My best recollection of my music video-watching habits in 89 is that they’d bifurcated away from mainstream MTV; by day I often checked into the more adult contemporary stylings of VH-1, while on Sunday nights I fed my growing college-rock tendencies by watching 120 Minutes. There’ll be plenty of evidence of both strands as the year progresses.
Today, we’re hitting the VH-1 side with the charming “Orinoco Flow” from Irish singer-songwriter Enya. Both sound and visuals appealed immediately, and it wasn’t too long before I picked up Watermark. Thirty years ago this week, “Orinoco Flow” was on the cusp of hitting the Top 40 (#45 on the 3/4/89 Hot 100). Despite being a worldwide smash—it went Top 10 in over a dozen countries, including #1 in the Netherlands, Ireland, Israel, Switzerland, and the UK—it would make only #24 here. On the other hand, it did go Top 10 on both the AC and Modern Rock charts here in the U.S., a sign that it really was in my sweet spot at the time.
The song essentially name-checks a number of islands, ports, and bodies of water around the globe. It wasn’t until I started writing this up that I looked into some of the references. In doing so, I’ve learned some things about West Africa, the Inner Hebrides, the Philippines, and Madagascar, among other places. I’ve enjoyed the research.
It took over twelve years for Enya to hit the Top 40 again; “Only Time,” first released in 2000, received much airplay in the aftermath of the 9/11/01 attacks and reached #10.
Finally, Watermark is notable on a personal level: I believe it was the only point of intersection in my and Martha’s CD collections when we got married.
With two more recent Premiere rebroadcasts from The Charting Years (TM pending), it’s time for another dip into my archives.
The 2/17/79 show is a little notable in AT40 history because it was the last one before Casey started recapping Last Week’s Top 3. For at least the next three years, #40 was the fourth song played on the show; as the years passed, time allowed only two, one, or (by the end of the run) zero of the previous top 3 to be played. Kasem always mentioned what had been in those slots at the top of the show, though. The Lesley Gore LDD is a real treat–it took a while to wrap my head around the fact that she was just 33 32 at the time of this show.
This past weekend we were treated to a nice Feb 82 countdown, even if it does have two novelty songs:
As was often the case by this point, I didn’t appear to listen to the tail end of the show–I didn’t know until Sunday that “I Will Survive” had been the second LDD. Noteworthy #1: Joan Jett’s portentous 21-spot leap. Noteworthy #2: All four debuts were by artists making their first appearance on the show. (How often did that sort of thing happen? Sounds like a mini-research project.) Huey Lewis is the headliner, and the only one who would go on to hit again (unless you count Geddy Lee, who’s pitching in with the hoseheads at #40).
Finally, my stuff from 82:
Aussies rule, with three of the top six; Air Supply and LRB would eventually claim the top two, respectively. Queen/David Bowie, the Go-Gos, and Chilliwack are all still chilling out in the Top 10 despite having already fallen off AT40. That Sheena Easton song is massively underrated–it’s one of her finest. I’m also a bigger fan of the Eddie Schwartz and Genesis tunes than might be evident. (The Harris Top 50 immediately following this one can be found here.)
Maybe this is a little odd, but there are several pop songs from years past that conjure images of springtime thunderstorms. Many of these were hits in the spring, and I suppose it’s possible there were some moments back then when they played on the radio during a storm. But most have something else in common: strings have a prominent role.
I think the best exemplar of this phenomenon is “With You I’m Born Again,” from Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright. Others with this association include the Moodies’ “Nights in White Satin” and Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up” (haunting electric violin on that one). I get a similar vibe from Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” even though it seems to lack string action. In thinking about this, though, I half-wonder if the source of this sensation is a misunderstanding: another song that makes me feel this way is “Love, Reign O’er Me,” from the Who’s Quadrophenia. For quite some time, I substituted in a homonym for the second word of the title; that song’s swirling strings sure seemed like rain coming down o’er me.
And so it is as well with Air Supply’s “Sweet Dreams.” It came on the chart a little early in the year to be a true spring storm song, but the swell in the chorus makes me see dark clouds in the sky, rain and thunder on the way. It’s #8 here, and would spend the last two weeks of March at #5. I am strongly tempted to say this is my favorite of theirs.
One thing I’ve been toying with lately is trying to identify the best #1 song for each year of the classic Casey AT40 era. What do I mean by “best?” Good question. I confess that personal taste can’t help but creep in, but I hope I can focus enough to put on my critic’s hat (though it’s easy to tell I’m no critic) and assess quality of songwriting, interpretation, etc. Staying power and/or a low kitsch factor tend to get rewarded, too.
I’m starting with 73 because I already had a strong sense of my choice. Twenty-seven different songs sat atop the Hot 100 over the course of the year. Plenty were easy to eliminate from consideration, even if I do like some of them: “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” “My Love,” “Delta Dawn,” etc. I’ve winnowed it down to ten of them, but not without some misgivings as to whether I’ve committed a major oversight or two. Here are the honorable mentions, in chronological order:
Roberta Flack, “Killing Me Softly with His Song”
Stevie Wonder, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
Edgar Winter Group, “Frankenstein”
Diana Ross, “Touch Me in the Morning”
Stories, “Brother Louie”
I’ve tried to rank a top 5:
#5: Ringo Starr, “Photograph.” This and “It Don’t Come Easy” are easily the high points of Ringo’s solo career. From here on out, it’s a little hard to take his stuff too seriously.
#4: Stevie Wonder, “Superstition.” Our introduction to a more mature, funkier Stevie. A master just entering his prime.
#3: O’Jays, “Love Train.” Bonus points for its hopeful message; I’m overlooking its use in Coors Light commercials.
#2: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Was 73 a great year for soul songs crossing over to top the pop charts, or what? Concisely written story, executed to perfection. This might be Knight’s best vocal performance; emotional, without overplaying her hand.
…and, at #1: Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain.” This could be a case where I’m overrating a song I happen to adore, but it’s truly a stunner from start to finish, from the opening bass line, through the rhyming of “yacht/apricot/gavotte,” the phrase “clouds in my coffee,” and Jagger’s background vocals, to Lear jets taking off for Nova Scotia. Standard song structure, yet the way we’re led to the chorus still feels fresh. The mystery surrounding the identity of the vain one has held our interest over the years, and Simon has done just enough to keep us thinking about it. As much as I like “Nobody Does It Better,” she never came close to matching this. Simon turned the personal into a work of art.
Overnight Kurt Blumenau wrote about discoveringSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band trading cards, a 66-card set published in 78 in conjunction with the widely-panned movie starring the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, and myriad others. My Favorite Decade then noted via tweet that he’d written four years ago about the one pack of said cards he bought back in the day. Until today I was unaware such a thing existed, but I can’t say I’m surprised.
However, it did put me in mind of a different set of pop-culture trading cards I dabbled in a tiny bit, way back in 71: that from The Partridge Family. I doubt Amy and I had more than a couple of packs of them, but I clearly remember the cards all had blue borders and some text below the picture. I specifically recalled one of Shirley Jones entitled “Belting Out a Song!”
I’ve got a bin of the trading cards of my youth buried pretty far down in the basement, but after I got home from work today, I felt the need to dig it out and see if there were any Partridge Family cards still around. I found five:
Shirley’s not really anticipating Gene Simmons whilst belting, but from a distance it sure appears so to me. I gotta say I appreciate all the enthusiasm in the card titles.
And what’s on the backs of these beauties? Pieces of a puzzle, actually of at least three puzzles: four of the cards come from Puzzle A, and one is from Puzzle C. Three actually go together:
Appears that Puzzle A is one of the band, with Shirley occupying the lower right corner. Based on one piece, Puzzle C looks to be Keith in profile.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention the “Ask David Cassidy” feature on some border pieces. We’ve got two important matters on hand to discuss.
(On back of “Picking Up the Beat!”)
Q: What happens when you read false rumors about yourself in fan magazines?
A: It really bugs me, but I know that there isn’t much I can do about it. Just hope nobody believes the lies!
(On back of “All-American Boy!”)
Q: What’s your idea of a perfect date?
A: Just enjoying someone’s company and spending time with someone who likes being with me. It really doesn’t matter what we do either–just as long as we’re able to have some laughs.
Pretty much at the level of what you’d expect, eh?
It was no shock to discover this morning that cards from this series (there appears to have been more than one) are available on eBay. Can’t say I feel any compunction to add to the collection, but I might just spend some time this weekend trawling around to see what else was in the set. Many thanks go to Kurt and Mark for this rabbit hole, I guess…
Let’s look at five songs that didn’t make it to at least #40 (and also weren’t much longer for the Hot 100) from the week of the recently played 85 countdown. Shaking things up today by starting with the smaller numbers and moving toward #100. I know how to live it up!
#62: Kinks, “Do It Again”
We’ve got two cuts from LPs that James had bought around this time. Word of Mouth got into heavy rotation in our dorm room for several weeks; it’s got a few nice tracks, particularly “Living on a Thin Line.”
“Do It Again” is one of the all-time great #41 songs, and the video contains a number of striking images: the cleaning women dancing in the dark while waiting for the Tube, Davies-as-Harlequin banging the drum, Davies-as-one-man-band encountering his greasy alter ego from “Come Dancing.” I could still listen to it several times a day.
#70: George Benson, “20/20”
Benson’s last trip to the pop charts. This is heading down after climbing as high as #48. Not sure how much I heard it at the time, but it’s pretty sweet–might even be MFD-approved! Cute video, too, but I just realized: those charming kids are now in their 40s; I wonder if either wound up with some sort of show biz career.
#82: Deep Purple, “Knocking at Your Back Door”
The lineup that gave the world “Smoke on the Water” reassembled in 84, eight years after Deep Purple had disintegrated (though a couple of them had left/been fired three years before that) and found fans still interested in what they had to offer. Perfect Strangers was another of James’s purchases and he was known to fire it up on occasion. I find the lyrics to its best-known song more than a trifle silly, but it’s not a terrible jam. “Knocking at Your Back Door” was fresh off a #61 peak. I heard it a bunch on Double Q.
#89: Bruce Cockburn, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”
This would spend only three weeks on the chart and climbed just one position higher. Another one that got played a decent amount on WKQQ during that winter of 85. It’s a moving, heartfelt piece–I wasn’t mature enough at the time to pay close enough attention and recognize what Cockburn was (justifiably) angry about.
In a bit of a coincidence, HERC mentioned this song in a Mixtape Monday post just yesterday (I’d already planned to include it here–honest!).
#95: Tommy Shaw, “Lonely School”
The follow-up to “Girls with Guns” only made it to #60 and is about to fall off. I believe this is also one of HERC’s favorites!
I know I heard “Lonely School” some around this time, but I wound up much more familiar with “Remo’s Theme (What If)” from later in the year–that catchy thing should have been a big hit.
I spent my 24th birthday on my own. It was a Saturday, and my roomies were out and about—Jim was most likely at his lab, and John was spending the day with his girlfriend/eventual wife Ann. I went to a movie at the cinema down in Campustown and probably treated myself to a burger and a shake for dinner at the Courier Café, just a couple of blocks away from the apartment. It wasn’t the best of days, but it was far from the worst, too.
The movie I saw that afternoon was Moonstruck. Though I’d be hard-pressed to recount the plot, I think I liked it fine. I wasn’t going to enough flicks then to be able to tell you if Cher deserved her Oscar—the only other nominee for Best Actress I’d seen that year was Holly Hunter in Broadcast News. But my recollection is that it was a very good performance.
Acting was just part of a career resurgence for Cher at that moment, not the last time she’d come back. She’s on this show at #19 with “I Found Someone,” her first song to make AT40 in almost nine years. It’d reach #10 and led the way to several other hits over the next three years. After listening to it more closely last week, I wondered if it’d been written by those masters of the craft Desmond Child or Diane Warren. No, it’s worse—Michael Bolton! Child and Warren were completely or partially responsible for many of Cher’s other hits from this period, however: “We All Sleep Alone” (Child, along with Jon Bon Jovi), “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Warren), and “Just Like Jesse James” (both!). “If I Could Turn Back Time” is my fave of the bunch, and just might show up again in a post later this year.
One of the most formative experiences of my high school years was a ten-session Introduction to BASIC Programming course I took as a freshman. It was offered by Xavier University, in Cincinnati, on Saturday mornings. We started in late February (next weekend will be the fortieth anniversary of the first class) and went through the first weekend of May. My classmate Debra and I both applied and were accepted, but we weren’t able to carpool over—they were running it in two sessions, and we’d been assigned each to one.
I don’t know now how much I knew about computer programming going in, but I absolutely loved it. There were around twenty of us in my session; we each were put in front of a terminal, given a manual and began learning about how to bend the innards of the mainframe to our will. For two hours each weekend, I had a glimpse of a whole new world.
Once we sorta got the hang of control, loops, and subroutines, the instructor (a priest, I believe) encouraged us to identify a largish project to tackle over our final few weeks. I had no trouble coming up with an idea, one that combined my new love with an older one: I’d write a program to compute chart points for AT40 songs! Let’s look at my notebook and some sample data:
This isn’t the whole program, but I think you get the idea. I read in six pieces of info about each song: a character string with title/artist, # of weeks on the Top 40, # of weeks in the Top 10, # of weeks at number 1, # of weeks at peak position, and peak position. If I can read forty-year-old code correctly, I attempted to award 2 points for each week on, plus extra points for each week in the Top 10 and each week at number 1, as well as bonuses for more than thirteen weeks on the show, more than ten weeks in the Top 10, more than four weeks at number 1, and/or more than two weeks at peak position. I say ‘attempted,’ because I don’t believe I got all the bugs out before the class ended. At least I have pages of code to show for it!
Seeing this again makes me wonder if I used something akin to this system for my predictions on the 1978 year-end countdown I put up here a few weeks ago, instead of the reverse-position one I claimed I used (and did use in 81).
Despite the ultimate lack of success on my project, I had a complete blast. This was the first time I’d encountered something I could see as “what I wanted to do with my life.” From that point forward, I told people I was going to major in computer science in college (and I did!). I never became a clever, efficient programmer, but I learned enough to cut my way through my college assignments (I’ve done some coding for several classes I’ve taught over the years, too). It’s something I wish I spent more time on these days.
There are a few songs from the spring of 79 that make me think of that time at Xavier, probably from hearing them in the car while one of my parents (usually Dad) drove me over. “Sultans of Swing” is most certainly one of them—my class fit neatly inside its chart ride. It’s debuting at #33 this week, and would rise to #4. It’s definitely in my personal top 10 for the year.
February 13, 1989 was a Monday. I found someone to cover for the class I was teaching (IIRC, I had one section of Calculus III that semester, which met on MWF) so that I could spend the day in KY with my parents. The guess from here is that I opted to take a long weekend to visit them on the occasion of my 25th birthday, since I’d gone back to IL so soon after Christmas.
I do remember a couple of things about the day. Dad was working at Fifth Third Bank in downtown Cincinnati by this time—he was in charge of the huge underground vault where the safety deposit boxes resided. (It was his final job; he retired from it in early July of 94). I drove over from Florence to visit with him awhile (despite the size of the vault, he generally wasn’t all that busy). Then I met up for lunch with my college friend Cathy, who still lived in the area and was working as a computer programmer for a big company downtown. Before I went back across the river, Dad handed me some money, with instructions to buy myself a present.
Maybe I’m what you might call hard to shop for. Martha tries to pry ideas out of me come February and December each year; I’m frequently not very forthcoming. And I suppose I hadn’t given Mom and Dad much to work with this time, either. I cruised on over to the Florence Mall, about a mile away from the folks’ house. I don’t know if I purposely avoided going to the record stores, but somehow music didn’t seem like what they would have had in mind for me that day. Anyway, I wandered around a while, and finally landed in a gift shop on the upper level. Among their displays at the front of the store were a few plates featuring Japanese Chokin Art (engraving on copper). I saw one with two birds, one in the air, the other on a bamboo stick, hovering over a pretty flower. Something about it struck me just so. It wouldn’t be useful in the least, but I quickly decided this decorative piece was to be my gift from Mom and Dad.
I’ve had the plate on display pretty much ever since, through four apartments and two houses. Each time I changed coordinates between 89 and 97, I wrapped the plate and accompanying stand snugly in their red box, and out they would come in the new location, ready to be set up somewhere, often a fold-up bookshelf. For the past twenty-plus years (except at the holidays), it’s resided on the mantle in our living room. I get that it’s hardly a valuable piece—there are scores, if not hundreds, of similar pieces available on eBay right now for about half of what I think I paid—but I confess it’s got a dear place in my heart. I usually think about its provenance whenever I intentionally look its way.
Top 40 wasn’t my main scene by early 89, but I’ll still take a gander at the 2/18/89 Hot 100 and see what pops out at me, a la Len O’Kelly:
#94: Ratt, “Way Cool Jr.”
This song was part of an inside joke amongst those in my office, one that’s not worth attempting to explain here. Kate, my officemate Will’s fiancée, had seen Ratt in concert (a fact that caused her some embarrassment in retrospect, I think) while she was an undergrad in California. Maybe that helped make her aware enough of this song to want to poke fun at it. It had peaked at #75, and as it happens, this was the last week evah on the pop charts for Steven Pearcy and company…
#76: Metallica, “One”
…and as Laura Nyro so aptly noted, there’ll be one chart act born to carry on. Here’s the first Hot 100 week for Metallica. “One “and “Enter Sandman” are the only songs of theirs that have lodged in my consciousness, and I’m okay with that. This would reach #35.
#75: The Timelords, “Doctorin’ the Tardis”
John introduced me to Doctor Who in the summer of 87 after we’d moved out of the dorm into the apartment on Elm St. in Urbana. It was fun learning about the various incarnations of the Doctor (I saw episodes with Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, and Sylvester McCoy across the grad school years), and the low-budget Daleks were simply the best. The Doctor sure left a lot of death and destruction in his wake, though.
We noticed this song on the charts at this time, but no station in C-U (so far as I knew) was playing it. When I eventually heard it, I was surprised to learn it was essentially a riff on Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part Two.” It was a big #1 song in the UK but could only muster a peak of #66 here, which is about all it deserves.
#69: Traveling Wilburys, “End of the Line”
I owned The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 by this point and was listening to it with some regularity. It was somewhat disappointing to see the singles fail to make the Top 40 (this one only got to #63); other faves included Harrison’s “Heading for the Light,” Orbison’s “Not Alone Any More,” and Petty’s “Last Night.” The Dylan pieces are not among his best.
#64: Boy Meets Girl, “Waiting for a Star to Fall”
I’ll cop to buying this single toward the end of 88. I found it super-charming, the sound of falling in love. (Don’t @ me.) It’s working its way down from a #5 peak.
#40: Roy Orbison, “You Got It”
Orbison’s unfortunate death in December 88 occurred just weeks after Vol. 1 was released and less than two months before his own Mystery Girl came out. I’m probably repeating myself here, but the sheen in Jeff Lynne’s production efforts in the 80s and 90s overall doesn’t sit well with me. That said, this was a more than deserving hit, getting as high as #9.
#34: Bangles, “Eternal Flame”
It’s steaming toward the top (it’d get there on April Fools’ Day). It’s a good enough song, but the Bangles were definitely past-peak by this time.
#25: Karyn White, “The Way You Love Me”
The first of her four Top 10 hits; I remember this one and “Secret Rendezvous” most. Her first album was co-produced by Babyface, the second by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (White spent most of the 90s married to Lewis). I didn’t appreciate this, which is falling after reaching #7, enough in real time.
#24: Breathe, “Don’t Tell Me Lies”
I was glad to hear something a little peppier from these guys (although “How Can I Fall?” had plenty of personal appeal). A cute number that reached #10.
#18: Erasure, “A Little Respect”
Overall I’m not all that big on Erasure—I guess I think Clarke’s synth work tends to be too much of a focus—but this is a fine tune. It would soon reach #14.
#16: Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”
There are songs out there about father/son relationships that make me well up (I’m looking at you, Harry Chapin), but for some reason “The Living Years” just leaves me cold. As we all know, this made #1, beating ”Eternal Flame” there by one week.
#2: Tone Loc, “Wild Thing”
This was somewhat amusing the first ten times I heard it, and I admit that there are moments of cleverness, but the oversexed narrator on this and its twin, “Funky Cold Medina,” got to be a tad much. They’re still both big hits on SiriusXM’s 80s on 8, though.
#1: Paula Abdul, “Straight Up”
Great dance tune, very reasonable option for the top of this chart, and the one I like best from Abdul. There’s sass and attitude to spare here; Arsenio Hall’s appearance in the video certainly didn’t hurt the song’s chances of breaking through. The variation in how she approaches singing the title phrase at the end is a winner, too.
There are a couple of songs on this chart that will get featured in separate posts over the next few weeks. I probably skipped over some other decent stuff, but this is too long as it is. Let’s close with a couple of Wilbury tracks. Nice tribute to Orbison in the first one.
Premiere has played shows over the last couple of weekends for which I have charts. First, 2/2/80:
The semi-interesting thing here is the “Two Years Ago” feature at the bottom, just one of the various add-ons I tried out over the years (many of which were quickly abandoned). This was the first week I’d done this particular thing, and it looks like it lasted six weeks. ‘Cause, ya know, it’s important to note what #32 was previously…
While we’re on the topic of 1980, here’s Q102 from this date 39 years ago:
Interesting mix of songs already off the national chart hanging on (Starship, Foreigner) and songs they seem to be leading on (Floyd, Ronstadt, Babys). Love that “Romeo’s Tune” was in their top 5. I heard the Molly Hatchet plenty back then, and was a touch surprised it turned out to be a song Casey never played.
It’s the LP Extra that’s got me interested today, though–if I heard Q102 play it back then, well, it didn’t stand out. “Kill the Fire” is the rocker I know and love from Phoenix, but “Wishing on the Moon” is one I’m going to have to revisit on occasion.
And then here’s the 78 chart, one week after Debby Boone graced the show for the final time:
Speaking of temporary features, it’s looking like “Guess the Mystery Song” is about to bite the dust. Maybe it’s just the radio station I tuned in this past weekend, but I thought the re-mastering of this show was fantastic–the music just sounded so clear. Kudos to Shannon Lynn and Ken Martin!