Mixtape review: “WJTW Backs Of the Racks” (1989)

 

(Above: You really shouldn’t store your cassettes in the middle like that, especially not for almost thirty years.)

I was digging through a box of cassettes at home this week and found a cassette that I have alluded to in the past, said that “I should write about,” and never did – until now. So, today, we’ll unbox it and see what goodies we can find.

Right about the end of the time that I was working for WJTW-FM in Joliet, I was moved back to the overnight shift. There wasn’t a whole lot to do on the overnight shift except to hit a few buttons every few minutes. (Students of modern radio may be confused by something in this paragraph. It used to be required that a radio station have someone in it 24 hours a day in case something bad happened. Also, automation wasn’t as polished as it is now, and it was easier – and less expensive – to pay some 20-year-old kid $5 an hour to sit there and do a radio show.  That is how I got my start, and I am sorry that that is no longer an option for many of you.)

One night I decided that I could use some new music for my car. Rather than steal a bunch from the station, I effectively decided to pirate it instead. The music on WJTW was all recorded to individual cartridge tapes – “carts,” we called them – that were like 8-tracks that didn’t click in the middle of your favorite song. I decided to look for some songs that not only weren’t in the rotation, but by 1989 had fallen out of favor and really weren’t being played anywhere. So, I grabbed a bunch of carts and started copying them to a cassette tape.  Since these came from the section of the cart rack we weren’t using, I called the tape “the backs of the racks.”  Here’s what I thought to copy:

Side A

Blondie – “The Tide Is High.” Good start. It would take a few years before we’d start hearing Blondie in commercials for Wal-Mart, and this is a fun record.

Sheena Easton – “Modern Girl.” You’ll notice that there’s going to be some overlap between this tape and the songs in the “box of records” posts from January 2017 (available here and here). I was grabbing these songs in ’89 as “oh, wows.” Later, I’d find the 45s and buy them, since it was easier to throw on a stack of records at home than to fumble for a cassette.  This is one of those.

Elvin Bishop – “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.” Years later at WCFL/Morris I’d make some joke about how they got this backwards, killing the mojo of the song completely. That’s actually Mickey Thomas of Starship on lead vocals. Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, a whole new generation knows it – but it used to be forgotten.

Clarence Clemons and Jackson Browne – “You’re a Friend of Mine.” Wow.  I haven’t heard this in years. Fun bit of trivia: that’s actress Daryl Hannah providing the backup singing. Not-so-fun bit of trivia: she was Browne’s girlfriend at the time, and it came out in the wash that he was allegedly abusive, so we don’t know if she wanted to do this or not. (Edit: We do know that Browne was cleared.)

Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah – “Lake Shore Drive.” This used to be really, really hard to find. Once it made it to CD in the 90s that was fixed, but in 1989 this was the sort of thing that would have led someone to want to make a copy of my copy, which was probably a copy in the first place.

Amy Grant – “Stay For Awhile.” Another oh-wow. This is from before Amy decided to shift from being a Christian singer to being famous. It never charted, but it’s a nice record. This was the same station where the music director, a born-again Christian, objected to playing Madonna, so he might have put this in the library. Nice find.

Steve Perry – “Oh Sherrie.” A fun song to sing in the voice of Bob Dylan. Try it.

Atlanta Rhythm Section – “Imaginary Lover.” For me, this was a “Hey, I remember that song! Cool!” thing until the 70’s format burned it to a crisp. It’s another example of a song  that’s sort of musical mayonnaise.

Franke and the Knockouts – “Sweetheart.” I did not know that this band hit the Top 40 three times. This was the first and biggest hit. You have to go really, really deep to find the other two (“You’re My Girl” and “Without You (Not Another Lonely Night)”, which I cannot hum.

David Gates – “Goodbye Girl.” This is a guilty pleasure record that I associate with hearing a lot on WLS as a kid. It’s, of course, from the movie of the same name, which I would have had no interest in at age nine, but I always liked the song.

The Motels – “Only the Lonely.” Have I mentioned that the flow of the music is pretty decent? I’d listen to this station, although this seems really, really mellow to have been programmed by a 20-year-old guy. There was a time before the “all-80s” fad where you could go months or years without hearing this, which was too bad.

Danny Wilson – “Mary’s Prayer.” This is the perfect ending to a cassette side, since it draws to one of the slowest closes of any song that previously had any sort of tempo before that. (Honorable mention: Night Ranger, “Sister Christian.”)

Side B

Toto – “Africa.” Dear readers: I am old enough to remember when this was simply a pleasant pop song. It was a hit for a while – it spent a week at #1 – and then went away. It was not some sort of over-hyped phenomenon the likes of bacon, zombies, doggos etc. Sure, it’s good.  It’s not the “best. song. evv-urrrr.” like so many on the Internets would have you believe.  It was so forgotten, in fact, that in 1989 it ended up on a compilation like this for good reason: no one was paying any attention to it. Today, there’s a Twitter bot that constantly tweets the lyrics. I think 1989 had it right.

Paul Young – “Everytime You Go Away.” File this one under “songs of goodbye.” The date on this cassette is 9/28/89, which means the following week I’d be moving to Iowa and leaving home for the first time. There’s gotta be some significance to it being here, because this tape just became a John Hughes movie.

The Eurythmics – “Right By Your Side.” Ah, that’s better.  This song is still largely forgotten, and that’s a shame. It’s fun, and Annie Lennox possesses one of those voices that make you sit up and take notice. (If you still don’t believe me, play “Walking on Broken Glass” at full volume.) Much like Martha Davis of the Motels, I could listen to her sing the phone book.

Alan Parsons Project – “Don’t Answer Me.” I may hold the record for most times played for this song, and I’ll still let it go all the way to the end.

The Motels – “Suddenly Last Summer.” I liked this one even more than the bigger hit on side A, and it’s less likely that you’ll hear this one.

Orleans – “Still the One.” In 1989 there was no 70’s format.  The Have a Nice Day set of 70s CDs was just being released, WCFL/Morris hadn’t gone on the air yet, and the only memory of this song was its use in promoting the ABC fall lineup in 1979. (In my head I can hear Ernie Anderson cursing about it.)

Bob Welch – “Sentimental Lady.” I’m having a hard time picturing some of these songs out of the rotation.

Looking Glass – “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl).” Same as above. I must have played this song at least a thousand times in the 2000s alone.

Three Dog Night – “One.” Yeah, this would have been off as well.  Perhaps Oldies was playing it, but classic rock was definitely not.

Tower of Power – “So Very Hard To Go.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out how this got into the station in the first place, based on how overwhelmingly white the playlist was – but I am glad that it’s here.

Walter Egan – “Magnet and Steel.” I haven’t heard this song in a very long time, and this one needs to make a comeback.  This is a great record. (And yes, that’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham on backup vocals.)

Double – “Captain of Her Heart.” We close out with the song that reminded me of this tape in the first place – the night I pulled out the 45, I thought “I think I did a tape.”  Fortunately, I tend to not thin out ANY of this sort of stuff, and the tape remains.

Overall, this is a pretty decent tape that’s programmed pretty well. I wouldn’t get my program director stripes for another four years at this stage, but clearly I was starting to pay attention to how songs went together.  (Compared to the mixtape from the summer before, it’s art.) I think the oddest thing about this tape is the thought that so many of these songs used to be termed “forgotten.” We certainly remember them now, don’t we?

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