American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/10/73: Jim Croce, “I Got a Name”

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” went to the top of the charts the summer I was 9 years old. The 45 wound up in our house at some point not long after (though it was a reissue, because the original flip side had been swapped out for a minor hit, the awesome “One Less Set of Footsteps”). Mom got after Amy and me for singing along loudly with the chorus, saying we shouldn’t be talking like that. “But Mom, what’s wrong with ‘baddest man in the whole downtown’?”

I was vaguely aware of Jim Croce’s death in a plane crash that September when it happened. I do recall watching his wife Ingrid accept some sort of posthumous recognition on an award show–I guess the Grammies–the following year. I’ve read that he was just about ready to give up the music biz when he died; while that still would have been a loss for us, I wish he’d had that chance to decide.

This uplifting, confident piece is my favorite Croce tune. Released (as fate would have it) as a single the day after his death, it reminds me that maybe, just maybe, I should get out and chase those dreams while I still can. It’s one spot short of its #10 peak.

SotD: Dire Straits, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Skateaway”

Sometime in 80 a new television subscription service came to the Cincinnati area. Called ONTV, they sent a scrambled signal over a UHF frequency (it was Channel 64 in Cincy). Their fare was mostly movies, a precursor of HBO. We had it for some period of time toward the end of my high school days; I remember watching stuff like The Warriors and Hooper on it. Cable pretty much wrecked their business model. I know my folks didn’t maintain it after they moved from Walton to Florence.

Between movies, ONTV often played music videos. That was how I first encountered these two gems, tracks 2 and 3 on the first side of Making Movies, perhaps Dire Straits’ magnum opus. I’ve seen “Skateaway” multiple times over the years on MTV and the like, but until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t caught the vid for “Romeo and Juliet” since, well, high school. I remembered the male lead strutting and snapping his fingers, but I’d forgotten that it wasn’t he going off into the distance at the end.

I can’t say either is great art–the conventions of the medium were still being set–but they both bring back strong, fond memories of hanging in my living room, waiting for the next flick to start.

From The Archives: Shillito’s Driving School

Yesterday my son passed the test that allows him to drive solo! While there are certainly plusses to gaining freedom from having to shuttle him places, it’s yet one more marker on his road to true independence. I hope he’ll still let me drive him places occasionally, even though he generally doesn’t talk all that much when we’re in the car together.

This got me to thinking about my own experiences before I got my license. I didn’t rush out for my permit the day I turned 16, but it was in my hands only 2-3 weeks later. Mom thought I should I have some lessons before taking the driving test, so she signed me up for Shillito’s Driving School at the Florence Mall (I guess department stores felt the need to be everything to everyone even back in 1980). Along with several other teens, I spent some of my Saturdays that March with a couple of instructors in a room somewhere in the dark recesses of the mall as they reviewed driving rules and statistics and showed us short films. We did go outside and get critiqued on our driving, too! Probably the most useful piece of the whole experience was being taken for a practice run on the route of the test. When I “graduated,” I got a report card–no mercy here!

ShillitosDrivingSchoolReportCard

I took the test in mid-April. Unlike some of my friends, I passed the first time, albeit with a 75, then the lowest possible passing score. Clearly, I had much to learn.

DrivingTestScore

I wrote an exaggerated version of my first session at Shillito’s for an English assignment several months later, at the beginning of my junior year. It’s not a great piece of writing; while I’m trying to be humorous, I go maybe just a little too hard at the older gentleman leading the class (I refer to him as dear old instructor, unsure tutor, old windbag, sluggish geezer, senile patriarch, and torpid ancient–all in 4.5 pages!). I guess it’s got its moments, but overall I’m too adjective- and simile-happy.

HowISurvivedDrivingSchool

I’ve had a very different relationship with cars from that of my father. He was very much about flash and speed, particularly in his bachelor days. Some of the stories he told make me think I’m lucky even to have been born (in particular, there’s the one about seeing how fast he could go at night on US 421 from Lexington toward Frankfort in his 48 Mercury, maybe without the headlights on?). I’ve always had a much, MUCH more utilitarian, practical, and calmer approach. Right now, I think that Ben’s more like me than he is my father. I just hope he’ll keep his head on straight, be careful, grow wise through experience without having expensive lessons, and most of all stay safe.

American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 5/12/84: Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time”

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 somewhat from the original.

I’ve mentioned previously that WTLX, the campus radio station at Transy, got a lot more active my sophomore year after my friend Kevin took over its reins. One of the more enjoyable things he, I and a couple of our friends did toward that end was go shopping three or so times each semester for 45s to add to the station’s collection. Our store of choice was Disc Jockey Records, which at the time was located in the Regency Center on Nicholasville Rd. in Lexington. The first few times we were there, in Fall 83, the manager gifted us with promotional copies of 2-3 albums, ones I presume he thought would be duds and hence not played over their in-house system.

However, he made a significant misjudgment regarding the two disks he passed on during one of our last visits that fall. One was Matthew Wilder’s I Don’t Speak The Language, which contained the top 5 hit “Break My Stride.”. It was just about to break out as we were given the LP, so it was easy to make it available for our jocks to play. The other freebie we got was one of the biggest sensations of 1984: Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual.

It’s maybe a little easy to understand why you would bet against this album’s success, much less it becoming a multimillion seller. Cyndi’s pose on the cover is awkward and looks contrived; it certainly doesn’t speak of lots of $ being invested. If you’d known her bio, you also might not think it’d be a hit, as relatively few artists first break through in their 30s. Nonetheless, she overcame whatever odds there were, and how. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was loopy but completely un-self-conscious and joyous (plus, I would argue that she transformed–much for the better–the meaning of Robert Hazard’s original). After it became clear that “GJWtHF” was going to be a big hit early in 84, I occasionally went down to the station when it was off the air to listen to the whole album. It sounded to me like there were other hits to be had, as indeed there were over the course of the year. I was pleased when they released my favorite, “All Through the Night,” and it made the top 5 in the fall.

But the emotional centerpiece and maybe the most influential track of SSU over the years–it’s charted four times as a cover–is “Time After Time.” It was probably important to have it be the second single, so as to try not to typecast Cyndi as that “Girl.” The song and the accompanying video gave us a different, more sympathetic perspective. I don’t think I’m making this up, but I could swear I first heard it in December of 83 on, of all stations, WKQQ (maybe that was a sign of the upcoming Lauper tsunami?). It’s #10 here, and it’s the first #1 hit to be featured in this series.

Oh, and I don’t think we ever got another promo LP from the manager at Disk Jockey.

SotD: Al Stewart, “Red Toupee”

I love it when you discover something new about a favorite musical artist.  It’s doubly good when your new info comes in connection with another artist or song you really like. One example from the 90s for me was learning that Kirsty MacColl sang backup on Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” and the Smiths’ “Ask” (she also wrote the former).  I had another experience of this type last week.

There’s no secret that I really liked Al Stewart in his commercial heyday of the late 70s. After 24 PCarrots and Indian Summer weren’t as successful in the early 80s, he was dropped by his major label and has since led an itinerant recording life. He put out only two more albums during the rest of the 80s: Russians and Americans in 84, and Last Days of the Century in 88. I picked up each of them soon after their releases. Russians never wound up in regular rotation for me, but Last Days has several tracks I still like rather well. Two stand above the rest. “Josephine Baker,” about the Jazz Age entertainer, is very sweet. Today’s song, light-hearted but super catchy, is the other one.

I hadn’t listened to “Red Toupee” for any number of years when, out of the blue, it came to mind this past Friday evening. Instant gratification was as easy as a YouTube search. I found it posted by someone with, of all names, Will Harris (not me, though!). There weren’t too many comments, but a couple of them mentioned that Tori Amos was singing backup on it.

Someday I’ll put together my big Tori Amos post, but suffice it to say for the moment that Little Earthquakes is likely on my list of Top 10 Favorite Albums. I checked my copy of Last Days, and sure enough, she’s credited. On “Red Toupee,” she’s one of three female backups; I have some trouble picking her voice out. However, she also appears on the title track, and there it’s absolutely clear it’s her.

No doubt this is not news to a number of folks, particularly Tori-philes. I’m often late to the party, but I’m glad to have finally showed up for this one.

Sixty Minute Tape, Song 7: Too Much Joy, “Crush Story”

Late in 2016, I posted on Facebook about the contents of a mix tape I put together sometime in early 92.  It’s the only sixty-minute tape of its kind in my collection.  I’ll be re-upping modified versions of those sixteen posts over the coming weeks.

I’ve mentioned before that my roommate for my final year at Illinois was Greg, an electrical engineering grad student. We had met in early 1990 and quickly found much common ground in our musical tastes. He had done some deejay work at WPGU, the station in town that played college rock, so he knew quite a bit about any number of artists. In 96, he was my best man. He introduced me to tons of music throughout the 90s, some of which (such as this fun tune) appeared on this tape.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/8/86: Howard Jones, “You Know I Love You… Don’t You?”

I was a big fan of Howard Jones from the start. The upbeat “New Song” and its more reflective follow-up, “What Is Love?” in the spring and summer of 84 were among my favorites for the year–I wasn’t buying as many 45s by this time but I had gone out and grabbed both. My friend Mark bought Human’s Lib on cassette, which allowed me to get familiar with other tracks. The following year I got Dream into Action shortly after hearing “Things Can Only Get Better.” My favorite from that one was probably “Like to Get to Know You Well;” I was a little disappointed that it only reached #49 when it was released as Dream’s third single (it was also on the Better Off Dead soundtrack).

Just as “Know You Well” was on the charts, mid-October 85, I saw HJ in concert. I went with college friends (and friends of theirs) on a Friday evening to Morehead, KY, where he was playing the basketball arena on the campus of the regional state university there; we were on the floor, in the middle, maybe twenty rows back. Truth be told, I went as much for the opening act–Marshall Crenshaw!–as for Howard. MC had just released Downtown, my second favorite of his albums. He opened with “Someday, Someway,” a “Remember me? I did this one” moment if ever I heard one. Marshall did great, though; I regret that it’s the only time I’ve seen him live.

After a bit of a wait for the transition, Howard came out. As you’d expect, he played a mix of cuts from his two albums, although (I don’t think this is revisionist) something just seemed a bit off. Maybe he’d had a bad day, maybe the stage set-up wasn’t quite right, maybe the front row was a bit raucous, but HJ was a little snippy. Things came to a head during “Hide and Seek,” a quiet (and clearly personal) piece from Human’s Lib. I guess whoever wouldn’t shut up in the front was too much for him, because he stopped once, re-started, then shut it down a second and final time, letting the audience know both times that he couldn’t play that song with such a nearby disturbance. He moved on and did the rest of the show, but I’m thinking that there was no encore.

At the time, I thought he was being too much the sensitive artist, and it actually had at least some impact on how much I dug his music going forward. On the other hand, I was too far away from the action to know what really happened–maybe I’m the one who overreacted. It’s the only time I’ve seen anything remotely like that happen in a show, though.

A year later, he released One to One; this, debuting here at #39 and peaking at #17, was its only AT40 hit. It’s a nice one, though I’d rank it below his other singles up to that point. He hit the charts a couple more times afterward, into the early 90s. He’s still active, occasionally recording and performing.

I think this post has turned out to be more of a downer than I intended, so let me try to end on a more uplifting note.  Listening to this countdown on Saturday afternoon, Casey teased a Long Distance Dedication by saying it was going to be from a woman in Colorado to a British artist whose music had helped her through a tough time.  My immediate intuition was that she was talking about HJ, and indeed, the dedication was “Life in One Day,” to him.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/7/70: R. Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me”

Martha remembers hearing this on the radio when she was young. I don’t–in fact, I think that I really became acquainted with it only in the last decade or so. Perhaps the fact that she grew up in the Hoosier State made it more memorable for her?

I like the song (at its peak of #5 here) quite a bit, but must confess I have a hard time with the underlying cause for our narrator going on the lam. “If a man ever needed dyin’, he did/No one had the right to say what he said about you.” And now he misses her? Maybe he could’ve thought about that before committing murder over an insult?

The version played here, with the sirens at the intro, was taken off the radio because too many motorists thought a police car was coming up behind them. It’s still able to fool: when it comes on now at our house, our dog Buddy’s been known perk up his ears and get ready to howl mournfully, just like when he’s caught outside with ambulances and fire trucks going down the main drag that’s about a half-mile from our house.

SotD: Cindy Lee Berryhill, “She Had Everything”

The impetus for this blog was a conversation I had over lunch back in July. My dear college friend Judy teaches English at another institution of higher learning here in KY, about ninety minutes away from me; the last three years we’ve made a point to meet over a meal sometime during the summer months. This year we did Mexican in Danville and followed up with some ice cream at DQ.

Toward the end of our chat, we discussed writing, particularly my interest in creating what I called “pseudo-memoir.” I’d been creeping toward this in some of my Facebook posts over the previous year.  We wondered if FB really was the right venue for such a thing, and Judy asked, “What about a blog?”

The idea clearly resonated, because less than 24 hours later, my first four posts were up.

Earlier we’d talked about a tape I made and sent Judy back in the late 80s. It featured several female artists, I believe with three or so tracks from each. I remembered I put Basia, Jane Siberry, and Sinead O’Connor on there, but Judy reminded me about one I’d completely forgotten: Cindy Lee Berryhill.

I first encountered Ms. Berryhill on the 1988 Rhino CD compilation Don’t Read While You Listen! (which features this classic as a hidden track). She piqued my interest enough to rescue her debut disk Who’s Gonna Save The World? from a cutout bin soon afterward. Today’s song is World’s lead track. It’s probably been 25 years or more since I listened to it with any frequency, but it’s a good one.

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve wanted to write these past three-plus months, but ideas have kept popping into my head. You helped create a bit of a monster, Judy, but I’m most grateful!

American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 3/20/76: Melissa Manchester, “Just You and I”

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 somewhat from the original.

In early June of 2012 I started listening regularly to AT40 rebroadcasts on terrestrial radio stations. At first it was just the 1970s shows on WWRW in Lexington but over time I’ve found via the TuneIn app a number of stations from literally around the globe on which I can hear both 70s and 80s shows.  Now I most often listen to WTOJ (Watertown, NY), KCPI (Albert Lea, MN), KOKZ (Waterloo, IA), KZOY (Sioux Fall, SD), KWVF (Santa Rosa, CA), CHNS (Halifax, NS), CKWW (Windsor, Ont), and KLFM (Bendigo, Victoria, Australia). One of the nicest features for me about catching shows from the first half or so of the 70s is that I’ve been introduced to lots of tunes I don’t remember from back in the day.

I was a big fan of Melissa Manchester’s “Midnight Blue” in the summer of 75. She made the top 10 two other times but also scored a number of minor hits. One of them, at its peak position of #27 here, is one of those songs I don’t know that I’ve heard outside of February/March 76 rebroadcasts. It’s very, very nice.