Stick ‘Em in Your Ear

(Pictured: the Cars, 1979.)

One night just after school started in 1979, I was on the air at the college radio station when the studio telephone rang. It was the associate editor of the campus newspaper. “We’d like somebody to write a music column for the paper every week,” she said, “and I can’t think of anyone better qualified to do it than you.”

The editor happened to be a former girlfriend of mine, and that was my main qualification for the gig. I had no other legitimate credentials at that point. I’d been on the campus station for less than a year, and I had neither a recognizable on-air style that made me unique nor a golden ear for picking the hits. What I did have was passion for music and the ability to cobble together strings of sentences in English. It was this that she remembered, and so “Stick ‘Em In Your Ear” was born.

Working at a radio station gave me access to new music, concert news, and the occasional concert ticket. Because the station was populated by other music freaks, we often talked, and more often argued, about our preferences and prejudices. As a result, my opinions came to be passionately held and in my columns, bluntly expressed.

I still have clips of these columns somewhere, but I am not proud of them. The young man who wrote them comes across as pompous and arrogant, utterly convinced of his own rectitude and completely lacking empathy for anyone else. Also, the writing is pretty rough. Even the best columns have a tossed-off, stream-of-consciousness feel to them, because that’s how I wrote in those days. When you think you’re perfect just the way you are, you don’t bother to edit.

Thirty-seven years ago this week, the paper published its last edition of the calendar year. In my column that week, I listed my top albums and singles of 1979. Here’s the album list:

1.  Candy-O/Cars
2.  The Long Run/Eagles
3.  Minute by Minute/Doobie Brothers
4.  In Through the Out Door/Led Zeppelin
5.  52nd Street/Billy Joel
6.  Breakfast in America/Supertramp
7.  Rickie Lee Jones
8.  Get the Knack
9.  Time Passages/Al Stewart
10.  Spirits Having Flown/Bee Gees

And the singles:

1.  “What a Fool Believes”/Doobie Brothers
2.  “Cruel to Be Kind”/Nick Lowe
3.  “Heart of Glass”/Blondie
4.  “Goodbye Stranger”/Supertramp
5.  “Rise”/Herb Alpert
6.  “Bad Case of Loving You”/Robert Palmer
7.  “Let’s Go”/Cars
8.  “Tragedy”/Bee Gees
9.  “Goodnight Tonight”/Wings
10.  “Sail On”/Commodores

It strikes me that those aren’t bad lists, even after all this time. On the singles list, I overrated “Rise” and “Goodnight Tonight,” and I liked “Heart of Glass” a lot more then than I do now. (If I were ranking these 10 songs now, “Sail On” might be #1.) About Candy-O, I wrote, “It typifies what the late 70s have been about, rockwise.” I don’t agree with that now. Candy-O is actually a break with 70s styles and a precursor of the polished, chilly, danceable 80s rock that MTV would make famous. Including the Bee Gees on both lists was an act of reverse iconoclasm, in which I praised an act most of my readers would have hated—although I still think the dramatic “Tragedy” is pretty good.

What’s missing from these lists is what was missing from our radio station: punk and new wave, with the exception of Blondie and Nick Lowe, whom we considered new-wavey. Also missing: the kind of adventuresome music associated with college radio. We were Top-40 and album-rock fans, as well as aspiring disc jockeys. We wanted to play the hits by the bands we loved, the ones we heard on the radio. Our station played a few songs by new, below-the-radar bands, but most of them left most of us cold. (If we’d paid better attention, we might have realized they resembled the Cars more than they did the Eagles or Doobies.)

About the time this list was published, I was elected program director of the campus radio station, which gave me an entirely new way to inflict my vanity, egotism, and lack of empathy on other people. But that’s a story I’ve told before.

(Rebooted from a post that first appeared on December 6, 2005. Hot damn, I’ve been at this a long time.)

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6 responses

  1. This reader is unsure how one can possibly overrate “Rise” ;-)

    Both lists are first rate, my only complaint would be ranking the filler-saturated The Long Run so high. But I would have placed ELO’s Discovery on my list, so I have no room to talk.

  2. Enjoyed your lists though it would have been interesting if you fully updated them rather than just mentioning a couple things you’d change. Curious to see how your perspective has shifted in four decades down the line.

    Blondie’s Eat To The Beat would more than likely be near the top of My Favorite Albums of 1979, which I haven’t published yet, but I did run through My Favorite Singles from that year HERE.

  3. The flip side of this would be: Is there anything you rubbished in 1979 that you’ve come to enjoy, or at least respect?
    I guess you’d probably have to re-read the columns to find out, which might be too painful (I know the feeling.)

    1. One that springs to mind is a column I wrote ripping Van Halen, suggesting that their music was childish garbage and that David Lee Roth should grow up, an opinion passionately held and bluntly expressed. (This brought about a relative blizzard of letters to the editor, all of which the editors insisted on publishing, even though many of them were basically “that guy’s opinion sucks” without making a counterargument.)

      I like the early Van Halen much more now, although whenever I hear it, I still think Diamond Dave’s pretty much an idiot.

  4. I’ve written about music here and there over the past few years (though nothing anywhere near “professional”). I’ve found that my reaction is the same as yours. I can’t stand to look at the early stuff I wrote. Way too pompous and arrogant. I’ve toned it down quite a bit ever since I realized that my taste in music isn’t perfect by a long shot.

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