American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/14/78: Kenny Loggins, “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend'”

I’ve never been much of a Kenny Loggins fan. It all started when WSAI played “I Believe in Love” a whole lot in the late summer of 77.  For whatever reason, it was one of those songs that made me immediately want to change stations or even turn off the radio; perhaps I’ve never fully recovered from the trauma. His penchant for doing songs for movie soundtracks probably didn’t help, either.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t like some of his stuff.  Here’s a personal top 5:

1) “Welcome To Heartlight”  (by far my favorite)
2) “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend’” (appealing blend with Stevie, it’s really solid)
3) “Celebrate Me Home” (this one’s grown on me over the years—it suffered from association with “I Believe in Love” for a long time)
4) “I’m Alright” (exception to the movie song rule)
5)  …well, okay, it’s only a top 4. Really. Others are okay, but in terms of actually liking something…nope.  Sorry?

This is another song, like “U Got the Look,” where it’s difficult to believe there’s no label credit for the female co-singer. Stevie sure did some wondrous “background vocals” in the late 70s. She and Kenny are at #8 on this show, nearing their peak at #5.

SotD: Golden Palominos, “(Kind of) True”

In the spring of 87, my future officemate Will began doing me the occasional favor of putting LPs on cassettes for me (I’ve mentioned before that Paul, another officemate, did this sort of thing with CDs in later years).  We’d had a couple of classes together in the fall of 86, but it wasn’t until January, when I stumbled upon him, Paul, and John studying for prelims, that a friendship began. He grew up in West Virginia, had come to C-U after leaving a job in Atlanta, and was a few years older than I. As with many folks over the years, music was an initial common bond.

The cassettes were a mix of albums from both our collections; I had records that I wanted to listen to in the car, and he was more than happy to share things with me he really liked. He’s the one who introduced me to early REM, XTC’s English Settlement, and Dylan’s Infidels. And on the other side of the Dylan tape he put a band I’d never encountered before, the Golden Palominos, their 85 release Visions of Excess.

The Palominos wound up being a rotating mix of performers and singers across more than two decades, with the only constant in the end being founder/drummer Anton Fier.  Excess, their second release, was more or less the beginning of the carousel, and has a number of interesting performances. Mike Stipe sings the first three tracks, all of them pretty darn solid. John Lydon does pretty much what you might expect on “The Animal Speaks,” even opening with a belch.  Jack Bruce, of Cream fame, has his turn at the mic, too. It was a song featuring the one female vocalist, however, who stole this show as far as I’m concerned.

I had to ask Will who it was singing “(Kind of) True,” the cut that completely knocked me out. There was no reason to be familiar with Syd Straw, but I filed the name away. She popped up again in 89—I think I can remember talking about her debut disk Surprise with my agronomist friend Jon. Her career never took off (she sings backup on a few other disks in my stash, though), but this one performance is more than enough for a lasting spot in my pantheon of tunes.

Pretty certain this led off a mix tape I made for James, maybe the all-female-singer extravaganza I once assembled for him.  You have to crank the volume to hear it, but at the very beginning Straw says, “Oh, yes indeed,” right before the guitar kicks in. For a while I wrote a lyric from one of the included songs on the labels that went on each side of cassettes I made; those three words would have been a natural choice on that occasion.

Forgotten Albums: Loey Nelson, Venus Kissed the Moon

John and I subscribed to Rolling Stone during the years we roomed together at Illinois, and I think I maintained the subscription for most of the rest of the time I lived in Urbana. The articles I was always most interested in were the album reviews (a carryover from my Stereo Review-reading days), but I also took time to look at various short notes they had about performers, which were usually more toward the front of the magazine. I suspect it was this blurb, under “New Faces” in a June 90 issue, that first brought Loey Nelson to my attention. (As an aside, I bet I also took note of that snippet on the same page about the Sundays.) This was smack dab in the middle of the period where the majority of my purchases featured female vocalists/singer-songwriters.  I was generally on the lookout for hopeful artists-on-the-rise, as well, so it’s no surprise that I soon sought out Venus Kissed the Moon. It became one of my most-listened-to disks the year I lived by myself, after John and Ann got married.

The album has a great pedigree: top-notch studio musicians such as Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel abound, and it’s co-produced by David Kershenbaum (it definitely sounds great). Nelson wrote all its songs but two, a cover of “To Sir With Love” and the Doc Pomus/Dr. John-penned “Only the Shadows Know.” There’s enough going on stylistically not only to keep one’s interest but also to prevent an obvious pigeon-holing.  The title track is a cool, jazzy thing, and there are the country-rock inflections of the sort I was enjoying then on several tracks, including personal favorites “East of the Sun,” “All or Nothing,” and “Railroad Track” (I put the last of these on Way Cool Stuff, one of my all-time favorite mix tapes, in 91).  A couple of contemporaneous reviews I’ve found online make a comparison to Edie Brickell; I’m not sure I hear it, but maybe I’m focusing more on the sound rather than words? Overall, I really enjoy about three-fourths of the songs. It’s nothing particularly earth-shaking in the end, but I’m having a lot of fun listening to it again right now.

I was plenty good at digging on music that didn’t get much traction back then, but Nelson was a bit of an outlier even in this regard, basically disappearing from view after Venus (she did show up as leader of the band Carnival Strippers a few years later, but their one album was barely noticed). A quick internet search seems to indicate she’s back in her native Milwaukee; she has a Facebook page and has recorded a few songs in recent years.

You can find the whole album on YouTube if you’re so inclined (there are a couple of places selling new copies online, too). I’ll put two songs here. One is the aforementioned “Railroad Track” (which includes homages to Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” and Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby”).

 

The other is the final track, a beautiful ballad called “Night Sky.”  It was the first song I looked up last night when this album crossed my mind. It’s a good thing when they get the sequencing right, especially with the last song. It almost feels like a benediction.

 

Always grateful for the albums that comprise the soundtrack of my grad school years, maybe the obscure ones the most.

 

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/3/81: Greg Kihn Band, “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)”

As I was looking over the 10/3/81 chart to consider what I might write about this week, I noticed several songs at the beginning of the show had fallen just a few spots. That’s a little unusual for tunes on the back end of their chart run: “Really Wanna Know You” slipped from #36 to #39, and three other songs from the first hour (“The Breakup Song” at #38, “Cool Love” at #35, and “Draw of the Cards” at #34) fell six spots from the previous week. (Additionally, “Fire and Ice” had gone from #37 to #41.)  That spurred recollections of periods from my chart-keeping years of what I called “slow fallers,” where multiple songs working their way down the 40 would slow to a veritable crawl for a week or two. The time that most stands out in my mind was the fall of 76, particularly parts of October and November, and without looking deeply, I’m sorta thinking that fall of 81 also had its moments in this regard.

That led me to wonder how I might check for relative periods of low or high chart turnover. Math nerd that I am, I looked for a simple proxy for chart action, and settled on a rolling average of the number of debut songs in a week. In periods of high chart action, this number should regularly be above average; the opposite would be true during a more slow-moving time.

Between my charts and Pete Battistini’s American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1980s), with occasional help from the Ultimate Music Database, I had pretty easy access to the number of debuts from 6/5/76 to 8/6/88, when Kasem stepped away from the AT40 mike.  I entered them into a spreadsheet and computed two-week, three-week, and four-week rolling averages over the whole period. (To illustrate: my four-week average for 6/26/76 is the mean of the number of debuts on 6/5, 6/12, 6/19, and 6/26; for 7/3/76, I used 6/12, 6/19, 6/26, and 7/3, etc.) Initially, I thought the three-week averages would be what I’d use here, but ultimately decided the four-week chart yielded more insight.

The mean number of debuts over the whole twelve-year period is almost exactly 4 and 1/3. It’s not too surprising that the mean of the rolling averages is virtually the same. The standard deviation of the rolling averages is a little over 0.5, so the range over which we’d ordinarily expect a rolling average of four numbers to live is roughly 3.75 to 5. I’m positing that numbers outside this range, especially if they lasted for multiple weeks, could be considered a time of unusual action.

Twelve-plus years is a lot of data. A graph for the whole period is at the top, but it’s so dense I broke the timeline into two not-quite-equal pieces so things were more readable: 6/5/76 to 12/25/82, and 1/8/83 to 8/6/88.  Let’s take a look at the first of those now, which very nearly matches the period I was keeping charts:

RollCharts1

There’s plenty of noise, but I think we can pick out a few things. I’ll start with slow periods.

–It does indeed look like the last four months of 76 had below-average turnover overall.
–The last half of 77 looks maybe a little slower than normal.
–Action cratered both in Dec 80-Jan 81 and Dec 81-Jan 82. In between, 81 looks slower overall than 78, 79, and 80, but there’s no sustained dip around the time of this week’s show.

Now, for the higher action periods:
–The first four weeks I wrote down my charts in June 76 was the second-highest active period in this exercise. That makes me want to go back farther in time to see what was happening over the prior year or so.
–July 78 stands out above everything. It’s well-known in AT40 circles that both 7/1/78 and 7/8/78 each had 8 debuts, which makes it easy to overlook that 6/24/78 had 6. I’ve always thought that May-June 78 had quite a few pretty weak tunes, which perhaps made the charts ripe for a mass purge.
–Less notable spikes are in May-July 77 and Oct-Nov 79; there weren’t many down weeks through much of 82 except for August and the very end, a little surprising since this was part of the “clogged charts” period.

There’s a radically different story as 83 begins:

RollCharts2

The first 10 months of 83 is by far the longest-lasting average to below-average period here; I totally did not see that coming. There are other dips around Nov 85-Feb 86 and the first four months of 88, too.

But there’s much less action on the high end. Between 12/10/83 and 3/14/87 there was not one four-week block during which more than 20 songs came on the show (for contrast, there were over 25 such blocks in the period covered by the first graph). Late 83 tried to make up for what had happened earlier, but after that things were overall more settled.  When I went back a few years ago to look at charts from 84 and 85 in preparation for assembling Top 40 playlists, it felt like chart runs had become much more even and predictable than the wild late 70s. The part of the chart from Jan 84 through about May 85 seems to confirm that impression—a lot of stability in turnover there.

I don’t know if there are any big lessons here—you’d expect a lot of jitter in a chart like this, along with occasional forays far away from the mean. “Slow action” doesn’t necessarily mean “slow fallers,” either, which was what I originally sought. Another thing to consider before trying to interpret too much is that Hot 100 chart methodology was not consistent throughout (for instance, there was a big change around May 83). It might be interesting to look more into musical history to see if there’s anything more than chance variation going on, e.g., I see a number of the slow periods happened around the first of the year—were fewer singles traditionally released right before that? Thoughts and speculation are more than welcome.

It’s time to circle back to this week’s chart for a song, one of the four I mentioned at the beginning. The Greg Kihn Band came out of the Bay Area and were on a local label, Beserkley Records. “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” had peaked at #15. I bought the single pretty early on; it was very much one of my favorites then. As much as I like “Jeopardy,” I’ll take this one every time.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/2/71: Persuaders, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate”

Once I started buying albums in earnest in the first few months of 84, it was probably only a matter of time before Learning to Crawl became a part of my collection. “Back on the Chain Gang” was one of my very favorites of 83, and I’d bought the 45; I suspect a Best of the Month nod in the April 84 issue of Stereo Review gave me the final nudge I needed to buy the album. It’s almost uniformly satisfying—James and I had a FB exchange this summer where he claimed only “Watching the Clothes” held it back from perfection, while I countered with “I Hurt You” as the weakest link. It was only implicit, but we were agreeing that the middle track of side two, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” was totes awesome.

“Thin Line” was the final single from Learning to Crawl, reaching #83 in July. I remember seeing a video for it a few times. I also think I was aware from credits/liner notes/other reading that: a) Paul Carrack was playing piano on it, and b) it was a cover of an early 70s R&B track.

But it may have been the better part of three decades, after getting hooked on weekly rebroadcasts, before I heard the original. It’s also by a quartet whose name had ten letters and started with a “P.” The Persuaders, formed in NYC, were on the R&B charts several times between 71 and 74 and hit AT40 twice. “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” went gold, hit #1 R&B, would reach #15 on the Hot 100 (it’s still on its way there on this show, stopping off at #24). It’s a different song when being told in the first person (to be honest, I think I find Hynde’s third-person account more effective). A little over two years later, the Persuaders would get to #39 with “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” also covered in 84, this time by Rod Stewart.

This video captures an appearance on Soul Train, complete with intro from Don Cornelius. It’s mighty fine. Unfortunately, all the original Persuaders have now passed; the last survivor died in early 2016.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

Last weekend was Homecoming at the college. As a part of that, they hold a Saturday morning brunch during which they recognize winners of our Distinguished Alumni awards. This year I had the honor, along with two of my science colleagues, of being an invited guest of one of the recipients. He’d been one of my first group of advisees, assigned to me in the fall of 93, my second year at Georgetown. After graduation, he went to medical school and has gone on to a notably successful career as a surgeon in Florida. He married a classmate and they have six children, the first two of whom are now enrolled here; by coincidence, I was assigned as an advisor to the oldest last year.

Each awardee had the opportunity to give a few remarks. My former advisee used part of his time to talk a little about each of the three faculty he’d invited. It was interesting to hear him briefly describe details of his interactions with me, things I’d long forgotten, and maybe in a case or two, something that didn’t quite jibe with how I thought it had gone. And that got me thinking more about the memories we carry around with us.

When I write about things that happened so long ago, am I getting everything right? Did my sister really jump up and down for her tricycle?  Was I in the front or back of the car when I listened to the young woman who didn’t get a sorority bid?  Do those sorts of details matter? I guess to a reasonable extent I hope not; I’m trying to be an honest broker, but I’m also telling stories, and after inserting a few phrases of the “it’s my recollection…”/”I believe it happened this way…” kind, one hopes the reader gets that point. (I’m sure I also choose to leave out some things from time to time, for a variety of reasons.) I suppose it’s a piece of the whole “truth vs. Truth” thing—I just hope I’m doing alright by the T.

I’m discovering as I age that my near-term memory definitely doesn’t work like it used to. I’m still an ace at getting students’ names down within the first three weeks of class, but I’m regularly finding now that a semester or two later, the name doesn’t automatically come back when I pass someone on the sidewalk. The “right” word to describe a situation doesn’t surface as freely as it once did. I joked with Martha the other night that should I wind up with dementia someday, all she’s going to hear about over and over is stuff about AT40 and the stories I’ve been posting here. I am totally seeing the likelihood that the tales of our younger years are the ones that persist in our minds.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving 2013 was the last time I heard my father speak. He was in the hospital after hitting his head in a fall at the nursing home. A brain scan showed no blood clots, but as the days passed it was clear things were becoming less right. Throughout that Saturday afternoon I had the sense that Dad’s whole life was unspooling in his head, hurtling toward his youth. He introduced himself to the doctor who came by as, “Ira Richard Harris, from Transylvania College”—Transy calls itself a university now, but he was naming it as it was in the 50s, when he attended. And at one point, he asked me (I don’t know now if he addressed me by name) what time the Reds played—while he was a lifelong fan, he’d followed them quite closely growing up. (That question came rushing back on Opening Day 2014.)

Appropriate or not, a well-known painting by Dali sprang to mind as I’ve been mulling these things over. When I looked it up a few days ago, I discovered he also painted a sort of sequel, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. It’s on display at the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, FL, and from what I can tell is about his reaction to the coming of the nuclear age. For me, the title of the follow-up expresses what seems to be happening in my own head as the years steam by.

Sorry/not sorry for going meta and getting too serious here. I’m not sure I’m making sense or saying exactly what I want to, but it’s part of a conversation I apparently want to have. With whom, though? Maybe lots of folks–family and friends near and far, new and old, living and dead.

The Purple Tricycle

(Yes, that’s not a tricycle, but it is evidence of my sister’s love for the color purple.)

It’s my sister’s birthday–many happy returns, Amy!–and I remembered at lunchtime something that I believe happened fifty years ago today; it’s one of my earliest firm memories.

Fall 1968 was a momentous period for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Stone-Campbell Restoration movement of the early 1800s, one with its origins about twenty miles from my current home, began as a call for unity. As the years passed, theological tensions grew and (ironically but perhaps inevitably) the movement ended dividing in three: Church of Christ, independent Christian, and Disciples of Christ. The Fall 1968 General Assembly of the DoC, in Kansas City, was the final step for the Disciples choosing officially to become a denomination and in effect formally splitting from independent Christians. My father, then a Disciples minister, was at that gathering; I don’t believe he voted in favor of the motion.

The Assembly officially ended on October 2. We had moved from La Grange to Stanford not quite a month earlier. I’m certain Dad would have driven and not flown, so yes, it’s possible he didn’t make it home on Amy’s birthday, especially if he didn’t leave early. But I know what happened whenever it was he arrived. I’m there in the living room, when he comes through the front door. My sister, newly three years old, is in front of me, jumping up and down not only to hug him, but to take from him the birthday gift he’s bearing: a tricycle.  Not just any tricycle, though: a purple one (that’s been Amy’s favorite color her entire life), with sparkly tassels attached at the end of the purple handlebar grips. I’m not finding any pictures of her with it–one from around three years later, next to her purple bicycle (complete with banana seat!) will have to do.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure she and I had a blast racing around our basement in Stanford any number of times (my trike was a more standard red, courtesy of Sears).

Never being ones to throw items with sentimental attachment away, my parents held on to those trikes well past our youth, until they partially disintegrated. As it happens, a banged-up Frankentrike, perhaps used by nephew and niece years ago, was still in their garage at the end; it now sits in the storage unit I’ve been renting for the last three years. My frame, but her seat and handlebars, tassels long ago pulled out.

FrankenTrike

Happy birthday, my dear sister.

 

SotD: Chris Isaak, “Dancin'”

Writing Sunday’s post about the 85 MTV Video Awards prodded me go to back and look on YouTube for the nominees for Best Experimental Video (whatever that means).  Art of Noise’s label, ZTT, has put up a copy of “Close (to the Edit),” but it’s hardly hi-def. Otherwise, we’re pretty much at the mercy of fans keeping things from going down the memory hole. I posted last October about “Ways to Be Wicked,” from Lone Justice, shortly after Petty’s death; that video was ripped from a VHS-promotional tape. I couldn’t find the original vid for Lindsey Buckingham’s “Slow Dancing” anywhere, and the only copy of “Go Insane” is something recorded from VH-1 Classic–the quality’s not there, either.  Come on, Lindsey–share with us!

The clip for Chris Isaak’s “Dancin’,” however, looks great. I don’t know now how familiar I was already with the song that September evening, but it couldn’t have been long after that I scored a promo copy of Silvertone from Cut Corner Records. I didn’t find anything else on it that grabbed me the same way, but over the years I’ve generally liked what I’ve heard from him: “You Owe Me Some Kind of Love,” “Don’t Make Me Dream About You,” a cover of “Solitary Man,” “Somebody’s Crying,” and “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” are always welcome on any playlist (“Wicked Game” was quite the victim of overplay, though).

Isaak clearly had a vision for his career, a retro sensibility, and didn’t appear to deviate from it.  In the end, he carved out a decent niche. In my case, it was the first encounter with his music that was the best.

(According to the comments, that’s Denise Crosby playing the femme fatale in the video.)