Month: February 2018 (Page 1 of 3)

College Hoops Part 1: The Good

Lots of college hoops news to discuss. I’ll begin today with the good stuff.

Just like I have been predicting all year, KU won the Big 12 for the fourteenth straight year.

There was no way West Virginia or Oklahoma or Texas Tech or Kansas State was going to be good enough to take the crown away. There was no way the rest of the league was to steal a win or two throughout the season that might give one of those other contenders a boost. There was no way that all the contenders other than KU wouldn’t fall apart in mid-February like they always do. There was no way this KU team did not have enough firepower to continue the streak.

“Oh not!” as we used to say.

Yeah, I’m kind of at a loss to explain how this happened again.

Keenan Evans getting hurt certainly helped a lot, although Tech has now lost four straight games and I don’t think you can blame that exclusively on his injury.

West Virginia put up gaudy win totals up until mid-January. All those wins masked a team that wasn’t as strong defensively as recent Mountaineers teams. And when Big 12 teams began to expose the WVU defense, we learned their offense was kind of a mess. Oh, and we learned that KU is completely in Bob Huggins’ head. Somehow he blew two 12-point leads to KU this year. Normally it’s just one per season. And I remain convinced he, more than KU or the refs, lost the game in Lawrence a week ago when he decided to have his offensively challenged team pull the ball out and work the clock with over 9:00 to play. Just keep doing what they had been doing and I think they win that game easily. But Huggy remembered what happened in Morgantown in January, what happened in Allen Fieldhouse last February. And two Februarys before that. He didn’t trust himself or his team and paid for it with a loss.

And Oklahoma was exposed as a fraud of a one-man-team. Trae Young is spectacular. When you have a talent like that, you ride it as far as it takes you. But I think Lon Kruger made a huge error in December when Trae started putting up all those crazy 35 and 12 games. The Sooners were reduced to a team that stood around and watched Trae. Yes, he was getting 10 assists a night, but it was because he was dribbling around wildly, drawing three defenders, and the making a crazy pass through traffic to some dude wide open at the rim. There was no offense that involved all five players. And that caught up with them when they hit conference season. Once teams learned how to slow Trae, his teammates didn’t know what to do. I would argue Lon should have told Trae, back in December, “Hey, you can get all the points you want. But let’s run some offense here and try to get you 20 assists a night.” I think his teammates would have been more invested and involved and they had more of a say in the Big 12 race. They have a really nice team beyond Trae. But you wouldn’t know it the way they’ve played the last month.

Throw in TCU underachieving and all that combined to make the top half of the Big 12 weaker than we expected. There wasn’t a team among the contenders strong enough to take the title away from KU. And if you leave it out there for KU to grab, they’re going to take advantage.

The last two weeks have been a lot of fun. KU has played really well over that stretch. Devonté Graham took his game to another level, and likely stole the conference POY award away from Young in the process. Udoka Azubuike has taken the next step in the evolution of his game, and is on the verge of being un-guardable. Svi shook his slump, Malik has been solid, Vick has mixed in some nice moments among his curious ones, and there have been occasional contributions from the thin bench. And this team found a way to play solid defense when it mattered most.

Oh, and they have Bill Self, the best coach in the world from February 1 to about March 5.

You could see all that coming together late in Saturday’s game at Texas Tech. KU had controlled the game from the opening tip and had just jumped out 68–60 late. Tech started clawing back. They tied the game on a follow dunk that got the arena rocking. And then KU made every play while Tech made two inexplicable turnovers in the final minute.

Shit just happens when you play KU late in the conference season. Sometimes it’s a call(s) that goes their way. Sometimes it’s Graham throwing in a prayer 3-pointer as the shot clock expires. Sometimes it’s an otherwise steady team losing their minds when they have to get a score to stay in the game.

Folks talk about Self and KU having a mental block about Elite 8 games. I think the entire Big 12 has a mental block when it comes to winning those games in late February that could finally break the streak.

Jay Bilas, among others, has said all year if you don’t beat KU this year, when will you? That was a nod to this being the thinnest KU team in recent memory that also lacked a single, sure-fire first round draft pick. Next year’s KU team is going to be insanely deep and talented. It will have at least four solid big men. Multiple guys at every other spot. It will add Self’s second-best high school recruiting class ever.[1] And add three transfers, one of whom may be the preseason Big 12 player of the year.[2]

I think Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas State will all be really good next year. We’ll see what parts TCU, Baylor, and West Virginia can add to put them in the mix. And then we’ll see if any of those teams can get over than mental hump in February 2019.

But for now, you know what time it is…Rock Chalk, bitches!

A quick postscript about uniforms:

KU busted out red uniforms for the first time in five years last night at the request of Graham. By my count KU has now worn 10 different uniforms this year. They’ll likely add one more next week when Adidas forces them to wear special March ones. Adidas will supply a blue version of that March set that KU is unlikely to wear. So that’s 12 uniforms in one season.[3]

I’m a big fan of alternate uniforms when done well. And several of the alt sets for KU this year were really good. I love the 1960s throwbacks they’ve been wearing in recent years. But 12 seems like a little much.

  1. Wiggins, Embiid, Mason, Selden, Greene, Francamp will likely never be topped.  ↩
  2. Dedric Lawson.  ↩
  3. Standard home white, alternate home whites. Standard road blues, alternate road blues. Phog and Chalk alternates. 1960s home and road throwbacks. 2008 throwbacks. Red alternates. White and blue March sets.  ↩

Winter Olympics Notebook

I feel bad. As a loyal Olympics viewer and long-time blogger, I’ve shirked my responsibilities waiting until after this year’s Winter Olympics wrapped up to share any thoughts. Yeah, we were watching the games pretty much every evening. But with the oddness of this year’s time difference, there was usually one thing on a night that I was interested in.

I think this could be a problem going forward, as this is the first of three-straight Olympics to be hosted in Asia. The 2020 summer games in Japan will manage, because there are a lot more sports involved and NBC can stack events up much better for prime time. But the 2022 winter games in Beijing will suffer from the same issues this year’s games suffered from. Especially if bad weather pushes events out of the prime viewing hours in the US. If NBC has three sports to fill prime time, and one or more get delayed/postponed because of weather, folks start switching over to the Food Network or ESPN. I think it was a massive mistake to hold three consecutive games in Asia. That continent might have a bigger potential TV audience, but the American market still rules for TV revenue. Putting three-straight games in the absolute worst part of the world for live TV in US prime time is just dumb.

But no one ever accused the International Olympic Committee of making rational decisions.

Just another reason to limit the games to a handful of sites they rotate through on a regular basis so only every third or fourth games is opposite of the US, the biggest revenue producing TV audience.

The time difference caused another annoyance for me. The middle weekend of the games, when they are at their busiest point, is always a great time to be a casual viewer. You can usually count on spending parts of your Saturday and Sunday glued to the couch watching sports you won’t watch for another four years. But afternoons in the US are early mornings in Korea, so NBC either showed nothing or events that were over 12 hours old and you already knew the results for. There was no compelling reason for me to stay in front of the TV once I had logged my college basketball time for the day.

OK, enough complaints. Here are some half-assed bullet points I jotted down over the course of the last two weeks.

  • I’m sure I wonder this every four years, but why isn’t the US better at biathlon? Who loves guns more than us? The NRA should be embarrassed it can’t produce some bullseye hittin’ ‘Mericans who can keep those godless socialists from Scandinavia and other pussy European countries from always winning all the biathlon medals.
  • I never checked his name, but that freaking cross country analyst was the best announcer of the game. He screamed at the top of his lungs on every close finish. He had the call of the games on Jessie Diggins’ final push on her gold medal clinching leg of the team sprint: “HERE COMES DIGGINS!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!” Her performance was awesome, but was also enhanced by that screaming.
  • The rather unfortunate counter to that dude was Bode Miller. I don’t want to pile on too much, because the piling on has been endless for the past two weeks. And I actually found some of Miller’s insights to be very good. But there’s no doubt both his monotone delivery and his dismissal of so much of what he saw was troublesome. Skiing is always my favorite part of the winter games, and my enjoyment of it was impacted a ton by Miller, by the odd scheduling, and by NBC’s decision to cut away when the results were still in doubt in order to get figure skating in front of the prime time audience.
  • Ya’ll know I’m not really down with figure skating. But I did watch some here and there, mostly just to get my dose of Tara and Johnny. They’re good stuff. On an early night of the games I pointed out Johnny to the girls and said, “Do you remember him? You weren’t sure about him four years ago.” L responded, “I’m still not sure about him!”
  • I’m not sure who the snow boarding announcer was, but I enjoyed how he had zero fear of dropping standard announcing cliches on that event: “Look up the word clutch and you’ll find a picture of David Wise!” Really? I wonder if there’s a sabermetric side of snowboarding where people are working hard to prove that clutch-ness does not exist.
  • So PyeongChang was supposedly the coldest location to ever host the Winter Olympics. Shame there was no snow. It was jarring to see the ski slopes, snowboard courses, and cross country trails covered in synthetic snow while the hills around them were all brown. I never heard whether this was normal for that area, whether they normally have plenty of snow but this year has been dry, or if this was part of what so many mountain recreation areas are seeing as the new normal as the climate changes. It was jarring to see footage from past Olympics, especially in Europe, where there was heavy snow falling during events and the countryside was always blanketed in white.
  • I understand why NHL players aren’t in the games anymore. But it seems weird that players from some of the other best pro leagues in the world where there. Much like I’ve argued that Olympic basketball should go to a U24 or U21 format, it may be time to do the same for men’s hockey.
  • But keep women’s hockey exactly as it is. The US and Canada remain the only two teams that really matter, and as long as we get them in the gold medal game every four years, we’re guaranteed a thrilling game. I had forgotten how the gold medal game ended four years ago, with Canada scoring twice in the final four minutes of regulation to tie it – and the US hitting the post on an open-goal chance that would have clinched it – before winning in overtime. This year’s gold medal match was even more exciting and sweet retribution for the Americans.
  • The Olympics didn’t feel right without either Bob Costas or Al Michaels managing most of the hosting duties. Mike Tirico has been boring me for 20 years, so I guess he’s the ideal safe choice to slide in as prime time host.
  • Norway! What the fuck, man? They just destroyed everybody. That’s one of the things I love about the winter games, small nations who are otherwise somewhat anonymous dominating the nations that sweep up all the medals in the summer games. All the Norwegian athletes I saw interviewed were awesome. And I loved all the immediate columns trying to figure out what about Norwegian society allowed them to win so many medals. Maybe it’s just a fluke, that a nation that is focused on winter sports and always has great skiers of all disciplines, cranked out a bunch of epic athletes at the same time, while other countries that also do well in skiing had one or two fewer elite athletes than normal. Maybe it was dumb luck. Or maybe it is because they don’t keep score in youth leagues over there.
  • Two favorite press conferences of the games were by Ester Ledecka, the shock winner of the women’s Super G, and Sofia Goggia, who won the downhill. Ledecka refused to remove her helmet and goggles for her mandatory press conference. Asked why, she responded, “I didn’t think I would win, so I don’t got no makeup on.” And Goggia, when asked about her feelings as she watched Norway’s Ragnhid Mowinckel come down the hill with splits near her times said, “Oh, I shit my pants!” Honesty is fun.
  • Ragnhid Mowinckel is a dope-ass name.
  • At the risk of being called a dirty old man, yes, I did image searches for many of the female snowboarders and skiers. I’m not proud.

That’s all for these games. Looking forward to 2026 when, maybe, the games will be in North America or Europe again and I can see a bigger chunk of the events live. I vote for Stockholm or Calgary.

Reaching For The Stars, Vol. 3

Chart Week: February 18, 1984
Song: “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” – Elton John
Chart Position: #18, 17th week on the chart. Peaked at #4 the week of January 28, 1984.

A countdown from 1984, my favorite musical year! So many fantastic songs to pick from. “Thriller” had just hit the top 10 in its second week in the top 40, the fastest rising song since 1972. Several other monster hits from 1983 were still scattered throughout the chart. “Jump”, the first huge song of ’84, was at #2. Some soon-to-be 84 classics were making their way up the chart: “Footloose”, “New Moon on Monday”, and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”.

But this Elton John track was the one that struck me. That might seem odd given the songs listed above. But with the significance of this week, it’s probably not a surprise that this was the one that got me thinking last Sunday.

Often when you’re a kid, you don’t realize what your parents are going through. I knew times were tough for my mom in the early 80s. I didn’t really appreciate how tough they were, though, because I was a dumb kid.

After working at a mall jewelry store for seven months, she finally landed a job with a decent company in the spring of 1981. Because of debt that was already hanging over her head, additional money issues incurred through her divorce, and my dad being unable to pay child support because he was unemployed, that job wasn’t enough. We always had food, even if sometimes it was purchased at the cheapest grocery stores she could find. We lived in a decent neighborhood, although in a duplex. I was able to play three sports a year. I always had clothes, even if they were knockoffs of the cool brands. Still I knew providing all of this was a struggle for her.

Late in 1981 she added a second job, working five hours a night, five nights a week, for a telemarketing company. At some point she started selling Mary Kay cosmetics, too. She spent about a year trying to move makeup on the weekends to bring in some more cash before she realized the revenues didn’t match what it was costing her. The lady had to sleep at some point, right?

Through that nighttime job she made friends with a small group of coworkers. Eventually we were often spending weekend nights with this group of three or four people. They were all single, all struggling in one way or another. And they were all the kind of super cool adults who weren’t bothered by me being around. They included me in their conversations, solicited my opinions, asked about my interests.

I remember one particular night late in 1983 when the group was hanging out at our house. We were playing board games, talking, eating, and music was on in the background. This song came on and one of the guys said, “Oh! This is a great song!” as he walked over to turn the volume up a couple notches. There were nods from around the table.

Every time I’ve heard the song since then – over 34 freaking years ago! – I’ve thought of that comment in that moment. Every time.

I wish I could remember the conversation that came after, because I know this group of 30-somethings talked about the meaning of the lyrics. I probably can’t recall that conversation because it was all waaaaay beyond comprehension at 12. I’m sure I just sat there, pretending to focus on the game while secretly attempting to file away their comments for when they would have value for me.

For years that was a warm memory; a memory of a night where I was hanging out with my mom and her friends, when there was fun and laughter and companionship punctuated by a good song that brought everyone together.

My feelings about that moment changed when I got older. I realized that wasn’t a happy moment. My mom and her friends were all living less than their best lives. They were working second jobs. None of them were in relationships. They had come together to stave off frustration and loneliness. That was good, yes. But they all yearned for something more fulfilling. This song spoke to their disappointment.

After that revelation, I began thinking less about the warmth of that night and more about the pain in my mom’s life during that period. A time of darkness that would get much worse over the next year as she battled serious health issues throughout 1984.

But I also think about my mom’s resilience and strength. How she didn’t drop out of college because she got pregnant at 19. How she worked her ass off, at the expense of her physical and emotional health, to give me a decent childhood. And of 100 other things she did over the course of her life.

In that moment in late 1983, she had a long list of grievances with life. But, as she did so often, she chose to forge friendships, to seek and offer support, to set a good example for me, and to look ahead and believe that the blues would pass and better times would come.

I take a certain pride in knowing tons of meaningless facts about old music. So I was super upset on Sunday when I learned that Stevie Wonder played the harmonica on this song.

Now it is entirely possible I knew this back in the day and just forgot it. But it seems like that is something I would not have forgotten; come on, Stevie Fucking Wonder playing on an Elton John song? I was utterly shocked when I heard Casey Kasem talk about Stevie’s contribution here. What’s the point of taking up space in my head with all this garbage if I didn’t know/couldn’t recall something as big as that?

Seriously, it almost ruined my entire day.

1984 was a big year for Stevie Wonder harmonica cameos. Late in the year he joined Chaka Khan on her cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You.” Throw in the regrettable, but massive, “I Just Called To Say I Love You” and 1984 was the last monster year of Stevie’s career.

There were a lot of Elton and Stevie albums in my mom’s record collection. I hope she knew of Stevie’s presence on this song and it pleased her.

Friday Playlist

All of a sudden I have a glut of new music. Which is a good thing, of course. Sadly, it’s still all singles; no good album releases today, at least that I’ve seen so far. I did add two more exciting releases to April and May this week, so spring promises to be a beast.

“Always Ascending” – Franz Ferdinand. Not crazy about their new album, but this song, after its slow build, hits all the right FF spots: ass-shakin’ indie rock.

“The Day Will Be Mine” – Sloan. I love power pop, but for some reason I’ve never listened to Sloan very much. This is a fine song, so I may have to finally dive in when their new album hits in April.

“Notes on a Life Not Quite Lived” – Mastersystem. Holy out-of-nowhere! A Scottish super group that is right up my alley! Scott and Grant Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit joined by brothers Justin and James Lockey, of Editors and Minor Victories. It opens up like an early FR track, but then they take it in a completely unexpected, kick ass, almost grungy direction. Pretty excited to hear the entire album in April.

“Shiny One” – Belly. To the immense joy to those of us who loved Belly back in the mid-90s, the first single off their comeback album has finally arrived. And it is pretty good. Hints of the 90s without sounding only of that era. Their album is out in May.

“Make Me Feel” – Janelle Monáe. God damn! Ms. Monáe is back, channeling Prince in so many ways in this amazing track and video. There are some NSFW lyrics and images in here, so caution.



After you have a parent die, you think of them in odd moments and ways.

Example: one day last fall I was shaving. As I stood there, scraping metal against skin and stubble, for some reason my brain jumped back 31 years to the night my stepdad taught me how to shave. I remembered him showing me the proper amount of pressure to use, how to avoid nicking the edges of my lips but still get the area around them cleaned up, and his amazement at my ability to shave with either hand. He kept his razor in his right hand at all times, reaching across his face to shave the left cheek. I, on the other hand, just swapped hands and used my left hand for the left side. That seemed perfectly normal to me but blew his mind a little bit.

I chuckled at this memory and then did the math trying to recall how old he was that night. Thirty-six. Which, you know, wow.

I also thought of my mom’s age at the time, 34. Then I thought ahead to her age when she died, 46. That’s when my mind was blown a little. As I stood there, shaving on a warm, late fall morning, I, too was 46. I did some more math and figured that if I made it through the upcoming weekend, I would have lived more days than she had. Which was utterly amazing.

We’re at the age now that, unfortunately and sadly, several of my loyal readers and friends have lost parents. I never pretend to have all the answers that will help ease their grief, but I also have always felt an obligation to provide some kind of comforting words based on my experience. I usually say two things:

1) There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whatever feels right to you is the correct way. As long as you aren’t being destructive to yourself or your loved ones, never feel guilty about crying too much or not enough, being too sad or not sad enough. Do what you need to do.

2) You will think about your lost parent every day for the rest of your life. This one has always bothered me a little. I don’t mean to tell people who are in deep grief that that pain will never go away. No, the message is that every day something will remind you of your lost parent. You may be going about your day normally and hear a song they loved, come across something you have from their home, or just see a particular kind of late afternoon light that reminds you of riding to practice together and laughing at their bad jokes.

Or shaving and remembering how your stepdad, who is now two years gone, bought you your first razor and how you have almost passed your mom in total days lived.

I share this today because it is the 20th anniversary of my mom’s death. And I still, honestly, think of her every single day. The memories aren’t often sad or of her death. Just little things here and there.

Over the years I’ve had plenty of regrets of the things she missed – my marriage, being a grandmother, her not being there for my stepdad in his final years – but those, also, are fleeting. Most days it’s just a quick thought of her in the midst of other things. I keep the last picture we took together here on my desk, and although I don’t look directly at it very often, she’s always right there in my peripheral vision. Kind of like those fleeting thoughts each day: always there, but just out of focus.

There are a few days I think of her, and miss her, a little more. Mother’s Day. Her birthday. And February 22. In the first few years after her death, on Feb. 22 I would constantly check the clock and count down until the time of her death. When the time arrived, I would often go somewhere on my own, and both think about it and try not to think about it at the same time. Weird, I know.

More recently, I’ve just acknowledged the day early on and then gone about things as I would any other day.

As the 20th anniversary approached, though, I’ve been thinking more back to that day she died. I’m astounded at how strong my memories are of the first 12 hours or so after she died. Honestly, I think I remember everything about the period from the moment I got the phone call from my stepdad until I finally passed out on my grandmother’s bed early the next morning. After that, the following week is a blur.

As many of you know, S lost her mom in 1993. So we talk a lot about the Dead Moms, as we call them, in our house.[1] We often wonder how they would have changed as they aged. Would they have mellowed, become more strident in their ways, or some combination? Would they get along with each other? Would the four of us all get along? I’m pretty sure my mom would have been the one we had to tell to stop buying the girls so many presents at Christmas, for example.

And, to be honest, we use them to make fun of some of our closest friends. When someone tells about a crazy mother or father in law they have to deal with, we will always chuckle to ourselves. Later we’ll laugh together about how we never have to worry about St. Carolyn or St. Marie pissing us off, ignoring our instructions for the kids, or meddling in our business. They are forever frozen, all their rough edges softened by grief and two decades of them being memories.

  1. The coda of our famous First Date Story revolves around telling each other our moms were both deceased.  ↩

TV Stuff

I’m working on a couple longer, more personal writing pieces to share over the next couple days. Thus, rather than writing about the Olympics or college hoops, I’ll share another link from my Instapaper stash.

I had planned on doing a What I’m Watching post before the holidays. That, obviously, kind of went to shit and is tough to recreate now since most of the shows I was watching then have wrapped up their seasons or are on hiatus.[1]

But this appreciation of the best show on TV, The Good Place, is worth sharing.

The Good Place Has the Best Acting Ensemble on TV

Everyone on that show is great. And Ted Danson is a god-damned national treasure.

  1. Stuff I watched a lot in the fall: The Good Place, Brooklyn 99, The Vietnam War, Ghosted, Bojack Horseman (season one only so far), and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Other than Ghosted, which was uneven and flawed, I enjoyed all of those shows a lot.  ↩


I found myself watching the entire NBA All Star Game last night. That was kind of a surprise because that’s not something I’ve done very often in, oh, 20 years or so. Plus the Olympics were on, with some decent live coverage that didn’t revolve around four hours of figure skating for once. But L was excited to see Steph and Victor Oladipo, so we started watching and then I kept it on after she went to bed.

It was a pretty solid way to waste two and a half hours.

Well, except for the half of Fergie’s singing of the National Anthem that we caught. There’s been enough piling on this morning, so I’ll just say that even L said, “Whoo, that’s pretty bad!”

This year’s game came with the novelty of trying to de-noveltilze the game, if that’s the right word. Yeah, it was a still going to be an All Star Game with some inherent looseness compared to a “real” game. But the players and league were trying to reduce the silliness that had taken over in recent years. No more threatening 200 points or basically turning the game into a dunk contest with defenders rarely venturing inside the lane.

I think it was a pretty decent success.

I loved the concept of picking teams. And LeBron is right: if they keep this concept in place, they have to do the draft during All Star Saturday and televise it. That would be so awesome! Especially given how the dunk contest is so meh these days. But a televised draft would be amazing. Especially if you had a green room with all the potential draftees lined up and we could see the looks on their faces as they get passed over or are forced to play with someone they have a beef with. Un-drafted guys could lobby to end up on one team or the other. This would be great and really must happen.

The game? Solid. No All Star Game in any sport should be played with maximum intensity. It is an exhibition designed for the fans. Baseball tends to do a good job splitting the difference between fun and competitiveness. I think the NBA re-discovered that midpoint last night. The game was entertaining, the players seemed to be having fun and getting along and were interested in putting on a show. But it still resembled a game of basketball.

Oh, and we got a really good last four minutes or so. The intensity picked up. Defense got played. Teams were trying to get switches to good matchups not just for show, but to try to get a bucket. The last possession, when LBJ and Kevin Durant trapped Steph Curry and chased him around so he couldn’t get a shot off was just the best. It reminded me of another play I saw 10 years ago.

The big winner of the weekend was LeBron. More than any recent superstar in any sport, he has willingly taken on the role of being THE spokesman for the sport. Every word he said this weekend was perfect. Every action he made during the game was perfect. I’ve always liked LeBron. But this weekend was the first time I’ve probably ever loved him. I believe his love for the game and interest in making it better is genuine, and his efforts to use his platform to help others is equally genuine. The Jordan vs. LBJ conversation has gotten louder over the past couple years. I’m always been firmly Team MJ. But I will say, if LeBron keeps going a few more years and turns the on-the-court debate into a tie, the things he’s doing off-the-court seem like more than enough to break that tie.

Oh, and I’m not even talking about the political angle that was thrust upon LeBron this week by an idiot TV commentator. You know I’m down with LBJ there.

All this – including conversations between players and referees to try to improve on-court relations between those groups – are more signs that the NBA is the best pro league going right now. Football is a mess. Baseball seems to be tired of its labor peace as several small disputes and a few larger ones appear poised to turn ugly quickly. Meanwhile the NBA has the most exciting game to offer, puts its players out front, embraces rather than runs from making political and social stands, and is actively engaged in finding ways to make the game and game experience better.

Reaching For the Stars, Vol. 2

Chart Week: Feb. 7, 1981
Songs/Chart Positions: “Killin’ Time” – Fred Knoblock and Susan Anton, #28
“Smoky Mountain Rain” – Ronnie Millsap, #27
“I Made It Through the Rain” – Barry Manilow, #26

My normal Sunday routine is to get up sometime between 8:00 and 8:30, watch the local news long enough to check the weather, and then move into the kitchen to have breakfast. While eating I flip on the radio to check the week’s American Top 40. I always have a little contest with myself to see how quickly I can determine what year the show is from based on the song that is playing. From there I decide if that week’s countdown is worth listening to. My sweet spot is normally 1982 through mid–1986. Earlier or later than that and I often lose interest fairly quickly.

Last week’s countdown was from 1981, and full of mediocre songs, so I only listened long enough to eat.

Why write about this week, then? Because three songs that were just off the chart hinted at a new era that was fast approaching.

But, first, the three songs I listened to.

The only way Fred Knoblock was cracking the Top 40 was by singing about having a fling with Anton, a former Miss America finalist who was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world in 1981.[1] It’s a cheesy, saccharine, weightless song perfect for the era when every family had a fondue pot tucked into their pantries and “Afternoon Delight” was still part of the cultural memories of most Americans.[2] Although actors hitting the charts with bad songs has happened in all musical eras, the touch of country in this song makes it easy to peg as something from the transitional phase that was the late ‘70s through the rise of the New Wave era.

“Smoky Mountain Rain” is a good damn song. There, I said it. But, again, its AM radio blend of country and adult contemporary identifies its time of origin quickly. Despite its date of release, this is not 80s music.

I know I have some friends who are down with Barry Manilow. That’s cool. My mom listened to a lot of Barry in the late 70s, so his tunes are certainly a part of my musical education. But if you forced me to listen to Barry, this is not a song I would pick.

I may not like these songs, but they cut to the heart of why I enjoy listening to these old countdowns. I can listen to any 80s song any time I want to thanks to the magic of streaming music services. In that on-demand world, I can jump across years and tie together just my favorite songs. When I listen to old AT 40s, I’m forced to hear the songs in their original contexts, surrounded by other records of different genres. I love hearing a song that became a timeless classic just as it was creeping into the Top 40. I also love hearing Casey Kasem talk about artists who dominated the charts for a few years but are completely forgotten today. We had no idea that “Don’t You Want Me” would still get played dozens of times a week today, or that The Knack would never be heard from again.

Each week, as I listen to the old countdowns, I use the Weekly Top 40 website for more context. One of the great things about the site is it lists not only each week’s Top 40, but also songs that fell out of the countdown, songs that debuted in the Hot 100, and that week’s Power Plays; songs that, based on airplay and sales, were likely to move into the Top 40 soon.

The week of February 7, 1981 fascinates me. As I scrolled through that week’s chart, it did not feel very 80s to me. The three songs I heard Sunday seemed largely representative of that entire chart: mostly adult contemporary, mostly older artists, with a strong influence of the 1970s throughout. It seemed better suited to a small, transistor AM radio than an FM stereo receiver that was part of a big sound system.

But then you look at that week’s Power Plays and see something different. Number 43, “Kiss On My List” by Hall & Oates; #42, “Rapture” by Blondie; and #41, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar. Now these are 80s songs! Only “Rapture” has any New Wave ties, although it is far more famous for being the first significant charting song that incorporated rap. “Kiss On My List” is pure 80s pop. And Benatar was combining stadium rock and melodic pop into one of the iconic sounds of the new decade.

Finding these transition points in old charts makes listening to a bunch of crappy songs worth it. Music didn’t suddenly become all New Wave synth pop in March of 1982, or all hair metal ballads in the summer of ’89. The shifts come slowly, over several months, with one song breaking the trail for a few more, until finally dozens have moved pop music in a different direction.

1982 feels like the first year that “80s music” dominated the charts. The first hints of that shift were making themselves visible in the winter of 1981.

  1. Knoblock actually had four other songs that hit the country charts, including 1980’s “Why Not Me,” that made it to #18 on the pop chart. I stand corrected!  ↩
  2. Dude, that “Afternoon Delight” video is dope as hell!  ↩

Friday Playlist

“Lovesick on a Hotel Wildfire” – Korey Dane. This is a song Spotify sent my way, and I’m glad it did. Apparently I’ve heard a couple of Dane’s songs before, although I did not recall his name. He’s been called a “stoner Springsteen,” and this song certainly fits that vibe.

“Name For You – Flipped” – The Shins. A few weeks back Strand of Oaks released his Harder Love album, which featured both different versions of songs from last year’s Hard Love and songs that had been recorded in its sessions but did not make the final album. The Shins have done something similar. They took last year’s Heartworms and revamped every song: slow songs get fast, fast songs get slow, genres get swapped, and so on. The result is The Worm’s Heart. This song, which was my favorite from the original album, translates quite well in its new form, too.

“Baby I Love You” – Ryan Adams. A single for Valentine’s Day. From everything I’ve read, this is a one-off single rather than a leftover from last year’s Prisoner or Prisoner B-Sides albums. I want to be careful how I say this: Ryan Adams, for all his immense talent, is not Prince. But he has a very Prince-like ability to crank out a kick ass song at any time. 

“Weather With You” – Crowded House. This popped up this morning, and it made me think of spring and warm days. We’ve had a few such days this week, but this is Central Indiana: spring is still a long way away. From 1991’s wonderful Woodface album, when Tim Finn joined his brother Neil in CH and they created some of the greatest vocals of the decade.

“Safe European Home” – The Clash. I’ve been trying to squeeze in a song each week that is x0 years old. So most week’s we’ve had a song from 2008, 1998, etc. This classic is from 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope album, often viewed as a weak point between The Clash’s self-titled debut and the legendary London Calling. But there was nothing weak about this song, which poked fun at the band’s love of Jamaican culture and how their expectations of the country were shattered by their first visit to the island, during which the band just avoided being robbed for all their money and gear. BTW, The Clash have one of the great side-one, track-one runs of all time. Their first three albums began with “Janie Jones,” “Safe European Home,” and “London Calling.” A lot of bands would kill to make those three songs over a 20 year career. The Clash did it on the first song of their first three albums! Sandinista’s “Magnificent Seven” was pretty good, but not in the class of those three songs. 

“Nameless, Faceless” – Courtney Barnett. Yes!!! There had been rumors that Barnett already had a new album ready, despite just putting out an album with Kurt Vile last year. We got the first single and a release date – May 18 – yesterday. I keep a list with release dates of albums I’m looking forward to. Right now there five albums on the list. All will drop in April and May. It’s going to be a good spring.

« Older posts

© 2024 D's Notebook

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑