Tuesday, July 27, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1983

The music scene in 1983 could probably be summed up in one word: fun. If you look at any generic "hits of the '80s" CD compilation --or any "one-hit wonders" collection, for that matter-- this is the year that will almost always generate the most selections. From the cultural standpoint 1983 was the apex of the decade, from Cabbage Patch Kids and The Smurfs to VHS players and cinder block-sized portable phones, and mainstream and college radio equally embraced this forward movement. The synthisizer sound that was dismissed as too weird less than five years earlier had become an unofficial requirement for a hit record, while underground jangle-pop acts like R.E.M. and Violent Femmes found inspiration in forgotten records by '70s acts like Big Star, Shoes, and The Modern Lovers. Heavy metal notwithstanding it was hard to find a song in '83 that you couldn't dance to, as evidenced by albums #1, 8, and 10 on the list below.

Note: where's Thriller, you ask? Though that Michael Jackson bestseller made its greatest cultural and commercial impact in 1983-84, it was a December 1982 release. If you keep reading, you'll notice I didn't exclude Jacko's greatest work altogether.


1. Power, Corruption, & Lies, New Order. It's funny the way fate works. Had Joy Division frontmen Ian Curtis not committed suicide in 1980, the world never might've known the plantative vocal stylings of his bandmate Bernard Sumner. When JD regrouped as New Order a year later, Sumner assumed command if only because nobody else wanted to. Three years after Curtis' death, his surviving bandmates eschewed the monotone gloom of their previous work and became the premier dance-rock hybrid on the planet with their sophomore effort, Power, Corruption, & Lies. "Blue Monday" is the masterpiece here, embodying all the sonic progress the band had made since Closer; it is not only the best selling 12" single of all time but the gold standard of that particular format.
2. Swordfishtrombones, Tom Waits. A truly icococlastic musician can take their distinctive, immediately recognizable sound, scrap it on a moment's notice, then reemerge with an artistic statement which completely rearranges your perception of that artist. Such is the case with Waits' eighth album; in trading his archaic '30s-style jazz caterwauling for Kurt Weill cabaret and odd time signatures, Waits ushered in a new, relentlessly weird chapter in his long musical career.
3. Synchronicity, The Police. In their six years as a major-label act, this puckish power trio churned out five dilligent albums, all enjoyable but not without their flaws. Which of the five was the best is up for debate; some will suggest Zenyotta Mondatta, others claim their debut Outlandos d'Amour was tops, but I'm adamantly in the Synchronicity camp. With the exception of the insipid "Mother," this is a strong top-to-bottom set of songs. If I had to pick a favorite track, however I'd probably go with either "Synchronicity II" or "King of Pain."
4. Murmur, R.E.M.
5. Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes
6. Kill 'Em All, Metallica
7. War, U2
8. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, Eurythmics
9. The Crossing, Big Country
10. Madness, Madness. In their native UK Madness are nothing short of icons; the leading bands of the late-70s ska revival, they've churned out one witty, quirky album after another for more than three decades. Regrettably, in the US they're just another a one-hit wonder. In the American conscious Madness is remembered only for "Our House," the leadoff track on a special self-titled compilation of their third and fourth albums. Considering that neither of those two albums have ever had a proper American release, Madness is a strong introduction to an underappreciated band at their thoughtful, energetic peak.

Honorable Mentions: Let's Dance, David Bowie; Touch, Eurythmics; Uh-Huh, John Cougar Mellencamp; Hearts and Bones, Paul Simon.


"Come On Eileen," Dexy's Midnight Runners
"Mexican Radio," Wall of Voodoo
"I Melt With You," Modern English
"Too Shy," Kajagoogoo
"The Lovecats," The Cure
"Working Girl," The Members
"Just Got Lucky," Joboxers
"Der Kommissar," After The Fire
"Rockit," Herbie Hancock
"Atomic Dog," George Clinton

"Photograph," Def Leppard
"Goody Two-Shoes," Adam Ant
"Ain't Going Down," Eric Clapton
"Tear-Stained Letter," Richard Thompson
"The Longest Time," Billy Joel
"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," Elton John
"Everyday I Write the Book," Elvis Costello
"For a Rocker," Jackson Browne
"Jeopardy," Greg Kihn Band
"Always Something There To Remind Me," Naked Eyes


1. "Thriller," Michael Jackson. Were you expecting a different clip at #1? For some this is the be-all end-all, ushering in music videos as an art form and unquestionably inspiring countless others. With the possible exception of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf" two years earlier, music videos weren't particularly cinematic; this epic 14-minute movie forever altered that dynamic.
2. "Every Breath You Take," The Police. The companion clip to the consummate stalker song is as elegant as its subject matter is unsettling. The choosing of a neo-noir setting is genius.
3. "She Blinded Me With Science," Thomas Dolby. If there's a candidate for the daffiest video of the '80s, this would probably be it. Science!
4. "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This," Eurythmics. It is generally presumed that dreams are a subconscious reaction to what happens in your everyday life. The cows and the cellos I can understand, but that big ol' Commodore PC? Preposterous!
5. "Twilight Zone," Golden Earring. Speaking of dreams, this self-aware homage to the great French new wave movies of the early '60s has a vaguely surreal element that draws you in but never quite lets you go.

Honorable Mentions: "Cool Places," Sparks feat. Jane Wiedlin;
"The Safety Dance," Men Without Hats; "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Bonnie Tyler; "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," Cyndi Lauper.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Optimus Prime Ain't Got Nuthin' On Me

It's been another long, hectic week so I'll keep it short:

+ Weekend before last, I was in downtown Chicago walking towards the Blue Line when I saw seven-foot piles of rubble and crushed cars stacked upon each other. It was only after the dust settled (literally) that I saw a small army of security guards, followed by two crew guys in "Transformers" t-shirts. Apparently, I wandered onto a movie set. Considering how bad the first sequel was, I'm a little hesitant to see Michael Bay's minions take over downtown --especially with all the traffic jams they're causing-- but if it earns badly-needed money for the city and the state so be it.

+ A few months ago, you may recall my lamenting the demise of the Heritage Festival, the annual three-day fair in downtown Downers Grove. Well, shortly after it was cancelled, the local Rotary Club stepped in and funded their own festival for the village. Last weekend was the first annual "GroveFest," and though it might've been smaller in scale all points suggest it was a rousing success. :)

+ During his most recent weekly radio address, President Obama took the GOP to task for blocking aid to small businesses and not helping the nation's unemployed... oh wait, I commented on this a month ago. Never mind.

+ Some news stories are too weird to be made up. This is definitely one of them.

+ I've been wanting to see "Inception." I tend to go to the show two or three times during the summer, so I try to get my money's worth. (The one other movie I've seen was "MacGruber.") Your thoughts?

Next week: the year in music, 1983.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Random Notes, July 2010

+ I can't remember a baseball season that's been as fun to watch as 2010 (so far, anyway). Maybe that's because I'm a sucker for pitching duels and low-scoring ballgames. Two and a half years since Barry Bonds' forced retirement put an unofficial kibosh on the steroid era, defense and fundamentals are what's hot while one-dimensional power hitting has gone on the wayside. With all due respect to Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto, this year's MVPs will likely be pitchers; Ubaldo Jimenez could throw his arm out against the AL All-Stars tonight and he'd still be the class of the Senior Circuit. Over in the AL, I'd make a case for David Price or Jered Weaver over Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera. Even my Royals were making great strides... you know, until we were spanked by the first-place White Sox last weekend.

+ The regular baseball season is more than halfway over, and so is roto baseball. My TV.com roster is still in seventh place out of eight, lacking extra-base hits and consistency, not to mention any legitimate excuses. My "other" team on Yahoo has been fluctuating somewhat, bouncing between second and sixth place in a cutthroat league while maintaining a healthy .550 winning percentage. Though I was quite bullish on Pablo Sandoval at the beginning of the season, his 6/34/.263 midseason clip was bringing down both of my squads, so I dropped him. Here's hoping Scott Rolen and Jose Bautista drive in the runs that I so badly need.

+ I'm not sure about you guys, but for me New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner will be forever intertwined in my memory with George's demanding, seldom-seen employer on "Seinfeld." Let's look back at a private moment in the life of a man they called "The Boss."

+ Over on the political scene, it looks like former Speaker Newt Gingrich will throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 presidential race. A recent convert to Catholicism, the native Georgian is an apparent early favorite in one crucial demographic of the GOP, the Christian conservative. On top of that, Newt's possible entry spotlights a portion of the party that hasn't garnered much media attention these past few years: the cluster that doesn't follow former Gov. Sarah Palin around like a flock of sheep. This basically implies that Gingrich not only has a bone to pick with President Obama's policies but he won't drink Palin's Tea Party Kool-Aid, either. Of course, the 2012 presidental election is still 28 months away; fellow theocrat Mike Huckabee could easily jump in and give ol' Newt a run for the money, and in spite of his age Ron Paul could run on a near-identical platform as Palin and stomp on her inexperience. Plus, where would Haley Barbour and Mitt Romney fit into all this? The vast number of scenarios is headache-inducing.

+ Meanwhile in improv, on Friday I'll be signing up for my second conservatory audition --and third overall-- at Second City. (The audition is not until July 30th, but please wish me luck.) Meanwhile, at iO I'm frequently taking advantage of something they don't usually have at SC: free student admission to shows. It's a great way to learn the Harold technique, which is a special type of long-form improv that I'm learning in class, and it's an incentive to spend extra time in the city.

+ Finally, the 2010 World Cup of Soccer ended last Sunday with Spain defeating Holland in extra time. I miss the sound of vuvuzelas so much, yesterday I taped a beehive around my head. ;)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Sorry for the delay everybody, it's been a busy few days:

Last weekend, I did something I haven't done in 4 1/2 years: I went on vacation. It wasn't a very long trip (two days, one night) and my destination wasn't exactly an exotic locale (Bettendorf, Iowa), but goshdarnit, it was a vacation. That might sound strident, but I haven't taken a real trip in 4 1/2 years. Plus, I've been so frustrated with myself that I was desperate for change of scenery. These last nine weeks of unemployment have been simultaneously interesting and boring; this has been the first time I've relaxed since graduating ISU, but it's hard to keep yourself motivated or entertained when funds are low, friends are distant, and a lifelong dream is starting to feel like a distant memory. The only advantage to my down time is that I'm finally catching up with my DVR.

The trip to the Quad Cities was actually quite pleasant. My dad's a St. Louis Cardinals fan and their single-A affiliate plays over in Davenport, and we'd both been wanting to see Modern Woodmen Park. (Click here for more information on the stadium's history.) We left for Iowa at about 10:30am on July 4th, arrived at our hotel just before 2, and headed for the ballpark around 5. The game itself posed a curious matchup. The Quad Cities River Bandits (the Cards' affiliate) features a disproportionate number of their parent organization's top prospects, including pitcher Shelby Miller and shortstop Niko Vasquez. That night's visitors, the Burlington Bees, make up for a lack of blue chip prospects with excellent defense and strong all-around fundamentals. In the end, substance topped flash as the Bees defeated the Bandits 4-1.

As for the job search- it took more than two months, but I finally made some progress; the one drawback is that it's not in the radio industry. Apparently, the hiring process of the life insurance industry has three steps: a company introduction, a one-hour summary of the sales process, and finally a one-on-one job interview. The first step was last Wednesday, the second step a day later. The long-awaited job interview was this afternoon (my first in this entire ordeal) and 90 minutes later the company shipped me right off to training. I've never worked in sales before, but I'm ready to take on a new challenge. This is not by any means my farewell to radio, but the job market of late has not been kind to us twenty-something entry-level types. I thank you all for your support, and I'll try to keep you posted on my adventures in this brand new field inbetween my usual weekly musings.