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Monthly Archives: March 2016

A long way to the top.

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It might have been inevitable that, when the end came for AC/DC, it wouldn’t be pretty.

No band so surpassingly devoted to celebrating virility, violence and male potency could possibly have kept it up (Bon Scott would have been proud of that phrasing) much into middle age.

For a while they solved the problem in the most advantageous possible way — by taking five to eight years between studio albums. This allowed them to limit their personal appearances (should a man that age still be wearing a schoolboy suit?) while carefully ladling out their dwindling supply of Big Riffs.

In the past 18 months, the wheels have finally come off the wagon. One member of the band’s classic lineup was forced into retirement by dementia; a second was ousted after a string of criminal charges; and a third either jumped or was pushed out due to health issues.

It appears that a pieced-together AC/DC lineup — possibly including Axl Rose — will fulfill the band’s remaining concert commitments, after which senior remaining decision-maker Angus Young will hopefully turn to raising tulips.

Since the band doesn’t have much of a future, I decided to look at its past.

Specifically, I thought it would be fun to consult the invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts to answer the kind of question that comes up from time to time around here: What U.S. radio station, and when, was the first one to put the music of AC/DC into regular rotation?

(The standard disclaimer applies: The ARSA database is not encyclopedic; it includes only airplay charts that people have saved and scanned in. But there are enough of those to make ARSA a worthwhile tool.)

As it turned out, the obstreperous Australians first got America’s attention via a classic ’70s path.

None of the band’s first three studio albums in the U.S. — High Voltage, Let There Be Rock and Powerage — show up on any Stateside radio charts in the ARSA database. (The Age of Disco was not overly receptive to three chords and an up-yours.)

Instead, AC/DC got its toes in the door using a well-known ’70s formula: Go onstage in front of a raucous audience and recut songs whose studio versions went nowhere, juicing them up here and there with stepped-up tempos, extended solos, between-song jive and other tricks of the performer’s trade.

For KISS, that formula produced Alive! For Peter Frampton, it yielded Frampton Comes Alive! For Bob Seger, it produced ‘Live’ Bullet.

And for AC/DC, it produced If You Want Blood You’ve Got It — a less celebrated (and less histrionic) document than those listed above, but enough to gain hitmaker status at San Francisco’s KFRC 610 in late December 1978 and January 1979.

Why San Francisco? Could be that AC/DC — which toured the States regularly in the second half of the Seventies — had caught some ears there with its performances.

(KFRC’s playlist does not otherwise betray much fondness for ragged hard rock. On the second chart, If You Want Blood sits between Toto and the Village People, with Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Gaynor and Santana in close proximity. So, who knows.)

AC/DC’s next studio album, 1979’s Highway to Hell, would turn them from also-rans to headliners. KFRC was on that one first and fastest too, and for quite a while; Highway to Hell stayed on the station’s top 10 albums list from mid-August until the last week of November. (Dayton’s WTUE, Columbus’s WNCI and Washington, D.C.’s WPGC were also early reporters on the album.)

These have all been album charts. The first U.S. radio station in the ARSA database to put an AC/DC single into rotation was Boston’s WBCN, which had “Highway to Hell” at No. 3 — trailing only Ian Dury and Lene Lovich — for the week ending Oct. 30, 1979. (That’s an odd playlist; is that some kind of long-ago joke?)

Most noteworthy to me is the chart action in Presque Isle, Maine, where the single hung in the top 10 for several weeks at the end of ’79 and beginning of ’80 on station WEGP. Presque Isle’s way out there at the end of the road, and I wonder if some small-town kids just old enough to hustle beer didn’t happen to be looking for an anthem at that time.

After that, everything got big and stayed big, until it started to go soft.

(It might have been inevitable that, when the end came for this post, it wouldn’t be pretty.)

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Baseball again.

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Regular readers know: Every year I go to college baseball games as early as I can in March. And then I come back and blog about ’em.

I rang in the season last Saturday by going to see the Lehigh Carbon Community College Cougars take on the Penn State-Worthington Scranton Lions.

Nothing noteworthy to say about it except LCCC whipped up on PSUWS 19-3 and they stopped the game early, after five-and-a-half innings. Penn State WS appeared to have only about a dozen active players during the national anthem, and the whole thing was kind of a mismatch from the word go.

The usual photos were taken and you get to look at some.

LCCC scored in every inning, which doesn't happen that often, even in short games.

LCCC scored in every inning, which doesn’t happen that often, even in short games.

A storklike warmup.

A storklike warmup.

I would shoot B&W more often if it didn't torque my battery.

I would shoot B&W more often if it didn’t torque my battery.

If I pitched in that game I wouldn't show my face either.

If I pitched in that game I wouldn’t show my face either.

Baseball ready.

Baseball ready.

A purely mathematical exercise.

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Rather than crack wise about old records, I’m going to try a different approach.

The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts has a couple of surveys from eastern Pennsylvania radio stations representing this week — one ending March 7, 1971; one ending March 11, 1974; one ending March 11, 1975; and one ending March 5, 1979.

To each song on the Top Ten, I’ll assign a numerical grade, ranging from 0 (never wanna hear it again) to 5 (one or two spins a week would be fine, thanks) to 10 (play it all night long).

Then I’ll add ’em all together, and the year with the highest score wins.

(And yeah, I’ll probably toss out a couple irresponsibly dismissive value judgments while I’m going about it.)

Here goes, then. All song titles are reproduced as they appear on the surveys, for what that’s worth.

1971 (WRAW-AM, Reading):
1. Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee – 8 (I’m kinda tired of this, but I can’t deny it’s a magnificent record, especially the joyous jam at the end)
2. The Carpenters – For All We Know – 2
3. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Seen The Rain – 6 (can’t give CCR too low a score, but I like it better when they put the pedal down a little bit more)
4. Jackson Five – Mama’s Pearl – 8 (this is glorious, at least until it gets too far away from the chorus and kinda loses its way)
5. Tom Jones – She’s A Lady – 7 (a different sort of glorious. Gloriously hammy.)
6. The Temptations – Just My Imagination – 6 (oh, yeah, that Stones tune)
7. Osmonds – One Bad Apple – 7 (and I could have given it a point or two more. Osmonds/Jax 5 back-to-back on the radio would have been as much fun, in its own way, as Beatles/Stones or Beatles/Beach Boys)
8. Partridge Family – Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted – 2
9. Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through The Night – 3
10. Wadsworth Mansion – Sweet Mary – 5 (for pop records about chicks, I’ll still take “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” but this one’s OK anyway)

1971’s total: 54
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all the songs?: Hard to say. The rest of the countdown is evenly split between killers – “I Hear You Knocking,” “Proud Mary,” “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” – and crap – “Cried Like A Baby,” “Amos Moses,” and “D.O.A.,” which would get a negative score if such a thing were possible.)

1974 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun – 0 (This one was in the midst of a three-week run at Number One nationally. The purest distillation of the tacky/mawkish side of the Seventies.)
2. Cher – Dark Lady – 1
3. John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder – 2
4. Carly Simon & James Taylor – Mockingbird – 3 (that’s being kind, probably, but it’s uncouth to speak ill of pregnant ladies)
5. Jim Stafford – Spiders & Snakes – 2
6. Redbone – Come Get Your Love – 5 (there is room in the universe for “it’s stupid but it grooves”)
7. David Essex – Rock On – 4
8. Sister Janet Meade – Lord’s Prayer – 1 (it’s probably uncouth to speak ill of nuns, also — they work hard for the money — so SJM gets a solitary point. If you look at the survey, WKAP was running a promotion for a private showing of “The Exorcist” at the same time it was spinning Sister Janet in heavy rotation.)
9. Paul McCartney – Jet – 9 (not Macca’s best lyric but a fabulous soaring piece of rock n’ roll, and one of my five favorite McCartney solo tunes, were I to list them)
10. Barbra Streisand – The Way We Were – 3

1974’s total: 30
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Yes, probably.)

1975 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1 Frankie Valli – My Eyes Adored You – 2
2 Minnie Riperton – Lovin’ You – 5
3 LaBelle – Lady Marmalade – 10 (not a typo, nor a mistake. Outrageous sassy New Orleans funk. The radio needed more of this. It still does.)
4 Doobie Brothers – Black Water – 7 (their finest moment? yeah, most likely.)
5 Sugarloaf – Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – 7 (underrated wiseassery)
6 Ringo Starr – No No Song/Snookeroo – 3
7 Styx – Lady – 2
8 Olivia Newton John – Have You Never Been Mellow – 2
9 Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces – 8 (I taped this off the radio when I was maybe 13 and just learning about a whole class of Seventies tunes that were bad and funky and colorful and totally un-Eighties. Like “Lady Marmalade.”)
10 Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful – 4 (as professional hit-making songwriters, did Dennis Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love all fare better in the Seventies than Brian Wilson?)

1975’s total: 50
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Probably not, although “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Harry Truman” and “Shaving Cream” would all have scored strongly.)

1979 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Neil Diamond – Forever In Blue Jeans – 3 (there’s more to this song than the chorus but damned if I remember it)
2. Little River Band – Lady – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
3. Rod Stewart – Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – 4 (Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” smokes this)
4. Dire Straits – Sultans Of Swing – 4 (should get more but I’m plenty sick of hearing it)
5. Melissa Manchester – Don’t Cry Out Loud – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
6. The Bee Gees – Tragedy – 4
7. The Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes – 4
8. Nigel Olsson – Dancin’ Shoes – 4 (never heard it enough for it to wear out its welcome)
9. The Babys – Every Time I Think Of You – 3
10. Donna Summer – Heaven Knows – 4

1979’s total: 34
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Possibly, though even in its full incarnation, the chart is lacking in 9 or 10-scores.)

The winner: For all the time I’ve spent deriding 1971 countdowns — it is, pound for pound, not my favorite year — that was a pretty good March to have the radio on. At least around here.

Five For The Record: Participation trophies.

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I have a low tolerance for cliches, especially when they’re trotted out in an attempt to teach me something about the world I live in.

Tonight, after reading a motivational book for a work assignment, I’ve discovered another phrase I think belongs in the burn-pile of threadbare sentiments:

“Kids today get trophies just for participating in sports, and this makes them weaker of mind, flabby of spirit, and less determined to succeed.”

(Or some bushwah like that; phrase the consequences however you want.)

I think this idea might have a kernel of truth in certain specific situations, but it’s now reached the point where it’s dragged out as a ready-made in lieu of actual thought.

So, in a variant on my usual Five For The Record format — a more typical example can be found here — I take, fed up, to the keyboard to lay out five reasons why participation trophies are not leading our country down the path to hell and people need to find something else to whine about.

mcquaid

1: A question of value. Playing sports through the ’80s and into the early ’90s, I might have been in the first generation of kids to receive the much-maligned “participation trophies.” I remember them well.

There was the little trophy I got in youth soccer in second or third grade, for instance. It was made of plastic, it leaned slightly to one side, and it would not have been out of place in a gumball machine.

And then there were the “finisher” ribbons I occasionally received for high-school cross-country races. They were scraps of cloth that probably came 100 to a five-dollar bag.

My point: These rewards were cheap handouts. They looked it. I recognized it. So do kids today. Do you really think kids allow 10 cents of Chinese plastic to warp their value systems for life and turn them into mediocre adults?

Today’s participation trophies are a little fancier, but they’re still cheap. Or at least, the ones my kids have are.

And I can tell you from the layers of dust on ’em that my kids aren’t making deep, life-shaping personal connections with theirs, any more than I did with mine. (Keeping something on a shelf and taking it to heart are two different things.)

2: Philosophy. “No, no,” I hear people saying irritably. “It’s not the actual item the kids receive that corrupts them. It’s the philosophical idea that they get something for nothing, or praise for being mediocre.”

First of all, they don’t get something for nothing. They put in time and effort — quite a bit of both in some cases.

And second, as I just said, the “something” they get is generally not a whole hell of a lot. (There is probably some crazy hyper-affluent suburb where every Little Leaguer gets a World Series ring, but this is the exception and not the rule.)

As for the idea of kids getting rewarded for being mediocre, this is also an exception, rather than a rule.

Remember: Kids spend nine months a year in school, a setting where they are constantly graded, week after week. Most of them have a strong and well-developed sense of what it’s like to be evaluated, what it’s like to be found wanting, what rewards await success, and what punishments follow failure.

To a kid, getting a prize for being an also-ran on the sports field is not a defining example of how life works. Rather, it’s a welcome vacation from the constant grind of performance evaluation. And who couldn’t use the occasional break from that?

3: Incentives. I accept it as fact, not cliche, that American kids as a whole are overfed and underexercised, and that their health suffers — and will continue to suffer — as a result.

With that in mind, something that pats kids on the back and says, “Hey, coming out and running three times a week was a great thing to do!,” is a worthwhile prize. It’s certainly a more positive end-of-year reward than a pizza and ice cream party.

(Yes, I grant the fact that not every kid who comes out for a team works hard and gets good exercise. Just getting off the couch puts them ahead of millions of other kids.)

Same deal with commitment. Kids need to know that they can’t just ditch what they start if it gets tough. Something that says, “Thanks for showing up every week for three months, being present for your teammates, and sticking it out!” doesn’t send the worst message in the world.

Sure, you don’t really get a prize for sticking it out at work year after year once you’ve grown up. But our treatment of children does not have to be 100 percent geared toward preparing them to be adult wage slaves.

4: Deflated self-worth. Another occasional argument of the anti-trophy folks is that kids will hyperinflate their perception of their own skills because they got a trophy. In other words, they’ll think they’re good when they’re not.

Again, I’m working off a limited sample size here … but based on my experience and that of my kids, I’m convinced that children have a pretty damn acute sense of how good or bad they are, and how good or bad their friends are.

Rare is the kid who genuinely thinks he’s Johan Cruyff because he got a trophy at the end of the season. If there are swelled heads in youth sports, it’s probably the result of ongoing coddling by a parent-coach, not a participation trophy.

5: The parents, not the trophies. Which brings me to the last argument for participation trophies: It’s the coaches and parents that shape a kid’s outlook and chances for future success, not the trophy at the end of the year.

It’s possible for a kid to lose all his games, get a trophy, and still turn out OK — if his parents and coach send the right messages and frame the season, and the kid’s effort, in the right way.

It’s also possible for a kid to lose all his games, get no trophy, and get his psyche stepped on by his coaches and parents in a way that screws him up worse than any little metal ballplayer bolted to a fake granite base could ever do.