Tag Archives: 1984

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

Kind of absurd, but great memories

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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

I still want my MTV Christmas

Believe it or not, there was a time when artists made Christmas videos and MTV played them at Christmas time, just as radio would play their Christmas singles at Christmas time. ‘

“Christmas In Hollis” by Run-D.M.C. has become a Christmas tradition. You know that one.

So here are three that are less seen today, yet still among my favorites.

* * * * *

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“Rock & Roll Christmas,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1983, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

As you can see, it once was used to rock the house at MTV. Damn! Mark Goodman gets a nice long smooch from a cutie under the mistletoe at 1:55!

And, yes, that appears to be John Lee Hooker as Santa Claus. I once was skeptical, but my friend Larry pointed me to photos of Thorogood and Hooker taken by Bob Leafe at an MTV taping in 1984.

When I went looking for this video last year, it had been wiped from YouTube. Delighted to have it back.

* * * * *

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“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” Billy Squier, 1981, also from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1995.

Squier was one of the biggest stars on MTV at the time, so a Christmas single seemed logical. And who could forget these lyrics: “From grownup to minor/No one could be finer” and “From rooftop to chimney/From Harlem to Bimini.” I know of no other Christmas song with “Bimini” in the lyrics.

Squier lip-syncs it with the MTV VJs and crew on the video. It’s a guilty pleasure, perhaps even corny, but it’s a good memory from that time. Of course, it revives the age-old debate: Nina Blackwood or Martha Quinn?

* * * * *

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“Do They Know It’s Christmas (single edit),” Band Aid, from the 12-inch single, 1984. It’s out of print but is available on “Now That’s What I Call Christmas,” a 2001 CD compilation, and digitally.

Before “We Are The World,” there was this. In 1984, everyone who was anyone on the UK music scene came together as Band Aid to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Bob Geldof wrote the words. Midge Ure wrote the music. The song, which benefited hunger relief in Ethiopia, was huge — a solid No. 1 in Britain and close to it in the States.

As you watch the video to see what all the fuss was about, see how many of those performers you can name.

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

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

Freed, Nelson Mandela

Originally published in slightly different form on July 1, 2013, on our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker.

Among my great memories of the mid-’80s are the politically-tinged protest songs so often heard on WORT-FM, then and now the intensely local, intensely progressive radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

There was “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” Bruce Cockburn’s lament for the plight of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.

There was “World Destruction,” a fierce, desperate, bleak view of the future from John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa working together as Time Zone.

There was “Five Minutes,” the  hip-hop tune that used snippets of Ronald Reagan’s radio gaffe to satirize Reagan’s policies, with Jerry Harrison and Bootsy Collins and pals billing themselves as Bonzo Goes To Washington.

Those songs shared a sense of anger, and rightly so, given the world in 1984.

There was one more that year, another call for action. It was no less urgent.

But unlike the others, “Free Nelson Mandela” by the Special A.K.A. was a joyful noise, a ska song written in England by Jerry Dammers, its rhythms partly inspired by South African music.

Unlike the others, it expressed hope.

Hope that the anti-apartheid activist would be freed from prison after what was then “21 years in captivity.” Hope that came to pass in the decade that followed the release of “Free Nelson Mandela” in 1984. Apartheid was ended. The song became an anthem. Mandela was elected South Africa’s president, served for five years, then remained active in the cause until retiring.

Nelson Mandela has been much in the news, much in our thoughts since summer, gravely ill. Today, he died. He was 95.

But he long ago passed into legend, one of the giants of our time.

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“Free Nelson Mandela (instrumental)” and “Free Nelson Mandela (LP version),”  the Special A.K.A., from “Free Nelson Mandela: The Special Remix,” 1984. It’s out of print. This is Side 2 of the 12-inch American release on Chrysalis. It runs 8:20.

I’ve had it since 1984. Tonight, it emerges again from that not-so-long-ago time.

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

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Filed under December 2013, Sounds

The shortstop who smoked

As softball season arrives again, and as the weather in our corner of Wisconsin finally starts to get nice, it brings back memories of the shortstop who smoked.

For most of the 1980s, I played for a newspaper team with one of the great names of all time. We were the Muckrakers.

In the early ’80s, our shortstop was the paper’s music writer, a guy who also dabbled in music (and almost certainly the recreational drugs of the time). I remember Michael’s long hair, his droopy mustache and his penchant for playing shortstop with a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Off the field, Michael often pointed me toward new music. His tips were many, but my cluelessness was vast. He saw everything, as you’d imagine. I wish I’d gone to even a small fraction of the gigs he’d suggested.

So imagine my surprise when Michael got into a record I’d mentioned to him. It seems mainstream now, and perhaps was a bit so then, but he really dug Don Henley’s “Building The Perfect Beast.”

The singles that dropped from that LP had a distinctive sound when they hit the airwaves in late 1984 and into 1985. I liked them. Michael liked them. You know them all, foremost among them “The Boys Of Summer” and “Sunset Grill.”

This is one of the lesser-heard songs, and one of my favorites.

“You Can’t Make Love,” Don Henley, from “Building The Perfect Beast,” 1984.

It isn’t edgy. It isn’t full of synths and programmed drums as are many of the songs on this record. It’s just a laid-back slice of 1980s L.A. rock, co-written by Henley and guitarist Danny Kortchmar. It’s much along the lines of Kortchmar’s work with Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, which I also have enjoyed.

The rest of the story

Michael wiped out on his motorcycle on a rain-slicked road. It left him paralyzed from the waist down. After that, Michael ran around in a wheelchair, but I’m not sure he was all that diligent about following his doctors’ advice. Too hard to give up some of those vices.

Michael is gone now, but Madison’s music community honors his memory by presenting a lifetime achievement award in his name at its annual awards show.

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Filed under May 2012, Sounds