American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/27/74: Albert Hammond, “I’m a Train”

My mother returned home in the second half of February 2014 after the better part of three weeks at the hospital and a rehab facility following surgery. Her lung cancer was causing her oxygen saturation levels to decline, so she was now, and would remain, on oxygen. A home health company brought a concentrator and enough tubing for her to wander all around the main floor of her townhouse. She learned to master portable tanks as well–at first those large ones you pull behind on wheels, later the much more compact type you could sling over your shoulder as you would a purse–for trips out, almost always to see her doctors.

The recognition that her days were decidedly finite led Mom to focus more on what would happen after she was gone. One early spring morning, I met a representative from the cemetery in Florence where her parents and older sister were buried. He and I trudged through the light snow that had fallen overnight, surveying available lots; when I reported back to Mom there was nothing especially close to her family, she said, “Well, I’ll just be buried next to Richard, then.” (I would describe my parents’ relationship through much of my life as more symbiotic than loving.)

Several weeks later, an appraiser recommended by Mom’s next-door neighbor dropped by one Saturday morning to have a look at the antiques Mom and Dad had inherited from their families. There were several items to examine in the basement, so I unplugged and toted the concentrator downstairs so that she could join in the conversation. It was one of only two or three times Mom would venture down there that year.

I was not quite two years in to my re-formed obsession with listening to AT40 at this point. Since I spent most weekends in 2014 with Mom, there are a number of the 70s shows I heard that year which immediately transport me back to her place; this week’s rebroadcast is one of them.

If memory serves, the appraisal took place six years ago this weekend, the previous occasion 4/27/74 was rebroadcast by Premiere. It was one of the times I stayed overnight on Saturday; I called Martha and Ben that evening in time for him (a seventh-grader then) to hear “The Streak” debut at #19.

The first hour of that show likely introduced me to a few songs: “Mighty Mighty,” “Thanks for Saving My Life,” and the feature, Albert Hammond’s second and final Top 40 hit, the chirpy, cheery “I’m a Train,” at its peak of #31. (I’ve long been aware, though, of another of his singles, “The Free Electric Band,” from its appearance on the 1973 K-Tel compilation Fantastic.) Everyone my age knows “It Never Rains in Southern California,” but Hammond made more of a mark as a songwriter, co-penning “Gimme Dat Ding,” “When I Need You,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” The younger folks probably care more about his son, AH Jr., guitarist for the Strokes.

Spring and autumn are usually my favorite seasons, and it’s the shows I heard during those periods of 2014 that have stuck with me most. Even though Mom was weighed down by adjusting to her new normal and wasn’t as well as she seemed, the spring shows still give me a sense of rebirth and optimism I associate with that time of year. The shows I heard in September and October, on the other hand, offer little but melancholy, thinking about a woman trapped at home, looking out her living room window and watching the leaves turn and fall for the final time.

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