American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/19/77: Natalie Cole, “I’ve Got Love on My Mind”

I started paying closer attention to AT40 in March 76, after I figured out that the shows ran Sunday evenings at 6pm on 1360 WSAI. One of the songs I remember Casey playing at that time was “Inseparable,” by Natalie Cole, though just weeks later I wouldn’t have been able to say much about it other than it was a ballad. I’d also missed out on the peppy “This Will Be (an Everlasting Love)” in late 75, but became well familiar with the other pop hits she had through my middle/high school years and in her post-rehab comeback while I was in grad school.

There’s not too much that excites me from her latter period; plenty of folks were creeped out by/against the idea of her singing “Unforgettable” alongside her father’s ghost, but I thought it sounded pretty good and was a sweet tribute. As for the earlier stuff, the two I like the best are the funky “Sophisticated Lady (She’s a Different Lady)” and this week’s feature. “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” is just drop-dead gorgeous, and Natalie displays such a range of emotions and vocal stylings in singing it. It’s at #14 and got to #5, tied for her highest pop peak position (with “Pink Cadillac,” which happens to be on the 88 show also being broadcast this weekend). As much as I love Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” there’s no way it should have beaten “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” for the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy in 78 (to be honest, though, I wouldn’t have felt that way forty years ago).

Semi-interesting thing I learned this week: Natalie’s first five pop hits (and a sizable majority of the songs on her first four albums) were written by Marvin Yancy and Chuck Jackson, formerly of the Independents, who scored a modest hit with the very fine “Leaving Me” in 73. Yancy was also Cole’s first husband, from 76 to 80.

Natalie’s passing on New Year’s Eve 2015 seemed to set off a wave of musical deaths. She had talent and did some very nice work; I’m sorry her addiction issues wound up shortening her years.

American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 6/6/87: Pseudo Echo, “Funkytown”

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.

The original version, by Lipps Inc., was #1 for four weeks, one of which was exactly seven years previous to this countdown.   The cover, by an Australian quartet, was their single splash on the US Top 40.  I liked both takes pretty well.  This version got to #6–it’s debuting here at #36.  Have to say there’s not much to the video–I’m wondering if the bass player is really a musician or just bad at play-acting.

 

3/10/79 and 3/1/80 Charts

Here’s an idea of what my 79 and 80 charts looked like. First up, this past weekend’s 3/10/79 show:

The names of artists who were new to the chart were known to befuddle me; I clearly didn’t always understand what Casey was saying. Here, I botched Giorgio Moroder, Sister Sledge, and Bell and James (looks like I ultimately decided James was a first, not a last name).

At the beginning of 79, I started at the bottom of page two, worked my way up and then to the front. As you can see, I inserted extras, LDDs, and archive #1 songs where they were played in the show. That regularly left blank lines at the top of the front page, as I couldn’t know how many extra songs would be played (this was especially true early in the year, before they started recapping the top three from the previous week). About halfway through the year, I began dedicating the top twenty lines of each side to the forty songs charting that week, leaving the other tunes played to live at the bottom. The only period in my chart-keeping that I consistently used cursive was March through December of 79.

And here’s 3/1/80 from the previous weekend’s 80s show:

AT40030180

This time I goofed up on Syreeta Wright. Ugh! (I did ace Christopher Cross, however–insert smiley emoji.) It appears I first wrote down Linda Ronstadt as singing “An American Dream.” (Did Casey mention she was doing back-up before he played it on this show? That might explain my carelessness.) I also first claimed that John Stewart sang “I’m Sorry.” Definitely was off my game…

80 was the year I used yellow legal paper (it’s more yellow in real life than it looks here). Stylistically it’s similar to the 78 charts, getting everything on one side of a sheet. I changed things up a bit at mid-year again, rearranging to allow the top 20 songs to each get their own line.

As far as predictions go, I was pretty bad in 79 and a little better in 80 (got all of the top 5 plus several others).

 

 

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/8/86: Starship, “Sara”

There was this thing in the mid-80s in Kentucky called the Governor’s Sweet 16, a series of academic competitions broadly patterned after the state boys’ and girls’ basketball championships.* They were held in a variety of subjects, one of which was computer programming. Dr. Miller, my advisor, wound up as one of the primary organizers. In early 86, he recruited the computer science majors at Transy, including me, to help with both the regional and final competitions.

These sorts of events began being held after I’d already graduated from HS, so I’m not totally clear on how they were set up. I’m pretty sure, though, that there were four regionals held around the state, with the top four finishers advancing to the finals. I helped with two, maybe three, of them that winter. Generally we were up before dawn on Saturday morning, loading up vans with bulky PCs and the other necessary equipment. Once on site, we had to set them up and test them before competing teams arrived. During the competition itself, we were mainly gofers, and afterward, it was up to us to do everything in reverse. One of the regionals I attended—maybe at Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green—required an overnight stay.

The finals were held at Transy, in mid-March, toward the end of spring break. Dr. Miller twisted enough of our arms to give up part of our week to come back and help (he had a way of making it hard to say no). I have this vague memory of somewhat serious glitches arising during the competition, but I assume in the end a victor was crowned. After it was over, James, Suzanne, Michelle, and I (CS majors all, three of us seniors), headed south to hike around Cumberland Falls State Park. I’m pretty sure it was on that trip that I first heard Miss Jackson sing “What Have You Done for Me Lately.”

But that’s not in the show this week. Up near the top (at #2—it’d be #1 on the following countdown), though, is a song I see myself hearing (if that makes any sense) on that foray to WKU. Seems like several of us were staying in a suite of some sort on campus. Don’t know now if it was on radio or MTV in that place, but “Sara” is in my head when I think back to it.

I’ll be somewhat contrarian here and claim I find “We Built This City” and “Sara” are both enjoyable listens (maybe guilty pleasures is more accurate). I won’t say that for much else of Starship’s output—“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” their other #1, I know find particularly soulless. Mickey Thomas sure moved far away from singing songs like “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and “Jane.”

*We don’t really do classifications in hoops in our commonwealth—at the end of the season all the schools in the state compete for a single trophy. One school emerges from each of sixteen Regions to play in “The Sweet 16,” which takes place over five days. Some while back, they did create a statewide, mid-season tournament for smaller schools, “The All A Classic,” to give them a greater chance at glory.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/10/79: Sister Sledge, “He’s the Greatest Dancer”

My 9th grade Health & PE teacher was Ms. Ryan (she was also sponsor for the cheerleaders and coach for the softball and girls’ track teams during my high school years). That spring, with the birth of her first child fast approaching, we got a long-term sub/student teacher, a young woman whose name I’ve long forgotten. What I do recall about her is the disco line dancing she taught us.

We spent a few weeks of our PE time in March and/or April on this effort; I guess it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to do as far as aerobic exercise goes (it does make me think she may have spent some of her evenings at nightclubs). I didn’t pay too much attention to the names of the dances we learned, but I know we did some variation of the thing from Saturday Night Fever (finger points and all), and it could well be we tried to tackle the Bus Stop. “YMCA” was all the rage right at this time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we spelled that out as part of it all, too.

Spring 79 was close to the perfect time for this sort of activity. While disco music had been around for over four years at this point and had spawned many musical careers, movies like SNF and Thank God It’s Friday had catapulted it to near ubiquity. (Casey says on this show that there are 13 disco songs on it, to that point an all-time high.) It wouldn’t be long before the scene started sinking under its own weight, however.  The backlash came swiftly, and with a vengeance; Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago was just a few months away, and soon adult contemporary, country, and even a little new wave ruled the charts. It would have been unfathomably uncool to learn those moves just a year later.

I don’t remember to which songs we boogied down, but this dynamite groove from Sister Sledge would have been an excellent choice. The four siblings (Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy, who’s singing lead) from Philly caught their big break when Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic took an interest in them; their first two albums had stiffed. While “We Are Family” is forever their most-noted song, I’ve always liked this one better, even if the lyrics are an ode to superficial attraction. It’s debuting at #38, just ahead of Chic’s “I Want Your Love”—two slinky, fantastic bass lines from Edwards back-to-back!—and it got to #9. Sorry that the sound quality in the video isn’t all that good, but at least we get to see some fine moves from the era. As it turns out, today is the first anniversary of Joni’s death.

Ms. Ryan is still part of the Walton community and remains much beloved. Amazing to me to think that the baby boy she had that spring is now almost 39.

Anything I Can To Get By

Lori McKenna has released eight or so albums since 2000. Her star as a songwriter is ascendant: she co-wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” has solo writing credit for Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” and has been winning CMA awards and Grammies for her writing over the last three years.

“Fireflies” became the best-known song from Respond after it appeared as the title track of Faith Hill’s 2005 album. It’s an achingly beautiful look at lost innocence. This is the version on McKenna’s 2001 disk Pieces of Me, and is a little different from the one I know well.

Maybe my favorite of all from Respond is the track that leads off the second disk. It’s another tune that’s DV-themed; the video is clearly low-budget but effective (though plenty dark). After seeing good reviews for Eleven, the album by Deb Pasternak that contains “One Regret,” I’ve placed an order for it. Searching around this week made me aware (at long last) that some of these musicians I’ve enjoyed for so long have done some recording. Like Kris Delmhorst, I’m psyched to hear more of Ms. Pasternak.

Hope you’ve found something to enjoy in this tour of semi-obscurity. It’s a good reminder to me to keep looking out for singer-songwriters hoping to be up-and-comers–they’re definitely out there, and any number of them are incredible talents.

Responding to Respond

It was so good to listen to Respond on Monday that I’m going to feature some more tunes from it today and Friday. I have to confess that I don’t know much about the artists I’m going to trumpet, but as you’ve come to learn I’m not shy about sharing songs I like.

First, meet Kris Delmhorst. Her contribution, “Weatherman,” is precisely the kind of the folky, acoustic music I was all over starting in the late 80s. Great, soaring chorus. She’s been steadily releasing music over the years (including a disk of Cars covers); I’m definitely going to have imbibe some of it.

Next, Merrie Amsterburg.  She was one of the artists on Respond who already had a recording contract at the time. I hear lots of different influences; the intro reminds me a little of “Sunny Came Home.” It’s a great tune.

Catie Curtis had almost a decade of recording behind her by the time this compilation was put together, making her one of the artists who may have helped Respond get a little traction. She’s found some success over the years and has kept on keeping on. Another very nice one.

Finally (for today), I want to highlight two songs for which there’s no YouTube link.

–My cousin, Sandi Hammond, was the one singer-songwriter on Respond who didn’t play guitar. Her piece, “Across the Bay,” displays influences from Joni and Kate (when I first heard it, I thought a little of “The Man with the Child in His Eyes”). Wish I could share it! I’m biased, I know, but I’ve always thought her music was really great.

–The final track is “Purple Ray Gun,” by Alexis Shepard.  It’s entirely appropriate for the project, about rescuing a friend from an abusive relationship. Despite its somewhat whimsical title, it’s an affecting piece and I like it quite a bit.

But.

Alexis was tragically killed in an accident (the bicycle she was riding was hit by a truck) a year before Respond was released, and the project was dedicated to her memory.  In researching for this post, I learned that her mother and stepfather were anthropologists who did field work in Papua New Guinea; Alexis spent some decent part of her youth growing up among the Chambri there. After Alexis’s death, they and Alexis’s husband went back to mourn with the Chambri, and subsequently wrote a fascinating, moving account of their experience for Amherst College Magazine.

On Friday, two more excellent songs, quite possibly my favorites, from this collection.

 

SotD: Faith Soloway, “Sister’s Boyfriends”

In early 99, the 2-CD set Respond was released. It’s an all-woman cast, generally from the Boston music scene. Proceeds from sales went to benefit non-profits in Boston that work to end domestic violence; some of the songs address that theme. While there weren’t too many known quantities among its twenty-seven tunes (Patti Larkin, Juliana Hatfield, and Mary Lou Lord were the ones with whom I was familiar at the time, but Lori McKenna became well-known afterward), it garnered more than some degree of notice. Billboard named it its Album of the Year. And oh by the way, my second cousin Sandi performs one of her songs on it!

There are a lot of songs I like on Respond (it’s going to be what I listen to in my office today). One of the more offbeat is “Sister’s Boyfriends,” by Faith Soloway. Faith’s music career never really took off, but she’s found a little success over the years in various music and theater ventures.  Right now, she’s working on her younger sibling Jill’s Amazon series Transparent. I’m assuming that Jill is being referenced in the title…

Two random notes:
–Faith and Jill attended the same high school in Chicago as my grad school roommate John and his wife Anna—based on Faith’s date of birth (she’s just six weeks younger than I), it’s likely that she was one of their classmates.
–This song is probably responsible for one of the early nicknames we had for our son, who was born right around the time I bought this collection. One of sister’s boyfriends is said to have a “Buddha belly.” While Ben was by no means chubby when he was a baby, he looked a little round sometimes when he was sitting, so I (and subsequently Martha) would call him Buddha every so often.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/1/80: Toto, “99”

I’ve never seen THX 1138, George Lucas’s first film, but Casey tells us this week that it was the inspiration for this song (and video). I’d much rather it have been about Barbara Feldon’s character in Get Smart!

This is one of my favorites from Toto, right up there with “Rosanna” and maybe “Africa.” It’s at #27 this week, one slot short of its peak. I’m expecting 1980 to be featured again in early April, and if that happens we’ll see this song crop up again in a prominent spot on a Harris Top 50 chart (3/29 was the first one).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/3/73: Loudon Wainwright III, “Dead Skunk”

Third grade was my first year at Walton-Verona Elementary School, in Verona. We’d moved to the area from Stanford in June 72. I found myself one of almost forty students in Mrs. Turner’s class. That year gave me my first experiences in riding a school bus; along the way I got a tiny taste of being bullied and took a shot of a sort at songwriting.

When we started that fall, Amy and I rode Bus #3. Our driver was Mr. Gibson, who attended our church. Mr. Gibson’s morning route went up Beaver Rd., the street off US 25 immediately to our south, before it came to ours. We had a view of the last quarter-mile of Beaver from our living room window, so we could see the bus go all the way out to pick up the brother and sister who lived at the end, then slowly back up to turn around. At that point we knew we had five minutes to walk out to the corner of Bedinger and Plum, where we’d meet up with Rebecca, one of Amy’s classmates, to climb around our yellow ride. Within a couple of years, Mr. Gibson got a brand new bus, #4.

My neighborhood was toward the end of the route and students of all grades were on board, so it was usually plenty crowded from the time I got on board until we reached the junior high/high school. There, younger kids deposited at the high school by other buses would climb aboard, and we’d get on I-75 North to take I-71 South toward Verona, about six miles away. We did the reverse in the afternoons, depositing some young ones at the high school and taking on 7th-12th graders for the route home.

There was a guy on that bus ride from the high school toward home who apparently didn’t care for the cut of my jib. He was a few years older, probably in sixth or seventh grade in 72-73—we’ll call him Jack, which is not his real name. I’m pretty sure that Jack grew up without many advantages; my mind’s eye sees that his clothes were well worn and that he often looked like may not have bathed. He never actually hit me, and because we got to his house well before mine, he didn’t get the chance to taunt me away from the relative safety of the bus. But he did sit in a nearby seat and tried to intimidate me with some frequency. The worst, and possibly final, thing Jack did happened when he managed to sit next to me as we pulled out of the high school. Out came a pocket knife, and then out popped a blade, pointed at my chest. I think he was just trying to scare me (it worked reasonably well!), to show me who was boss. You kind of wonder how the older males in his life had treated him, were treating him.

I don’t remember the particulars of what happened next. I’m certain I told my parents about it, and they must have talked to someone at the school. I have to believe that Jack still rode my bus, but I think the worst was over, even beyond third grade.

I seriously didn’t remember there were 39 kids in Mrs. Turner’s class! Pretty sure that was decently larger than my first- and second-grade classrooms in Stanford. There were only two third-grade classes that year; I believe we were split into three groups for the remainder of elementary school. Turns out that, for various reasons, only 18 of those 39 graduated from W-V in 82—a lot of the attrition was due to folks moving away, a few right after third grade.  I think I remember names for all but two of these folks—I’m asking my FB friends to see if we can put a complete and accurate list together. The composite photo is a real treasure—such smiles, such innocence! Our futures were still waiting to be written.

One of my first friends in Walton was Dwayne. He lived on Beaver, and was also one of Mrs. Turner’s thirty-nine. He’s the second male in the bottom row in the composite—Tony, the HS classmate with whom I’ve kept closest touch, is the first male in that row (yes, I’m in the very middle). Dwayne was always pretty easy-going and often able to see the humor in almost any situation; he was one of my group of good friends in high school. He was definitely one of the people I wanted to hang around on that bus ride home, and he wound up playing a big role when I tried out my first (only?) fragment of a song.

Mom always listened to James Francis Patrick O’Neill on WLW in the mornings as we were getting ready for school.  JFPO was quite the showman, and I have a lot of fond memories of various skits he put on. But of course he played some music, too, and I’m betting that’s how I first heard Kate McGarrigle’s one-time husband’s one hit record—it seems like something O’Neill would give a spin.  I probably didn’t hear it more than once or so (can’t imagine that our Top 40 station was playing it), but the phrase “dead skunk in the middle of the road” must have REALLY caught my attention. The melody and other words hadn’t stuck, however; before long, I filled the absence of repeated listening with my own tune and lyrics:

WRHScoreDeadSkunk

While this may not be exactly the music I “composed,” it’s darn close. I’ve carried it around in my head for 45 years, and was able to pick it out on the piano pretty quickly this week.  I’m sure it says something about nine-year-old boys that I didn’t consider that Wainwright was singing about roadkill and not hunting or target practice.

One day on the bus home from school, I shared my “song” with Dwayne. I take it he was at least as familiar with the real tune as I was, and he liked what I’d done. For some short period of time, it was a hit: I’d sing, and Dwayne would play-act the role of the skunk, first taunting the shooter over his lack of accuracy and then keeling over after the fatal bullet was fired.

On Thursday of this week I went to Florence on some business. I had a bit of extra time on the front end, so I exited I-75 at Walton to drive around a little. The high school isn’t very far from the exit, so it was easy to drive past it. I then followed a good chunk of the route old #3 would take on its way to drop me at home. Down past the spot where Jack showed me his knife, then past Dwayne’s house and all the way out to the end of Beaver Rd. There’s a shortcut now to get to my old neighborhood from Beaver that bypasses US 25, so I cheated and used that. It seems I wind up driving by the house where we lived in Walton every couple of years, and it never fails to surprise me how small and close together everything now seems on Bedinger. I get that I was much smaller when we moved there, but I was nineteen when we moved away. I stopped in front of the old place, to see how good the view of Beaver is now.  Between maturing trees and houses springing up over the last thirty-five years, we’d have a much harder time checking on the bus today.

To be honest, I don’t know that I heard the real “Dead Skunk” (at #34 here, heading toward #16) much again, if at all, until about five years ago, when I started listening to AT40 rebroadcasts. Doesn’t mean it hadn’t been on my mind off and on in the meantime—it certainly has a bit of a special place in my musical landscape.