Chart Week: October 23, 1982
Song: “Steppin’ Out” – Joe Jackson
Chart Position: #32, 10th week on the chart. Peaked at #6 for three weeks in December.

I’ve written many times about how my parents influenced the music I have listened to. I’ve also mentioned how my grandparents always had the radio tuned to the local station, which between farm reports and news/weather bulletins, played the most generic blend of Top 40 pop possible. But they aren’t the only relatives who deserve credit.

My dad’s youngest brother helped me transition from the music of others to the music of me.

Uncle D is just 10 years older than me. As much a I enjoyed visiting my grandparents, those visits were always better when he was also around. That meant I could flip through his record collection and discover bands I had never heard of, or listen to deep cuts from bands I only knew the radio singles of. Or we would hop into his Monte Carlo and crank the radio up while cruising around Great Bend, KS. He introduced me to AC/DC, Boston, Pablo Cruise, Loverboy, Journey, and countless others[1] We would sit outside the Dairy Queen eating ice cream and I would ask him questions about what bands he had seen in concert and what it was like to go to a show. He and his college roommate were both aspiring radio DJs, so when they got together I would listen to their stories of getting to pick the music that was broadcast across central Kansas.[2]

1982 was when I was beginning to develop my own tastes in music. It helped that this was in the heart of the years when my mom worked multiple jobs, so my evenings were often spent alone, picking whatever radio station I wanted to jam out to. I kept a blank cassette in the stereo, queued up and ready to record when a song I liked came on. I was always sure to catch Q–104’s top four at 9:00 show to hear the most requested songs of the day so I could discuss them on the bus the next morning with my fellow music geeks.

The year was full of weird, new sounds, and I wasn’t sure what to think about all of them. “Steppin’ Out”’s insistent bass line and piano jabs got into my head, but the song sounded very different from the Human League, Soft Cell, or Flock of Seagulls, other bands I discovered in 1982. It wasn’t your standard New Wave song, but it also didn’t sound like something my mom would have any interest in. It was kind of jazzy. It didn’t have a chorus that wormed its way into your head and never left. Was that a xylophone in the instrumental break in the last minute? And Joe looked more like someone who would be managing the Laundromat we went to once a week than the youthful artists that were forcing New Wave into the pop charts.

However odd its various elements were, the song’s sense of liberation and adventure struck a chord with a kid who was locked alone inside the house five nights a week.

Right around the weekend of October 23, 1982, my uncle and his fiancé took me to some haunted houses in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City. It was my first-ever trip to a haunted house and I was both terrified and delighted. I have a vivid memory of “Steppin’ Out” coming on at some point and my uncle twisting the volume knob up. He started bopping his head to the beat and asked me, “Isn’t this a great song?” His approval gave me the permission to fall in love with this track despite its strangeness. I still turn the volume up a couple notches any time I hear it.

I texted my uncle Sunday to see if he recalled helping me to step out on the town that night 38 years ago. He did. And he remembered teaching me some cheesy dance he and his roommates did anytime “Steppin’ Out” came on, which no doubt annoyed and embarrassed his fiancé. It wouldn’t surprise me if he busted out that awkward dance Sunday evening to see if it still annoyed his wife of 34 years.[3]

  1. A few years later I introduced him to bands like U2 and Pearl Jam.  ↩

  2. Unfortunately my uncle didn’t have the voice for radio. His roommate did, though, and spent a few years as an on-air personality before realizing selling insurance paid the bills better than being on a small-town radio station.  ↩

  3. Same woman as in 1982. They were engaged for a long, long time. I forget why.  ↩