American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/3/70: Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, “Joanne”

Like lots of folks who grew up in the 70s, I had plenty of exposure to The Monkees via syndicated reruns on television. I couldn’t tell you any of the plot lines (such as they were) now, but I do recall the invariable silliness and slapstick nature of the show, frequently involving some ludicrous chase scene. Did I have a favorite Monkee? Probably Mickey, though Mike, as the more cerebral one, definitely held appeal as well. (I will admit I found the dark glasses Mike wore in the later episodes a bit scary.) I paid only slight attention when MTV introduced the series to a new generation of viewers during my last semester of college in 1986. The losses of Davy in February 2012 and Peter (with whom I share a birthday) almost seven years later didn’t go unnoticed in these parts, however.

Michael Nesmith’s name popped up for me a few times over the years. Eventually I learned he’d written “Different Drum.” I didn’t ever manage to see Elephant Parts when it came out in 1981, though I was well aware he was attached to it. And I probably caught wind while I was in college that Nesmith was executive producer of Repo Man. It would be decades, though, before I realized he’d had a post-Monkees Top 40 hit of his own.

October 4, 2014. Like so many Saturdays, I wake up early after a fitful night’s sleep. I slip quietly upstairs to the kitchen and fix myself a bowl of cereal and a small glass of orange juice. As usual, I launch the TuneIn app on my iPad and set it to WMVL, Cool 101.7, out of Meadville, PA, to catch the 70s rebroadcast of AT40. I keep the volume low enough so as not to disturb–they begin their show each week at 7:00am. After breakfast, it’s back downstairs to shower and dress, maybe even make the bed.

By the start of the second hour, I’m ensconced in a chair in the main room of the basement, the den. (That chair nowadays is in my living room; I’m sitting in it as I type these words.) Maybe I’m grading, but it’s also quite possible I’m playing a stupid game on the iPad. What I do remember particularly is the string of songs I hear over a 30-minute period, the final two for probably the first time:

#27. Grand Funk Railroad, “Closer to Home”
#26. Linda Ronstadt, “Long, Long Time”
#25. The New Seekers, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma”
#24. Three Dog Night, “Out in the Country”
#23. R. Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me”
#22. Hotlegs, “Neanderthal Man”
#21. Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, “Joanne”

It must not be long afterward that I hear stirring upstairs. Mom stays up plenty late watching TV and has a harder time each week getting going in the morning. I better go check on things.

(It’s hearing the story Casey tells about the multi-national New Seekers again, here in 2020, that jolts me and sends me back in time six years. I start to tear up when I sing “I wish I had you to talk to” along with Taylor.)

“Joanne” is a sad, beautiful song; I can listen to it over and again. That #21 showing, fifty years ago now, was its best.

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