Friday, April 24, 2009

Star Hits: A close reading

To keep this blog alive while I have no concert reports to turn in, I'm introducing a new series: close readings of Star Hits magazine, canonized earlier in this very blog. You'll first need to download the PDF, then--after poring over the pages for several hours, reminiscing about your nascent musical obsession, digging out your old yearbooks, memorializing your favorite Esprit black cardigan that your mom threw away, even though it only had, like, eight holes, and determining if you can still do the '80s dance--follow along.

Star Hits magazineDownload file: Star Hits, February 1984 [PDF]

Before I start, though, let me apologize for the 10 missing pages; I didn't realize they were gone until I started scanning. I know they went to a Culture Club fan, but I can't tell you where they are today.

My second caveat: As much as I love and treasure Star Hits, I don't know how representative it was or wasn't of its time. Sure, you could find it on the shelves of B. Dalton, Payless, and various newsstands, so it wasn't exactly a specialty title. At the same time, in my junior high school, it was far from a best-seller. A small group of us passed the issues around between ourselves, but you were much more likely to find Seventeen, Jet, or Teen Beat lining the locker walls. If, however, you don't mind those trifling details, read on!

Let's offer some context. The date was February 1984. Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, while Konstantin Chernenko presided over the Soviet Union; the Winter Olympics opened in Sarajevo; and the top songs on the U.S. charts for the month were "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club and "Jump" by Van Halen.

On first perusal, you'll likely be struck by the big-ticket items: Get a load of Madonna's eyebrows! Shield your eyes against Annie Lennox's bright-orange crew cut! Man, that Style Council song sure has a lot of words. And I would've killed to win a Walkman. I'm certain that the hard-hitting interviews with Duran Duran and the Alarm (as well as the words of wisdom from Cy Curnin and Tom Bailey) originally drew me in, but oddly, they're less arresting 25 (!) years on.

Star Hits - birthdaysInstead, what I love now are the overlooked details and the incongruous elements. Let's start with, errrr, Start!, the repository for the odds and ends. Here, you'll find birthday wishes going out to two members of Madness (can anyone even name two members of Madness?), Dolly Parton, Carole King, and Peter Gabriel, among others.

Joe Strummer turns up in what the tabloids would now term "baby bump" news, and two Graces (Jones and Slick), errrr, grace these pages too. For the Where Are They Now files, look to the paragraph on Shrapnel--who appear to claim little more than a tenuous link to Norman Mailer--and the intro to Simon Townsend, who happens to be Pete Townsend's brother and whom I've never heard of since. And really, that picture of Grandmixer DST, Laurie Anderson, Billy Gibbons, and Bill Laswell may be the single greatest item in the whole magazine.

Star Hits - Grandmixer DST, Laurie Anderson, Billy Gibbons, and Bill Laswell

Moving on, the next section to catch my eye is Get Smart, anchored by the sage known as Jackie. I suspect Get Smart influenced me more than I realize, nurturing that combination of geeky bookishness and musical obsession we take for granted in the age of Wikipedia, message boards, mailing lists, and VH1 retrospectives.

Star Hits - Get Smart

I stopped reading reviews sometime around 11th grade, but I'm unexpectedly drawn to Short Cuts. Of course I zeroed in on the review of Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger, mainly because I remember the barrage of outraged mail that followed this rather noncommittal appraisal. Then again, I was a pretty dedicated letter writer as a teenager too.

I chuckle at the inclusion of the Suburbs (if you remember them, your '80s knowledge is even better than mine) and Let's Active; the latter was championed so unfailingly by so many rock journalists back in the day--alas, to no avail. Overall, the featured reviews seem to offer a fairly representative overview of the hits of the day, though a couple of them (Paul Rodgers? .38 Special?) leave me baffled.

You know how every generation thinks they invented the wheel (sex, drugs, rebellion) when, in fact, they're all as old as time? Well, I'm pretty sure my generation had something to do with the invention of hip-hop--or at least its mainstream acceptance. I clearly recall the breakdancing contests in my junior high, so the (truncated) section on B-boys, head spins, and popping puts a smile on my face--even if I spent the '80s trying to distance myself from much of it, opting instead for asymmetrical haircuts, British accents, and frilly shirts, preferably on guys.

So far, I've probably seemed more amused by this magazine than in love with it--blame it on my Gen X sense of detachment, even from the things I really love. But as with Start!, I'm mad for "Ten for '84." Look at that list: Paul Young, INXS, New Order, Aztec Camera, JoBoxers, Cyndi Lauper, and motherfucking REM, years before the stadium tours! (I'll pretend not to notice Queensryche, and who the hell are the other two?) I don't care what you think of any of those musicians now, but I harbor strong memories connected to each and every one of those artists--well, maybe not JoBoxers, but I remember seeing their video on TV, and I can still sing the chorus of their hit song.

I've commented on the trinity of live reviews before, but fleshed out, they appear even odder. A German art group, an American R&B mainstay, and preeminent L.A. punk rockers--only one of which could claim anything approaching a following--share the same amount of column inches. Who'd have thunk it?

Star Hits - Mike Reno - JourneyThough I mostly remember Star Hits as my British music bible, I'm not surprised to see non-New Wave names as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Hall & Oates within the pages. Even Mike Reno's ode to Journey, though eminently mockable, makes sense. I mean, they were popular, on the charts, and all over MTV.

The one article that baffles me is the Doors story. Yes, Jim Morrison has always been an icon for young would-be poets and dreamers, and I'm sure college dorm rooms are still plastered with his image. I don't doubt the Doors' continuing appeal, but I don't see their place in Star Hits. Maybe the editors wanted to educate their young readers; maybe one of the writers really loved the group; maybe someone owed Ray Manzarek a favor. All I know is that it puts Star Hits a little too close to Rolling Stone territory--and that's definitely not what I wanted from the magazine.

On that sour note, our first close reading of Star Hits comes to an end. Enjoy these vintage pages, and peruse the covers gallery on Flickr. Hopefully we'll do this again.

See also:
» Download file: Star Hits, February 1984 [PDF]
» Star Hits: A tribute
» Star Hits magazine cover gallery [Flickr]


T.J. said...

Haha did you ever shop at the Esprit outlet in SF?
Anyway I can comment on the indie stuff in there if you don't mind:
1)The Suburbs "Love Is The Law" was in heavy rotation on KROQ (I not sure about Live 105) back in the day. Dancefloor filler for sure...

2) The Style Council's "Speak Like A Child" has some of my favorite romantic lyrics ever-"I believe it when you look in my eyes/You offer me life and never lies." and "Spend all day thinking about you/Spend all night coming to terms with it." C'mon!

3) The Rainy Day Compilation review!!! Paisley Underground all-star cover band...Susanna Hofs singing on an acoustic "I'll Be Your Mirror"-probably my favorite cover version ever!

pneyu said...

Tom, I should have you edit my posts before I publish them! Regarding your points:
--KITS 105.3 was a top 40 station when KROQ was going strong, but we had the Quake. I still don't remember the Suburbs, though.
--The Rainy Day Compilation was the one of the few reviews in Short Cuts that caught my eye; that is, I read it more than once. Figures you'd know it.
--I totally shopped at the Esprit outlet on 3rd & Mariposa!

Chelseagirl said...

I don't know what astonished me more about this post-- the way it brought back 1984 like it was yesterday, or the thought of Dolly Parton at 37.

Ahh, Esprit tapered pants, and Laurie Anderson when she was something NEW! Oh , Superman... Thanks for rekindling the memories.

pneyu said...

Some of us never left the '80s. Eek!

ms. yvon said...

it was seeing the happy birthday, peter gabriel (34) that got me.
and i agree with you: that pic of laurie anderson with those guys is fantastic.

lou jones said...

hi, in 1984 i lived for the SF esprit outlet

and duran duran.

star hits was my favorite magazine back then, so irreverent and funny. i was in love with the -ed. responses. that guy was sarcastic as hell.

thanks so much for posting these. i cannot even wait to read them thorougly.

(i even scored a pen pal i had for years from this mag.)

pneyu said...

Lou, thanks for reading. :) I can't predict when I'll post the next installment (the scanning kinda sucks), but rest assured I have a dozen or so back issues waiting in the wings.

Also, today's terrorizing takeaway: Suggs was 23?!?

Buster said...

WOW! You brought back my childhood more than any photo or memory has before! Like religion, I bought new magazines every Tuesday and Star Hits was by far one of my favorite monthly magazines. AMAZING!!! I bow down to you for scanning and posting and bringing back so many amazing memories! If you ever feel the need to post anymore, I am so appreciative in advance. Thank God for your friend keeping those in such great shape. It would pain me to know what happened to mine! THANKS AGAIN...IN THE BIGGEST WAY!

Jenn said...

Please please please please post more Star Hits scans!!!!!! That was my favorite magazine back in the day. It helped me to discover so much music! I remember discovering KITS 105.3 when I was in the 7th grade, too bad I lived so far away that I rarely got to pick it up on my old boom box!!

Coach Danny said...

Thanks for scanning the mag. Hope you have more coming. Used to read this and save parts, that my @$%* dad threw out!

I host a radio show you might like at called "Living in the '80s" Saturdays 9-noon.

Check out my blog sometime at