Category Archives: American Top 40

The Stalker of ’79

(Pictured: “Oh, God, there’s that idiot with the Leo Sayer record again.”)

As time passes, we learn new things, we gain new perspectives, and we sometimes find that what we once believed isn’t quite true. So we recalibrate what we once believed, in hopes of being wiser in times to come. It’s what most intelligent people do (except for some intransigent political creatures who equate virtue with believing in the same things you believed 10 or 30 or 50 or 500 years ago, even in the face of evidence to the contrary).

American Top 40 recently repeated the show from July 21, 1979, the very same week that inspired a 2011 post I wrote called “Summer of Schlock”, but I am finding it not quite so schlocky another time around.

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Don’t Lose That Number

(Pictured: the Hues Corporation.)

In the summer of 1974, Casey Kasem landed a guest role on Hawaii Five-O, playing a crooked furniture store owner. American Top 40 was preparing its annual summer special (“The Top 40 Singles Artists of the 1970s”) for the weekend of July 6th, which could be recorded far in advance, and Casey had already arranged for Humble Harve Miller to fill in for him on the weekend of the 13th. But Casey’s shooting schedule required him to be in Hawaii in late June—which would interfere with the recording schedule for the show airing on June 29th. The new Billboard Hot 100 wouldn’t be available in time. So the AT40 staff made a fateful decision. Instead of rounding up yet another substitute host, they would estimate the chart positions for the week of June 29th and count down that chart instead. They didn’t make a big deal about it. They presented the songs just as if Billboard had placed them, with only a disclaimer at the end saying that the chart was based on staff estimates.

What follows is the chart Casey counted down that weekend, with the actual Hot 100 position in parentheses and various random observations.

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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.

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 both major charts that week, legendary songs, albums, and stars that both epitomize and shape the history of rock. In this blog’s first autumn, I wrote about a week in November 1976 loaded with what would become classic-rock radio standards. Recently I have been listening to the American Top 40 show from May 28, 1977, and that particular week was even better. Dig it:

4. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac
7. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band
10. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner
11. “Hotel California”/Eagles
17. “Heard It in a Love Song”/Marshall Tucker Band
18. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs
20. “Jet Airliner”/Steve Miller Band
21. “So In to You”/Atlanta Rhythm Section
24. “Margaritaville”/Jimmy Buffett
25. “Mainstreet”/Bob Seger
28. “Life in the Fast Lane”/Eagles

You might debate which of those are Image cuts and which are mere Gold (to use some jargon from deep in my program-director past), but either way they’d be among the first into the library if you were building a classic-rock format from scratch. And there are more further down the Hot 100:

42. “On the Border”/Al Stewart
43. “Spirit in the Night”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
52. “Peace of Mind”/Boston
56. “You and Me”/Alice Cooper
68. “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton
69. “Cinderella”/Firefall
71. “The Pretender”/Jackson Browne
73. “Back in the Saddle”/Aerosmith
74. “Solsbury Hill”/Peter Gabriel
83. “Burnin’ Sky”/Bad Company
84. “Barracuda”/Heart
86. “Just a Song Before I Go”/Crosby Stills and Nash
96. “Ridin’ the Storm Out”/REO Speedwagon

A pretty good mixtape, yes?

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Take a Look Around

(Pictured: J. J. Cale in the early 70s, slightly bemused by all the attention.)

And now, a twist on my usual routine with American Top 40 shows. Here are the seven strangest records on the show from April 1, 1972, in order from least to most:

7. “Crazy Mama”/J. J. Cale (#25). This is Cale’s lone Top 40 hit, a down-home, laid-back blues shuffle spiked with wah-wah guitar. Nobody talked about “roots music” back then, but “Crazy Mama” is clearly an example of it. From Naturally, the Cale album with “Call Me the Breeze,” “After Midnight,” and “Magnolia” on it.

6. “Take a Look Around”/Temptations (#30). I am pretty sure I never heard this song before, and if I did, I don’t remember it. “Take a Look Around” was from Solid Rock, the first album by what you could call Temptations Mark II—Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams were out of the group, replaced by Richard Street and Damon Harris. The socially conscious lyric is straight out of producer Norman Whitfield’s playbook and the vocals are fine, but it doesn’t seem particularly commercial, and it got to #30 pretty much on the power of the Temptations’ brand.

5. “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done”/Sonny and Cher (#16). Not since 1965 had Sonny and Cher had back-to-back Top 10 singles, and the one-of-a-kind “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” (which followed “All I Ever Need Is You”) would be their last one, even as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour became one of the biggest hits on TV.

4. “Jungle Fever”/Chakachas (#8). The appeal of beat and the riff on “Jungle Fever” is obvious. The appeal of the vocal takes longer to sink in.

3. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”/Wings (#22). Amazingly, this Top 40 contains only three songs by British acts (T. Rex and Yes were the others), and it’s fitting that this should be one of them. It was recorded two days after the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland and released about three weeks later, the first record single under the Wings name. EMI executives told Paul that British media outlets would refuse to play it, even though he naively believed that singing “Great Brit, you are tremendous / And nobody knows like me” would take the curse off of it. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” would peak at #21 on the Hot 100. As a historical document, it’s interesting, but everything else released under the Wings name is better.

2. “Every Day of My Life”/Bobby Vinton (#29). A remake of a song first popular in the 1950s, “Every Day of My Life” sounds like it was recorded in 1958, all swelling strings and big backing chorus, perfect for sock-hop dancing. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), it was the most-played record on jukeboxes for the whole year of 1972. Vinton was more popular throughout all of the 1960s and into the 70s than anybody remembers, scoring widely played radio hits almost every year from 1962 through 1974, even though the later ones never made it onto your local oldies station.

1. “King Heroin”/James Brown (#40). The strangest record on the countdown, and one of the stranger ones in the history of American Top 40. “King Heroin” started as a poem written by Manny Rosen, a working stiff from Manhattan who had lost a daughter to drug abuse. Somehow, the poem found its way to Brown, who had it set to music. Brown describes a dream he had, in which heroin spoke to him and talked about all the drug is capable of, concluding with “the white horse of heroin will ride you to Hell.” It would anchor the countdown the next week, too. It shows up on 19 surveys at ARSA, all but one on soul stations, because there’s no way to make it fit alongside Bobby Vinton or Sonny and Cher.

However you want to describe them—strange, obscure, forgotten—these songs were once among the most popular in America, but their popularity barely outlasted the season in which it occurred. A lifetime later, however, some of us still remember them. Except for “Take a Look Around.”

All Flushed With Fever

(Pictured: Roberta Flack, who undoubtedly felt better about herself in 1973 than I did about myself in 1973.)

Were I to rank each of the years during which I lived with Top 40 radio in my ear by the quality of their music (a project I should undertake one day), I expect that 1973 would rank near the bottom. The best explanation for the strange way I view 1973 from this distance has to do with the full onslaught of adolescence and all the fevered craziness it can provoke in a boy—but while that explains the way I remember 1973, it doesn’t explain why I like so little of that year’s music now. Or maybe it does, because I first heard the music of that year while suffering the fever of that year.

So now then: I have spent the last few days listening to the American Top 40 show dated March 31, 1973, and just as I suspected, it didn’t do much for me. Not until it got to the Top 10, anyhow.

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