Breakdown Dead Ahead

(Pictured: There are lots of pictures of attractive women on the Internet. A significant percentage are of Blondie’s Debbie Harry.)

We’ll wrap up this week of posts about 1980 with the American Top 40 show from the week of May 24, 1980, which was the week after I started rockin’ the night shift at WXXQ. We were an album-rock station, although you would have heard some of the week’s Top 40 hits on our air. Some of them listed below (with a couple of additions for cause).

40. “Love Stinks”/J. Geils Band. Later in the summer, I’d try to make a hit out of “Just Can’t Wait” from the same album.

38. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”/Billy Joel. Not merely debuting in the 40, but on the Hot 100 at this lofty position.

28. “The Seduction”/James Last. Not on our playlist that summer, but mentioned here because James Last, famed more in Europe than here for lushly orchestrated easy-listening music, died a couple of days ago at age 85. “The Seduction” was from the American Gigolo soundtrack, which also included Blondie’s “Call Me.”

24. “Pilot of the Airwaves”/Charlie Dore. We didn’t play this either, but Charlie Dore was the subject of an interesting interview with a British journalist earlier in the week, so go read it. As a radio guy I’m prejudiced, but “Pilot of the Airwaves” is the best thing on this countdown.

23. “Train in Vain”/The Clash. “Train in Vain” was not listed on either the label or the jacket of London Calling, so at the college radio station, we hand-labeled it. But one of the jocks just couldn’t figure it out. He’d play the wrong track every damn time.

22. ‘You May Be Right”/Billy Joel. Insert your own opinion here. I got nothin’.

17. “Another Brick in the Wall”/Pink Floyd. Casey introduces this by reading a letter from a guidance counselor who objects strongly to it, from the sentiments it expresses, to the ominous sound of it, to the way it makes teachers feel bad, all in the aggrieved tone of somebody who still thinks Guy Lombardo is the shit. Casey mentions that “the song’s creator” (Roger Waters, name not mentioned) wrote it as part of a larger work (The Wall, title not mentioned) that is critical of conformity and oppression in general, not just in schools. I am sure that wouldn’t have satisfied the letter writer. I am also sure I detected a wee touch of mockery in Casey’s tone as he read the letter.

16. “Breakdown Dead Ahead”/Boz Scaggs. Casey reports that listeners to a San Francisco radio station had recently voted the Boz track “Loan Me a Dime” as the song they’d most want to have on a desert island. You could do worse than to take “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” the hardest-rockin’ single Boz ever made. (Unintentionally hilarious video at that link.)

15. “Brass in Pocket”/Pretenders. I liked this when I heard it the other day, but I can’t remember having an opinion about it one way or the other in 1980.

14. “Coming Up”/Paul McCartney. Casey plays the studio version, on which Paul’s voice is processed almost to unrecognizability. He mentions that it’s a double-sided hit, but doesn’t say that the other side is the live version, which is far better.

11. “Against the Wind”/Bob Seger. By this point in the countdown I am starting to feel as if this show will never end—a common problem with the four-hour shows—and the repetitive blandness of the music doesn’t help. (See also #4, #13, #18, #19, #21, #26, #28, #30, #31, #34, #37, #39, and this old post about a different week in the summer of ’80.) The liveliest things on the show are the extras, which are disco hits from the summer of 1979. I never thought I’d be glad to hear “Ring My Bell” and “Bad Girls.”

10. “Cars”/Gary Numan. The single weirdest thing in my vinyl library might be the picture-disc 45 of Numan’s earlier single “Are Friends Electric?”

5. “Sexy Eyes”/Dr. Hook. We didn’t play this either, but I’m including it because you can’t name another Top 5 hit that’s gone further down the memory hole.

1. “Call Me”/Blondie. In its sixth and final week at the top. I don’t think we played this song on WXXQ either, but listening to the countdown the other day, I was so happy to hear something uptempo amidst all the adult-contemporary schlock that it almost sounded good to me.

This post isn’t very good, I fear. It is the summer 1980 Top 40 of posts.

11 responses

  1. ATF of spring 1980 served as my internalized “F U” to my high school senior class that booed my new waveish ensemble earlier that fall when we performed “Cars” on the homecoming Gong Show.

  2. If I recall, Frederic Dannen’s excellent book “Hit Men” opens with the story of how CBS promo men “got” Pink Floyd their smash hit.

    Doing research recently I had forgotten Dr. Hook’s “second wind;” good grief those guys had it going in ’79 and ’80.

    1. Actually, CBS promo men found out the hard way that they had no control whatsoever over what got played. “The Network,” a group of men who basically were paid by the record companies, controlled what got played. CBS figured they didn’t have to pay The Network for Pink Floyd, but they soon did, when no station in L.A. would play ABITW until Columbia forked over the money.

      1. thanks for clarifying that, my memory was a little fuzzy

  3. […] Breakdown Dead Ahead (Pictured: There are lots of pictures of attractive women on the Internet. A significant percentage are of Blondie’s Debbie Harry.) We’ll wrap up this week of posts about 1980 with the American Top 40 show from the week of May 24, 1980, which was the week after I started rockin’ the night shift at WXXQ. […] Godspeed You, Boy (Pictured: How we imagined our typical listener. Like every other memory, this one is subject to error.) Here are a few more random recollections about being the album-rock night guy at WXXQ in Freeport in the summer of 1980. —One of the interesting characters on the staff was a newsman named Bud. Bud seemed old, […] The Way Life’s Meant to Be (Welcome to 1980 week. The link above is an optional soundtrack for this post.) Thirty-five years ago this summer, I was working my first full-time radio job. I got the gig through a college friend, and from May to August 1980 I was on the air from 6 to midnight, Sunday through Friday, on WXXQ […] Feels Like the First Time (Pictured: Foreigner in 1977.) We all recognize that certain seasons of certain years retain a hold on the imagination forever after. There are certain weeks like that, too. The single greatest piece of music writing I’ve ever read was Eric Boehlert’s Salon article about Christmas week of 1969, and the epic variety of music on […] Livin’ on the Air (Pictured: Cincinnati. Let’s pretend that WKRP was located in one of these buildings.) We have been watching the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati, from the box set that restored most of the music and replaced some of the ridiculous cuts that were made on the Season 1 release a few years ago. The show […] […]

  4. Can’t believe you passed up the chance to whack Dan Fogelberg again. Perhaps it was because you — like me — can’t remember anything about “Heart Hotels.”

  5. 7. “Stomp!,” the Brothers Johnson. Louis, who we just lost on May 21, was slappin’ away at that bass as only he could. Almost as funky as the song itself was its chart activity. On the chart in question, it was taking a healthy leap from #16, and looking like a huge hit. But it would stall at #7 for a second week, then tumble back to #17, then hold at #17, then slip to #18. Hmmm.

    Interesting confluence of date and song title: I remember spending most of May 24, 1980, at the house of my great-grandfather on my dad’s side, who had recently passed. Among the items great-grandpa had left behind was an old-fashioned tube radio. I’d help carry the other stuff — beds, tables, appliances — out to the truck my dad borrowed, but only if I could have that radio. It had AM, FM, about three short-wave bands, and a glowing green signal strength indicator. I had my own room for the first time, so it wouldn’t bother my two older siblings that this thing was about to take up half a wall! To this day, I distinctly recall hearing the song “Breakdown Dead Ahead” on that radio at great-grandpa’s house.

    1. Building on that last sentence, it was Milwaukee’s WKTI, in its final days of being automated.

  6. “Sexy Eyes” is a perennial favorite at my family’s parties. I always preferred “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman”.

    “Breakdown Dead Ahead”, though a really good record, was a deliberate attempt to go back to the “Silk Degrees” sound, after its follow-up tanked and produced no hits. As such, it hasn’t endured.

    John Lennon was a big fan of “Coming Up”, crediting it with inspiring him to start writing and recording again. He preferred the studio version precisely because of its “weirdness”. How many live recordings have become big hits since? Off the top of my head, the only one that comes to mind is “At This Moment” by Billy Vera. I miss the days when live music was part of the radio landscape.

    When I first got on the internet and discovered Napster, “Pilot of the Airwaves” was one of the first 2 or 3 songs I downloaded. 15 years later, I’ve got a 20,000 song digital library.

    I eventually learned to like the Pretenders, but “Brass in Pocket” annoyed me to no end at the time, specifically the “gonna use my arms, gonna use my legs…” part. Doesn’t get to me quite as much now, but back then it was an instant station switcher.

    I’d never before heard “Just Can’t Wait” until you linked to it. I can kinda see why it might have been a hit, but it just seems to lack that certain “thing”, whatever that means. I think the J. Geils Band needed more than a mildly catchy chorus to sell a song to the masses.

  7. Hey, no summer that included “Tired of Toein’ The Line” by Rocky Burnette could ever be considered a total loss.

  8. Your posts are always great…and when you’re talking about the summer of 1980, I usually think about songs from albums we played on 99X WXXQ from Pete Townsend, Genesis, Eric Clapton “Live”, and REO Speedwagon’s “Decade of Rock & Roll.” I’ll have to admit that I liked the Pretenders, but not because of “Brass in Pocket.” There was another song on that album called “Mystery Achievement” that really rocked. I was pleasantly surprised when, one Sunday night, I was listening to WLS and their Sunday night Countdown where they would play the top ten requests of the week and a song from one of the top ten albums in Chicago. That night, Art Wallis played “Mystery Achievement.” I cranked it up on the car radio….even on AM radio it sounded great!

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