Top 5: An Innocent Man

Sometime around mid-September 1983, the morning guy at KDTH in Dubuque wanted to get off the air to devote all his time to being program director, and I was asked to take over the morning show. It was going to mean more responsibility, more hours—and a lot of pressure. Every day I’d be judged by the guy I was replacing on whether I was doing his old job as well as he had. Given my relationship with him (and his relationship with everybody else on the staff, who almost universally disliked him), I suspected that I’d never be good enough, but I said I’d take the job— as long as I got more money. That might have been naive, but it didn’t seem unreasonable to me. The program director, however, found it quite unreasonable. He said something like, “I don’t know why you’d ask for that. If I got more money it wouldn’t ensure that I’d do a better job,” which made no sense to me then and still doesn’t. When I remained adamant, he decided to hire somebody else—and to fire me for good measure.

I don’t regret it. Never mind the problem of the shoes I was being asked to fill—I didn’t feel ready for a morning show yet. If I’d taken the job, I doubt I would have lasted in it.

KDTH was doing mostly country in 1983, and it’s just as well—1983 was not one of pop’s grander years. There was Thriller, and the invasion of videogenic British bands was revamping the sound of the Top 40, but there’s precious little else worth remembering from that September. Let’s try and find something on the Cash Box chart dated September 17, 1983.

1. “Puttin’ on the Ritz”/Taco (up from 4) I was music director at KDTH, and we gave this a few plays on the station, although I don’t think it was my idea. The thinking was that some of our listeners might remember the song from back in the day, although why we thought they wouldn’t be put off by the bone-deep weirdness of Taco’s performance, I dunno.

6. “Tell Her About It”/Billy Joel (up from 7) The first single from An Innocent Man, with an iconic video featuring “BJ and the Affordables” on The Ed Sullivan Show, “Tell Her About It” was the first of a then-staggering six hit singles from An Innocent Man, Joel’s homage to American pop of the ’60s. I’ve got a copy, but it’s been years since I felt like putting it on.

18. “Dead Giveaway”/Shalamar (up from 19) Shalamar came from inauspicous roots—two of its three members had been Soul Train dancers. Their lone Top-Ten hit, 1980’s “The Second Time Around,” was hooky light R&B, but by 1983 they had reinvented themselves as beat-heavy and rock-oriented. The synthesized percussion on “Dead Giveaway” sounds dated now, but it was pretty hot at the time.

27. “Islands in the Stream”/Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (up from 32) It’s hard to imagine now, but Kenny and Dolly were once a sure-thing hitmaking pair, although a production as good as Barry Gibb’s on “Islands in the Stream” would likely have ended up a hit no matter who performed it. It would reach Number One on the Hot 100 and top the country charts as well, where it would be the Number One song of 1983. In 2005, CMT viewers voted it the top country duet of all time.

75. “Everyday People”/Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (up from 88) I still can’t figure out how this missed being a big hit, but it got only to Number 47 in Cash Box and Number 37 in Billboard. Meanwhile, the overproduced sludge that was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” did a month at Number One.

KDTH gave me six weeks to find a new job, which was decent of them, although in retrospect, they required time to find a new morning guy, so their need for my presence in the interim probably trumped any humane impulses they might have felt toward me. Within a month or so, I’d found a new job, and I would later end up working at another station for the general manager who had allowed me to be fired, but that’s another post entirely.

“Everyday People”/Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (buy it here)

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7 responses

  1. I have to agree to the Joan Jett sentiment. Seemed like a perfect pop hit for radio!

    Honest story: I had the 12″ Taco song and by mistake, as I was recording from pristine vinyl to cassette, I had somehow moved the speed on the turntable, to 45 – for a single. I hadn’t noticed because I was doing something else maybe. I finished the cassette side, with Taco somewhere deep in the middle, and began playing the cassette around town to friends. I noticed my gaffe, but my crowd, who didn’t know the song to begin with, all thought that’s the way the music was recorded. And I continued to play the cassette at parties … wherever. It wasn’t until one of the crowd members – months later, heard the song on the radio and thought it sounded weird because “they play it too slow for some reason”. To this day they have it etched in their mind that the “45 speed version” is the way the track was cut. Try it sometime when you’ve nothing to do – it truely doesn’t sound garbled played at 45.

  2. Honestly, “Everyday People” by Joan Jett is more of a B-side tune to me. But like the song says, “Different strokes for different folks.”

    I, too, wonder how “Total Eclipse of the Heart” made it to #1 and stayed there for a month. Bonnie Tyler just ain’t all that.

  3. Radio is such a weird business at times. I’ve had some of most entertaining moments working in radio, and, alas, some of the most frustrating.

    Oddly enough, I remember 1983 as a good year for music because, well, it was my senior year in high school and I was knee deep into AOR and what would become known as “modern rock.” I hated Top 40 because of songs you featured — but I did like Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets” off the Footloose soundtrack. Ah, you can take the boy out of Top 40, but you can’t take the Top 40 out of the boy.

  4. Total Eclipse Of The Heart would’ve been a huge hit regardless of who sang it. It’s the Jim Steinman arrangement and high camp drama of the production.

    As for Billy Joel, An Innocent Man is a pretty good album, and the last decent thing the man ever did.

  5. We seemed to be playing “Dead Giveaway” by Shalamar, “Puttin’ On The Ritz” by Taco, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler and “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson all the time back in 1983. We also played “One Thing Leads to Another” by the Fixx , “King of Pain” by the Police, and “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo. I worked weekdays on an FM station that had just switched to a “Hot Hits” type format, playing the same songs every hour and I worked weekends on our AM station which was doing a Top 40/Adult Contemporary/Oldies full-service format. The two stations played a lot of the same current music…and I got sick of the songs in a hurry.

  6. […] assassins, I was inspired by JB at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ who recently lamented that “1983 was not one of pop’s grander years.” So, I followed the link he had posted to a chart from this week in 1983 to see if it lived up/down […]

  7. […] first was when I declined taking over the morning show at KDTH because A) I didn’t feel ready to take it on, and B) they weren’t willing to pay me any […]

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