Thursday, April 24, 2014

Donnie Iris - "Agnes" (1980)

The B-side.

Donnie Iris - "Ah! Leah!" (1980)

The A-side.

Songstory 2: Donnie Iris - "Ah! Leah!"

1983: While vacationing in Point Pleasant, NJ, I heard a portion of the song for the first time. Two years earlier, the catchy tune had peaked at #29 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. During my initial listen, I was either casually strolling on the boardwalk or sailing adrift in an inflatable boat with my sister Shannon as passengers aboard the S.S. Panic (Interestingly, Leah is Shannon's middle name). We would later be towed by a larger vessel to a safe spot, but the fear of becoming lost at sea remained with me for the rest of the trip. Back on terra firma, I witnessed a man in an encaged structure going from level ground to at least 150 feet upward in a matter of seconds. As a lifelong acrophobic, the elevated park activity demonstrated far more terror than amusement. My idea of high altitude was climbing a ladder in the Donkey Kong arcade game, so I asked an older relative for quarters to engage in the pursuit of a woman being held captive by a barrel- throwing ape.

2003: After catching a fine performance from U.K. punk legends the Buzzcocks at Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC, my pal jOhn A. and I stopped by an adjacent pizza parlor for some late-night nourishment. Amid the chaos at the counter, a faint chorus of "Ah, Leah" peaked thru intense conversations concerning final orders and employees' after- work plans. Until this evening's random stereo selection, I'd forgotten about the song's link to the nearly disastrous ride at Point Unpleasant (Hell, the track itself was a distant memory).  Awaiting our pepperoni-laden pie, I attempted to make an educated guess on the artist behind the mystery composition. Parts of the tune projected like a Christian metal band trying to be "cool," so Michael Sweet and his bee-suited cohorts immediately came to mind. Later on, the guitar solo had enough of a "shred" quality to suggest a deep cut from Dokken. Keep in mind, I was working with bit samples at a low volume. An "ORDER UP!" (or however it was announced) put a quick end to the musicology investigation, as we devoured tasty slices from the box on the roof of jOhn's rental car.

2012(?): Thanks to Josh Rutledge's YouTube post on his Facebook wall, I finally had a name and a face to put with the newly revealed title. It took almost thirty damn years to discover that the song which had nearly summoned me to the next level was by a dude named Donnie Iris in a canary suit. Based on Iris' "displaced Southern arena-pop" (a genre created twenty seconds ago), one YouTube commenter had envisioned a band of 38 Special-looking gentlemen prior to viewing the video. Instead, he got Dustin "Screech" Diamond desperately seeking affection from a Kim Cattrall-esque beauty. Iris' powerful pipes and axe-grinding ability eventually won over the tall blonde, as clothing was removed midway thru the clip. To quote butlerproman's classic YT line: "If I could sing like Arnold Horshack there, all the chicks would dig me." I told Josh at the time that "Ah! Leah!" was an example of the ever-fading "regional hit," for I'd never heard the cut on a Tidewater radio station. As Jeff Stoner pointed out on YT: "If you're ever in Pittsburgh, you'll hear this song at least three dozen times, no matter how long your stay."

2014: Several weeks ago, my brother Mike and I had a late lunch at our favorite burger joint in Suffolk (The Baron's Pub). We chatted with a likeable fellow from Wisconsin named Pete about the Packers, Brewers and Badgers. Right when I was ready to discuss the BoDeans and Boris The Sprinkler, "Ah! Leah!" screamed out of a nearby Internet juke. OK, so it wasn't Mike Arlo on 106.9 The Fox trying to be "hip" by getting down with Donnie, but at least the terrific tune finally met my appreciative ears in a Tidewater establishment. I wanted to share my personal history with the song in full, but Mike and Pete were still waxing over Aaron Rodgers and his "Discount Double Check" supporting cast. A pair of predictions for "Ah! Leah!": 1)You'll hear it in a widespread advertising campaign within two years from today and 2)It'll be sampled by some Cracker Jack rapper who wouldn't know The Knack from a (New York) Knick. Time to spin the record's B-side. I promise to do so before 2044.