American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/27/80: Al Stewart, “Midnight Rocks”

My son’s high school changed this year from offering seven class periods to six. This caused him a little consternation, as suddenly he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to take all the classes he wanted, AP Chemistry in particular, but it all worked out in the end (they also run an optional “early morning” time block before 1sthour, and that’s where the chemistry course landed).

His experience has been a rather different scene from the early 80s, at least compared to what Walton-Verona had on offer. They had six periods, full stop, and since it was a really small school (55 or so in my graduating class), options weren’t all that numerous, either.  Five of the classes I took my junior year (80-81) were almost automatically determined for me: English, Algebra II, American History, Chemistry, and Band. (Digression: my English class was actually somewhat non-standard and fun, two one-semester offerings for that juniors and seniors could take. The first half was Advanced English, where we did a ton of writing—I didn’t mind that at all. The second half was Early English Literature, which was also really fun. One of the most useless things that I still carry around with me is the ability to recite the first eighteen lines of the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in Middle English.) It wasn’t obvious what to do at first for the sixth class, but I landed on another set of one-semester classes that were much more disparate.

Even though I’d had my driver’s license for four months by the time school started, I took Driver’s Education in the fall of 80. Several of my good friends were in there, too—I suppose our insurance bills got reduced for taking it? Mr. Tillery mostly taught PE/Health; he’d been my basketball coach and Health teacher in 7thgrade. It was pretty much what you’d expect: film watching, test taking, and practical experience. There was a big expanse of asphalt just down the hill from the high school, literally called the “driving range,” where we practiced parallel parking and instilling various safety habits. (The driving range was also where we held our track practices, since we had no football team and hence no field with a track encircling it. Today, it’s a parking lot for busses.) We also hit the road a time or two, in groups of three with Mr. Tillery—I guess those left behind got a study hall.  I can’t say that taking the class changed my life, but it could have made some people I knew a little saner behind the wheel, a big contribution to the common good.

My spring course was something they’d never offered before: a half-year class in Personal Typing, taught, as it happened, by Mrs. Tillery. I hadn’t any place in my schedule for their regular full-year typing offerings, since I planned to load up on math and science electives. But as a complement to the driver’s ed?  Perfect.  It took me several weeks for my brain and muscles to sync up on where to move my fingers to construct words I wanted to create, but I am SO glad I was trained to do it.  For the next year or so after I first learned my way around the keyboard, I’d often have the experience of thinking about a word and then creating a mental image of typing it out (sometimes my hands would play along). I’m hardly speedy, and I still make mistakes all the time, but honestly it’s one of the most valuable things I took with me from high school—I sure use it all the time (it definitely made it much easier to gen up 800-plus words this morning). I’d totally lucked out on the timing, too—Personal Typing turned out to be a one-time offering at W-V.  There was one other benefit; it counted as the business class I needed to participate in FBLA competitions that spring, which sent my last year of high school in an unexpected direction.

Thinking about that Driver’s Education class always puts me in the mind of the music of October 80. I was initially inclined to go with “Drivin’ My Life Away” as the featured track today, for perhaps obvious reasons, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to pick the song whose title shares a word with yesterday’s feature (and whose artist has the same last name). Contra what I said about Stevie, I confess to being an Al Stewart fan boy back then, beginning with “Year of the Cat;” the album of the same name was one of my first LP purchases. When “Midnight Rocks” debuted at #31 about a month prior to this show, I figured Al had a third top 10 song on his hands. I was disappointed when it stalled out at #24, its position here. Nonetheless, it was big with me, hitting the summit of the Harris Top 50 for a couple of weeks in November.

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