American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/30/79: Van Halen, “Dance the Night Away”

This is a notable countdown: it represented the first—and only, I think—time that the top five slots on the Hot 100 were all occupied by female acts: Rickie Lee Jones, Sister Sledge, Anita Ward, and two from Donna Summer. Casey also notes that Summer is just the fourth act—and first woman—to hold two of the top three spots on the chart (see My Favorite Decade’s commemoration here).

The top of that chart is pretty disco-heavy, clearly, and there are several other dance tunes to be heard on this show, including “Boogie Wonderland,” “Makin’ It,” “Does Your Mother Know,” and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).” The next week, AT40 would present a special countdown, The Top 40 Songs of the Disco Era.

Casey’s staff put that show together just in time, as the backlash was ready to strike. I imagine we’ll be reading stuff in a couple of weeks noting the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. In six months, disco fever will have fully broken, at least in terms of presence on the pop charts.

Toward the other end of the pop/rock music spectrum, we’ve got “Dance the Night Away,” the second Top 40 hit from Van Halen, sitting at #18; it would very soon peak three spots higher. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a VH album from start to finish, though I’ve become acquainted with plenty of their stuff from listening to AOR radio over the years. Not that this makes me qualified to offer an opinion, I will nonetheless: David Lee Roth > Sammy Hagar as a front man, and it’s not especially close. The DLR material is simply more fun to listen to. After beginning to articulate this in my head, I did a quick rundown of Steven Thomas Erlewine’s reviews of VH albums at AllMusic—I found that even without me knowing their full catalog, I was hitting on a lot of the same things Erlewine noticed (not that I think I’m advancing a novel or controversial position). But I’ll also opine that Roth without Eddie, Alex, and Michael was far worse than VH with Hagar leading.

Anyway, if I were to try to list my ten favorite Van Halen songs, the only clear entry from the Hagar years would be “Right Now.” I’ve never been ashamed to laud “Jump,” but “Dance the Night Away” would be up near the top, too. Even if it’s not any particular showcase for Eddie’s unique talents, it comes across as almost effortless pop-metal. I spent several sunny Saturday evenings in May and June of 79 sitting in our kitchen with AT40 running; this song is one of several that puts me right back there.

Drowning in the Tide

At the beginning of the year, I sketched an outline of the events and songs from thirty years ago that I thought I might feature in the Destination 89 series. Now essentially at the halfway point of the year, I took a look this morning to see how closely I’ve kept to it. The verdict: very well through mid-April, less so since. I hadn’t gone into this planning on doing periodic reviews of Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart, though that’s been a good deal of fun.

But I’ve slipped on getting to a few songs I’d planned on writing up in June–no time like the present to take care of it. Let’s see what I had in mind:

k. d. lang, “Trail of Broken Hearts”
lang got a good amount of play on VH-1 in the middle of 89 with this single from Absolute Torch and Twang. I wound up buying the disk more or less in real time; her voice is a gift. I always loved watching the big sky scenes in this clip.

 

Fetchin Bones, “Deep Blue”
Greg introduced me to Monster, the fifth album from North Carolina band Fetchin Bones, about a year after it was released. The raucous “Love Crushing” would appear on the Modern Rock Charts in August and September of 89, but this much softer number (apparently not representative of their overall work) appealed to me much more, enough to include on a mix tape I made in 91. Since there’s a video, maybe it was the second single?

 

Syd Straw, “Think Too Hard”
Last October I wrote about the Golden Palominos’ 85 song “(Kind of) True,” and how much Syd Straw’s vocal performance had drawn me to it. By 89, Straw had gotten a contract, releasing her debut solo disk Surprise at the beginning of June. “Future 40s (String of Pearls),” with Michael Stipe on backup vocals, was the first featured track (it too would make the Modern Rock chart in August), but “Think Too Hard” was the one that really got my attention.

 

Stan Ridgway, “A Mission in Life”
Mosquitos had been released a little before the albums from lang, Fetchin Bones, and Straw–they all came out in June. It would still be a few months after this before I borrowed it from my friend Jon. “Goin’ Southbound” was on the Modern Rock charts earlier in June, and I could have featured it in my writeup then. But I really wanted to play “A Mission in Life,” the last track on the disk, instead. For whatever reason, it didn’t make an impression thirty years ago; it’s only been the last eighteen months that I’ve really paid close attention to and fallen in love with it.

One of the YouTube commenters writes: “This song sums up the stupidity and mundanity, but ultimately, the affirmation of life for me really. It has everything covered, boredom, the futility of life, loneliness, cheating on your partner etc. And yet, it makes me want to be nothing else but alive and part of the problem. Genius!!”

Can’t disagree too much with that. It’s a masterful, moving piece.

 

I’m closer to back on track now. July and August were busy months for me thirty years ago, with a fair amount of travel mixed in. More on that soon.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/21/86: The Bangles, “If She Knew What She Wants”

There were a few times in the middle of the summer of 84 I saw on MTV a video from a new (to me, anyway) all-female band from LA. I was impressed by “Hero Takes a Fall,” but after it didn’t get any chart traction, it quietly disappeared from the rotation and my brain.  When “Manic Monday” began making noise during my last spring at Transy, I did recognize it was by the same band whose song I’d enjoyed eighteen or so months earlier, though.

It’d take about another year beyond that before I would plunk down $ for The Bangles’ All Over the Place, that 84 release featuring “Hero Takes a Fall,” and I don’t regret the purchase for one moment. This might be heretical, but after listening to Beauty and the Beat several weeks ago, I think I’m ready to say that All Over the Place has held up better over three-plus decades. It’s just an amazing pop record—enough stylistic variation so as not to lull one into complacency, and very solid songwriting, mostly courtesy of Vicki Peterson, with important contributions from Susanna Hoffs. The two covers are outstanding, too. Just don’t ask me to rank this album’s tracks—my favorite changes virtually daily (today it’s either “Dover Beach” or “Tell Me”).

Eventually I also got a used CD copy of their commercial breakthrough, Different Light. I think it’s very good, but it doesn’t feel as fresh right now as AOtP. “Walk Like an Egyptian” is tons o’ fun, but the best tracks on Different Light are the middle two, the album cut “Return Post” and the second single—this week’s #34 song—the Jules Shear-penned “If She Knew What She Wants.” I simply do not get how this topped out only at #29 (especially after “Walking Down Your Street” later reached #11 as the fourth single). More evidence, as if I needed it, that my tastes regularly don’t align with those of the public-at-large…

I was a big fan of the subsequent cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter,” but after that my interest in The Bangles’ music began to wane. I wasn’t alone—the group split not long after the release of the next album, Everything. Somewhat akin to the path blazed by The Go-Go’s, The Bangles have periodically re-formed over the years, also releasing new material occasionally.

(I really haven’t tried here to give either of these albums the attention they deserve. If you want to read more about why these albums are worthy of your time, here’s The Old Grey Cat on both All Over the Place and Different Light.)

Restoration Blues

From 1995-2010, I taught a mathematics unit as part of a summer science/math camp for high schoolers offered by my college. It ran twelve days—most years the students arrived on Father’s Day (the camp still runs—it’s going on right now). On the first Friday of the camp, we traditionally took a day-long trip to the Cincinnati Zoo, a landfill, and a guided nature program.

The timing of the camp meant that I was invariably involved with duties of some sort on my dad’s birthday (today would have been his 88th—this morning, I’ll be at the cemetery delivering flowers). My parents lived just off the interstate on the way from the zoo to the location of the nature program, and many times I arranged to break away for a brief birthday-related visit.

The music Twitter-verse went all abuzz two weeks ago when Jody Rosen published “The Day the Music Burned” in the New York Times Magazine. It’s a completely deflating account of the June 2008 blaze that destroyed countless master recordings by hundreds of artists whose work was controlled by Universal Music Group, as well as UMG’s subsequent cynical efforts both to disguise the severity of the loss and recoup damages via lawsuit. The next day my attention was directed to an article, written five years earlier, by music historian Andy Zax. Zax had not only understood then the magnitude of UMG’s losses but went on to outline, in depressing fashion, four issues surrounding the preservation of old masters: 1) existence of the tapes; 2) ability to access the tapes—storage is a big deal; 3) ability to use the tapes; 4) dealing with the corporate overlords, the big three companies that own the masters of almost all major-label recordings. Even though there’s overlap between the two articles, both are worth your time if you haven’t already read them.

It was Zax’s third point—dealing with the potential for obsolescence of the recording medium, in the sense that functioning machines needed for playback may not be sufficiently prevalent—that reminded me a segment I heard twenty years ago today on NPR’s All Things Considered. It was part of a series called Lost and Found Sound, a feature they were running on Fridays throughout 99 as everyone prepared to bid adieu to the CE years that started with a 1. (It looks like the series actually continued with some regularity through the end of 2005.)

That year we stayed at the zoo later than usual. I’d driven separately so I could swing through Florence to help Dad celebrate #68 but quickly got caught in a bad Friday afternoon traffic jam on the Ohio side of the river. Something—an accident? construction?—kept me crawling at a snail’s pace for a long time. When 4:00 rolled around, I switched the radio over to ATC; I’d guess Lost and Found Sound came on toward the end of the first half-hour. The title of the segment was “Restoration,” and I quickly learned that over the previous few months a number of listeners had sent in decades-old media they no longer could play, in the hopes that the L&FS team might help. L&FS in turn reached out to Steve Smolian, who was well-versed in extracting sounds from such objects (and who apparently is still in business today). Before the piece ended, two folks who had mailed in material were rewarded: one heard a beloved grandparent speak, and another got to listen to the voice of a sibling who’d died at a very young age. I’m not saying I got choked up at that point but I’m not saying I didn’t, either. All I’ll note is that it was a good thing I was going less than five miles an hour.

Out of all the things I’ve ever heard on NPR, that story is the one that made the deepest impression. Maybe eight years later, I did some digging around on their website, found an archived copy, and listened to it again. Yep, still a moving piece.

About ten days ago, after digesting the Rosen and Zax pieces, I went searching for it again. I easily located a summary (that’s how I re-discovered the story had originally run on Dad’s birthday). Then the irony began to set in. In the upper left corner of the page was a play button one can ordinarily click for listening. But it was grayed out; below I saw, “Only Available in Archive Formats” and a clickable “REAL MEDIA.” I clicked and I got a .ram file. When I tried to open it, there was a note from QuickTime letting me know it doesn’t play files with that extension.

And now, a brief summary of the past week:

“Well, it’s been a while, but I’ve used Real Player before, so I’ll just download it to my work laptop and…oh, there hasn’t been a Mac version supported since 2012? I’ll ask Ben to put it on his PC so I can play it…what? It says that it’s not backwards-compatible with the format of the audio file? Hmmm…maybe I’ve got an older copy of Real Player on my ten-year-old personal laptop? Or the almost as old desktop sitting in the basement? Nope, and nope.”

It could be I’m overlooking something obvious (I don’t think I’m especially savvy in this sphere), but it also could be that I and/or NPR could use a bit of Steve Smolian’s assistance. It appears that all of the Lost and Found Sound stories are in this archived format; I presume that’s true for every NPR story up to some date in the not entirely distant past.

The problem Zax identified might not be limited to recorded music.

Closing out with a song that seems vaguely appropriate for the matter at hand, released a few months after I first heard “Restoration.” “Millennium Blues” is the leadoff track of Matthew Sweet’s In Reverse. “You’ll never get the chance to recover/They say it’s not you anymore.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/26/71: Various, Music from Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar—the album—preceded Jesus Christ Superstar—the Broadway show—by a year or so. Somewhere in the bins of goodies from my youth stashed away in the basement there’s a program from a traveling production we saw in Cincinnati in the early 70s—I’m thinking that was 73 or thereabouts. But my main recollection of exposure to the music of JCS came in junior high.

Mr. Gayle was my English teacher in both 7th and 8th grades (he was also the homeroom teacher who would discuss the pop hits of the day with me). He must have been mighty good, since I can recall so many of the assignments he gave us: a ten-entry journal where we were required to employ a variety of writing styles, penning a play to be performed on stage in front of the class, reading Watership Down and then creating a story featuring its characters. (I’m realizing as I write this how much creative writing we were asked to do—that’s pretty cool. Maybe it’s why have fond memories?) A number of us were also involved in putting together a periodically published junior high “newspaper” he helped supervise called Echo.

In 7th grade (76-77) we spent a week or two listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on a portable turntable Mr. Gayle had brought to the classroom. Given what I wrote above, it’s a little surprising I don’t really remember exactly why that happened, but I think we were concentrating on lyrical analysis—we got ditto sheets of typed lyrics to follow along and take notes as we listened to several of its songs. While I wonder if doing a unit on JCS could possibly pass muster now in public school, I didn’t sense there was any proselytizing going on (while there was very little in the way of religious diversity in my school, JCS wasn’t exactly regarded as orthodoxy). I enjoyed a number of the pieces, particularly “Everything’s Alright,” “Blood Money,” “Hosanna,” and “Superstar.”

Three songs on this week’s show were from Jesus Christ Superstar, all from newcomers who one day would return to the charts: competing versions of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) and a cover by Helen Reddy, and “Superstar,” by Murray Head (Judas) and the Trinidad Singers. While it’d still be several months until JCS opened on Broadway, its presence on the singles chart was very near an end. Elliman (#35, falling from a peak of #28) and Head (#22, reached #14) are in their last weeks on; Reddy (#23, down from a #13 high) lasted one more show.

 

 

Songs Casey Never Played, 6/18/83

Back today with songs from the 6/18/83 chart that couldn’t crack the Top 40. I’m finding 83 to be a total treasure trove of minor hits, maybe the single best year for this sort of post–I could have picked several others today. Saving them for another day!

#104: Roxy Music, “More Than This”
We kick things off with two simply amazing songs that somehow couldn’t escape the Bubbling Under section of the chart. I first wrote a little on “More Than This” almost three years ago, as part of my original FB series about a couple of mix tapes I’d recorded in 85. I’m willing to believe Ferry and company never did anything more fine than this. It’s in its final week on, having reached #102 on the previous chart.

 

#103: Marshall Crenshaw, “Whenever You’re on My Mind”
Probably my favorite of Crenshaw’s outside of “Someday, Someway” and maybe “Cynical Girl.” I saw this video on MTV a few times way back when; while Marshall is not displaying acting chops at all here, I still find the clip charming.  Field Day is a good album, though I’d rate it below Downtown, and well below Marshall Crenshaw.

It almost defies belief that this was the only week “Whenever You’re on My Mind” received pop chart love; somewhere I’d gotten it in my head that it had at least crawled into the 70s. I can’t find five songs out of the 110 listed here better than it, and there are a lot of really good tunes hanging around.

 

#83: Goanna, “Solid Rock”
I first heard “Solid Rock” about a decade ago when I bought Cool World, an awesome double-CD collection of Australian singles released between 76 and 86. It’s wicked good; I’d like to think I’d have been a big fan had I heard it in 83. It’s a precursor of sorts to Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning,” examining the arrival of the British from the perspective of the Aboriginal people. Reached #71.

 

#81: Thomas Dolby, “Europa and the Pirate Twins”
“She Blinded Me with Science” was a big, big favorite of mine in the spring of 83. I wasn’t alone in my dorm–there was a guy down the hall who blasted the extended version from his room well more than once. Dolby’s follow-up from The Golden Age of Wireless debuts on the Hot 100 this week, but the magic wasn’t there a second time, as it climbed only to #67. It’s a fine track, but I honestly don’t hear a big hit single.

 

#74: Sheriff, “When I’m with You”
Psych! Maybe I should have called this post “Songs Casey Never Played On AT40?” “When I’m with You” was on the front wave of singles that got re-released in the late 80s, and was among the first #1 songs of 89. By that time, Casey’s Top 40 had launched. Back in 83, though, this was already coming off its peak of #61. I don’t think I heard it then, but it’s not really my cup of tea, anyway.

Sheriff was long a thing of the past when this re-charted; Freddy Curci, the vocalist, and another former Sheriff soon were part of Alias, who scored a #2 hit in late 90 with “More Than Words Can Say”–I’m pleased to report I don’t remember that one at all.

 

#68: Thompson Twins, “Love on Your Side”
This got on the automated playlist of WLAP-FM for a couple of cycles right at the end of the school year. I don’t think it’s as good as “Lies,” so it’s not surprising to me it had already topped out at #45. Much bigger things were about to happen to Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie, and Joe Leeway.

 

#49: Sparks and Jane Wiedlin, “Cool Places”
The Mael Brothers had already been recording together for fifteen years at this point (and they still seem to be active, now both over 70). They had some commercial success after moving to Britain early on, but couldn’t do better than critical acclaim stateside (pretty sure I read about them from time to time in Stereo Review in the late 70s). The closest they got to tasting the Top 40 was this collaboration with Wiedlin. This is as high as it got.

 

#43: George Benson, “Inside Love (So Personal)”
Another one that got played for just a while on WLAP-FM; I sure recall that distinctive opening vocal/flute combo. Not sure I’d heard it since, I’m ashamed to say. I didn’t expect this to pull up short–it stalled here–I just assumed new Benson was still an automatic big hit. It was in some ways the beginning of the end, though: “Lady Love Me,” the second release from In Your Eyes, was his last time in the Top 40. (This is the second time Benson has been featured in SCNP this year.)

 

Songs Casey Never Played, 6/17/78

Over the next couple of days we’re checking in on some tunes that ultimately fell short of making American Top 40 on the charts at the times of this past weekend’s countdowns. First up, let’s take a deeper dive on 6/17/78.

#101: Linda Clifford, “Runaway Love”
A couple of the songs featured aren’t ones that I knew much about before getting ready to assemble this post. Bubbling Under at #101 for the third week in a row is one of them, a sweet, silky jam from R&B singer Linda Clifford. She was more than a bit unlucky, as the two biggest of her four Hot 100 hits both peaked at #41 (one was a disco-fied version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”). “Runaway Love” eventually made it to #76. However, Clifford did get played on AT40 once: her #54 cover of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” was a Long Distance Dedication on the 9/22/79 show. She turned 71 just last week.

 

#97: Samantha Sang, “You Keep Me Dancing”
Samantha’s U.S. chart magic ran dry as soon as Barry Gibb walked out of the studio. This follow-up to “Emotion” is in its last week on the chart, down from a #56 peak. I definitely heard it on the radio in 78; the 70s on 7 would do well to swap it in 10% of the time they want to play her big hit.  It’s not bad at all.

 

#89: REO Speedwagon, “Roll with the Changes”
You gotta wonder what kind of chart noise this and “Time for Me to Fly” would have made had they been originally released after Hi Infidelity. Might be the most rockin’ thing REO ever did, and certainly a certified member of the Great-AOR-Songs-of-the-Late 70s/Early 80s Club. Absolutely one of my fave pieces of theirs, it had topped out at #58 the week before.

 

#86: Andrew Gold, “Never Let Her Slip Away”
The follow-up to “Thank You for Being a Friend” is debuting this week. Reached only #67. I don’t know that I was previously familiar with this one, but it’s a real charmer. Rumor has it that J. D. Souther and Timothy B. Schmitt are doing backup.

 

#85: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “I Need to Know”
This one’s also in its first week on the chart. “Breakdown” had noodled its way to a one-week stop at #40 back in February; “I Need to Know” peaked one spot shy of that in the first week of August. Deserved a much better fate.

 

#74: Kansas, “Portrait (He Knew)”
Yet another follow-up to a hit single from a couple of months earlier. This prog tune received a little airplay in Cincinnati; only climbed ten spots higher than what we see here. TIL it was written about Einstein.

 

#47: Plastic Bertrand, “Ça plane pour moi”
Plastic Bertrand was the stage name for Roger Jouret, who hailed from Belgium. Wikipedia tells me, however, that Jouret is not actually the vocalist on “Ça plane pour moi” –instead, we’re hearing another Belgian, Lou Deprijck, the writer of this flatly-delivered marvel with a dash of “Fun, Fun, Fun” tossed in. Regardless, it’s another one of those songs I’d have loved to have announced by Casey, even for just one week (certainly I’d pick it over K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s tepid cover of “It’s the Same Old Song”). Alas, this was as high as it climbed.

 

Come back tomorrow if you so desire for some additional low-peaking fun from 83.