Saturday, December 14, 2013


My wife has given me some great birthday gifts over the years. But one of the very best—and one that I’ve been able to enjoy for a particularly extended period of time—is the Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection DVD box set, which I received shortly after it was released in 2010. 

To say that it is all-inclusive would be an understatement. This collection includes the three original TV movies that introduced and began to establish Colonel Steve Austin, astronaut, who, after a tragic accident (or was it?), would be remade into something better—stronger—faster; every episode of all five seasons of the weekly series, including the “crossover” episodes of The Bionic Woman; and all three reunion TV movies from the late 1980s/early 1990s that brought Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner back to their iconic roles of Austin and his female counterpart, Jaime Sommers. And there are hours of retrospective materials, including extensive interviews with Majors, Wagner, co-stars Richard Anderson (O.S.I. chief Oscar Goldman) and Martin E. Brooks (Dr. Rudy Wells), and executive producer Harve Bennett, along with wonderfully informative episode commentaries by uber-talented writer/producer Kenneth Johnson, who created the Bionic Woman and introduced Sasquatch to the series as a recurring antagonist.  

As a kid, several years before I latched on to Star Trek, I was a huge fan of both bionic series. After TSMDM and TBW went off the air, I watched the syndicated reruns, which were broadcast every evening around dinnertime on Channel 5 in New York City. As an adult, I’d catch an occasional episode of either series when they were running on the Sci Fi Channel. So I have a long history with the shows and their characters. Armed with the box set, I looked forward to revisiting that world—but I didn’t intend to do it alone.

As I did with Star Trek, from the Original Series to the Animated Series to the first six movies, and with the entire Star Wars movie saga, I decided to bring my daughter Maddie along for the ride. One Saturday night shortly after I received the box set, I cracked open the case containing the first disc, put the DVD into the player, sat Maddie down on the couch next to me, and dived into the original TV movie (which, in syndication, was retroactively titled “The Moon and the Desert”).

And from there, for the next year or so, we watched everything that followed. Maddie was seeing it all for the first time, of course. And it had been so long since I had seen most of the episodes that they were almost completely new to me, as well. So what did we think? Read on.


The biggest differences between the first TV movie and everything that came after it are the casting and the character portrayals. Lee Majors eases into the role of Steve Austin almost immediately, but Darren McGavin is playing his supervisor instead of Richard Anderson—and McGavin isn’t even playing Oscar Goldman. Instead, he’s Oliver Spencer, and he’s so cold, so business-like, that it’s impossible to imagine him and Steve ever forming the brotherly relationship that Austin would eventually develop with Oscar.

Darren McGavin's Oliver Spencer (left) could save Steve Austin's life—but not his own job.

Dr. Rudy Wells, the brilliant scientist responsible for Steve’s rebirth as the world’s first bionic man, is played by Martin Balsam instead of Martin E. Brooks (or Brooks’s immediate predecessor in the role, Alan Oppenheimer). Balsam is fine as Wells—committed and very likable. In fact, it seems that the Balsam incarnation of Rudy may be even closer to Steve than the later versions. 

Balsam left—but the mustache stayed.

And the lovely Barbara Anderson, as Nurse Jean Manners, is clearly set up as an ongoing love interest for Steve—but alas, after this first film, we’ll never see or hear about her again. 

She wears white even when she's not in uniform.

Overall, if you accept the time period in which this TV movie was produced and the limited production values, it’s a pretty good start. 

MADDIE: “I thought it was kind of long and sometimes boring. But it was a pretty good beginning because it showed Steve Austin go from hating his bionics to realizing how much they saved him and how he could use them. At first, he yelled at the nurse who was taking care of him and he didn’t want her to touch him. But he gets over it by the end.

“I didn’t like the first Rudy because he wasn’t as funny as the main one (Brooks) and the main one seemed much younger.”

The two follow-ups, “Wine, Women and War” and “The Solid Gold Kidnapping,” produced by Glen A. Larson (who would later go on to create Battlestar Galactica), represent an uncertainty about how to handle the concept on an ongoing basis. Richard Anderson comes aboard as Oscar—though he’s not nearly as likable as he’ll later become—and Oppenheimer takes over as a less prominent Dr. Wells. But these two films portray Steve Austin pretty much as a bionic James Bond, going so far as to put Majors into a tuxedo and have him romance numerous women. They do a decent enough job of keeping things rolling, but Maddie and I agree that the most memorable thing about them—and not in a good way—is the song played over the opening credits:

That’s Dusty Springfield singing, by the way. Yeah, I was shocked too.

MADDIE: “That was not a good opening! The later opening was much better because there was no one singing and I liked the music better.”


Shortly after the “The Solid Gold Kidnapping” aired, The Six Million Dollar Man returned as a weekly series. Harve Bennett, brought in by ABC to serve as the show’s executive producer, dispensed with the James Bond elements and emphasized Lee Majors’s down-to-earth, “aw shucks” personality, which was very much on display in the original TV movie. Bennett also conceived the iconic opening credits sequence—even voicing the “Steve Austin, a man barely alive” narration (I didn’t know that until I watched the interview with him included in the box set)—and he came up with the idea of using a slow-motion effect to show Austin using his bionics at super-speed. It’s important to note that years later, Bennett would save the Star Trek franchise by developing, producing, and co-writing the feature film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

As mentioned above, the series ran five seasons. Each one had its high points, its low points, and a lot of points in-between. Maddie and I agree that the fifth season is the weakest overall. By that point, Bennett was no longer involved and the people who took over—one of them being the notorious Fred Freiberger, who also oversaw the much-maligned final season of the original Star Trek—were less interested in exploring new territory, experimenting with the format, or even attempting to expand Steve Austin as a character, than they were in just cranking out routine episodes on time and on budget.

MADDIE: “The show had a good run. Some episodes were really good, some were really bad.”

For the most part, the series was grounded in the real world, with Steve Austin’s bionics being the only outlandish element that audiences had to accept in a given episode. Steve’s most frequent antagonists were corrupt U.S. government agents, organized crime figures, or, with the Cold War still in full swing at the time, spies from the Soviet Union. (Incidentally, Richard Anderson’s pronunciation of the word “Soviets” never failed to make me chuckle—it sounded like “sahviets.”) But every now and then, the show embraced its science-fiction aspects and featured Steve in more unusual situations. Those episodes tended to stand out, and they are some of the most fondly remembered installments. They’re certainly the ones that I remembered most over the years.

MADDIE: “I preferred the episodes where Steve was fighting enemy spies or criminals. The science-fiction episodes were okay too, but sometimes they were hard to follow.

“I think I liked the two-or-three-parters the most. They always seemed to have the best plots.  

“The only thing I didn’t like about Steve Austin was that he was constantly hooking up with the women he met. I think he should have been with fewer women, maybe just one or two per season.

“I liked Oscar—he was funny! I loved how he called everyone ‘pal’ or ‘babe.’ Sometimes he and Steve were best friends, and sometimes there was tension between them.

“Rudy Wells was a fun character. He always thought the scientific things that were really boring were really cool!”

Maddie and I are more or less in agreement about what constitutes the best and the worst of The Six Million Dollar Man. Here are our comments on each season:


The first season, which contained only 13 episodes, gets off to a good start with “Population: Zero,” about the entire population of a small town dying under mysterious circumstances. Steve’s investigation leads to a vengeful ex-government scientist demanding to be paid a fortune or he’ll kill another town. 

Interestingly, the second episode, “Survival of the Fittest,” in which Steve and Oscar survive a plane crash and are targeted by enemy agents on a deserted island, was recycled almost entirely two years later as a first-season installment of The Bionic Woman, entitled “Fly Jaime.”

MADDIE: “I enjoyed that episode the first time around, but when I saw it redone on The Bionic Woman, I was like, ‘I know everything that’s going to happen in this!’”

“The Rescue of Athena One” established the tradition of having a guest appearance each season by Lee Majors’s wife at the time, Farrah Fawcett-Majors (at least for the first four seasons).  

Farrah as astronaut Kelly Woods, paving the way for Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist.

MADDIE: “I thought the Farrah Fawcett episodes were ‘eh.’ I wanted to see Steve with Jaime.”

There are no real clunkers in the first season, but I’d say the true highlights are “Day of the Robot,” in which Steve battles a powerful android that looks exactly like his close friend (played by John Saxon), and “Burning Bright,” in which William Shatner plays another friend of Steve’s, a fellow astronaut, who returns to Earth from a space mission transformed after an encounter with a strange energy field. Shatner’s performance is, without a doubt, among his most over-the-top—he’s absolutely chewing the scenery, at times laughably so. But he’s never anything less than totally compelling, and Majors, who mostly plays Austin as cool-as-a-cucumber, provides a nice counterbalance.   

'Nuff said.

MADDIE: “I liked seeing William Shatner in that episode because we were just finishing up watching all of the Star Trek movies, so it was fun to see him again. He was very emotional and the way he talked made me laugh.”


This was the first full-length season—22 episodes, some of which rank among the very best of the series. There are a few real clunkers too. Let’s get those out of the way first. 

In “Lost Love,” Steve is reunited with an old girlfriend, Barbara Thatcher, whom he almost married seven years earlier. But Barbara is now mourning the death of her husband, a prominent scientist who worked for the U.S. government. Steve sees Barbara’s newly widowed status as an opportunity to rekindle their romance, and he and Barbara start seeing each other again. Trouble ensues when Barbara gets a phone call from Europe, and it’s her supposedly-dead husband on the line. This would have been a fairly mediocre episode no matter what, but it’s fatally wounded by guest star Linda Marsh as Barbara. With this episode, Barbara is positioned as the great love of Steve’s life. But there’s absolutely no spark between the two of them—they have about as much chemistry as Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola had in The Godfather Part III. Marsh’s performance overall doesn’t help matters. She seems too mature and too elite for Steve, in looks, demeanor, the way she carries herself, the way she dresses, the way she talks. She seems more like his troubled aunt than a lover. To make matters worse, Marsh displays little-to-no personality in the role. She’s about as compelling as a brick, with her performance ranging from stiff and mannered to annoying and overwrought. 

Best left lost.

The show would introduce another woman from Steve’s past later in the season—with far more successful results.       

In “The Cross-Country Kidnap,” a young Donna Mills plays an equestrienne who hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team. But she’s also a world-class computer cryptography expert (!) who needs to be protected by Steve when she’s targeted for kidnapping by enemy operatives. This one made me groan.

And the less said about “Taneha,” the better. It’s really one of the worst episodes of the series. Steve Austin spends most of it hunting down a cougar that’s supposedly the last of its kind. Some people want to protect it. Others want to kill it. I just wanted it to be over. WEAK.  

This episode belongs in kitty litter.

MADDIE: “‘Taneha’ was SO STUPID. And then they did an episode of The Bionic Woman that was almost just like it!”  

For sheer audacity alone, I have to mention “The Pal-Mir Escort,” which is basically “Steve Austin Protects Golda Meir From Assassins.” Not a great episode, but certainly fun to watch. There are some really cute moments between Majors and guest star Anne Revere, who plays Golda—er, I mean, Prime Minister Salka Pal-Mir of the nation of Eretz—as a tough, wise, feisty old woman with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.    

With “The Deadly Replay,” the series introduces a major—and shocking—bit of retroactive continuity. Steve learns that the crash that nearly killed him and caused him to become bionic was no accident—it was an act of sabotage. Presumably the producers had second thoughts about this revelation, because it was never referred to again.      

MADDIE: “‘The Deadly Replay’ was AWESOME. It involved a mystery, and in the end, we find out why Steve crashed—that it wasn’t an accident. That adds more to the story and gives us a better understanding of what was really going on when Steve took that flight.”            

“Straight On ’Til Morning” is notable for being the first episode in which Steve encounters extraterrestrial beings. There would be a far more memorable encounter with aliens in Season Three.

“Stranger in Broken Fork” is an entertaining episode in which an amnesia-stricken Steve ends up defending a home for the mentally ill from townspeople who don’t want the facility in their community.

“Steve Austin, Fugitive,” the final episode of the season, is a personal favorite of mine. It’s compelling, funny, picks up on continuity established in the first season, and introduces Oscar’s secretary, the adorable Peggy Callahan (played by Jennifer Darling), who will become a recurring character on both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. In a nutshell, Steve is framed for a murder and is pursued by the authorities. The only person he can turn to for help is Callahan, whom he must entrust with the secret of his bionic body parts.

Jennifer Darling as Callahan (right): A most welcome addition to the series. 

MADDIE: “I like Callahan a lot! I loved seeing her talking on the phone to her mother, and we see that there are, like, 25 locks on the front door of her apartment! I like the way Callahan talks, she’s very small and very funny and she gets into these crazy situations but she always finds a way to help. I was glad to see her come back in later episodes.”

There’s also a bizarre-but-amusing scene featuring a clerk at an electronics shop, played by none other than Lee Majors wearing heavy makeup and false teeth.

An old Baba Booey?

But most significantly, the second season introduced two more bionic characters—both would return, but only one would capture America’s heart.      

In “The Seven Million Dollar Man,” Steve learns of the existence of Barney Miller (later changed to “Hiller” after the series Barney Miller launched on ABC), a second, more powerful bionic man secretly created by Rudy Wells. Barney, played by Monte Markham, is corrupted by his newfound strength and abilities, and Steve has to bring him down before he gets totally out of control. Markham’s performance is nearly as over-the-top as Shatner’s in “Burning Bright”—subtlety doesn’t seem to be one of his strong suits. But again, Majors is so solid that he provides a nice contrast.

"Let go of me—there's more scenery I want to chew!"

MADDIE: “I really liked that one. I liked the guy who played Barney—he reminded me of William Shatner! I liked how he hooked up with the nurse that Steve used to date. I didn’t like the way he thought he was better than Steve just because he cost a million dollars more, and he wasn’t nice like Steve. He would always talk out of the side of his mouth. But he was fun to watch because he would always try to do more than Steve and there was chemistry between him and Steve.” 

And then there’s “The Bionic Woman,” written by Kenneth Johnson. In this pivotal two-parter, Steve is reunited with his childhood friend Jaime Sommers, played of course by the lovely Lindsay Wagner. They fall in love, but a terrible skydiving accident nearly kills her. Steve convinces Oscar to make her bionic to save her life. Following her recovery, they plan to marry, but Jaime’s body starts to reject her new parts. Despite Rudy’s best efforts, Jaime dies on the operating table, leaving Steve heartbroken and alone.

Wagner is simply phenomenal as Jaime. She has great chemistry with Majors and Anderson. And her presence brought out a whole new side of Majors and his portrayal of Steve Austin. He’s more romantic, charming, and vulnerable than we’ve ever seen before. (The scene in which Steve desperately begs Oscar to make Jaime bionic is one of the most powerful bits of acting that Majors ever did in the series. He would not get many more opportunities to show this kind of range.)          

When audiences across America saw these two episodes, they fell in love with Jaime almost as much as Steve did, and they were appalled by her demise. They demanded that the tragic ending somehow be reversed—and at the start of Season Three, they got their wish. 

As I recall, I didn’t get to see “The Bionic Woman” until after I saw its sequel. In fact, “The Return of the Bionic Woman,” the two-parter that kicked off the third season on September 14, 1975, may well have been the first episode of The Six Million Dollar Man that I ever watched in its original broadcast. I would have been six years old at the time, just starting first grade. Fortunately, there was enough exposition and flashbacks to the previous Jaime story that I was able to follow along. 

Jaime quickly became one of my first crushes, joining Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie, Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, Jessica Lange as Dwan in the 1976 remake of King Kong, and Cheryl Ladd as Kris Munroe.    

MADDIE: “I loved Jaime. She and Steve were already friends so they already had chemistry and she was close to his parents because her parents had died when she was a kid. Steve was dumbstruck when he saw her again playing tennis. They carved their initials into a tree. It was very cute. Jaime seemed very easygoing and fun. I was really scared when she was in the telephone booth in the rain and she was screaming for Steve—I knew something bad was going to happen. I was really upset when she died and he kissed her on the forehead. It was really emotional.

“Lindsay Wagner had a great smile and she was very pretty. She and Lee Majors seemed like they were perfect for each other.  

“The only thing I didn’t like about ‘The Bionic Woman’ were the two songs, ‘Got to Get Loose’ and ‘Sweet Jaime.’ They were very silly. Lee Majors sang them, and he wasn’t that good. The episodes really didn’t need the songs, they could have just played background music. I would have liked that better.”  

Next time, we’ll pick up with Season Three and go through the rest of the series, wrapping up with the three reunion movies. See you then!

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


While Thor: The Dark World is not among my very favorites of the movies produced by Marvel—I’d place it in the second tier, alongside 2010’s Iron Man 2—I found it to be an enjoyable film, with great action, high drama, well-placed humor, and strong performances all around. I must admit, in the wake of last year’s The Avengers and last summer’s Superman reboot Man of Steel, this sequel to 2011’s Thor feels just a wee bit derivative. But for the most part, it manages to overcome that with charm and likable characters.

Taking place about two years after the first film, with the events of  The Avengers having occurred more recently, the plot involves the re-emergence of an ancient race of beings called the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). They are intent upon plunging the universe back into the total unending darkness that existed before the dawn of creation. Their previous attempt was thwarted thousands of years ago by the Asgardians, under the command of Bor, father of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and grandfather of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). But when a long-lost weapon called the Aether is rediscovered—with human scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) directly involved—the Dark Elves set out to seize this source of power that will enable them to carry out their plans. With Jane’s life in jeopardy, Thor springs into action, determined to stop Malekith and his minions and save the Earth woman he has come to love and every other living thing in the universe. 

Like The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World depicts an Earth city (in this case, London) being invaded and attacked by Forces From Beyond. There’s a lot of mayhem and destruction as a result, with innocent bystanders in great danger. But Thor is facing the threat alone this time, which is how it echoes Man of Steel. However, unlike Zack Snyder’s Superman film, which was unrelentingly grim, serious, and even brutal during the super-powered showdown, The Dark World never loses its sense of fun. There are moments of levity and laughter amongst the doom and destruction, mostly provided by Stellan Skarsgård as Jane Foster’s hapless and eccentric mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig, and by Kat Dennings’s Darcy, Jane’s sassy unpaid intern. This time around, Darcy gets an intern of her own, a British chap named Ian, and really, there’s no compelling reason for either of them to be in the film at all—but they’re so endearing, and there’s such a cute payoff involving them—that you don’t really mind.

As the central villain, I found Malekith to be underwritten and underdeveloped, which was the same problem I had with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger (though I enjoyed that film very much). 

Introducing Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves.

Fortunately, the presence of Tom Hiddleston as Loki more than compensates for any disappointment I may have felt about Malekith. I think Hiddleston—who seems to truly relish his role—is Marvel’s secret weapon, and I would argue that he has become nearly as important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Robert Downey Jr. Hiddleston’s Loki remains the most complex, multi-dimensional, multi-layered, and well-developed of all the villains in the Marvel films and I hope we continue to see him for years to come. 

Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, Thor's devious half brother.

The Dark World does what a sequel is supposed to do: it maintains tight continuity with what has come before, but it propels things forward and doesn’t shy away from shaking up the status quo. (Let me put it this way: don’t assume that every character who appeared in the first film is going to make it out of this one without a scratch.) Nearly all of the returning supporting characters are further developed and have something important to contribute—particularly Idris Elba as Heimdall, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, Rene Russo as Thor’s mother, Frigga, Hopkins as Odin, and Jaimie Alexander as Sif. 

In fact, there’s some key character stuff with Sif that is finally introduced here—I’d been waiting for it since the first film. It’s played somewhat subtly in The Dark World, but it’s there, and I was glad to see it. Hopefully it’s a hint of things to come in future films. 

Jaimie Alexander as Sif—more, please!

In the interest of saving you a few bucks, I can tell you that the 3D didn’t really add all that much to the viewing experience, so I recommend seeing the standard version. 

Oh—and as if you didn’t already know (it is a Marvel movie, after all)—stay to the very end of the closing credits. There are two extra bits, one during the end credits, and one after. The first one sets up future continuity, presumably that of next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, while the second one includes a cute little punchline to something that happens earlier in the film. 

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is thoroughly entertaining—very  good, not great—but would have benefited from a more fully developed central villain. I think that would have helped make it stand out a little more amongst the ever-growing crowd of superhero movies. Nevertheless, Thor’s return is promised at the end of the film, and I’m looking forward to seeing where his cinematic adventures take him next.     

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Having listed my 15 all-time favorite albums last time, I’ve decided to remain in a musical vein for a little while longer. This time around, I’m going to reveal the songs I discovered and fell in love with during my college years at State University of New York at Stony Brook. 

For those of you who know me well, you may be surprised by some of the songs on this list. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been steeped in classic rock for the bulk of my life—mostly stuff that was released before I was even born, or when I was too young to really be aware of it. I spent most of my pre-college years listening primarily to the Beatles. But the Police actually managed to break through my defenses, as did Billy Joel—before he put out An Innocent Man and drove me away almost completely. Occasionally, my dear friend Nick Guarracino would introduce me to something contemporary and I’d get a kick out of it—“Word Up” by Cameo, for example, or “Hold Me Now” by Thompson Twins, or “Operation: Mindcrime” by Queensrÿche. But I didn’t venture too far from what was already familiar to me all that often. 

When I got to college, however, and I was surrounded by so many different people with so many different musical tastes, I found myself hearing a lot of stuff I’d never heard before—interesting songs with interesting sounds, many of them performed by new, up-and-coming artists. And I liked a lot of what I was hearing.

Recently, I put together a playlist on my iPod of these songs, arranged more or less in order of when I first encountered and embraced them. Here’s that playlist, along with some comments, anecdotes, and random memories.  

1. “Like the Weather” 10,000 Maniacs (1987)

As I recall, this was the very first “new” song that I took notice of when I got to college. It was fall 1987, I was a freshman getting settled into my dorm room, and I turned on the bulky boom box I had brought from home to see which radio stations I could pick up. To my dismay, I discovered that I was too far away—and too deep in a valley—to be able to pick up 92.3 WXRK, New York City’s classic-rock station at the time, and the home of Howard Stern, whom I had been listening to regularly for years. Trying to find a local station I could listen to, I stumbled upon “Like the Weather” and was immediately pulled in. At first, I mistakenly believed it was by ’Til Tuesday, who had scored a hit a couple of years earlier with “Voices Carry,” which I liked a whole lot (still do, in fact). I would rediscover 10,000 Maniacs about six years later, when they released the hit single “These Are Days.”     

2. “We’ll Be Together” Sting (1987)

I was a huge fan of Sting’s first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, and bought his follow-up, ... Nothing Like the Sun, as soon as it came out. I was still in the first semester of my freshman year. “We’ll Be Together” was the big hit single from that album, and I remember that I had gone across campus one night to tutor a girl in math (to give you an idea of how lousy she was at math, she had ME tutoring her). I was about to knock on her door, and I heard this song playing in her room. I smiled and thought, “Hey, I’ve got that album!” Made me feel like I was actually living in the present.       

3. “Touch of Grey” Grateful Dead (1987)

I had never been a Grateful Dead fan—I’m still not, really, though I do love their song Box of Rain, which I first heard in the series finale of the wonderful TV series Freaks and Geeks. “Touch of Grey” was catchy and fun, and I associate it primarily with that first semester of college, when I was living away from home for the first time, opening myself to new ideas and new experiences, and starting to find myself. 

4. “Rhythm of Love” Yes (1987)

The 1987 Yes album Big Generator got a lot of play on my dormitory hall during freshman year. This was the first song on the album, so I heard it a LOT. I liked it so much that I actually went to see Yes in concert later that school year at Nassau Coliseum. The show didn’t make me any more of a Yes fan than I was before, but I still like this song.  
5. “My Old School” Steely Dan (1973)

One of my hallmates during freshman year, Ken Strauss, was always playing stuff by Steely Dan, a band Id never really listened to before, and this song in particular was in heavy rotation. I fell in love with it immediately. It’s my absolute favorite Steely Dan song, and I always smile when I hear it. Fortunately, Ken and I reestablished contact a few years ago, and I was able to thank him for introducing me to it.   

6. “Working in the Coal Mine” Devo (1981)

I didn’t get to see the animated film Heavy Metal when it was first released in 1981—it was an R-rated movie and I was only 12 years old at the time. But in my freshman year of college, someone living on my hall had a bootleg copy of the film on VHS and we all watched it quite frequently. I came to love a number of the songs from the movie, and fortunately, another guy on the hall had the soundtrack album on audio cassette. I borrowed that tape a lot, just to listen to this song and...   

7. “Reach Out” Cheap Trick (1981)

Probably my favorite song from Heavy Metal, and it plays during my favorite segment of the film: the “Captain Sternn” sequence, written and designed by comic-book artist extraordinaire Bernie Wrightson. 

I was never a huge fan of Cheap Trick, but I LOVE “Reach Out.”   

8. “Substitute” The Who (1966)

It was fall semester of my freshman year, late 1987, when I overheard someone on my hall playing the song “The Kids Are Alright” by the Who. To me, it sounded almost like an early Beatles track that I’d never heard before. Something just clicked in my head and suddenly, I felt that I needed to hear more stuff by the Who. Much more. I was already familiar with “Pinball Wizard,” but I really didn’t know much about the band or the extent of their catalogue. I then borrowed a bunch of Who stuff from a couple of guys living on my hall and immersed myself in it. Very soon after, I discovered “Substitute,” and it was love at first listen. It’s no longer my favorite Who song (that would be “Bargain”), but for a while, it sat at the very top of the list.       

9. “Pure and Easy” Pete Townshend (1972)

By the end of my freshman year of college, I was well on my way to becoming a major Who fanatic. During the summer of 1988, classic-rock station 92.3 WXRK in NYC aired a radio documentary about the Who, which I recorded and listened to repeatedly. In the midst of a segment focusing on the band members’ solo projects, this song was played, as it was the first song on Pete Townshend’s first solo album, Who Came First. I absolutely loved it. Still do. It’s one of Pete’s most beautiful songs, and upon hearing it for the first time, I knew that I would have to go out and buy all of his solo material, in addition to his work with the Who. 

10. “Handle With Care” Traveling Wilburys (1988)

A gem from the second half of my freshman year. It’s just so damn catchy. I still smile whenever I hear it. I remember that Roy Orbison died shortly after the first Traveling Wilburys album was released, and one day I was walking across campus listening to my Walkman and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was able to pick up “The Howard Stern Show” on the radio. As I was walking by the Student Union, Howard was saying, and I’m paraphrasing only slightly, “Boy, that Roy Orbison is one unlucky bastard, huh? He gets this great resurgence to his career and then he drops dead!” Yep, that pretty much summed it up.     

11. “After the Fire (live)” Pete Townshend (1986)

Unable to embed video for this song; a link to it is provided below.
Going into my sophomore year, I was buying up whatever Pete Townshend solo albums I could find. One of those albums was Pete Townshend’s Deep End Live!, and I felt that this song was one of the real standouts. I was already familiar with the Roger Daltrey version, released on Daltrey’s 1985 album Under a Raging Moon, but I preferred Townshend’s gentler, mellower, less bombastic rendition. I remember that when I started dating my college girlfriend shortly after getting Deep End Live!, I would always sing this song to myself as I walked from my dorm all the way to the other side of the campus, where she lived.   

12. “Sea and Sand” The Who (1973)

I bought the Who’s Quadrophenia album very early in my sophomore year (fall 1988). Some time later, I don’t remember exactly when—it could have been during my junior year for all I know—I was sitting in a sociology class one day, bored out of my mind, and to keep myself from falling asleep, I started jotting down the lyrics to this song, just to see how far I could get before I reached a section where I didn’t know the words. I was surprised to find that I’d made it to the end of the song, and, after later checking what I’d written against the album, I found that I’d gotten everything correct. “Hmph, guess I really like this song,” I commented to myself. I was particularly pleased when, several years later, I taught myself how to play it on guitar.   

13. “Put it There” Paul McCartney (1989)

After a string of fairly weak and disappointing albums throughout the 1980s (the sole exception being 1982’s Tug of War), Paul McCartney rebounded nicely at the end of the decade with Flowers in the Dirt. This song was one of the strongest on that album, a nice little ditty that recalls “Blackbird” and “Mother’s Nature Son,” both off of the Beatles’ White Album. It’s about the bond between fathers and sons. Around that time, my dad was having health problems and he and I weren’t getting along all that well. I remember my college girlfriend, who had lost her own father in her early teens, telling me, “If anything happens to that man and you’re not speaking to him, you’ll never forgive yourself.” Then this song came along. I patched things up with him shortly after that.       

14. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

Not much to say about this one, other than the fact that I liked it as a kid and liked it even more in college, particularly in my sophomore and junior years. Probably because the 20th anniversary of Woodstock was happening around that time, and there was a lot of looking back and retrospecting about that historic event and the music that was played there, so this song was getting a lot of airplay—and it was used in what I feel is one of the funniest comedy bits that Howard Stern ever did.   

15. “Glamour Boys” Living Colour (1988)

I can’t remember exactly when or where I first heard this song, but I liked it so much that when Living Colour came to play at my college, I went to see them. Guess which song they didn’t perform that night.

16. “Roam” The B-52s (1989)

I already knew the B-52s from “Rock Lobster,” but that song was never a favorite of mine. When their album Cosmic Thing came out, “Love Shack” got most of the attention, but I much preferred “Roam,” which I found to be more catchy and fun. Kate Pierson (who, incidentally, looked beautiful in the video for this song), had a fantastic voice, and obviously, I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because around my senior year of college, several other musical acts asked her to do guest vocals on their songs. Worked for me, as you’ll see in the next two entries.       

17. “Candy” Iggy Pop (1990)

At the time this song was released, in the fall semester of my senior year, I knew next to nothing about Iggy Pop. I believe my first real exposure to him was when he appeared on Howard Stern’s legendary “Channel 9 Show”—and nearly walked off in a huff. Shortly after that, I heard this duet between Iggy and Kate Pierson and it became one of the very first—and very few—cassette singles that I ever bought.  

18. “Shiny Happy People” REM (1991)

And here’s the third part of the “Kate Pierson Trilogy.” I never really cared for REM, and I thought that Michael Stipe showed himself to be a flaming ass when, in an interview, he referred to the Beatles as “elevator music.” But I really enjoyed this song—it’s one of the other very few cassette singles that I ever bought—and I thought, “Well, maybe there’s something to REM after all.” Then, in another interview, Stipe was asked something along the lines of, “Do you have any regrets?” and he replied, “Shiny Happy People.” Clearly, he and I wouldn’t have much to talk about.   

19. “No Myth” Michael Penn (1989)

I remember first encountering this song on MTV. I was hanging out at my college girlfriend’s sister’s house one day, and the TV in the living room was on. I was laying on the couch, reading a comic book, and I heard the lyrics, “What if I were Romeo in black jeans.” I happened to look down and noticed that, hey, I was wearing black jeans! That got me to pay attention to the rest of the song, and I really liked what I heard. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of playing this song with my friends Clive, Keith, and Paroo, in our little band, Clive’s Rocking Attic Party (C.R.A.P. for short).  

20. “The Obvious Child” Paul Simon (1990)

I remember hearing this song for the first time towards the end of my senior year—spring 1991. I was working on a term paper in my dorm room early in the morning while listening to “The Howard Stern Show”—I had since moved out of the valley that I had lived in during my first three years and could now hear the show on a regular basis again—and Howard premiered the song at the end of the show. Stern mocked it, of course, commenting that Simon was still ripping off other cultures’ musical styles, as he had done on his much-acclaimed Graceland album. I shrugged off Howard’s remarks, as the song sounded great to my ears. I even went out and bought the album it came from, The Rhythm of the Saints. I always associate “The Obvious Child” with the very end of my college days, which is why I placed it last on my playlist. But memory’s a funny thing: I just checked the release date for the song, and apparently, it came out six months earlier, in October of 1990. Oh well—I’m pretty sure everything else I remember about it is accurate! 

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.