American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/30/88: Henry Lee Summer, “I Wish I Had a Girl”

At the beginning of my grad school years, my listening on the four-plus hour-long trips back to Florence was a balanced mix of cassettes and the radio. When I was channel-surfing as I drove on I-74 through west-central Indiana in late 86 and early 87, I’d often hear a pretty rockin’ tune by a native son that was apparently a regional sensation.

Yes, it was Henry Lee Summer’s “I Wish I Had a Girl.” It sure sounded like a hit-in-waiting to me, and before long the folks at CBS agreed. A year or so after I first learned of it, I started hearing a new, more polished (but, as per normal for this sort of thing, less spontaneous) version on the radio everywhere. It was definitely a case where the suits should have left well enough alone; on the other hand, it did break through nationally (peaking at #20, where it is on this show). I missed the “original,” though.

Fortunately, through YouTube we can hear that first take! Even though it’s pretty scratchy in places, I hope you enjoy (and I guess I’m hoping you agree with me that it’s superior).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/26/75: Ace, “How Long”

Somewhere around the time I was 6 or 7 I received Hoyle’s Rules of Games as a gift from my grandparents. It looked much like the photo above (I can’t find my copy now—I’m pretty sure I gave it away several years ago). I can remember leafing through it from time to time in my youth, occasionally picking out a new card game to learn.

One that Amy and I taught ourselves sometime in the middle 70s was two-handed canasta. It requires two decks, plus jokers; we used cards that Mom had stored in an end table in the living room (I can still picture the patterns on their backs: vertical stripes of varying widths, one deck aqua-ish, the other orange-red). Sis and I competed quite a bit over canasta through several years—my recollection is that it was a common rainy-day activity. In my first years with Martha, she and I played a somewhat similar game she had learned from her parents, called hand-and-foot.

It seems a tad unlikely that we started on this as early as spring 75, but it’s not impossible. When I think back on mid-to-late spring days full of showers, I sometimes travel in my head to when I was 11, and I can almost visualize a scene from our living room where we’re furiously melding cards and scrambling for our “pure” canastas when the polish of Paul Carrack singing Ace’s “How Long” (#19 here, heading toward #3) comes on the radio. Or is it about the same time of year in 82, when Rod Stewart’s (inferior) remake was struggling toward #49? Okay, even if we probably done with cards by then, it is so easy to commingle snippets of memory. Most likely it was somewhere in between.

It’d be awesome to shuffle those 108 cards together and do battle with Amy once more, though.

Songs Casey Never Played, 4/21/84

Here’s another installment of tunes that didn’t crack the Top 40, this time from that all-world period of mid-April 84.

#95: Midnight Star, “No Parking on the Dance Floor”

WFMI had played “Freak-a-Zoid” the previous fall before giving this one a good number of spins at this point in time. “No Parking” had already peaked at #81. Midnight Star was from Cincinnati, which likely played a role in the attention they were getting from the Lexington market. They’d make AT40 at the end of 85 with “Operator.”

#87: Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”

This was down from a high of #46. Given how well it has held up over the years, it’s a bit of a surprise in retrospect this didn’t do better.

#82: Josie Cotton, “Jimmy Loves Maryann”

Cotton is most remembered now for “Johnny, Are You Queer?” and her appearance in the movie Valley Girl. I believe I occasionally saw copies of her albums Convertible Music and From the Hip at Cut Corner while I was in college but never was curious enough to pick either of them up (which might have been a mistake). This is a remake of the #33 hit for Looking Glass from fall 73.  It’s at its peak, and deliciously retro in multiple ways. This is the one to try out today.

#63: Nik Kershaw, “Wouldn’t It Be Good”

This has wound up making the canon of songs receiving regular play today on 80s stations, and it’s worthy of the honor. The video’s strange but quite memorable. Reached #46.

#55: John Lennon, “I’m Stepping Out”

James really loved “Nobody Told Me,” the top 5 hit from the posthumously released Milk and Honey. This was the follow-up; I suppose its #47 peak speaks to how little close-to-finished commercially viable product remained at the time of Lennon’s death.

Additionally, there were three songs in the 90s, on their way down, by artists who cropped up a month ago when I was writing about 3/26/83: Modern English (#99, after peaking at #91 with “Hands Across the Sea”), Missing Persons (#93, after peaking at #67 with “Give”), and Adam Ant (#92, after peaking at #42 with “Strip”).

Magic Numbers

Edited to add: I intentionally didn’t look at any music blogs to see if or what they wrote about Bob Dorough before I did my thing here; that may have been an error. If I’d read Len O’Kelly’s take (he also links to “Lolly”), I might not have bothered with this.  Go to his site–his post is great.

Amy and I spent many a Saturday morning in the mid 70s watching cartoons. Favorites included Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and Looney Tunes, with helpings of shows like Hong Kong Phooey and The Pink Panther thrown in. When we had it on ABC, I usually enjoyed the three-minute Schoolhouse Rock pieces that played between shows. Those came back to mind yesterday when I learned of Monday’s passing of Bob Dorough, who wrote many of the songs featured in Multiplication Rock, Grammar Rock, and America Rock segments. He also sang most of his compositions, so his is definitely a voice of my childhood!

The Multiplication Rock shorts came out in early 73, Grammar Rock six-to-twelve months later, and America Rock in 75-76. (I’d already gotten too old by the time Science Rock was introduced a couple years beyond that). I mostly remember the Grammar ones. “Interjections,” which Dorough didn’t write, is my favorite. Among those he did pen, I most enjoy “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” “Three Is a Magic Number” (more meaningful to me now since we have just one child), and the haunting metaphysics—“that’s a circle that turns ‘round upon itself”—of “Figure Eight” (sung by the inimitable Blossom Dearie).

I got the Schoolhouse Rock DVD when Ben was fairly young, but these songs indubitably mean much more to me than to him.

Thanks to you, Mr. Dorough, for all the fun, educational diversions you created, and rest in peace.

4/21/84 in Review, Part Two

It feels like I tended to like a little less the songs that were big hits—maybe it’s my contrarian nature, maybe I just got burned out in retrospect. Regardless, there are probably fewer tunes I still like to hear in this half of the show.

#20: Go-Gos, “Head Over Heels.” I’m a fan of this one, but it’s much less spontaneous and fresh than the stuff on Beauty and the Beat. Alas, they were just about done.

#19: Alan Parsons Project, “Don’t Answer Me.” The Project was one of my favorites in high school. But by this time they were also almost through with commercial success, too.

#18: Kool and the Gang, “Tonight.” They wound up being a hit-making machine a little longer than I realized. I can’t say that I found too much of their later stuff especially compelling. This one’s not bad but it’s pretty innocuous.

#17: Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Honestly, this deserved to be the national phenomenon it was. Goofy, loopy, lack of self-consciousness—check, check, check. And the video features Steve Forbert at the end!

#16: Dwight Twilley, “Girls.” I dug this quite a bit. Don’t ask me why it took decades for me to realize that Petty is singing backup on it.

#15: Weird Al Yankovic, “Eat It.” It probably helped Al that MJ was still in the music public’s mind. He was certainly fortunate that His Badness gave permission for a parody.

#14: Van Halen, “Jump.” While lots of folks don’t think this song is very good, I’ve always liked it a ton (so yeah, it’s a big hit that I was pretty high on). It’s plenty pop-oriented, but in my book it’s leaps and bounds above the other stuff on 1984.

#13: Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” The third out of the last five tracks to have the word “girls” in its title.  I guess this one is harmless enough but it’s never done much for me.

#12: Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Adult Education.” I like this somewhat more now than I did in 84 but there are plenty of H&O songs I’d still rank above it.

#11: Cars, “You Might Think.” While Heartbeat City isn’t as awesome as either of their first two albums, I really like a lot of it, especially this one, “Magic,” and “Hello Again.” The video was considered cutting-edge in its day but doesn’t look nearly so cool now.

#10: Tracey Ullman, “They Don’t Know.” Covered this one Sunday.

#9: Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again.” The Talk Talk song is far and away my favorite in this countdown, but it’s a fairly close race for second between the Eurythmics and Paul Young. It has a synth line that places it pretty precisely on the timeline of music history, but this is simply a brilliant piece of work.

#8: Rick Springfield, “Love Somebody.” I thought this was an above-average offering from him.

#7: Rockwell, “Somebody’s Watching Me.” I don’t think there’s any way this is a hit without Michael singing backup. I also don’t think there’s any way Kennedy Gordy gets a contract without being his father’s son. Sorta catchy, but it’d be alright if I didn’t hear it again for a while.

#6: Pointer Sisters, “Automatic.” Break Out was an appropriate name for their most successful album. All four of its hits are fine by me.

#5: Culture Club, “Miss Me Blind.” I like the singles from Kissing To Be Clever, their first album, more than those of the follow-up, Colour By Numbers. This song does get bonus points, though, for incorporating the debut disk’s title in its lyrics.

#4: Thompson Twins, “Hold Me Now.” This is another very good one, and my favorite of theirs, by a decent margin.

#3: Lionel Richie, “Hello.” There are just a very few Richie solo songs I actively like, and this is one of them. It’s likely to get mentioned in another post sometime later this spring.

#2: Kenny Loggins, “Footloose.” His movie stuff generally didn’t groove me all that much, though I can certainly understand the appeal of this song.

#1: Phil Collins, “Against All Odds.” Another movie tune and the first of many weeks that Collins would spend at #1 through the rest of the decade. As far as his ballads go, this is definitely one of the better ones, though that’s not exactly high praise from me.

And there you have it, my awesome takes on the entries in a countdown near and dear to my heart. As usual, I’ll end with a video. The man-fighting-to-defend-a-woman trope was plenty tired (and should have already been retired) by this time, but I’ll still go with the animated Adventures of Nick and Sugar (seriously?), as relayed by APP.

4/21/84 in Review, Part One

This show came toward the end of my sophomore year in college. Transy has a four-week May Term at the end of its academic year, and this could have been the weekend before that began. I took Dr. Miller’s Compiler Construction class that May; I pulled an all-nighter or two wrestling with my code for “Jonesie,” the course-long project.

I love the way the countdown starts.

#40: Talk Talk, “It’s My Life.”  Inner-circle Hall of Fame 80s tune.

#39: Bon Jovi, “Runaway.” Believe it or else, this was the only week this song was on AT40. I’m not a huge fan of the band, but I dig “Runaway” pretty much. Feels like it should have been a bigger hit.

#38: Paul Young, “Come Back and Stay.” Amazingly good—I love the mood, the ambience created. Pretty easily my favorite of Young’s.

#37: Madonna, “Borderline.” You could feel the momentum building throughout 84 with each song Madonna was releasing. I’d say this was the best on either of her first two albums, though—not kitschy, not overtly provocative, just a solid dance tune with a good (for her) early vocal performance.

#36: Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time.” I’ve written about this one already.

#35: Queen, “Radio Ga Ga.” If it hadn’t been for Wayne’s World, this would have the last week that Freddie Mercury and company spent on the Top 40.

#34: Bonnie Tyler, “Holding Out for a Hero.” This is the first of four songs from the Footloose soundtrack on the show, and it’s the only one I especially like. Speaking of hit-making days being over, the following week would be the last one in the 40 for Tyler (coincidentally, her first week, 4/22/78, was also played this weekend as the 70s rebroadcast). A bit overwrought, but, then again, maybe not so much relative to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

That’s a really good set of seven songs kicking off the show!

#33: Van Halen, “I’ll Wait.” Every countdown has a few songs I think are clunkers. Not one of my fave VH efforts.

#32: Night Ranger, “Sister Christian.” I’ve always really liked this one. Makes me think of a long-time friend.

#31: Berlin, “No More Words.” Berlin toned it down on their second album, trying more to grab for the ring of commercial success. The Bonnie-and-Clyde-themed video (as well as Terri Nunn’s hairstyle in it) is plenty silly, but this is not a bad song at all.

#30: Shalamar, “Dancing in the Sheets.” Another from Footloose. Eh.

#29: Pretenders, “Show Me.” I’d bought Learning to Crawl by this time. It has nothing of the ferocity of her first two albums, but the early phase of Chrissie’s more mature period was plenty appealing.

#28: Tony Carey, “A Fine, Fine Day.” An unlikely hit, a story song about a relative’s first hours after being released from the joint. Underrated.

#27: Steve Perry, “Oh Sherrie.” I’ve always thought that Sherrie Swafford, Perry’s girlfriend at the time, looked uncomfortable in the video.

#26: Irene Cara, “Breakdance.” This was Cara’s last venture into the 40, which feels a little odd, since she’d had so much success over the previous year. You just never know. Overall I enjoyed her stuff, including this, pretty well.

#25: Billy Joel, “The Longest Time.” There’s a small scene out of my life that involves this song, but writing it up will wait for another time. Joel had “Movin’ Out” on 4/22/78.

#24: Yes, “Leave It.” I’ve got a lot to say someday about Yes, as well. This is a really good one for singing along.

#23: Deniece Williams, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Williams has a remarkable voice and the video is cute enough. Yet another artist also on the 4/22/78 show, singing “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” with Johnny Mathis. Tyler, Joel, and Williams are the only three duplicate artists between the two shows.

#22: John Cougar Mellencamp, “The Authority Song.” I’m a much bigger fan of Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee than the majority of his work that came before them. I thought he really matured and improved over time.

#21: Huey Lewis and the News, “I Want a New Drug.” I liked this more then than I do now, but I’d probably still rather hear it than everything except “Jacob’s Ladder” off of Fore!

We’ll tackle the top 20 later in the week. In the meantime, have some Bon Jovi. I wouldn’t have predicted mega-stardom based on this clip, but like I said above, it’s not a bad track; it sounds better than it looks.


American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/21/84: Tracey Ullman, “They Don’t Know”

In the last half of the aughts, I assembled somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty playlists of AT40 countdowns for my iPod. They stretched from 6/5/76, my first written chart, to 5/24/86, the weekend I graduated from college, just two weeks shy of a decade later. While I made an effort to space them out temporally, the particular weeks I chose to replicate were more than occasionally subject to the sets of songs that were about to debut and/or soon exit.

Of the shows I put together, the two I’ve listened to most frequently (outside of 6/5/76) are 1/29/77 and 4/21/84. It’s fair to say that on a song-by-song basis, I like the 77 show better—just take a look at that chart!—but the 84 countdown has a high percentage of tunes I adore as well. I probably selected it because it’s the only week that “It’s My Life” and “Come Back and Stay” co-existed in Casey-land.

I’ll be writing a little about all the songs from 4/21/84 this coming week (gonna do another Songs Casey Never Played post, too), but my self-imposed rules dictate that I address one of them now. The winner is Tracey Ullman, whose “They Don’t Know” is two spots shy of its #8 peak. Almost eighteen months ago, I included this song in a series of Facebook posts noting the anniversary of the death of Kirsty MacColl, who wrote “They Don’t Know” and sang backup (she was responsible for the “Baby!” before the final verse, too, since it was too high for Ullman to hit). MacColl was another of my favorites from the 90s; she was killed by a motorboat while swimming with her family in Mexico, in December 2000. I suspect I’ll move some portion of that homage (and perhaps expand on it) to the blog one of these days. She was incredibly good.

Anyway, I love Ullman’s take here, and I do love the video, but over the years I’ve realized that, even though she’s obviously playing it for laughs, the final minute makes me just a little sad—something about unrealized/misguided dreams and all that rot.

A few years after this was a hit, I watched The Tracey Ullman Show occasionally on the nascent Fox network in our apartment in Urbana. I recall the vignettes featuring what would become The Simpsons (I just heard that yesterday marked 31 years since their first appearance), but it’s what she shouted to her audience at the end each week—“GO HOME!”—that’s stuck with me the most; I’ve been known to use it from time to time, even to this day.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/22/78: Earth, Wind, and Fire, “Fantasy”

I had a couple of athletic endeavors going on in the spring of 78. At school, I was on the track team, a sprinter. Until my senior year, I was strictly doing 100s and 200s, either solo or part of a relay. My downfall was always reaction time coming out of the blocks; you really didn’t want me on the first leg in the 4 by 100. On the plus side, I wasn’t going to false start!

I was also taking golf lessons, at Twin Oaks in Covington. I’d been getting out with Dad on the links since I was about 6 years old but my game was still extremely raw at age 14. The club pro tried to help me get rid of my slice and deal with other facets that really needed work, but it probably wasn’t until I was close to fully grown that things started coming together, at least a little. Twin Oaks was always a course I enjoyed playing with Dad (the Licking River runs right alongside several of its holes), though we went to it much less frequently after I got out of high school.

I have many Top 40 tunes from that spring swirling around my head that remind me of both track meets and learning some of the important aspects of golf; here’s one of them. Even though it wasn’t among their biggest hits (it’s at #32, its peak position), this has long been one of my favorite Earth, Wind, and Fire songs. That soaring ending is mighty mighty.

SotD: Cocteau Twins, “Carolyn’s Fingers”

One afternoon toward the end of 88 I was hanging out at Record Service in Campustown when the folks behind the counter slipped Blue Bell Knoll, the first US release from the Scottish trio Cocteau Twins, onto the turntable (perhaps into the CD player was more likely?). By the time “Carolyn’s Fingers,” the third track, came over the PA, I was ready to plunk down some hard-earned cash for the album. It was among the last pieces of new vinyl I purchased.

It’s a mighty fine record (the other really great song on it is “The Itchy Glowbo Blow“–it is much, much better than the title!), though darned if I can understand a single word Elizabeth Fraser is singing through the whole thing; it’s all about mood and texture. Over the next few years, I dug into some of both their previous and subsequent work. Much of it is very good, and many of the early highlights can be found on the 85 compilation The Pink Opaque. I also like their 90 CD Heaven or Las Vegas quite a bit. But it only seems to be on Knoll that Fraser chose to be quite so incomprehensible.

The Cocteaus’ guitarist, Robin Guthrie, had a hand in the early days of Lush, one of my favorite 90s bands. They’ll get their turn being featured here one of these days.

Soon after I moved back to Lexington in 92, I spent a number of Friday nights hanging out with college friends at one of their homes. A CD that got played at those gatherings more than occasionally was MTV: Best of 120 Minutes, Vol. 1.  When “Carolyn’s Fingers” came on, James and Amy were certain to do their best (?) to mimic Fraser’s fluttering high notes (they were also known to give a shot at imitating the bagpipes on “Under the Milky Way”).

American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 1/24/76: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “Wake Up Everybody”

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.

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes had a few Top 40 hits between 72 and 76, probably most notably “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”  Teddy Pendergrass, their vocalist, split about the time of the release of this single. He had a successful solo soul career that was disrupted (though not ended) when he became a paraplegic in an automobile accident in 1982.

This was #22, on its way to #12.  Its message still seems salient today.