Every now and then a little group of songs piles up that I don’t really have full stories for, just quick impressions. Quite a few albums or songs from 1987-1988 fall into this category, so let’s take a quick break from the action and spotlight a few of them:
Colin Hay, Looking For Jack. I was putting together an in-store display for this album when I heard “Hey, James” behind me.
“Oh, hey Mary. What are you doing here?” She was a tiny little thing, not even five feet tall, with black hair. I knew her from SCAD but had never seen her outside of that context.
“Can I have one of those posters? I love Colin Hay.”
“Let me get done with this and if I have any leftover they’re all yours.”
“He’s so cute.”
“Seriously? Even with that weird eye?”
“It just makes him unique. I like unique. Are you still with that Jody girl?”
“Are you happy?”
“That’s too bad. I could make you happier. Well, if you have a poster left over just bring it to school for me, okay?”
After she left I ran to the bathroom and stared at the mirror, wondering if I was wall-eyed and just didn’t know it.
U2, The Joshua Tree. We were all supposed to fall to our knees and worship at the altar of the mighty U2 when this came out. I tried really hard to fall for it. The stink of self-importance wasn’t quite so strong prior to this album, and in fact U2 was pretty damned hip up through The Unforgettable Fire.
So anyway, I cracked this open and dropped it on the store’s turntable and Adam Clayton’s simple bass line for “With or Without You” bubbled along and I did that ’80s “I’m not really dancing I’m just totally into this groove” rock and Felicity, my assistant manager, walked past and said, “That how you dance? White boys be bad dancers. I hope y’all fuck better than that.”
Tribute, Ozzy Osbourne.The thing about music fans is that they’re really rabid, at least they used to be. Once one has aligned himself (and it’s usually a he) with a genre, nothing can shake his faith.
And so it was that some young Guy In Black Tee Shirt Who Jams whose name I’ve long forgotten used to come into the store and give me no end of shit about liking post-punk/new wave bands. “They’re a bunch of fags,” he said on one such occasion.
“Why do you say that?”
“They wear makeup and shit.”
I picked up Tribute and said, “Ozzy wears makeup.”
“What do you mean no? You can see the eyeliner.”
“That’s just because he went crazy one time and he, like, had that tattooed on his eyes,” my esteemed colleague said.
Remember this exchange the next time you debate questions of faith.
The Smiths, Strangeways Here We Come. When it was my turn at the Record Bar turntable, this bad boy was bound to get some air time, especially the climbing “Death of a Disco Dancer.”
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman. Fun Fact: The first time I played this album I had the turntable set at 45 RPM. I didn’t notice until halfway through side A.
The Church, Starfish. I was driving around Spartanburg the first time I heard “Under the Milky Way,” and I was sure it was one of the most finely crafted radio songs I’d ever heard. All I have is that brief sensory memory: the late winter chill, the Quincymobile bouncing beneath me, and this tasty little cut crackling through the speakers.
Kingdom Come, Kingdom Come. Man, did this get a hard push. “Get It On” was released without the artist’s name at first so that we’d all think it was a Led Zeppelin reunion. That idea wasn’t too preposterous, as Jimmy Page had just popped up on Robert Plant’s Now and Zen. I played good soldier and pimped the hell out of this, and as a result there are several poor suckers in the Savannah area who have a copy of this album in their stacks.
Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Now keep in mind that I was working at a predominantly rap record store at the time, and rap records for the most part were party records. We didn’t have much west coast influence in Savannah at that time — it was more Miami beats, traditional New Yorkers like Run DMC, and national acts like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
This album was literally a game changer, even more so than the previous year’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show. The 12″ wall looked like a waste of space; Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J and all that shit just sounded silly. I felt like I was hearing the hip hop Clash — the only rap band that mattered.
So much music, so little time…