The Youthquake

(Our 1984 series will continue with one last post after this brief detour.)

Once a month since April, we have been tracking the Beatles and the British Invasion as it appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 against the weekly surveys of a representative local radio station, WOKY in Milwaukee. But entirely apart from chart numbers, Beatlemania was at an unequaled pitch in Milwaukee as September began, for on the 4th, the Fabs played a show at what was known then as the Milwaukee Arena.

On the Hot 100 dated September 5, there are four Beatles songs in the Top 40: the former #1 “A Hard Day’s Night’ at #8, “And I Love Her” at #12, “Ain’t She Sweet” at #30, and “I’ll Cry Instead” at #34. All are headed down the chart except for “And I Love Her.” Another Beatle ballad, “If I Fell,” is at #53 and rising in its 6th week on; “Matchbox” and “Slow Down” debut at #81 and #99 respectively, and “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” bubbles under at #112. The George Martin Orchestra provides a bit of additional Beatle flavor with an instrumental version of “This Boy” (officially titled “Ringo’s Theme”) at #55. At WOKY, “A Hard Day’s Night” tumbles from #3 to #13; “And I Love Her” falls from #12 to #22. “Matchbox” and “Slow Down” debut together at #29.

Other British invaders were leaving their mark with iconic records 50 years ago this week: the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” hit #1 at WOKY the preceding week and held for the week of September 5, its first week atop the Hot 100. “Because” by the Dave Clark Five was at #5 in Milwaukee. Chad and Jeremy’s beautiful “A Summer Song” moved to #17 from #27, well ahead of its Hot 100 pace, and Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” debuted at #20 (and at #58 on the Hot 100).

On the subject of icons, the reign of the Supremes had begun with “Where Did Our Love Go,” which sat at #2 on both charts after topping the Hot 100 the previous week. The wistful “Under the Boardwalk” by the Drifters held at #4. The single hottest record at WOKY was “Oh Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison, jetting to #10 from #32 the previous week. It took a similarly mighty leap on the Hot 100, to #27 from #52. Debuting at WOKY was another new Detroit group, the Four Tops, with “Baby I Need Your Loving.”

On the flip, five more songs from the WOKY chart, less iconic but still noteworthy.

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1984: The Flow of Days

(Pictured: Cub fans lose their minds watching the impossible happen in 1984.)

(Another post in a series.)

Some of life’s milestones we see coming. Many more we do not. Some years are full of them, as 1984 was for The Mrs. and me.

An Innocent Man: We started the year feeling marooned in Macomb, Illinois. The previous fall, I had naively taken a job that turned out to be terrible, and she was, as she puts it, “watching General Hospital professionally,” unable to find work of her own. In February, the terrible radio station fired me, and by March, times were bad enough to get us a chunk of that free government cheese they were handing out back then. As we got ready to celebrate our first wedding anniversary in April, however, things got better—the other radio station in town hired me, meaning we wouldn’t have to move for the second time in six months. They wanted me to start on the 9th, which was our anniversary, but were gracious enough to make it the 10th when I explained the significance of the date. It represented our first night out in months, dinner at Golden Corral and the new movie Splash, which has just opened.

Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These: Not three weeks later, my best friend died. He’d been in and out of the hospital for several weeks before complications from his congenital heart condition did him in at age 23. The first death of a close friend was a wrenching transition. It turned out he had always known he was going to die sooner rather than later, although if any of his friends knew it at the time, nobody acknowledged it. But that knowledge explained the way he had lived his life since I had first met him in the fourth grade: he simply didn’t give a damn. Not in a negative way; he just didn’t let his heart condition dictate what he would do. If he had, he may have lived longer. Instead, he packed plenty of livin’ into his limited time.

Let’s Go Crazy: As summer unfolded, I got comfortable in my new job. Ann started working at the station too. Our new owner and a summer of preparation for the new Top 40 format consumed us, although I was also consumed by my beloved Chicago Cubs, during the miraculous season that resulted in the team’s first pennant of any sort since 1945. We bought tickets for a late-season game in St. Louis, which turned into a doubleheader thanks to a fortuitous rainout—and had the Montreal Expos obliged us by beating the New York Mets just once that weekend, we would have been there for the pennant-clincher. As it was, the moment had to wait for the next night. Somewhere in my archives I have a scrapbook I kept with Associated Press wire copy and newspaper articles about the game, including snapshots of the TV screen emblazoned with “National League Eastern Division Champions.” It was—even accounting for two Packers Super Bowl victories in more recent times and other very good days I have been fortunate enough to experience—the single happiest day of my life.

Lights Out: As the pennant chase reached its height, we joined the VCR revolution, buying one with a wired remote that snaked across the living room. On Friday nights we would go across town to Western TV and Appliance and spend $8 to rent three videos for the weekend. We scraped together movie admission now and then too, because 1984 was one of the most remarkable years in film history. Consider the first week of September: Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Purple Rain, Revenge of the Nerds, Gremlins, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were all still in theaters.

If this were a fictional story, there would be a cherry on top to make it a coherent whole. But I do not recall how our 1984 ended. Did we visit family for Christmas? Did we see friends on New Year’s Eve? I don’t know. And it’s actually fine that the story of 1984 doesn’t have a scripted ending, because life seldom does. When we are young, we scarcely notice the flow of days, let alone the flow of years. That only comes when we’re old, and we look back, and we are unable to see anything else.

1984: Father’s Day

Thirty years ago today, I became a real Top 40 radio guy for the first time. Ten years ago, I blogged about it. Here’s a portion of that post, lightly edited.

By 1984, The Mrs. and I had moved on to Macomb, Illinois, where I had joined WKAI-AM and FM. I’d come in with the station’s new owner that spring. Because Macomb is the home of Western Illinois University, it seemed obvious to us that a Top 40 format on our FM would be a sure winner. So throughout the summer of ’84, we planned the switch. I was going to be the station’s program director. . . .

I sometimes think that the changes at the station were terribly hard for the operations manager, who had been with the company over 20 years at the time. We shared an office, which must have been hard too, given that he was organized and fastidious while my idea of filing was piling. But he was a soft-spoken and gentle man, impossible to dislike, and as utterly devoted to his stations and his town as anyone I ever knew in the broadcasting industry. Because he had originally put the FM on the air in 1966, I think he felt like the Top 40 changeover was vandalism—and that I was the kid with the spray paint.

For example: In those days, stations like ours, which were run entirely by computer, often used a recording that would periodically announce the correct time. One day he asked me if I was going to use the time-announce on the new format. I told him I wasn’t, because I thought it cluttered the station’s sound and was unnecessary anyhow. He looked at me for a second and said, “What about blind people?”

We never really understood one another. . . .

Stations like ours purchased a music service from a syndicator. We didn’t shop around—we already had a contract with an outfit called Century 21, so we stuck with them. We opted for a version of their Top 40 format that allowed us to heavily daypart our music—lighter during the day, on the assumption that we’d be more appealing to in-office and in-store listeners, but harder at night when the kids would be our primary audience. (It was standard Top 40-era thinking, although in later years I sometimes wished we had ignored it.) And in the early hours of format-change day—September 1, 1984—after the station signed off at midnight, some of the staffers assembled for a dry run, just to see if the computer sequence we’d mapped out for the format would work, and to hear how the thing sounded. The Mrs. and I were there, along with the general manager, the sales manager, a couple of the sales reps, and the poor old operations manager, who doubled as the station’s computer wiz. We polished off a case of beer watching the reels of tape turn and eagerly anticipating the format change, which would officially happen at noon. . . .

Just before noon, we played the last song on the old format: “Candida” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. I had found a recording of a synthesized voice counting backwards from 10, so we rolled that out of “Candida.” I did a station ID in my best Top 40-voice (terribly high and nasal, it sounds to me now), and then kicked into “The Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News. I will never forget the electric thrill of hearing the studio monitors actually rockin’. While “The Heart of Rock and Roll” was playing, I noticed, completely by accident, that “Rock and Roll Fantasy” by Bad Company and “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett were cued up and ready to play, so I jumped the computer sequence to program them in. Thus, we played three songs in a row on the new format before stopping so I could do the weather forecast. (It was going to be 100 degrees that day.) We followed that with “10-9-8″ by Face to Face—not exactly one of the strong current hits I’d been plugging in promos for the new format—and another Huey Lewis tune, “If This Is It.” Then we stopped for our regular noon-hour newscast, which contained a full commercial load and stopped the music for six momentum-killing minutes. (Today, when stations change format, they sometimes play hundreds or even thousands of songs in a row before the first interruption. This didn’t occur to us then.) After that it was “Sexy Girl” by Glenn Frey, Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” and another commercial break, in which the local Chrysler dealer advertised a clearance on brand-new 1984s, with “low 12.9 percent financing available.” Then it was “When Doves Cry,” and that’s where my tape of the changeover ends.

I am unable to get my brain around the idea that these events are now 30 years in the past. It really does feel like it was just yesterday.

1984: Glory Days

(First in a series of posts about 1984.)

The Billboard chart dated September 1, 1984, is pretty fabulous, loaded with iconic 80s stars and memorable 80s hits. Just look at the Top 10:

1. “What’s Love Got to Do With It”/Tina Turner
2. “Missing You”/John Waite
3. “Stuck on You”/Lionel Richie
4. “Ghostbusters”/Ray Parker Jr.
5. “When Doves Cry”/Prince
6. “She Bop”/Cyndi Lauper
7. “Sunglasses at Night”/Corey Hart
8. “Let’s Go Crazy”/Prince
9. “If This Is It”/Huey Lewis and the News
10. “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again”/Peabo Bryson

If you turn on your local good-times/great-oldies radio station, it won’t be long before you hear something from 1984. A friend of mine considers it Top 40’s best year in the 80s. It’s hard to argue that it isn’t one of the best of all time. Also in the Top 40 during this same week: “Drive” by the Cars, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and “Lucky Star” by Madonna, none of which have been off the radio since.

Those and other records on this chart remain highly evocative of their times even after 30 years.

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Why This?

(Above: Kris Kristofferson, singer, songwriter, actor, and more handsome than anybody.)

It seems like an easy way to calculate the year’s top hits based on chart performance: give 100 points to the #1 song each week, 99 to #2, 98 to #3, and so on all the way down to the #100 song, which gets only one point. Over the course of a year, the song with the most points is the top song of the year. It’s generally a fine system that balances chart peak with longevity, but it’s one that can get badly fubar’d by a record with an extremely long chart life. I do not know for certain whether that kind of fubaring is what happened to Billboard magazine when calculating their top hits of 1973, but something weird certainly did.

1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando & Dawn
2. “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
3. “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”/Jim Croce
4. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack
5. “Let’s Get It On”/Marvin Gaye
6. “My Love”/Paul McCartney & Wings
7. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John
8. “Will It Go Round in Circles”/Billy Preston
9. “You’re So Vain”/Carly Simon
10. “Touch Me in the Morning”/Diana Ross

One of those things is not like the others.

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Red and White

(Return with us now to events of precisely 35 years ago this week, rebooted from a post that originally appeared on October 30, 2006.)

I was hanging around the campus radio station one day in late August 1979. I may have been getting ready to go on the air, or I may have just come off, or I may have been there simply because I’d missed it over the summer. I’d worked a lot of radio since my first shift eight months before, and I was already making plans to run for program director in the elections later that fall. I’d also managed to snag a paying part-time gig. In short, I felt like I had radio, and life, pretty much by the tail. At the start of my sophomore year, I was a much different person than I’d been the previous fall.

So, late August 1979. I’m hanging out with a few friends at WSUP. New freshmen interested in radio have been coming in to check the place out. On this particular afternoon, a girl walked in and started looking around. She was wearing a red-and-white striped sweater—which she filled out extreeeemely well—and had long dark hair down to her waist, dark eyes, and a distinctive nose. “Holy crap,” I said to my friends. “Who’s that?” And then: “I have an overwhelming desire to go over and ask her out.” I didn’t, of course, because that is not how I rolled back in those days.

I did find out that Sweater Girl’s name was Ann. And when I found out she was going to be reading news on Tuesday nights, I did what any radio guy shy around women would do—I signed up to host the Tuesday evening show. I also found out she already had a boyfriend, but I asked her out for drinks after the show a couple of times anyhow, and she accepted. She seemed to like me, but she kept dating this other guy, too.

At the end of October, the radio station hosted a Halloween party in the student center bar. It was a rager—legend has it that the party marked the last time $1 pitchers of beer were ever offered on campus because beer consumption broke some sort of record. Ann came with her boyfriend, but she also hung around the table full of radio people, and after about two beers, I wrapped my arm firmly around her waist and didn’t let go of her for the entire night. (Except, it is said, for the brief time I climbed up on the table to do the bump with one of the sports guys.)

I am not sure what became of the boyfriend on that particular night, but even after all that, she still didn’t officially dump him.

Every year in the late fall, the radio station held a banquet. It was ostensibly a time to hand out awards and to honor the outgoing heads of various station departments, but it was mostly an excuse to dress up and drink. I asked Ann if she would like to go with me—not as a date, but as a couple of colleagues going to the same function, since I had a car and she didn’t. (Christ, was I smooth.) But after I dropped her at her dorm room at the end of the night, I asked if I could kiss her goodnight, and she said yes. I arranged to have roses delivered to her a few weeks later on Christmas Eve, and the boyfriend was out of the picture soon after that. I had actually won the girl.

There’s more to the story I could tell, but I’m going to skip ahead. Ann became The Mrs. in 1983, and is still The Mrs. today.

The red-and-white sweater is hanging in the closet in my office.


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