As I mentioned last week, my current method for sniffing out comps I may have overlooked involves plugging a favorite band name plus “K-Tel” into my search bar and seeing what turns up.
My first attempt at this featured the Stray Cats, who were nowhere to be found on the fairly comprehensive stack of early Eighties K-Tel releases I’d already acquired. The rockabilly revival stalwarts and music video channel staples were a Big Deal to my younger self. Their “Sexy + 17″ single was one of the first pop records I purchased with my own money and a ragged-ass Built For Speed raglan (pulled from a flea market remainder bin) was the first bit of band-themed apparel I owned.
For a brief window of time, the Stray Cats were my favorite band ever, and the residual affection has never truly waned over the years. That’s how my dear departed feline companion got her name back in 2005.
Even allowing for a degree of significance-inflating nostalgia, it felt weird that the Stray Cats didn’t have a significant presence on the K-Tel offerings of that era. Contrast that with The Police, Rick Springfield, and Pat Benatar, who seemed to show up on every comp released between 1981 and 1984. Heck, even A Flock of Seagulls were represented by no fewer than three tracks during that period.
The Stray Cats, on the other hand, were limited to the inclusion of “Sexy + 17″ on 1984′s Sound System, alongside a cluster of cuts whose overall appeal has kept me from agreeing to the absurd (as in “more than five bucks”) asking price. That was it as far as domestic releases went, but it was a whole ‘nother story north of the border.
Rock ’83 was part of a series of Canadian attempts to follow up on the “Rock” plus “last two digits of the year” naming formula pioneered by the sublime Rock 80. Where the first entry in the series was compiled to spotlight the “new music” phenomenon, the later installments were more general purpose jobbers which followed K-Tel’s standard “last season’s hits” model as optimized for the Maple Leaf market.
A1 Men At Work – Be Good Johnny
A2 Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes
A3 Toni Basil – Mickey
A4 Kenny Loggins & Steve Perry – Don’t Fight It
A5 Rush - Subdivisions
A6 Missing Persons – Walking In L.A.
A7 Pat Benatar – Shadows of the Night
A8 Billy Idol – White Wedding
B1 Stray Cats – Rock This Town
B2 Dexys Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen
B3 The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
B4 Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
B5 Ultravox – Reap The Wild Wind
B6 Divinyls – Boys In Town
B7 Bryan Adams – Cuts Like A Knife
B8 Laura Branigan – Gloria
There’s a good deal of overlap between Rock ’83‘s tracklist and those of the various stateside comps released around that time. Half of the featured cuts appeared the Chart Action ’83, Hit Explosion, and Hit Express LPs I already owned, but that didn’t stop me from slipping a tenner to a Toronto record dealer in exchange for a copy of the comp.
As I’ve said before, my love for K-Tel comps comes from the overall experience, a complementary blend of historical core sample and nostalgic taste of “Hot 40″ format radio past. Individual tracks matter, but not as strongly as they would if I was compiling a playlist of my own. Even the clunkers don’t sound as clunky when they’re being streamed through a contextual sentiment filter.
If I can get the same experience without having to listen to Genesis or Hall & Oates, however, I’m gonna be all over that shit.
Neither Genesis nor Hall & Oates showed up on Rock ’83, although it did include several (very welcome) tracks that didn’t make the stateside cut. There’s the Stray Cats, for starters, but also signature tunes by Duran Duran, Missing Persons, and Ultravox which are in perfect concordance with my mytho-nostalgic conception of that incredible year.
It wouldn’t be a true glimpse into that singular moment without a taste of Rush, whose can-con contribution is the Rush-iest song the band ever recorded. “Subdivisions” could’ve leaned harder towards its target demo by offering a free bag of polyhedral dice and a subscription to the X-Men on the single’s sleeve. It’s the Rush song that makes parodies of Rush redundant.
Altogether, Rock ’83 is an almost perfect package. The Bryan Adams (because it was Canada in 1983) and Laura Branigan tracks make for a weak second-side closer, but the songs themselves are inoffensive enough and don’t offset comp’s white hot density of quality pop material.
In fact, the album was almost strong enough to pull off an impossible feat — being a K-Tel collection that passes Maura’s stratospheric standards. I generally tend to avoid throwing on a K-Tel jobber during our post-workday scrambles to get the animals (and ourselves) fed and on track for the evening, because her fires burn much hotter than mine and she lacks my capacity for nostalgic tolerance towards the AOR and soft rock standards of our childhood. Instead of earning my wife’s ire by inflicting a unwanted earworm upon her, it easier to toss on a collection of Fifties or Sixties rock ‘n’ roll jams and save the K-Tel stuff for when she’s out running errands on the weekends.
I was hoping Rock ’83 was going to break that streak, considering it included tracks by some of her favorite bands. During its inaugural spin, we listened to the first few songs with no controversy before I took the Rock Stupid Puppy out to do his business.
I returned to find the mood had shifted.
“I notice you decided to step out right before KENNY FUCKING LOGGINS came on.”
“Uh, yeah, it is kinda cheesy, but it’s the price you pay for Ultravox and Missing Persons.”
“I REALLY FUCKING HATE THAT SONG. IT HAS NO BUSINESS BEING THERE.”
I was fortunate enough to deflect her wrath with the story about Donald Fagen comparing Loggins to a trained seal, but it was a close call and I doubt I’d be so lucky next time.
In conclusion, Rock ’83 is an extremely solid snapshot of the year when I fell head over heels with pop music. Just check your housemates’ levels of Kenny Loggins tolerance before playing it.