Dream How Wonderful Your Life Will Be

With apologies to William Martin Joel:


Dear Ben,

Good morning, son, time to open your eyes…

When you were very young, Mom and I would take turns trying to rock you to sleep. Usually we’d have a CD going in the background, one of which consisted of instrumental versions of lullabies. “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)” was among them, and believe it or not it’s how I began to appreciate that song so much.

That moment when you finally closed your eyes for the night occasionally brought tears to mine. I never fully understood why this was so, but maybe it was because I suddenly felt separated from you.


Good morning, son, now it’s time to wake…

As you got older, your bedtime ritual changed. When you became too big to want to be held, Mom began singing to you as you lay in bed. As you know, three songs quickly became your favorites. Two of them were choruses of early 20th century tunes her mother had sung to her, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Shine On, Harvest Moon.” The third used the melody of “Kum Ba Yah,” with personalized lyrics.  Mom and I continued alternating nights getting you settled in, so I learned to sing them as well.

There was a period around the time you were six when, after I was done singing, you would ask me to tell you something about my childhood. I talked about friends I had, trips my family took, and probably brief versions of some stories that have wound up in this space. Perhaps to some extent, your inquiries of years ago led to me getting many other things down in writing for you.


Good morning, son, now it’s time to dream…

Eventually you became too old for the nightly songfest—lately, you’ve even been staying up later than we have. And now that process we undertook for all those years unspools. Today, this morning, you’re opening your eyes, awaking, and heading out to pursue your dreams in another place, the college you’ve chosen to help you grow in knowledge, in wisdom, and in taking on responsibility. Those ambitions have morphed over the past dozen years–sort of–from inventor to engineer to lab scientist; it will be fascinating to discover what you’re thinking your life will be about four years from now.

The music of this world is often in a minor key–and has too much lately veered into dissonance and cacophony–but I am so excited to see what you can do to make it all sound a little sweeter.

Godspeed, Ben, but don’t forget:

I will never be far away…you’ll always be a part of me…that’s how you and I will be.

Love forever,

P.S. Thanks for asking us to sing to you last night.

Songs Casey Never Played, 8/27/77

This show came right at the time I was beginning 8th grade. WSAI, 1360 AM, was about a year away from flipping formats from Top 40 to country, so I wasn’t yet taking time to explore what Cincinnati had to offer on the FM side of things. Not that I likely would have known more than a couple of these six tunes that fell short of AT40 glory had I been doing so, anyway…

#97: Dr. Hook, “Walk Right In”
I suspect Dr. Hook was trying to duplicate the formula that had resulted in “Only Sixteen” reaching #6 the previous year. However, this cover of The Rooftop Singers’ #1 hit of early 63 is uninspiring at best. Nonetheless, it somehow managed to reach #46.


#88: Brownsville Station, “The Martian Boogie”
Now we are talking. I didn’t encounter “The Martian Boogie” until my sophomore year in college, when WTLX began broadcasting Dr. Demento. Warren was previously familiar with it, though, and made sure that James and I got to know it well enough to randomly insert “Eat’s!” and “And I freaked…’cause the guy sitting next to me…was a MARTIAN!” into casual conversation. It’s honestly a bit of a mystery how this gained enough traction to eventually climb to #59, but there are solid jams a-plenty going on.


#87: Ramones, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”
There’s not much I could say about this classic that hasn’t been said multiple times. The Ramones never got especially close to a hit single, making the Hot 100 only three times (“Rockaway Beach” was the most successful, hitting #66 in early 78). “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” spent 13 weeks on the chart but clawed its way just six positions higher than this.


#85: Marshall Tucker Band, “Can’t You See”
Isn’t this the most played of their songs now? Seems like it should have gone higher than #75. I’m inserting the album version here, since I know that’s what you want to listen to today.


#78: 10cc, “Good Morning Judge”
Okay, I actually did hear this a couple of times back in the day (it’s the “so happy I don’t wanna be free” and possibly that wicked guitar riff that got lodged in my head). This third single from Deceptive Bends was a legitimately funny and solid track, with a decidedly ahead-of-its time video. Definitely deserving of better than a #69 peak. I’ll be humming it the rest of the week now.


#64: Celi Bee and the Buzzy Bunch, “Superman”
Herbie Mann re-tooled this song’s lyrics to leverage Superman‘s early 79 domination at the box office and in popular culture. On Mann’s single, the female vocalist is encouraging the Man of Steel to “do it to them,” presumably meaning capturing bad guys. Eighteen months earlier, though, Ms. Bee was perhaps dreaming on some disco hunk and not Christopher Reeve’s character, as the objective pronoun in her cooing of that phrase is first-person singular, not third-person plural (which is what I thought was sung in Mann’s version, to be honest–give me a break, I was fifteen in the spring of 79). The Buzzy Bunch included Bee’s husband (who was also the song’s writer).

“Superman” is on its way down from #41. While Bee and company had some Dance Chart success, this was their only flight on the Hot 100.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/27/77: Helen Reddy, “You’re My World”

Dribs and drabs of meaningless trivia as I look over this countdown:

–The show leads off with, respectively, the third and second of the four songs “You Light Up My Life” fought off and kept at #2 during its legendary run at the top: “Boogie Nights” and “Nobody Does It Better.” Later on, at #24, we hear the first, “Keep It Comin’ Love.”

–One-eighth of the tunes on the show peaked at either #17 or #18 (okay, that’s only five songs): “How Much Love,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “You’re My World,” “Black Betty,” and “Telephone Man.”

–That game gets more than a little silly as you go higher, since such a high percentage of songs eventually climb into the Top 10, but this week the stat noted in the previous paragraph also holds for songs peaking in positions #10 and #11: “You Made Me Believe in Magic,” “Star Wars Main Title,” “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin’),” “Barracuda,” and “On and On.”

–The Brothers Johnson have the biggest moving song within the 40, “Strawberry Letter 23,” which jumps 13 positions to #10. That means last week they were at…

From my 8/20/77 chart; my prediction for this show, at far right, wasn’t so hot.

This wasn’t the only time George and Louis made a big leap into the top 10–in late May  of 80, “Stomp!” would spring from #16 to #7.

–Three of the four songs that are in their last week on the show are by acts that won’t ever have another AT40 hit. Two of them are the funk group Slave and songwriter Alan O’Day, both one-hit wonders; the third is reaching the end of a substantial six-year run. Helen Reddy wound up with thirteen songs that Casey played. Ten made the Top 20, six of those going Top 10, with three #1s (in a somewhat odd twist, O’Day penned one of those, “Angie Baby”). “You’re My World” was one of the #18-peaking songs above, here at #26.  Reddy is still around, though I’ve seen reports over the last couple of years that she is suffering from dementia.

SotD: The Bird and the Bee, “My Love”

Just learned that The Bird and the Bee have released a new album featuring, of all things, covers of first-generation Van Halen tunes (when I heard the new take on “Jamie’s Cryin'” last night, I thought that voice sounded an awful lot like Inara George’s).  This isn’t the first tribute album they’ve done; just maybe I need to go back and check out what they did with Hall & Oates material nine years ago.

In the spring of 2009 I had some release time to attend a class on mathematical modeling in the biological sciences at the University of Kentucky (honestly, it was a super fun experience). At the time I was on a kick of listening to the UK public radio station, which features “rock and roots” music (think World Cafe with extra blues thrown in), on my drives back and forth to Lexington.  “My Love,” from the then-current Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, caught my ear a few times that semester, enough to look for it on YouTube. I don’t know now if I found the quite charming Official Video then, but I did discover the marvel shared below, apparently created for a film school assignment. Glad to see that it’s still available for viewing. I’ll go on record as giving the clip a thumbs-up, but fair warning: the highs are high and the lows are low.


American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/21/82: Kim Wilde, “Kids in America”

This past Friday marked the two-week point before we escort Ben and (some of) his stuff up to wild, wonderful Terre Haute, IN. I couldn’t help but notice that this weekend’s primary 80s Premiere offering was originally broadcast fourteen days prior to my departure for college (and for good measure, the alternate 80s show came from just about the time I left to go to grad school). The days remaining until this massive change are disappearing fast; we won’t squeeze in every—or maybe even most—one-last-time-before, but whatever does happen will be sufficient.

Sitting at its peak of #25, the second of four weeks there, is one of my all-time faves, the brilliant “Kids in America.” Almost certainly one of the last 45s I bought before I left for Transy. I took it with me to an all-campus party in the basement of my dorm during my first month there; the DJ, a frat guy a couple years ahead of me, didn’t know it but gave it a spin anyway. Maybe Wilde wasn’t a huge hit with the crowd, but I don’t think she cleared the dance floor, either.

But what is the fascination with British songwriters modifying geographic locations in the US with “east?”  Do they have East Anglia on their minds? Eight years before, Peter Callander and Mitch Murray had implored us to think about the poor cops on the East Side of Chicago, and here, Kim’s dad Marty and brother Ricky are all agog about east California, which at least has the decency to exist.

In a nod to Music In The Key Of E‘s Misheard Lyrics category, for decades I’ve been wondering what kind of physical phenomenon “the gravity glory” was. (On the off chance you’re in a similar position, it’s “don’t grab any glory.”)

Kim Wilde, the album, still sounds pretty good; another of its tracks, “Young Heroes,” made one of my mid-90s mix tapes.

Since the two 80s shows caught me at approximately parallel points in my life, I thought it might be cute to name-check whatever song was #25 on 8/19/86. Learning what it was pulled me up short: “That Was Then, This Is Now.” Yes, the Monkees’ comeback was a love song, but I couldn’t help but tie the title to the current moment, perhaps as a reminder of where to keep my focus these days.

It’s Only Life After All

Thirty years ago today, I took a rental car south from San Jose, connected with the coastal highway at Monterey and continued down about as far as Big Sur. We’d had non-stop sun in the Bay Area the whole week, but the places I traveled that Tuesday were socked in with clouds:


You can see that the cloud cover didn’t extend far inland at all:


After turning back north, I stopped in Monterey for a while. Got to encounter a little wildlife, too:


After a good seafood dinner at a restaurant on the bay, I drove back to the hotel. A day on my own, taking in some great scenery, put me in a better frame of mind.

Watching Sportscenter in my room that evening, I learned that Dave Dravecky, the Giants’ hero just five days earlier, broke his arm throwing a pitch in the sixth inning at Montreal, ending his baseball career. A recurrence of his cancer was subsequently found; eventually his left arm and shoulder were amputated. He’s been a motivational speaker for a number of years.

What might I have heard in the car on the road that day? Let’s investigate some of the songs on the 8/12/89 Hot 100. As usual, I’m ignoring lots of tunes that just weren’t my scene (cough, hair metal, cough), but I have found a number of nuggets and oddities to remark upon.

#97: Paul Shaffer, “When the Radio Is On”
I’d completely forgotten that Shaffer released this “hip-hop/doo-wop” single featuring, among others, Will Smith, Dion, and Johnny Maestro. I don’t think Paul’s fooling anyone with that five o’clock shadow biker/rapper schtick. “When the Radio Is On” would make it only to #81 in a two-month run.

#95: Graces, “Lay Down Your Arms”
This was Charlotte Caffey’s attempt at commercial success outside of the Go-Go’s. I have the Graces’ CD Perfect View, and it’s got some pretty good songs on it. Meredith Brooks, whose song “Bitch” you couldn’t escape eight years later, was also in the group. This should have gotten higher than #56.

#70: Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”
Don’t lie to me–you see John Cusack holding up his boombox in your mind’s eye when this song comes on the radio, no?

Gabriel had reached #26 in the fall of 86 with “In Your Eyes.” I suppose folks thought it could/should have done better (I know I do), so they released it again after it played such a prominent role in Say Anything…  Alas, it only made it to #41 the second time around.

#68: Robert Palmer, “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming”
I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea to have Bobby P cover this Jermaine/Michael groove. It’s already topped out at #60.

Just a few weeks ago I re-discovered the original version of “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming,” sorting through a pile of cassettes containing music I’d dubbed from the radio back in the early 80s (more on that perhaps some other time); it was B-side of Jermaine’s single “Do What You Do.”

#60: Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”
In a rare confluence of my musical tastes with those of the buying public, there were three songs on this Hot 100 I was actively cheering on: “Oh Daddy” (#85) and “Let the Day Begin” (#75), which were discussed last week, plus the stunning “Closer to Fine,” from the Georgia-based duo Indigo Girls. Unfortunately, in the coming weeks all three would stall out in the 50s (#58, #51, and #52, respectively).

I’m a big enough fan of the Indigo Girls’ work (love their harmonies) to have made them the seed band for one of my Pandora stations. Greg’s wife Katie overlapped with Emily Saliers and Amy Ray at Emory University, outside Atlanta–I’ve never thought to ask her if she knew of a prof there with a Rasputin poster.

#58: The Cure, “Love Song”
The highest new entry on the Hot 100 this week, and by far the most successful single the Cure ever had, surprisingly hitting #2 (I mean, it’s a good song, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the folks buying singles would embrace Robert Smith and company to that extent).

#57: Beastie Boys, “Hey Ladies”
The Boys are now in the upward arc of their career, though I prefer “Whatcha Want” and “Sabotage.” Maybe it was just a little too soon to try to re-live the Saturday Night Fever era…  Got as high as #36.

#49: Eddie Murphy, “Put Your Mouth on Me”
Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever heard this until a few days ago; it hadn’t registered with me that Murphy wasn’t a one-hit wonder. This is on its way up to #27.

#47: Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”
Another one that had already stalled at #41. Honestly, this is a pretty disappointing song, given the star power present–it’s as if Houston just didn’t want to mix it up with the Queen all that much.

#45: De La Soul, “Me Myself and I”
I’ve not listened to that much hip-hop over the years, but this is really, really good. Clever video, too, though I haven’t tried to research how LL Cool J felt about it. “Me Myself and I” had already peaked at #34.

#40: Bee Gees, “One”
They’re ba-ack! “One” was the Gibb brothers’ first Top 40 hit in six years, and their final song to go Top 10, peaking at #7.

#35: Milli Vanilli, “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You”
#32: Milli Vanilli, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”

I didn’t play around with the dial on the radio on that day trip down the coast, keeping it tuned to a Top 40 station the whole time. That meant I got to hear a number of new/recent releases for the first time that day. One was “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” which became Milli Vanilli’s second #1 hit. Three others had yet to hit the chart: Madonna’s “Cherish,” Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” (released as a single on this date thirty years ago), and Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” (which wouldn’t be available for another week).

#22: Soul II Soul, “Keep On Movin'”
Dynamite, awesome track. The British dance scene was making some fine music at this moment (see also Lisa Stansfield’s “Been Around the World”). The strings bring to mind Barry White’s 70s stuff, but “Keep On Movin'” fortunately lacks his emphasis on “come over here, baby, lay down beside me”-type mannerisms. Caron Wheeler and Jazzie B know how to bring it. Reached #11.

#18: Jeff Healey Band, “Angel Eyes”
My friends Mark H and Lana got married in November 90; they requested this song for their first dance as husband and wife. It would get to #5.

#16: Simply Red, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
I wasn’t a big fan of this former #1 song at the time, but I wasn’t really familiar with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ version then, either. I’ve grown to like it okay, but it was better done the first time.

#6: Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted”
The songs in this Top 10 that I actually liked are ones I’ve already mentioned this summer (“Batdance,” and especially “So Alive”), so I’m briefly pausing here just to remind everyone again that Paula Abdul was basically unstoppable at this moment: three #1 songs, including this one, and a #3 in 89, plus another #1 in the early part of 90, all from Forever Your Girl.

#1: Richard Marx, “Right Here Waiting”
Mentioned only so that you aren’t left wondering. The second single from his sophomore release Repeat Offender (was that truth in advertising?), his third #1 song in a row, ascending to the top in just its sixth week.

Early the next morning I dropped the rental off at the airport and headed back to Cincy, the big vacation over and my fourth year of grad school on the horizon.

And with that wrapped up: I’m expecting posting to be lighter for the next three or four weeks. School’s almost back in session for me, the boy’s soon to leave for college, and there’s a major project about to go down in our house. I won’t disappear completely, but I’m thinking just maybe my energies should be focussed more in those directions for a while. Wish us well.

He Hears The Ticking Of The Clocks

Two years ago we spent a couple of weeks in Germany, traveling with my sister-in-law. Both Martha and Ruth were German majors in college, and they had separately spent extended time there in the past, so it was natural to want to take Ben to visit. Mostly we were in large cities: Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich; Ruth knew several people in the last of these through her work, including one who had a son just a few months younger than Ben. We made arrangements one day for Ben to take the train to where Ludwig attended school. The day was so hot that school got called off midday (no A/C); Ben wound up going with Ludwig and several of his friends to visit a festival taking place near the site of the 72 Olympics. And that’s where Ben came across a vendor selling, among other things, clocks made from vinyl LPs. It didn’t take long for him to find something he thought his old man might like.


We’d seen Dylan in concert the previous fall, on Ben’s 16th birthday (I tried to make it a memorable day for him), and my boy knew well how I loved a number of Dylan songs, especially “Tangled Up in Blue.” It was incredibly thoughtful and kind of him to make such an impulse purchase; the seller sent him off with it in a pizza box. Of course, determining how to get it home on a transatlantic flight without damage required some thought. We were fortunate to have a non-stop flight back to Atlanta, and I managed to keep it safe in my carry-on.

I’ve been meaning for some time now to set it up in my office at work—for years I’ve had a hole where a wall clock should go. Ben’s imminent departure spurred me finally to take action this week. Yesterday, he came over to the college and we discussed what we might do. The imbalance in the clock’s weight due to what had been cut out made it impractical to hang from a hook.  Ben scanned around my office and noticed the Zometool construction set I keep to make geometric figures occasionally for my classes.  Pretty soon he’d put together a stand.


It fits on like this:


And now that sits on top of one of my bookshelves (you can see where the wall clock was–I’m working now on hanging something in a frame over it).


Thanks so much, Bud.

California Nights

Wednesday, August 9, 1989, was a long day. I woke up on an Air Force base in the northern wilds of Maine, and went to bed in a Motel 6 in San Jose. In between, I made connections in Boston and Dallas.


Not long after arrival at SJC, I met up with officemates John and Paul, along with their SOs Anna and Sue, respectively. We’d converged in sunny California for the wedding of our other officemate Will, to Kate, a fellow math grad who’d started at Illinois a year after we did.

Today, three vignettes from that week spent on the west coast:

1) On 8/10 Kate went with us to see the Giants play the Reds at Candlestick Park. My home team had finished second in the NL West the previous four seasons, but the Reds were not in contention this year—I guess the Pete Rose betting scandal was a distraction? (Rose would accede to banishment from the sport just two weeks after this game.) The Giants, on the other hand, were heading toward the division title and a World Series berth.

It was a mildly notable game, featuring the comeback of southpaw Dave Dravecky to the mound after almost fifteen months away (he’d had a tumor removed from his pitching arm the previous October and was returning after aggressively pursuing recovery). We watched a remarkable performance from the left-field bleachers—Dravecky pitched eight solid innings, touched only by a 3-run HR in his final frame of work. The Giants held on to win, 4-3. This was also the game in which I’ve come closest to catching a batted ball; Matt Williams’s two-run jack landed just two rows directly behind us.

2) The wedding was late Saturday morning at a Catholic church. Paul, Sue, John, and I were all members of the wedding party. Here I am with John, all tuxed up thirty years ago this morning.


The reception afterward was fairly low-key, in the back yard of either Kate’s parents’ or sister’s house. At one point, I wandered off to the edge of the patio and allowed my thoughts to drift about two thousand miles away. Many of my Transy friends were attending another wedding that day, one to which it wasn’t appropriate for me to be invited. I might well be making this up, but it’s just possible I looked east and lifted an imaginary champagne glass to wish that other happy couple the best before rejoining the festivities around me.

3) The five of us packed into Paul and Sue’s car on Monday morning (yes, they’d driven from Illinois) and headed off to the Napa Valley, where we met the newlyweds for some winery hopping. We probably hit four or five spots, but the only one I specifically remember is V. Sattui, in St. Helena. (Back then, I seemed to favor dessert wines such as Gewürztraminers, so that’s probably the kind of stuff I sampled that day; I’m much more of a cabernet sauvignon guy now.) A picture that one of us, probably Anna, took that day of grapes on the vine got blown up to poster size and graced a wall at Paul and Sue’s house for years afterward.

By the time we were heading back toward San Jose, I was getting restless. I hadn’t rented a car (John and Anna had), so I’d been at the mercy of others for transportation. There was one full day left in Cali, and I decided I’d use it to break away for some sightseeing on my own. Back at the hotel, I made arrangements to pick up a car the next morning. Other than the time we’d spent on the beach near San Francisco’s Presidio the day before, I hadn’t seen much of the water. So I headed south, to hook up with U.S. 1 and catch some of the coast. A little more on this come Thursday.

I didn’t find any tunes from summer 89 with lyrics that seemed right for the head of this post, so instead, you get two different older songs sharing a title that’s tangentially related. First, it’s Lesley Gore performing one of her last hits, from 67, on an episode of Batman:

And then there’s the lead-off track from the U.S. version of Sweet’s 78 LP Level Headed:

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/16/80: Irene Cara, “Fame”

Rolling this time with one of the singles I really liked (and purchased) as I was preparing to start my junior year of HS. Here are a couple of things I learned about Irene Cara while trying to figure out what else to say in this post (apologies if they’re old news to you):

1) I watched The Electric Company a decent amount when it first came on the air in 71, but I have no recollection of the kids’ musical group Short Circus that appeared on the show, and I certainly didn’t know that Cara was a member of that group for the first season, playing Iris. Here’s a sample—I can definitely see the potential:

2) “Fame” won the 1980 Oscar for Best Original Song, but apparently I pay little enough attention to such things that I’d forgotten that only the songwriter(s), and not the performer(s), get to take home the hardware. Maybe Cara took note of this, as three years later she got her own statuette for writing the lyrics to “Flashdance…What a Feeling.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/9/75: 10cc, “I’m Not in Love”

If you conveniently forget that John Williams’s “Theme” is played at the beginning and end, this is the second week that all twelve songs featured in the novelty hit “Mr. Jaws,” by break-in record master Dickie Goodman, are together on AT40. Eight of the top nine (not #5) appear on it, as well as the tunes at #11, 13, 17, and 22 (that last one was the last to make the show, “Get Down Tonight”). The Dickie Dozen would all hang around for Casey to play just one more week, after which “The Hustle” and “Dynomite” would fall out.  I confess that I like “Mr. Jaws” more than I probably should; I didn’t get the single, but I had a friend who did.  We likely played it more often than was wise when I visited him at his house that fall.

Not too surprisingly, all twelve were Top 10 hits (six of them reached the top spot), and quite a few were songs I rather liked. Forced to choose one favorite, it’d come down to a battle between “Midnight Blue” and “I’m Not in Love.” The latter is in the last of a three-week run at #2, in which a different song from the DD (“The Hustle,” “One of These Nights,” and “Jive Talkin’”) beat it out each week.  I’ve long loved both its dry humor and the ethereal voices in the background. Sometime in the last year or so I read that Eric Stewart of 10cc assisted Paul McCartney on his 82 hit “Take It Away;” my understanding is those “ah’s” at the end of “Take It Away” are a direct legacy of what we hear on “I’m Not in Love.”

By the 9/13 show, the one on which “Mr. Jaws” debuted, only five of the twelve were still around. As it happens, that’s the same week that John Williams climbed aboard.