You’re Out of My Life

(Slight edit since first posted).

We don’t like to examine our long-held beliefs, to look at them with new eyes, to try and make sure that what we think is true really is true. But we should. If something is worth believing, it’ll hold up to scrutiny. If we’re afraid to look, maybe we already know that it won’t.

So I am once again considering the summer of 1980. I have never had much love for the Top 40 music of that summer. I was an album-rock guy then (on the radio and as a listener); what I heard then, and what I’ve heard since, seemed pretty weak. Not a lot of great music on the radio back then. Or was there?

How could I find out for sure? I went back and listened to an American Top 40 show from squarely in the middle of the summer—July 12, 1980—and tried to hear it anew. Here’s some of what I heard.

38. “King of the Hill”/Rick Pinette and Oak. I’ve never heard this before, although I’ve heard 10,000 records exactly like it. This one is neither better nor worse than any of them. It’s just there for three minutes, and then it’s gone.

36. “Into the Night”/Benny Mardones. Hey, Casey just played Rick Pinette and Oak, now here they are again. Oh, this is a different song? Well, I’ll be damned.

32. “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer”/Kenny Rogers & Kim Carnes. We’ve gone about 10 minutes without a tasteful adult ballad. Thank goodness here’s another.

31. “Let My Love Open the Door”/Pete Townshend. The man critic Dave Marsh lionized as Chairman Townshend did this?

30. “Should’ve Never Let You Go”/Neil and Dara Sedaka. How cute: Neil and his 16-year-old daughter made a record together, although knowing that they’re father and daughter makes the romantic tone seem pretty skeevy. Plus, Dara doesn’t know the difference between a blue note and a bum note.

29. “Cars”/Gary Numan and 28. “Stand By Me”/Mickey Gilley. Anybody wondering about the existence of parallel universes: they do not exist, but they should.

26. “Sailing”/Christopher Cross. As inoffensive as a glass of milk and about as exotic, sung by a guy with a range of maybe half an octave. And this is going to be the most honored record of the year?

25. “Empire Strikes Back Medley”/Meco. Only a slight improvement over white noise.

24. “She’s Out of My Life”/Michael Jackson. I just sat through the commercial break to be greeted on the other side with this? A deadly slow, string-driven weeper in which Michael emotes so hard his voice breaks at the end? Seriously, who liked this shit in 1980?

Screw this show, I’m outta here.

You could argue that I bailed just before the show got better: Joe Walsh’s “All Night Long,” “Emotional Rescue” by the Stones (of which I am not a fan but compared to the rest of this crap is “Brown Sugar”), “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Blues Brothers (which I liked better then than I do now), and “Biggest Part of Me” by Ambrosia are about to come. The first half of the show did include “Jojo” by Boz Scaggs (of which I am not a fan but see “Emotional Rescue”) and acceptable records by Journey (“Walks Like a Lady”) and Genesis (“Misunderstanding”). But also coming in the second half of the show are “I’m Alive” by ELO (in which Jeff Lynne announces he’s out of ideas), “In America” by the Charlie Daniels Band (whistle-past-the-graveyard bluster in that summer of the Iran hostage crisis), and “Tired of Toein’ the Line” by Rocky Burnette (which could take the chrome off a trailer hitch).

“Coming Up” by Paul McCartney and Wings was spending its third week at #1 on July 12, 1980, but listening to it now, there’s nothing there. Bette Midler’s “The Rose” rode the charts all summer and was one of the biggest hits of the year, but who plays it now? Out of the week’s top 10, you will still hear “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me” by Billy Joel on the radio in 2013, but that’s it. If the rest of it has faded into oblivion, it’s no great loss.

Long-held belief about the suckitude of the summer of 1980: VALIDATED.

15 responses

  1. Right about the time I made the move to college radio and started digging in earnest for the old stuff. There are points a few years later where there were big hits that I was completely unaware of until my wife played them 20 years later. I’m still pretty sure I missed nothing of consequence.

  2. Nobody asked me, but: I count four records on that chart I would ever really want to hear again.
    (Nobody asked me what they were, but: “Call Me,” “Misunderstanding,” “Magic” and, of course, “Emotional Rescue.”)

    I remember Casey saying that Rick Pinette and Oak were the first band from Maine to hit the Top 40. That counts for … well, nothing, really.

  3. The Benny Mardones and Christoper Cross tunes hit that melancholy sweet spot that I love in pop music, what my wife always ribbed me about calling them my “wimpy favorites.” Benny really sounds invested in the song and of course it charted years later, same version.

    Not sure what was worse, Dara Sedaka or John Travolta on “Let Her In.” Fabian sounded like Pavarotti in comparison.

  4. There was a reason I stopped listening to Top 40 around late 1979. I still heard a lot of this stuff on the AC station we listened to back then, and none of it is any better in memory (though I still kind of like the Rocky Burnette single). Thanks for listening to it yourself and saving me the anguish.

  5. Funkytown!

  6. Completely understand the rational of others about ‘Sailing’, but actually think of it as an iconic summer pop song. The problem, as always with these things, is it was heard every 20 minutes.

  7. Meanwhile, “Stop Your Sobbing” was stiffing at number 65.

  8. Where (or when) else could you have heard a song about a guy kidnapping a 16-year old girl he was in love with (Into The Night – so nice, it was a hit twice) followed by a song about a guy regretting breaking up with his 16-year old daughter (Should’ve Never Let You Go)? Neil actually recorded it solo in 1978, but then decided a little bad blood was in order 2 years later and decided to ‘Donny & Marie’ it up.

    By the way, I liked the Genesis song, Misunderstanding the first time, when it was called Hot Fun In The Summertime

  9. “Let My Love Open the Door,” “Emotional Rescue,” “Tired of Toein’ the Line,” and “Funkytown”? That’s quality.

  10. Wow. I’m clearly in the minority here, but in recent years I’ve looked back on 1980 as being better than I remembered it (I turned 23 that year). In fact, I think it and 1982 are both filled with great singles (I started tuning out of current music around 1985), songs I’m always glad to hear again. And I think “Into the Night” is magnificent, but I see there is at least one other fan here for that one.

  11. Oy… lots of stinkers, for sure. Like some of the others, I’ve always had a soft spot for “Tired of Toein’ the Line” but that doesn’t make it a great song….

  12. Disco was finally dead by 1980, but there just wasn’t enough good product to fill the void on Top 40 radio stations. That probably explains why WLS really opened their playlist that summer of 1980 and started playing a lot of album cuts, especially at night: “Mystery Achievement” by the Pretenders, “Cocaine” (live) by Eric Clapton, “Roll With the Changes” and “Back on the Road Again” by REO Speedwagon, “Rough Boys” by Pete Townsend, “In The City” by the Eagles, “Borrowed Time” by Styx, “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd…AND….a nice little addition that came along toward the end of the summer of 1980…”This Beat Goes on/Switchin’ To Glide” by the Kings.

  13. This is definitely a “post-disco, pre-MTV” chart if I’ve ever heard one. Compare it to the AT40 episode from just a year earlier that week (July 7, 1979 – the 40 biggest hits of the Disco era), which aired literally a few days before the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park! Casey is still in turbo-charged “Disco Casey”mode in his talk-ups, but the music is completely different.

  14. What else was good that week?
    37 (debut). “Old-Fashion Love,” Commodores. Radio wanted a Lionel ballad. They didn’t get one. They wouldn’t play this. Their loss.
    19. “Take Your Time (Do It Right),” SOS Band. Instrumental break contains one of the greatest rhythm guitar riffs of all time.
    11. “Shining Star,” Manhattans. A sweet soul classic. It’s not dated yet.
    10. “Let Me Love You Tonight,” Pure Prairie League. A 22-year-old Vince Gill made this the best England Dan & John Ford Coley record of 1980 — aw, hell, the whole ’80s.
    9. “Let’s Get Serious,” Jermaine Jackson. With Stevie’s help, by far the funkiest thing this particular Jackson brother ever did.

  15. I turned 18 in the summer of 1980, and 10 weeks of it were spent living away from home for the first time in my life, in a mostly empty dorm at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Having lived my entire life in San Diego, the culture shock was huge (I’d always just assumed the entire country was just like southern California), and for a number of other reasons, it was a very strange and slightly traumatic experience.

    It was also my first encounter with a DJ-less pop radio station. The local station just played the songs with a pre-recorded male announcer who gave the name of the song and the artist, usually at the beginning, but sometimes at the end. For some reason, I can still hear him announcing “Pat Benatar, We Live For Love” in my head, like it was yesterday…his deep, resonant voice and the exact inflections he used are etched permanently into my memory bank.

    Of course, all of the songs I heard in that dorm room during those bizarre, mostly lonely ten weeks immediately take me back to that time and place. The ones that stick in my head the most include all the “Urban Cowboy” and “Xanadu” hits, Benny Mardones, Rocky Burnette, the Pure Prairie League, Pete Townshend, Boz Scaggs, Neil and Dara Sedaka, the aforementioned Pat Benatar “We Live For Love” and “You Better Run”, and Charlie Daniels “In America” and “The Legend of Wooly Swamp” (I remember cowering in the dark during my first experience with a massive midwestern thunderstorm while that one played, making me even more scared than I already was).

    “Three Times in Love” by Tommy James was played incessantly, as was “Take a Little Rhythm” by Ali Thomson, “Angel Say No” by Tommy Tutone, and “Make a Little Magic” by the Dirt Band, and Alice Cooper’s Gary Numan ripoff/parody, “Clones”, none of which I believe I’ve ever heard played on a radio station since, but all of which occupy a special place in my personal musical history.

    There was also a jukebox in the dining hall that seemed to play mostly nothing but Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” and, oddly, “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff n the Tears.

    For some reason, I started to really dislike Bob Seger during that summer. He was such a major figure in the midwest at that time, selling out multiple nights at arenas throughout the region, and it was strange for me to realize that somebody who wasn’t that big of a deal in my world could be a huge superstar elsewhere. “Against the Wind” was his big hit during that summer, and I hated it.

    I was more into R&B than pop or rock at that time, and Muncie, Indiana radio was offering up precious little of it at that point…Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” was huge, and there was MJ and the S.O.S. Band and…not much else. Post-disco backlash was in full effect, I guess.

    I do remember tuning into what seemed to me to be a very weird old-time local hillbilly gospel program, that to me seemed beamed in from another planet. Folks playing and singing what I imagine were traditional hymns live in some makeshift studio somewhere. Voices and instruments that could have used some tuning. Homespun and amateurish almost to the point of parody, yet somehow fascinating and endearing. Years later I was reading an article about such a program in a local SoCal newspaper, and I realized they were talking about that same program I’d tuned into. At that point, I thought I’d dreamed or imagined it, since I’d never heard anything even remotely like it before, or since. Apparently it was a bit of a local institution, and had a small but fervent following. 35 years later, I wonder if it’s still on the air.

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