American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/17/79: Kermit the Frog, “Rainbow Connection”

This week I’ve seen several places around the Web noting that this past Sunday was the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street’s television debut. I was attending a half-day kindergarten at Lancaster Presbyterian Church in late 69; I don’t know how long it took for me to begin watching Sesame Street, but I’ll bet my mother tuned it in for my sister and me before too many months passed by. While I was more of a fan of The Electric Company, thinking back I remember plenty of scenes and plenty of characters, both Muppet and human:

–Bert’s constant exasperation with Ernie (one Christmas, Amy and I got Ernie and Burt puppets—true to our relative natures, the Bert was mine);
–a skit that incorporated the Association’s “Windy” (though contrary to the lyrics, I thought it was ‘Wendy’  back then);
–the change in actors who played Gordon;
–dear, dear Grover, the Muppet I liked best (a favorite book from those years was The Monster at the End of This Book);
–Amy’s year-end play in kindergarten, in the spring of 71, was a collection of Sesame Street skits and songs—she took part in singing “I Love Trash.”

I was just starting 7th grade when The Muppet Show made its debut in the fall of 76, and it became regular viewing during the junior high and early high school years. Though I’d always liked Kermit, those weekly visits to the Muppet Theatre solidified his stature in my eyes. 

When The Muppet Movie came out in 79, I was 15, and perhaps I thought I was just a little too cool then to go see it at the theater. I wasn’t unhappy when “Rainbow Connection” debuted on AT40 that October, though; it’s a beautiful song, written and sung from the heart. We’re hearing it at #26 on this show, one spot away from its peak.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/13/76: Walter Murphy and ??, “A Fifth of Beethoven”

One of the many things that makes listening again to AT40 shows from my chart-keeping years such an incredible treat is I get a chance to pick up on facts and tales I missed back in the day. Occasionally, though, I discover that a closer listen and a closer look reveal that maybe I had been paying some attention after all.

I’ve been listening to rebroadcasts since the summer of 2012, but I think it’s just been the last couple of years that I’ve noticed in July-Nov 76 shows what Casey called the act performing this show’s #21 song: the Walter Murphy Band. This has been jarring to me, being that I’d bought the 45 in its heyday:

Assuming Casey never uttered “and the Big Apple” during “A Fifth of Beethoven”‘s 22-week chart-topping ride, my charts point to when I bought the single: ‘The Big Apple Band’ first appears on my 8/28/76 chart, the eighth time it was played. I’m not quite consistent thereafter, though–it’s just the Walter Murphy Band on 10/16 and 11/27 (I was clearly paying attention to what Kasem was saying on those two occasions).

This week I’ve been pondering the discrepancy. I put a question about it on the AT40 Fun and Games message board, looked at my Whitburn, and performed a modicum of internet sleuthing (often Wikipedia, I confess). I don’t have a completely clear picture of what happened, but here are some things that seem to be the case:
–The idea for the BAB name came via Private Stock, Murphy’s recording label;
–There was another band in New York with that name at the moment;
–“Flight ’76,” the follow-up single, is listed in Whitburn as by the Walter Murphy Band;
–On the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, “A Fifth of Beethoven” is credited simply to Walter Murphy.

The most likely scenario is that BAB got pulled from the name after Private Stock discovered the existence of the other group. Maybe word about that reached the AT40 staff by the time the song hit the show? Regardless, Private Stock didn’t seem to stop from pressing singles with BAB on the label–a search on eBay reveals a few dozen on offer even as I write, with a variety of font types and sizes (indicating multiple pressings, I presume).

Two postscripts:
1) After “A Fifth of Beethoven” fell off the show, Casey had reason to spin it twice more: on 1/1/77, at #10 on the Top 100 of 76, and on 12/15/79, as part of the “#1’s of the 70s” series. I took at look at the cue sheets, available via Charis Music Group. The 79 sheets do actually reference the Big Apple Band.

2) Oh, and that other Big Apple Band? They changed their name right around the time “A Fifth of Beethoven” became a hit, though I’m not absolutely certain it was in response to that. Managed a few big hits not long after–you might’ve heard of ’em.

What Else Do I Have To Say?

It’s getting close to the end of my review of music of 89. Part of that has been taking a peek at the Hot 100 at the midpoint of each quarter of the year (here are the reviews of 2/18, 5/13, and 8/12). There have been a number of gems, but I’ve been regularly reminded how grim things could be, too; I definitely can see why I was drifting away from the Top 40 scene. We’re completing the exercise today by taking a gander at one-fifth of the 11/11/89 chart.

100. Martika, “I Feel the Earth Move”
Bad and/or pointless remakes are a recurring theme this go-round. The idea of remaking this Carole King classic may be rooted in the success of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” but it was neither as synthed up nor as successful (it had reached #25).

90. Tracy Chapman, “Crossroads”
The title track of Chapman’s follow-up to her critically and commercially successful debut LP. Overall it was a classic case of the sophomore slump, though it’s better than most of the crap on this chart. This was its peak.

73. White Lion, “Radar Love”
See #100 above–I don’t know if this is bad, but it sure is pointless. The public wasn’t having any of it, either, as it had already topped out at #59.

64. Tom Petty, “Free Fallin'”
Including footage of the lead actress rather meekly skateboarding the half-pipe toward the end of the video always seemed like an odd directorial choice to me, especially since they show the guys all catching air. What gives–why show that contrast?

Excluding his duet with Stevie, this is highest a Petty-sung single ever got–it’s on its way to #7.

56. Michael Bolton, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”
Another awful remake, this time by the song’s writer. I wasn’t a fan of the Laura Branigan version, even before I kept hearing it during a not-very-good time in my life. Bolton’s take, which went all the way to the top, sends me up a wall every time I accidentally hear it.

Bolton is almost certainly my least favorite act ever to have seen live–he opened for Heart when John, Ann, and I went to see them at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in the late 80s.

55. Madonna, “Oh Father”
Even though this broke Madonna’s streak of 16 consecutive Top 5 singles (it peaked at #20), I’m inclined to rank it among my five favorites of hers (along with “Borderline,” “Into the Groove,” “Live to Tell,” and “Like a Prayer,” if you must know). I’d guess many of us have events from our youths that shaped everything that came afterward (I know I do). Madonna makes it clear here what that was for her.

48. Eurythmics, “Don’t Ask Me Why”
Things went sideways commercially for Dave and Annie pretty quickly after their brilliant 85 release Be Yourself Tonight, scoring just two more Top 40 singles. One of them was “Don’t Ask Me Why,” which had sneaked it at #40 the previous week. I don’t know that I heard it back in 89, but it’s a keeper.

40. Tesla, “Love Song”
Mentioning this one mainly to point out it’s not the only song with this title in the Top 40–the Cure are still hanging in there at #34. To be honest, I’d always assumed this was called “Love Will Find a Way”–I didn’t care for it enough to try to disabuse myself of the mis-impression. Their other big hit was a cover of “Signs.” You probably can guess what word springs to my mind about it.

37. Technotronic, “Pump Up the Jam”
One of a few club songs from this period that really broke through, at least into my consciousness. I like “Groove Is in the Heart” and the scorching hot “Gonna Make You Sweat” (both from about a year later) better, but I definitely get why this was a big hit, climbing all the way to #2.

33. Phil Collins, “Another Day in Paradise”
The first single from Phil’s last massive seller, …But Seriously. Probably too earnest by a fair amount, yet I’ll still give him a little credit for the effort. On its way to #1, of course.

28. 2 Live Crew, “Me So Horny”
I was well aware of the controversy surrounding As Nasty As They Wanna Be at the time, but I sure didn’t hear this song much. It’d get only two spots higher, but it hung around the Hot 100 for almost five more months.

22. Poco, “Call It Love”
The third and final time Poco made the Top 40, this time after a nine ten-year absence. One of the better songs to be found on this chart, though the video’s director went a wee bit overboard with all the carefully-selected, sculpted bods–everybody is not a supermodel, especially on a hot, summer day.

18. Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville, “Don’t Know Much”
When I first saw the title of this song, I imagined it being a rocker (maybe the album’s title–Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind–encouraged that thought). If I’d paid any attention to who Linda’s duet partner was, I wouldn’t have made that mistake. “Don’t Know Much” would climb to #2 and was Ronstadt’s last Top 10 hit.

15. Young M.C., “Bust a Move”
You could not escape this song on MTV for a couple of years. Already heading down from a #7 peak, it’s another that hung around the Hot 100 for many more months. I’ll take this over either of Tone Loc’s big hits.

14. Alice Cooper, “Poison”
Alice had just two Top 40 hits in the 80s, one in 80, and this one in 89. I’m much more inclined toward “(We’re All) Clones.” Yet another one that got to #7.

13. Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
The song is good enough, but I’m a huge fan of the video. Love the care taken in assembling artifacts from the 50s and 60s, and focusing on the kitchen–nerve center of the home–from those decades and beyond was a brilliant move.

My grandparents had a coffee table book, The Best of Life, featuring hundreds of photos from the first 36 years of Life magazine. I would regularly thumb through it on visits to their farmhouse; a number of the pix made quite an impression. Joel used a couple of the hardest to look at from that collection–the lynching of a black man and the execution of a Vietnamese soldier. Exploitation? Maybe, but because I knew their source, they definitely spoke to me.

9. Delfonics, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)”
Amazing to think that this R&B classic, one I loved from the moment I discovered it on the first K-Tel record to enter our home, made a smashing comeback almost twenty years later. Wait…you mean it’s really an utterly soulless cover from New Kids on the Block in this spot? And it peaked at #8, two spots higher than the original? Screw that.

6. B-52’s , “Love Shack”
Soon to be #3. An incredible shame that further advance was repelled by Milli Vanilli and Bad English.

2. Roxette, “Listen to Your Heart”
Last week’s #1. I’m not a big ballad guy generally, but this is pretty good, certainly tons better than what comes next.

1. Bad English, “When I See You Smile”
I’ve surveyed four charts from 89 this year, and the top songs have been by Paula Abdul, Bon Jovi, Richard Marx, and now a Frankengroup fashioned from the dessicated husks of Journey and the Babys. I like “Straight Up,” but the other three form a pretty sad lot.

Will I continue looking at Hot 100s of 30 years ago come February? My Magic 8 Ball’s response is “OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.” Guess we’ll know for certain in three months…

Die Mauern fielen nieder

I’ve not paid much attention to newsworthy events from thirty years ago in my Destination 89 series; today I’m atoning. The fall of the Berlin Wall, on 11/9/89, was among the most memorable geopolitical events of my grad school years (others included the rise and crushing of dissent in Tiananmen Square, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War, and the end of the Soviet Union/Cold War). The Wall existed in some form or fashion for a little over 28 years; it was early February of 2018 when the moment passed that it’d been down for as long as it had stood. I’m not nearly enough of a student of history to discuss the proximate or long-term reasons for why it happened at that particular moment in time. But what strikes me now is how suddenly it seemed to occur (though I recognize my distance insulated me from having to be aware of developments) and how a world with two Germanys, the only one I’d known, disappeared in an instant. Meaningful change is by no means always gradual.

Martha has been to Berlin four times, twice before 89 and twice after. Here are some pix.

The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic sites, sitting adjacent to the Reichstag. Here are two views when Martha was there in 1983 with a few college classmates on a class trip at the end of her junior year.

They were able to take the subway over to the East side. Here, she’s standing at some sort of barrier, as close as she was able to go. You can see the Wall on the other side of the gate.

The view from the West–there’s a short fence in front of the graffiti-riddled Wall.

And here are analogous photos I took in late June of 17:

You can see bricks in the road marking where the Wall once stood in this one. It’s remarkable to me to think how effortless it was to pass through the Gate and to visit the Reichstag, given how it was in the mid 80s.

Martha was back in Berlin in 85, during her yearlong stay in Hamburg after finishing college. This photo was taken in March on the West side (note the sign warning not to advance into the “no-man’s land”); she was en route to the airport in East Berlin, where she would take off to Moscow (a story for another day).

Not much of the Wall remains. One of the places we visited was the East Side Gallery, where they’ve turned still-standing segments into murals.

Rather than try to make some grand statement about the ultimate futility of walls myself, I’ll let a couple of songs do the talking, even if they’re not from the latter part of 89.

 

10/15/77, 10/30/82, and 11/11/78 Charts

As noted on Tuesday, I allowed myself to get derailed in my chart-keeping for the remainder of 77 when I broke my wrist on 11/5. Three weeks earlier, I’d switched to putting all 40 songs on a single page for the first time–those three charts became essentially a prototype for what I did through all of 78.

Don’t know why I wasn’t up on the name of Donna’s album (I Remember Yesterday). Apparently I decided that ten lines was too much space for the Top 10 to consume when I got back to organized charting at the beginning of 78–I clearly needed some space for extras, etc.

New potential ongoing feature: Hello/Goodbye, in which we check for acts either in their first or final week ever on AT40. No hellos on this one, but we are saying goodbye to Ted Nugent as a solo act–he’d be back in thirteen years as lead axeman for Damn Yankees.

If we’re at the end of 82, then all I have is to share is my own personal ranking of the hits of the day:

Several holdovers that had already fallen off of the real 40: Randy Meisner, Kim Wilde, .38 Special, and Billy Idol. Usually a big ON-J fan, but “Heart Attack” is probably the song of hers I like least. Frey was just about to knock his former Eagle buddy off his perch.

Lastly, this past weekend’s 78 show:

I’m amused that I first thought Joel’s new single was called “High Life.” I sure wish I hadn’t crammed all the extras and #1’s of the 70s into those tiny boxes–clearly, I had plenty of room! Missing is the LDD from the 4th hour: “Easy.”

This show is Donna Summer’s first turn ever at #1–over the following thirteen months, she’d accumulate twelve more weeks in that spot.

Hello/Goodbye: Seven songs are about to depart, but only John Paul Young would never return. And even though its members had played on various hits to this point, we’re getting Toto as an entity unto itself for the first time.

SotD: The Carpenters, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”

Like just about every kid, I had bumps and bruises, scrapes and scabs growing up. I was pretty fast and loved to race, but otherwise wasn’t athletic or especially coordinated. There were a goodly number of children within a year or two of me in our neighborhood, our back yard was large, and my grandparents lived on a small farm about ten miles away—it feels like I was outdoors plenty, especially in my pre-high school years. With that, though, always comes the risk of getting hurt.

I can think of a couple of incidents where I completely lucked out in avoiding serious injury. Our house was close to the corner of Bedinger Ave. and Plum St.; Plum ran entirely downhill. One summer afternoon not too long after we moved to Walton—let’s say it was in 73, which would have made me 9 years old—I was riding my one-speed red bicycle down Plum. At the bottom was a dead end into a grassy field, with a sharp right onto Catalina Dr. Whether out of a sense of adventure or recklessness (or both), I found myself going too fast to take the turn or stop. As I left the street, my bike and I turned a somersault through the air. The bike and I separated, and I landed on my back. After a few seconds of verifying there were no major issues, I sprung up and slowly wheeled my bike up the hill. I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, of course.

A second close call happened a year or two later, at my grandparents’ farm in Union. They let a local farmer keep cows in one of their fields, and the loft in the barn was used for storing hay. My cousin Alan also lived close by, and there were several occasions when he would be out there at the same time as my sister and I. One time when the three of us found ourselves at loose ends, we climbed up into the loft, which had a trap door near the center of the floor. We discovered the door open and began horsing around, pretending to push one another toward the hole. Except that Amy and Alan took it a little too far with me. Down I went; I tried to grab onto the floor as I sailed through, but that just altered my momentum enough to land on my back hard on the packed dirt floor. Again, I was able to get up and walk away with nothing more than some soreness. That was the end of playing in the loft, though I don’t think we got in particular trouble over it.

My luck ran out 42 years ago today. I’ve mentioned a time or two before that I suffered a broken left wrist on 11/5/77, but to date I’ve elided exactly how it happened. Today you get the embarrassing details. 

My sister had turned 12 about a month earlier; it could be that one of her gifts that year was a skateboard (she was the family athlete)—regardless, Amy and at least one friend from down the street had one by this point. That Saturday was a warm and cloudy day, and a few of us wound up in my next-door neighbor’s driveway with the skateboards. One thing led to another and, in spite of my inexperience, I found myself standing on two skateboards, one for each foot. Boards started rolling, balance got lost, I fell backward and tried to brace my fall—you can tell how this story ends. 

Mom was soon apprised of my mischief, and off we took to Covington (the hospitals hadn’t migrated away from the river yet). It took quite a while, but eventually an x-ray confirmed what was obvious (waiting for the orthopedist, another doctor sauntered by, lifted my arm, and muttered, “Yes, it’s broken,” before wandering off). Fortunately, it was a clean break, so I was casted for the minimum time, about four weeks. I kept the cast, full of autographs from my classmates, for many more years than I should have.

Since it was Saturday, I had an AT40 to catch at 8pm; we made it home in time. I’d started a new chart design three weeks earlier (you’ll see one of those later in the week), but that got cast aside (no pun intended) that evening. Apparently there was time enough to sit in front of the typewriter in our basement before Casey came on:

As I noted when I first wrote about this experience, the song that always springs to mind was that show’s opener, the penultimate trip to the show by the Carpenters. We’ll mark the anniversary of my folly with the full seven-plus minute LP version. 

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/11/78: Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg, “The Power of Gold”

Our Christmas gift to each other in 2004 was an iPod, fourth generation, I think. A few months earlier, I’d begun collecting CDs that contained my “original forty,” the songs appearing on the 6/5/76 countdown; the last few were painfully obtained via our new iTunes account, over a non-broadband internet connection in our apartment in Ithaca, NY. As I’ve mentioned previously, afterward I began eyeing other shows to re-assemble. Over the course of roughly the next five years, a total of thirty-two collections, covering a ten-year span from June 76 to May 86, were loaded onto that iPod. For the remotely interested, here they are:

19766/5, 10/2
19771/29, 5/7, 7/30, 11/5
19781/28,4/29, 11/11
19794/7, 8/25, 11/10
19804/12, 8/30, 12/6
19814/18, 7/18, 10/3
19821/23, 6/5, 9/4, 11/13
19833/5, 5/7
19841/21, 4/21, 10/20
19852/2, 5/18, 8/24
19861/18, 5/24

There were at least five or six more 40s I assembled a little later on that don’t appear in that table–they wound up on an iPad 2.

Not all the sets listed above have (or can) be rebroadcast by Premiere. 4/7/79 was guest-hosted, and 10/2/76 featured “The 40 Biggest Hits of the Beatles Years.” I haven’t heard all of the other thirty since I started listening to the rebroadcasts, but this is the weekend that the last of them, 11/11/78, finally gets its first turn in the spotlight.

What were my reasons for picking the weeks I did? Sometimes it was a matter of whether all the songs were available digitally; others were chosen because of a specific subset of tunes I liked. A decade-plus out, I can only guess now the exact reasons for 11/11/78’s inclusion, but it’s very likely the combination of excellent tracks we hear in the show’s first hour: “Like a Sunday in Salem,” “Talking in Your Sleep,” “It’s a Laugh,” and perhaps best of all, “The Power of Gold.” The future #24 song, at #32 in its second week on the show, was probably my introduction to Fogelberg’s work.