American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/9/88: Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, “Tomorrow People”

Bob Marley died in May of 81 at the tragically young age of 36. He didn’t get too much play in Cincinnati, at least on the stations I tuned in; probably my greatest exposure to his work while he was living occurred in the summer of 76, when cuts from Rastaman Vibration were played on the National Album Countdown. I know more, though still not lots, about his songs now, but Legend, the name given to his posthumous greatest hits album, seems like an accurate descriptor for the man.

Marley’s four oldest children, the three with wife Rita—Cedella, David, and Stephen—plus his adopted daughter Sharon, came together to form the Melody Makers in the mid 80s. In 88, they released their breakthrough fourth album, Conscious Party, produced by Talking Heads members Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. Led by David—whom we know as Ziggy—they did something their father hadn’t accomplished: make the US Top 40. “Tomorrow People,” which I think is about living in the present and taking care of the business before us now, is a delight. Alas, it spent just this one week on the show, at #39. The AT40 staff had the good sense to anticipate this possibility, as they took the opportunity to have Casey pay respects to their father’s music on this show (it’s the second time this year Marley has received mention—there was also a feature on reggae music in last month’s 6/12/76 rebroadcast).

The kid at the beginning of this clip was on to something: “I don’t want to go to another planet—I’d rather fix this one.”

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American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/15/72: Frederick Knight, “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long”

Seven years ago, early on the morning of the 40th anniversary of this show’s original broadcast, my family and I packed up the car for a summer vacation. It was a Sunday, and we were heading off to Virginia Beach for a few days. At the end of the week, we’d backtrack to Blacksburg, for a reunion with several of my grad school friends, one of whom teaches at Virginia Tech. From there it would be off to Knoxville, where I was to attend a conference on mathematical biology.

Just about a month earlier, I’d begun listening in earnest to AT40 70s rebroadcasts on WWRW (Rewind 105.5), a Lexington-area 70s and 80s station. I hadn’t yet twigged that I could listen to the show practically on demand using the TuneIn app on my iPad, so I was limited to 9-12 on Sunday mornings if I wanted to get a Casey fix. It wasn’t quite habit at that point, anyway, so we were a few miles down I-64 East, around 9:20am, when I thought to twist the knob to 105.5.

WWRW’s signal isn’t all that strong, so we were in range just long enough to catch #35 through #30 of the same show we’re hearing this weekend. That stretch includes well-known tunes from Argent, the Fifth Dimension, and Al Green, plus a song from Bobby Vinton I’d likely seen promoted on TV in the late 70s for his mail-order greatest hits album. The other two weren’t familiar at all. One was Stevie Wonder’s last hit prior to his white-hot 70s period, “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You).” The other was sitting at #31, fresh off a peak of #27: “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long,” by Mississippi native Frederick Knight.

There are many things I’ve loved about listening to these shows since June 2012. Some of it’s nostalgia for the songs of my teen years, but honestly, I can dial up pretty much any of them on YouTube whenever I want. I greatly enjoy Casey’s storytelling, even when he got details wrong, and—maybe I shouldn’t admit this—I’m generally fascinated by the letters accompanying Long Distance Dedications.  The best part, though, has been learning about songs of the early 70s I never heard/didn’t remember, especially those from the R&B side of the spectrum. “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long” is one of many such tunes, a Stax joint featuring Knight’s falsetto and a memorable “Won’t somebody help me please?” sung in a very low voice. While I did hear it in a Home Depot a couple of years ago, it still doesn’t seem to get much play outside of these late spring/early summer 72 rebroadcasts. I expect that Casey told me in the summer of 79 that Knight was the writer/producer of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell,” but that wouldn’t have meant anything at the time.

One other thing that’s striking about this venture, as you can tell from the opening paragraphs: I’ve been forging new associations between AT40 and moments in my life.

It was very hot in Virginia Beach, but the three of us enjoyed the sand and the water. Our gathering in Blacksburg included old friends from Poland, who’d brought their family on an extended US vacation; a few games of bridge might have broken out. My time at the conference was cut short, however. Dad had been getting noticeably weaker in recent months due to a blood disorder. After my first full day in Knoxville, Mom called to let me know that he had checked himself into the hospital. We headed north first thing the next morning. I’d spend much of the rest of the time before school started back working with Mom on figuring out the next steps.

6/17/78, 6/30/79, and 7/10/76 Charts (With Bonus)

All the recent rebroadcasts from the latter half of the 70s mean I have more charts to share.

First, 6/17/78, which took place during our DC/VA vacation that summer. I presume I got the info from Recordland at the Florence Mall, perhaps right before we left town, and simply jotted down the bare facts quickly. The 7/24 and 8/1 charts are similarly perfunctory (8/1? The week of the updated Top Acts of the 70s show? More on that below).

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Next, 6/30/79. This is the week I shook up the presentation of my 79 charts, moving all the extra songs to the bottom of the page, though I attempted to indicate when each was played. Missed on that Village People pick (“Go West” stalled at #45).

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For some reason, I had no interest in keeping records of special countdowns (save year-enders)–I was strictly a Billboard chart guy. A visit to Recordland became de rigueur on those weeks when Casey wasn’t doing his regular thing. As an example, here’s 7/7/79, the weekend of the Top 40 Hits of the Disco Era. It’s the usual chart with just the top five songs from the special noted. I guess I listened to special shows when I could, but there’s virtually nothing in my files about them.

(Gotta love my attempt at spelling Sharona.)

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I have Q102’s charts from the Mondays following both the rebroadcast 78 and 79 shows. (I wrote about their 6/26/78 chart last year). With respect to 79, gotta say I’m somewhat chagrined seeing Rex Smith at #2. They certainly weren’t leaders at all on “Ring My Bell,” “Bad Girls,” or “Makin’ It,” and note that “Love You Inside Out” is nowhere to be seen–maybe these are signs of the backlash brewing?

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Lastly, we’ve got this amusing 7/10/76 chart. It was the week after the special show that featured the #1 songs from the past forty Independence Days. There was no Recordland for me to consult yet–the mall wouldn’t open for another couple of months–so I’m speculating about the previous week’s position in the “NOTCHES” column in many cases. The “Prediction* for this week” column was a one-time deal: it appears I was attempting to extrapolate two weeks’ worth of movement from the 6/27 chart. Fun stuff there, including two listings for “Rock and Roll Music” and thinking “Takin’ It to the Streets” would be in the top 10 when in reality it wasn’t even on the show any more. Based on what we see, I can’t say I blame my twelve-year-old self for electing not to list any predictions made beyond #12.

Some quick observations: 1) We’ve got another “Fin Lizzie” sighting–that got fixed the following week; 2) I distinctly remember hearing the Zeppelin extra in real time, as well as Casey reporting it as being the loudest song ever recorded; 3) Clearly I couldn’t parse “England Dan and John Ford Coley” on either side of its being played at the start of the show. I wouldn’t get either “Ford” or “Coley” right until the 8/21 show, either. For the moment, I’ll leave you in suspense as to what the varied manglings were.

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American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/4/87: Suzanne Vega, “Luka”

My first semester as a grad student at Illinois was a bit of a washout in terms of establishing relationships with folks in my new surroundings. Eric, one of my suitemates in Sherman Hall, was a grad student in Labor and Industrial Relations. He and I sometimes hung out at the video game place a few blocks away in Campustown. But he finished his Master’s in December and moved back to New York. There was also Michael from Arkansas, a fellow newbie in math. We must have had a class or two together. He also lived in Sherman and had signed up for a meal plan just as I had, so we often walked to lunch and/or dinner together (the nearest dining hall, in a cluster of undergrad dorms, wasn’t overly close). But he was miserable there and didn’t come back in January.

Things began to turn around socially in January of 87. I made friends with a few folks by hanging out in the lobby of Sherman, playing cards and Trivial Pursuit. More importantly, though, I connected with John, Paul, and Will, initially as study buddies for our qualifying exams (the three of them did a better job of prepping that go-round—it’d be August before I passed them all). As the spring semester progressed, the four of us spent more time together, both for classwork and play. Paul (who was married, with two daughters) and Will had spent some time in the real world prior to pursuing a Ph.D., while John and I had come to Illinois straight from our undergraduate institutions. Come July, we were assigned an office together in a great location, the basement of the math building, where we stayed for the next five years.

Maybe soon after spring break, John, also a denizen of Sherman, began talking with me about sharing an apartment after the school year ended. He’d already committed to finding a place with Jim, a chemistry Ph.D. student and one of his suitemates, but they were interested in finding a third person to reduce costs. We found a reasonable three-bedroom about a mile east of campus, super-close to downtown Urbana, and moved there before the end of May.

Over that summer, John and I became better friends. We both enjoyed golf, though neither of us was especially good. He re-kindled my interest in baseball, introducing me to the work of Bill James and getting me up to speed about the players on his favorite team, the Cubs. We went in together on a Strat-o-Matic game. Since it had player cards from the 86 season, we recreated the epic Mets-Astros playoff series. I took the Astros, and that damned Lenny Dykstra played HR hero for John time and again, just as he had in real life.  (We also got on a bit of a baseball card jag that summer—the 87 Topps cards are the ones with the wood-like panel backgrounds.) When the July 4th weekend rolled around, he invited me to go with him to Chicago; John grew up there and had gone to DePaul prior to attending U of I.

I had a fabulous time. We stayed at his sister’s apartment on the South Side, not terribly far from Comiskey Park, and took the L to various points north each day. We hung out with a good number of his high school friends, including Bill, Rich, Alex, and Anna. One day we did The Taste of Chicago. On Saturday, July 4, I saw my first game at Wrigley Field. We had seats in the lower level, in foul territory down the left field line; Rick Sutcliffe pitched well, and the Cubbies beat the Giants, 5-3. John’s friends made me feel welcome, a part of the gang. I’ve always been appreciative of that, and most grateful to John for thinking to include me. In some ways, the previous year had been a lonely one (so-so academically, too)—definitely an adjustment period. Around this time I was finally beginning to get my feet under me, and those days in the Windy City were a big help.

This was my Summer of Suzy V. I’d fallen for Suzanne Vega’s debut toward the end of 86, and purchased Solitude Standing at Record Service the day it came out in late April. I threw it on my turntable as soon as I got back to the dorm. The opening a cappella “Tom’s Diner” struck me as interesting in a good way—certainly somewhat different from what I’d heard previously—but what followed 100% blew me away. I don’t know if I truly processed the child abuse-themed lyrics on first listen, but before it was two minutes in, two thoughts began running through my head: This is a hit record. Likely a big one. And It’s really good, too. I started telling friends, both in IL and KY, about it.

Within weeks I asked Will to transfer Suzanne Vega and Solitude Standing to a cassette so that I could listen to them in the car. I took it everywhere with me for months. My prediction of chart success for “Luka” became reality of a sort on 6/6, when it modestly announced its presence on the Hot 100 at #93. It immediately began a steady ascent up the charts. Checking weekly progress in Billboard at the Urbana Free Library, just a block from our apartment, became practically an obsession across the rest of the summer. That day we were at Wrigley was the first time Casey played it, at #37. I couldn’t be too disappointed with a #3 peak toward the end of August, blocked from further advance by Madonna and Los Lobos. It’s remained a favorite across the years.

That holiday weekend in Chicago, I learned from John’s friends that Vega would be in town in about ten days. I was immediately interested in attending.  Since the show would be mid-week, John didn’t feel he could attend, due to his teaching duties. I was taking a class that summer (French for Reading, to fulfill a foreign language requirement), but I was sure I could get by on short sleep for one night. I met Bill, Anna, and others in the Loop for dinner, and then we shuffled over to the Bismarck Theatre on Randolph (it’s now the Cadillac Palace Theatre) for the show. Our seats were in the upper balcony, maybe close to halfway back and towards the middle. There’s no record of what Vega and her band played that evening over at setlist.fm, but here’s one from the show she played in Cleveland just a few nights earlier. It sounds quite plausible to me, virtually everything from both albums, plus the exquisite “Left of Center.” My recollection is that she was awesome. It’s one of the few times I’ve bought a souvenir program at a concert.

Vega’s subsequent albums were always an automatic purchase. Among those, only 99.9° F wound up being elevated to my regular listening status, but many of the songs from across her career are still joys to hear.

I think it turned out to be a good, even an important, weekend for John as well. It wouldn’t be very long at all afterward that he and Anna, who was going to vet school at Urbana-Champaign, began dating.

Like A Garden In The Forest That The World Will Never See

Over the weekend I took some small steps in a gargantuan task—organizing and culling (with an emphasis on culling) artifacts from younger days. I’ve started by looking through a few bins that focus mainly on the college years. Do I still need notes I took in various classes in the mid 80s? Uh, no, though for the moment I’m holding on to the papers I wrote in my literature and history classes, as well as the various false starts that arose when I took creative writing. I’m trying to be a little deliberate in how I tackle the piles—there are definitely treasures amongst the debris.

A few items I came across had been misfiled—some from high school, some from grad school. One of the latter type is a piece of paper that clearly outlines the songs to go on a mix tape. I’ve written out the times for almost all of them and indicated what the order was to be. The only thing missing is the tape itself. James doesn’t think it’s one I sent to him—it’s certainly possible I shipped it off to another friend, or maybe it broke years ago (for a while I used some cheapie cassettes whose end pulled off the reel when the player finished with a side). I dunno.

The interesting thing to me now is that I listed only titles, not artists. Quite a few of the tracks are album cuts from stuff in my collection at the time, and many were immediately recognizable, such as songs from Dire Straits, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Pretenders, the Kinks, Heart, Peter Gabriel, and Tears for Fears (plus two each from R.E.M. and Talking Heads—I didn’t often duplicate artists on a tape). But I also saw songs listed that didn’t feel familiar at all. A little Internet sleuthing brought on a few “oh my” moments yesterday afternoon. Bear with me as I go on about four of them now.

The Outfield, “I Don’t Need Her”
Had completely forgotten about this one. It’s the third track on side one of Play Deep, coming right after “Say It Isn’t So” and “Your Love,” which certainly meant I heard it plenty back in college. Maybe “I Don’t Need Her” gets play somewhere, but not that I’ve noticed in over thirty years. It should.

 

INXS, “Biting Bullets”
The thing all these songs have in common is that they come from albums I didn’t (or couldn’t) re-purchase on CD. I’d gotten Listen Like Thieves during my last semester of college, while “What You Need” was blowing up the radio. “Biting Bullets” is a solid upbeat tune; glad to make its reacquaintance.

 

Big Country, “Just a Shadow”
I was mighty impressed with The Crossing, the debut album from Big Country, enough to buy Steeltown soon after it was released. Unfortunately, most of the songs on Steeltown just didn’t have the same strong sense of melody and hook as those on The Crossing, so I wound up not giving it that many listens. One of the exceptions was the closing tune, “Just a Shadow.” It spent a month on the UK charts in Jan/Feb of 85, reaching #26 there. I won’t let this one slip past me again.

 

Naked Eyes, “Once Is Enough”
Looks like five of the songs on this list came from cassettes I owned at the time (the ones whose exact times aren’t listed—see below). I did have a dual cassette player then, so I must have dubbed from them—going with something other than vinyl was also not a standard mix tape practice for me. Yet, I have the evidence I did it this time.

Like with Big Country, the follow-up release from Naked Eyes didn’t match up to the debut. But I thought the final song on side one of Fuel for the Fire was one of their very best. Somehow, “Once Is Enough” didn’t make the cut for either of the first two Naked Eyes compilations—that has to be how it’d slipped down my memory hole.

One of the things that Casey did on AT40 that I generally liked was his recitation of a song’s lyrics, often on the outro. It’s a practice I’m certain I emulated from time to time during my college radio days. While I don’t have any specific memory, I’d lay pretty good odds that I cited the line “Killing time can murder love” after playing “Once Is Enough” on WTLX in late 84 or early 85.

 

One other commonality I noticed while doing this writeup: all four of these acts have had one of its members pass away. John Spinks of the Outfield and Rob Fisher of Naked Eyes both died from cancer, while Michael Hutchence and Stuart Adamson’s deaths were ruled suicides. RIP to all.

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American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/10/76: Abba, “Mamma Mia”

At the end of April, Martha and I saw the annual musical production at Ben’s high school. Last year, I was greatly moved by their performance of Les Misérables; this time around, the director opted for a much lighter piece, one set in Greece with a mystery concerning the identity of the father of the bride: Mamma Mia! I’m not much of a movie-goer/watcher, so I haven’t seen Meryl, Pierce, and Amanda do their things. However, all I really needed to know as we plopped into our middle-back seats was that I would soon be hearing a cast of dozens serenading me with the sounds of my favorite Swedish musical act (sorry, Ace of Base and First Aid Kit).

It was a very good show. It didn’t (and couldn’t) have the emotional punch of Les Miz (“Slipping Through My Fingers” excepted, at least personally), but I enjoyed seeing the performers having such a great time. Most of the leads were seniors, now scattering across the state to share their talents (the young woman who played Donna will be going to my alma mater).

This was a bittersweet moment for the Cardinal Players in one major respect: since the high school will be split in two come August, Mamma Mia! represented perhaps the last mega-musical show at Scott County schools. The director addressed this head-on in remarks preceding the performance we saw. She was very positive, even inspirational, about it, emphasizing the increased opportunity for students to take on major roles and vowing that the two schools’ drama programs would support each other. Here’s hoping the community follows her lead.

“Mamma Mia” the song was an international smash beginning in the latter half of 75, hitting #1 in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and the UK, and making the top 10 in five other countries. As I’ve noted before, success elsewhere doesn’t automatically transfer to the U.S.: Abba is stuck at #32 in its fourth and final week on the countdown. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed pretty much every Abba single up through “Take a Chance on Me,” I have a bit of a hard time understanding why they weren’t making the Top 10 here every time.  (Maybe it’s just the song in this case: a cover of “Mamma Mia” at the end of the last century by another Swedish quartet, the A-Teens, also did very well around the world but not in the States.)

“Mamma Mia” is one of six songs spending its final week on AT40, and I noticed something about them after a longer look at this chart: they’re all at their peak position. (For the record, the other five are “Silver Star” by the Four Seasons at #38, “Good Vibrations” from Todd Rundgren at #34, “Somebody’s Gettin’ It” by Johnnie Taylor at #33, “Save Your Kisses for Me” courtesy of the Brotherhood of Man at #27, and Cyndi Grecco’s “Making Our Dreams Come True” at #25.)  Was this unusual when six or more songs dropped off? I decided to check it out, at least for the late 70s. (Apparently I don’t know yet if any chart matter from this era is too trivial to investigate—maybe I’ll fill you in should I find one.)

I’d already compiled a list of the weeks between 6/76 and 8/88 where there were six or more debuts, so it wasn’t too hard to look at the roughly four dozen cases covering the years 76 though 79. Among those, this is indeed the only such chart where (for such a large set of songs) all dropped off the Top 40 from their peak position.  While I didn’t go deeper than looking for a yes or no answer in each case, I did notice a couple of semi-interesting ones: 1) The set of droppers from the 6/4/77 show almost matched the 7/10/76 group, with five falling out from their peak–only “Lido Shuffle” had taken a tumble with the 40; 2) On the other extreme, the 7/24/76 droppers had come wafting gently down from high on the charts: they’d had peaks of #1, #2, #3, #4 (two), and #11.

So yes, this chart feat is at least rare when there are six or more on their way out. Unique for the Classic Casey era? A question for another day.

Forgotten Albums: Marshall Crenshaw, Good Evening

Late June of 89 found me back in Kentucky for several days. I had no teaching or class duties that summer, so there’s little doubt I would have headed home to see Dad for his birthday on the 25th, a Sunday. By the end of the following week, I was back on the road, but before returning to IL, I made a two-night stop in Louisville to see various friends.

Mark H and Lana had driven over from St. Louis for the weekend so that Lana could visit with family in the area; Mark broke away from that to hang out with me for a couple of days. Along the way, we met up with two of my long-time pen pals.  Becky still lived in town, in between her junior and senior years of college, so we got together with her one evening. The next day, we were with Kristine and her husband—by this point she was in vet school, spending the summer in Louisville doing training at a clinic. The four of us spent a muggy afternoon at Churchill Downs, where the highlight of my limited horse-betting career occurred. One race had a small field, five or six horses, one of which was a prohibitive favorite. Mark and I quickly calculated that if we bet on each of the other horses to win, we’d make okay money so long as any of those non-favorites crossed the line first. Needless to say, our gambit paid off—we’d have done better if we’d been disciplined enough not to make a couple of side bets, though.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at a record store, of course; it was that weekend that I learned Marshall Crenshaw’s fifth album, Good Evening, had hit the stores.  Mark always carried his boom box with him, so I got to listen to it in our hotel room the night I bought it.

I noticed two things right away. First, the title—was he telling fans this was the last record he was doing for Warner Bros? (It was, as it turned out.) Second, Crenshaw had a hand in writing a much lower percentage of the material on Good Evening (only 50%) than any other of his records. That also spoke to me of an unsettled situation with the suits—was the record company pushing that on him in hopes of spurring sales?

The production, from David Kershenbaum and Paul McKenna, is plenty slick, but I’ve wound up enjoying most of the songs on this album over the years. It’s time to take a listen to a few.

The opening track, “You Should’ve Been There,” got things off to a good start. It’s one of two songs on Good Evening that Crenshaw co-wrote with Leroy Preston, formerly of Asleep at the Wheel. And it’s got Wisconsin’s BoDeans doing backup vocals.

 

Crenshaw tended to have excellent taste in what he chose from other songwriters. Here’s “Valerie,” a fun Richard Thompson tune.

 

A  couple tracks later, we get some John Hiatt: “Someplace Where Love Won’t Find Me.”

 

On balance, it wasn’t a bad call to use outside material, as two of Marshall’s own contributions are my least favorite songs on the disk. However, he did write the very good “On the Run,” and he made a good call in playing it on Letterman (though I kinda doubt it happened in 91, since he released Life’s Too Short that year).

 

Whoop! Whoop! Danger, Will Harris, danger! We have a Diane Warren sighting! What did I say about good taste in choosing others’ songs? Here’s the most prominent signal of record label involvement on this project; I wonder if there were expectations of releasing it as a single. Actually, I think Marshall does a fine job with “Some Hearts”—certainly a hundred times better than Carrie Underwood did when she made it the title song of her first album.

It feels like many of my posts right now are circling around just a few artists. It’d be remiss of me not to mention that Syd Straw is one of the two female backup singers here.

 

Good Evening ends with my favorite, a cover of Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance.” Just a great, great tune, and Crenshaw does it complete justice. Twenty years later, it was fun to hear the original come on at the end of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. And somehow it took me all these years to learn that Phil Seymour has a cool version of it as well.

 

All told, Good Evening was not Crenshaw’s best, but there’s plenty worth hearing every so often.