American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/28/85: Bruce Springsteen, “I’m Goin’ Down”

September and October 85 were the opening months of my last year at Transy. I’d spent a big chunk of the summer doing what you might call a paid internship at IBM; after it ended, I went to Boston for a week in August in Boston to visit my cousins. By Labor Day, it was time to get back to business, though. As per usual, I was taking most of my classes in Brown Science Center. The two most frequent offerings (at least by me) on the turntable in 402 Clay Hall would have been Little Creatures and Songs from the Big Chair (I’m listening to them again as I write this).  By somewhere around the end of September I would be spending a few weeks trying to figure out how I felt about a certain first-year student.

When I look back on that two-month period, many of my memories center around things that happened on the weekends. None of them are momentous, but having and being with wonderful friends was plenty good enough. Here’s a list of some moments I have in my head from then:

MTV Music Awards. For whatever reason, this was a big deal to me and others in my crowd. That year they were broadcast on Friday, Sept 13. Several of us drove up to my parents’ house in Florence to sprawl in the den and watch. I tried to think back to what won Video of the Year but gave up too quickly and looked it up. I’ll let you mull it over and give the answer at the bottom.  Two other notes, though: 1) I’m psyched to re-discover that ‘til Tuesday won Best New Artist in a Video for “Voices Carry;” 2) I love, love, love all the nominees in the Best Experimental Video category (Art of Noise’s “Close (to the Edit)” was the winner, but there were also  Lindsey Buckingham’s “Go Insane” and “Slow Dancing,” Chris Isaak’s “Dancin’,” and Lone Justice’s “Ways to Be Wicked” up for the award).

Hiking trip to Berea.  While I was in high school, my church youth group had gone a few times on fall Sunday afternoons to Berea, a small town in the Appalachian foothills about 35 miles south of Lexington. We’d go hiking on a trail called the Pinnacles. I continued going there while at Transy, taking college friends with me at least a couple of times prior to 85.  I spent the weekend of September 20-22 of 85 back there for a sort of “youth group reunion.” Several of the old gang and one of the leaders spent two nights at the Boone Tavern Inn (despite the name, Berea was a dry town then).  We spent the weekend reliving the glory days of 78-82, with the big hike on Saturday. The weather was cool, clear, and absolutely gorgeous. I had a marvelous time being with folks I hadn’t seen much over the previous three years. Even if I hadn’t been especially close with any of them, I was at ease with these longtime friends and must have been wittier than normal, as I remember people laughing at my jokes pretty much the whole weekend. It was a magnificent final hurrah for that chapter of my life.

(That may not have been my only trip to the Pinnacles that semester—I have photographic evidence of a group of Transy friends being in the parking lot near the trailhead. That particular set of people being together makes most sense in fall 85.)

GRE Exams.  But it was already time to be looking to the future, too. By this time, I’d decided to pursue graduate studies in math instead of computer science. One Saturday in October (likely the 12th or 19th), I drove over to UK to sit for the general test in the morning and the math subject test in the afternoon.

Marshall Crenshaw/Howard Jones concert.  I wrote about this show last year. A little online sleuthing tells me this took place on October 18.

High school football with James. Walton-Verona was too small to field a team back then, so I saw very little high school football growing up. James had been the videographer for his school’s team; I believe he continued in that role his first year or two of college.  I don’t remember if he’d been called in for emergency camera duty that night, but a number of us trundled down to Danville one crisp Friday evening in October to watch Boyle County do battle. My main recollection from that trip is riding down two-lane highways in James’s land yacht, singing along with whatever came on the radio.

One of which was this week’s #20 song. “I’m Goin’ Down” is one of my two or three favorites off of Born in the U.S.A. I won’t disagree with Len O’Kelly’s take from last week that it “sound(s) like it was written in ten minutes,” but I think it’s a completely fun romp, perfect for windows-down, crank-up-the-radio driving (to be fair, I may have been the only one in the car to have felt that way that night). It was the sixth of seven Top 10 hits from Springsteen’s mega-album, reaching #9.

Yes, there was homework to do and tests to take during the opening months of that school year, but obviously that’s not going to be what stands out thirty-plus years later.

Oh, and I really should have sussed out that “The Boys of Summer” had won Best Video. My MTV-watching buddies thought it was WAY too pretentious. Yes, Henley and the director were probably trying too hard, but I can see the merit of the selection.


American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/28/74: Beach Boys, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Two iconic hits from the first decade of the rock era each spent a single week on AT40 in 74. Back on Memorial Day weekend, “Rock Around the Clock” snuck in at #39, and here, four months later, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” is planting its flag at #36. Maybe, just maybe, this 10-year-old  noticed an uptick in hearing Bill Haley on the radio back then, but the resurgence of the Beach Boys’ remodeling of “Sweet Little Sixteen” passed me by. But I’ve gotten to wondering: what led to these re-chartings?

The short answer, in both cases, seems to be American Graffiti, released in August 73. The movie is set in 62, the year that the Beach Boys first charted; two of their earliest songs, “Surfin’ Safari” and “All Summer Long,” were featured on the soundtrack. According to a piece at the end of this article about Beach Boys singles of the early 70s, the ensuing wave of nostalgia led Capitol to compile and release Endless Summer, a two-disk retrospective of music from their first three years. (I remember well Brian, Mike, and Al peering out at me through the cover’s foliage on many a record store visit in the mid-70s).  What exactly led to re-releasing “Surfin’ U.S.A.” as a single isn’t clear to me, but it worked to the tune of nine more weeks on the Hot 100.

(I also decided to look back at my father’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue cassettes, to see how he ranked Beach Boys songs. He sprinkled seven across his first two tapes: in order, it’s “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Good Vibrations,” and “I Get Around.” Their early hits always make me think of him. As for me, I favor the stuff from a little later: I also go for “Good Vibrations,” but would take “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows” over the beach-and-hot-rods tunes.)

As for “Rock Around the Clock,” well, the connection to American Graffiti is both more convoluted and more direct. The common link is Ron Howard, one of the leads in Graffiti.  The movie’s success led ABC to pick up a series starring Howard whose pilot had been originally been broadcast on an episode of Love, American Style, one set even farther in the past (if I ever knew how Happy Days had gotten its start, I’d long forgotten). I also tend to overlook that the Pratt and McClain #5 hit from spring 76 wasn’t Happy Days’ original theme song; “Rock Around the Clock” was played at the opening for its first two seasons. The first episode of Happy Days was in mid-January 74, and the rock era’s first #1 song was back on the charts two months later.

As it happens, American Graffiti gets a shout-out from Casey on this very show. Wolfman Jack had a small but important role playing a DJ in the movie, a fact mentioned in the intro to the Guess Who’s “Clap for the Wolfman,” sitting at #7.

When I was very young, I preferred “Surfin’ Safari” to “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. The opening seconds of both are utterly fantastic, though.

Time To Play B-Sides: Beach Boys, “Shut Down”

I’ve mentioned before that a few of my father’s 45s migrated over to my collection in the 76-78 period, soon after I started buying my own. The reasons for which ones got picked are certainly lost to me now, but they included “Come and Get It,” “Spirit in the Sky,” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (with its awesome orange-and-yellow Capitol label).

The flip to that Beach Boys single is “Shut Down,” a not-quite-complete story about a drag race between a “fuel-injected Stingray” (a Corvette) and a “413” (a Dodge Dart, according to Wikipedia—the # refers to the size of the engine, in cubic inches). While it’s plenty slight and the lyrics are full of inside references to cars and racing, it’s also a darn catchy little number, one I played and sang along to on my little turntable many a time. I was pleased and a little surprised to hear it as part of “The Beach Boys Medley” that made it to #12 around this time of year in 81. It took a long time for me to realize I’d been holding a double-sided hit in my hands (“Shut Down” reached #23 on the 6/22/63 Hot 100).

There probably isn’t another 45 from the 60s whose two sides I know better than this one (though I’m not finding it amongst my stacks of singles at the moment). I’ll be saying more about the song on the A side in a couple of days.

The song ends before the race is over; the Dodge is ahead but the Stingray is gaining. I know very little about cars in general, much less those of the early 60s, but the commenters in the video below are pretty much exclusively saying the Dodge would win.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/19/87: Prince, “U Got the Look”

John taught me a thing or three about music while I was rooming with him. One band he definitely turned me on to was the Smiths—their compilation of UK singles and B-sides, Louder Than Bombs, is one of my favorite late 80s disks, and 85’s The Queen Is Dead is also quite fab. It’s a bit surprising to look back and see I’ve not featured anything from Morrissey, Marr, and Co. here on the blog.  Hopefully someday soon…

Among more commercial enterprises, two of John’s favorites were Billy Idol and Prince, both of whom reached high on the charts in the fall of 87. Idol was just about to hit the show with the live, chart-topping “Mony Mony” (much better than his studio version), while the Purple One was already at #15 with “U Got the Look (it’d hit #2 four weeks later).  I remember seeing videos for these songs so many times in the apartment on Elm St.

I was never a super big Prince fan, though I enjoyed a number of his songs and definitely paid attention to much of his work—his talent pretty much demanded it.  If I had to venture a list of my five favorites from his 80s hits, it’d be fairly unadventurous and go something like: #5 1999; #4 U Got the Look; #3 Raspberry Beret; #2 Pop Life; #1 Let’s Go Crazy.  Please, feel free to tell me how lame this is!

Looking back, it feels odd that Sheena Easton didn’t receive label credit for her contributions to “U Got the Look” (and maybe Sheila E, too—love it when she bounces and catches the drumstick in the vid).  That’d never happen now, what with all the “featuring” fever of today’s hits.

Grandma’s Art Gallery

Today is the 120th anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s birth. Mary Elizabeth Brown Harris was the older of the two girls born to J. R. and Mary Jane Griffin Brown and she grew up right along the Ohio River in Warsaw. She married my grandfather in June 1920; the two of them spent much of the 20s traveling around Kentucky as teachers. As best as I can tell, they got back close to home in mid-1928, and she remained within a 30 mile or so radius of her birthplace the rest of her life. My father came along in June 31. She was widowed in late 61, became a grandmother two times over in 64 and 65, and began developing dementia in the early 70s. It advanced so much that her final years were spent bedridden in a nursing home in Florence, passing away in January 75. Unfortunately, I have very few memories of her in anything but that latter state.

Here’s a photo from her youth, probably her late teens.



Sometime in the 90s I received a surprise gift from my father: a framed watercolor, painted by my grandmother. (Amy got one, too, and another soon appeared on a wall at my folks’ house.)


It’s had a place of prominence in our dining area for over twenty years now. Dad went on to tell me that these were three of several pieces of hers they’d found some time before. He said the only ones that were dated were from 29; since that was the year Elizabeth’s father died, Dad speculated that painting may have been part of her grieving process.

Continue reading “Grandma’s Art Gallery”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/27/75: Orleans, “Dance with Me”

My sister and I took piano lessons for several years in the mid-to-late-70s. Sometime not long after we moved to Walton, an upright from (I think) Willis Music Co. appeared in our home. Learning to play the piano was one of two things I specifically remember my mother wanting for her children that she didn’t know how to do herself (swimming was the other).  Mom pretty quickly set out to find a teacher for us.

I realized early on that I didn’t have any particular aptitude for the instrument. Both Amy and I regularly resisted practicing, which of course didn’t aid my progress, but Mom persisted. I believe for a short while at the beginning our teacher was a young woman from our church, but it wasn’t long before we switched over to Mrs. Henson, a gray-blond, thin, bespectacled woman who was maybe in her late 50s.

While it could be that Mrs. Henson began by giving lessons at our home, we spent the better part of Monday afternoons over four years being shuttled out to her place a few miles outside of Walton. She lived on a sparsely populated road that led out to the local landfill, so following or being followed by garbage trucks was the norm on those trips. It was a fairly new house; she and her husband also seemed to provide a lot of care for their toddler granddaughter.  The interior was largely unfinished when we started going out there, though progress toward completion was made over the years.  The room where we played for Mrs. Henson would have been one of the bedrooms, though it contained only the piano, a bench, and a chair, all sitting on the particle board floor. I remember her as nice and largely patient with us, though she had to be frustrated with our practicing habits. I still have a Christmas ornament she gave us one year.

One of my classmates lived on a small farm across the road from the Hensons.  As I got older, particularly in junior high, I made sure I took my lesson first; afterward, I would walk over to Andy’s to hang out for the thirty minutes Amy was playing. He and I would talk some about music (Bob Seger comes to mind), baseball cards (I was a big collector in my youth), and other things important to 13-year-olds.

My sister and I kept trying to tickle the ivories until the end of my eighth grade year, the spring of 78; by that point, Amy was getting much more involved in sports (as was I, though she was very much the jock of the family). Practices after school plus HW left not enough time for piano. Plus, Mom would have had to admit we weren’t advancing all that far.  I can still pound out scales and some mean chords on occasion, but not much else.  Mom held on to the piano the rest of her life—Amy took it down to Florida three years ago as we were emptying the folks’ house (you can imagine it was badly out of tune). The bench still contained our lesson books, with Mrs. Henson’s notes, suggestions, and maybe occasional admonishments throughout them.

It’s the music of 75 that I most associate with those trips out to our lessons—maybe it’s because it was still before I was listening to the radio almost all the time.  I imagine we didn’t go out there over the summers, but there are songs from both the spring and fall that always stick me back in Mom’s Ford Fairlane, out on the hills of McCoys Fork Road. Spring tracks include “You Are So Beautiful” and “Poetry Man,” while for fall there’s “At Seventeen,” “Feelings,” and this week’s #12 song, “Dance with Me.” Orleans had formed a few years earlier in upstate New York and would reach #6 with this utterly winsome song, their first big hit. Trivia time: a decade ago, band member John Hall, who wrote “Dance with Me,” was in the middle of serving two terms in the U.S. House.

We lost touch with Mrs. Henson after the lessons stopped, though I’d guess we might have seen her at the grocery or drug store from time to time while we were in high school. There was a snippet of sad news while I was in grad school—the granddaughter, now in her late teens/early 20s, had gotten into a legal scrape big enough to make the community paper.  Several years later, after I was back in Kentucky, Mom told me during one of our twice-weekly calls that she’d come across Mrs. Henson’s obituary.

About three years ago, I stopped off at Walton on one of my trips to Florence to drive out the road where she had lived—checking out “the old places” is something I seem to do from time to time.. Maybe I’m just getting old and forgetful, but I couldn’t find her house. I’m pretty certain I found Andy’s place, and there wasn’t anything across the way.

9/1/79, 9/17/77, and 9/18/82 Charts

Three countdowns I charted have been rebroadcast so far this month. First up is 1979.


If I had to venture what my five favorite songs were at the time of the show, I’d probably go with #1, #5, #12, #15, and #18, though not in that order (#22, #27, and #37 wouldn’t have been far behind).

The circled numbers down by the LDDs indicate where the song came on the show; the 18 by Helen Reddy means it was played between #18 and #17 (that song draws an emotional reaction from me now that didn’t happen five years ago.)

Next up is the 77 show that was just played. It appears that this sheet was folded into quarters at some point.


A real-time top 5 might have consisted of #5, #7, #8, #12, and #20.

“The Harris Box” was a very short-lived feature, maybe a month. The week before it’d contained lyrics to one of the seven songs that fell off on this show, “Whatcha Gonna Do?” Clearly I’d listened to this one, as I more or less regurgitate in minute detail (Dear Abby-style) Casey’s story about Ted Nugent’s hunting interest.

One more notable thing about this one–it’s the first time I recognized Saturday as a chart date (I used Sat-Sun dates through the end of the year, then switched over exclusively to Saturdays starting on 1/7/78).

I think I’ve said before that I maintained personal charts through the end of 82, even though my AT40 charts stopped after 10/2/82. This was the first of three weeks at #1 for Alan Parsons and Co. Chicago, the Go-Go’s, and the Motels were all previous chart-toppers, while Randy Meisner has the only future #1. Melissa, Kim, and Eddie all climbed one more position before topping out.  Billy got to #7, while sadly, Marshall only made #12.


Finally, here’s the real 82 thing.


Bare bones, though apparently I had a lapse in remembering how to spell September. I was two weeks into college life, and kept only two more charts after this. One of the Lexington papers (the Herald and the Leader merged in December 82) carried the Billboard top 20 on Sunday mornings; I don’t know if I was relying on that for half of the countdown or not. I think WLAP was also doing the shows on Sunday mornings by this time.