Armagideon Time

I first come across 1982′s Hit Express while sifting through the Discog’s exhaustive (and exhausting) listings for K-Tel offerings. While it contained a few crucial cuts from that magically apocalyptic era, it lacked that certain something which would inspire an immediate purchase. I made a note of it — complete with a question mark — in the lowest priority section of my vinyl wishlist right around the time my interest in K-Tel compilations had begun to taper off.

A1 Rick Springfield – Love Is Alright Tonite
A2 Tommy Tutone - 867-5309/Jenny
A3 Split Enz – Six Months In A Leaky Boat
A4 Rick James – Super Freak
A5 Aldo Nova – Fantasy
A6 Straight Lines – Letting Go
A7 Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now?
A8 Loverboy – Working For The Weekend

B1 Chilliwack – My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)
B2 Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
B3 Daryl Hall & John Oates – I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)
B4 Air Supply – The One That You Love
B5 Paul Davis – ’65 Love Affair
B6 The Commodores – Oh No
B7 The Police – Spirits In The Material World
B8 Charlene – I’ve Never Been To Me

It remained there for a couple of months before this feature began to rekindle my enthusiasm and eagerness to fill some of the gaps in my midlist tapestry of auditory nostalgia. I didn’t make any active effort to locate a copy, but assumed one would eventually cross my path for a reasonably low price.

And then I stumbled upon this commercial while seeing out a promo spot for my Dancing Madness post:

The Human League? Foreigner? Rod Stewart? These weren’t on the Hit Express I knew about, the one I saw listed in the database.

It turns out there were two versions of the compilation released, sporting the same cover art. The tracklist posted above was for the joint US/Canadian market version, which explains the inclusion of North-of-the-Border acts Aldo Nova, Chilliwack, and Straight Lines.

The 100% Red-Blooded American release shared a handful of song selections with its maple-flavored comp-elganger, but was a very different beast, tonally speaking.

A1 The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
A2 Huey Lewis & The News – Do You Believe In Love
A3 Van Halen – (Oh) Pretty Woman
A4 Hall & Oates – Did It In A Minute
A5 Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
A6 Foreigner – Urgent
A7 Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight

B1 The Police – Spirits In The Material World
B2 Rick Springfield – Love Is Alright Tonite
B3 Rod Stewart – Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)
B4 Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
B5 Genesis – Abacab
B6 Loverboy – Working For The Weekend
B7 Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘N Roll

If you replaced the Hall & Oates, Genesis, and Huey Lewis tracks from the US version with the Tommy Tutone, Split Enz, and Men at Work cuts from the Canadian one, you’d have my platonic idea of a K-Tel compilation, but the American version has a glorious and terrible power in its own right. Taken together, its fourteen songs served as the ambient music of my North Woburn neighborhood during the summer of 1982.

Whether drifting from the doppler-distorted sound system of a passing Pontiac Firebird or blasted from a backyard boombox or emanating from a tiny transistor radio, these tunes were as inescapable as the stench from the town dump or the clouds of mosquitoes that descended upon us at dusk. Oh sure, there were memorable stirrings of new wave novelties — like the comp’s token Human League track — around the edges of our awareness, but this was the blue-collar heart of AOR country where power chords and feathered hair reigned supreme.

This is the stuff I was most heavily exposed to — echoing endlessly in the background as I traded a bunch of flea market funnybooks to Brian Donohue for a copy of Fury of Firestorm #5, peeled the styrofoam label off a glass bottle of lukewarm Tahitian Treat, played action figures with Lil Bro in our bedroom, and sifted through the trashpiles Down Back in search of rare treasures (and the occasional girlie mag).

It’s the type of thing I’d be appalled by if still gave a shit about “punk credibility.” Now it’s easier to acknowledge the music’s cheesy absurdity while savoring the visceral and primordial feelings of nostalgia it elicits.

And laughing whenever I remember where my friends and I changed various lyrics to refer to farts, poop, and boogers.

Related posts:

  1. Do K-Tel #3: Radio Active (1982)
  2. Do K-Tel #22: Raiders of the Pop Charts (1982)
  3. Do K-Tel #9: Hit Machine (1976)

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