My brother instilled in me proper care for the media I owned. He did so by being incredibly territorial about his.
In a household of six people, resources can get scarce. Space and privacy were two such resources.
Understandably, my brother was loathe to share anything with his younger siblings, especially given how poorly they treated them. In my case, I really tore my album covers up to shreds. You should the condition of The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack in my collection.
As such, he forbade anyone from handling his album. That meant the only time we got to hear them is when he played them.
He scooped me in acquiring Paul Simon’s Graceland and Sting’s … Nothing Like the Sun. He also possessed the only boombox with a phonograph connection, so he could dub his albums on cassette. Naturally, he would never let me borrow his boombox to make my own dubs of his albums.
My dad also owned a boombox, one without phonograph connections. But it did have RCA connections for line in and line out. I also got my hands on the owner’s manual of the family stereo, where I discovered similar RCA connections with different labels: tape in, tape out.
Did I finally find a loophole in my brother’s prohibition? The only way to find out was to get a spare RCA cord and connect the family stereo to the boombox.
On a day when my brother was out of the house, I put his copy of Graceland on the record player, connected my dad’s boombox to the receiver, put in a cassette tape and started to make a dub.
I played back the results and reveled in victory. If it hadn’t succeeded, the remaining alternative was to put the boombox next to the stereo speaker and hit record. This method did not produce quality sound.
On that same afternoon, I made a dub of … Nothing Like the Sun as well. My brother wasn’t pleased to learn I had succeeded in bootlegging his albums.
Learning how to connect pieces of audio equipment together would manifest into building a home recording studio roughly 15 years later. Along the way, there were mixed tapes to be created.
My brother picked up No Jacket Required by Phil Collins right around “Sussudio” was storming up the charts. When he played the album on the stereo, it was apparent he struck gold. For a while, I was a bit jealous.
Then radio ruined everything.
Subsequent singles from the album — “Don’t Lose My Number”, “Take Me Home” — would get played to death on every station.
When No Jacket Required had run its course, I never wanted to hear anything from Collins again. I think even my brother was put off by the overexposure.
Oddly enough, I had something of a crush on Collins. I’m not sure what triggered it, because he was no Sting or Huey Lewis. Even today, it puzzles me.
I spotted a vinyl copy of No Jacket Required selling for $1 at Lifelong Thrift Store, and 30+ years seemed like a good enough temporal distance to re-examine the album’s initial appeal.
The bona fides of the singles are very well established. What gives an album merit are the non-single tracks — do they stand up well against the radio hits? In the case of No Jacket Required, they do.
That’s why it seemed my brother lucked out buying this album — any of the other tracks on the album could have been the next “One More Night” or “Sussudio”. Sting’s backing vocal on “Long Long Way to Go” complements Collins nicely, and it could have been quite the radio coup.
The heavy-handed ’80s production dates the album like crazy, but abstracted from its sonic veneer, No Jacket Required really is a good album. And it would have been better if radio didn’t go overboard.
They thought Rick Springfield was dreamy. My brother and I dug the catchiness of “Jesse’s Girl.”
Mom intervened in this fight, letting me take possession of the 7-inch singles, while my brother took the full album. He wasn’t about to share, of course. My sisters just wanted to look at the covers.
I was 9 years old when Working Class Dog turned Springfield into star, but looking back, I had to admit I wanted to look at the covers too.
Springfield was indeed dreamy, and I recognized it even if I was a few years away from translating that to actual desire.
By the time that inkling turned into a confusing suspicion, Springfield’s star had waned. It was all about Duran Duran, Huey Lewis and Sting then.
As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, the only Rick Springfield album you needed was a greatest hits collection, just for “Jesse’s Girl.”
That does Working Class Dog a disservice.
From start to finish, the album doesn’t let up its frenetic pace. Springfield does some hard swinging on “Red Hot and Blue Love” before stepping off the accelerator for the concluding track, “Sylvia”. In an interview with the AV Club, Springfield says he would lean more toward a heavier sound than his producer preferred.
For good or no, Working Class Dog became a template from which the Outfield and Bryan Adams would eventually draw. It’s tough to picture the ’80s without it.
The rule was simple: the first person to buy an album from an artist had a monopoly on that artist, and other siblings could not encroach on that monopoly.
The rule was very clear about albums. Singles, however, usually threw wrenches in jurisdictional claims.
Kick by INXS could have tuned into a civil lawsuit between my brother and me.
Back in 1985, INXS release Listen Like Thieves, which spawned the catchy single “What You Need”. I bought that single after watching the video numerous times on Betamax-recorded episodes of Friday Night Videos. I did not end up buying the album.
A TV appearance by INXS in 1987 premiered the band’s then-new single, “Need You Tonight.” My brother liked it. I thought it wasn’t as good as “What You Need”.
But he liked it enough to buy the album. Technically, that meant INXS became his jurisdiction.
And boy did that rankle my feathers, especially when it turned out the rest of the album was better than “Need You Tonight”. I felt that because I had already established a claim with “What You Need”, I ought to have had first dibs on Kick. My brother pointed out that I was ambivalent about “Need You Tonight”, which could be interpreted as relinquishing that claim.
(Don’t get me wrong about “Need You Tonight” — I eventually grew to like the song, mostly because “Mediate” segued right into it.)
Of course, bratty kids that we were, we didn’t want to share. I don’t remember now how I got my hands on a dubbed copy of the album. He may have relented to making a dub, or I may have borrowed it from a friend. I got my hands on it, despite the rule.
Kick would eventually become ubiquitous, and the radio exposure coupled with my own spins eventually made me grow tired of the album. “Never Tear Us Apart” wasn’t a great single, but it seemed to be the song played to death.
By the time I embarked on building out my own collection, Kick managed to get left behind. For a time, I owned a greatest hits compilation but that too got lost in a cash-strapped purge.
Oddly enough, Kick returned to my collection only after I used the streaming services to listen to its predecessor, Listen Like Thieves. Kick is definitely the stronger album, but Listen Like Thieves is no slouch. It was the much-needed warm-up before the breakout.
It’s probably been 19 years since I listened to Kick, and it was strange to discover how familiar it all felt. That pretty much meant I had really internalized the album, even though I hadn’t owned it till now.
I bought this album on cassette tape because the band’s name intrigued me: We Are Going to Eat You. I had no way to know whether the band’s only album, Everywhen, would be a gem or dud. It was 1990, and the idea of “listening stations” had only just begun to take hold.
So I took the plunge and got the album on faith. It was … actually pretty decent.
But it had stiff competition with other releases that year. Kronos Quartet’s Black Angels, Sonic Youth’s Goo, Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mining — these albums nearly shut out everything else spinning in my Walkman.
Everywhen was a solid college rock album with proper English post-punk guitars and a woman singer with shades of Nico in her voice. Nothing on the album screamed radio hit — not even on college radio — but give it enough spins, and the tunes could sink in.
My brother, in a fit of exploration, listened to this tape, then went out and bought the CD.
The move surprised me.
I thought Everywhen was good, not great, but I didn’t think something so obviously alt-rock would fit in his collection of Hawaiian pop and classic rock. He liked the album more than I did.
That pretty much ended the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race, and it wouldn’t be the last time our tastes would intersect and influence each other.
Our collections are still very distinctive — mine in the deeper end of weird, his firmly planted in pop.
But I sent him a CD with some Bonnie Pink tracks, and he would go on to buy up her entire catalog. He introduced me to Utada Hikaru, while it took time for him to warm up to Shiina Ringo.
My copy of Everywhen disappeared with my cassette collection back in 2002. Of course, nothing really disappears on the Internet, and a simple web search led me back to the album.
When I was 18 years old, I wanted all my music discoveries to change my life. Everywhen didn’t do that, and I let it go. These days, I’m not chasing after that dopamine high, and if an album is something I can enjoy every time I put it on, I keep it.
In the case of Everywhen, I’ve actually welcomed it back.
My brother’s acquisition of Madonna’s Like a Virgin was a prescient stroke in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. Madonna was on the cusp of becoming ubiquitous when he swiped her, and that move precluded the rest of us from laying claim on her discography.
At least, that’s how the rules went.
By the time she put out True Blue, we all felt Madonna fatigue. Radio and MTV played her to death. Her marriage to Sean Penn was all over the news. Her provocations crossed the line to tastelessness.
In short, my brother had buyer’s remorse. None of us wanted True Blue, and he wasn’t enough of a fan to get the self-titled debut.
As all that was happening, I got into Stephen Sondheim. By 1990, attention to Madonna had become de rigeur. She pushed some buttons, the media covered who got offended. Then news hit she would sing three songs written by Sondheim for a movie adaptation of Dick Tracy.
My skepticism probably crossed over to offense.
But a Rolling Stone review of I’m Breathless convinced me to check it out, and thus a breach in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race took hold. I’m Breathless was followed by Like a Prayer. Then every Madonna album afterward.
It took a long time for me to wind back to Like a Virgin. Madonna really didn’t become critically viable till Like a Prayer. Till then, people assumed the music was just the vehicle for the fame payload. And I was dismissive of the early albums as everyone else.
Streaming services have made it easy for me to reassess my perception, and no — those early albums aren’t as good as her later work. Like a Virgin, though, is the exception.
Opening the album with “Material Girl” but waiting to release it as the second single was a genius move. It’s actually a catchier song than the title track. “Angel” is a nearly forgotten classic, which the Dead Betties recognize in their blistering punk cover of the song.
All the hits are front-loaded at the start of the album, leaving Side B hanging. But even those album tracks aren’t just filler. “Pretender” links back to “Holiday” and “Borderline”, while “Stay” looks forward to “True Blue”.
Madonna’s output has since varied wildly. For each Like a Virgin, Ray of Light or Bedtime Stories, there’s a corresponding turkey in American Life, Erotica and Hard Candy. Like a Virgin was the first of Madonna’s better side.
Back in Black has meant different things to me over the course of forty(mumble-mumble) years.
In my childhood, the album represented scandal. My dad hated the color black, which meant this album got his withering disapproval. The mock calligraphy of the band’s logo surely meant something altogether unseemly, and didn’t AC/DC stand for “After Christ/Devil Comes?” That was just too much for my devoutly Catholic parents.
But my brother took it all in. Asia, Blue Oyster Cult, Foreigner, Toto, AC/DC — it seemed pretty rebellious to me. I stuck with ABBA and Manhattan Transfer.
In my teen-aged years, the album represented stagnation. I had become an insufferable post-punk, and I sneered at classic rock. The future was R.E.M., the Dead Milkmen, Camper Van Beethoven. If you listened to AC/DC, you were stuck in the past and had no clue.
In my early adulthood, the album was persona-non-grata. There was all this Japanese indie rock to explore. And all the music festival buzz bands. And a few local bands who put on great shows. AC/DC? I’m not their target market. They’ve got enough fans to earn them coin. They don’t need my cash.
Today, Back in Black, for me, is that-one-album-you-get-from-a-band-of-which-you’re-not-a-fan. You know the one: Oh, Inverted World, Storm Front, Born in the USA, White Blood Cells. It’s the album that transcends any misgivings you may have about a band.
AC/DC hew close to the blues-based tradition forged by the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, a tradition rejected by the punk-rooted bands of my formative years. But Back in Black struck that fine balance between rock ‘n’ roll grit and pop radio polish that allowed the album to belong to more than just than fans.
Even if you didn’t like blues-based rock, it was hard to get the riff that started side two out of your head.
Back in Black didn’t convince me to become an AC/DC devotee, but it also helped me not to dismiss them out of hand. I may never become their target market, but at the very least, I’m a fan of something they made.
The last time my brother and I engaged in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race, we each were trying to stake claim on two albums: Basia’s Time and Tide and Enya’s Watermark. At the time, a radio format specializing in light jazz and new age put singles from both albums in regular rotation.
So he and I made a bargain — I would relinquish a claim on Basia if he relinquished his claim on Enya. Months later, we both came to the conclusion that I got the better end of the bargain.
I think that trade-off started the thaw in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. As our tastes started to splinter — he getting into Hawaiian music, I going further into avant-garde classical music — staking territory became pointless.
It became rarer when our tastes intersected than when they didn’t.
I kept a foothold in (what would become) alternative rock, which inhabited an orbit far outside my brother’s more mainstream tastes. So it surprised me when he took up Sinéad O’Connor and U2. And he didn’t mind when I took up Sting and Madonna.
We live in separate parts of the country now, but we both share a love for Japanese popular music. We’ve gone so far as to introduce bands to each other.
So now I’m at a point in life where the stigma of “eww, my sibling likes that!” has lost its potency, and I can explore what was once arbitrarily off limits.
Time and Tide wouldn’t have happened without Sade to prove the commercial viability of jazz-pop. Anita Baker, Swing Out Sister and Johnny Hates Jazz rushed through the gates opened by Miss Adu and her eponymous band.
It’s a rather well-crafted album, steeped in the analog MIDI automation of the time. I can, however, understand my brother’s disappointment in the album. It doesn’t exactly break any new ground, compared to Enya and her hundred-times-overdubbed chorus, which was incredibly new for 1988.
But Time and Tide is an enjoyable, durable album. I do have to confess I first thought Basia was Agnetha Faltskog from ABBA, refurbishing her sound.
Jurisdiction disputes in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race at times precluded me from liking bands more suited to my tastes than my brother’s — Madonna and Depeche Mode spring to mind. But for the most part, my brother was more than welcome to some of his claims.
He dug Prince. I did not.
I liked a few of his singles, but in terms of overall output, I didn’t see the appeal. I appreciate Prince now, but I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan.
Oddly enough, I did become a fan of Wendy and Lisa. I’m not sure what drew my attention to them, aside from being featured so prominently in videos. (Or maybe I subconsciously picked up on the gay undertone of the pair.) When Prince broke up the Revolution, my brother continued to follow him, leaving me to take up the cause for Wendy and Lisa.
Parade is my favorite of the Prince and the Revolution albums. Sure, “Kiss” and “Mountains” are solid singles, but that psychedelic first side went beyond rock, funk, pop, whatever the hell else. It was thoroughly composed, no less structurally taut than a piece by Mozart or Beethoven. And for the longest time, I thought Parade was all I really needed from Prince.
As I got deeper into expanding my vinyl collection, I thought about those albums my brother had that I too wanted — Graceland by Paul Simon, … Nothing Like the Sun by Sting, Like a Virgin by Madonna. When I exhausted the overlap, I turned my attention to other parts of his collection.
I doubt I would pick up Out of the Cellar by Ratt, or any of his Toto albums. But Prince and the Revolution? Those albums where Wendy and Lisa had the most influence? I was willing to check them out.
The Revolution is credited on only three albums, starting with Purple Rain. The streaming services helped me to determine it was the better starting point in my limited exploration of Prince.
The nine-track album yielded five singles, which were played to death on the radio. At the time, I would have loved nothing more than to never hear those songs again. But after 30 years, their familiarity is comforting.
That left four tracks to explore. The introduction to “Computer Blue” is a running joke among some friends of mine, and it should be one among yours as well. “Baby I’m a Star” is a nice glue between “I Would Die 4 U” and the title track. And of course, without “Darling Nikki”, there would be no Parents Music Resource Council and the marketing coup-de-grace of the “Explicit Lyrics” marker.
Aside: I remember buying an album with an “Explicit Lyrics” label at the Fort Shafter Exchange, and the clerk carded me because the store wouldn’t sell those albums to anyone under 18. The majority of my music shopping had migrated to Tower Records by then, and they sure as hell didn’t care.
While I wasn’t a stranger to Purple Rain at the time of its release, I don’t find it surprising my appreciation for the album comes as late in my life as it has.
I wasn’t schooled enough in race relations in the United States to grasp the divide between “black music” and “white music”. I just knew I dug bands from England, and Prince was not from England.
Now that I’ve learned the history of rock ‘n’ roll, I see how Prince transcends that divide. He’s a bad enough motherfucker that those labels don’t fucking apply.
I’ve mentioned before how sibling rivalry affected my earliest days of music collecting. If one of us (out of four) claimed an artist first, we had dibs on everything that artist made. It was so territorial, no one was allowed to touch anything owned by another sibling.
At first, it started out as a four-way arms race, but my sisters eventually dropped out. Collecting just wasn’t their thing. That left my brother and me.
Occasionally, something would come along that put those border resolves to a test. In 1980, it would be the soundtrack to the movie Xanadu.
The album had something for everyone. Side A housed the wholesome pop of Olivia Newton-John, while Side B offered a modicum of rock respectability with the Electric Light Orchestra. The singles were ubiquitous, and they only fired our desire to see the movie.
My parents, however, disliked movie theaters, and in the days before video rentals, the alternative was to wait a year for network TV to air it.
My brother managed to snag the Xanadu soundtrack before any of us could lay claim, and yeah, my 8-year-old self was appropriately annoyed by the coup.
On those occasions when my brother deemed us worthy to listen to the album in his presence, I remember liking the ELO side better than the ONJ side. “The Fall” was the first hint of my fondness for darker material.
Also, I was too young to appreciate the genre-splicing in “Dancin'”. What’s with this jazz thing? Why is some dude interrupting Olivia? And why does Gene Kelley have to end Side A?
The movie eventually showed up on network television — my parents were also too cheap to subscribe to cable — and it was … OK. Still not sophisticated enough to detect bad screenplay writing, I found the movie fun, if a bit dragging.
Xanadu eventually became a distant memory as soon as Duran Duran entered my life.
In fact, I didn’t really think about it till I thumbed through a bin of newly-arrived used vinyl records at Silver Platters in SODO. For less than the price of a fancy beverage at Starbucks, I could possess an album snatched from my young hands by my quick-acting brother.
So I bought it.
A week later, Xanadu popped up on the cable listings. I couldn’t even sit through 30 seconds of that dialogue before I switched back to a marathon of Outrageous Acts of Science.
But the album itself? Surprisingly durable.
“Dancin'” is now one of my favorite tracks, although the rock half of the song doesn’t sound as aggressive as I originally perceived. “Suspended in Time” and “The Fall” could have been contenders as singles themselves.
The CD itself turned out to be cheaper than grabbing it on eMusic, so I bought that as well. If there’s one disappointment, it’s the exclusion of the b-sides, “Drum Dreams” and “Fool Country”. Surely the spacious capacity of a compact disc would allow their inclusion?
Of course, the territoriality of sibling rivalry is silly in retrospect, but without it, I probably wouldn’t have forged an identity with my own tastes. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t have deigned to make this kind of purchase before my 40s.
It’s still cool to discover things about this music I was too young to know was even there.