I mentioned before how my sisters each had their own slice of the family record collection, only to cede music purchasing duties to my brother and me.
Shadow Dancing belonged to my eldest sister. We played it a few times on the record player till it went out of fashion. Then the record pretty much sat on the shelf till it disappeared altogether without anyone noticing. I tried to track it down in 2019, hunting all around my mom’s house with no success.
I had already bought a sealed copy from Hungry Ear Records in Honolulu the year before, assuming I would never track down the vinyl collections of my siblings. Although disco is a towering influence on dance music today, it’s still fashionable to dunk on the genre. (Hello, institutional homophobia!)
Even I treated Andy Gibb with some fair amount of derision toward the end of the 1980s.
It’s not deserved.
Strip away the era’s sonic hallmarks — the California smoothness of the Eagles, the disco strings — and you’re left with a set of some durable songwriting.
Side A hogs all the hit singles, leaving Side B to fend for itself, which it does quite well. “One More Look at the Night” always felt like something I had heard on the radio, only to find it was never released as a single. Same for “Good Feeling.” Under Toto’s hands, “I Got You” could have been more prog rock.
Even the singles deserve re-evaluation. The title track is a perfect target for haters because it’s the ultimate earworm. Hear that string intro once, and it’s impossible to wipe it from memory. Also, check out the modulations on “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away”.
Shadow Dancing epitomized its era so well, it suffered a backlash when tastes moved on. I don’t get the impression its reputation has recovered, and it doesn’t really warrant obscurity.
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.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes, the cover is incentive enough.
The Sibling Rivalry Collection Race precluded me from getting Steve Winwood’s Roll With It when it was released in 1988. My brother had already called dibs on Back in the High Life, which made Winwood his exclusive.
I feigned a lack of interest anyway because Winwood was at the peak of his solo career, and I had started my exploration of college rock by then. Winwood, by virtue of topping the charts, was immediately deemed square.
Except, he was kind of hot.
Not hot in the George Michael/Duran Duran sense of hot. More like a Robert Palmer/Huey Lewis kind of hot.
The cover of Roll With It dolled him up to look dangerous, but the back cover of the album drew my attention.
The album title is in the way, so let’s clear that up a bit.
Yup. I would have bought this album for a crotch shot. (An arse shot, too, now that we look closer.)
Would I have cared one whit about the music? Perhaps. At least, I would have pretended to.
In terms of hits singles, Roll With It didn’t have quite the same staying power as Back in the High Life, and I don’t think the cross promotion with a beer company did any favors to “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do?” Reviews of the album weren’t enthusiastic, but sales-wise, it managed to ride the coattails of its predecessor.
I left the album on the store shelf safe in the knowledge that I just wasn’t the target audience, despite how much I wanted to stare at that crotch.
I have no such reluctance 29 years later, especially when a nice 12×12 LP cover can be had for $1 at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store. I could probably find a store clerk who would understand.
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’ve talked a lot about my brother’s influence on my music collecting. I haven’t written much about my sisters for a good reason — they never took up collecting music.
I have two sisters, and they each had started buying up a few albums when we were all kids. The sibling rivalry competition had started out as a four-way race, but by the end of the ’70s, both sisters dropped out.
One sister, however, has had an indirect influence on my collecting. She would be the first to cotton to something cool — Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam — but she would leave it to my brother or me to bring it into the home.
If she felt strongly enough to buy a physical copy of an album, she would play it for a while, and when she got tired of it, the album ended up in someone else’s collection. It was usually mine because she and my brother didn’t get along.
That’s how I came to inherit Always by Pebbles.
It’s the type of album I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to in high school, which put me in an odd spot since it was released during high school. Since my sister only ever owned a single album or CD at any point in time, it would be housed among my albums since I had the devoted space for it.
In short, both of us forgot it was there on my shelf.
I’ve had numerous opportunities to purge the album from my collection, the first of which was when I moved from Honolulu to Austin in 1997. But it survived each review, even when cash flow got tight. After a few years, I had to admit — I actually liked it.
L.A. Reid and Babyface gave the album a busy, aggressive sound. The singles from the album merited their chart-topping status, and the non-single tracks don’t wear with repeat listenings. It’s a strong album, perhaps a classic among listeners familiar with it.
These days, I study the album for the sound of its synthesizers. The cold analog sound sounds dated, which makes it a perfect document of its time. In fact, that’s probably why the album survived in my collection for so long — it’s so emblematic of a period and a style that it ought to be preserved.
Also, I was subjected to a lot of bad popular music during high school. The fact I’m still listening to this album after 25 years attests to its endurance.
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.