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Pop-A-Looza TV

The Airport 77s / One Good Thing About Summer

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Pop-A-Looza TV

Icicle Works / Whisper To A Scream

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: They Don’t Know

From my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

TRACEY ULLMAN: They Don’t Know

Written by Kirsty MacColl

Produced by Peter Collins

Single, MCA Records, 1983

I moved from Brockport to Buffalo in August of 1982. The two years spent in Brockport after graduation had been…well, they certainly had been. Maybe I’ll write about all of that some day. I kept on listening to the radio, AM and FM. At the beginning of ’83, a new job required my own set of wheels, so my Dad arranged for me to get the 1969 Chevy Impala that had previously belonged to my grandfather. My first car. My first opportunity to drive with the radio on. Like Jonathan Richman: I got the AM radio on!

In the Impala, I was sometimes able to pick up a great AM hit station out of Toronto. More often, the Impala’s AM dial was locked on 14 Rock, a former Christian station that had recently converted to a pop format. It was my last gasp of trying to listen to AM Top 40, and it had its moments. 

In late ’83, Tracey Ullman‘s “They Don’t Know” was one of the finer moments. I was not familiar with Kirsty MacColl‘s original British single, nor could I even figure out initially who was responsible for this splendid, irresistible confection emanating from my car’s speakers; note to DJs then and now: if you play it, SAY IT! Jeez, how can radio do its job of selling records if we don’t know the names of the records playing?

In that flashpoint of mystery, when the singer was still an anonymous discovery that would not reveal her secret identity, “They Don’t Know” filled my Impala as no other song could. It was the sound of the ’60s girl groups, of course, but its tacit nostalgia didn’t overwhelm its sense of immediacy, its importance as an AM Top 40 hit RIGHT NOW, or at least the “right now” of that very moment in 1983. Hearing it at home, when I could close my eyes and let the song play in my waking dreams (an approach best avoided when one is driving), it felt like 1965 again. And this time, I was old enough to appreciate it. It was 1983. Anything could happen in 1983. 

Right?

I eventually ID’d the singer and the song. Tracey Ullman became far better known as an actress and comic performer, but she made her mark in music, too. She’s considered a one-hit wonder in America, but her British hit cover of Irma Thomas‘s “Breakaway” shoulda been a smash on these shores as well. Wish I coulda heard that on the radio, too.

I did hear “They Don’t Know.” I didn’t hear it often enough to suit me, but I heard it, and it mattered. Its cute MTV video, with the comic emphasis and the cameo by Paul McCartney, didn’t necessarily enhance the song, but it didn’t detract from it, either. As Ullman’s career progressed and her profile grew grander and more widespread, I wished her well from my humble sidelines, rooting for her as if she’d been an old friend. As I guess she had been, in a way. She was a voice on the radio. What better friend could one ask for?

(And if Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” really was my final big AM Top 40 song, then I went out in style. Radio up. Windows down. Let’s hit the road and drive.)

By Carl Cafarelli

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Pop-A-Looza TV

Nik Kershaw / Wouldn’t It Be Good

In July of 1985, Nik Kershaw appeared at Live Aid, opening his set with the international smash, Wouldn’t It Be Good.

VHS Rewind

I still own a working VCR. True, my intrepid old Proscan hasn’t had much work to do the past few years (or past couple of decades), but it remains functional. I’ve kept it hooked up to my TV, just in case I ever want to play an old tape, or copy an old tape to DVD-R.  Neither prospect occurs all that often. Nonetheless, my VCR stands poised, ready to answer the call if needed.

The VCR isn’t the only piece of outdated tech I own, of course. I have an eight-track player (stored in the garage), a cassette player (connected to the stereo, very rarely used), an 8mm camcorder (retained for the library of home videos of my daughter when she was little), and a mini disc deck and a few portable MD players (the portables plopped in a desk drawer, but the deck an integral part of my stereo, and in frequent use for prepping tracks for the radio show until the pandemic changed all of that). I guess the CD and DVD players are now considered antiquated (as the turntable was considered passé for a very long time); it’s true that I’m now more likely to play CDs on my computer (via an external drive) and DVDs in my blu-ray player, but CDs and DVDs (and blu-ray) are themselves still current tech to me.

It’s funny that I seem to have a slightly more nostalgic attachment to VCRs than I have to cassettes, even though cassettes played a much, much larger role in my life. But I have no specific current interest in the act of listening to cassettes.  In contrast, I had a random notion about a month ago of pulling out some old VHS tapes, just to see if the Proscan could still play them.

That said, I didn’t pursue the notion until my wife did some housecleaning and uncovered some old tapes made at her preschool job in the late ’80s, when she was a new teacher there. She was curious to see the tapes. 

My intrepid Proscan to the rescue!

I discovered that I’d discarded the VCR’s remote control somewhere along the way. We operated the player manually for that night’s viewing, and I bought a new universal remote the next day.

Now, finally set to follow through with my original whim to watch some old VHS tapes, I pulled out a couple of homemade rock video compilations I slapped together…well, a very long time ago. These tapes consist of individual videos I recorded off cable, primarily from MTV, and then dubbed onto a fresh tape. Video quality? Not my primary concern. I just wanted to preserve some stuff for my viewing, minus the extraneous distractions of other videos that didn’t interest me.

So far, I’ve watched two of these tapes, neither in its entirety, just fast-forwarding (thanks to my new remote) and checking out the contents. The tapes include a home video of me lip-syncing and guitar-miming to my karaoke performance of “Johnny B. Goode,” the Monkees explaining the rules for tabulating results of voting on The American Music Awards, and various artifacts from MTV, Late Night With David LettermanSaturday Night LiveNashville Now, and The Pat Sajak Show

Who’s on these tapes? Well! We have the RamonesBen E. KingJoan Jett and the BlackheartsTom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Axl RoseTommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (an American Music Awards clip that includes an audience shot of a visibly bored and/or annoyed Whitney Houston), the Long Rydersthe Moody Bluesthe Buddy System (great, forgotten MTV Basement Tapes winner “Go Back To Hollywood”), Iggy PopDumptruckthe EasybeatsMarshall Crenshawthe TurtlesJohn Lennonthe BeatlesDeep PurpleChubby CheckerFelix Cavaliere (frolicking with the cast of St. Elsewhere while lip-syncing his hit recording [with the Young Rascals] of “Good Lovin'”), Bruce SpringsteenDave EdmundsDon DixonToo Much JoySoul Asylumthe BanglesJohnny Riversthe CynicsSyd Strawthe Way MovesDionHindu Love Godsthe SmithereensIndigo GirlsRoachfordLiving ColourR.E.M.Toni BasilLou Reed and John CaleXTCLilac Timethe Darling Budsthe Georgia SatellitesGraham ParkerLords of the New ChurchMidnight Oil, and Tommy James and the Shondells, among others. 

Oh, and one of the tapes opens with the Monkees’ “Christmas Medley” from 1986, reuniting Micky DolenzDavy Jones, and Peter Tork with their erstwhile prime mate Michael Nesmith

SPOILER ALERT: Father Christmas secretly wears a wool hat!

Yeah, I could have probably found most or all of this stuff on YouTube, sure. But it was a more satisfying experience in the moment to dive into these videos I slapped together for myself those decades ago. I think I’ll watch a few more of these. I may even delve deeper into my VHS archives, and investigate further. All thanks to my intrepid Proscan. Time to rewind. You rock, dear old Proscan. You rock.

(And, back in ’88, I rocked, too. I have video to prove it.)

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV

Johnny Hates Jazz / Shattered Dreams

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Billy Idol / Rebel Yell

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Pop-A-Looza TV

A Flock Of Seagulls / Space Age Love Song

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The Go-Go’s / Head Over Heels

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Pop-A-Looza TV

Duran Duran / A View To A Kill