“This is Jack Killian, ‘The Nighthawk’ on KJCM, 98.3 on your FM dial, and good night America… wherever you are.”
1988 was a good year for talk radio – on both television and in the cinema. Midnight Caller first aired that autumn, starring Gary Cole as Jack Killian, a former San Francisco police detective who had resigned from the force after he accidentally shot his partner to death in a confrontation with armed criminals. After lapsing into alcoholism, he got a new gig – on KCJM FM – as host of an overnight talk show, taking calls from listeners and acting as a detective solving their problems during daylight hours. On the big screen, there was Oliver Stone’s fantastic and claustrophobic Talk Radio with Eric Bogosian as Barry Champlain, a caustic shock jock with controversial and explosive views. The NME rated it highly.
Adverts for Vertigo’s Hot City Nights played during Midnight Caller’s ad breaks, hence the appearance of the Polygram TV logo on the sleeve. I especially recall these from the RTE broadcasts, unusual because the album was out for some weeks before the television show started to air. The urban landscape of the front cover is brilliantly evocative: sleek, open roads with dotted skyscraper lights. It also has the distinction of being the penultimate Various Artists album to top the UK charts – the last was Now That’s What I Call Music 13.
Rather than starting at the beginning, let’s hit shuffle play (such a novel idea and one that I made use in those early CD days). To Billy Idol’s Hot In The City: originally a 1982 single and included on his debut solo album. The video starts with a girl walking into a record shop. She picks up a Billy Idol LP and the song starts to play. We see scenes from New York City, interspersed with footage of nuclear bomb tests. The second version (released to promote the 1988 remix) was banned by MTV because it showed Billy’s then-girlfriend Perri Lister bound to a cross toward the end of the video. This much superior version with its remixed synthesiser intro and amazing bridge at 2:14 featured in the 1988 hit film, Big, starring Tom Hanks. You don’t hear it much nowadays so its inclusion here is welcome.
Let’s turn on the ignition and hit the accelerator: Queen’s I Want To Break Free. Naturally it’s the single mix which differs from the album version by the 40 second introduction and a longer synthesiser solo which starts at 2:33. Some prefer the more concise take on The Works. I disagree and particularly believe that the electronic keyboard really adds to the atmosphere – and sets the opening scene on our night drive. +Heart’s operatic monster Alone, one of a few tracks that originally shaped Now That’s What I Call Music 10, in particular the rocky second side. The others being Kiss’ poppy Crazy Crazy Nights and Whitesnake’s wistful Here I Go Again in US Remix guise, the best way to experience it. Meanwhile Bryan Adams’ Summer Of ’69 was four years old by ’88 but was played almost every week in my local disco, which I am sure was replicated all over the country.
Robert Plant’s Big Log is just slightly too uptempo for a slow set. A five minute single from 1983, it’s a melancholy musing on lost love. The music video was filmed in various places – the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Death Valley Junction, California, the Calico Ghost Town in California, the Glass Pool Inn in Las Vegas, and in Crystal, Nye County, Nevada. Wayback Playback notes “This song has an aura that is inescapable.” Word. Two genuine slowies follow; Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is and Eric Claption’s Wonderful Tonight, the latter originally released in 1977 but reissued 11 years later and played everywhere. I wrote about Bon Jovi in The Chart Show – Rock The Nation and the biggie from Slippery When Wet appears here, Livin’ On A Prayer. In 2006, online voters rated it #1 on VH1’s list of The 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s. Over to you Jon:
“It deals with the way that two kids – Tommy & Gina – face life’s struggles and how their love and ambitions get them through the hard times. It’s working class and it’s real.”
By 1988, Brummie prog rockers Magnum had been lumped in with the soft metal crew. Who could blame them when you play Start Talking Love, a creamy shot at AOR slickness. Another band with progressive leanings were Marillion whose piano-led Lavender appears here. It’s three years out of time, hailing from 1985’s Misplaced Childhood – the concept for which came to Fish during a 10-hour acid trip. Whereas Kayleigh was about the failure of an adult relationship, Lavender recalls the innocence of childhood. The 7″ single is significantly longer than the album version (3:40 as opposed to 2:27), whereas the 12″ mix – entitled Lavender Blue – is 4:18. A second female voice appears next: Pat Benatar’s romantic We Belong. And then Big Country’s Look Away, the lead single from The Seer (the band at their most Celtic) and an Irish chart-topper for one week only in 1986.
The closing song on Hot In The City brings us full circle. Rush’s The Spirit Of Radio dates back to 1980, and was inspired by Toronto radio station CFNY-FM’s slogan. The song bemoans the change of FM radio from free-form to commercial formats during the late 1970s. We get the 4:57 album version with the reggae-ish ending; the 7″ edit runs for 3:00 and has never come out on CD. Rush released this at the beginning of decade, possibly in an attempt to convey to listeners that their prediction for the 1980s was greed, commerce over art and in that message, to laud a station that was “alternative” – long before the concept existed. Years later, The Spirit Of The Radio featured in an episode of Freaks & Geeks, a TV show that captured exactly what it was like to be a teenager in the early ’80s.
“Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free”
Robert Plant – Big Log
Rush – The Spirit Of Radio
Lest we forget
Billy Idol – Hot In The City (1988 Remix)