During the holidays the little blue sticker on my tapes and CDs would sometimes say “Give the Gift of Music,” a desperate plea on behalf of record companies begging the buying public to cram a few stockings with the newest releases from the hottest recording artists, almost as if to say, “Look, along with the real gifts you plan on buying, why not throw in some music too? I mean…we’re dying out here!”
So why not take a look back to when music was a big enough deal that Warehouse Sales in Mattoon, of all places, would pony up for a full page advertisement for the latest records and tapes; an ad that was so big that I had to crop it small only so I could bring you the image of “Cool Santa” grooving out in his North Pole Music Nook. So put on your readers, get ready to squint, and let’s take a look at what fresh tunes Cool Santa might have thrown down your chimney on Christmas Day, 1983.
Starting top left and moving clockwise we’ve got the late David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” not generally considered his last best record, but more like the last record he ever put out with songs you’d remember, unless of course you have fond memories of his songs on the “Labyrinth” soundtrack.
Next up we got The Stray Cats with “Rant and Rave with the Stray Cats.” I don’t know if Rockabilly was any more popular back in the ‘80s as swing music tried to be again in the mid-‘90s, but it was annoying to listen to either way. Imagine my shock when I realized “Rant and Rave” was their fourth record; because you’d think even one album of neo-Rockabilly in the new wave ‘80s would cause even God himself to look down and say, “You guys are pushing your luck.”
There’s Sheena Easton with “Best Kept Secret,” an album which, in the interest of full disclosure, I actually just bought on vinyl (used) from Positively Fourth Street in Charleston because I needed something to play on my refurbished record player, and because she looked amazing on the album cover. Easton was talented enough to sing any kind of music she wanted; problem was, that’s kind of what she did, meaning she never really excelled at any of it, although there are touches of the icy synth-pop goddess she should have been on the album-opening “Telefone” (dig that European spelling).
Speaking of “European,” out of Santa’s sleigh steps Duran Duran with (ahem) “Seven and the Ragged Tiger.” They were on the downside of their peak years by this point, but still with a few singles in pocket like “The Reflex.” You remember...that’s the one where they asked you to “try-yiee-yiee not to lose it.” Also of note, the next album they put out was a live record that Milton Bradley based a board game off of.
And if their frilly shirts weren’t metal enough for you, why not celebrate the holidays by getting your kids the newest LP from Iron Maiden, “Piece of Mind”? Of course I went through a heavy metal stage in my adolescent years, but it never fully stuck, and besides I was always more of a Judas Priest guy anyway (better driving songs), although having a homemade Iron Maiden mix-tape handy sure made me some quick friends with the older kids in auto shop class. I still have that cassette, by the way.
For those of you who find Iron Maiden a little too sacrilegious and Sheena Easton a little too tantalizing, then I bring you the cooling balm of Canada’s own Anne Murray, an artist whose music is so incapable of shocking that it’s elementally inert and who exudes the wanton sensuality of a substitute P.E. instructor. Her “A Little Good News” album reached No. 9 on the country charts. That’s not nothing. Still, Anne Murray was “country”?
As for the one-two-three punch of Peabo Bryson, Roberta Flack, and Melba Moore, all I can say is Peabo Bryson is still cooler than I’ll ever be, and Melba Moore is still pretty foxy even at age 70.
I just heard The Motels’ sorta-big hit “Suddenly Last Summer” on the radio last week, and as an example of one of those melancholy new-wave songs about girls and their totally bummer summers, it’s not too shabby, although it’s no “Cruel Summer” and it’s not still enough to keep me from confusing the band with The Waitresses.
Bringing up the rear we’ve got a Best of Kenny Rogers collection with an album cover that looks like a giant belt buckle, because hey, your dad wants records for Christmas too. And talk about synergy, it features his hit duet with Sheena-Freaking-Easton (“We’ve got Tonight”) and another two-fer with Kim Carnes, whose album is featured last in this ad and who I can say nothing else about other than she did a duet with Kenny Rogers.
As for the additional artists index at the bottom of the ad, of course you know I could easily drone on for another 1,000 words, but I’ll just keep it brief and say that I was familiar with just about all of them, although I still can’t figure out who “Michael Murphy” is, Re-Flex is the band that did that “Politics of Dancing” song you probably last heard while walking past any Contempo Casuals or Gadzooks in 1985, and that it’s probably the only time that “Hugo Strasser” was ever mentioned in the Journal Gazette unless we had a special section on German clarinet players.
These days, if you want to hear a song while you’re chopping broccoli, you ask your phone to play it and it does. Which is why I love that look I get from friends and family when I tell them I still love getting music for Christmas…that look that just screams, “Now where in the world am I going to find Melba Moore on CD these days?” Don’t sweat it! Just ask Cool Santa! But ask nicely; anyone else notice he has a demonic elf perched just to his left? And also…can you tell him I’d like the Duran Duran board game while you’re at it?
"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.