American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/28/84: Laura Branigan, “Self Control”

This past weekend I had a great time hanging out with four of my HS classmates. We met up just outside of Nashville, using Airbnb to get a house a few miles away from where one of them lives. It’s not like I haven’t seen Tony, Frank, Bill, and Dwayne occasionally over the years (some more than others), but this was the first time since, oh, the spring of 82 the five of us had spent any extended time together. It was a solid mix of taking advantage of our location, reliving glory days (hearing some stories for perhaps the twentieth time, others for the first), and catching each other up on highlights and lowlights of the past 37 trips around the sun. One of us noted the paradox that those times felt as if they simultaneously occurred both yesterday and in a completely different lifetime. Not surprisingly, there’s interest in having this sort of thing happen again in the not-too-distant future. Many kudos go to Frank for the idea and for organizing it.

One of the tales that got re-told was the time that Tony, Bill, and I went to Daytona Beach in early August of 84. And one of the songs that always plays in my head when I think about that trip is Laura Branigan’s “Self Control.” Branigan is on her way down the chart on this show from a peak of #4, stopping off at #17.  It was her third (and final) Top 10 hit; all were European imports, but unlike “Gloria” and “Solitaire,” “Self Control” was originally written in English. Branigan’s version competed with that of Italian co-writer Raffaelle “Raf” Riefoli in various countries across Europe during the summer of 84, and hers was generally the bigger hit (in Germany, Branigan kept Raf from reaching #1).

I don’t recall ever seeing the video for “Self Control” (by The Exorcist director William Friedkin) on MTV. The network asked for some edits before they’d play it, and that didn’t happen immediately. The clip below intersperses scenes from the original vid with those of Branigan performing it before an audience.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/28/73: Diana Ross, “Touch Me in the Morning”

The beginning of Diana Ross’s solo career conveniently coincides, at least for SiriusXM, with the change in decades from the 60s to the 70s. She had fifteen Top 40 singles in the 70s (including two duets with Marvin Gaye), four of which went to #1. A chart oddity: those four were also the only Top 10 songs she had in that decade. While I think I discovered this on my own within the last few years, I’ve since learned through reading on the Internet I’m definitely not the only one to have noticed. I’ll admit I was surprised by this at first, as I could easily have believed “Remember Me” or “Last Time I Saw Him” to be Top 10 material.

This #1/non-Top 10 dichotomy broke down soon after the 80s began. Ross struck early in the summer of 80 with her fifth solo #1, “Upside Down,” but by the end of 82, she had five songs that had peaked between #5 and #10. Tack on her huge #1 duet with Lionel Richie, “Endless Love,” and her last Top 40 hit, the #10-peaking “Missing You” in early 85, and the final tally for her solo phase is an impressive, much less odd-sounding six #1 songs, six other Top 10 hits. Only four Top 40 hits from her 80s output did not go Top 10.

I’m not really all that fond of “Endless Love,” but I’ll admit that all six of her post-Supremes #1 songs were deserving of reaching the top. Forced to rank them, I’d tab “Touch Me in the Morning” (#11 this week) as my favorite. Part of the reason for that may be I’m not quite old enough to have heard “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” on the radio in real time; I have stronger impressions of the world around me by the summer of 73, so I can perhaps place “Touch Me in the Morning” better in context. Since I wouldn’t have really understood what was really going on in the piece back then, all I would have had to guide me was Ross’s remarkable, emotional performance.

I’ve Seen The Future And It Will Be

When I arrived in Champaign-Urbana in August of 86 I’d been learning about bridge for a little over two years and trying out duplicate for about sixteen months. One of the first things I did after hitting town was figure out where the local club met. I learned there was an open game on Monday evenings in the meeting room at a motel not terribly far from campus. Karen, who ran the game, arranged for me to play with Brian; I biked out to my car in the lot beyond the football stadium and drove there in time to meet my partner and discuss a convention card (a piece of paper that, in the interest of fairness, discloses your partnership’s bidding and play agreements to the opponents).

I was a total novice with very little understanding of the game. Brian probably didn’t have too many more years on him than my twenty-two, but he had much more experience, much keener card sense, and much stronger table presence. I’d played against some fine players before, but most of my experience had occurred when the room was full of folks much closer to my level. This felt like a shark tank, and I was chum. Brian and I finished well below average that first night; after the same thing happened the next couple of weeks, I thanked him for his time and slunk back to the dorm, licking wounds and turning attention to other pursuits, such as coursework.

I didn’t give bridge up completely. Mark H had moved back to St. Louis, first for a Masters in CS from Washington University, and then IT work at a couple of major corporations with a local presence. He and I met up a few times for tournaments, in St. Loo or some downstate IL city. At that point, while I wanted to play well, it was more about the company, hanging with a friend—any Masterpoints we won were gravy.

Sometime in the spring of 89 I got wind that a bridge club was forming on campus—maybe I saw a flyer in the Illini Union, next door to the math building. Since the dream had not died completely, I showed up for the initial meeting. The organizers were Mark L and Marc; there were several folks in attendance. I don’t recall now how things proceeded, whether the cards came out that first night or not, but it wasn’t long at all before the Illini Bridge Club became an ongoing endeavor.

It turned out that Mark L was a first-year grad student in math—maybe our paths had crossed before that night, but maybe not. I eventually learned that he’d also started playing duplicate in April 85. He was an evangelist for, and a teacher of, the game, much more so than I. Early that summer Mark got me back to the Champaign bridge club—by 89 they’d relocated from the motel to a strip mall on the west side of town, and there were now sessions on some afternoons that were perhaps less intense. My comfort level, if not my results, rose.

In July, I attended my first national bridge convention. The ACBL runs three each year, usually mid-March, late July, and around Thanksgiving. The locations vary (right now, they’re close to wrapping up this year’s Summer Nationals in Vegas); in the summer of 89, they had conveniently chosen Chicago. Perhaps in part inspired by resuming somewhat regular play, I arranged with Mark H to go for the weekend after my duties at the math camp ended. On Saturday, in one round of an open game for players under 30, we encountered a couple of 12-year-olds, one male, one female. He turned out to be the then-record holder for the youngest Life Master in ACBL history. (They cleaned our clocks.) On Sunday, we retreated to the 0-20 Masterpoint room, where the competition was much more suited for us. We won a team game playing with two Chicago-area women and received a trophy that was maybe ten inches tall (that’s one thing I actually tossed out a few years ago). A good time, one that maybe helped continue to stoke my interest.

Come fall, the Illini Bridge Club kept growing. I believe it became a sanctioned ACBL club, making it eligible to award Masterpoints. Mark L helped publish an IBC newsletter (I do still have copies of those). I attended often but not quite weekly, and I remember quite a few IBC folks: Josh, Chris, Brian, Jordan, Jon, Kevin, Kelly, Nancy, Don, and Spencer (a former calculus student). Some became good and long-time friends.

Before too long, I realized that Mark L seemed to see some promise in me. He recruited me to join him on teams that competed in events, mainly for non-Life Masters, whose prize for winning was a trip to a national tournament. We enjoyed remarkable success: over the next three years, he and I, along with a rotating collection of teammates, went to four Nationals. It’s not clear to me that Mark’s initial confidence was well-placed, but I’m incredibly grateful for it, and for the friendship we’ve maintained to this day.

Meeting Mark through the IBC was an inflection point in my social life at Illinois. As a result, I was introduced to a whole host of folks, both fellow students and people from the area who loved to play bridge. At the beginning of 90, I fell in with another group of grad students who showed up at the Champaign bridge club independently of the IBC. They—Greg, Katie, Toby, and Karl—became the core of my social circle for the last two-plus years in C-U. I’ve jokingly said that bridge may have kept me in school an extra year; I’m not sure that’s really the case, but even if so, it was worth it.

Batman, the Nicholson/Keaton/Basinger flick that launched a franchise of sorts, was released toward the end of June that summer. I know I saw it sometime soon thereafter, but where and with whom has disappeared into the ether. It remains the only one of the various Batman movies I’ve seen. Prince’s “Batdance” got a lot of play at the time, but it has to be among the least heard #1 songs from the 80s now. It’s an odd duck, no doubt—mainly an extended jam with samples of the movie’s dialogue and the occasional interjection from the Purple One. Maybe because it is so underplayed now that I really don’t mind when it comes on.

The Joker still inspires—I see that another “origin of the character” movie is coming out later this year—but he seems to be a much darker and grim thing now than what Cesar Romero or even Jack cooked up back in the day. Ten years ago I spent a week in Kansas City, grading AP Calculus exams. The Dark Knight had come out almost a year earlier, but one of the late Heath Ledger’s lines from the movie still resonated with the 17- and 18-year-olds of 2009: it feels like there’d been some sort of social media campaign launched, as time and again—perhaps on questions that stumped them—we found “Why so serious?” written in the exam booklets we were marking.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/19/86: The Fixx, “Secret Separation”

Last month I remarked on the solid set of five debuts that came aboard 6/18/83; not only are they great songs, but they did very well, too, with peak positions of 1, 3, 4, 5, and 12. This yields a mean peak of 5.0, which seems pretty hard to top for a collection of five tunes.

Enter this week’s show. I don’t think the songs are nearly as good collectively—they’re from Berlin, Bananarama, Lionel Richie, Regina, and Wham!—but with peaks of 1, 1, 2, 10, and 10, that’s good enough for a mean of 4.8. Maybe there should be a bonus for all of them going Top 10, too?

Well, of course I had to see if any set of five debuts in the 80s (through Casey’s last AT40 show on 8/6/88) had done better. I was also curious about which cohort did worst—my intuition was that it would be from 82. (This is not my first go-round with this question—I looked at sets of six or more debuts, on a somewhat wider range of years, last November.) I found 97 weeks over this time frame with five debuts. Let’s look at the results—I’ve included links to charts so you can check out the sets of debuts if you’re interested.

First, the seven best weeks:

Week Mean Peak Position
7/19/86 4.8
6/18/83 5
11/19/83 6.6
4/11/87 7.2
4/5/86 7.6
4/14/84 7.8
4/2/88 8.2

Premiere has indeed played the two 80s shows with the highest average peak position for five debuts within the past month. Three quick notes: 1) 4/11/87 is the only show other than 7/19/86 where all five debuts made the Top 10; 2) 4/5/86 made this list despite having a song that reached only #23; 3) observe there are no shows before June of 83. Hmm…

Now, for the seven worst:

Week Mean Peak Position
12/17/83 27.2
11/14/81 26
7/3/82 25.8
6/5/82 25
10/30/82 24.4
9/7/85 24
3/1/86 24

My guess was incorrect, though I was hardly off-base in thinking 82 would have some lesser-performing sets. More observations: 1) four of these seven sets, including that of 12/17/83, have at least one Top 10 song in them—9/7/85 has two—and two others have a #11 song debuting; 2) Maybe this means the actual worst set came on 6/5/82—also rebroadcast this year—the highest peak among those five was #18.

Yes, this is trivia without much meaning, but at least you didn’t have to pay anything more than your time to read about it.

Not going with any of those five debuts for the feature. Instead, it’s the fifth of six Top 40 hits for the Fixx. “Secret Separation” may well be my favorite song of theirs; it’s two spots shy of its #19 peak on this show. I’d never bothered to dig deep on the lyrics—all these years I’ve been thinking this was a pretty odd breakup song, whereas I’m now seeing the more than credible claim it’s about reincarnation. Can’t say much for the video, however.

I whiled away many an hour in the early 90s leafing through Ira A. Robbins’s Trouser Press Record Guide, thanks to Greg, who introduced it to me. Robbins did not like the Fixx; his review of their work includes the adjectives “pretentious,” “mundane,” “irritating,” “unpleasant,” “trivial,” and “wretched.” Even though I find most of their hits enjoyable enough, for a while afterward I perhaps tried to do Robbins one better by referring to them as “the execrable Fixx.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/19/75: Captain and Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together”

Our family’s summer vacation in 75 was a trip to Massachusetts, in our recently purchased Chrysler Newport (or maybe it was the last gasp of Dad’s 71 Ford LTD II?). One of Mom’s cousins lived in Wellesley with her husband and two children (Sandi and Jack), and I strongly suspect they had invited us for a couple weeks’ getaway. My parents were never ones to go for ultra-long days in the car, so I believe we took three days each way (Youngstown, OH was one stop; somewhere in eastern PA was likely the other).

First came time spent around Boston: we almost certainly took a walking tour of the historical parts of downtown, and I distinctly remember doing Lexington/Concord up right. After a few days, we drifted down to Plymouth, where Mom’s cousin’s husband’s family owned two adjacent houses located practically on Cape Cod, south of downtown. We stayed for a few days in the larger, older one—it had high ceilings, huge rooms, and a long front porch that ran most of the length of the house. Our relatives were around for some part of our time there.

I imagine we walked along the beach, saw Plymouth Rock and the replica of the Mayflower, and visited Plimoth Plantation. I received my first extended exposure to episodes of Our Gang on morning television. Sandi and Jack were a few years younger than Amy and I, but we all got along famously.

It must have been over a weekend that cousins from their father’s side of the family came down from Boston to the other house on the property, one that was closer to the shore. They were another brother/sister pair, this time closer to my age, probably just a bit older. Sitting on their deck, they taught me how to play Mille Bornes; for sheltered little-eleven-year-old-me, it was somewhere on the spectrum of scandalous to impressive as they sang “but I got so damn depressed” when “Sister Golden Hair” came on the radio while we played cards, in front of the adults.

I’m close to positive that the song we heard most frequently in the car on that trip was “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Amy and I definitely didn’t mind—we both liked it quite a bit. I was the better part of a year away from knowing about AT40, but I intuited nonetheless at year’s end that the Captain and Tennille had scored the #1 song of 75. On this show, it had dropped to #8 after a four-week run at the top.

Here Come The Terrible Twos

I don’t have any memories of seeing Neil Armstrong stepping on to the surface of the moon fifty years ago this evening. I was only five, my sister not yet four, and it’s doubtful that my parents would have tried to keep us awake for the event, which took place just before 11:00 pm Eastern. Unfortunately, I never thought to ask either of them about their recollections after I was grown.

What I do remember is the newspaper from the following day that sat in a basket, along with Mom’s collection of Good Housekeeping magazines, at one end of the couch in our family room in Stanford.

LexHerald072169

The whole front (I’ve cut off two stories that appear at the bottom: “America Held Its Breath With Tension Of Landing” and “Visionaries Led Humanity To Its Destiny In Stars,” the latter by French sci-fi writer René Barjavel) is devoted to the moon landing, with several of the stories carrying over to the back page. I re-discovered it in a drawer in the basement of my parents’ townhouse four years ago while clearing things out–I have no idea where it resided in the intervening time. News flash: I come by my pack-rattiness honestly.

(A side note: that back page of the Herald informs us that 7/20/69 is also the day on which R&B vocalist Roy Hamilton died, at age 40, from complications related to a stroke. Hamilton had recorded one of the three versions of “Unchained Melody” that were in the Top 10 simultaneously in May of 1955.)

In other news, this blog is now two years old–time to party!

Like last year, I present the twelve most-viewed articles of the past twelve months:

1) Last year’s July 20 post
2) Saying farewell to the women’s dorm at my alma mater (August 30)
3) The collection of paintings my grandmother produced before my father was born (September 23)
4) Observing the sixtieth anniversary of my in-laws’ wedding (December 27)
5) Remembering the syndicated radio show hosted by Humble Harve Miller I heard back in 76 (June 6)
6) Two of my February charts (it’s on the list courtesy of a link provided by this guy) (February 11)
7) The gift my sister received for her fourth birthday (October 2)
8) That time I recorded my college radio show (August 14)
9) A presentation of moving averages of the number of debuts on AT40 over a twelve-year period (October 7)
10) Looking at odd chart journeys in the late 70s (June 1)
11) The construction of Transy’s campus center, which opened in 83 (December 18)
12) Noticing how a band’s songs appeal—or don’t—on different sides of the ocean (November 25)

And here are ten others I liked, in chronological order of appearance:

1) A guest post from HERC (July 24)
2) The other side of sorority Bid Day (September 16)
3) Re-taking a hike (October 16)
4) Father, son, and their relationship to the college they attended (December 6)
5) The contents of the tape I helped put in the campus center’s time capsule (December 20)
6) The very few Partridge Family trading cards I own (February 21)
7) College visits, past and present (April 7)
8) A retrospective of my mother’s years between high school graduation and marriage (April 12)
9) My father’s health scare and that call in the night (April 14)
10) Remembering a beloved Cincinnati Reds broadcaster (June 10)

This is post #546; apparently I still think I have things to say. I noted this last year, but it remains true: while this blog is primarily both a memory dump so that my son can know more about his old man’s younger days and a means of dealing with parental loss, it’s also been a vehicle for meeting and exchanging bon mots with fellow music-lovers of a certain age. This last bit has been truly gratifying, and I hope it continues. I do appreciate everyone who has dropped by for my ramblings, be it only once, regularly, or somewhere in between.

I have some goals for the third year. Of course, I plan to continue Destination 89 through the end of December, as I re-live the music and life events of thirty years ago–no promises at this point on a theme for 2020. I’ve got skeletons of a few longer pieces in my head that I hope to flesh out; perhaps in conjunction with that, I plain want to work on improving my writing. And I’m pretty certain that I will do a modest site re-design in the reasonably near future, maybe even upgrading so that visitors don’t have to deal with ads anymore. (Back in March, Facebook decided my URL was not trustworthy any more, and I think that’s affected the nature of traffic–maybe the new domain that comes with an upgrade would overcome that.) There are a few features I’d like to add that might make the site more navigable, too. We’ll see how long it takes to make remodeling a reality.

In what is apparently now a tradition, here’s our annual visit from the Vulgar Boatmen, a reprise of my first Song of the Day.

Thanks for swinging by–I hope you’ll find it worth your time to come back.

SotD: Donna Summer, “This Time I Know It’s for Real”

In the spring of 89 I caught wind of a summer employment opportunity: three professors in the math department ran summer camps for high school students, and they were in need of a grad student to watch over their charges in the dorm. Maria, a good friend of Kate and the incumbent in the position, wasn’t able to do it again and tipped me off.  I’d had three years of similar experience for computer camps at Transy, so I figured I had at least a decent shot of snagging the job. I applied, interviewed, and was fortunate to be hired by Professors Jerrard, Paley, and Dornhoff.

Like the science/math camps I’ve done at the college where I work, the students arrived on a Sunday afternoon and left twelve days later (according to the records I’ve kept, the dates were July 9-21). My duties were important, but limited: I had no interaction with the campers during the academic part of their day—I was there simply to maintain control on the floor when the students were in the dorm. I don’t know why, but the camp didn’t use university housing; instead, we were staying in Hendrick House, a privately-owned facility on the east edge of campus (there were a few such enterprises around campus during my time in C-U, including one right next to Sherman Hall, but many more exist now).

All told, there were about thirty high schoolers taking one of two courses of study. I still have the official pictures of the groups—more were enrolled in Computers and Math than in Convex Sets and Combinatorics (that second topic sounds pretty cool to me, though). From what I remember of my interactions with them, they were bright and well-behaved (if you’re actively choosing to go to a summer math camp, the probability of being a troublemaker is pretty low). They did contrive to have a toga party of sorts on the final evening, but even that didn’t remotely get out of hand. At least two wound up enrolling at Illinois, as I saw them on campus sometime in the fall of 90.

No particular music I associate with this event, so I’ll just lay Donna Summer’s last Top 40 hit on you today. It’d been Fall 84 since she’d gotten much notice, when “There Goes My Baby” had reached #21. It’s no “Hot Stuff,” but to be honest, “This Time I Know It’s for Real” is one of my favorites of hers; I hear convincing excitement about being in love (of course, she’d been happily married to Bruce Sudano for almost a decade) . Summer was around 40 when she recorded this, so perhaps in a different place from her Queen of Disco days—the Stock Aitken Waterman sound seemed to suit, at least for one song. The director of the video definitely put together something to match—everyone is acting pretty happy to share in Donna’s joy. I assume those are her two young daughters we see toward the end? The clip was on VH-1 plenty during the song’s run on the charts (it was coming off a #7 peak by mid-July).

Sorry there aren’t any wacky escapades to relate about my experience watching over the math campers—maybe the main thing about those two weeks was that I earned some $$, most of which went to pay for August’s travel. I would have loved to do it again, but the next summer a bridge tournament conflicted with the dates…hmmm, looks like I’m getting a little ahead of myself on a couple of fronts.  We’ll come back to bridge next week.