Whenever I look back to the music exposure I had during my high school years, I’m generally dispensing laments about the inferior quality of the radio stations that could be pulled in by my humble antenna. I stand by those complaints–I think of of this time as the beginning of the end for strong, distinct, localized radio–but I should allow that there was an exception. WMAD broadcast at 92.1 on the FM dial. Their tower stood in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and the wattage was low enough that they barely covered the greater Madison area. It usually took some maneuvering, but I was able to pick them up in my nasty little suburban town. It wasn’t a hugely daring station. Madison, while a very progressive town, is buttoned-up enough when it comes to music taste that ventures outside of the mainstream are more successful with John Hiatt than Jesus and Mary Chain. Still, they were clearly trying to be different, be bolder in a way that was of no apparent interest to nearly every other media outpost in town. Between the heartland safe zone offerings of Springsteen and Mellencamp they were willing to play deep cuts off of R.E.M.’s Document. That was good enough for me.
If a new band was going to crack their playlist, it helped if they had a bluesy bent. That was exactly the sound of Treat Her Right, a group that played music with the low, soulful swagger of a great bar band trying to slip in a couple more songs at closing time. WMAD may have played other songs from their 1986 self-titled debut, but the one that got the most attention was “I Think She Likes Me” a cautionary tale of boozy barroom flirtations. A couple years later when I found my own radio home, one of the few releases on the new-fangled compact disc format that the station had was, weirdly enough, that Treat Her Right album. My first regular shift was Monday nights from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., and, sure enough, the song I knew well from that album sounded great played after midnight.
Even though the lead vocals couldn’t have more distinctive, it wasn’t until many years later that I realized that they belonged to Mark Sandman, who’d later have greater success with the band Morphine. In fact, I think it was after Sandman’s untimely death. This despite the fact that I’d played Morphine songs on the radio many times over (especially when I did my time as a DJ at a later version of WMAD-FM), and even seen the band live (well, heard them live, as the stage with out of my sight line). Since Morphine was a band I’d never really warmed to, it was a strange realization that I’d been a prior fan of this person I’d been listening to impassively. More than that, his voice once represented a dispatch from a better place coming across my radio, a promise that there was better music out there.
(Disclaimer: The whole time I was typing the above, I genuinely believed that the first Treat Her Right album was out of print, then I suddenly discovered my prior research was apparently faulty. There’s a few hundred words up there, and I’d rather they not go to waste, so please consider this a sample presented with gentle urging to make a purchase that supports the original artist. While I close every week’s One for Friday post with the heartfelt assurance that I’ll remove the posted track if someone with a monetary stake in it finds offense, I mean that doubly this week. Should anyone with the due authority to ask for it’s removal contact me with that request, I’ll fulfill it promptly and happily.)