Category Archives: 1983

#202 – Hold Me Now

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#202 – Hold Me Now by Thompson Twins

Thompson Twins – We were definitely into the MTV era when this song was riding high on the video charts during the winter into spring 1984. That’s when the network’s initials really meant what it provided: Music Television. And for that reason, Hold Me Now seems more of a fashion statement to me than just a catchy tune. It also stirs thoughts of a reality statement that carries a deeper message.

Let me explain that better…

MTV ran 24/7 and during the early years it was the same format as AM Radio. VeeJays played music videos, instead of spinning disks. And for the artists to make a splash – an impact – the visuals became just as important as the music.

But in reality, it’s always been that way with pop music – and real life.

Elvis’ greasy hair, sideburns and gyrations were visual magnets to teenagers and a nightmare for their parents. The same could be said about The Beatles’ mop tops and high heeled, pointy-toed boots. Along with the music, their appearances made enough of a splash to be the topics of news reports, comedian punch lines and an older generation’s scorn.

Thompson 2

A different look

Much of what made them different was how they looked.

Part of being an artist is having a recognizable image and as pop progressed into rock it seemed the coming generation has always tried to outdo its predecessor. Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, The Ramones… Okay, those are only a few off the top of my head, but you know what I mean. Mention any of them and chances are good you’ll also have a strong mental visual image because they looked different.

So by the time MTV was pushing both visuals AND music into our lives 24/7 the artists that wanted to make a splash had to go all out. For your own visual think of the two biggest pop stars at that time – Michael Jackson and Madonna. Their songs alone were good enough to be hits on the radio, but add their unique images and the combination is a reason why both are still considered icons today. Mention Michael’s sequined glove or Madonna’s wedding veil and you’ll immediately “picture” the songs (Billie Jean and Like A Virgin).

You might also remember a portion of society did not like them because of how they looked.

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Hold Me Now had the same visual effect in 1984. (The) Thompson Twins were noticeable to a lot of us at first because there were actually three members instead of (two) twins. Funny. Also MTV threw this song into heavy rotation so it seemed whenever we actually looked at the television screen rather than treating it as background music, we would catch the video. And from my memory, it was part of the Big Hair Era the 80’s is still famous for.

Some liked the look – some didn’t and still don’t.

My NYC cohorts (as part of the boomer generation) were past the age of trying to shock the older generation with our looks. And I don’t remember being a big fan of 80’s music or fashion while it was happening. It all seemed more comical to me than cool. But I’m totally into creative artists expressing themselves through whatever medium they choose to work in. And during this segment of the 80’s it seemed like pop musicians were more concerned with grabbing attention visually rather than with music.

The Midnight Runners with Dexy

Looking different

They wanted to look different.

An example of what I mean would be Dexys Midnight Runners in 1983 with Come On Eileen. They wore bib overhauls and came off more as street urchins than musicians. And why am I suddenly thinking of the Broadway musical Oliver as I write this…?

Okay, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that when you consider all the fashion trends we’ve lived through. Even Ann and Nancy Wilson from one of my favorite rock bands from the 1970’s, Heart, moved into bigger success with the 80’s MTV generation when their managers reinvented the sisters with teased hair, frilly dresses and too much makeup. I read Nancy’s book and they weren’t happy about it. They were rockers closer to Led Zeppelin than The Go Go’s, but it was standard wear if you wanted to sell records and concert tickets via MTV.

You had to sound AND look different to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t believe me, ask Boy George.

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Thompson Twins are remembered because of Hold Me Now and a look that’s somewhere between big hair and street urchin. It’s a catchy song and definitely memorable since I’ve never owned a copy, but woke up with it in my mind on April 27th. That gives it a hold in the subliminal playlist of Dream Songs.

No, look at me now!

Way different!

A lot of the girls I ran with or saw around NYC were into the Madonna look that included teased hair and worn high. Yeah, a few even wore their bras outside their shirts. And Thompson Twins included three distinct looking characters that could be called MTV fashion icons in 1984. As the music scene continued through the decade, the clothes seemed to get even more outrageous and hair on both girls and guys was teased and sprayed higher and higher.

And you know what? Not everyone liked the look. It seemed some people were more concerned about it, rather than simply hearing the music. In a visual society first impressions often make lasting opinions.

And it’s always been like that.

But the good thing about being different simply through fashion is that images are easy to change. That’s why we can look back at the 1970’s fashions and cringe (at least some of us!) but not be labeled with how we looked in the past. Leisure suits, big bellbottoms, platform shoes, droopy mustaches and… Well, I’m done cringing. They’re all long gone and I won’t be looking at any old photos from that era any time soon. I’ve changed.

Which brings me to a more important opinion.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’ll compare the general outrageousness (looking to make a splash) of the 80’s to the 1960’s. But it’s not the 1960’s of shocking society with Beatles haircuts or hippie clothes. I’m talking about the differences in looks that lead to inequalities.

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For a showbiz example (this is The Classic Rocker after all), what I’m talking about is depicted in the 1988 movie Hairspray and the later Broadway musical and film. In the story there was a segment of society that wanted to hold back – discriminate against – people because of how they looked. It’s about the struggle and fight for equal rights and not being accepted based solely on appearance. The main characters were not accepted by the powers that be. The message is racism, but it occurs on many levels. Motor Mouth and Seaweed weren’t accepted because they were black. Tracy was kept out of the “in-crowd” because she was overweight.

Some people make judgments only on appearance. But wait, am I getting too deep based on a simple 1980’s pop song that actually has nothing to do with this topic? Well, as The Classic Rocker I’m allowed an opinion – and in my opinion that’s despicable, racist and wrong. It just took Hold Me Now with a visual image that some people didn’t like to remind me of it.

Too different?

Too different?

Like Elvis in the 50’s and The Beatles in the 60’s, many pop stars of the 80’s including Thompson Twins, Dexy, Michael, Madonna and Boy George were often judged on their appearance. They were expressing themselves as artists, but some people wouldn’t listen because they didn’t like the way they looked. And using Hairspray as a fictional account for what was actually going on in real life, it was much deeper than that. Some people are too quick to judge based on first impressions. And when it comes to equal rights you can’t just change your status by changing clothes or hairstyle.

It’s a problem that rocked the 60’s and is still around today.

But other than the more important and continual campaign for equal rights, a common thread between the two decades was making a splash. The ones who appeared different were the ones that were noticed first and were either admired or scorned because of it. So when I hear Hold Me Now I have a visual image of an era when the trend was big hair – teased, shaved, weaved, braided, curled, uncombed and sprayed. I thought the visual was comical in some ways, but didn’t knock it because it was different.

It also didn’t affect how I heard the music.

In the BIG picture we’re still looking for many preconceived opinions and inequalities based on appearances to disappear from society forever. The BIG fight for equal rights should never stop until it’s won. But in a very small way, fortunately for me and other boomers we were past the stage of shocking the older generation with our looks when Thompson Twins and the others were dominating MTV. And for that reason, our 80’s photos aren’t as cringe-worthy as they could have been. At least for some of us…

Here’s the video of Thompson Twins that was in heavy MTV rotation in 1984.

To purchase Thompson Twins – Greatest Hits with Hold Me Now visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

#203 – Billie Jean

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#203 – Billie Jean by Michael Jackson

Michael 1One of the best things about living in New York City (and there are many) is never knowing whom you might meet next. Sometime between the months of March and May 1983 I met a very interesting guy in my Gramercy Park neighborhood. Now don’t get excited and think I’m going to drop Michael Jackson’s name, because I can’t. I never met him.

But I was forewarned that his performance of Billie Jean on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was going to be earth shattering.

The guy that told me this knew what he was talking about because he had been at the taping. In fact, he played a big role not only behind the scenes but also on camera.

I hung with a tight group of friends in Gramercy Park. I’ve always compared living in NYC to living in a small town. It’s a BIG place made up of small neighborhoods. We’d go Uptown, Downtown, Midtown and to The Boroughs for concerts, dinners, ballgames – whatever. But when it was time to go “home” we’d end up back in our neighborhood. And the main hangout was our own Cheers style bar restaurant, The Honey Tree, on the corner of 3rd Avenue and East 20th Street.

It was the type of place where everybody knew your name. And when someone new walked in and got involved in one of our conversations, arguments or just plain stupidity (“How’s it goin’ Norm?!“) it made the evenings into late nights a lot more interesting. Some of the names that dropped in were Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole, Ed O’Neill and the entire band Journey.

But those are stories I’ve already told or saving for later.

The Jacksons

The Jacksons

Since most of us were in our late-20’s and had the ripe old age of 30 directly in our sights, we were pretty set in our musical tastes. The jukebox at The Honey Tree was filled with classic oldies from the 60’s and 70’s. If you wanted to hear disco or punk, there were other neighborhood hangouts, which is another great thing about NYC.

When you’re looking for something else it can always be found.

So even though you’d have to live under a rock not to have heard of Michael Jackson, in 1983 more than a few of us would rather listen to his old songs with The Jackson 5. We really weren’t looking for something else. These were the big Motown hits, I Want You Back, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There. My girlfriend (at the time) and I would be up and dancing whenever one of these songs was placed on the jukebox turntable.

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Of course The Jackson 5 was only one of the many artists that put Motown on the music map forever. Boomers grew up listening to The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the other amazing artists that made up the Detroit sound. And it was a big deal when it was announced the television special celebrating 25 years of the record label would air on May 16th.

Lester Wilson

Lester Wilson

One night during the months mentioned above, a guy walked in and before too long he was in the middle of one of our conversations. Or it might have been stupidity… But that doesn’t matter. He seemed funny and had a lot of personality, so he fit right in. His name was Lester Wilson and when we asked what he did, he said he was a dancer.

We didn’t know any professional dancers, so we started with the questions. He told us he was also a choreographer, had worked on Broadway and in films, and had just finished working on Motown 25. Since I’m working off memory, I can’t remember why he was in NYC at this time – but after checking out his bio online it had to be something good. I’ll also guess he was staying at The Gramercy Hotel which is why he was a regular part of our Cheers crowd for the next few months.

Lester told us about Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean performance. I can’t remember the adjectives, but mind-blowing would be a good description. He kept saying we’re not going to believe it when we see it. So on May 16th we watched.

jjkrcyOkay, we all know the legend. Michael reunited with his brothers to sing our favorite Jackson 5 hits. When they finished the brothers left the stage and Michael pulled out the sequined glove, the fedora and moonwalked into music history.

But what was especially cool for us was seeing our new pal Lester dancing center stage during the show’s gala opening number. If you want to check it out, below is a link for the entire show. You only need to watch the first four minutes – he’s the guy in the red sweater with the long hair. The group is also billed as The Lester Wilson Dancers.

Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

Since The Classic Rocker is all about memories I can’t simply focus on Motown 25 or Lester when I hear Billie Jean. Whether you like Michael Jackson or not this was his moment – similar to The Beatles debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He already had a successful solo career, but this put him in the stratosphere of pop music. Elvis was the 50’s, The Beatles were the 60’s and Michael was the 80’s. The other decades have their own musical personas, for example the 70’s went from hippies to heavy metal to punk to disco. The 90’s were grunge, hip-hop and rap. But those periods never had a single artist that overwhelmingly dominated and influenced our popular culture as these three.

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Billie Jean dominated my Classic Rocker mind on the morning of April 26th. At the time I didn’t own a copy, but that’s changed since and now it’s on my digital playlist joining my Motown and Jackson 5 favorites. But because I hadn’t heard it for a long time until that waking moment, it’s on my subliminal music chart.

Temptations and 4 Tops

The Temptations and 4 Tops

Lester Wilson was a very interesting guy. I can’t remember how long he was part of our neighborhood scene, but that’s another thing about living in NYC. People come and go (including me) and when you’re part of it, life is rarely boring.

Since I’ve always been a huge Motown fan I remember going with my girlfriend (at the time) to see The Temptations and The Four Tops on Broadway. It was at least a year later because the show opened with Levi Stubbs (lead singer for The Tops) singing Marvin Gaye’s hit What’s Going On to open the show. Gaye had been murdered by his father on April 1, 1984 and this was soon after. The curtain was closed and just a single spotlight was aimed at the stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Stubbs finished, but within moments everyone was on their feet dancing along to one of the best concerts I was ever fortunate enough to attend.

Afterwards we went to our neighborhood Cheers for a nightcap and Lester was at the bar. We raved about the show and I remember saying he should have warned me Levi Stubbs had grown a beard. I wasn’t used to seeing him that way from photos. Yes, that’s a small detail – but one I remember from our conversation, which also helps put all these years in some type of order.

I did an online search for Lester Wilson and learned he was much bigger than he had let on during this time. Not only did he choreograph Motown 25 and Broadway musicals, but also the movies Saturday Night Fever (coached John Travolta), The Wiz, Funny Lady, Sister Act and others. But I’m sad to learn he passed away only ten years after we met in 1993 at the youthful age of 50.

As I mentioned above, you never know whom you might meet next in NYC. I may not have met Michael Jackson, but I had been warned the music scene was on the verge of changing by a guy who had.

Here’s a video of Michael’s performance of Billie Jean on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

To purchase The Essential Michael Jackson with Billie Jean visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing