I’m going to go out of sequence with this week’s entry, which is fitting because it was both my most recent record purchase and the second K-Tel comp I bought with my own money.
The album is Hit Mix, released in 1984 and originally purchased by yours truly from a cassette bargain bin at Bradlees a few months later.
The Bradlees store in Woburn was on the galactic fringe of my childhood’s retail galaxy. Up a steep hill from the Woburn Mall, on the opposite side of Washington Street by the Reading border, getting there (by bike or on foot) was a massive undertaking.
I willingly made the voyage on a regular basis because the place stocked all manner of rare treasures that put the easier-to-get-to Zayre’s inventory to shame. It was the main supplier for the bulk of early adolescent material obsessions and affectations. Bradlees sold me the clearance rack Hawaiian shirts I wore through most of junior high, as well as the Fighting Fantasy and Stephen King paperbacks I devoured with lurid glee. It’s out-of-the-way location also meant it was the best place to score the latest waves of GI Joe, Transformers, and Go-Bots toys.
It was during an afterschool excursion to the story that I saw the footage of the Challenger explosion, rebroadcast to a crowd of horrified onlookers on the electronics department’s wall of TVs.
This was also the time that my younger self was starting to “get into” music, and Bradlees assortment of cut-out bin cassettes supplied a number of my early purchases. My tastes were still in a state of flux, drifting between the pop metal fandom of my North Woburn pals and the pop fare pimped by V66 and the host of other short-lived music video shows created to cash in on MTV’s ascendancy.
If I liked something, I liked it. “Cool kid” cred was already beyond my grasp, so I surrendered to raw sentimentality and catchy tunes. When it came to actually purchasing music, however, I was limited by the expense involved. I didn’t have a turntable to play 45s and the price of a full album was too rich for my allowance and paper route funded blood. Instead I had to opt for midlist bargain deals and the deeply discounted compilations of the previous season’s chartbusters.
(It “helped” that my younger self had no concept of things going in or out of fashion.)
At three bucks (plus fifteen cents sales tax) Hit Mix was a slightly dated godsend.
A1 Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
A2 Huey Lewis And The News – I Want A New Drug
A3 The Romantics – Talking In Your Sleep
A4 The Pretenders – Middle Of The Road
A5 Dwight Twilley – Girls
A6 Genesis – That’s All
A7 Christine McVie – Got A Hold On Me
B1 Van Halen – Jump
B2 Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me
B3 Kool & The Gang – Tonight
B4 James Ingram with Michael McDonald – Yah Mo B There
B5 Shannon – Let The Music Play
B6 38 Special – Back Where You Belong
B7 Billy Idol – Rebel Yell
As Maura and I have grown older, our musical tastes have drifted in different directions. She has developed a stronger appreciation for Fifties doo-wop, Buddy Holly, and old pop standards. I, on the other hand, have moved back into the nostalgic murk, running my fingers across various scars to the beat of the cheese and sleaze of my childhood.
Maura is also three years older than me. It’s not a huge difference, but it does mean that her frame of reference for a lot this stuff is vastly different than mine. When I was still trying to figure out my tastes, she had already progressed into the punk rock realm.
What I’m getting at is this: She really, really dislikes this era of pop music, and has forbidden me from playing Hit Mix while she’s within listening distance.
Honestly, I can’t blame her. I’m not too crazy about it myself.
I bought the album on the basis of three tracks — Van Halen’s “Jump,” Blidol’s “Rebel Yell,” and 38 Special’s “Back Where You Belong.” The first two were in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio and music video programming, and the last one hooked me though a bizarre promo vid that reimagined the Wild Eyed Southern Boys as the cast of Hill Street Blues.
Concept videos were a hell of a drug, man.
Rockwell’s “Who’s Watching Me” is a fun slice of nostalgic fluff and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” is still a pretty powerful dance jam, but the rest of the material only serves to remind me why I gave up on contemporary music not too long after this time. Everything about Hit Mix, from the music to the cover aesthetic, exemplifies the plastic glossiness of “High 80s.” The apocalyptic dread and dimly-lit futurism the years previous were spackled over with brightly colored gaudiness and willful denial, and synths went from coldly haunting to canned horn-and-harmonica simulations.
It also doesn’t help that the music is so indelibly linked to my junior high years and all the existential nightmares tied to that transition. Whatever appeal the tunes once held has been overshadowed by memories of adolescent idiocy and hormonal angst. It’s the reason why I held off on picking up a copy, despite it’s personal significance as a historical artifact.
When I listen to Rock 80 or Radio Active, I get chills. When I listened to Hit Mix this past weekend, I felt like I’d eaten a bowl of styrofoam chips drenched in corn syrup.