American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/25/76: Paul Davis, “Superstar”

WSAI in Cincinnati spent a few weeks late in the summer of our nation’s Bicentennial trying to break Paul Davis’s lead single from his album Southern Tracks and Fantasies. I confess that all I picked up at the time was the beginning of the chorus, “Superstar, I want to thank you for what you are,” somehow not realizing it was all about showing appreciation to four rock luminaries of the day (I like it now plenty, but seriously, what’s up with telling Linda Ronstadt that she’s “lookin’ thinner than (she) used to be”?). My recollection is that WSAI had already dropped “Superstar” by the time it made AT40 in September. This was its third and final week on the show, at its peak position of #35.

So I’d also missed Davis’s line, “On your six ninety-eight, Lord, you sound so great,” not that I would necessarily have recognized the number as the then-suggested list price for a vinyl LP. But hearing the song again this week got me wondering just how long this lyric reflected reality. I couldn’t think of any phrase to enter in Google that gave me any dope on the history of LP prices; then I remembered that album prices were included on Billboard‘s Top LPs chart for a good while. After a little digging around the archives at worldradiohistory.com, I have a few things to report, in case anyone cares.

Billboard began showing suggested list prices in the 2/17/73 issue. I chose to look at the LP charts from the first week of July, about the time of year that “Superstar” was released, between 1973 and 1988. That’s essentially up to the end of the Classic Casey era (though there’s another reason to consider that as a cutoff date, as we’ll see). To keep things simple, I’m focusing only on the albums in the Top 10.

Year$5.98$6.98$7.98$8.98$9.98No List2 LPs
197382
19742611
1975181
197682
1977181
197882
1979541
1980343
198182
19821441
1983631
198455
1985532
1986721
1987253
1988154

Some notes and thoughts:
–The “no list price” in 1974 was Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
–In 1976, cassettes and 8-tracks are listed at $7.98. Thereafter, prices match for the three formats.
–Sitting at #6 in 1981 was Hard Promises. Just a week earlier, on the 6/27/81 show, Casey told one of my favorite stories, about Petty’s resistance to listing his new album at $9.98, going so far as to threaten to re-title it as The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ $8.98 Album if MCA gave it the higher price. (Hat tip to the Soft Rock Kid for reminding me of the exact ‘alternative’ title). Hard Promises is indeed listed at $8.98 (so were subsequent TP albums), but I’m guessing that the growth in the “no list” column through the first half of the 80s was not-so-secretly about pushing $9.98 titles.
–The Human League’s Dare is the $6.98 LP in 1982.
Genesis and 90125 are the first legit $9.98 titles I see, on the 1984 chart, already well off their peaks from earlier in the year.
–All of the Top 5 in 1987 were listed at $9.98 (Whitney, U2, the Crüe, Whitesnake, and Heart).

But major change was creeping in as the 80s progressed. Check out part of this article on the front page of the 7/7/84 issue of Billboard:

Soon after, most top titles are also being released on CD: 7 out of the Top 10 in 1985, 8 in 1986, and all 10 in 1987 and 1988.

But back to where this started: we can see that line in “Superstar” was obsolete within months. Maybe it’s just as well it didn’t make an impression in real time?

Forgotten Albums: Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America

My wife and I are outliers when it comes to watching television. As in, we rarely have the TV on. No Netflix subscription, no Amazon Fire Stick or Roku. I received the complete Rockford Files for Christmas last year, and we’re about halfway through Season 1, for what that’s worth. We do have basic cable, but mainly because it seemed to make sense to bundle it with our internet (I’m not sure that’s the case any more).

I have the distinct sense we’ve missed out on some very good series over the years; I guess the good news is that living in the streaming era allows us to catch up sorta quickly if we ever get the bug? Via my Twitter feed, I’ve become aware of the titles of many of the possibilities. And since the Emmy Awards happened just a couple of days ago, I guess I’m learning even more about them this week. Take Schitt’s Creek, for instance. Record number of awards for a comedy–that’s pretty cool, I suppose. But while I knew the name, I’d never bothered to find out it was a Canadian series, or that it just ended, or that it starred those SCTV stalwarts of long ago, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara.

Even though I don’t know much of anything about TV these days, I do store plenty of music trivia in my noggin, and the tidbit coming to mind right now is that Mary Margaret O’Hara, Catherine’s sister, released an album in 1988. Miss America had actually been recorded four years earlier, and it took all that time for MM to win the battle with Virgin to get it out on the market. Feel certain that it came to my attention via Rolling Stone; apparently they were sufficiently impressed, and sometime in the early 90s I picked up a used copy:

(Aside: my friend Greg was adamant about not peeling the stickers off used CDs he bought–he wanted to maintain some semblance of an historical record. I think I began following suit the year he and I roomed together. Now if only I could remember whether Periscope Records was in C-U, or the Cincy area, or Lexington, or somewhere else. Another case of winning the battle but losing the war.)

I found Miss America a difficult listen the first few times I put it in the player, and it wound up falling out of favor pretty quickly. In the last couple of years, though, I’ve sought out a song or two from it on YouTube, and am finally beginning to embrace O’Hara’s exquisite, tortured voice. Let’s wander around some of its better tracks.

“Year in Song” is track 2, and one of the more challenging cuts. “Joy is the aim,” O’Hara notes, and proceeds to make it clear that’s not on the horizon. Nonetheless, the title has stayed with me over the years, and was incorporated into the title of one of my earlier posts.

Next up is “Body’s in Trouble,” which as this Pitchfork review from a couple of years ago notes, straddles the divide between stuff like “Year in Song” and the stunningly beautiful songs here. O’Hara isn’t so much singing as she is inhabiting her work. It’ll be a while before I’ll think of the phrase “Who do you talk to” in a way different from how it’s presented here. We also get to witness her approach to the craft in the video.

Probably my favorite right now is “Anew Day,” the closest thing to a potential pop hit on Miss America. In contrast to just about everything else on here, it’s jaunty and optimistic. We also get to listen in as O’Hara creates new language.

No overview of Miss America would be complete, though, without showcasing how breathtakingly beautiful O’Hara can sing. I’ll give you two examples: “Help Me Lift You Up,” and the phenomenal closer, “You Will Be Loved Again.” (But don’t overlook “Dear Darling.”)

Mary Margaret went down a completely different path in the arts from her more famous younger sibling, and hardly recorded following this release. We’re fortunate to have Miss America, though, and I plan on keeping it in occasional circulation now.

Dad’s 45s, Part 4: The Fab Four

My Dad liked the Beatles quite a bit. Not a “played them frequently in the house while the kids were growing up” like; it was more of a “make your kids aware of how good they are when a song of theirs comes on the radio” like. I believe there were Beatles LPs among his collection that I carted off to the Cincinnati Public Library, though I couldn’t tell you now which ones or how many. I do know there were several of their biggest albums on CD in the box under the bed in their townhouse basement, as I used some to fill gaps in my collection.

As for singles he purchased that featured one or more of John-Paul-George-and-Ringo, I found five. Here’s a quick tour.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand”/“I Saw Her Standing There”
The one that kicked off Beatlemania here in the States. I never thought to ask my father if there was any connection between his love for these and the fact that the A-side was #1 when I was born. I’ve noted before that he rated these #3 and #2, respectively, on his all-time hit parade.

During winter break of my junior year in college, I must have come across his collection of 45s, as I borrowed this for a few weeks, and played “I Saw Her Standing There” on the radio show I recorded for my cousin.

“Hey Jude”/“Revolution”
This is one that Dad did play for us, at least in the late 60s/early 70s when we were living in Stanford. Like “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” it’s a song that feels like it’s always been a part of my life. I definitely dig the sleeve; the next entry has one just like it, too.

“Come Together”/“Something”
So, he had their first, biggest-selling, and last double-sided U.S. singles. Not bad.

George Harrison, “What Is Life”
I love this song, too, and wish I could talk with him now to learn what endeared him to it.

Paul & Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”
Another delight to discover here. When I think of Dad and McCartney singles, though, it’s the Wings Over America version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” that comes to mind first. He’d quit buying singles long before the spring of 1977, however.

Scads of July and August Charts

Catching up on the shows recently played on Premiere for which I have charts…

7/25/81
They last played this show three years ago, right after I started blogging (#37 was the song I featured, both praising and lamenting Steinman’s craft). Hadn’t started posting charts yet, though, so I get to right that wrong. Don’t know how quickly after I wrote this up that the grease stain appeared.

Hello/Goodbye: Even with just two debuts, there’s a newbie: it’s the first time on for Alabama. Eight songs fell off after this week, and half of the acts on the way out never appeared again: Carole Bayer Sager, A Taste of Honey, Climax Blues Band, and Rosanne Cash.

My sun-faded chart:

The Moodies start a four-week run at the top. “Bette Davis Eyes” is in the last of an eight-week stretch in the top three (only one of those had been at #1). Wish I’d ranked “Seven Year Ache” higher (it would peak at #16); it’s one of my absolute faves on this chart now.

7/29/78
Half of the sixteen songs that debuted on either 7/1 or 7/8 have moved into the top 20. Two of ’em are already top 10, but only three more would eventually join the Commodores and Pablo Cruise.

Hello/Goodbye: Last time I did a charts post, we bid adieu to the Village People. This time, it’s bon jour; we’re also seeing Chris Rea for the first time. On the flip side, that’s all for Love & Kisses.

8/6/77
How long did I try to draw an outline of the lower 48 at the top of the first page? I’d started the week prior. It lasted through the end of October; I guess my broken wrist on 11/5 is what sank the practice.

Hello/Goodbye: Both of the debuts come from cagey veterans. On the farewell side of things, we have Cat Stevens, Dean Friedman, and Hot.

Continue reading “Scads of July and August Charts”

Courtesy of Disk Jockey Records…

I’ve written before that our trips to the record store to buy vinyl for the music library at WTLX often netted us a few free promo albums that the manager at Disk Jockey Records decided he didn’t want to play in-store, particularly during the 1983-84 school year. We lucked out on a couple that proved to be hits, most notably Cyndi Lauper’s She So Unusual. The vast majority wound up being stiffs commercially, but since our library was pretty out-of-date (probably due to a combination of neglect and raids by graduating seniors of years past), it was good to have some new-ish releases on hand. I can still see several of the LP jackets in my head, even if I didn’t always give them a try (I hope other jocks did).

Let’s take a look at five disks among those that wound up in our mitts. Friends of the time–you’re welcome to remind me of others.

The Rubinoos, Party of Two
Let’s start with one I should have definitely paid more mind. I missed out on their cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which peaked at #45 in May of 1977. Six years later, the original foursome had winnowed down to a duo, Jon Rubin and Tommy Dunbar. They tried to jump start their career with this Rundgren/Utopia-produced EP. I’m pretty sure I listened to “If I Had You Back” a time or two while the station was off the air; how I didn’t dig it enough to play it during one of my shows is a big mystery.

Bill Nelson, Vistamix
I believe I knew of (by name only) Be-Bop Deluxe by the time I was in college. Former leader Bill Nelson was well into pursuing a solo career by 1984, when this compilation came out. Another one I spun a couple of times out of curiosity only–“Flaming Desire,” from a couple of years before, was the one that caught my ear.

The Circle Jerks, Golden Shower of Hits
This is the LP that broke through among me and my friends. Off-color band and album name? Urinal on the cover? Amber liquid of unknown provenance arriving from the left? Check, check, and check. Hardcore punk, with song titles like “Parade of the Horribles.” “Coup d’Etat,” and “When the Shit Hits the Fan” (an unplugged version of that last one appears on the Repo Man soundtrack–James bought that a year or so later). Not particularly my style, but it did hold quite a bit of entertainment value for several 18- and 19-year olds. I can see why a record store might not feature this during business hours.

Our favorite, and one which I’m sure I played on my show at least a couple of times, was the title track, subtitled “Jerks on 45.” It’s exactly what you think it is and if you’ve never heard it, definitely give it a listen. I won’t spoil the fun by revealing any of the songs they include, but I will say that it’s actually coherent (as opposed to, say, one of Weird Al’s polka medleys): somewhere in the last few years I read it tracks the life cycle of a relationship.

Kissing the Pink, S/T
This British group (later known simply as KTP) appears to have released this EP and their debut album, Naked, almost simultaneously. Kinda odd, since they share three cuts. One of them, “Maybe This Day,” is the only song on any of these albums to have hit the U.S pop charts, peaking at #87 in late August. If I ever threw this on the turntable, I sure don’t remember it.

Fun Boy Three, Waiting
If I’d known about the Specials back then, perhaps I would have given this album by three of their alums more of a chance. As it was, I probably couldn’t process the juxtaposition of a band with “Fun” in their names and the dour looks I saw on the cover. No doubt I gave the cover of “Our Lips Are Sealed” a shot (vocalist Terry Hall co-wrote it with Jane Wiedlin), but I wasn’t ready for such a somber take. I do wish I’d paid attention to “Tunnel of Love,” though (a Top 10 hit in the UK).

If I could be a sophomore in college all over again, I hope I’d choose to have wider musical horizons.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/5/81: REO Speedwagon, “In Your Letter”

Even at the beginning of my senior year in HS, I was buying only the occasional LP—maybe I had around a dozen by then. One, likely purchased sometime early in the summer of 1981, was REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity. I liked it pretty well; it definitely got quite a few spins on my dad’s turntable in our basement back then. While in college, I picked up You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish and Wheels Are Turnin’, but it’s fair to say that Hi Infidelity is still the REO album I know best overall.

A quick check at setlist.fm tells me that the Speedwagon played Champaign once while I was at UIUC, in November 1987. I didn’t go, and I don’t really recall any swelling sense of love for the hometown heroes during my time there, either. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to them for working hard and making good.

As I’ve done with other albums from my teen years that I owned, I’m taking a crack at ranking Hi Infidelity’s tracks.

10. “I Wish You Were There”
I get that rock bands need to do the ballad thing (though that’s frequently not my thing), and I guess this one isn’t terrible? It didn’t do much for me back in 1981, either, though.

9. “Don’t Let Him Go”
Third single, got to #24 the first two weeks of August. I seem to remember a school dance early that fall (DJ’ed by students) where this one got played—it cleared the floor. I’m just hoping I wasn’t the one responsible for that…

8. “Shakin’ It Loose”
How many times did I listen to this album after I graduated from HS, though? Very, very few. I’ll confess now that the names of the last three songs on side two didn’t trigger any music in my head prior to playing them earlier today. That said, I like this one fine—nice piano solo from Neal Doughty, for sure—but it’s still pretty close to filler.

7. “Someone Tonight”
Bassist Bruce Hall wrote it and sang lead. The sentiment behind the lyric is, um, uninspiring. Nonetheless, it’s a decent little rocker with good harmonies.

6. “In Your Letter”
This week’s #28 song, heading toward a peak of #20. I’m surprising myself a little by placing it as high as this, given that it didn’t exactly groove me in real time; I’m coming around to admiring it for channeling the pop of years past.

5. “Keep on Loving You”
On the other hand, maybe this one’s the victim of hearing it too much over the decades. It made #1 on my own chart for two weeks at the end of February (see, I can like rock ballads). Full credit for the “missin’/listen/hissin’” rhyme in verse one.

4. “Take It on the Run”
One of three songs—along with “I Love You” and “Sweetheart”—that became instant favorites in April and dominated my charts in May (got to #5 on the Hot 100, three weeks at #2 for me). This one may be the reason I bought the album. I remember it getting played over PAs at track meets that spring.

3. “Tough Guys”
Does Gary Richrath’s screaming guitar sound add to the song or not? I’m torn. This one has more fun writing (great second verse, and I’m a fan of “she’s gonna call your bluff, guys”). I’ll also cop to approval of the Little Rascals intro.

2. “Out of Season”
Another pop-rock gem. I was listening to WEBN, the AOR station in Cincinnati, quite a bit at this point, and I have to believe they were playing all of the top 3 in this list that summer. Classic song structure, but so well-executed.

1. “Follow My Heart”
First heard this by flipping over my “Keep On Loving You” 45, and liked it immediately. The urgency was palpable to a 17-year-old, not that I had any reason to relate to Kevin Cronin’s dilemma. It’s the cut from Hi Infidelity I would pick to take with me if made to choose just one, so that puts it at the top of the list. (It was the third song in the mixtape series that kicked off this blog, too.)

Forgotten Albums: The Connells, Ring

When I learned I was moving back to Kentucky from Illinois to start the small-college academic life, a top priority was figuring out where to live. Lexington had many more options for apartment living, so it made sense to concentrate my efforts there. I wound up choosing a complex called Raintree, on the southeastern side of town. Not for the indoor pool, which I never used, but for its fairly easy access to the interstate, and hence work: turn left at a stop light, go two-point-five miles until you hit I-75 North, whereupon after another fifteen minutes you’ve reached Georgetown. I lived in apartment #2602 for not quite a year-and-a-half.

There was a strip mall within easy walking distance of Raintree. Among its offerings was a TCBY, a couple of restaurants (locally-owned Cajun and Italian), a gaming store, and an independent CD shop. I imagine I was in the last of these around twice a week, scoping out both new releases and the used bins. Their prices were only okay–I got more stuff at a couple other places in town–but you couldn’t beat the convenience factor.

In those final months at the apartment, maybe one mid-fall, late Friday afternoon on my way home, I swung by this store (alas, the name’s long forgotten to me now) and picked up Ring, the new album from Raleigh’s Connells. I’d known of the band for a few years by that point, though I wouldn’t be shocked if in-store play factored in my decision to buy it.

I wouldn’t say that Ring ever slotted in as one of my go-to CDs, with repeated listens over several weeks. It does, however, possess a top-drawer first four songs, along with a few other charmers among its thirteen cuts. Let’s take a dip into it.

Leading off was the Connells’ third and final Modern Rock Tracks top 10 song, “Slackjawed.” This would definitely have caught my attention if they played it over the store’s system. Could have been a pop hit in another universe…

Next is “Carry My Picture.” One of a couple of songs here about a romantic relationship gone sideways in one form or another. Nice, driving track.

“’74-’75” was a top 10 hit all over Europe in 1995. I heard it on the radio occasionally here, probably on WRFL, but it somehow never dented a chart in the U.S. “I was your sorry ever after”–this is the one that truly never left my head.

I came across the song’s video a few years ago and was fascinated by the then (as of 1993)-and-now shots of sixteen members of the Class of ’75 from Broughton HS in Raleigh. It was only in writing this up that I learned the director updated the clip in 2015 for their 40th reunion. As you’ll see, one of the 16 had passed in the intervening years. It’s almost as affecting as the song.

“Doin’ You” wraps up Ring‘s incredible start. It’s got quite the load of vitriol, but I way dig it.

We’ll wrap with a couple of the songs from later in the disk. “New Boy” was the B-side to “’74-’75.”

And the closer, “Running Mary,” lopes along nicely, throwing in a time signature wrinkle here and there.

After Ring, things got a little tougher commercially for the Connells (not that success really ever found them). Three more albums followed, the last in 2001. There are hints on their Wikipedia page that there may be another one forthcoming in the near future.