Hot 100, stopping at No. 107 (a live version would reach No. 1 in 1987; his only No. 1 in America).

Fast forward five years, and Billy’s 1985 U.K. remix album, VITAL IDOL, had been re-worked and finally issued stateside.  Plus, “Hot” on the heels of the success of the live version of “Mony Mony” (which was still in the Top 40, and, oddly enough, you never hear on the radio just about anywhere), “Hot In The City” re-entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 81, a couple of weeks before Christmas 1987. vital idol 1987

“Hot In The City” attempted to make another run at the Top 40, but stopped short, spending a week at No. 48 in late January 1988.  The 1987 music video of “Hot In The City” (the link to it appears below) was banned by MTV because it shows Billy’s then-girlfriend, Perri Lister, bound to a cross near the end of the video.  Later in 1988, you would hear “Hot In The City” again, as it was featured in the Academy Award-nominated Tom Hanks film, BIG. 

As for the second go-around (the globe), “Hot In The City” fared much better in the U.K., reaching No. 13 (it peaked at No. 58 in 1982), plus Top 30 rankings in Belgium and Canada, and Top 20 rankings in New Zealand (for the second time) and Switzerland.

hot in the city

The 1987 reissue of “Hot In The City.” 

In June 2014, I saw Billy Idol perform (for the first time!) with one of my dear friend(s named) Melissa (in one of only three American dates that year, or that’s what the T-shirt said), and it was well worth the wait.  What an amazingly fun show!  Billy was fit, he was genuinely excited to be there, and he knew exactly how to work that stage and the crowd, not to mention just about all the women in the venue (and with their husbands / boyfriends somehow okay with it).  Steve Stevens was also phenomenal to watch on guitar.

Melissa and I were a little disappointed though – out of the 19 songs Billy Idol performed, “Hot In The City” was the one song we were hoping to hear, but not one he played that night.  Although, when you have 30+ years of material, I know sometimes it’s hard to play everything.  O well.  Would absolutely wholeheartedly love to see him perform again!  Maybe next time he’ll play it, especially if it’s really, truly “hot in the city…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PinBVYKQGeM

billyidolfist

song of the day – “Just Like Honey” | THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN | 1985.

Scottish Alt-Rock / Noise Pop heroes The Jesus & Mary Chain, led by brothers Jim and William Reid, had been around for a couple of years before releasing their brilliant debut album, 1985’s PSYCHOCANDY. 

psychocandy

ROLLING STONE magazine once described PSYCHOCANDY as “bubblegum pop drowned in feedback,” rich with an influence from bands like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground to name a few.

You can definitely hear that “bubblegum pop drowned in feedback” on the gorgeous gem, “Just Like Honey,” the opening song on PSYCHOCANDY.  Released as the third single from the album, “Just Like Honey” reached No. 45 on the U.K. singles chart and prolly got its best exposure in the memorable last scene of the excellent 2003 Academy Award-winning film, LOST IN TRANSLATION, starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, and written, directed and co-produced by Sofia Coppola.

Lost in Translation

NERDY FUN FACT: If the opening drum riff of “Just Like Honey” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s borrowed from the opening drum riff of The Ronettes’ 1963 classic, “Be My Baby,” which has been borrowed or mimicked in several other songs, including Billy Joel’s 1981 live hit, “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.”

just like honey

Sadly, drummer Bobby Gillespie left the band just before PSYCHOCANDY was released, but luckily he already had most of drums for the album recorded.  One day I’ll feature PSYCHOCANDY in full on the blog, but for now, I’m happy to highlight the very sweet “Just Like Honey,” 3 minutes and 2 seconds of Alt-Rock perfection…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EgB__YratE

jesus n mary chain