As HERC was planning his Summer In Stereo extended feature, he reached out to fellow writers whose work he admired and asked them for any possible contributions. As of today, all but one on those chosen few had responded and contributed. Today's contribution comes from HERC's longest running (nearly 25 years and counting) penpal, John Book. John is an accomplished writer, zine publisher, news producer, musician, foodie, prolific user of social media and according to IMDb, "a character". Someone who knows him better than HERC does (they've never met) calls him "music's biggest fan". In an exclusive for The Hideaway, John remembers the Summer of 1979, when he still lived in Honolulu.
35 years ago, there was nothing in my life that I looked forward to, no hopes and dreams. I had heard of the words, used them in homework, but to hope for something was limited to childish wants and a dream was that I would get when I went to sleep. 35 years ago, I was a few weeks away from entering the 4th grade at my elementary school in Honolulu. For me, this meant moving from the lower B building on the school grounds and moving up to the A building, even if the buildings were probably separated by 100 steps or so. If there was a hope, it was that I was getting older, moving in the same building (but not the same floor) with the 5th and 6th grades, I felt like a big boy. Even saying that phrase, "big boy", brings back the memories of the hopes and dreams my parents had in me.
I do remember going to summer fun at Booth Park in my neighborhood in Honolulu called Pauoa, located about a mile north of downtown Honolulu. Summer fun involved swimming at the pool, playing basketball when I really didn't like the sport, and playing outside with my friends. When I went home, I could watch my share of cartoons between 3pm and 5pm, or play with my best friends who lived next door to me, Chris and Ryan. When it meant time to go into my room for the evening, I would have time to play records on my stereo, most likely the kiddie Emerson I received when I was six, or to listen to the radio. My radio habits as a kid was with stations KKUA-69 and KIKI-83, the two of the biggest pop radio stations in Honolulu. Both were on AM radio, as that's what I listened to, FM radio seemed a bit too...looking back, I don't know what FM radio seemed like as a kid because I never listened to it. All I know is once I got into the double digits, I wanted to know what FM was like. It sounded better, it had cooler music, including the heavier hard rock that I and my uncles had already listened to on a regular basis. Once I got into FM, my days as an AM radio fan would soon be over, but I would listen to radio DJ's like Wili Moku and Kamasami Kong and...if there was one hope and dream in my childhood life, my biggest goal was to become a radio disc jockey. I didn't want to be a fireman, policeman, or astronaut, I simply wanted to put records on a phonograph or two and play it to people willing to listen to it, and listening to me talk about it.
Listening to Top 40 music and of course being a faithful listener to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40", I would be a regular fan of what was hot, and try to listen to what could be the next big thing. I would know about being like Rex Smith, Leif Garrett, Pink Lady, and Atlanta Rhythm Section, but I was proud to be fans of Earth Wind & Fire, both Parliament and Funkadelic (and yes, at the age of 8, I did discover that Parliament and Funkadelic were one and the same, although my allegiance was paid towards Parliament), and Kiss.
By August of 1979, it seemed things were changing. Kiss had just released their "Dynasty" album and after loving their music and obeying the majesty of their individual solo albums, I got "Dynasty" as a gift but they looked different. I did not mind a song like "I Was Made For Loving You" although radio DJ's would say this was their disco sell-out song. Was it? It did sound disco-ish but it wasn't that bad. Or was it? The era also meant that the soundtracks to "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever" were still getting a lot of airplay on either my stereo or on my dad's stereo, which fortunately I had access to, which meant I could touch it and play what I wanted. My mom would sometimes come home from grocery shopping and pick up a record from the cut-out bins. I still remember when she bought the Pickwick version of the "Sgt. Pepper" soundtrack, meant to represent the film released by RSO Records but it was a single LP and sounded like crap. Yes, I was already becoming an 8 year old Beatles elitist and I didn't want it. Fortunately, due to low sales, I eventually got the RSO soundtrack for "Sgt. Pepper". I avoided all of the Bee Gees & Peter Frampton songs and played Earth Wind & Fire and Aerosmith, even if I already had played the 45's over and over.
There was one song in the summer of 1979 that definitely felt as if things were changing, even if I didn't know what that really meant. Was turning 9 going to be that dramatic? Was I going to learn new things, or become more aware about the older me or what I could become, understand what hopes and dreams really meant? I don't know, but Chic's "Good Times" was an awesome song that I loved from the first time I heard it, especially as it was the follow-up to two of the biggest songs of 1978, "Le Freak" and the flawless "I Want Your Love". As a kid, it seemed that there were lyrics in Chic songs I could not understand. This definitely applied to "Good Times", for while I knew they were talking about the late 70's trend of rollerskating, I did not know what clams on the half shell meant until much later. I also knew that part of the line said "it's getting laid" but it would be awhile before I understood the first half was singing "a rumor has it that". I was someone who wanted to listen to the words and not just the chorus, but the verses. I felt a need to know what they were singing about so while I could dance and sing, I wanted to understand.
The one thing I did feel in the song was the piano lines. My talent on the piano is very minimal, I was a kid who always wanted a drum set but I enjoyed the sound of pianos from time to time, and it just caught my ear. While "Good Times" is forever known as having the funky bassline played by Bernard Edwards, the piano sounded peculiar. To me, it sounded a bit sad. This seemed odd for a song called "Good Times", wasn't this meant to be a song about partying, dancing, and getting down on the dance floor? Yet somehow, once I hear the countermelody played on the piano, it's as if the guys in Chic were trying to tell the song's true message. I wasn't that technical at that age, but there was sadness involved. Perhaps it also had to do with what was going on in the news in the United States, about the energy and gas crisis, how prices were going up and very few people could afford it. It just seemed that I was becoming aware of that aspect of life that didn't affect me yet, but that people had to make decisions in order to obtain what they wanted and needed. The news made it out to be that people were going through troubles, and it almost seemed as if those piano chords could've represented the good times that millions of people were trying to seek in their lives. No more troubles, leave your cares behind and why? Because these...are...the...good times. Welcome to 4th grade.
Considering how hugely popular the song was, "Good Times" was only number one on Billboard in the U.S. for a single week for the week of August 18, 1979. When I got the 45, the Atlantic label was grey and I had never seen that design before. Were Atlantic changing? No, the group were just trying to pay tribute to the old Atlantic labels of the late 40's and early 50's, perhaps representing some of their own childhood good times, but the song could do no wrong. It seemed very weird when a new group called the Sugar Hill Gang decided to recreate "Good Times" but speak over it. No one had ever heard anything like that before, but "Rapper's Delight" would make a huge impression on me, not only as someone who loved soul and funk, but as someone who also enjoyed humor and poetry. It seemed like three guys speaking poetry over a song, and I had no idea what type of term could be used for the practice. In time they would be doing something called rapping, and decades later, it seemed that the Sugar Hill Gang were simply extending the vibe of having good in their song, and doing it over a 15 minute song. However, while "Rapper's Delight" is historically important, nothing will ever take away the feeling I get when I hear "Good Times". The song is well written, beautifully produced, I love how the vocals are done, that bass line is killer, and of course, the piano always takes me away. I am reminding of what the bad times could have felt like, and while I've felt my share of them in the 35 years since it hit the top of the charts, the lyric has always said to "leave your cares behind" and if we are to let ourselves go for a few minutes, we are allowed to know and feel what good times are, can, and should be.