New to the Family

(Pictured: Prince, whose distinctive sound was on the radio in 1986 under names not his own.)

I am not sure why it took me as long as it did, back there in the middle of the 1980s, to pick up American Top 40 for my radio station. We’d thrown the switch on the Top 40 format in September 1984, but we didn’t add AT40 until a year later, about the same time I took over the morning show. Almost every week, Casey would welcome new members of “the AT40 family of stations.” And on the show dated January 18, 1986, he finally got around to welcoming us: K100 in Macomb, Illinois.

At its peak, AT40 was on something like 500 radio stations around the country, and there’s evidence to suggest the syndicator, Watermark, wasn’t big on exclusivity. I am pretty sure you could have materialized at random anywhere in the United States on a Sunday in the mid 80s and found the show on your radio. On the 1/18/86 show, Casey also saluted an affiliate in Galesburg, Illinois, just an hour north of Macomb, and I would not at all be surprised if the show had aired on Top 40 stations in Burlington, Iowa, and Peoria, Illinois, also close by.

The 1/18/86 show was quintessentially 80s: Wham and Survivor, the Cars and Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar and Mr. Mister, Corey Hart and John Mellencamp, Scritti Politti and Arcadia. (So much reverb and so few real drums.) It also included two now-forgotten dance numbers in the same quarter-hour, “Everybody Dance” by Ta Mara and the Seen and “Sidewalk Talk” by Jellybean. Each gained popularity thanks to its connections to other, bigger stars: Ta Mara and the Seen were a Minneapolis group produced by Jesse Johnson, who had been in the Time, and “Everybody Dance” sounds like a Prince record. Jellybean was producer John “Jellybean” Benitez. Madonna wrote “Sidewalk Talk” and sings backup on it. Give her credit for a decent lyric (“watch where you walk cuz the sidewalks talk”), even though 45 version seems to go on forever. Give nobody credit for “Everybody Dance,” which was flat terrible. I hated hearing both of them on my air.

Shortly before the show aired, The Mrs. and I had moved to a rented house, the first house we’d ever lived in together. It was a fabulous old thing with two bedrooms, a formal dining room, a huge living room, and a screened porch on the front. The main bathroom was spectacularly ugly, with tile in pink, green, and gray. The walk-up attic wasn’t finished, but the downstairs had four or five different rooms—it wouldn’t have been difficult to rent it out as an apartment if we’d enclosed the toilet and shower that stood in the open down there. We would have to mow the lawn come spring, but I don’t remember shoveling snow in the winter, so the landlord, a local judge, must have taken care of that.

The house had apparently been the judge’s family home when his children were little, and as a result he was reluctant to do anything with it—like replace the damn ugly tile, or let us strip the paint off what we guessed were lovely hardwood cabinets in the kitchen. Had we intended to stay in Macomb—and, I suppose, had I been making real money instead of radio money—we’d have been happy to buy it. It needed some work—all new windows for one thing, and a new furnace. But we came to suspect that he didn’t really want to part with it, and we ended up leaving town at the end of 1986 anyway. We wouldn’t live in a house again for 12 years.

2 responses

  1. Little known factoid: Ta Mara and the Seen’s guitarist was Oliver Leiber, the son of the legendary songwriter Jerry Leiber.

    I like “Everybody Dance” enough. They followed it up with a decent mid-tempo ballad titled “Affecttion” (misspelled on purpose for some unknown reason), the flip side of which became the local hit in L.A. rather than “Affecttion”. It was called “You Turn Me Up”. It never appeared on any album, but had it been promoted as the follow-up single, it might have extended their run…but if you hate “Everybody Dance”, you probably wouldn’t care for it, as it’s fairly similar.

    As HUGE as Michael Jackson was in the 80’s, I always felt that Prince was the more influential musician of the two, at least in the short term. For a good chunk of the mid-80’s, it seemed like just about everything you heard on R&B radio was either Prince himself, written and/or produced by Prince, written and/or produced by one of his cohorts, or was by someone who was purposely imitating his sound. His stamp was unmistakeable and everywhere. In contrast, MJ wasn’t doing a whole lot of writing and producing for other artists, and at that point in time he really didn’t have many imitators (at least musically…dance and fashion-wise, definitely, but as big as he was, it didn’t seem like a lot of people were purposely trying to sound like him back then.) But then, I was definitely a Prince guy rather than an MJ guy (although of course I liked him too), so I might be a bit biased…

  2. ^ Plus, Prince is one of the most underrated and unappreciated guitarists of all time. He can blaze.

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