October 1979: Million Mile Reflections
I was hanging around the campus radio station one day in late August 1979. I may have been getting ready to go on the air, or I may have just come off, or I may have been there simply because I'd missed it over the summer. I'd worked a lot of radio since my first shift in December, and three months later I'd managed to snag a paying part-time gig at KDTH in Dubuque. I was already making plans to run for program director of the campus station in the elections later that fall. In short, I felt like I had life pretty much by the tail. At the start of my sophomore year, I was a much different person than I'd been the previous fall.
So anyway, August 1979. I'm hanging out with a few friends at WSUP. It's the first week of school, so new freshmen interested in radio have been coming in to check the place out. On this particular afternoon, a girl walked in and started looking around. She was wearing a red-and-white striped sweater--which she filled out extreeeemly well--and had long dark hair down to her waist, dark eyes, and a distinctive nose. "Holy crap," I said to my friends. "Who's that?" And then: "I have an overwhelming desire to go over and ask her out."
I didn't, of course, because that's not the way I rolled back in those days. I did find out that Sweater Girl's name was Ann. And when I found out she was going to be reading news on the air Tuesday nights, I did what any radio guy shy around women would do--I signed up to host the Tuesday evening show. I soon found out she already had a boyfriend, but I asked her out for drinks after the show a couple of times anyhow, and she accepted. She seemed to like me, but she kept dating this other guy, too.
At the end of October, the radio station hosted a Halloween party in the student center bar. It was a rager--legend has it that the party marked the last time dollar pitchers were ever offered on campus because beer consumption broke some sort of record. And the two guys who DJed the party--one of whom, Willie, has been a friend ever since those days and remains a regular reader of this blog--put together what we would have called back then the greatest balls-to-the-wall night of rock and roll in the history of mankind. Ann came with her boyfriend, but she also hung around my table, and after about two beers, I wrapped my arm firmly around her waist and didn't let go of her for the entire night. (Except, it is said, for the brief time I climbed up on a table to do the bump with one of the sports guys from the radio station.) I am not sure what became of the boyfriend that particular night--but she still didn't dump him, even after all that.
Every year in the late fall, the radio station held a banquet. It was ostensibly a time to hand out awards and to honor the outgoing heads of various station departments, but it was mostly an excuse to dress up and drink. I asked Ann if she would like to go with me, not as a date but as a couple of colleagues going to the same function, since I had a car and she didn't. (Christ, I was smooth.) But I recall that after I dropped her at her dorm room, I asked if I could kiss her goodnight, and she said yes. I arranged to have roses delivered to her a few weeks later on Christmas Eve, and the boyfriend was out of the picture soon after that. I had actually won the girl.
There's more to the story I could tell, but I'm going to skip ahead. Ann became The Mrs. in 1983, and is still The Mrs. today. The red-and-white sweater is hanging in the closet in my office.
In the fall of 1979, WSUP was an album rocker, so instead of listing five hits from the singles chart during this week in that year, I'll list five albums that bring back the season. (No tracks posted this time. Sorry.)
In Through the Out Door/Led Zeppelin. A commenter to an earlier post mentioned that her college station played jazz, so I suppose I should acknowledge how fortunate we were that our station had a student-programmed rock format with student DJs instead of National Public Radio. Our program director during the fall of '79 had worked the summer at a Lee Abrams-consulted album rocker in Milwaukee, and he created his own version of the Abrams "Superstars" format, the first classic-rock format, for WSUP. Thus the Zeppelin album was in heavy rotation for a long time. Key track: "All My Love."
The Long Run/Eagles. I was on the air the day this came in to the radio station, and it was on my turntable shortly after the music director opened the package. I've heard it so many times that it's pretty crisp to me now, but it remains one of The Mrs.' all-time favorites. Key track: "The Sad Cafe."
Cornerstone/Styx. An album much awaited by all of us at WSUP--and by almost everyone in the world between the ages of 12 and 24 in 1979. Too bad it wasn't remotely as good as The Grand Illusion or Pieces of Eight. I didn't know what to make of the big single, "Babe"--although we know now its success meant that Styx, which had largely avoided ballads on their earlier albums, would include at least one "Babe"-like sludgefest on each forthcoming album. Key track: "Borrowed Time."
Candy-O/The Cars. The Cars' chilly sound would be everywhere on the Top 40 by the year Ann and I got married, but in 1979, it was still fresh and unusual. Candy-O remains the Cars' best album, and it still sounds pretty good today. Key track: "Dangerous Type."
Million Mile Reflections/Charlie Daniels Band. In the fall of '79, right up there alongside Zeppelin, the Eagles, Styx, and the Cars, every bit as important on album-rock radio, was the Charlie Daniels Band. Million Mile Reflections ended up being the biggest hit of Charlie Daniels' career. The lead cut, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," scored an unusual triple as a hit on album-oriented radio, Top 40, and the country charts, where it spent a week at Number One. I've apparently lost the argument over whether country rock belongs on classic-rock radio anymore--listeners sufficiently interested to weigh in said yes, it does--but honesty compels me to report that I haven't played "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" on any of my shows at the classic rock station yet. Key track: "Passing Lane."
While I was living it, it seemed to take a long time to get from 1970 to 1979. Looking back on it now, it seems to have passed in an eyelash. Coming next: A few final thoughts on Octobers, then and now.