American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/23/88: Steve Winwood, “Valerie”

The spring of 81 gets a lot of bad-mouthing on a message board devoted to all things old-school AT40 that I read frequently, largely because of the adult-contemporary turn the charts were taking around then. I have a much more positive feeling for that period, though, and there are many tunes from then that remain favorites. On the leading front of that wave was Steve Winwood’s “While You See a Chance,” which hit the last weekend of February.

At that point I doubt I was aware of Winwood’s storied history with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, and Blind Faith, though I’d learn soon enough. It’s his 80s output that means most to me. I really liked the follow-up single, “Arc of a Diver,” and thought highly of “Still in the Game” when it came out the following year, even if both of them stalled in the upper 40s on the Hot 100 (they each made my weekly Top 50 for a short while, as well). A couple of years later, I bought a cassette of the 82 release, Talking Back to the Night, and played it often enough that I still recognized most of the songs when listening again this past week. Aside from “Still in the Game,” the one that stood out was the lead track, “Valerie.” I know now that it made #70 at the end of 82 but I don’t believe I heard it then.

Winwood blew up in 86 with his next album, Back in the High Life, which came out right after I graduated from Transy. “Higher Love” is a legitimately great song, and the album earned basically all of its accolades. In late 87 came a retrospective, Chronicles. Even with a makeover, I immediately recognized the first single, deservedly a sizable hit this time (though honestly, I favor the original—they got a little too happy with the drum machine on the remix—so I’m embedding the 82 version). It’s down to #38 in this countdown, after peaking at #9.

Even though I bought Roll with It when it was released, my interest in keeping up with Winwood’s new music was then starting to wane. Its title track is the answer to a Casey Kasem fanatic’s trivia question, however—it was the last song Casey played on his original 18-year stint as the host of AT40 (#1 on 8/6/88).

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