Baltimore rockers J. Roddy Walston & the Business (top) were one of the almost 80acts that performed at Free Press Summer Fest at Eleanor Tinsley Park last weekend.
Baltimore rockers J. Roddy Walston & the Business (top) were one of the almost 80acts that performed at Free Press Summer Fest at Eleanor Tinsley Park last weekend.
Marco Torres

How Do Today's Surf-and-Sand Hits Rank Against Yesterday's?

Pop Life

I've never been a fan of the beach. My family is about it, though, so sometime this summer I'll be sitting someplace that smells worse than a Red Lobster Dumpster introducing new grains of sand to my ass crack.

My parents were from Galveston, but they hated the beach. We never went as kids. So I never cultivated a youthful, healthy perspective by building sandcastles or finding seashells like some of you.

By the time I got there, I was old enough to drink beer and buy my own music; those were the things that made a beach day more bearable for me. In honor of my first true beach outing 30 years ago, and to steel myself for an imminent trip, I thought I'd see if I'll fare at least as well music-wise this summer as I did in 1984.

Van Halen, "Panama" vs. Paramore, "Ain't It Fun": In the early '80s, you listened to rock and roll at the beach. Rap was a thing, but it wasn't ubiquitous yet. Dolly and Willie were the biggest country stars in the world, but not at the beach. Although you were surrounded by them, if you listened to A Flock of Seagulls at the beach, you were begging to have sand kicked in your face. Just as they do today, kids were listening to The Doors and Zep out there. As for releases from 1984 — the year and the album — Van Halen's "Panama" was as big as the prom queen's hairdo.

The highest-charted song passing for rock on Billboard today is "Ain't It Fun." I once thought Hayley Williams could be the next Pat Benatar. She's excellent live and has a strong voice, but somewhere along the way, she became another pop singer. Advantage: 1984

Prince, "When Doves Cry" vs. DJ Snake & Lil Jon, "Turn Down for What": "When Doves Cry" was my jam when I still had a pube 'stache and weighed less than 180 pounds. That song was everywhere the summer of '84, but that didn't mean it was perfect for the beach, where people go to be carefree. How could you put your blues behind you with Prince reminding you every half-hour of his own dysfunctional relationships?

I plan on hearing "Turn Down for What" at least hourly until Labor Day. At least it sounds like a beach party. And it has a berserk music video that makes the one for "Doves" look like a trip to the funeral planner to discuss long-term arrangements. Advantage: 2014

Ray Parker Jr. "Ghostbusters" vs. Pharrell Williams, "Happy": It had been done before ("Alfie" from Alfie; "Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate), but soundtrack music became hugely popular in the 1980s. Thanks to MTV, producers could pair songs with visuals from films and air them repeatedly. The perfect commercial.

Sadly, this sometimes resulted in songs like "Ghostbusters." There's a special kind of hatred in my dark heart for this inane song, one that hasn't waned over five American presidencies, the cancellations of 30 years' worth of TV shows or anything else we Americans use to mark time. The song's insipid "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" was the worst thing to hear at the beach besides "Shark!" I know, you're sick of "Happy." But be happy it's not as dumb as "Ghostbusters." Advantage: 2014

Laid Back, "White Horse" vs. Calvin Harris, "Summer"

I like the fact that Harris doubles as producer and vocalist on "Summer," which should be a staple at parties — beachside or otherwise — for the next couple of months. But "White Horse" was more than a summertime party song; it still evokes an era. As everyone knows, we '80s young adults were stoking St. Elmo's Fire by snorting coke off the smalls of each others' backs. "White Horse" has all the nihilistic decadence you recall from Less Than Zero wrapped in a four-minute head-nodder. Advantage: 1984

Madonna, "Borderline" vs. Iggy Azalea, "Fancy": She came out of nowhere, has the 2014 summertime anthem and boasts an enticingly unapologetic style all her own. Like Madonna 30 years ago, Iggy Azalea is the pop star of the moment. To cop a phrase from back then, she's "tripendicular." But does she have what it takes to become The New Classic? Get back to me when she's surpassed global music superstardom to become one of the most loved, hated, emulated, written- and talked-about women of her quarter-century. Advantage: 1984

ZZ Top, "Legs" vs. Z-Ro, "Crooked Officer": Summer is a good time to celebrate local music. Every Houston artist has a mixtape or CD out, so please play some of it at the beach so we don't have to listen to pop radio stations all afternoon out there. Way back when, I'm sure I heard "Legs" at least once at Stewart Beach. Today I'm happy to hear a lot more hip-hop everywhere, and Z-Ro is a favorite.

I grew up in Hiram Clarke; he's from right next door in Mo City. In many respects, my Houston experience is way more similar to his than the Top's. If you see me out at the beach this summer, I'll be the old man playing "Crooked Officer" when the beach patrol rolls by. Advantage: 2014

1984 Michael Jackson vs. 2014 Michael Jackson: As is often the case, it all comes down to Michael Jackson. His posthumous duet with Justin Timberlake, "Love Never Felt So Good," is getting good buzz, with some listeners recalling "Off the Wall." Surely, the talented Timberlake takes the song to a better level, but Jackson is an idol of his, so let's give credit where it's due.

Nice to see Mike can still be a thriller. Since the song was actually written 30 years ago, is this a 1984 song or a 2014 song? Doesn't matter. When music makes the day under the sun and on the surf better, we're all winners. Advantage: Push

Only in Houston

Spotlight on Metal
The leather-and-spandex past of a top Houston karaoke bar.

Alexa Crenshaw

Spotlight Karaoke is a popular Galleria-area destination that has been open for more than 15 years. Located at Westheimer and Fountainview, it houses a large space with several rooms' worth of karaoke and an adjacent store equipped with scads of karaoke music and machines.

A man named Charlie Chang is Spotlight's general manager, running both the Fountainview location and the newer one in Midtown, as well as the karaoke shop. He's also a closet metalhead, and remembers frequenting a club called Cardi's, which stood in Spotlight Karaoke's place a decade before Spotlight opened.

"I have to say that nothing's lasted in that spot as long as we have; we've been there as Spotlight Karaoke for 15 years," says Chang. "But Cardi's, man, that was just a huge thing. They had so many party times [laughs], and so many big names in heavy music played there."

Chang attributes his rites of youth and rock-and-roll glory to Cardi's, which hosted an encyclopedia of '80s hard-rock and hair-metal icons: Lillian Axe, Megadeth, Pantera, Madame X, Styx, Lita Ford, Zebra, Motörhead and more. The club came after a place called Fool's Gold, which was central to that era's growing honky-tonk trend, when disco clubs in Houston were being replaced by country-western joints. Then in came the '80s and all its leather and spandex in full force.

"The Cardi's spot did really feel different years later when we took it over," says Chang. "There's a lot of wide-open space in this building and you could go in different rooms, which worked out for all this music and stuff happening then, and now it is what it is today."

Cardi's opened in 1981 and lasted until 1988, or at least it was registered under that name for that length of time; from 1989 to 1998, that spot remained vacant, or at least was without a registered name. Then came Spotlight Karaoke, just as we know it today, where you can at least karaoke most of the bands who once played there from the bar's large song registry.

"Some of those bands from Cardi's came back recently," notes Chang. "They were meeting and taking a lot of pictures under the direction of a man named Hank who actually used to work at Cardi's."

That would be Hank Balz, a filmmaker who is now putting together a documentary about the scene at Cardi's. He plans to finish the film, which was originally called Spandex and Mandrax, in the next few months.

"This is a historic place...this is holy ground," says Balz. "Cardi's is what brought heavy metal to Houston, really creating and making that scene happen."

Balz encourages people who would like to share their Cardi's stories to contact him at or visit his Facebook page at

Ask Willie D

Back in the Game
A reader is ready to start dating after a divorce, but needs a little push.

Willie D

Dear Willie D:

I am a 37-year-old recently divorced mother of three with a successful career. I've been divorced for about eight months, but we were separated for around four years before we divorced. During that time, I never dated or stepped outside of my marriage. I have always felt as if I was doing something wrong even though he had moved on and had two kids with two different women. I still saw myself as a married woman, and never wanted to disrespect my husband.

Also, I never wanted my kids to think badly of me knowing that I was still married to their dad. I'm a small-town girl with small-town values and I was always taught to stay true to your husband no matter what. Well, now it's time for me to get out there in the dating world again and I don't know how. I don't go to clubs. I just moved to Houston and I really don't know anyone. Online dating is out of the question. How and where do I start with this dating thing?

Getting Out There:

The best way to meet people is to put yourself in social situations that reflect your interests. Since you don't have friends in Houston, volunteering at a nonprofit organization could be an excellent option. Giving back is a great way to surround yourself with good-hearted people and live a life of purpose. Get a gym membership and sign up for a cycling, dance or swim class. Take a computer or language course. Join a church.

When you see someone you think you might like, don't be afraid to be the first to say hello or ask a question. I'm not a club person, either, and don't even get me started on the deceptive, impersonal practice of Internet dating. We are living in some harsh times for relationships because people don't take the time to get to know each other. Everybody's in a rush to hump and pump out babies. Bringing a new man around your kids is a big step. Loving on your kids and caring about what they think of you — well, it don't get any bigger than that.

Ask Willie D appears Thursday mornings on Rocks Off.


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