Where Are You Now?

(Pictured: Paula Abdul; also pictured: a whole lot of the 80s.)

Because some amongst the readership are not as elderly as I, here’s a record chart that’s not quite as elderly as our charts usually are, from WKTI in Milwaukee, dated February 17, 1989.

In February 1989, I was still doing afternoons on the elevator music station in the Quad Cities. At some point within the previous year, I had half-heartedly pursued the overnight gig at the big Top 40 station in town, which I didn’t get. The program director—who may have been trying to soften the blow—told me that he figured I probably wouldn’t want to go from afternoon drive to overnights, and being the idiot I was, I agreed with him. But the guy who got the job was moved up to afternoons himself within six months—and he wasn’t nearly as good on the air as I was.

So anyway: the songs on WKTI during that February week did not make it on my station, even though we were tweaking the format to make it slightly hipper. We thought hard about adding “The Living Years,” and “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles and Sheriff’s “When I’m With You” could have been made to fit. We would eventually play other hits by New Kids on the Block (“I’ll Be Loving You Forever”) and Breathe (“How Can I Fall”). I was still listening to Top 40 in the car sometimes, so I would have heard many of the hits of the day, and in the early 90s, at another station, I would play a lot of them. Read about a few of them on the flip.

1. “Straight Up”/Paula Abdul (up from 2). The Mrs. bought Forever Your Girl, and although it was never something I was going to put on for an evening’s listening, it’s got some solid tunes. “Straight Up” is the best of its six (!) singles, with a hypnotic groove unlike anything else Paula ever did.

10. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”/Poison (down from 5). Bad-ass rock band does a ballad, and teenage fans of bad-ass rock band lose their shit. See also KISS (“Beth”), Nazareth (“Love Hurts”), Aerosmith (“Dream On”), and so forth. You just know that America today is full of people in their early 40s who lost their virginity to this, and twentysomethings who were conceived to it.

11. “Where Are You Now”/Synch (up from 14). “Where Are You Now” rode the charts twice, once when it came out in 1987, and again in ’89. The second time around it was billed to Jimmy Harnen and Synch, and it made #10 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the AC chart. (Come to think of it, we may have considered this one for airplay on the elevator-music station too.) Harnen eventually became a record executive in Nashville, and today is president of Republic Nashville, one of the most successful labels in country.

13. “The Living Years”/Mike & the Mechanics (up from 20). There are lots of reasons to hate “The Living Years,” including the children’s chorus and the overstuffed production, but I can’t do it. Sometimes the sap rises too high to ignore. When I play it on the radio today, I sometimes say it’s a public service announcement reminding you to call your parents.

17. “What I Am”/Edie Brickell and New Bohemians (up from 18). I really liked the weird quality of Brickell’s voice and the odd lyrics of “What I Am,” so I bought Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars—probably from Columbia House, for I was a member in those days. But I only played it a time or two before it got put on a hidden shelf with the other CDs that weren’t going to make the regular rotation. A year or so ago I ripped it to the laptop stash, and it’s come up on shuffle a couple of times in recent weeks. And as it played, both times I found myself wondering how much longer this tripe was going to go on.

And I know from tripe. I’ve been writing this blog since 2004.

7 responses

  1. I believe acts like Edie Brickell were what helped spawn Napster. “I paid 17 bucks for one good song?!”

    I’ve always been fascinated by re-entries of songs a few years later (like Synch noted above). Loved “Into the Night” by Benny Mardones and was stunned when the same version, not a re-recording, was a hit again.

  2. “What I Am” is one of my most hated hits of all time. Hated it then, still hate it today. That awful line “choke me in the shallow water before I get too deep” is nowhere near as clever as she apparently thinks it is, because she repeats it over and over again throughout the whole song.

    I’m pretty good at knowing who sang what song, that is, better than most non-industry people, but even though I definitely remember “Where Are You Now?”), I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of the group Synch. I mean, I’m sure I heard of them at the time, but their existence seems to have disappeared down my memory hole. (Is it pronounced “sync”, or “cinch”?) I would have guessed it was, I don’t know, Breathe, or Curiosity Killed the Cat, or The Breakfast Club, or Johnny Hates Jazz or another one of those long-forgotten late-80’s one-or-two-hit-wonders.

    As someone who spent almost his entire adult life estranged from his father, I can honestly say that, despite its flaws, “The Living Years” does resonate. I definitely recall getting the lump in the throat listening to it back when it was a current hit.

    When Jennifer Lopez first started putting out music, I referred to her as “the Paula Abdul of the 00’s” (mind you, this was before Paula Abdul’s celebrity was resurrected by American Idol)…now I think it’s probably more accurate to say that Paula Abdul was the early prototype for J-Lo (minus the acting career, of course).

    The biggest gap in my musical knowledge and experience are the 80’s hair metal bands like Poison. I listened mainly to R&B throughout most of the 80’s, as well as mainstream pop, but I just never paid attention, despite the fact that I was living in L.A., the epicenter of that whole scene. I’ve never cared to go back and get acquainted with it either, for some reason.

  3. Thanks for rememberin’ us young ‘uns, ya old geezer! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to mail in my AARP dues.

  4. We occasionally re-badged quasi-forgotten flashbacks as currents at my college station if they started getting repeated spins. 1973 resuscitations included early-’70s obscurities from the Country Store, Jerry Naylor and the Buoys (“Give Up Your Guns”), while The Move’s “Do Ya” was likewise dusted off in ’74.

    The Synch, Benny Mardones, Sheriff and other retreads can be traced to the networking of a handful of top CHR programmers, who thought it’d be cool to try to make hits out of some of their favorite stiffs. Most of those 45s were by then out of print, so procuring a copy became both an immediate priority and challenge, since the bloc’s airplay ads needed to be reported to the trades en masse. But even that was a cakewalk compared to the blindsided labels having to scramble to get a record out in time to cash in on the unexpected airplay windfall.

    The MD of the CHR FM down the hall asked if I had a copy of “Where Are You Now?” I didn’t, but offered to look at my neighborhood shop, where I ended up walking out with a clean used Columbia promo 45. I just noticed it was produced by Bill Kelly and Jerry Hludzik (pronounced “cinch,” only differently) who’d once been members of the “Give Up Your Guns” gang.

    1. Make that “airplay adds.”

  5. When I saw that this entry was about February 1989, I figured I wouldn’t know a single song you would mention. So imagine my surprise at knowing a few of them: “Straight Up,” “Eternal Flame,” and “What I Am,” all sung by women, interestingly. I still like all three, and yes, I like “What I Am” precisely because of its lyrical obscurity, not the mention the bouncy arrangement. I remember Brickell and the New Bohemians performing it on “Saturday Night Live.” Who’d have guessed 26 years ago that she’d be the future wife of Paul Simon?

  6. “You just know that America today is full of people in their early 40s who lost their virginity to this”
    Not me, mate.

    (IMHO, the idea of going all the way with the radio on is greatly overrated for teenagers. With the radio on, you can’t hear the garage door open or the front-door key rattle in the lock.)

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