What Did You Hope To Learn About Here?

There’s an American Top 40-related message board I usually visit a few times each week, in part to find out which 70s and 80s shows are going to be offered by Premiere over the coming week or two, in part to learn from the folks who post there (as in other portions of my life, I tend to lurk). The great preponderance of the community is male, and from what I can tell, age-wise I’m somewhere in the middle–most of them seem to be between roughly 45 and 65. This isn’t news if you pay attention to the commercials that Premiere runs each week–we Casey-philes are clearly an aging bunch.

I stopped listening to AT40 sometime in the second half of my first year of college, late winter 1983. Despite that, I stayed fairly on top of the pop music scene for another four or so years, so I’m glad I have the opportunity now to hear those mid-80s shows (I confess I’m not normally all that interested in the 1988 offerings). Many of the younger people on the message board paid attention to AT40 (and other countdown shows) a lot longer than I did; one fellow in particular is a veritable fount of knowledge when it comes to the Radio & Records CHR chart (which was used on Casey’s Top 40 and the late 90s reboot of AT40), at least up to the end of the 20th century.

I’m going on about this because this past holiday weekend, Premiere offered as a bonus the 9/5/98 American Top 40 from Casey’s second run. Curiosity got the better of me. Through the message board I was able to find a station in North Carolina playing it on Monday afternoon (though I missed the first four songs). It was plenty interesting to note differences with–and similarities to–the shows from the years I know pretty well now.

First, Casey definitely sounds older. In September 1998, he was 66 years old, eligible to draw Social Security. The vitality is still there–mostly–yet the toll of the years is making itself known. Hearing him announce “Flagpole Sitta” and “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)” felt a little incongruous.

(Aside #1: Kasem was almost an exact contemporary of my father–he was ten months younger than Dad, and his death in June 2014 came only 6.5 months after Dad’s. Back in the 70s it didn’t remotely occur to me that the two were pretty much at the same points in their lives.)

In 1998 I was 34. Many of the songs on this show–mostly the R&B, rap, and boy-band tracks aimed at a somewhat younger audience–weren’t familiar. That said, three of my favorite songs for the year were played in the third hour: “Torn,” “The Way,” and “One Week.”

(Aside #2: I’d lost much of my sense of connecting music to events in my life by this point, but I actually know what I was doing on Labor Day weekend 1998. Martha and I traveled up to Champaign-Urbana for a mini-reunion with my officemates and their spouses. Paul and Sue still lived there, and we spent much of our time hanging out in their family room.

Sports was on the TV in the background. On Saturday, Sammy Sosa hit his 58th homer, while Mark McGwire notched his 60th–this was the year both of them shattered Roger Maris’s record. Sunday was opening weekend for the NFL and my fantasy football team. 1998 was the only year I won my league, and I learned that weekend how wise I’d been to draft the Seattle Seahawks defense.)

I didn’t care for the updated jingles and bumpers, which were pretty tuneless. In fact, it was hard to discern any kind of musical theme overall–each hour just seemed to start with Casey talking up the next song in the show. As in the mid-to-late 80s, there were stories that had nothing to do with the music (for instance, Casey told about Dizzy Dean when Fastball’s turn came up). One sign of the times–online dating–played a key role in two of the ever-maudlin Long Distance Dedications. On the positive side, I’ll grant it was very good they were using the Radio & Records chart, since Billboard was still three months away from including songs not released as singles on the Hot 100. As a result, we rightly got to hear the top two pop songs for the year, “Torn” and “Iris.”

I’m 100% glad I had the chance to listen to this show–seriously, when was the last time I heard “Hooch,” from Everything? However, it’s not clear how frequently I’d listen were these to become a semi-regular thing; there’s just not enough nostalgia for the late 90s in my bloodstream, I guess.

For the curious, the #1 song 23 years ago was the Diane Warren-penned, Steven Tyler-crooned “I Wouldn’t Want to Miss a Thing,” from the Armageddon soundtrack. For a song feature, though, we’re going two spots lower. Honestly, I never really got why Matchbox Twenty blew up. The songwriting’s only so-so at best, and it’s not like Rob Thomas has golden pipes, either. Nonetheless, the chorus of “Real World” isn’t bad, and the song is plenty fun and catchy if you don’t listen too closely to what’s going on in the verses. Besides, I think most of us could use less hassle these days.

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