Nearing the Finish Line

A year ago in February we started working with an educational consultant to help us navigate the college search process. Ben was more than halfway through his junior year, and while we had some ideas and suggestions for places he might investigate, Martha and I thought we should get some outside assistance to reduce the chance of overlooking an obvious good fit for Ben. Rose came highly recommended to us by a woman in our church whose son was a year ahead of Ben.

I was very impressed after our initial consultation. Rose had established contact with schools all over the country over her years in the business and had a solid feel for the overall vibe of seemingly all of them. She asked insightful questions of Ben in that first meeting and by its end identified a couple dozen colleges and universities for him (well, us) to research. Within a week or so we had plans to tour some places in VA and NC over my spring break and a foray into OH at the end of March. A couple of other trips east came over the summer.

The visits and tours were probably more fun for the parents than the son—it was certainly a vastly more extensive enterprise than either of us had undertaken thirty-five-plus years before. Besides, as a college prof, I’m fairly interested in learning about other campuses.

By midsummer, we were holding our meetings with an associate of Rose’s. Nothing was said at first, but we intuited that Rose was ill.  When it came time to submit applications in the fall, Ben eliminated all but one of the places we had visited outside of KY, OH, and IN. I don’t think that meant our energies (and money) had been wasted—we had great times together, and knowing what didn’t excite him so much was useful information, too. Better to go to a few too many places, I say…

Ben is making his last overnight visit as I write this. He and Martha are in OH, up toward Cleveland. After they get back tomorrow, the final thinking and analyzing will begin. I think we’re down to three primary contenders, and I hope that Ben will make his choice within 10-14 days. While one has been the favorite for some time, I get the sense that he’s a little afraid of “not making the right decision,” but really, there are no bad options at this point. I’ll support his choice 100%.

Just down the street from Transy is a funeral home. I passed by it dozens of times while I was in college, walking between campus and downtown Lexington; many was the time back then when I saw folks entering and leaving it to pay respects to the recently departed. This afternoon was the first time I had gone inside. Rose passed away on Thursday, and I went to pay respects. I knew that she had been an active member of her communities over the years, but her accomplishments were impressive. (As an aside, I learned early on in our dealings that one of her daughters was a college classmate of mine).

Earlier this month, the associate had resigned from Rose’s business, and we’d subsequently set up an appointment with Rose for the second weekend of April. I’m sorry we won’t get to keep that meeting—I was looking forward to having Ben let her know of his final decision—but it is good that she is at peace. I’m glad to have met her and used her services—two of Ben’s three finalists are places she suggested to us.

Prior to Thursday, I had a different way to go with this piece, one that would hook into a prospective student event that took place at Transy around the time of this weekend’s 84 AT40 rebroadcast. I hope that’ll come in some form later in the week.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/27/76: Sweet, “Action”

I’m pretty sure I’ve brought this up before, but I don’t seem to mind repeating myself: on 10/18/75, Casey welcomed WSAI (AM 1360) to the AT40 family of stations. As best as I can tell, it’s the first time a Cincinnati station carried the show. Sometime around the following February I became aware of it, almost certainly while we were going somewhere in Dad’s car on Sunday evenings. Eventually I sussed out that the starting time was 6pm, and as the weeks moved toward spring, I began tuning in on my transistor radio pretty much weekly. The first Sunday of June 76–the day after my cousin Diane’s wedding, as it happens–the legendary chart-keeping began.

I have quite a number of distinct memories of chart placement and/or chart action from March-May 76. Many are about noting the highest debuting song of the week, especially if that song came in above #30 (“Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” “Welcome Back,” “Love Hangover,” and “Fool To Cry” all fit in this category). I tried to discern patterns: one that seemed to crop up more than once was the song that took a big leap in its second week on the show but would fall short of the very upper reaches of the chart (both “Show Me the Way” and “Tryin’ To Get the Feeling Again” went 37-25 initially before stalling at #6 and #10, respectively; something similar happened to “Year of the Cat” in early 77). For quite a while I could recite the week-by-week travails of “Silly Love Songs” as it ascended to the top.

The song sitting at #40 was also something that lodged itself into my long-term memory on a fairly regular basis. The earliest of these I can clearly recall is “Action,” by Sweet, which opened the 3/6/76 show. I followed its progress pretty closely over the course of a seven-week run that ended at #20 (we’re hearing it at #23 on this show); it’s also among the first songs I know only because of AT40. I never heard it on WSAI (or any radio station for that matter, outside of the show, and it would be sometime late in college before I came across a used copy of the single to listen to it again). Nonetheless, the line “So you think you’ll take another piece of me to satisfy your intellectual needs” stayed planted in my brain. “Action” is completely under-appreciated now, at least here in the States–maybe it gets more love elsewhere, since it went Top 10 in about a dozen countries. Great, great pop song, and the vid below is pretty darn cool for a lip-synched performance piece from the mid-70s (I just wish it included the full intro)–I especially love the bass guitar we see.

Having had the chance now to listen to numerous shows from across the eighteen years of the Classic Casey AT40 era, I can safely say those from 76 are the most enjoyable to me. Casey’s definitely got a routine in this period. He tells the stories and answers the questions in an efficient manner, but he seems very much at ease. The bumpers and jingles are bright and maybe even optimistic-sounding. There can be no doubt my opinion is totally influenced by nostalgia; these shows take me back to those first moments of discovering something that became an enormous part of my teen years.

SotD: Madonna, “Like a Prayer”

Brief notes from the last half of March 1989:

–Spring Break started on St. Patrick’s Day. I drove to Richmond, IN, where my MA cousin Sandi was a junior at Earlham College, a Friends-affiliated school. On Saturday, we drove to Indianapolis, where we met up with John and Ann and did the highly-regarded Children’s Museum (to my regret, that’s a place Martha and I never took Ben, though we visited analogous places in several other cities).

–Maybe the real reason for going to Indy happened that night: the Bulls were in town to play the Pacers.  John and I had talked for the better part of two years about wanting to see His Airness do his thing in person, and we knew we were never going to get seats easily at Chicago Stadium. The Bulls were a much better team that year (almost 20 games ahead of the Pacers in the standings at that  point), but it’s not easy to win on the road in the NBA; Indiana pulled out a 9-point win behind a strong 30-point effort from Chuck Person (on the Bulls’ side, Jordan had 28, Pippen 24). It remains to this day the only NBA game I’ve ever attended (the Cincinnati Royals moved out of town, toward Sacramento via Kansas City, right at the moment we were re-locating to Walton).

–After the weekend, it was on to Florence to hang with my parents for a few days. Easter was on the very early side in 89, March 26. We’d invited Sandi to join our big family Easter dinner, hosted by one of my first cousins. She didn’t have a car, so I went and got her on Saturday (Richmond was about 90 minutes away). It wasn’t too far afield to drive back to Illinois via Earlham on Sunday afternoon. That week was the only time we saw each other while she was in IN.

At the time, I’m sure I figured that was my last trip to KY before the end of the school year. I’d be back in less than three weeks.

Madonna’s new release “Like a Prayer” was just starting to make noise on the charts as Spring Break hit (leaping 13 spots to #25 on the 3/25 Hot 100). At first I found the song’s title an odd echo of/contrast to the lead single from Ms. Ciccone’s second album, but it wasn’t before long there was plenty of separation between the two in my mind. I quickly found “Prayer” to be vastly superior to “Like a Virgin.” I absolutely love the chord progressions in the bridge (and how many songs lead off with the bridge?); I’ll even go on and claim it’s one of her very best singles. The video generated plenty of controversy and calls for boycotts in real time with its appropriation of religious symbolism in the service of, well, what Madonna was selling. As we know now, though, she wasn’t anywhere near done pushing the envelope.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/26/88: Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World”

I’ve talked before about seeing movies at the theater on Green St in Champaign’s Campustown (True Stories, Moonstruck). I’d managed to forget the name of the theater, though, so I spent a few minutes last night digging around for it. Didn’t take long: it was called the Co-Ed. For the interested, a brief history is here. And here is a picture of it, from a couple years after I left town (ah, and Acres of Books, too!).

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I’d forgotten there were multiple screens; another picture I found reminded me that there’d actually been a Co-Ed II next door. I know from my visits back to C-U nowadays that the Co-Ed has been gone for some time—the linked article tells me it was closed just about twenty years ago. That block of Green between 5th and 6th, especially the north side, has changed so much over 30 years…

Anyway, another film I took in at the Co-Ed toward the beginning of 88 was Good Morning, Vietnam. It’s a fine movie, and reading over the plot synopsis on Wikipedia has me realizing a lot of it stuck with me over the years (could well be I saw parts of it a second time sometime later).  Among them are the ironic scenes of chaos, killing, and destruction while Louis Armstrong sings the lovely “What a Wonderful World.”  That sequence made such an impression that the song wound up being re-released. It hadn’t made the Hot 100 the first time, but it’s #33 here (it would get just one spot higher). Thing is, though, it’s an anachronism: the movie is set in 65-66, and Armstrong didn’t record “World” until 67.

Last July, Adrian Cronauer, the man who thought his experiences as a disk jockey in Vietnam might form the basis for a decent movie (of course, Robin Williams’s character wound up resembling Cronauer in name only), passed away at age 79.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/24/79: Frank Mills, “Music Box Dancer”

I’m not a purist about the label ‘instrumental;’ as far as I’m concerned, an ‘instrumental’ can include some vocals (e.g., “T.S.O.P”, Bill Conti’s “Theme from ‘Rocky’”), though I admit this can lead to debates about where the boundary should be. Take two songs from May/June 76: I’d definitely call Brass Construction’s “Movin’” an instrumental, but I’m much more hesitant about doing so for Rhythm Heritage’s “Theme from ‘Baretta,’” which, let’s be honest, with the vocals so far down in the mix, is still really all about the music.  I suppose in the end, that’s my criterion: where is our attention being directed?

Just because, let’s take a gander at most of the (mostly) wordless hits of 78 and 79:

“Theme from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’” John Williams and Meco. One of the oddities of late 70s AT40 lore occurred on 1/21/78, when these competing versions of music from the Richard Dreyfuss flick debuted back-to-back, leading off the show. Each is quirky in its own way, and it’s hard to say which I like better. Williams got to #13, while Meco stalled out at #25.

“Feels So Good,” Chuck Mangione. My introduction to the flugelhorn. It’s a fabulous track. Half of one of the great two-song debut weeks, in terms of chart performance, 3/18/78: “Feels So Good” reached #4, while its partner, “The Closer I Get to You,” made it to #2.

“Let’s All Chant,” Michael Zager Band.  To me, this more or less follows the Silver Convention model: let the musicians do their thing for long stretches, and have studio singers repeat a few phrases over and over. I’d consider “Fly Robin Fly” and “Get Up and Boogie” both to be instrumentals, so here we are. Besides, in May 78, disco-goers had to be focusing on the groove here while working their bodies. Yeah, I featured this #36 hit a while ago.

“Chase,” Giorgio Moroder. I didn’t hear this all that much beyond its three AT40 appearances in March 79 (it’s on for the final time, at #34, on this show, and Casey’s insisting on calling it “The Chase”), but I liked it even then. Took me a while to realize the scope of Moroder’s influence in the dance music world, then and in ensuing years.

“Morning Dance,” Spyro Gyra. A thoroughly enjoyable jazzy piece from August/September 79; one kinda wonders how they wound up a one-hit wonder (though they did make the Hot 100 three other times). There’s all sorts of fabulous percussion here (not to mention that sax line!), but maybe it’s the steel drums in the intro that caught folks’ ears? Got as high as #24.

“Rise,” Herb Alpert. The biggest hit on this list, it gave Alpert the distinction of having an instrumental and a vocal #1 song. It spent most of the last four months of 79 on the show. Alpert snuck in the follow-up, “Rotation,” at #40 on the last chart of the decade.

“Music Box Dancer,” Frank Mills. I first heard “Music Box Dancer” on 3/3/79, the weekend it debuted at #40. The very next day, I bought the single at Recordland in the Florence Mall. There may be another 45 or two I purchased over the years after just one listen, but then again, maybe not. For whatever reason, I immediately found the combination of the melody and the “ah”-ing in what you might call the chorus pretty moving—I’ll still cop to thinking it’s a gorgeous piece. It’s #19 this week, and would make it to #3. Interesting that the recording was almost four years old when it began getting airplay in Canada, in the spring of 78. Obviously, we in the US were a little slow on the uptake even then…

My chart-keeping follies, part 23,617: the first couple of weeks Frank Mills was on the show, I wrote down the title of his composition as “Musicbox Dancer.”

3/11/78 and 3/14/81 Charts

So, “How Deep Is Your Love” and “I Go Crazy” spent 22 weeks together on AT40 (not including the frozen week after Christmas 77), yet in only one of those–the show previous to that displayed below–were they simultaneously in the Top 10.

Also on last week’s chart, I’d “picked” ELO and Rod to soon surface on the show. This week’s choices both bowed in at #38  on the 3/25 and 4/1 charts, respectively.

Another mild curiosity: the songs at #11, 12, and 13 are all at their peaks.

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I had a lot of enjoyable experiences in the spring of 81, both academic and athletic (the social side, on the other hand, was much quieter). There are quite a few songs from that period that I really, really liked, and the leading edge of that wave is starting to arrive in the upper half on the ol’ Top 50 chart: “Rapture,” “Living in a Fantasy,” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” all had decent helium at this point. “While You See a Chance,” another great one, is lurking at #33. Note Journey’s presence; it was already in its fourth week on my chart. As I mentioned Sunday, it was still three weeks away from being played by Casey. It hadn’t always been the case that Cincy stations would be trying to break songs, but by the early 80s my awareness of newer releases was definitely on the rise.

Cliff Richard is in his second and last week at the top, and Donnie Iris would be taking over for a three-week spin on the next list. Parsons and Benatar are at their peaks. I don’t seem to care for the McClinton, Abba, or Lennon songs nearly so much now as I apparently did then.

One last note: “Skateaway” is sitting at #31 this week; it’d hang out a few more weeks, reaching #28. I’m glad to have ranked it all, but I kinda wish I’d had it go higher…

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On the real 81 countdown:
–two other big faves from Spring 81 are showing up in Johnny Cougar and April Wine (and “Don’t Stop the Music” is plenty groovy, too);
–it’s Firefall’s last week ever on the show (save LDDs of “Just Remember I Love You”);
–two songs I didn’t appreciate enough in real time are here on the first page: “Just the Two of Us” and (especially) “Precious to Me;”
–I missed part of hour one this weekend due to some yard work–I wish I’d heard the letter that led to requesting “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” as a dedication;
–I’d totally forgotten that Casey played an album cut from Dark Side of the Moon–had a non-single been played on the show since the early 70s, when they regularly featured something from the #1 album of the week?
–I’d also forgotten that “9 to 5” had non-consecutive weeks at #1.

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American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/14/81: Journey, “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”

On Thursday, October 9, 1980, a natural gas boiler exploded in the basement of Simon Kenton High School, killing one student who had been in an art classroom next to the boiler room. A subsequent larger explosion injured many first responders and rendered the building unusable for months. SK students wound up going to classes from early afternoon to early evening at another school in the county for the rest of the school year.

Five-and-a-half months later, SK’s boys basketball team rattled off four wins in three days—back then, the semifinals and finals were both played on the same day—to be crowned the state champions at the 1981 Kentucky Sweet Sixteen. It was a story for the ages, and also the first time a school from the Ninth Region (then comprised of all the high schools in the three northernmost counties of Kentucky, close to Cincinnati) had won the whole shebang. Their star player, Troy McKinley, parlayed a hot hand at the tournament into a scholarship at the University of Kentucky (alas, he was mostly a benchwarmer until his senior year there).

But this magic ride almost didn’t happen; my high school’s team came this close to knocking SK out in the very early going.

Kentucky is one of just a handful of states that doesn’t classify basketball teams—all schools are entered into one big free-for-all tournament. There are 16 Regions, with each Region divided into 4 Districts. The two finalists from each District compete in the Regional tournament, and the winner of each Regional advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

In 1981, there were seven teams in the 33rd District, the largest in the entire state (some Districts had as few as four teams). That meant a team in the 33rd likely had to win two games to advance to the District finals and gain a berth in the Regional. The draw each year was always random, so a team had only a one-in-seven chance of getting that precious first-round bye.

Walton-Verona’s 80-81 team was by far the best one during my years there. It was a fairly senior-laden group, led by Johnny Anderson, the feisty point guard and star athlete at the school, and Andy Burns, the six-seven center who’d willed himself into becoming a dominant post presence. They went 26-6 in the regular season and, as the second-best team in the District, were legitimate contenders to advance to the Regional for the first time in quite a while.

Unfortunately, the random draw gods placed W-V in the same half of the District bracket with Simon Kenton, who, despite having to practice and play their home games at gyms all over the Region, had delivered on the promise they had going into the season (they were responsible for one of W-V’s losses).

I had been manager/statistician for the boys’ team my sophomore year (the halftime locker room was more than occasionally a chance for various players to lobby me for an additional rebound or assist). I’d had to give that position up my junior year due to my job at the IRS (that’s why I’m not in the picture at the top), but since I’d quit by early March, I was asked to assist and found myself front and center at the official scorers’ table during the District tournament, keeping stats there.

The tourney was held at Boone County HS, in Florence, and we defeated the host school in the first round. W-V was confident and ready to take on SK on that Thursday evening. It turned out to be the most exciting HS basketball game I ever saw.

Of course, so many of the details of the game are lost to me now, but it was overall well-played and pretty tight throughout. I’ve read accounts in recent days that remind me that W-V held an eight-point lead with about two-and-a-half minutes to play. Simon Kenton came back to force overtime, obviously, but one extra five-minute period wasn’t enough. At the end of the second overtime, the score was 72-70; we were headed home. Coach Eades praised the team in the locker room afterward, but for the most part, it was mostly silence, tears, and disappointment in there. Completely emotionally draining.

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That loss on 3/5/81 was the first entry in my “Ten Events and the Songs I Associate with Them” document from that year. The song was this week’s #55 tune, Journey’s “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” which I’d been already hearing for a while (it wouldn’t hit the Top 40 for three more weeks—sorry, taking liberties again—and climbed as high as #34). Here’s what I wrote about it—I guess you can blame me for jinxing them (note that I mistakenly wrote it was the Regional instead of District):

March581Writeup

Two weeks later, Dad drove my friend Bill and me down to Rupp Arena to watch Simon Kenton play their first-round game in the Sweet Sixteen, one they won by a single point (I associate that evening with the Journey song, too—truth be told, it’s one of my five favorites of theirs). Their total margin of victory across the four Sweet Sixteen games en route to the championship was just eleven points, seven of those in the final game. W-V remained the only one across all levels of the tourney to extend them beyond regulation.

This year, W-V had perhaps its most successful season ever: for the fourth time in school history (but first since 1942), they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. They even won a game while there. I didn’t get to see them play (I would have gone had they reached the semifinals), but I know it was incredibly exciting for the town. That 81 team and the what-could-have-beens sure were on my mind during their run, though.