The Look In Your Eyes


There were two new artists on the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” soundtrack, Gerard McMahon and the Ravyns. Neither of their songs are on streaming services. You can buy them at iTunes, but you can’t hear them on Spotify, Amazon or Apple, I checked.

But I know them by heart.

1982… MTV hadn’t truly gotten traction yet. Teen movies were still a thing, we didn’t yet live in the Marvel Universe. And music had recovered from the trough in 1979 when rock tried to kill disco but the end result was they both sank. The early eighties, the Reagan era, were optimistic, sunny. This was when the boomers sold out, when money was plentiful and no one could contemplate the division our country is now experiencing. The sixties were over, the rednecks in the south now had long hair, we all listened to the same music and we all went to see “Fast Times.”

I’d read the book. It was a paperback original. The amazing thing was that Cameron Crowe had truly gone back to high school, sometime thereafter he actually took the SATs, both experiences I’m glad are in the rearview mirror. But the book had a different tone than the movie, it was more like the real high school, which was boring and riddled with factions that had classes as their only thing in common, I didn’t expect the movie to become a comedy classic, but I had to see it immediately when it came out.

And at this late date, “Fast Times” is most famous for Spicoli, Sean Penn’s breakout role, in which he made Vans famous. Funny how he made his bones as a stoner when he’s perceived to be so serious today. Of course he followed “Fast Times” up with the sorely forgotten “At Close Range,” doing which he met Madonna, who delivered one of her best songs, “Live to Tell.” for the soundtrack.

Not that there weren’t other memorable elements of “Fast Times”…most notably the return of our favorite Martian as Mr. Hand and the introduction of Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. And although this was the peak of his career, Robert Romanus as Damone, the creepy high school ticket scalper, was priceless.

And the soundtrack was put together by Irving Azoff, who coproduced the movie, who was now ensconced at the top of MCA Records but had history with Crowe, as well as the soundtrack field, having performed his magic on “Urban Cowboy,” and once again he filled the grooves with superstar artists playing new material, a previously unheard of feat. It was one thing to assemble oldies, but new tracks? By stars? Impossible!

And Jackson Browne had the hit with “Somebody’s Baby,” which Jackson perceived as too light for one of his own LPs. And although Don Henley provided “Love Rules,” I actually prefer the excommunicated Don Felder’s “Never Surrender,” with its driving beat. But the songs I played most, that I remember most, were by the original acts.

Oh, there was another newbie on the borderline, i.e. Louise Goffin, who’d previously put out two no impact albums on Elektra/Asylum. Her “Uptown Boys” is precious. And the peak of her recording career. Although it was hard to drop the needle and play a song in the middle of a vinyl album side over and over again to feed one’s addiction, vinyl might be fetishized today but never forget the convenience of files, never mind CDs.

But side two started with the Ravyns and Gerard McMahon songs, so I could just go to the turntable and lift the needle almost mindlessly and play them again. And I did.

“Raised On the Radio,” the Ravyns cut, was a very eighties rock track, slick, with a driving beat, recounting the history of rock and roll. As for being raised on the radio, we were, we identified, we didn’t think twice, the song had a great pre-chorus and an almost as memorable chorus, but the only place you heard it was on the soundtrack, but because of licensing issues unless you own the original product from the eighties you’ve probably never experienced it. No one could foresee all the ways to exploit music in the future, this was before contracts demanded all rights in the known and unknown universe, when you had to go back to the acts who got another bite at the apple, i.e. compensation, for allowing their music to be used in these modern ways. As for why the Ravyns and McMahon cuts were not cleared, I’m not sure, then again, why pay for stiffs?

That’s right, neither song was ever played on the radio, never mind being a hit. But as driving as “Raised On the Radio” was, Gerard McMahon’s “The Look in Your Eyes” was slow, verging on dreary if it weren’t so good.

“Sometimes you’re miles away, babe
Every change, babe, you’re like the wind in my heart”

It was the attitude, the very slight sandpaper in Gerard McMahon’s voice, the song had rock gravitas, you felt like he meant it, that he was singing from the heart.

And then there was that run up the scale, that unexpected change:

“I’m sure as I wake up in the morn
There ain’t no one that I think about more”

Ah, young love, when it means more and hurts more, when you’re beyond the puppy love stage and looking for meaning, and wondering how long you should look before you settle down.

And then the melody twists some more, embedding the song in your heart.

“There’s a place downtown where I’ll be waiting
We’ll meet like strangers that we are, there’s a bar”

And then the deal is sealed with the chorus:

“Each time I look in your eyes
When I make love to you, I know there’s one thing true
And I can’t lose you tonight
You mean that much to me, you’re all I ever need”

He’s in the throes of it, what could be better?

The eyes are the window to the soul but they’re also insight into whether somebody is into you. In concert with their smile, their lips, you can tell. This is what we’re all searching for, which we so rarely find. Beyond flirting, beyond hit and run, true connection.

The Ravyns ultimately made an album for MCA that went straight into the dumper. But a few years later, I was hanging at a gig, between acts, and was introduced to this guy and asked him what he did and he laughed and said he was in this band the Ravyns and I said RAISED ON THE RADIO! And he smiled, we locked eyes, connected, but he had the world-weariness of a musician who’d been through the mill, who’d had a brush with fame but had fallen short, but the truth is millions of people knew his song by heart, like me.

As for Gerard McMahon… He’s hung around, but this was his peak. He was a journeyman and there was little room for such a person in the hit music scene of the eighties. It was all about the stars on MTV. And then grunge came along in the nineties and wiped the slate clean, there was no point of entry for acts like this.

And there still isn’t. The building blocks are irrelevant. Even in hit music you can have a song that’s only one chord, and this is not the breakthrough of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” As for those still playing rock, it’s loud and bombastic, it might have more melody than hip-hop, but not much. As for the music of the eighties, they call much of it yacht rock today. Which started out as a put-down but is more and more seen as a badge of honor. Just like the Carpenters were resuscitated by the cognoscenti decades later the softer rock sound, which is often quite dynamic, is regaining credibility, hell I heard Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind” the other day and it was a revelation, an incisive masterpiece outside of context, outside of his dominance decades ago.

But Christopher Cross had hits. And Gerard McMahon did not. But “The Look in Your Eyes” is a hit to me, I sing it in my mind constantly. Why? I’m not exactly sure, maybe it’s the sweetness of the sound, even though it’s not saccharine, it has a bit of an edge, maybe because it’s something I can identify with, I’m not dangerous, I don’t carry a knife, never mind a gun, I don’t wear a leather jacket, I don’t want to be seen as a poseur, I can only be me, someone who would take “Back in Black” and “Blue” to a desert island. And if there’s a screen, I wouldn’t mind having a copy of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” for the soundtrack alone.

“And like the fool that won’t die
There’s nothing to explain, girl there ain’t no shame
When I see that look in your eyes”

Comments are closed