American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/10/81: Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard, “Suddenly”

Sometime in the latter half of 80 I saw Xanadu in a theater.  I recall that the reviews I’d read in advance of going weren’t especially favorable. And yeah, well, an epic it was not. Greek gods, goddesses, and muses, all working toward opening a nightclub in the immediate post-disco era? Gene Kelly was always one of my mom’s favorites, but I can’t imagine this was one of his better roles.

On the other hand, the soundtrack was a commercial smash and of great personal interest. ON-J and ELO were among my favorite artists at the time, and to have them working more or less jointly? Yes, please. “Magic” was one of my three top songs of the year.  “All Over the World” was fantastic. And the title song, featuring both Olivia and Jeff & Co., didn’t disappoint in the least.

“Suddenly,” the fifth and final single to be released from Xanadu, is hanging out at #21 on this show, one shy of its peak. I was a junior in high school then and this duet was another one I really, really liked; if I’d been dating someone at the time and there’d be a roller rink nearby (those are two mighty big ifs), I could easily see “slow skating” to this, in honor of the movie, if nothing else.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/10/76: George Baker Selection, “Paloma Blanca”

I played this the other night at home, and my wife, who spent more than a little time in Germany in the 80s, commented how “Euro” it sounded.  I concur—off the top of my head, I’d say it’s the most Europop-sounding track to hit the Top 40 during the 1970-88 classic Casey era, certainly more so than anything Abba did. It’s debuting at #37 and would climb to #26, though it hit #1 on AC charts in the US and Canada, in addition to making it to the top of the pops in New Zealand and the Selection’s home, the Netherlands.

Not surprisingly, George Baker wasn’t born with that name—meet Johannes Bouwens—and this was his group’s second US hit. The first, “Little Green Bag,” made it to #21 in the spring of 70; I must confess that one’s totally unfamiliar to me.

There are any number of AT40 shows from the late 70s and early 80s for which I have a mental image or detailed memory of where I was/what I was doing in real time when it was playing. So it’s not surprising that the same thing has happened since June 2012, when I started listening again in earnest (of course, it gets a little disconcerting as chart year and actual year commingle). I heard this one previously five years ago, about a month after my father died. I was spending part of Saturday at the office, probably getting some things in order for the semester about to start, but also standing over the copier/scanner down the hall, organizing documents related to Dad’s affairs. All the while I was listening to Casey tell stories about Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, and the Bay City Rollers, using the TuneIn app on my iPad.

The Lost Tape

Back in November, I briefly mentioned a mix tape I recorded in late 86/early 87 that I included with a letter circulating among my fellow recent college graduates. I noted that it got lost in the mail not too far down the line, and lamented, “I wish I had written down the set list.”  Well, guess what I found just before Christmas?

The combo record/8-track/cassette player I had then occupied the top shelf in the closet of my tiny room in Sherman Hall—I ran wire out of the closet and over the top of the entrance into the room so that one speaker could sit on a shelf above my desk. I suspect the other speaker sat on the floor, near the head of my bed. It was not a high-end unit, so the sound quality of the tapes I made were not the best. In particular, the recorder didn’t handle sudden increases in volume well—immediately after a spike it’d often fade out for a second or two, as if to compensate.

Since it turns out there actually is a record of what went on the tape, I may as well review it—we’ll see a few tunes from albums I referenced in the November article, as well as some I’ve featured in previous posts. I’m putting hyperlinks to YouTube videos with each song title, and also including a Spotify playlist at the bottom.

Side 1:
Steely Dan, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
We lead off with the one song I was certain was there. I think I chose this one because the version on the album I’d bought included a little marimba riff at the beginning. I was unfamiliar with that at the time and thought it was pretty cool.

Outfield, “Say It Isn’t So
My list only has song titles—no artists—but this can’t be Hall & Oates, since I didn’t have either the single or Rock ‘n Soul Part 1.  I had bought Play Deep during my senior year in college, though. I’ve always liked this one more than “Your Love.”

Cars, “It’s All I Can Do
From the used copy of Candy-O I’d picked up at Cut Corner sometime in the last half of my college years. One of their finer moments.

Utopia, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now
As I mentioned two months ago, this is one of the main reasons I bought their compilation LP Trivia. Still love it.

Timbuk3, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
I wrote about this one a little over a year ago. High novelty factor but I’m still happy to listen to it anytime.

Fleetwood Mac, “Rhiannon
I’ve been known to call the songs on my first AT40 chart (6/5/76) “The Original 40.” Here’s one of those, #11 that week.

I had also picked up Fleetwood Mac used in college.  I love “Blue Letter” and “Say You Love Me,” but this one just might be its best.

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On
From my copy of 25 #1 Hits from 25 Years, a Motown two-disk set, and probably another first-semester-in-Illinois purchase. This is my favorite Gaye piece, and it’s not close. Seemingly random associated memory: I got my driver’s license in April 80 on a weekday afternoon. Took a nap after I got home (which was very unusual), with the radio on. This was playing as I was waking up.

R.E.M., “Begin the Begin
As I said in November, this and “These Days” form an absolutely awesome opening pair on Lifes Rich Pageant. Turn ‘em both up LOUD.

Yes, “Parallels
James was the Yes completist in our dorm room, but I picked up a few of their disks along the way, too: The Yes Album (my favorite), Drama (very good and very underrated), 90125 (plenty slick but incredibly solid), the overdone Tormato (dig it, dig it), plus their classic from 77, Going for the One. “Parallels” meanders a bit before reaching its crisp ending, but the intro is pure magic: Wakeman’s organ, Squire’s incredible bass line, quickly followed by swell entrances from White and Howe. Can’t get enough of that.

Modern English, “I Melt with You
This would have come from a 45, a re-issue backed with their other minor hit “Hands Across the Sea.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have no clue why this wasn’t a monster pop hit.

Robert Ellis Orrall and Carlene Carter, “I Couldn’t Say No
Wow, closing out the first side with two of my very favorites from the spring of 83.

There was a small record store about a block north of Cut Corner on Limestone in Lexington, called Bear’s Wax Record Exchange. It occupied one half of the basement. Single proprietor—“Bear”—who largely dealt in re-sales. I bought just a few things there—his stuff always felt a bit pricey to me, given it was mostly used, though I’m sure he was careful about the quality. One I picked up there was Orrall’s EP Special Pain, mostly because it was the first/only place I encountered it.  Never listened to much of it outside of the hit (which I know isn’t all that, but I still completely love it).

I’ve written about this one before, too.

Side 2:
Dire Straits, “One World
Easily my favorite album cut from Brothers in Arms. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the first time I’d put it on a mix tape.

Bee Gees, “Lonely Days
The second time my copy of Bee Gees’ Greatest Hits (pre-disco edition) had come in handy in taping. Might be my favorite from their first (or was it second?) incarnation.

Rickie Lee Jones, “Young Blood

This song’s one week at #40 on 9/1/79 means we’ll see Rickie Lee featured in a future Two-Hit Wonder post at My Favorite Decade. It doesn’t compare to “Chuck E’s in Love,” but “Young Blood” is still a nice, under-appreciated track.

Steve Winwood, “Freedom Overspill
I got a little burned out on Back in the High Life back in the day, but the singles, especially “Higher Love,” are still worthy of play.

Steve Forbert, “Romeo’s Tune
Yet another I’ve written about already. Debuted on AT40 on the first show of 1980; if you’re going to have only one hit, you may as well hit a grand slam with it.

Juluka, “Scatterlings of Africa
Profmondo introduced this South African band to James and me in college. Juluka included both black and white musicians and functioned in part as a statement against apartheid. One of the co-leaders, Johnny Clegg, found greater commercial success several years later as part of the band Savuka.  Scatterlings, the album from which this comes, is 100% kick-ass. If it’s unfamiliar, I highly recommend seeking it out.

Cock Robin, “When Your Heart Is Weak
This was all set to be featured in a PastBlast post back in August, but I pulled it in favor of “Freeway of Love” after Aretha’s passing. Another one that had already been included in a personal mix tape previously. It’s plenty creepy in retrospect, but I confess to still like its sound.

Four Tops, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)
Another track pulled from the Motown #1’s album. Can’t complain when a stone cold classic such as this shows up.

Suzanne Vega, “Marlene on the Wall
This was an early favorite from Suzanne Vega. Excellent songwriting here, great structure and meter: “And I tried so hard to resist/When you held me in your handsome fist/And reminded me of the night we kissed/And of why I should be leaving.”

Al Stewart, “Warren Harding
Because we all need more steel drums in our lives…  I’d forgotten that I picked up Stewart’s 74 release Past, Present and Future along the way, as well as The Early Years, a compilation from his first four albums that was cobbled together after he broke out with Year of the Cat. This is just a darn catchy tune; I need to listen to it more!

I went to college with someone whose first and middle names were Warren and Gamiliel (he went by Buddy, however)—his last initial was even H! It was a family name; I think he had a III or some such appended to its end. Buddy was a CS/math major, a couple of years behind me, funny guy.  His parents lived not too far away from mine, and I gave him a ride up to Florence a time or two.

Talking Heads, “People Like Us
I don’t remember lots from seeing True Stories 32+ years ago, but one scene I do recall is John Goodman performing “People Like Us” in what I think passes for the film’s climax. “We don’t want freedom/We don’t want justice/We just want someone to love.”

And so it ends. Maybe never played once it left my mitts, but here for you today.

I found the list on the back of a piece of notebook paper. On the front, there were a few scratchings from the complex analysis course I’d taken in the fall of 86.


To my college friends: better late than never, I suppose?

Below is a playlist with the songs on the tape, with a couple of exceptions. “I Couldn’t Say No” doesn’t seem to be available on Spotify, so I’ve subbed in a different Carlene Carter song, and “When Your Heart Is Weak” appears only in live form. This’ll have to do…

SotD: Go-Betweens, “Was There Anything I Could Do?”

This is a significant modification and expansion of a Facebook post that originally appeared October 14, 2016. Oh, and that’s the French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange above. One of the results attributed to him played a pivotal role once upon a time almost thirty years ago.

Soon after Christmas 1988, I left KY to go back to Urbana. It was the midpoint of my third year of grad school, and time for what one could reasonably call trial by fire. At the end of January, I would be enduring a series of four one-hour oral exams (we called them prelims) over the course of two Saturday mornings. I had to pass all of them within the coming year to remain in good standing (that is to say, to keep my assistantship) and advance to the dissertation phase of my graduate career. Two of the exams had to cover foundational material; I had chosen algebra and analysis.  The rest of my dance card consisted of analytical number theory and an advanced algebraic area, representation theory.

There were about three weeks to spend on preparation before classes began. I had the apartment to myself at first, as John was up in Chicago.  My friends Will and Kate were off visiting family, and I had volunteered to look in on their cats (Martha, Tiger, and Chessie) upon my return. So there I was, as 88 turned over into 89, spending hours upon hours alone, poring over notes, reviewing important theorems and their proofs, trying to better understand what I’d experienced over the past five semesters. It was a lonely, stressful, emotional time; tears might have been shed a few times. I don’t know that I was doubting my choice of path at that point, but I sure didn’t feel overly confident about my prospects of success.  My friends had told me I could stay over at their house if I wished, and I took them up on that a few times. It was good to have a little company, even if it was feline. I’d cook Progresso soup on their stove for dinner. Over a couple of study breaks I used Will’s stereo to record a mix tape for James. (In the late 80s, James and I had a running joke that every act had to demo “All Along the Watchtower” in order to land their contract, and it was de rigueur at the time to include someone’s version on my tapes to him. This one got U2’s, from Rattle and Hum. The tape might have even been entitled All Along the Stufftower, which is a double joke, as “stuff” appeared in the titles of the tapes I made for him.)

It went on like this for at least ten days, I’d guess—as time for classes to resume approached, folks of course began returning to town. It seems like none of my officemates were doing prelims on that go-round, so I didn’t exactly have ready-access study partners (plus, they’d all pursued a course of study on the topological side of mathematics, so there wouldn’t have been that much overlap in our exams, anyway).

My first two exams were analysis and algebra, in that order. This was a little unfortunate, since the material covered in the second weekend’s exams was the stuff I felt I knew better. Analysis was definitely the subject I understood least well—I had managed to just eke out a B in the course the second time I tried it (we’ll not talk about my first attempt right now).  And sure enough, I got the thumbs down from the pair of professors who’d been assigned to quiz me. This raised the pressure, as one needed to pass at least two of the four to get credit for any of them. An hour later, I went up before the algebraists.

It’s a blur now, what happened during those sixty minutes, with one important exception. Algebra was an area I definitely liked and was decent at, but at the beginning I was at best stumbling through. Maybe about twenty minutes in, Professor Joseph Rotman, well-known and well-respected in the field, posed a question that initially stumped me. He prodded, gently, for the reasons behind the solution of a given problem, and suddenly inspiration struck. I needed to invoke Lagrange’s Theorem. (Lagrange’s theorem says that the number of elements in a subgroup of a finite group must be a divisor of the number of elements in the group. Sorry for the technical jargon, any and all non-math types out there—click this hyperlink if you want to know what a group is.)  I received a satisfied affirmation from Prof. Rotman, and suddenly my confidence swelled. The last portion of the exam went much better, and I liked my chances of getting a passing mark as I walked out of the room.

I was right, and I now felt in control of the process.  I knew I would pass the number theory prelim and thought I had a more than decent shot at the representation theory, as one of my examiners would be the professor who had taught the classes. I made it through both the following Saturday, and squeaked by on the analysis retake four months later. But at that moment—either January 28 or February 4, 1989—while I was in good shape with respect to the, well, preliminary requirements of progress toward a PhD, I honestly had no real idea about a dissertation topic or even an advisor. It was generally expected that you would build on something from one of your prelim areas, but I wasn’t especially enthused about any of those options. I was in the process of taking a reading course from a professor in algebraic number theory, as well as attending his weekly seminar, but it wasn’t clear that was going to work either (it’s a beautiful subject and I do wish I understood it better now).  It would be mid-April before the path forward would make itself known. Come on back in a little over three months, why don’t you, to learn more?

One song I distinctly remember hearing on WPGU while shuttling back and forth between my friends’ house and the apartment at the very beginning of 89 was the Go-Betweens’ “Was There Anything I Could Do?” It was a decent-sized modern rock hit at the time, and I recall liking it pretty well then. Around a year later, I met Greg, who would later be best man at my wedding. It wouldn’t be long before loaned me his copy of 16 Lovers Lane, an album I’ve promoted repeatedly here, and the one that contains “WTAICD.” While it’s not the best track on the disk, it is fantastic, and the song retains a special place in my personal pantheon of songs just for being the first one I heard from the album. Kinda funny, though, that the screenshot below features all but Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, the band’s co-leaders. (Edited to add: that link became dead.)


Postscript: Coincidentally, Professor Rotman passed away two days after the original, two-paragraph edition of this post appeared (though at the time it didn’t address my experiences in the algebra prelim). To my regret, I never took a class from him, but I’m forever grateful for the boost he gave me that morning.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1980s: Year in Review, 2018

Here’s the summary of AT40 tunes from the 80s I selected from the rebroadcasts played on Premiere Networks throughout the year, with links to the accompanying articles. Last week I posted a list of the 70s songs.

1/18/86: Dream Academy, “Life in a Northern Town”
1/23/88: Steve Winwood, “Valerie”
1/26/85: Giuffria, “Call to the Heart”
2/7/87: Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”
2/7/81: Ronnie Milsap, “Smoky Mountain Rain”
2/18/84: Real Life, “Send Me an Angel”
2/27/82: Huey Lewis and the News, “Do You Believe in Love”
3/1/80: Toto, “99”
3/8/86: Starship, “Sara”
3/19/88: Debbie Gibson, “Out of the Blue”
3/26/83: ABC, “Poison Arrow”
3/30/85: Dan Hartman, “Second Nature”
4/5/80: Charlie Dore, “Pilot of the Airwaves”
4/11/87: World Party, “Ship of Fools (Save Me from Tomorrow)”
4/21/84: Tracey Ullman, “They Don’t Know”
4/30/88: Henry Lee Summer, “I Wish I Had a Girl”
5/9/81: .38 Special, “Hold on Loosely”
5/15/82: Aldo Nova, “Fantasy”
5/16/87: Chris de Burgh, “The Lady in Red”
5/24/86: Simple Minds, “All the Things She Said”
6/4/83: Jim Capaldi, “That’s Love”
6/8/85: Alison Moyet, “Invisible”
6/14/80: Spider, “New Romance (It’s a Mystery)”
6/16/84: Icicle Works, “Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)”
6/28/86: Models, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”
7/3/82: Kansas, “Play the Game Tonight”
7/9/83: Human League, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”
7/25/87: Cutting Crew, “One for the Mockingbird”
7/26/80: Kim Carnes, “More Love”
8/6/88: Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”
8/8/81: Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet, “Everlasting Love”
8/17/85: Aretha Franklin, “Freeway of Love”
8/30/86: Double, “The Captain of Her Heart”
9/1/84: Peter Wolf, “Lights Out”
9/17/83: Naked Eyes, “Promises, Promises”
9/18/82: Tané Cain, “Holdin’ On”
9/19/87: Prince, “U Got the Look”
9/28/85: Bruce Springsteen, “I’m Goin’ Down”
10/3/81: Greg Kihn Band, “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)”
10/8/83: Taco, “Puttin’ On the Ritz”
10/16/82: Rush, “New World Man”
10/25/80: Al Stewart, “Midnight Rocks”
11/3/84: Tina Turner, “Better Be Good to Me”
11/7/81: Lindsey Buckingham, “Trouble”
11/15/86: David + David, “Welcome to the Boomtown”
11/23/85: Scritti Politti, “Perfect Way”
12/6/80: Korgis, “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime”
12/12/87: New Order, “True Faith”
12/18/82: Adam Ant, “Goody Two Shoes”
12/24/83: Police, “Synchronicity II”

Here’s a Spotify playlist with 48 of the 50–no Dan Hartman or Peter Wolf for you! (And unfortunately, the only Charlie Dore I could find is a re-recording.)

Destination 89

Casey Kasem’s first run as host of American Top 40 began in July 70 and ended in August 88; rebroadcasts of those eighteen years of shows have regularly served as jumping-off points for reflections and recollections (flawed as they may be) in any number of posts here. Sometime back in the summer, it dawned on me that one artifact of this arrangement is that overall 1989 has gotten short shrift on my blog. 2019 is going to be the year to remedy that.

Over the next twelve months, I’ll be looking thirty years into the past, occasionally for stuff that happened in the world and to me then (there were a few memorable events) but more often for music—I’m anticipating having a roughly weekly feature that highlights a cool tune from 89.

Not too long after I began sketching out my plans for Destination 89, I noticed that Dan Seeger at Coffee for Two was (and still is) using a “30 years ago” theme in his One for Friday series (I really enjoy those posts and highly recommend them if the college radio/alternative scene of the 80s and 90s is your thing). Even though I’ll be veering over into pop with some frequency as the year rolls on, I am curious to see how often we target the same artists or even songs (as it happens, a couple of weeks ago he picked off a song I’ll be featuring next week).  [Edited to add: One day after I posted this, Mr. Seeger announced that he is ending One for Friday after a ten-year run. His archives remain well worth one’s time.]

Destination 89 is far from the only thing I’ll be doing here this coming year, but it will be a focus. I’m looking forward to giving a theme a try.

Guess I’ll kick things off in what feels like an appropriate (though perhaps entirely predictable/pedestrian) manner. R.E.M. had released Green on Election Day of 88, and no doubt it was in my hands very soon afterward. As 89 dawned, “Stand” was getting lots of airplay and would soon be climbing the charts, becoming R.E.M.’s second Top 10 hit. But Green’s leadoff song (and third single—it reached #86 in June) seems like the right tune to play today.

New Year’s Resolutions, 2019

Time for another potentially worthless exercise in goal-setting! But, hey, I’m not getting any younger, and I have the feeling that time’s a-wasting. I’ve actually given this a little thought the last few days, and maybe, just maybe, putting it out for others to see will make me a tiny bit more accountable to it. Guess we’ll find out.

Read physical books daily.  I read a lot of the internet but I have a pile of books just waiting for some attention, including some I got just last week. Time to take some time for that.

Write, at least a little, daily. It doesn’t all have to be aimed toward public consumption, but I could see there being benefits to making it a more disciplined thing.

Get better at programming in R. R is a statistics-oriented programming language. Knowing more about its capabilities could be of use in the classroom.

Be more disciplined about screen time. These last two will entail being on the computer plenty, but I actually want to fritter away less time staring at it and my phone this year.

Declutter a little daily. I’m terrible about letting things pile up around me; I need to let go of a lot of stuff. Maybe if I just do a little at a time I can make some headway here at the house, the office, and the storage unit.

Lose a pound a month. It would be better if I took off more than that, but, like with the clutter, perhaps targeting a little at a time will result in some progress.

Break a real sweat three times a week. Kinda goes hand in hand with the weight, but I am dreadfully out of shape.

Find an ongoing volunteer opportunity. I spend far too much time keeping to myself.  Plus, the nest will empty at some point in the second half of the year—I may need something to keep my mind off that a little?

Be more present with others. Related to the previous entry. This includes family, folks around me here in KY, and even those I’ve met online.  You are who you are—and I’m all too introverted, I know—but I also recognize there’s much to be gained from interacting more with the fine folks in my life.

Wish me luck! Perhaps I’ll report back in 365 days (but if the results are terrible, maybe not).

Later this week, I’ll introduce the theme for a decent chunk of my 2019 blogging.