American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/5/83: Pretenders, “Back on the Chain Gang”

It’s Saturday, February 19, 1983, and a College Freshman (CF) is closing in on the halfway point of his second semester. His class load looks a lot like it did back in the fall, at least subject-wise: parts II of calculus, general chemistry, and computer science keep him in the science building much of the time. His fourth class is a composition-like course that virtually all first-year students take. Most of its sections are entitled The American Experience, but he’s in an honors alternative focusing on The Hindu Experience; before the end of the term he’ll write a research paper on Sikhism. (His roommate is in a different honors section on The German Experience—less than a dozen years later, that class’s instructor will become CF’s colleague at his place of employment.)

CF is excited that WTLX is finally about to fire up its new transmitter. He has been waiting, rather impatiently, since early in the fall for the station manager to get things up and running. It’s going to be on only from 4-10 pm three days a week; he’s scheduled for 6-8 on Thursdays. (In the first week of March an article about the station’s opening will appear in the school newspaper.)  One week that spring he’ll record his show using the stereo in his dorm room but will eventually lose track of the cassette.


The weather that Saturday promises to be unusually nice for the time of year: a little windy, but sunny with temperatures near 60. After lunch, CF and a friend drive a few miles north to the Kentucky Horse Park, 1200+ acres owned by the commonwealth and “dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse.” The Horse Park has been in operation for almost five years; his previous visits had been to watch his sister run in cross-country meets held there, including one the previous October (it was prior to them hanging out together so much, but today’s companion went with him then, too—she had a high school friend running). This day, it’s a lovely afternoon, and they enjoy exploring the park and talking.

“Back on the Chain Gang” plays on CF’s radio that morning; eventually he will discover that hearing the song often transports him back in time. He loved “Brass in Pocket” almost three years earlier and probably had heard a few other Pretenders tunes in the intervening time, most likely “Message of Love” and “Talk of the Town.” Before he graduates from college, he’ll purchase Learning to Crawl on vinyl and a special-edition single cassette containing both Pretenders and Pretenders II.

CF will learn that spring about the untimely deaths of Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott (June 82) and former bassist Pete Farndon (April 83). But even without knowing the context, he begins to make sense of “BotCG,” recorded just weeks after Honeyman-Scott had OD’ed: loss can really suck, but you remember the good times and keep moving forward. The song reaches #5 by the end of March—Chrissie’s biggest hit—and will become one of his all-time favorites.

Today has turned out to be a nice day. Maybe tomorrow, though—certainly someday soon—CF will return to his more-than-occasional self-centered-jerk schtick.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/11/78: Jay Ferguson, “Thunder Island”

Here’s one of my very favorites from the spring of 78, literally:


My name appears on a bunch of my 45 purchases from 76-78, sometimes A-side, sometimes B (maybe someday I’ll try to go back and discern a pattern, should one exist; I suspect there was a rationale at some point). That’s almost certainly an artifact of taking them with me to our junior high dances (which were staffed in-house) and not wanting to get them mixed in with other folks’ records. “Thunder Island” would been added to my stack at most a couple of months before our 8th grade shindig.

On the lead-in to “Thunder Island” on this show, Casey tells about Jay Ferguson’s past involvement in the bands Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, each of which had one Top 40 hit. I heard 69’s “I Got a Line on You” plenty in my teen years and I imagine I was cognizant of Ferguson’s presence (even if he isn’t the one singing). “Run Run Run,” from three years later, on the other hand, is one of those early 70s hits I’ve discovered just this decade via the Premiere rebroadcasts. I suspect no one is going to mistake the lyrics to “Run” as possessing some deep social significance.

Ferguson is #14 here, on his way to #9. He was on the chart for the last time one year later, with “Shakedown Cruise.” I wasn’t aware of his extensive work as a movie and TV composer until casting around a bit for this writeup. The dribs and drabs you learn…

SotD: Roxette, “The Look”

Sometimes your instant reaction is completely, laughably, 100% R-O-N-G, and maybe the best you can do is just own up to your grievous error. Here’s one of mine from thirty years ago.

It’s late winter/early spring of 89, and I’m starting to hear a new song from a previously unknown-to-me Swedish duo. The video’s getting plenty of play, too: the male vocalist has spiky hair, and his attractive bleach-blonde partner is mainly singing backup. The action in the clip takes place in the skeleton of a house which looks like maybe it was built inside a warehouse; most of it is shot in the “bedroom.” The lyrics are quick bites, modestly intriguing (“kissin’ is a color,” “lovin’ is the ocean”) and the production values are solid, but something feels just a little off to me. After a few listens/views, I make my pronouncement: this twosome is destined to be a one-hit wonder. I’m not especially shy about sharing my thoughts with friends.

And then I find out I’ve been completely conned about the balance of power in Roxette: Marie Fredriksson is the actual star of the show. After “The Look” hit #1, they immediately prove me wrong with the #14-peaking “Dressed for Success,” but things are just getting started. Their next five songs all make the top 2 in the US, including the mega-smashes “Listen to Your Heart” and “It Must Have Been Love.” Sure, Per Gessle takes major turns at the mic in “Dangerous” and “Joyride,” but for the next two-plus years (stateside, anyway–success lasts longer in Europe), to me it seems like we’re all just living in Fredriksson’s world, even if we might not fully recognize it.

Thirty years ago this week, “The Look” was making its move, jumping from #25 to #13. It reached the top on the 4/8/89 chart.

If you’re going to make a bad snap judgment, it may as well be a doozy.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/1/86: Sly Fox, “Let’s Go All the Way”

In the fall of 85, the radio station I’d most often hear over the speaker system in Transy’s student center was not my beloved WTLX (doubt we had a quality signal or even the range), but WFMI, a top 40/urban hits station located in nearby Winchester. One song they were playing early that semester that caught the attention of several people I knew was “A Fly Girl,” by the Boogie Boys. It’s the parts where they repeated the title phrase over and over that stuck with me most, but the underlying groove was, as they say, infectious. It was a Top 10 Black Singles hit and spent a bit of time Bubbling Under the Hot 100, but it disappeared pretty quickly from my thoughts by the end of the semester.

Until, that is, the following February, when that groove seemingly popped up again. This time, credit went to a new duo, Sly Fox, who happened to be on the same label (Capitol) as the Boogie Boys. The much poppier “Let’s Go All the Way” broke through in a way that “A Fly Girl” didn’t (it still wasn’t quite hip hop’s time, apparently); I was one of those who bought the Sly Fox single, which eventually reached #7 (it’s hanging out at #30 on this show).

Somewhere along the way I’d gotten the impression that there were lawsuits over the similarities between “Let’s Go All the Way” and “A Fly Girl,” but either those got resolved amicably or I’m just plain wrong (I suppose a third possibility is that the Internet still doesn’t know everything/isn’t willing to yield to my feeble search skills).


American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/2/74: Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Love’s Theme”

I’m not planning to do the “Best Songs of the Year” thing on a weekly basis right now, but Premiere is following a 73 show with one from 74, and it’s just a little too tempting not to play compare and contrast.

Let’s cut to the chase: the “best” tunes that topped AT40 in 74 don’t stack up to those of 73. This pains me a little to say—I have very fond memories of many of the big hits from the year I was 10. But while I still confess to really liking stuff like “Seasons in the Sun” and “The Night Chicago Died,” I recognize they give high readings on the schlock-o-meter. Anyway, it was a fair amount tougher than last week to identify ten songs to highlight, even with more choices (35 of ‘em). I did not choose “The Streak,” but I will go on record as saying that it’s well-written and even clever.

[Related aside: This past November jb and some of his commenters discussed why 74 didn’t stack up musically to other years. I’m not enough of a student of history, nor was I really old enough at the time, to attempt to chime in on the subject. Also, sometime around the same time I read another article online noting how generally awful the chart-toppers of 74 were; I wish I’d saved a link to it.]

Honorable mentions, again in chronological order:

Jim Croce, “Time in a Bottle”
Al Wilson, “Show and Tell”
Elton John, “Bennie and the Jets”
Hues Corporation, “Rock the Boat”
Billy Preston, “Nothing from Nothing”

I could have considered the Croce last week, since it was both the last #1 of 73 and first of 74. There was an eminently reasonable comment on FB from a friend saying he’d have picked Preston’s “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles” for HM in 73; it’s probably a better song than “Nothing from Nothing.” May get some grief for including “Rock the Boat,” but I can withstand it. The real issue may be if “I Honestly Love You” should be in here somewhere.

As for those receiving ranks:

#5: Barbra Streisand, “The Way We Were.” Not one of my personal top tracks for 74, but it tugs all the right heartstrings. It’s not terrible that it wound up as the #1 song of the year.

#4: Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Love’s Theme.” My primary memory of this song comes from its use by either ABC or NBC as background music for some of its weekend sports coverage. I hear the opening and suddenly I’m sitting in the living room of our house in Walton, watching TV. A golf tournament leaderboard pops up on the screen, with a gorgeous seaside course behind it… I will say that “Love’s Theme” is much better than Barry White’s pillow-talk hits. We’re hearing it on its way down this week, at #8.

#3: MSFB and the Three Degrees, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).” Martha tells me that her high school pep band played this one a fair amount. Definitely wish I could say the same. Also wish I could say that I watched Soul Train growing up…

#2: Paul McCartney and Wings, “Band on the Run.” Warren took me to task last weekend for lumping “My Love” in with the kitschiest stuff from 73, and I suppose I see his point.  But “Band on the Run” is the best, by a decent amount, of McCartney’s post-Fab Four #1 songs.

#1: Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown.” I really don’t know that I’m finding a clear “best” out of these 35 tunes, so I’m probably letting personal taste boost Lightfoot a little bit. But I’ve loved “Sundown” for almost 45 years now; it’s oblique enough to have held my interest all this time.