Tag Archives: 1983

I briefly wanted my MTV

Memory tells me I watched from the beginning as MTV debuted 40 years ago today, on Aug. 1, 1981. A little research proves otherwise.

In Green Bay, my cable system didn’t show MTV that first day. Its programmers said they’d watch MTV off air and then decide whether to carry it. They didn’t add it until the last week of July 1982, almost a year after MTV’s debut. By then, I’d moved to Madison, where it was August 1982 before MTV was added to the local cable system.

Had I been living in the Green Bay suburbs, I’d have seen MTV sooner. The cable system serving the suburbs showed MTV that first day. However, it didn’t have the necessary equipment to air MTV in stereo and dropped MTV from its lineup. MTV returned to the suburban cable system in the spring of 1982.

Perhaps my memory of watching music videos 40 summers ago is that of “Night Flight,” which debuted on the USA Network in the summer of 1981. My cable system carried that.

Why the delays in bringing MTV to Green Bay?

Culturally speaking, MTV might as well have been beamed from another planet to the Green Bay, Wisconsin, of 40 years ago.

Practically speaking, both cable systems serving Green Bay at that time had only a 35-channel capacity. They had to make sure each channel was a sure thing.

At the beginning, MTV wasn’t a sure thing. Nor were many other cable networks back then. It seems almost unbelievable now, but even a year after MTV debuted, cable TV had made few inroads against local TV.

But MTV survived, especially after advertisers realized and tapped into the huge spending power of MTV’s young demographic.

I was part of that young demographic until I wasn’t, and that pretty much describes the arc of my passion for MTV.

I was 25 when I started watching MTV. Writing this, it turns out 1982 to 1985 were my peak MTV-watching years, a shorter time than I’d thought.

What I didn’t see, David Bowie saw. During an interview with VJ Mark Goodman in 1983, he called out MTV for not playing Black artists. That made news. It was a wake-up call for me. After that, I spent more time listening to the local indie radio station, which had a far more diverse and adventurous playlist.

Slowly, my passion for MTV waned. Regular programming started replacing music videos. That wasn’t my cup of tea. By the late ’80s, I’d grown up, gotten older, moved on. MTV had moved on, too, leaving behind a guy in his 30s.

Even so, MTV introduced me to many great artists not heard on the radio until they broke on MTV. If I had to pick three who I watched and then bought their records: Eurythmics, Bananarama and, yeah, Billy Idol. Also, I must confess I never quite got Talking Heads until I saw their videos. Then I got it.

My most memorable videos are the same as for lots of people: “Take on Me” by a-Ha and, of course, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. But it was wonderful seeing videos by Dave Edmunds, one of my faves from long before there were videos.

Plus all those big global movements seen on MTV — Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984 and then Live Aid, Farm Aid (I vividly remember Sammy Hagar, having just joined Van Halen, dropping F-bombs during the live broadcast), U.S.A. for Africa’s “We Are The World” and the best and fiercest of them all, Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City,” all in 1985.

 

 

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Filed under August 2021, Sounds

National anthem performances, ranked

On this Independence Day, a ranking of the top national anthem performances of all time. This is a highly subjective list. Yours likely will be different. That’s what makes America great.

1. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. The national anthem as searing social commentary. A month later, he talked about it with Dick Cavett.

2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.

3. Jose Feliciano at the World Series, 1968. Controversial at the time, it paved the way for Hendrix and everyone else who dared do the anthem a different way. Feliciano’s version came “before the nation was ready for it.” NPR wrote. It “infuriated America,” Deadspin wrote. Ever since, it has “given voice to immigrant pride,” Smithsonian magazine wrote.

4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.

5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991. An epic performance at a time when America desperately wanted to wrap itself in the flag, ESPN wrote. Truth be told, this isn’t one of my favorites because it came at this time and in these circumstances, but it belongs in the top five.

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

Stop chasing the ghosts

Greenville show 2016

That really isn’t advice for you, though feel free to take it if so inclined.

It’s a reminder for me to do a better job of thinking through which shows to pop for, and why.

As this summer began, I had tickets for a Joan Jett/Lynyrd Skynyrd double bill at a big outdoor festival in July and a KISS show at the arena across town in August. Sounded great at first. Turned out differently.

I’d seen Joan Jett twice before. Each time, she was the headliner in a small venue. This time, she was the opening act at that outdoor festival. Different vibe. That’s her, somewhere on that tiny stage just to the left of center in the photo above. Those were my sight lines. You get the idea.

Not surprisingly, a crowd getting primed to see Skynyrd is not necessarily one that will warm to Joan Jett’s occasionally LGBTQ-friendly stylings. They roared for the first three songs and the last four songs — all the hits — then listened politely (as Wisconsin crowds are wont to do) to the 10 songs in the middle that they really didn’t know or dig.

Given that, and the realization that this Skynyrd show would not be better than two I’d already seen — Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell were still alive and performing then —  I left after Jett’s show and before Skynyrd took the stage.

A month later, when it turned out that we were leaving for a trip at 4 a.m. on the morning after the KISS show, I started rethinking that one, too.

As with Skynyrd, I came to the realization that this KISS show would not be better than the one I saw 16 years ago, when all four original members were part of the, ahem, KISS Farewell Tour.

So I sold my ticket to a friend, who gave it to another friend, which is the best part of this story. The guy who wound up with the ticket is a huge KISS fan who had never seen KISS. By all accounts, he had a great time at the show. Which is cool. Which makes me feel better about it all.

Maybe it’s just karma. After all, this vaguely lost summer followed a tremendous spring in which we saw Bruce Springsteen, the Smithereens, Martha Davis and the Motels, Pat Benatar, David Lindley, the Alan Parsons Live Project and the James Hunter Six. Save for Benatar and Lindley, we’d never seen any of them.

When I did see Lindley for that second time, he played the one song I wanted to hear. A song he didn’t play the first time we saw him.

david lindley el rayo-x live lp

“Mercury Blues,” David Lindley and El Rayo-X, from “El Rayo Live,” 1983. Recorded live at Little Bavaria in Del Mar, California, on Friday, June 18, 1982.

After seeing Lindley in 2013, we eagerly got tickets to see him when he came around again last year. But we wound up moving my dad into assisted living that weekend, and we wound up eating those tickets. Perhaps getting to hear “Mercury Blues” this time was karma, too? Who knows?

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Filed under August 2016, Sounds

I came in through the bathroom window

Hope Nobody's Watching

Do memories become any less tangible, any less vivid if there is no physical frame of reference for them? Particularly memories of a place where you’ve lived? I’m about to find out again.

First it was Beaver Lodge, where I lived with six other guys and an unending stream of house guests from the summer of 1978 to the spring of 1979, during my junior year of college in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The place where Johnny’s Goat smashed through the garage door one day. It’s long gone.

Now it’s Hose and Tone’s old house. It’s being torn down to make room for a gas station, convenience store and other stuff. I never lived there, but I certainly lived it up there. We had a lot of fun at that little house on Green Bay’s east side.

1583 East Mason

My friends Hose and Tone, brothers, lived there in the early ’80s. It was all they — or we — really needed. Couch. Fridge. Small black-and-white TV. Stereo. You came in the back door, through the kitchen and dining room. The front porch was used only to buffer the sound from the four-lane street out front.

We were single guys in our mid-20s. We watched a lot of basketball, listened to a lot of tunes, drank a lot of beer.

One night, I climbed in the bathroom window at Hose and Tone’s house after we’d made the rounds of the neighborhood taverns. There were at least 10 blue-collar bars within five blocks. One of them was Bill and Tess’ (Mostly Tess’).

We didn’t need a designated driver. We walked.

One night, we got the munchies and poured chicken noodle soup over toast on a hot plate. Whether that followed window diving, none of us can remember.

There always was music. Hose and Tone liked Elvis. That’s when and where I started digging Elvis. That also was when MTV and “Night Flight” brought music videos to TV. Where else would we have heard “Ghost in the Machine,” or Flock of Seagulls or our particular faves, Flash and the Pan?

Or this, which might account for the photo above. We dug the song and the video, the latter for obvious reasons.

gap gold lp

“Party Train,” the Gap Band, 1983, from “Gap Gold: The Best of the Gap Band,” a 1985 compilation LP. Originally from “Gap Band V: Jammin’,” 1983. Both are apparently out of print, but the song is available digitally.

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Filed under June 2015, Sounds

Kind of absurd, but great memories

goodmanauto.jpg

Hard to believe that Steve Goodman has been gone 30 years today. Leukemia.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we met at the merch table after a show in Madison, Wisconsin? When he autographed my record to Joe, and not to Jeff? I still smile at that.

No, it’s been 31 years since he opened for fellow folk singer Leo Kottke at the old Madison Civic Center, a show I remember nothing about.

Kinda wondering what people remember of Steve Goodman today.

Probably most know him for the songs he wrote about his beloved Chicago Cubs. If you’ve visited here during the Christmas season, you know his charming live version of “Winter Wonderland” is one of our seasonal faves.

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

I probably was introduced to Steve Goodman’s music in 1976 or 1977 by my friend Pat Houlihan, a folk singer from central Wisconsin who also introduced me to the music of John Prine, who was Goodman’s friend. I liked Goodman and Prine for the same reason. There’s a lot of humor in real life. They saw that, and wrote songs accordingly.

So let’s listen to some Steve Goodman. He wrote or co-wrote all but one song.

stevegoodman high and outside lp

“Men Who Love Women Who Love Men,” an irreverent but perceptive take on sexual identity.

“The One That Got Away,” a duet with Nicolette Larson on a song wistfully remembering life’s missed opportunities.

Both from “High And Outside,” Steve Goodman, 1979. His second-to-last major-label record, on Asylum. Goodman produced it, but the arrangements are almost too lush, too rich for his sometimes-thin voice.

stevegoodman artistic hair

“You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” a country music spoof co-written with John Prine, and a hit for David Allan Coe. Goodman improvised the final verse to include references to Mama, trains, trucks, prison and getting drunk, which Coe thought every great country song needs.

“City Of New Orleans,” which really launched Goodman’s career when it became a hit for Arlo Guthrie in 1972.

Both from “Artistic Hair,” Steve Goodman, 1983. A wonderful collection of live performances from over a 10-year period. I’m generally not big on live records, but this is really the only way to get the essence of Steve Goodman.

stevegoodman affordable art lp

“Souvenirs,” a duet with John Prine on the familiar song written by Prine and first heard on Prine’s second LP, “Diamonds In The Rough,” from 1972.

“Talk Backwards,” a goofy take full of double-speak.

Both from “Affordable Art,” Steve Goodman, 1984. This was the last record released before Goodman’s death. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

Thanks to Clay Eals, Goodman’s biographer, for the 30-year reminder.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under September 2014, Sounds