Thursday, December 3, 2009

J. Geils Band: Love Stinks

Today’s late TV Thursday's song is found in the latest commercials for Swiffer products and features the J. Geils Band 1980 hit “Love Stinks.”

Although the J. Geils Band was from Boston, their music always reminds me of Pittsburgh. Growing up in the Steel City, I had the chance to be exposed to great radio stations. One of these, the all time granddaddy of album oriented rock (AOR), was WDVE at 102.5. DVE got it start as KQV-FM. When it ceased simulcasting the AM side’s Top 40 format, it became one of the first underground (as they called it in the late sixties) radio stations in the nation.

When I got my own FM radio in the early seventies (with built in cassette recorder as well), I began exploring the dial for some of the great stations that were beginning to replace the standard FM fare of the day – “beautiful music” – or later known as “easy listening.”

There was nothing beautiful or easy about WDVE – sleazy listening – maybe. I first got acquainted with DVE and the music it played during an art class in color and design at East Allegheny High School in my hometown of North Versailles, PA.

East Allegheny was a very progressive school – built in 1969 at a cost of 8 million dollars, the school had an Olympic sized swimming pool, a planetarium, large auditorium, and all the amenities that the taxpayers of North Versailles, East McKeesport, Wilmerding, and Wall could afford – although the Hoi Polloi probably would have preferred a less expensive outlet for our education, it was a great experience.

EAHS had an experimental curriculum that allowed students to take classes – not with people of their own age, but rather with people of their own ability. These were called phases and depending how well you scored in English, social studies, science, and math, you were placed in classes that were scaled from phase one to phase five. It was reported that only three schools in the US offered this curriculum: one in Florida, one in greater Cleveland, and EAHS.

In addition, there was collegial system of class offerings with elective courses. Freshman had one elective (I took German), sophomores had two, and juniors and seniors had the opportunity to take four – count ‘em – four electives. In my sophomore year, I took advantage of taking a year of journalism and began a tradition of taking an art class, which I did also in the two subsequent years. We were blessed (for a smaller school of 1600 in four grades) to have five art teachers.

In the second semester of my sophomore year, I took “color and design” from Mr. Steve Monoyoudis. Mr. M. not only taught us fledgling art apprentices the basics of design, he allowed students to bring in albums or to play WDVE on the stereo in the classroom while we were working on our projects. I only had him for this one semester, but the class became a springboard for other things rather than the plastic arts. I was sad to learn that Mr. Monoyoudis passed away this last May. He may be gone but not forgotten.

I know, what does this have to do with the J. Geils Band? Had I not gone to EAHS, I wouldn’t have had Mr. Monoyoudis’ class, I wouldn’t have been exposed to album rock and WDVE, and I wouldn’t have ever heard of the J. Geils Band until 1980. WDVE exposed me first to this band with their live recording, “Live Full House” that included the AOR hit, “First I Look at the Purse.” I loved the J. Geils Band's gritty sound - it was rough, hand hewn, and earthy. To quote Chevy Chase in "Modern Problems," "I like it." A few months later, I bought their second album “the Morning After” at the Great Valley flea market. I frequented this haven of deals every Sunday and spent my hard earned paper route money on many LPs and singles that I found there.

In 1980, the J. Geils Band began the trek to attract mainstream audiences with the album – “Love Stinks” and their first Top 40 hits. Although they received some airplay with “Must Have Got Lost,” the LP widened their appeal with songs like “Come Back” and “Love Stinks.” Both barely broke onto the top 40, they paved the way for bigger hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.”

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