Early 80s MTV, post-punk and new wave

Gloria Vanderbit’s passing yesterday got me thinking about the classic Robert Hazard one-hit-wonder “Escalator of Life” that came out in 1982. It was one of those odd new-wavey hits that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense lyrically (or in this case, took a metaphor and stretched it to its breaking point), but it was certainly one hell of a cool song at the time.

I often talk about the late 80s here at Walk in Silence, but I don’t think I give nearly enough love to the early 80s, which were just as influential to me as a kid. I listened to just as much radio and watched as much MTV then as I did later on, and my tastes were just as varied. I could be listening to the hard rock of WAAF in the morning as I got ready for school, but I could be listening to the classic rock of WAQY on the weekend, and watching the then-freeform stylings of early era MTV. I liked A Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran and Pat Benatar just as much as I liked Led Zep, Eagles, and that little quirky southern band WAQY liked called REM.

As commercial as some of these stations and channels were, they weren’t averse to playing the occasional obscurity like The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown” or Yello’s “The Evening’s Young”. They’d sneak in gems like The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” or Bow Wow Wow’s “Baby Oh No”. They were quirky but had crossover potential.

I remember a lot of these obscurities — the ones you remember from the era that don’t show up on those Just Can’t Get Enough compilations or those 80s Retro internet stations — because my mixtape-making actually started around this time, in late 1982. I’d made quasi-mixtapes before then, of course..mainly dubbing songs off the radio and from MTV (holding our cassette recorder close to the tv speaker, of course), but they didn’t contain that many songs. It wasn’t until November 1982 that I’d gathered a handful of used blank tapes and went wild. This first collection lasted six tapes and contained everything from A Flock of Seagulls to Led Zeppelin to Donnie Iris to Chilliwack to Thomas Dolby. It’s quite a manic and haphazard mix, created over the length of maybe two or three months.

I also started cataloging my mixtapes around then, first on index cards I would stick to the tapes with rubber bands, then a few years later with a steno notebook. Most all of those early tapes are long gone, having either gotten broken or tangled, taped over by something more important, or just faded back into white noise. But I kept these catalogs — mainly because I was a packrat — and much, much later (in 2007 or so) I started recreating them digitally using copied mp3s.

It’s kind of wild to see these mixtape track lists so many decades later; on the one hand, I’m not at all surprised that I was that obsessed over pop and rock music by the time I was twelve. There was just so much more out there coming out, and I just wanted to hear all of it! Sure, I had my questionable selections, but we all did around then. We’d gone from AM radio to the commercial FM radio to early MTV within the span of maybe four or five years. Some of us were just going to ride that particular avalanche and have fun while it happened.

This is how my mind works.

jonzbox

The Jonzbox, acquired Christmas 1983, last used…2004?

So I’m listening to KSCU online this morning, and one of the deejays is playing stuff that’s catching my interest.  I have a few titles written down for further research and possible downloading.

And I’m thinking…back in the day, I used to have a blank tape at the ready inside that mini boombox you see above there, Record and Play already down, the Pause button ready to be hit as soon as a cool song comes on.  I have a good handful of tapes full of stuff I’ve taped off of college radio shows from the 1988-1989 semesters.  One or two of those tapes are almost complete shows.

So after that show finishes, I’m thinking…it’s all fine and dandy that I can write down the songs that I like and download them, but what if I want more than that?  What if I want to retain that bit of college radio atmosphere, some deejay patter, and so on?  How would I go about doing that?  I mean, aside from downloading questionable software that may or many not even work?

So it occurs to me: I could set up a tape deck, just like the old days…plug some wires into the Audio In jack in the back, plug the other end into the speaker jack or the headphone jack of the PC. I think I still have a few blank tapes kicking around, and I know I can still find new blanks if take the time to look for them.  And then I can use my audio software to convert the tapes to mp3 later on.

An extremely Rube Goldbergian setup to be sure, but I would actually go that far if I really wanted to.  Because I’m that much of a music nerd to go THAT old school to tape stuff off the radio.

 

[As an aside, there’s one show on KSCU, The 80s Underground, where the deejay records his entire show, patter and all, and puts it up as a podcast later in the day.  He’s got excellent taste, knows his obscurities, and it’s well worth checking out.]