From The Archives: IRH’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue

This is an edited version of a Facebook post from Father’s Day 2016.

One of the things that gave my father, Ira Richard Harris, great pleasure through the years was 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll music. In the early 90s, he assembled a ranked list of his all-time favorites and put together three cassette mix tapes (the tree not being too far away from the apple); he made copies for me, as well. Unlike Casey and his ilk, Dad counted down from #1, rather than up to it. Here’s the playlist from IRH’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue, Part I. Dad had distinctive, yet beautiful, handwriting–I treasure all samples of it that I have.

IRH Cassette2

 

 

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SotD: Grant Hart, “2541”

I learned over the weekend that former Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart passed away last week at age 56. I didn’t do the Dü, but I became familiar with one of Hart’s solo tunes, “2541,” via Marshall Crenshaw’s cover on his 96 release Miracle of Science. I’ve also discovered that Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens has a version. Let’s take all three for a spin. RIP, Mr. Hart.

AT40 PastBlast 9/13/86: Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force, “All Cried Out”

In the spring of 82, I started tuning in regularly to WLAP-FM, 94.5 on the dial. We lived about 60 miles north of Lexington, just on the edge of a viable signal. I listened mainly on the clock radio in my bedroom. My inclination toward recognizing order and patterns clicked in over those first weeks after I began listening. The format was strictly Top 40, but there were no DJs–it was fully automated, with music provided by some distant vendor. After each of their four hourly commercial breaks, they’d play two current hits, followed by one or two recurrent songs or oldies (they went back as far as the early 70s, IIRC). Over the course of the next few months, I figured out:

  • Current hits were divided into two sets; I called them Type I and Type II.
  • Each song in a pair played together was of the same Type.
  • They alternated Type I and Type II pairs throughout the day.
  • A current hits tape consisted of ten pairs of songs all of one Type, so it would take five hours to run through two tapes, one of each Type.
  • There were six tapes of each Type eligible for play at any one time.
  • New tapes cycled in each week. One week, the station would introduce two new tapes of each Type, and the following week, they’d introduce just one of each. Thus, any one tape had a four-week lifespan on the station.
  • Individual songs could be paired with a variety of songs of its own Type, but would almost always appear in one of four sets of positions on a tape: somewhere in pairs 1-4 (A), pairs 3-6 (B), pairs 5-8 (C), or pairs 7-10 (D).

The same voice was used on all the tapes to announce songs. Much of the time, he’d interpose himself between them: “That was ‘Truly’ by Lionel Richie; now, here’s Fleetwood Mac, with ‘Gypsy.’” After I moved to college that fall, I got good pretty quickly at identifying the orders of the songs on all twelve tapes in play at any one time, so that when a set of tapes started, I could bore all of my friends with pre-announcements of what was coming on after each break for the following 4.5 hours.

One of my fellow DJs at WTLX called WLAP “Robbie the Robot Radio” (this is the same guy who lit a firecracker atop a 45 of a song he didn’t like WHILE IT WAS ON THE TURNTABLE down at the station). While it’s hard to disagree with this characterization, I was really into it for a couple of years (it probably helped maintain my interest in Top 40 songs during this period).

Toward the end of 83 or beginning of 84, I noticed that they were sometimes playing only one current song per segment instead of two. I called the station to ask about it and got to speak with Ralph Hacker, the station director at the time (yes, that Ralph Hacker, who announced UK basketball for a number of years). He told me that new songs were getting too long, and that they wanted more time for the recurrent tunes. I also was somehow able to work into our conversation what I described above about their modus operandi with current hits. He allowed that I was largely correct but seemed to think it wasn’t quite as rigidly structured as I made out.   Not long after this a passel of TLX jocks got to go on a tour of the WLAP studios (whether I or Kevin, the WTLX manager, got the ball rolling, I don’t recall); we even got to see the famed automated reel tape decks!

Some weeks after this WLAP made an even bigger change to how they played the current hits. It was still automated, but “the voice” changed, maybe even largely disappeared, and the patterns didn’t seem to hold quite so much. I lost interest fairly quickly, though maybe a good part of it was an ongoing changes in my musical tastes (I was starting to buy albums much more frequently beginning at about this time, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). I didn’t listen to WLAP very much at all my last couple of years in college.

So, what does this have to do with the music of September 86? I heard you asking three paragraphs ago, but I was ignoring you. I’m getting to it now, I promise!

Forward to September 86 (see?). I had been at Illinois for a few weeks and classes were well underway. I didn’t have any teaching duties during my first year, which locked me out of some bonding opportunities with my fellow newbie grad students. It would be January before I started making close, lasting friendships. That fall I spent many lonely evenings in my closet of a dorm room; at some point I started surfing on my portable radio. I stumbled across a Top 40 station–I don’t know if I ever knew its call letters–from another city, likely Bloomington-Normal. They were employing some variant of Robbie! I didn’t get hooked like I had years before, but I did check it out regularly. “All Cried Out” (#26, heading to #8) was one of the songs that station introduced to me. It’s the piano and synth outro that I especially remember. Those closing seconds still make me feel a cold autumn breeze from the northwest, and I think of the chemical stink from the Kraft cheese production plant in town that drifted over campus on that wind (it sure didn’t smell like cheese).

Those first months in Chambana more or less comprised my final steady forays into Top 40 radio listening. It was good to have one last fling with the robot.

American Top 40 PastBlast: 9/20/75

1) The latter half of 74 saw three male singers from yesteryear begin impressive comebacks: first up was Paul Anka, with “Having My Baby,” then Neil Sedaka, with “Laughter in the Rain,” and finally Frankie Valli, with “My Eyes Adored You.” All of them hit #1, and before things began petering out again in mid 76, they each hit the Top 40 multiple times–Valli even dragged the Four Seasons back into the spotlight. They’re all in this countdown: Anka at #18, Sedaka at #33, Four Seasons at #40.

Of the three, I’d argue that Sedaka’s return was the most impressive (though I’ll admit it clearly helped to have Elton on his side). Not only did he hit #1 twice in 75, but three other songs he co-wrote also made the charts in this period. Captain and Tennille helped the most with #1 song of the year “Love Will Keep Us Together,” followed not too long after by “Lonely Night (Angel Face).”   And then there was the beautifully sad “Solitaire,” sung by the tragic figure of Karen Carpenter, here at its peak of #17.

2) I have a very early memory of “Close To You.” It had to have been the late summer of 70, when I was 6 and it was at the top of the charts. I see myself with my sister, playing in the driveway at my grandparents’ house in Richmond. I guess there was a radio on somewhere. Or maybe we’d encountered it often enough to be able to sing about angels and moondust on our own. Regardless, the song and I are both there.

The Carpenters came over the airwaves a lot on the car radio in the first half of the 70s. My strongest memories are of the songs from 73, after my family and my grandparents had moved back to the northern part of Kentucky. “Sing,” “Yesterday Once More,” and, in particular, “Top of the World.” Seems like only last week that I was riding with Mom and Amy the ten miles between our home and my grandparents’ farm, joining in on “…and the only explanation I can find…”

My recollection is that I was also in the car when I learned of Karen’s death. Friday, February 4 of 83, my first winter in college, heading home for the weekend.   WLAP-FM in Lexington had just gotten a new set of tapes of current hits to play (much more on this tomorrow); I heard “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “One on One” for the first time on that journey. Around the halfway point, Williamstown, the news broke over the air. I imagine that I didn’t react overly to the news, though it was notable enough that I recall hearing it. One of the first cases of an important vocalist from my youth being silenced.

SotD, Mix CD Edition: Jorge Ben, “Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)”

On Wednesday evening, I dug out some “mix CDs” I burned sometime in 2002; I played a couple of them in my office on Thursday. “A Shot in the Arm” was track 4 on one of them. I enjoyed hearing this disk again so much that I’m thinking I’ll feature tunes from it (and the other CDs) maybe a couple times of week as Songs of the Day in the coming months.

This was that disk’s opener.  It’s from Beleza Tropical, the first Brazil Classics compilation that David Byrne assembled in the early 90s (Forro, the third in the series, is really, really good). I’d found the vinyl for Beleza in a cutout bin a few years later and got it out for a few spins on the turntable sometime in the first quarter of 99. This Jorge Ben song, about an African soccer player, stood out. Then, just a week or so after I started playing it, Intel began featuring the song in an ad for its new line of chips during that spring’s March Madness.  I was really struck by the coincidence of catching a song from two disparate sources in such a short time span almost a quarter century after it was first recorded.

SotD: Wilco, “A Shot in the Arm”

Wilco’s Summerteeth is one of my favorite albums from 99. I’d enjoyed the alt-country sounds of A.M. and Being There and saw them in concert in 95 in Lexington, opening for the Jayhawks. But this third release expanded their palette immensely, and in interesting ways. “Via Chicago” was the emotional centerpiece and “I Can’t Stand It” sounded good on the radio the two or three times I heard it there, but I liked this one the best.

American Top 40 PastBlast Redux: 4/4/81

Before I started this blog, I posted about songs from old AT40s on Facebook, January-July 2017.  I’ll be moving them here over time.  This entry has been edited a little from the original.

About a dozen years ago I started assembling playlists of AT40 countdowns between June 76 and May 86 (when I started writing down the charts through my college graduation). I wound up buying a number of compilation CDs from that timeframe. Two particularly good takes on this genre are Barry Scott Presents: The Lost 45s of the 70s and 80s, Volumes 1 and 2. This one comes from the second disk. While I remember it from back in the day, listening to it again after 20+ years made me realize that I had seriously, thoroughly underestimated it at the time. It’s a totally fabulous pop gem (though the video is fairly lame).

Phil Seymour was long-time buds with Dwight Twilley; they shared the vocals on “I’m On Fire” in the summer of 75. He can also be heard doing backup for Tom Petty on “American Girl” and “Breakdown.” This was his only US solo hit, here at its peak of #22. He died of lymphoma in 1993, only 41.