(Above: Was hoping for a photo of Ariel, but OK.)
Way on the far south side of Chicago, there was a song that WLS played a lot….
The summer of 1977 is one that I always look back upon fondly. There was nothing more complicated in life at time than getting up, riding our bikes around the Brementowne neighborhood of Tinley Park (sometimes up to the 7-11 or the pool), playing pickup ball games in the yard, and occasionally listening to the radio.
Given that WLS came through our telephones (we lived pretty close to the 50kw tower, after all), it was the station of choice for all the kids in the neighborhood who were a bit younger and/or didn’t have access to FM radio yet. I was one of those kids: my parents had a stereo in the living room by that fall, and before that the radio in the house was a portable that sat on the counter in the kitchen that was always tuned to WGN in case of an emergency. The small radio in my room was fixed on WLS until well after the established bedtime so that I could hear a bit of the John Landecker show. Needless to say, if WLS decided something was a hit, then so did we.
The late 70s are still an era where local radio charts diverge on occasion from the national Billboard representation of what was popular and what was not, and it’s in those divergences that every so often we find a cool record that’s been forgotten about. Such is the case with Dean Friedman’s “Ariel.” It only made #26 nationally, and was Friedman’s only hit record, but in Chicago it charted as high as #4.
Given the subject matter of the song, that’s a little surprising. Chicago has long held an inferiority complex to New York. (I used to say that Chicago was the biggest small town in the country, and sometimes that still applies.) Never mind the city’s own value; it always wanted to be looked at favorably in any comparison. I recall the gnashing of teeth when Los Angeles passed Chicago for the position of second-largest city in the country, prompting columnist Mike Royko to quip that “a buffalo chip is bigger than a diamond.” So how a song that is so uniquely New York charted this high in town remains a bit of a mystery. The references in the lyrics to Paramus Park, the Friends of BAI – hell, to there being a Jewish girl anywhere, which would have been a bit of a novelty in the south suburbs – wouldn’t resonate with the kids I grew up with, for sure.
Fortunately, the song is just damned catchy. It’s the tale of a guy who meets a girl, they go on a less-than-stellar date, they make out, and life is good. But there’s a few things going on here. For one, it’s got that fauxldie sound – it sounds a lot older than it is – that cashes in on the same nostalgia that has Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley in list of top television shows in 1977. If that’s not enough, the lyrics are fantastic. “I said ‘hi,’ she said ‘yeah, I guess I am'” may rank atop my all-time favorite lyrics. (Honorable mention: the next verse, where the notion of a vegetarian at Dairy Queen is funny, especially at that time.)
It’s also those same lyrics that led to drastically different versions between single and LP. The full-length version features the “She was a Jewish girl” line, which is missing from the single edit and changed to “Her name was Ariel.” (This change was supposedly made to remove any chance of a radio station not playing the song; I am sure that in a few parts of the country, that would have been a real concern. The removal prompted the Jewish Defense League to speak up, ensuring that the full version made it to the LP.) The entire verse with the Dairy Queen trip is missing as well. We still get the joke about being high and the “softness of her mouth” line at the end, but the rest is stripped down. The single also fades abruptly, where the LP version ends cold. When the folks at Rhino Records got around to extending the Have a Nice Day CD series into the late 70s, the LP version is the one that made it. (That’s also the one we played at WCFL-FM in 1990, which represented the first time I’d heard the song in thirteen years.)
It’s a fun record that I liked to throw in on oldies stations where appropriate, and I’m surprised that it wasn’t a bigger national hit. I’m still surprised that WLS played it so often, though, and am glad to have enjoyed it in its time and place. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta head outside. A bunch of us are going to ride our bikes through the trails before they finish building the new grade school on top of them.