American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/9/85: John Fogerty, “The Old Man Down the Road”

WKQQ is the Lexington-area classic rock station. It sits at 100.1 on the dial now (part of the ubiquitous iHeart network), but back when I was in college it was located at 98.1.  I don’t listen to it anymore, but our next-door neighbors’ son would have it on a fair amount when went over for swimming and/or birthday parties a few years ago, during his teen years. I would joke that their playlist hadn’t changed much since I was his age, but honestly, it wasn’t far from the truth!

Double Q could well have been the station I tuned in most during my last two years of college. Looking at this attempt at a history of the station in its earlier years, I recognize the names of a number of the DJs, both from college days and after I returned in the early 90s: Curt Mathies, Mike Graves, Stacey Yelton, and Tony “TNT” Tilford (who’s still there, actually). I’m not the person to do it, but it’d be cool if there was a more extensive history of the station available somewhere.

WKQQ’s morning show back then was “Kruser and Company,” hosted by Dave Krusenklaus. I suppose it was pretty standard fare for a show of its type; because of or in spite of that, James and I certainly listened to Kruser plenty in the dorm room as we were getting ready for the day. Kruser was still doing his thing after I came back. Nothing lasts forever, of course, but I was surprised when Double Q canned him just a few years later in favor of the syndicated and eternally juvenile Bob and Tom. Krusenklaus has hung on in Lexington over the years, and is currently PD at an AM talk radio station.

The first months of 85 were a particularly intense time of listening to Double Q in 402 Clay Hall—my recollection is that there was some kind of limited commercial interruption promotion that stretched on for a few weeks, at least on one day of the week. For some portion of the weekends, I’d be sitting at a desk or in bed, reading something for my U.S. politics course, working on abstract algebra proofs or numerical analysis problems, letting AOR goodies wash over me (okay, I goofed off plenty, too).

This period coincided with John Fogerty’s big comeback hit, “The Old Man Down the Road,” first hitting the airwaves. It’s at #17 on this show, soon to reach #10. It’s a fine track, but the most fascinating thing about it to me is that Saul Zaentz, owner of Fantasy Records and the rights to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s catalog, unsuccessfully sued Fogerty over it, for plagiarizing himself (I’ll agree that “Old Man” bears at least a passing resemblance to “Run Through the Jungle”). The video was sort of a one-note joke, the camera tracing the path of a power cord from an amp in the swamp to Fogerty’s guitar. I have no idea why I didn’t notice back in 85 Fogerty’s three cameo, Hitchcock-like appearances throughout the clip.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/11/78: Wet Willie, “Street Corner Serenade”

At first glance, there’s nothing too remarkable about “Street Corner Serenade.” The single has a pretty standard song structure—two rounds of verse & chorus, bridge/sax solo modulating into a keyboard riff before heading into a final verse & chorus. And there’s not a lot of substance in the lyrics:
Verse 1: I sang on the corner with my friends when I was younger;
Verse 2: Let me tell you who was in the group;
Verse 3: I sure miss it!

But yet—it’s such a happy piece of music, from its big intro on through to the final “do-do-do-doot, whoah-whoa.” It’s one that I really liked when it was on the show (and that’s about the only place I heard it back then). I don’t know if any of the members of Wet Willie did any doo-wop street singing in their formative years—they might be a little young for that—but it feels like they’re nostalgic about something(and I’m certainly all about the nostalgia).

This is the second of three times Wet Willie would visit The 40 (lead singer Jimmy Hall also had one solo hit on the show in the fall of 80). “Street Corner Serenade” is one spot shy of its #30 peak this week.  Like a number of the bands from the era, they still get together and play shows from time to time.

SotD: Sarah McLachlan, “Vox”

Last week I noted the oddity of Tanita Tikaram doing her best work before she was 20, despite having multiple opportunities afterward to grow and flourish. Today, it’s another artist who started quite young, with a significantly weaker initial effort, but who went on to fulfill her promise, and then some.

Sarah McLachlan’s first album, Touch, came out in her native Canada in October 88 and was released in the US a few months later, around the time she was turning 21. Somewhere over the course of the year, “Vox” got decent play on VH-1—it seems like that might have been late summer or early fall? (So even though it was already out as a single in early 89, yes, maybe I should be posting this in six months or so—them’s the breaks.)  I remember the video because of the sheer piece of fabric McLachlan uses as a prop, and the song for its bouncy synth and the lines, “They start to limply flail their bodies in a twisted mime/And I’m lost inside this tangled web in which I’m lain entwined.” Not great poetry by any means, but it definitely succeeded in getting lodged in my brain.

I didn’t buy Touch, but did eventually check the CD out from the Urbana Free Library; my officemate Paul dubbed it onto a cassette for me, along with Julia Fordham’s Porcelain (speaking of songs I know because of late 80s VH-1, I hadn’t thought about “Happy Ever After,” a very fine track from Fordham’s self-titled 88 debut, in a long while until digging through my cassette stash). Can’t say I listened to that tape much, alas.

So, yeah, “Vox” is not super-special, but it got me to file McLachlan’s name away in my head. I was absolutely floored when I started hearing “Into the Fire” from Solace on the radio in the spring of 92. Such a huge leap of maturity and confidence—one of my favorites from that year. It wasn’t as big a commercial breakthrough as it was artistic, though; it took her third album, Funblling Toward Ecstasy, released two years later, to make people worldwide really notice.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/2/80: Styx, “Why Me”

Okay, first some dope on this week’s 80s feature:

–“Why Me” is #27 on this show and would climb only one spot higher;
–It’s a way overlooked song in Styx’s repertoire. I kinda wonder if the time it hit the chart cuts against it—80s stations tend to underemphasize songs from the first two years of the decade, and it doesn’t seem that 70s stations choose to take note of its 79 release date. Plus, Styx hasn’t opted to put it on many of its compilation disks, either;
–I bought the 45 soon after hearing it the first time. The sax/guitar interlude is pretty awesome; I was surprised its run on the show was so short, especially after debuting at #32;
–The song on the flip, “Lights,” is a really good Tommy Shaw piece. I’ve set it aside as a possible Time to Play B-Sides post someday.

But it’s Dennis DeYoung’s spoken, “Why me? That’s what I want to know, you know what I mean? Huh, I don’t know…” at around the 3:06 mark that’s led me down a bit of a rabbit hole this week. For all I know, what we hear is the way DeYoung normally speaks, but even back in early 80, it reminded me of a voice on a novelty record from the 50s that my father had introduced to Amy and me.

Dad owned A Child’s Garden of Freberg, a compilation LP of parodies and comic originals by Stan Freberg, and he started playing it for us sometime in the mid-70s. I found many of its pieces absolutely riotous: “St. George and the Dragonet,” which hit #1 in 1953 (Dragon: “I see you got one of them new .44 caliber swords.”  St. George: “That’s about the size of it.” Dragon: “You slay me.” St. George: “That’s what I’m here to talk about.”); “Heartbreak Hotel,” poking fun at both its use of echo and Elvis’s gyrations (“Where you will be… RRRIPPP!  …uh, I ripped my jeans…third pair today.”); and “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” with its overexuberant snare drummer.  Freberg was no fan of the popular music of the day and took glee in pointing out what he considered to be its excesses. And even if I wasn’t familiar with the originals enough to know exactly what was being parodied in all cases, you could sense that these recordings came from a master in his prime.

Another classic from Child’s Garden was Freberg’s take on the folk classic “Rock Island Line,”  which was the B-side to “Heartbreak Hotel.” More specifically, it lampooned Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle version, which was a sensation in the UK and had hit the Top 10 in the US in spring 56 (on the 4/25/56 Top 100 chart, Donegan was peaking at #10 while “Heartbreak Hotel” was #1). Donegan had added a long spoken introduction, which clearly irritated our parodist. Freberg, who shares billing with Peter Leeds (playing a record producer) gives it some of his typical flourishes, such as breaking mid-word (SF: “Well, the Rock Is-…you’re sure you don’t want the pig iron part?” PL: “Forget it, will ya?” SF: “…-land Line is a mighty good road…”).  And the bits about the sheep are simply perfect. (By the way, I guess it’s the “Well, you’re alright boy…you don’t have to pay me nothin’” part that DeYoung brought to mind.)

 

I hadn’t listened to the Donegan version until recently, and honestly I had no idea how closely Freberg had hewed to it. I guess I’d just thought Freberg had made it all up himself.

 

In reworking “Rock Island Line,” Donegan apparently misunderstood how the line worked, which of course Freberg and others, including Johnny Cash, propagated: there was no toll that one had to pay if one was transporting goods and not livestock, but such a train might have to go into a holding area. It does make a good story, though!

Well, all this led me to learning a little more about the artist who first popularized “Rock Island Line,” Hudy Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly. He recorded it several times in the late 30s and throughout the 40s.

 

And how did Lead Belly encounter it?  Through working with John Lomax, a leader in the preservation and recording of American folk music. Lomax is responsible for the earliest known recording of “Rock Island Line,” by a group of prisoners in Arkansas led by Kelly Pace, in 1934. It’s mighty good.

 

Anyway, this is where “Why Me” has led me in recent days.  There’s a lot of detail I’m leaving out, but it’s all been fascinating. Somehow, I don’t think this is what DeYoung had in mind, though, as he tossed off that line.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/1/75: Frankie Valli, “My Eyes Adored You”

It was somewhere around the time of this show that I realized I was experiencing my first big crush. She lived not too far away from my house, the sister of one of my friends. I was fifth grade, she was sixth; we rode the same bus to school. I never tried to strike up a conversation, and I tend to doubt I tried to show off/act cool around her when I visited my friend (I certainly didn’t mention anything about it to him, either—he would have razzed me mercilessly). But as painfully awkward and shy around girls as I was, it wouldn’t be shocking to discover she knew nonetheless. If she was aware, I couldn’t detect any indication of mutual interest.

Every time I heard “My Eyes Adored You” that spring, I couldn’t help but think about my situation, despite (more likely, because of) our ages being reversed from that in the song. And as an eventual #1 song (it’s near the beginning of its climb here, at #28), it was on the radio plenty! Apparently I still remember, at least every once in a while.

The crush didn’t go on overly long—some number of months, I imagine. That fall she moved up to junior high, which was there in Walton, while I carried on at the elementary school in Verona. Did that make a difference? Got me. Who knows why feelings rise and then subside, especially at age eleven?