Some Things In Life You Cannot Measure By Degrees

Final odds and ends from the re-examination of a year long ago…

Here’s what I thought I’d be doing with Destination 89 back in January:

I’ll be looking thirty years into the past, occasionally for stuff that happened in the world and to me then…but more often for music—I’m anticipating having a roughly weekly feature that highlights a cool tune from 89.

This is the 35th post with the Destination 89 tag. I’m not sure that quite constitutes ‘roughly weekly,’ but things evolved a little over time, as I occasionally went the listicle route by periodically examining Hot 100 and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as plugging a few Forgotten Albums. That’s okay; I got to re-visit a larger number of songs than I expected (though plenty were not ‘cool’).

I suppose I hit all the personal events I planned on writing up, though. Grad school life, both academic and social, was obviously the focal point. The year taken as a whole was almost exactly the middle of my time in Illinois, and it was transitional in many respects (though it was the only year in grad school I didn’t move). I started off not knowing for certain I would be able to advance on to PhD work and ended reading papers with the professor who agreed to be my advisor. Getting back into bridge wound up being a much bigger part of my life than I ever would have thought.

Progress in math was measurable but slow, too slow at times.  It would be several months into the new decade before I actually began tackling what turned out to be my dissertation work. Likewise, growth in bridge skills was often painfully incremental (and playing so much just might have impacted the pace of my graduate studies).

On the other hand, the unpredictable can happen, and quickly.  It might be a decently major health scare for a parent, or a whole new circle of close friends could form after getting invited to join a a group of grad students in physics and electrical engineering for a post-bridge trip to Steak ‘n Shake (though that didn’t happen until late January of 90).

My favorite song as the year ended—and for some months after—was without a doubt “No Myth,” from Michael Penn. I wasn’t alone, apparently—it made #13 on the Hot 100, #5 on Album Rock Tracks, and #4 on Modern Rock Tracks. Maybe it was its use of the Chamberlin that caught and held our attention? I picked up March sometime in very late 89/very early 90; it was probably the album I listened to most over the first half of the year. There’ll be a couple other songs from it in upcoming Modern Rock Tracks posts.

1989 was an hour shorter for me than other years, as it had begun in IL on Central Time but was ending back home in the Eastern Time portion of KY. I spent much of the last couple of days of the decade reading James Gleick’s Chaos. I imagine I rung in 90 with my parents, maybe my sister too, if she was home.  HS and/or college friends were perhaps too far scattered and busy with life by this time to conjure up a gathering.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed mapping out and writing up the posts of Destination 89, but I won’t be doing anything thematically similar for 90 (or any other year) as we head into 2020.  To be honest, my muse has struggled a bit these last few months; I’ve cut back on the PastBlast posts recently and may well continue to do so. We’ll just have to see where she leads going forward. I definitely have a few projects in mind, but I’m going to try not to force anything.

Thanks to everyone reading this, and to anyone who stopped by, liked a post, and/or commented in 2019. I’m truly flattered that you find what I have to say interesting enough to visit. Happy New Year to us all.

AT40’s Top 100 of 1985

The last time I listened in full to a countdown during the classic AT40 era was the weekend of January 4-5, 1986, when Casey laid the Top 100 of 1985 on us all. It was the third time that they’d released the year-end show as a single, eight-hour extravaganza. I’m sure I was tuned in to WKRQ, Q102. In my head, I see myself listening to Dad’s stereo system in the basement of our house in Florence. It would have been the tail end of winter break during my senior year in college. Even though it’d been over three years since I’d written things down carefully on a weekly basis, I was still frequenting the right record stores in Lexington often enough to have a decent idea about peak Hot 100 positions for most of the hits of 85.

As you see, it’s the barest of records, song titles only, on the back of what looks to be a page torn from one of my course notebooks; the front consists of the kind of mark you make when you’re trying to see if a pen works and seven four-digit numbers whose significance, assuming there ever was one, is long gone. I’d taken considerably more care with the 83 and 84 year-enders.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that weekend was hearing “Out of Touch,” “I Feel for You,” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” so high in the Top 10. I’d recalled that these songs had all done reasonably well on the end-of-84 show (#25 for Chaka Khan, #13 for Wham!, and #12 for Hall and Oates). All had peaked in December, previously a precarious time when it comes to doing well in year-end rankings. Clearly the methodology used had evolved so that: a) the qualifying period extended much closer to the end of the calendar year than it had in the mid-to-late 70s, allowing those three even to have placed in 84; and b) they gave credit for a song’s full run on the chart, rather than only that which occurred in the official time frame (I’ve read on the AT40 Fun and Games message board that 85 was the first year that the whole run got credited for songs peaking after the beginning of the period, which I believe was mid-November).

Looking at it again now, I see some amusing back-to-backs: Julian Lennon at #78 and #77, the two ‘Night’ songs at #33 and #32, and especially Teena Marie and Billy Ocean at #29 and #28.

AT40’s Top 100 of 1976, Part 1

…or should I say, the Top 80?

Toward the end of 76, WSAI–1360 on your AM dial in Cincinnati back then, as I’ve noted before–was broadcasting American Top 40 at 8pm on Sunday evenings. Let me take you back to the day after Christmas of that almost-concluded bicentennial year. I’m fairly pumped, as Casey has been teasing AT40‘s year-end countdown of the Top 100 Songs of 1976 for a few weeks. I’ve even taken a few moments to prep two full pages, front and back, for the recording of history as it happens. As I often do, I’ve commandeered the kitchen table; perhaps I’ve got my charts on hand, just in case they can provide anything useful. And maybe I’m a little antsy, so I tune into WSAI a little after 7:30. Playing is “Getaway,” from Earth, Wind and Fire; as it fades out, Casey informs me that the #12 hit from October is checking in at #80 for the year. A mix of confusion and irritation quickly sets in. Apparently I’ve missed the announcements that the folks at WSAI have given over the last week or so saying they’ll be starting the four-hour special show at 6pm?

Anyway, here’s what I heard and wrote down that night, now just over forty-three years in the past. You can be sure I didn’t miss the start of the show the following weekend.

It’s quite possible this night was the first time I really paid attention to both “Wake Up Everybody” and “I Love Music.”

As you can see, I stapled the two pages together, likely very soon after the second half of the show played. Obviously I was really into record label info, even filling in some I didn’t know in real time after the fact. Since I’d only started listening in late winter and charting in June, peak position wasn’t always known to me.

If you want to know the first twenty songs of the show, you can check out the cue sheets here. It would be over thirty years before I’d learn what they were.

The Top 50 will appear next Saturday.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/26/87: Icehouse, “Crazy”

This weekend it’s an Aussie band on the leading edge of their greatest success. Iva Davies and company originally called themselves Flowers, but were forced to take on a new name after signing with Chrysalis Records for international distribution; they settled on using the title song of their debut album. I did hear “Icehouse” a time or two back in 81 after a friend down the street told me about it.

Personnel changes were the order of the day over the next few years. It wouldn’t be until 86’s Measure for Measure that they came to my attention again: both “No Promises,” which kinda brings to mind now “This Is Not America,” and “Cross the Border” got play on the AOR stations within my hearing that summer and fall. I didn’t dislike the songs, but can’t say I found them much more than serviceable, either. (Re-listening the last couple of days makes me wonder if I shouldn’t go back and dig on them a little deeper, however.)

Their next release, Man of Colours, gave the band their two biggest hits in both the UK and US. “Crazy” was ascendant at the very end of 87 (#21 this week, heading toward #14), while “Electric Blue” would go Top 10 here and #1 in Britain. I might like “Electric Blue” a little better myself, but how can I not promote what must be one of the last videos ever made to show a 45 spinning on a radio station turntable?

Davies seems to have kept Icehouse in some form or fashion a going concern to this day, though their releases over the last fifteen years or so have all been EPs, remix albums, live recordings, or compilations.

I’m guessing another song from their debut album will be popping up here sometime in the next couple of months.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: This Year’s Missing

Last year I won “Whamageddon,” the game whose only rule is to avoid hearing the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” during the month of December (there won’t be a repeat victory for me this year). I’ve been listening to plenty of Christmas music in the car these last couple of weeks, generally tuned in to SiriusXM’s Holly. Like so many SiriusXM stations, the playlist is far too short, and any number of songs get played every four hours or so (the surprisingly bland “Christmas Tree Farm” has been notable in this regard). But I’m also noticing what I’m not hearing so far. Yes, this is only one person listening to one station at selected moments, but I am wondering if most of the following songs are not on Holly‘s 2019 playlist (not that I’m complaining in some instances):

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Christmas Canon” and “Wizards of Winter”
Biggest surprise on this list–these seemed inescapable just a year ago. In addition, I’ve only heard Mannheim Steamroller once.

Percy Faith, “We Need a Little Christmas”
Greg Lake, “Father Christmas”

Holly doesn’t just focus on stuff released from the last quarter-century–I’ve heard Ray Conniff, Dean Martin, and Nat ‘King’ Cole, among others–but these two older pieces haven’t hit my ears yet.

Bob Seger, “Little Drummer Boy”
Eurythmics, “Winter Wonderland”
Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings”
Rod Stewart, “My Favorite Things”
Wilson Phillips, “Hey Santa”

Gloria Estefan, “Christmas Through Your Eyes”
On the other hand, I think that maybe there is a generation gap opening in a number of cases…

Kelly Clarkson, “Underneath the Tree” and “My Grownup Christmas List”
This could just be bad luck on my part, as Holly is playing other Clarkson tunes. But the first of these is one I wouldn’t mind hearing.

Whitney Houston, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
A couple of points about this one: 1) My wife has observed that Holly doesn’t play all that many religious Christmas songs; 2) I actually have heard it once this year. Last Friday night I happened upon the end of a rebroadcast of the Casey-hosted American Top 10: The Top 60 Christmas Songs, from 2005. I was plenty surprised to hear Houston at #2, but it also underscored to me how tastes can shift suddenly–has Whitney’s untimely death meant she is already going down the memory hole a bit?

I’m going out for what I hope is a final round of shopping today. I think I’ll put up with the ten-minute long commercial breaks and switch over to the Lexington station that’s been playing holiday favorites since November 1. I’m guessing I’ll run into a few of the above there; perhaps there’ll be an update…

Christmas Day update: Spent time since this was posted listening to stations from Lexington (in the car) and Madison, WI (streaming at home). Heard “Christmas Canon” and a few other T-SO pieces, “Father Christmas,” the Barenaked Ladies/McLachlan, and “Underneath the Tree.” Those last three were about the only ones I wanted for Christmas, anyway…

Oodles of Late-Year Charts

November featured several rebroadcasts from my charting years; I decided to hold off another write-up until the end of the year, since I didn’t expect many more in December. But now that they’re all done…

First, it’s 11/13/76. The paper was originally a bluish-green, though it’s faded some over the years. As I think I’ve noted before, my phone’s camera doesn’t do colors justice when it comes to many of my charts, though.

Looks like I initially tried to make it Opposite Day with the England Dan/John Ford Coley title…

Hello/Goodbye: If you look a week or two back or forward you’ll find plenty, but there are no acts in their first or last week ever on this chart.

Stuff from 81, 80, and 78 on the flip (added: and 79!):

Continue reading “Oodles of Late-Year Charts”

Much Better Than Christmas

This song features jingle bells and repeatedly mentions the holiday many of us celebrate on December 25, but it’s hardly a Christmas song. I guess I’d call it an ode about possibly unrequited love/lust?

“Blow Me Up,” by the now-unknown Will and the Bushmen, is one of the many delightful tunes tossed my way via the friendship I struck up with Greg, now almost thirty years ago; it wound up on a favorite mix tape I made a year or so later. I find it catchy as hell, but it’s (to me) shockingly obscure today.

Will Kimbrough’s just about three months younger than I. According to his Wikipedia page, he hangs out in Nashville these days, writing, recording and producing. While I don’t think Kimbrough’s ever really broken through, it feels like he’s living his dream.

The year that Greg and I roomed together, Will and the Bushmen released their followup and final album, Blunderbuss. Greg, forever aspiring to completism with regard to the artists in his CD collection, had to pick it up. I assume the first track, “D.C. to Moscow,” was written right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It’s a fairly political song–the chorus, such as it is, goes, “D.C.’s turning into Moscow/Moscow’s turning into D.C.” We laughed about that line at the time.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/16/78: Lindisfarne, “Run for Home”

I’ve written before about songs of the last half of the 70s with which I fell in love solely from hearing them a very few times on AT40—tunes that Cincinnati radio never touched (Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl of My Dreams” and Sweet’s “Action” come immediately to mind in this regard). This week it’s another nugget from that treasure trove, a song hanging on at its peak of #33 in its fourth and final week on the show. Gotta say that “Run for Home” still sounds amazing to me, especially now that I’m paying attention to the swell of the strings and that oboe line in the chorus.

Being ignorant about British geography back in the day (and still, to be honest), I had virtually no chance of getting the band’s name right from Casey when they debuted on the 11/25 show. (I didn’t know that Lindisfarne is a tiny island rich in history just off the northeastern coast of England, not too far away from Scotland.) Perhaps someday you’ll get to see in a Charts post how I dubbed them “Lindasparn” for one week. 

Lindisfarne, the musical endeavor, has been an on-and-off thing for just a little over 50 years now. Their greatest commercial success in the UK was in the early 70s; “Run for Home” was a comeback hit, from the LP they recorded following their first reunion. One original member, guitarist Rod Clements, is still playing with the band (Alan Hull, who sang “Run for Home,” died of a heart attack in 95).

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: The Roches, We Three Kings

Today it’s a Christmas CD that came along for the ride when Martha and I got together. The Roches released We Three Kings in 90, on the not very long-lived Paradox subsidiary of MCA Records (I think the only other Paradox release in our collection is Marshall Crenshaw’s Life’s Too Short). It’s got a robust twenty-four tracks, though several clock in at under two minutes. We Three Kings is very much in our house; we haven’t broken it out yet this year, but I’m thinking that’s about to change.

Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre offer up a choice mix of religious and secular tunes. The arrangements are consistently creative and often fun; the harmonies are as exquisite as you’d expect. One of my favorite stories about Ben involves the title track. Here are four others I like a bunch. The haunting “Star of Wonder” is one of two original songs on the disk.