American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/18/82: Tané Cain, “Holdin’ On”

My wife and I are pretty darn similar in numerous ways, but there’s at least one topic on which we diverge: during our respective college years, Martha was in a sorority, but I did not join a fraternity. Being a member of Alpha Omicron Pi was an enjoyable and fairly important part of my wife’s time at Hanover, and she defends Greek life (in a non-defensive way) whenever I make a snide comment (or two) about it. Ultimately, there were several reasons for my decision not to rush or pledge; this post centers on one pause-giving incident that arose very early in my collegiate life.

Back in the day, rush at Transy occurred over the first couple of weeks of classes—perhaps it still does. This practice didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I do recognize there are benefits to going Greek, such as having a support group and gaining networking opportunities after college. But I have a difficult time imagining the way things were set up at TU gave everyone involved time to make reasoned decisions about which, if any, group to join, never mind the accompanying need for merging pledge life with the whole adjusting-to-college thing. On the other hand, it really didn’t take long to discern the “personality” of each of the four fraternities and four sororities on campus, so maybe one could make a quick determination of which one(s) to target. (Another conflicting thought: where I work, recruitment—that’s what they call it now—doesn’t happen until January. Might this have the effect of turning the fall semester into one long, informal rush?)

I elected not to go through the process that first September, mostly because I did want to find my feet in my new surroundings before tackling anything so time-consuming as that. I was a legacy of Pi Kappa Alpha; being in that group had meant a lot to my father. I became pretty certain pretty quickly, though, that Pike life wasn’t for me.

My recollection is that Bid Day arrived for the women first, I believe on a Sunday; the corresponding event for the men would have occurred the following Friday afternoon.  My then-roommate pledged, as did a number of the guys on my hall. I think it’s fair to say that in many cases (though certainly not all), the choices we made regarding affiliation or lack thereof in that opening month impacted our relationships going forward. Some of our initial friendships strengthened, while others faded away. It’s completely understandable in retrospect, given the limited number of hours we had to allocate, though it doesn’t mean I necessarily expected that at the time.

But going Greek is a two-way street, as I realized on the women’s Bid Day. This was most likely to have been September 19th (the other possible date would be the 12th, but that’s only eight days after we new students arrived; that feels awfully quick). At this point, I was still in the process of trying to sort out which campus organizations I actually might want to join. I had volunteered to go with a group to a church on the south end of Lexington to help manage activities for pre-school-aged kids, I guess while Sunday evening services were going on. (If I want to feel really old, I suppose I could chew on the fact that those children are now around 40.) I rode out there with at least two fellow students, both women. The one not driving was a sophomore, and it was clear early on in the trip that she was upset. Through tears, she told us she had not received a bid that afternoon. I don’t remember now if she had aimed for a specific sorority or had been shut out across the board—for all I know, this might have been her second time through without success. The driver was appropriately sympathetic; I, having just met her fifteen minutes before, stayed quiet in the back seat, but I certainly felt badly for her.  I suppose I was also taken aback a little. Until then I was probably somewhat naïve about quotas and realizing a group could actively turn someone down for membership. It was an education to see the flip side of all the shouting and excitement one sees when pledge classes are first introduced.

There was one frat that I think would have been a decent fit for me temperamentally, but I didn’t strongly consider investigating to see if they’d have me. My dad was at least a little disappointed in that (though he was okay with me rejecting my legacy after I described to him the excesses of some of his current brothers’ behavior). I didn’t lack for friends—many were fellow independents, but plenty weren’t, too.  It all worked out for me just fine. I didn’t have many other interactions with that unhappy young woman, but I hope it worked out for her, too—perhaps sometime later she received an open bid.

If I’m right about the date above, then Tané Cain’s lone AT40 appearance began that weekend, the first of three in a row for her at #37. At the time, she was married to former-Babys-then-Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. A little research indicates the accompanying album got decent reviews but stiffed in stores. I like “Holdin’ On” well enough, but I can’t shake the feeling that her voice doesn’t quite stay in tune on the question “Am I wrong?” in the chorus. I remember hearing it on WLAP-FM for a few weeks; it showed up on a K-Tel collection, Blast Off, I got on cassette several months later. For years that was where I’d have to turn if I wanted to hear it.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/17/77: Meco, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band”

September means fall festival season has come to many of the small towns and cities in Kentucky. The Lexington Herald-Leader carried an article recently about the various options folks within a couple hours’ drive have over the next couple of months.  For instance, you could visit the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (Bardstown) or Cow Days (Greensburg) this weekend; later in the month come the Spoonbread Festival (Berea), Hatfield-McCoy Heritage Days (Pikeville), and the World Chicken Festival (London). The one here in Georgetown is called the Festival of the Horse—it happened last weekend, and it endured its usual crummy weather. My first experience with this sort of event came back in my pre-teen years, in Walton: Old Fashion Day.

The inaugural Old Fashion Day, according to Walton’s Wikipedia page, was held in 73, just a year-plus after my family moved there. It’s a one-day affair, always held the Saturday after Labor Day. There’s a morning parade (the W-V band marches) and afterward, Main Street is shut down for vendors and general hobnobbing. I haven’t been in well over 30 years, but I figure that one of these days before long I’ll go back—I get the sense that I’d still run into a decent number of friends and acquaintances from high school.

It was less than a mile from our house to the heart of downtown, and as I got to be a teenager, I’d walk down there by myself and spend a huge chunk of my day at Old Fashion Day. In those early years it was liberating to be able to stroll down the middle of the street, up and back, back and up. I suspect that got to be less of a big deal after I had my license and was moving closer to graduation.

But moments from Old Fashion Day in 77 still flicker in my memory. It was a clear, beautiful day; the upper atmosphere must have been very still, because I noticed over and again how well the jet contrails held together, often long enough to stretch across the entire sky. There I am, bounding out the kitchen door, ready to head down Bedinger Avenue toward the festivities, songs of the day in my head. This also has a very decent chance of being the year I surprised Mom by bringing a goldfish home in a bag in the early part of the afternoon. I named him (fifty-fifty chance, right?) Sparky. We dug around for a glass bowl as a temporary home. Of course, I had no long-term plan and knew zero about caring for such a creature, but surely changing his water couldn’t be a bad thing, no? Yes—I didn’t think about temperature and must have made things a bit too chilly for old Spark. By the end of the day, I was burying him in the back yard.

And as for the music? Two songs immediately stand out from that day (which would have been a week prior to this countdown). One is “Cold as Ice,” but going with Meco instead allows me to segue into discussing Star Wars just a little. It took quite a while to get around to seeing A New Hope, maybe even into early 78. Afterward, though, I had the fever enough to see Episodes V and VI pretty soon after their opening dates. Maybe five years ago, I re-watched them with Ben. My takes now probably don’t differ all that much from the consensus. A New Hope: somewhat surprising in retrospect it was such an enormous hit. Mark Hamill—what a whiner! Harrison Ford—very easy to see how he became the star he did.  The Empire Strikes Back: By far the best movie of the three, even if I do like A New Hope almost as much. Very tight thematically.  Return of the Jedi: You really want me to believe the Ewoks could take out Stormtroopers like they did? Far too silly in spots.

I couldn’t know what was coming for that mega-franchise when I was 13, however. I was just hanging with friends on a carefree Saturday, thinking about a quirky instrumental that would soon be #1 for two weeks (it was lucky #13 on this show). “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” snuck in at the top amongst probably the three biggest pop hits of the calendar year: right after the nine weeks that “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” and “Best of My Love” traded blows, and immediately before the ten-week run of “You Light Up My Life” (which happens to debut on this show).

Fly Like An Eagle

Ben came home from school one afternoon with a piece of paper in his hands, gave it to us, and asked, “Can I please do this this year? I have friends that are.” Our eight-year-old had recently started third grade and was brandishing information about an organizational meeting for Cub Scouts to be held soon at the school. This wasn’t the first time, of course—he’d showed interest a year earlier, when we’d chosen to dodge the issue. I had spent some good portion of a year in Cub Scouts, probably when I was a fourth-grader, but I don’t recall any particularly fun or interesting stuff that we did—not enough to want to continue, apparently.  Besides, neither Martha nor I are exactly the outdoorsy type.  But Ben was well aware that the father and son next door to us were heavily involved in Scouting; our son saw the boy, who was four years older, as something akin to a big brother. Whatever Brennen was doing, that’s what Ben wanted.

Fairly close to exactly nine years later, on Monday evening, Ben successfully navigated his Eagle Scout Board of Review, with a little over seven weeks to spare (he had until his 18th birthday). We’re very pleased for and proud of him. It turned out that he really enjoys camping and not bathing for days on end! But along the way he certainly learned many valuable skills. (As an aside, it’s no surprise that he elected to join Brennen’s Troop when he crossed over from Cub Scouts.)  When we asked him after the meeting Monday about his favorite Scouting memory, he named two: his High Adventure week of sailing in the Florida Keys, and participating in a National Youth Leadership Training Leadership Academy in the DC area (he’s also been on staff at his Council’s NYLT the past three years).

I went camping with Ben twice. The first was for a Scout Centennial Jamboree outside of Louisville in the fall of 10, while he was still a Webelo.  The second came in the summer of 15, on a trip to Muskegon, Michigan. We spent one night on the USS Silversides, a WWII submarine, and another in a local state park. Both were great times; looking back, I can say I wish I had done more of that.

Ben undertook his Eagle project last fall. Its primary focus was cleaning an almost century-old DAR monument near downtown Georgetown, but he also organized a sprucing-up of the area around the monument and replaced the flag on a nearby pole. Later, on a crisp, clear early November morning, there was a rededication and a flag retirement ceremony; members of the DAR and the mayor, among others, were in attendance. From there, just a few merit badges remained. He finished the final one, Family Life, this summer when he completed a landscaping project in our back yard.

At Ben’s Board of Review, the man serving as the chartered organization’s representative to the Troop, who has long ties to the community, gave Ben the photo you see at the top. It’s from the first dedication of the monument, in 1920. That’s quite an incredibly generous gift! The photographer was facing north; directly behind the assembled dignitaries, out of view over a hill, is Royal Spring, the land feature that made Georgetown a desirable spot to settle. There’s now a parking lot for our local electrical utility on the spot where the camera was set up.

It’s dangerous to thank by name the adults who helped guide Ben on this journey—I’m afraid I’ll fail to highlight someone who played a vital role. But I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention Ms. Rice for her three years of Cub Scout leadership, Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Maddix, Mr. Morris, and Mr. Baker, who served as Scoutmasters over Ben’s six-plus years in Troop 215, Mr. Rice, Mr. Shaffer, Ms. Homkes, Ms. Fryer, and Mr. Cleland for various Troop roles, Mr. Carruthers for his NYLT mentorship, and Ms. Hanes, for shepherding Ben through the Eagle process (the late Mr. Hanes also had an important part right after Ben crossed over). There were many others who did important work; please know Martha and I are appreciative of all of you. Any oversight in the list above is entirely on me.

We have hundreds of photos of Ben’s Scouting adventure from across the years. I’ll content myself with including just two here.  The first is obviously from Cub Scout days. Martha’s notes say it was taken on a day they went geocaching in Frankfort in the fall of 10. There were a couple other boys in his Pack, but most of the cohort is present here. Three of these pictured wound up staying through to Eagle rank—Ben (in the olive fleece) is the second to finish, but the third will be done very soon.


The second shows our boy working on the monument on the day of his Eagle project (plenty of others were there to pitch in—they’re just not shown in this picture). The view is of the same side you see in the 1920 photo—it’s such a different view! You can see the waterworks now present on the site of the spring behind it.


There will be a celebratory Court of Honor for Ben’s achievement in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, congratulations, son—may you continue to soar, and may what you do with your life be part of the solution.


American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/17/83: Naked Eyes, “Promises, Promises”

I took my third computer science course, Assembly Language Programming, in the fall of my sophomore year of college. Assembly languages are low-level; that is, the commands used in them are MUCH closer to machine-level code than high-level languages such as Java, Python, R, and the like (or the FORTRAN I used in my other college classes). The mainframe Transy was using in the fall of 83, an HP-3000, had no mechanism to accept an assembly language program. That meant James, Mark, Cathy, I, and all the others in the class had to trundle across town to McVey Hall at UK to complete our assignments. Even better, our programs needed to be typed on punch cards, one card per line of code!  (I hope you can truly sense how much fun this was to do.)

There were a few punch machines on our campus—one in the science building and maybe a couple in the basement of the library—so we did the majority of our prep at Transy before jumping in my navy Citation or James’s enormous, black Caprice Classic (otherwise known as the land yacht). Once at UK, we’d hand over our bundle of cards to a staff member who’d put it in the queue to run through the reader. Soon enough you’d get a printout, letting you know if your program compiled/ran, along with any output you requested if successful. Fortunately, UK had their own machines on site so you could fix bugs etc. as needed (I might have needed to use it from time to time…).

For some while after graduating, I kept my stacks of cards, but eventually threw them all away (honestly, I’m a wee bit surprised I didn’t retain a few as souvenirs). However, I do still have the printouts from successful runs of my code. It may be hard to read, but the picture at the top was what I submitted to Dr. Feng for my first assignment. It’s time-stamped a little before 5pm on the Monday following this weekend’s featured 80s countdown. The class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so even though it was a straightforward, introductory program, it appears I’m demonstrating excellent ‘just in time’ protocol here!  One thing I very much like about the printouts is I can see how many cards I used each time (this project required 20); the largest number I found among my artifacts is 237.

Our cohort turned out to be the final group forced to use punch cards and trek over to UK. At the beginning of 84, Transy upgraded to an IBM 4331 system which, among other vast improvements, allowed submission of assembly programs. I’ve had friends over the years express surprise that as late as 83 there were people still programming with cards. I have to admit looking back it’s something I didn’t expect to experience myself (it feels much more like a 60s and 70s thing to me), but on the other hand, clearly there were folks at UK who were also still dealing with it. It’s become a fun memory to have.

Many thanks go to James for a messaging conversation this week that helped me recall a number of the details about Transy computer systems and our experiences typing cards in the library, among other things.

I can’t know for certain that I heard “Promises, Promises” (#15, heading toward a peak of #11) in the car heading over to McVey early that semester, but it’s certainly more than possible. I probably like it a little more than “Always Something There To Remind Me,” but I’m a fan of that whole first Naked Eyes album. I’m including two clips here: second is the official video, but I also wanted to provide a version with different lyrics that has the intro I remember being on WLAP-FM (courtesy of TM Stereo Rock) back in 83. Not sure I’ve heard those opening measures anywhere since (other than in my head).



American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/12/70: Blood, Sweat and Tears, “Hi-De-Ho”

My perfect 70s radio station would include a LOT of pop music from the second half of the 60s, just like the stations I heard when I was growing up. There’d be plenty of contributions from folks who hit only in the 60s, among them the Association, Mamas and the Papas, Small Faces, Left Banke, Zombies, Lovin’ Spoonful, Tommy James and the Shondells, and psychedelic-era Beatles. Of course, music from the first act of artists whose careers bled into the 70s would also be represented, too: the Fifth Dimenson, Guess Who, Four Tops, Temptations, Doors, CCR.

And you can be sure that Blood, Sweat and Tears would be featured prominently. “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die” take me back to the period where I’m first really able to piece together memories with songs on the radio. (I think I come closer to understanding what Laura Nyro was getting at in the latter song as each year passes.) While I don’t remember “Hi-De-Ho” (#19, down from its peak of #14) quite as well, it’s definitely tucked back in there somewhere (and what an opening!).  The magic that David Clayton Thomas’s vocals brought to BS&T burned away much too quickly, but I sure celebrate their best pieces.

SotD: Suzanne Vega, “Neighborhood Girls”

My father subscribed to Stereo Review as far as back as I can remember; my guess is that originally he wanted to keep track of new classical releases and eventually inertia took over.  Somewhere around the age of 13, I began taking a serious interest in its Popular Music album reviews section (I tore out Peter Reilly’s full-page review of The Stranger from the January 78 issue–still have it, too). By the time I was in high school, it got to the point where I’d attack a new arrival as soon as it landed in our mailbox, anxious to seek out the Best of the Month and Recordings of Special Merit, figuring out which critics spoke to me more (Steve Simels–who is still active, blogging here–was the star, but if I had to do it over again, I’d pay much closer attention to what Alanna Nash wrote), and plotting potential future purchases on my limited budget. I recall their strong praise for Fear of Music and Argybargy, even though it’d be years before I obtained either. During the college years, I made a point to catch up on anything I’d missed in SR on my visits home. And that’s how I first learned about Suzanne Vega.

While it wasn’t selected as one of September 85’s Best, Suzanne Vega did get a featured review from Simels in that issue (I think reviewers took turns on Best picks, and it wasn’t his month). I took further note a few months later, in February 86, when SR chose it as one of its twelve Albums of the Year (besting another Simels favorite, Marshall Crenshaw’s Downtown). It’d be close to a year before I finally purchased SV at Record Service in Champaign, sometime between November 86 and January 87. I was immediately awestruck and wished I hadn’t waited so long to give it a spin.  I’d recalled the phrase “her songs insinuate themselves” from the SR write-up; that turned out to be completely accurate, particularly lyrically–similar snippets of language crop up in pairs of songs, and more than once.

It’s hard to pick a favorite on SV–“Freeze Tag,” “Small Blue Thing,” and “Undertow” would all be under consideration–but the honor may go to the final track, “Neighborhood Girls,” one of the few pieces on the album to feature (more or less) a full band. It’s a slinky thing, with an almost funky bass line. Just to prove the ‘insinuation’ point, “I’d like to hear a straight line to help me find my way” (almost) directly references the title of the last song (“Straight Lines”) on side one, though with an entirely different meaning to the term.

Over the next decade her stuff was must-buy and usually top-notch. There’s more I want to say about Suzy V (that’s what I called her back in 87; I was completely amused to find her Twitter handle is @suzyv), but that will wait for another day.  (In the meantime, I recommend checking out The Old Grey Cat’s recent overview of her second release, Solitude Standing.)

I don’t know when Dad let the Stereo Review subscription finally lapse, but it may not have been too long after I left for Illinois. I don’t seem to have any memories of pawing through it after I was done at Transy.

Mucho credit goes to for helping me with dates for this post. I’m super excited to discover that a few months ago they began housing an awesome archive of Stereo Review!

What’s In A Name: Tony Harris, “Chicken, Baby, Chicken”

Last month I was browsing through my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, 1955-2002, wandering through the ‘H’ section. My last name is relatively common, so it’s not too surprising there have been several acts over the years that share it. I’ve known for a while there are nine solo acts listed with the surname Harris, and that they all charted between 57 and 86.  One thing I have noticed is that while eight of the nine did make the Top 40, exactly zero of them scored more than one such hit.

I figured that it might be cool to do a little digging and find out more about these folks, even though my interest is strictly driven by our respective accidents of birth. Seven men and two women. A couple are well-known (though in one case, not for singing); another has a troubling (understatement alert) story. I’m hoping to do write-ups about them and their hits in a series that I’ll come back to from time to time. I think it should be fun on the whole. Today, I’m taking a look at Tony Harris, not just the first to chart in the rock era, but also the only one who never made it as high as #40.

Tony Harris had a single chart appearance.  “Chicken, Baby, Chicken” spent three weeks on the Top 100 and peaked at #89 on the 8/31/57 survey. A little searching on the web doesn’t reveal much about our subject other than this pair of articles from the British magazine Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth. They appear to be based virtually exclusively on the author’s conversations with Tony. Basic outline: Harris, born in 1934, got his start in gospel quartets in the Los Angeles area while still in his early teens. This led to touring on the gospel circuit (as part of a group called The Traveling Four)  around the western and southern US in the mid-50s before going solo and switching to R&B. He wound up cutting just a few singles over the years; the lack of traction he experienced beyond his one minor hit kept him on the outside looking in. He did stay involved in the music business around LA, at least into the 80s.

It’s an interesting, if minutely detailed and occasionally rambling, story; it almost reads like the transcript of a tape recording at times. Sam Cooke, Darlene Love, Dick Clark, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Bumps Blackwell, the Rivingtons, and Little Richard all make appearances, though some only on the very fringes of the tale. The most fascinating detail revealed is that Harris did a couple of tours posing as Little Richard after the latter found religion and left promoters holding the bag. There are a few pictures of him in the linked articles—I haven’t found any elsewhere. I don’t know if he’s still living; he’d be 84.

The pieces appeared over twenty years ago. The author, Opal Louis Nations, is originally from England and clearly has a longstanding, deep interest in US gospel groups of yesteryear. I assume he’s still around—information on the internet for him outside his own website, while not quite as sparse as it is for Harris, still doesn’t amount to a whole lot. I’m certainly glad to have found the articles.

“Chicken, Baby, Chicken” sounds a little rough around the edges to me, but it’s still a pretty sweet R&B number about the famous dance craze. If you’re curious, take a listen. Ebb was a short-lived LA R&B label in the late 50s; I see that there are two compilations of its releases out there. Tony has three songs on Volume 2, and “Chicken, Baby, Chicken” is its lead track.

By the way, Harris said he wrote this song. The “O” below tells me that I don’t know his actual first name.