June 8 – Guess Who Were Stars At Home?

They were one of the first big Canadian rock successes in the U.S., ironically enough largely on the strength of a song that seemed to take a dig at Americans. Yes, Americans loved “American Woman”, and a handful of other songs by the Guess Who, but in Canada they were homegrown superstars. And their winning streak continued on this day in 1974 when they hit the Canadian album charts yet again with Road Food, their 13th overall studio album (including a couple under Chad Allan’s name in the ’60s) and ninth one on RCA Records. Road Food had come out approximately six weeks earlier and was the third of four new albums they’d put out in 1973-74.

By then the band had settled into an established lineup centering around singer and keyboardist Burton Cummings. With him were long-time drummer Garry Peterson, lead guitarist Kurt Winter, and the pair of bassist Bill Wallace and rhythm guitarist Donnie McDougall, who’d joined about three albums prior. Star bassist Jim Kale and one-time frontman Randy Bachman were each distant memories, having quit the band in ’71 and ’70 respectively.

Cummings wrote most of the nine song album; in fact only on “Attilla’s Blues” did the whole band get credit. Though the album wasn’t bad by most people’s standards, one might wonder if four albums in two years wasn’t a little much to keep up, not many songs seem to stand out in fans memories from it besides two singles and the 7-minute plus “The Ballad of the Last Five Years” which seemingly gripes about the troubles of trying to please the record company and make it big in the States. The two singles however, were catchy and did well – “Star Baby” and the oddball radio homage “Clap for the Wolfman.

Star Baby” was inspired by one of their roadies who was apparently romantically involved with Bonnie of Delaney and Bonnie. Cummings imagined what it would be like to be a roadie with a big star and wrote the song in about twenty minutes. It was a fine power-pop 45 they’d premiered on the Midnight Special the previous year. “Clap for the Wolfman” was memorable for having none other than legendary DJ Wolfman Jack on it, adding ad libbed commentaries.

Allmusic rated it just 2.5 stars, actually the best rating for them since 1971’s Goodbye Bannatyne. They noticed “Cummings piano was moved to the front of the mix” and while “Star Baby” was “catchy and sounds like a hit”, the album overall was “uneven with some snazzy, jazzy tunes and a couple of overblown ballads.”

RCA did their part, releasing it both in stereo and quadrophonic sound on both LP and 8-track. The album itself sold tolerably, reaching #28 at home (actually the lowest peak of any of their RCA albums to that point) and in the States, #60. As for singles, in the U.S., “Star Baby” only hit #39 nationwide (it was a regional hit in some markets) but spending a credible 19 weeks on the charts, but “Clap for the Wolfman” got to #6. At home they got to #9 and #4 respectively, giving them some 25 top 20 hits to that point. They would however, only chart one more and McDougall and Winter quit after this album, leaving the door open for Cummings to embark on a successful solo career a couple of years later.


June 8 – And They Did, 38 Years Ago…

Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and on this day in 1985, Tears for Fears did. Or the world of music at least; their song from the big chair was at #1 in the U.S., their first such chart-topper here. They’d already been well-established in their native UK and had a following in Canada, where they were at #1 earlier in the year with “Shout” (which was released as a single later on in the U.S.).

The great song was co-written by their producer Chris Hughes, who’d worked previously as a drummer for Adam Ant. He notes it was the last song the band did for their massive Songs From the Big Chair and it was “so simple, it went down so quickly it was effortless really.” Yet another case of a band not being the best judge of their own work, guitarist Roland Orzabel thought the song “lightweight” and Hughes said “it’s bland as hell.” The public disagreed! The song hit #1 the same day north of the border and also got to the top in New Zealand and has since been used as the theme song for Dennis Miller’s short-lived TV talk show and won the Brit Award for best single of the year. And something about the sound and the lyrics “about everyone wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes” according to Curt Smith of the group, really resonated. Slant magazine declared it was “one of the great indictments of the materialism and triumphalism of the decade.”

An unusual and ahead-of-its-time version of the song was its CD single, which was “enhanced” with the video included, for the few people who had computers capable of playing it at that point! “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” has so far been spun over 6 million times on radio. By comparison, the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling”, released 20 years prior, recently hit 8 million and was considered the most-played rock song ever for years until The Police topped it with “Every Breath You Take.”.

June 7 – Old Sounds Sped Up New Charts

After racing up the British charts for the past two years, The Stray Cats were Built for Speed on the Billboard charts in North America. Their first North American album came out this day in 1982. The New York retro-rockabilly trio had moved to London at the end of the ’70s thinking the UK more receptive to their ’50s-inspired rock. They were likely right; their first album, a self-titled one was a top 10 hit there and that helped them eventually got a deal with EMI to release a record at home.

The album, culling songs from their first two UK records, was a monster – and surprise – hit. It hit #2 in the U.S. and was double-platinum there and in Canada as well, largely on the strength of a pair of top 10 hits that sounded like nothing else on the air then – “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock this Town.” The latter had already been a top 10 across the sea the year before, as had another song on Built for Speed, “Runaway Boys.” All three were produced by another talented rockabilly fan – Dave Edmunds. They reciprocated somewhat, appearing on the song “The Race is On” another UK hit, on Edmunds 1981 album, Twangin‘.  Built for Speed contained one brand new song, the title track.

Brian Setzer, the singer and guitarist soon took a sabbatical to join Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers and the other two formed a spinoff band as well; after one more album the band was history, something Setzer now says “was silly…at the peak of our success.” Since then he’s played idol Eddie Cochran in the movie La Bamba and kept busy with his retro-swing outfit, the Brian Setzer Orchestra.   Although he’s worked on a number of other projects since, Setzer has reunited the Cats who put out a new album, 40, in 2019, and later a live album culled from the live performances that year. 

June 7 – Funkytown Was The Destination Of Choice

Some artists liked lips-synching in videos, others refused to. The topic is a musical debate, some people being all for it, others hating it. But on this day in 1980, it seemed like no matter what their position on “lip synch” in music, everyone loved Lipps Inc. They held down the #1 spot for the second week in a row in the U.S. with “Funkytown” and would hang on to the top spot for two more weeks. OK, so it was a #1 hit – not bad, but not like it was the world’s biggest hit, you might be saying. Or was it?

Well… while it sold in the millions, it wasn’t the biggest-selling single of that year, let alone of all-time. And I seriously doubt many people, even dance enthusiasts, would suggest it was the greatest record ever made. But, on at least one count, it did become the most successful single ever, a distinction it would hang onto for over two decades. We’ll get to that, but first a little background.

Lipps Inc. were a funk/dance group out of Minneapolis, the brain child of Steven Greenberg. He was a popular wedding DJ in the Twin Cities, and one assumes he noticed people liked to dance to the disco hits at weddings. So he decided to make some music of his own. He was joined by Cynthia Johnson, a singer and sax player from a band which would morph into Prince’s backing band later on. They formed Lipps Inc. ( the name a play on words for “lip synch”), adding in various singers and musicians including David Rivkin, a drummer who’d done some work with Gram Parsons. They recorded their first album, Mouth to Mouth, in 1979, with Greenberg producing. While sounding quite highly synthetic and produced, they did utilize seven ordinary musicians, two more additional backing singers and a real quartet of violinists on the album.. which was perhaps better described as an EP. The release, on Casablanca which was hot at the time selling Donna Summer records, was a four-song, 30-minute dance affair.

The standout, and first single was “Funkytown”, a nearly 8-minute dance workout on the album cut in half for the 7” single and radio version. Sung by Johnson and written by Greenberg, it had her asking you to please take her to “Funky Town”, which to the pair was New York City. Although Minneapolis had a happening scene back then, to Lipps Inc., New York was where it was at.

The song would go on to spend four weeks at #1 in the States and end up as the eighth biggest hit of the year. As Time Out put it, “’Funkytown’ came late to the disco party but it gave it a jolt of electricity.” Indeed it did, being one of the very last major hits that fell clearly into the “disco” category. It also hit #1 in Canada. And Australia. And New Zealand. And Switzerland, where it was the #2 song for the year. And it made the top of the charts in some 23 other countries. That set a record. The 28 countries it topped charts in was the most by any song, ever, at that point. Take that “Hound Dog” or “Hey Jude”! It would hold on to the distinction until 2005, when Madonna’s “Hung Up” eclipsed it by getting to #1 in 41 lands – ironically, the U.S. not being one of them.

VH1 listed Lipps Inc. as their 36th greatest “one hit wonder” ever, and while the term generally fits, “Funkytown” wasn’t the only thing Lipps Inc. did that was popular. The song “All Night Dancing” was a dance chart #1 hit soon after “Funkytown”, and a year or so later they’d hit the top 30 again in most European nations with their take on the Ace hit “How Long.”

Lipps Inc. called it quits in 1985 after four albums, but several members had decent careers afterwards. It would seem no story about dance or funk music in Minnesota would be complete without mentioning Prince. Perhaps too, no story about June 7 in music is complete without the Purple One, who was born this day in 1958. At least a couple of members of Lipps In. went on to work with Prince in the late-’80s and ’90s, including singer Margaret Cox and drummer David Rivkin, who would later go by “David Z.” He is given a writing credit on Prince’s hit “Kiss”, and suggests he actually was a major collaborator on the Parade album which it appeared. Rivkin would also be very successful producing for the Fine Young Cannibals. And Steve Greenberg himself went into the music business, rising to VP level of Mercury Records, and signing another major “one hit wonder”, Hanson.

June 6 – Country Night Fever

Could lightning strike thrice? Hollywood, and record exec Irving Azoff, betted it could. And they weren’t entirely wrong. In 1977, John Travolta danced his way into superstardom with Saturday Night Fever, the music of which dominated the record charts the following year. In 1978, he did the same with Grease. Could the public buy Travolta in a cowboy hat, doing a two-step? And would it produce a mega-selling soundtrack? Turns out it would. And although neither the film nor the soundtrack quite matched the success of the previous two, Urban Cowboy certainly was a hit on the big screen and on big radios. The album came out this day in 1980.

The movie starred Travolta as Bud, a Texan oil worker and his at times problematic relationship with Sissy, played by Debra Winger. At night, they liked to hang out at Gilley’s, a huge bar near Houston which played itself in the film. It was billed as the “world’s biggest honky tonk” , having a capacity of 7000 people and famous mechanical bulls. It was owned by Mickey Gilley, a country music, piano-playing cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, who saw the possibilities as soon as someone suggested a film be shot there. “I’m thinking ‘Saturday Night Fever’? Country Night Fever,” he told Billboard.

The bar had live music and musicians like Bonnie Raitt and Charlie Daniels appeared as themselves in the movie (and also appeared on the soundtrack.) And like Saturday Night Fever, they put together a double-LP (66 minutes of music, which was on a single CD when finally released in that format) using a mix of existing hit songs (like “the Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, “Nine Tonight” by Bob Seger and “Lyin Eyes’” by the Eagles) and brand new ones for the movie. Those included a couple by Gilley himself and contribtuions from country acts like Johnny Lee and Kenny Rogers as well as rockers like Joe Walsh as well as adult contemporary stars like Boz Scaggs and Anne Murray. It was a winning combination, with Travolta getting a Rolling Stone cover that summer to publicize it and no fewer than six singles from it making the American top 40: “All Night Long” by Walsh, “Love the World Away” by Rogers, Gilley’s own cover of “Stand by Me”, “Lookin’ for Love” by Lee, “Look What You’ve Done to Me” by Scaggs and “Could I Have This Dance” by Murray. Three of those hit the top of country charts and overall, the album got to #3 in the U.S. (only #21 to the north in Canada, and worse elsewhere) and went triple-platinum.

It generally got good reviews, with retroactive ones like allmusic‘s 5-star one and Billboard pointing out how it was able to make “the music and the culture that surrounds it a pop phenomenon.” The latter says “40 years later, country owes a lot to Urban Cowboy.” Indeed, we’ve noted here how in 1981, just after this movie and album, the charts briefly had a good run of country crossover hits from the likes of Juice Newton, Dolly Parton and Eddie Rabbitt. One can only wonder what would have happened if Travolta had taken up waltzing on the big screen in ’81!

June 6 – Cars Took Express Lane To Success

Elton John made his debut this day in 1969, with a forgettable album called Empty Sky, which showed little hint of how good – and popular – he’d become within two or three years. Another June 6th debut but with different results. The Cars released their self-titled debut album this day in 1978. Although it took nearly a year to scrape up to #18 on Billboard, it would go on to sell better than six million copies in the U.S. alone, making it their best-seller other than their Greatest Hits…although as Elliott Easton jokes, “the first album should be called ‘The Cars Greatest Hits’.” Indeed. the power pop album was different than almost anything else on radio at the time and would yield songs which did surprisingly poorly in singles sales but would remain FM radio staples for decades, like “My Best Friend’s Girl”, ”Just What I Needed”, “Moving In Stereo” and “Good Times Roll.” Surprisingly, given how popular the album remains, it didn’t do all that terribly much on the charts back then. The only place it made the top 10 was New Zealand and as for the singles, over here “Just What I Needed” did best, but even it only rose to #27 (and #38 in Canada.) “My Best Friend’s Girl” did jump to #3 in the UK – which one might think would’ve been more open to their fresh sound back then – but the album didn’t sell well.

Nevertheless, the LP has gone on to be considered a rock staple and one of the finest of the decade. The Village Voice gave it a B+ rating, Rolling Stone approved as well. They scored it a 4-star rating, saying “the best band to come out of Boston since J. Geils (were) evenly divided between pop songs and pretentious attempts at art,” and thinking the “pop songs are wonderful- easy and eccentric at the same time” but dissing producer Roy Thomas Baker – best known for working with Queen – and his “lacquered sound.” Years later, allmusic graded it a perfect 5-stars, one of two for them. They call the debut “a genuine rock masterpiece” and add that “all nine tracks are new wave/rock classics”,which is rather true. For instance “Moving in Stereo” was just a buried album track and b-side to a single, but still garners considerable airplay on classic rock stations over four decades later.

The Cars soldiered on into the late-’80s and had decent success, as we know, but never really matched the enthusiasm or the enthusiastic response the debut created. They last appeared in 2018 when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; singer Ric Ocasek’s death not long afterwards (Benjamin Orr had already passed away) makes it seem that another reunion will not occur.

June 5 – Forgotten Gems : Hugh Marsh

He’s had an over 40 year career in music, played with stars and on smash movies…but few have heard of Hugh Marsh. The seemingly anonymous violinist turns 68 today, so happy birthday to him. And it brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem – his take on “Purple Haze”.

Marsh was born in Montreal and grew up in Ontario, largely in Ottawa. Unlike a lot of kids of the ’50s, he loved jazz and R&B and began playing violin at the age of 5. He would end up taking 13 years of classical training on it, and picked up some sax chops in high school too. For awhile he said he preferred the sax to the violin, but his real talent was the latter and in the ’70s he switched over primarily to an electric violin, opening up a whole new world of sound for him.

He began playing shows behind Moe Koffman, a respected jazz musician at the time, which drew the attention of Bruce Cockburn, the folkie who was starting to become an international star at that time. Hugh played in Cockburn’s backing band for a few years and worked on two of his albums, 1980’s Humans and ’83’s The Trouble with Normal, even playing some mandolin on a few tracks). By the mid-’80s, he was signed to Toronto indie label Duke street (who also had quirky Jane Siberry on their roster) and put out a solo record. Which got him the chance to do a second one, 1987‘s Shaking the Pumpkin, which is where the Forgotten Gem was from.

As we mentioned recently in regards to Joe Cocker taking on a Beatles song to cover, it takes some amount of guts to do a cover version of a “classic rock classic.” Which Marsh did with Jimi Hendrix’ iconic “Purple Haze”. Besides the electric violin and jaunty beat Marsh applied, the most obvious thing about the track is that it sounds like a Robert Palmer song. And with good reason. Marsh got Palmer to do the vocals on it and several other tracks on the album. Amazingly, the pair didn’t know each other until then.

I was a huge fan of Robert Palmer’s in the ’80s,” Marsh told Talkhouse, “and I would always try and find ways of getting ahold of somebody, not just the usual route…I read he was recording at Compass Point in the Bahamas, so I just went ‘Ok, I’ll send (a demo tape) to the recording studio. If he opens up the package, he can just put it on and see what he thinks.’” About three days later, Palmer called Marsh up and told him it sounded “great” and agreed to fly to Toronto to work on the record!

The pair remained friends after that, with Palmer apparently prone to calling Hugh up in the middle of the night to talk music. “He was a real musicologist,” Marsh remembers, “he was interested in World Music way before it became popular in North America.”

The song became a radio hit in Canada (it was the #55 record of the year at CFNY in his hometown Toronto for example) and in some markets in the U.S. when it was released there a year later.

Hugh’s had four more jazz albums since then and kept very busy. He’s been a member of Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt’s band for 30 years now. She calls him a “sound poet” but notes he refers to himself as a “music conversationalist, there to serve other people’s music.” More recently he’s toured with Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy and been a member of alt rock faves the Rheostatics. And if that’s not enough, he’s been a regular on the Hollywood scene, working on scores for, well, scores of movies including Sinbad, Shrek II and the Chronicles of Narnia. Sounds like he could be quite an interesting music “conversationalist”, doesn’t it?

June 5 – The Golden Age Of Listening To TV

Yesterday we looked at a song called “Watching TV.” Today, we look at … listening to TV?

Unlike the summer we’re new embarking on, the summer of 1976 was one of largely Happy Days for the U.S. In more ways than one. Of course, the nation was wrapped in a happy, nationalistic red, white and blue pride as the Bicentennial closed in, and on TV, no one was more popular than a gang of friends in Milwaukee who harkened back to a simpler time twenty years earlier. Ehhhh – Happy Days was hot as a date for the Fonz! And back then, a popular TV show deserved a popular theme song. And this one had it.

Happy Days” peaked at #5 on Billboard this day 47 years back. It was the extended version of the new opening for the sitcom, which made Pratt & McClain one of the ultimate One Hit Wonders of the decade.

The ABC-TV show had begun in ’74, fueled by the retro-craze the movie American Graffiti had started. Initially it had used Bill Haley’s “Rock around the Clock” as the opening theme, with a short version of “Happy Days” playing over the credits at the end. Two seasons in though, the producers decided either that the royalties were too high to Haley or simply that they wanted an original, unique song to identify their show. Either way, they opted for the previous closing theme, but wanted to re-record it with better musicians. They’d originally used a little-known singer called Jim Haas.

Oddly, they picked a producer before the artists. They went with Michael Omartian, and had writers Gimbel and Fox add to the lyrics. That duo had already co-written Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” and would soon also do the TV themes to Happy Days-spinoff Laverne and Shirley, as well as the Love Boat. Omartian remembered his friend Jerry McClain, whom he’d been in a band with in the ’60s. By then McClain was in a duo with Truett Platt, and they’d put out a largely unnoticed album on Dunhill Records, which was owned by ABC.

The pair came in and recorded the feel-good song which sounded truer to the ’50s than much of the actual music of that decade had. They signed to Reprise Records, and put out their first album again, but this time with the new song. The album sold a bit better, but only a little. However, the public couldn’t get enough of Fonzi and the show, nor its theme. The Pratt & McClain song quickly rose to #5 in the U.S. and #3 in Canada. To top it off, they put a song called “Crusin’ with the Fonz!” out as the b-side. Ehhh! Curiously, in Australia, a band called Silver Studs recorded “Happy Days” almost simultaneously and had a top 5 hit there with it. And that wasn’t all the TV love music fans were giving that year – the theme from “Welcome Back Kotter” by John Sebastian was on the charts at the same time and had hit #1 a few weeks earlier.

Although the Pratt & McClain follow-up, a cover of “Devil with the Blue Dress On” scraped onto the charts lowest levels, there career essentially wound down as fast as Fonzi’s bike when he saw a police car with a radar. At last word, Pratt currently owns a production company in Texas while McClain runs the “Happy Days Rock Revival Ministry” near L.A. which seems to be a church that utilizes early rock and roll.

They might be gone from the music scene, but their hit lives on. The actual 7” single that was used in the jukebox on the opening for Happy Days is now in the Smithsonian with Fonzi’s leather jacket. And 20 years later, another super-popular sitcom paid homage to it; the song was played in an episode of Friends. Coincidentally, that might well be the last TV show to have its own hit theme song.

June 4 – Waters Was Watching

Another sad anniversary in world history; another powerful protest song to recall it. It was on this day in 1989 the Chinese government put its jackbooted foot down on protestors at Tiananmen Square, leaving hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead and the country’s reputation in tatters…not that they much cared.

Tiananmen Square is actually a 53 acre open space in the middle of Beijing. It’s home to the National Museum and a Monument To the People’s Heroes. But in ’89 it gained international notoriety when in April thousands of protestors took to it and set up camp to protest the country’s state of affairs. Mostly it was university students there, although some ordinary laborers joined them. China was changing (as was the entire world) and while they’d allowed in some access to Western media and partly converted their land to a market economy, it was still a Communist dictatorship. Students wanted free elections and freedom of the press; the workers mostly wanted a fairer share of the wealth as they sensed that a few were getting very rich while most were working harder for less than before.

The protests drew attention, both internally and internationally. By late May, similar protests were occurring in 400 different towns and cities. “Paramount Leader” Deng Xiaoping ordered a crackdown on them, and sent some 300 000 troops, many in tanks and all armed, into Beijing. On June 3rd, people were warned to stay in their homes the next day, but the protestors stood their ground. Troops rolled into the square, shooting and killing many, running over others and of course creating pandemonium. The battle was lopsided, but not entirely one-sided; along the streets to the square, people attacked soldiers, threw molotov cocktails at them and publicly hung a few unfortunate soldiers they captured. A few foreign journalists were able to get footage of the massacre out to the world and the next day Stuart Franklin took the now-iconic picture of a lone man standing in front of a line of tanks leaving town seen above.

The Chinese government cracked down on public freedoms and either jailed or expelled foreign news people and journalists. And much like the Irish Bogside Massacre and the Ohio State riots, a scathing protest song arose from it. Although unlike the U2 and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics, this one by Roger Waters didn’t get a lot of attention. Still the 1992 song “Watching TV” does give an angry dose of insight into the horrible event.

While one can accuse Waters of many things (and David Gilmour and his wife do just that) one can’t say he pulls punches with his angry lyrics, nor that he is lacking in know-how to create a good-sounding and well-produced record. He checked off both those boxes on “Watching TV”, a six-minute dirge written from the perspective of a fictional, heartbroken young Chinese student whose sister died in the protest and showed up in the TV coverage. It hints at how traumatic that would be as well as the irony that the protests had probably been fueled by them seeing the outside world (particularly the rapid changes happening in the Soviet Block) on TV and wanting that for themselves. It was from his third solo album, Amused to Death, a loose concept album about how TV and mass media was dumbing us all down. The album checked in at over an hour, and was recorded in “Q-sound”, a way of enhancing 3D sound effects and more recently re-released in 5.1 Surround Sound. He said that was done, about eight years back because “it didn’t get the attention it deserved” and the problems he sang about are “maybe even more relevant to our predicament as people in 2015.” Among those helping him on this track were Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Madonna-collaborator Patrick Leonard producing and playing keyboards while Don Henley added backing vocals.

The song wasn’t released as a single but did get some airplay on FM rock stations. The album reached #8 in the UK and #21 in the U.S. Record Collector applauded it for being “Waters at his most bleakly inspired since… The Wall.” One wonders if he’ll come up with a bleakly-inspired follow-up, “Watching Tik Tok.”

June 4 – A Worldwide Phenomenon No Matter Where It Was From

The Boss” got promoted on this day in 1984. Bruce Springsteen put out his seventh album, the iconic (and perhaps ironic) Born In The U.S.A. While Bruce was already popular and had already famously been on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, this was the record that took him to an entirely new level of worldwide popularity.

The cover photo is iconic, being right up there with the other mega-hit of the early-to-mid ’80s, Thriller, when it comes to fame and recognition. It’s also where the irony begins. It looks about as patriotic and flag-waving as it could be – it has the flag as a backdrop after all – but hides the fact that much of the record’s message is about the problems of America in the 1980s and the woes of the ordinary American. Barry Miles noticed that discrepancy, but gave Springsteen some latitude for it. Writing in The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time, he opines “the choice of working class symbols (such as the baseball cap and Levis) rather than the symbols of corporate America reveal Springsteen’s leftward leanings and pro-working class stance.” Of course, the only leads into the title track and it’s similar dichotomy of an anthemic, in-yer-face “Born in the U.S.A.” bellowed between gritty lyrics about the country’s disregard for its veterans. Journalist Bruno MacDonald noted that as well, pointing out “millions heard the song but not all listened – then-president Ronald Reagan cited the song’s ‘message of hope’”.

The rather discouraging lyrics on songs like that one, “Glory Days” and “My Hometown” don’t stray far from the downbeat themes of the album’s predecessor, the acoustic Nebraska. But the sound itself was something entirely different – mainly loud, rocking and enthusiastic. Springsteen himself says of it, “if you look at the material…it’s actually written very much like Nebraska – the characters and their stories, the style of writing. It’s just in a rock band setting.”

Whether people heard it as a message of a middle class in decline and indifferent politicians or just a great Friday night party soundtrack, hear it they did… and buy it. It was easily the biggest of his career, hitting #1 in most major markets including his homeland (where it topped the charts for seven weeks), Canada, Australia, the UK and Germany, where he’d never even had a top 30 hit before. When all was said and done it had sold something in the range of nearly 30 million copies – about 15 times that of Nebraska. It ended up as the biggest-seller of 1984 in Canada and of 1985 in the U.S., helped along by a major world tour of huge outdoor stadiums and the many singles.

The album dropped an incredible seven singles – there were more singles than songs not released as 7” 45s on it – and more incredible, all seven hit the Billboard top 10, something only Thriller could match in the decade. From the first, the lively “Dancing In The Dark” (which went platinum as a single in both the U.S. and Canada) to the final one, “My Hometown”, the singles dominated rock radio for fully two years.

Critics at the time largely loved the album. The Village Voice picked it as the top album of 1984; LA Times gave it a 4-star rating (their highest) loving how he got his political message out to a wider audience with solid rock songs, and Rolling Stone lauded his “rowdy indomitable spirit”. It said of the songs, he “May shove his broody characters out the door” but at least “he gives them music they can pound on the dashboard to.” The same publication would rank the album among the 100 greatest of all-time nearly thirty years later calling it “immortal” and buoyed by a “Frank mix of soaring optimism and the feelings of, as he puts it, ‘being handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford.’” Allmusic rate it a perfect 5-stars, noting that he “remembered that he was a rock & roll star” and for the “first time… Springsteen’s characters really seemed to relish the fight and to have something to fight for. They were not defeated and they had friendship and family to defend.”

And yes,if you haven’t noticed it before, that is a young Courteney Cox he dances with in the video for “Dancing In The Dark”. Imagine how big the record would’ve been if he’d used Jennifer Aniston!