Back in Time 

Title: HBO & ZZ99 Present Starlight ’84 Summer Spectacular

Publisher: New West and Contemporary Productions

Date: 1984

Discovered at: Waldo Antiques

The cover promises: Starlight

Representative quotes:
“Today, Starlight Theatre offers the best of the entertainment industry, from the dramatic, lavish Broadway musical productions to the exciting, pulsating performances of the leading stars of contemporary music.” (page 5)

“With 1982’s Picture This, Huey [Lewis] and his cohorts became bigger News. The album’s smoother production made the band’s street-level humor and straight-ahead rock more accessible to the masses.” (page 6)


Here's the great lie of '80s nostalgia: While VH1 and satellite radio fondly recall a nation that was enthralled by "Tainted Love," "Turning Japanese" and "Rock Box," what really shook the heartland (and stations such as KZCC 98.9, known as ZZ99) was "The Heart of Rock 'n Roll." With its biorhythmic thump-thump and showbiz shout-outs to American cities, Huey Lewis' diagnosis of his genre's health ruled white America circa 1984. When he shouted, "Kansas City!" at the song's climax during his 1984 Starlight concert, how could those audience members not have felt that they were the ones keeping rock alive?

It's less easy to imagine the response of the Huey faithful to his opening act, Stevie Ray Vaughan. (The Summer Spectacular calls him "Texas' best-kept secret.")

A soon-to-be legend warming up for Huey Lewis at the Kansas City Zoo: That's the real '80s, right there.

Your Hit Parade

With no competing Sandstone, Starlight attracted some impressive talent. Other 1984 headliners included the Grateful Dead, Eurythmics, the Pretenders, Cyndi Lauper, Merle Haggard, the Thompson Twins and the Go-Go's. Starlight had the Clash just after that band stopped mattering and Aerosmith long before it was selling again. (Joe Perry and company get less space in the Summer Spectacular than Herb Alpert.) Fans of music that sucks were well-served by David Sanborn, .38 Special, Jefferson Starship and Kenny Loggins.

Many of these acts could be heard on ZZ99, the home of Randy Miller and (via syndication) Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40. ZZ99 meant the world to your Crap Archivist, who didn't know enough at the time to marvel at the way the station played black performers and white performers back to back. That's not the same as playing black music and white music back to back, though, and with good reason: In the '80s, Top 40 pop came as close as it ever did to colorlessness. Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen — this is how I want to remember the ZZ99 playlist, but there was also plenty of Huey, Rockwell and Lionel Richie, proof that neither color nor quality could stop a hit.

Starlight, too, dabbled with the sounds of the African-American experience. New West and Contemporary hauled out Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and a Motown revue — pretty much anyone guaranteed not to inspire any of that scary breakdancing.

Shocking Detail

ZZ99 begat the Wave, then the Rock. From black pop, meanwhile, hip-hop evolved, and radio formats became as segregated as the small-town school district where I was a student. It's an unofficial segregation, with a couple of polite exceptions, but to call it anything but a segregation — well, that's another lie.

Highlight

Although I'm just the right age to have enjoyed a family trip to one of these concerts, I have no firsthand experience of what Starlight was like in 1984. See, my parents had greater cultural ambitions for me: $30 tickets to the Jacksons' Victory Tour, which kicked off at Arrowhead July 6.

I don't recall much, just the Jacksons emerging in monks' robes, for some reason, and a long, canned argument between Jermaine and Michael about whose songs people had paid to see.

Just before the show started, my mother cut off my complaints about our nosebleed seats. "Michael Jackson is here," she said with in-church reverence. "It's exciting just to be in the same city as him."

That's the 1980s. So is Herb Alpert at Starlight, Elvis Costello at Memorial Hall (and at Starlight in 1982 and '83) and kids puking on one another at the Outhouse.

Whatever summer concerts you caught growing up, I hope you carry with you an equally warm memory. Good luck catching a show this year that will still thrill you in 2034.

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