Weekend in C-U

Last Friday I drove to my old stomping grounds in east-central Illinois for a bridge tournament. The locals in Champaign-Urbana have been hosting a Regional event since shortly after I left town. Last year, I went up for five days; this time, only three. The highlight was facing off against two of the top 40 (that’s appropriate, I suppose) all-time leading US masterpoint winners in the semifinals of a knockout event. My team was given a 19.5 point head start in the match due to our relative inexperience (so they had to beat us at least 20), but unfortunately we lost by 25. We gave it a good shot, and I’m cool with that. It was awesome to see all the folks–Karen, Debbie, Martha, Ned, my teammate Mike, among others–again.

On Saturday, I was able to have dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant with Bruce, my dissertation advisor, and Robin, his wife. We didn’t play in morning events on Saturday or Sunday; Saturday, my partner and I went to the Farmer’s Market in Urbana for breakfast and a walk down the tree-lined brick streets, while on Sunday, I met Bruce for coffee on campus. I have to say these were much better uses of time than being hunched over the table.

I have fond memories of my time in C-U, and I miss living there. I honestly wouldn’t mind going back for an extended period should I get another sabbatical leave. It’s got a fantastic city park system, decent public transportation, and, while clearly growing, it’s not humongous. We’ll see.

What would a trip report be without photos?

The alma mater statue, pictured above, is in front of the gorgeous math building, Altgeld Hall.


One semester when I was a teaching assistant for calculus 2, I had a high school student in my class who was somehow on the weekly schedule to play the bells in the carillon of Altgeld. One time she invited me to watch her play–very interesting.  We kept in touch just a little bit over the years; she’s now a professor of linguistics at UCLA.

Continue reading “Weekend in C-U”

American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 2/25/84: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Runner”

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.

When I published this on FB last year, the previous week’s 70s rebroadcast had been the 77 countdown that featured “Blinded by the Light” at #1.  Seven years later, Manfred Mann’s last go-round on AT40 popped up.  It’s at #36, heading to #22.  One wonders how they were allowed to incorporate the Olympic flag (and what I assume is actual footage) into this video.  The timing for it was pretty odd, too:  the Sarajevo Winter Games had just ended, and the LA Games, with actual track events, weren’t happening until late July.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/24/86: Simple Minds, “All the Things She Said”

There was a fair amount going on this weekend in 86: a nationwide charity fund- and awareness raiser, a visit to Lexington by QEII, and I suppose most important to me, my college graduation.

Hands Across America was the next step from the organizers of USA for Africa, best known for putting together the 85 world-wide smash “We Are the World,” which raised over $50 million for humanitarian purposes in Africa. HAA was an attempt to draw attention and money to the cause of hunger and homelessness in the US, with an initial goal of $100 million. The idea was to get folks to contribute $10 to secure a spot in line somewhere between NYC and Long Beach, CA, where at 3:00pm on Sunday, May 25, everyone would join hands for 15 minutes in what was hoped to be a continuous line from coast to coast. It was a partial success; there were plenty of gaps in the human chain, especially in the desert West. About $17 million went to the intended causes (and about as much went to cover overhead).  There was a song written for the occasion as well, appropriately entitled “Hands Across America.” It reached only #65 on the charts (somewhat strangely, it had already peaked by the time of the event, sitting at #95 on this week’s list). The route got as close as Cincinnati, but my friends and I were otherwise engaged and unable to participate.

My recollection of that Sunday afternoon was that it was plenty warm and sticky. The ceremony was held indoors. My graduating class was pretty small, at least relative to those that followed; Transy’s enrollment was decidedly on the upswing throughout my time there. I was able to secure tickets for five family members: Mom, Dad, Amy, my grandmother Lucille Houston, and my great-aunt Birdie Brown. There are no great pictures from the ceremony itself, but I’m including a few not-very-high-quality shots from the day.

The picture at the top is with Aunt Birdie and Gran; here, I’m posing with my parents.


Continue reading “American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/24/86: Simple Minds, “All the Things She Said””

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/26/79: England Dan and John Ford Coley, “Love Is the Answer”

One of the possible hazards of playing disk jockey when I was growing up in the 70s or at WTLX in the 80s was that I might accidentally follow up a song from an LP with a single (or vice versa) without remembering to change speeds. I suspect that it didn’t happen all that often (I don’t have any specific memories), but it sure is something that doesn’t take more than a second to realize when it occurs.

This week’s show features a report about a “discovery” arising from playing an album at 45 RPM. A little internet sleuthing leads me to think that sometime in late 78 or early 79, a jock slapped side 2 of Champagne Jam by the Atlanta Rhythm Section on the studio turntable and inadvertently let it rip at the higher speed.  Apparently, when played faster, lead singer Ronnie Hammond’s voice on “Imaginary Lover” bears a strong resemblance to that of Stevie Nicks. Word of this curiosity reached Casey, who shows and tells us all about it during the final hour. As I write this, I haven’t listened to this report (again?—it’s more than possible I heard it 39 years ago), though I hope I have by the time you read it. Running “when ordinary lovers don’t feel like you feel” through my head right now, it’s believable…

The tease for that tale comes right after CK plays the sixth and last top 40 hit for England Dan and John Ford Coley, which is at its peak position of #10. “Love Is the Answer” is definitely my favorite of their singles (I’d say “Nights Are Forever Without You” and “Gone Too Far” are second and third). It’s a cover of a Todd Rundgren/Utopia tune and it definitely sounds like it. It’s not explicitly religious and I’ve never heard the song performed during a church service, but  I could easily imagine it being done.

I knew that Dan Seals had decent success as a solo country artist in the 80s after he split from Coley, but somehow I’d missed until this week that he’d died back in the spring of 2009. He had a nice voice, overall well-suited for his material.

Life During May Term

On Saturday morning my alma mater will be holding their commencement exercises, which means that Transy has just wrapped up its four-week May Term. When I was there, they tended to use it mainly to offer non-standard or special topics courses (and they may still): in my four years, I took classes covering short stories, compiler construction, environmental philosophy, and field work in archaeology. I enjoyed them all.

Though it wasn’t my experience, May Term generally had a reputation as a chance to kick back, take it easy, and party; its unofficial name was “Play Term.” That, and my growing appreciation for the Talking Heads, led me to compose a parody of “Life During Wartime.”

I don’t remember now when I wrote it—almost certainly either the spring of 84 or 85. It’s hardly perfect—for one thing, like many efforts of this type, it doesn’t attempt to wrestle with the entire song—but I think overall I did okay in terms of matching meter.  Just in case you can’t make out my scribbling above, here are the lyrics, with full apologies to David Byrne (note: Transy classes always started at half-past the hour). Feel free to sing along!

Heard of a month at Transylvania
It’s at the end of the year
A chance to relax and get together
I think that May Term is here!

The sound of music off in the distance
I’m getting used to it now
There’s a good time right down the hall here
The R.A.’s not going to frown

It’s time to party, it’s time to disco
It’s time for foolin’ around
Got time for dancing, and lovey-dovey
Got lots of time for that now

The days are warmer, the nights are shorter
But I guess that’s okay with me
Got only one class, it’s at 10:30
Two hours there then I’m free

When the teacher gives us some homework
I give an audible groan
I sleep in the daytime, live it up at nighttime
I might not want to go home

Heard about bunnies? Heard about hoppers?
Heard about classes to take?
You ought to know not to get an 8:30
You might not get too awake


American Top 40 PastBlast Redux, 6/19/71: Paul Humphrey and His Cool Aid Chemists, “Cool Aid”

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 bit from the original.

Here’s another song I didn’t know until I started listening to AT40 rebroadcasts a few years ago:  a sweet Northern Soul jam.   Paul Humphrey was a pretty well-known R&B session drummer in the 60s and 70s.  He even served as Lawrence Welk’s drummer as that weekly show wound down.  On this show it’s at #39, off its peak of #29.

5/15/82 and 5/21/77 Charts

As 82 proceeded, signs that my chart-keeping days might end before long abounded. I made predictions far less frequently, and I wasn’t listening enough to get all the extras and LDDs, either. On the plus side, my printing was as neat as it ever was!

This was in the middle of the period Billboard‘s chartmeister was imposing conditions that made it difficult for songs to begin falling, regularly leading to clogged charts and unusual runs. Still, it’s strange to see “Heat of the Moment” and “Don’t You Want Me” temporarily stalling out here. And note that I completely screwed up the name of “Let It Whip.”

Over to the Harris charts. It’s a little jarring to me now to see this Rick Springfield song at the top. Huey and Vangelis are the former #1’s; Tommy Tutone is the only future chart-topper listed (it had a four-week run). I’ll highlight the songs I had at #s 7, 8, and 9. The Greg Guidry and LeRoux songs had reached #17 and #18 respectively in real life, but clearly I saw things differently. “Since You’re Gone” was the third (!) Cars song to peak at #41 on the Hot 100–the other two were “Good Times Roll” and “It’s All I Can Do.” All three could be in the conversation for best near-misses of all-time. It’s a little embarrassing to see the Dr. Hook song do so well, but I give myself full marks for having the Tom Tom Club make the top 25.


Finally, there’s this past weekend’s 5/21/77 chart. Two weeks earlier was the point at which I’d started putting #1 at the top of the front page, rather than #40. This was the last of a three-week run where I used light green notebook paper.  I have a few earlier charts on purple, orange, pink, or a blue-green. The following week, it was yellow, but thereafter it was forever and always white.

Check out the attempted use of the Kiss logo!

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/16/87: Chris de Burgh, “The Lady in Red”

Honestly, there aren’t that many songs I’m digging on this chart. Yes, I love “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” at #15, but I wrote about it last year. Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love,” at #7, is pretty decent, and “With or Without You,” all the way at the top, is one of my favorite U2 singles.  While there were several pop hits later in the year that I found quite appealing, listening to this show reminds me again that my Top 40-listening days were getting to be fewer in number by the end of that first year in Illinois.

But I can find one at least one more tune here worthy of consideration. It’s definitely a sappy love song weekend here at PastBlast Central, ‘cause here comes “The Lady in Red.” I thought Chris de Burgh’s “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” from early summer 83, was a great song, and I really liked “High on Emotion,” the next single I heard, even if it didn’t quite make the 40. This ballad, though, was by far his biggest success, going top 5 in at least eight countries (#1 in four of them), and deservedly so. (It made to #3 in the US; it’s still climbing, at #5 here.) It’s a tender, beautiful track, as understated as “Love’s Grown Deep” is overdone. I’ll take the low-key approach 95 (or more) times out of 100 these days.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/21/77: Kenny Nolan, “Love’s Grown Deep”

Martha and I formally and officially met for the first time on January 18, 1995, in the choir room at the church here in Georgetown. We talked a bit after practice that evening, had our first date two-and-a-half weeks later, and were married within eighteen months.  However, one time almost eighteen years earlier, not only were we together in the same room, we very likely had been sitting within ten feet of one another.

Dad had a good friend, Marion “Mac” McElveen, from his seminary days in the 50s. By 77, Dad was not in the ministry, so one weekend that spring, we traveled down I-71 from Walton to New Albany, IN, just across the river from Louisville. We spent Saturday evening at a hotel, and then on Sunday morning, attended services at Central Christian Church in New Albany, where Mac was pastor. I very clearly remember that we did this, but the only scene I have stored in my memory banks now is getting to swim at the hotel pool. (A couple of years ago, I discovered the place I was staying for a bridge tournament near New Albany was the same one my family used in 77; I was able to tell by looking at the pool area.)

I learned soon after Martha and I started dating that she had grown up in New Albany. Yes, Central had been her home church, and so I told her about Dad’s friendship with Mac and the time that my family had visited. Not too long after that, Martha’s folks gave the McElveens, who still lived in the area, a call. Mac’s wife Ruth told them her recollection was that the Harrises had sat immediately behind the Lutzes that day. Did our fathers shake hands at some point? Might our mothers have greeted one another? Did Amy and I acknowledge Martha and and her sister Ruth? One wonders. Martha has told me she does remember a time when it was announced that some friends of the McElveens were in attendance, but doesn’t have any idea now when that occurred. Could it have been us?

I’m virtually certain that this past Tuesday—May 15—was the 41st anniversary of that moment when maybe, just maybe, Martha and I encountered one another. The pictures above are school photos from the fall of 77, but I imagine they provide a decent approximation of what we looked like the previous May (there’s NO WAY I’m sharing my 7th grade picture from fall 76).

A couple of weeks ago, when I realized that there was a very good chance a mid-May 77 countdown might be upcoming to tie into this tale, I looked over the charts for an appropriate selection to incorporate into a post, just in case. I landed on the schmaltzy “Love’s Grown Deep,” which is at #31, heading toward a peak of #20. I purchased the single sometime during its chart run, and it’s fair to say that at the time I liked it better than “I Like Dreamin’” (which I also had bought that year)—I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. Of course I had no real idea what Kenny Nolan was talking about—I was 13!—but he made it sound like a pretty happy thing, even if I now think it’s a little overdone.

Last Saturday morning, walking back to the car after attending my college’s graduation service, I realized the full, serendipitous nature of that choice of song.

My 45 collection wasn’t all that big during the heyday of WQSR, so I often looked to B-sides as a way to expand the playlist. I found some real gems—this makes me think I should start an occasional series called something like “great flipsides I have known.”  The B to “Love’s Grown Deep” isn’t one that grabbed me—I doubt I played it more than a couple of times—but its title stuck enough to land back in my head this past week.



SotD: Sheryl Crow, “Everyday Is a Winding Road”

One highlight of my early days back in KY following grad school was gathering on Friday nights with college friends at Thomas’s house. We mostly played games, drank lots of Coca-Cola, inhaled first- and/or second-hand cigarette smoke, and listened to music. I didn’t drop by every week, and probably attended less often once I moved to Georgetown at the very end of 93, but it was always fun to hang out there.

In the fall of 93, Tonya, Thomas’s girlfriend at the time, plopped a disk from a new and unfamiliar artist into the player. She was definitely proselytizing on the album’s behalf, but I had to admit that, after several plays through, there was a wide and interesting range of pretty good songs on it. And so I became an early (but not nearly so early as Tonya) adopter of Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club. “Leaving Las Vegas” and the fun, loopy “All I Wanna Do” made it to mix tapes before the latter song (and Sheryl’s career) blew up in the fall of 94.

(An aside: I like “Leaving Las Vegas” just fine, but hearing it always makes me think of seeing Shawn Colvin at Bogart’s in Cincinnati in the summer of 95—maybe the first concert I saw with Martha. Colvin did a really funny bit mid-show, noting the similarity in chord progressions among several then-recent songs released by women, including “LLV” and Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl.”)

In the following years, I picked up Sheryl Crow and The Globe Sessions. “My Favorite Mistake” contains what I think is her finest musical moment, that resolution about three minutes in, right after she sings, “…it’s your laughter, won’t let me go, so I’m holding on this way” (there are hints of it earlier in the song, too). I really liked “If It Makes You Happy” and “A Change” back in the day (and still do to a reasonable extent), but I don’t think their lyrics have worn well over time—she’s trying to be clever but in the end comes across simply as smartass. On the other hand, that eponymous release does have the tune of hers I like best, “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” The lines about being “a stranger in my own life” and “wondering if all the things I’ve seen were ever real” ring true and feel, well, real. I hadn’t realized until putting this together that Neil Finn is singing backup here, but I believe I can tell it’s him on the chorus.  Cool video, too.