Ghost in the (tape) machine


It’s not quite a drum solo for the ages, but the first few beats of The Pretenders’ 1983 radio hit “Middle of the Road” are pretty cool.  And if you’re of a certain age, it’s likely you can close your eyes and play that staccato drum riff in your head, clear as an AM-radio signal:

Boo, boom, boom, batta batta boom
badda boom, boo…
badda badda boom
boom boom boom boom
bang bang
cymbal crash!

And those lyrics!  “When you own a big chunk of the bloody Third World, the babies just come with the scenery — now come on baby!”  Fun song.

I gotta tell you, though, that opening drum riff sounds much better when my (late) brother JB plays it.  (Don’t worry, faithful readers: this blog post is a happy post about my brother, who left us in 1992, not a cathartic tearjerker like the last one!)

Anyway, here’s the deal:  last week, my (very much alive) brother Eddie was cleaning house and came across a long-lost cassette tape of our brother JB and his super-cool “Rock Ensemble” rehearsing for their one and only gig, back in 1984.  The first track on the tape? Middle of the Road.

Rock on, groovy young people!  The Rock Ensemble, with JB on the drums. 1984.

JB and his classmates  were studying at the “John Payne School of Music in Boston – an early School of Rock type outfit – and they eventually played a graduation show at the old Ryles Jazz Club in Cambridge, MA, to demonstrate what they’d learned.  I was in the audience for that “intimate” concert, a 17-year old sipping warm soda in a cool bar with my parents and a few of my other siblings.  We were there on a cold weeknight with other ensemble extended-family members to cheer the raggedy bunch on.

It was fun.  The band was, um, a little rough around the edges, but their set was impressive just the same. All those months sharing a bedroom with my painfully-dedicated drum-student brother suddenly felt worth it.

And now, whenever Middle of the Road comes on the radio, I think of that show and I picture my big brother up there on stage, 23 years-old at the time, keeping time on the drum kit.

And I smile.

So when my brother Eddie awarded me custody of the long-lost “Rock Ensemble” cassette last week, well, I immediately fired it up.  And I smiled again.  (Yes,  I have several functioning tape players. Those hard-plastic clicks are super-satisfying when you put a tape in and close the little door.)

So I’d like to now share the 1984 Rock Ensemble’s version of Middle of the Road  with you.  Click here and it will open an audio file in another window.

And when you’re done listening, ask yourself: which version do you like better?  The Pretenders’ version?  Or JB and the Rock Ensemble’s take on the song?

Now come on, baby!  You know which one.

6 thoughts on “Ghost in the (tape) machine

  1. Hi Dave,
    What a wonderful find for Ed and you! John sent it to me this afternoon, and it evoked memories of a great guy.
    Yes I clearly know which version is better😀.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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