This past weekend I listened to Premiere’s rebroadcast of the 9/27/75 AT40. In those days, the crack AT40 staff would often assemble special countdowns to play on the first weekend of each quarter; on this show, Casey reminded us each hour that the following week he would be traveling back to the beginning of the rock era to reveal the 40 Top Rock and Roll Acts of the 1950s. Perhaps it’s obvious why Premiere hasn’t to date offered up this special in the AT40: The 70s series–the audience for 50s music, even by artists whose names still resonate a bit, is small and dwindling with each passing year. Nonetheless, it’s dawned on me over these past few days that I had once heard that show (and had handwritten notes about it), even though it was played before I knew of AT40‘s existence. How could that be?
I went ferreting through my pile of miscellaneous chart-related materials and found what I was looking for in the small, blue, wire-bound memo book that contains other treasures (including notes on a few 1976 episodes of the National Album Countdown). I only noted the artists (not always accurately, as you can see), not the songs Casey spun.
It’s the jarring transition between #11 and #10 on the second page that’s the vital clue to unwind what must have happened.
WSAI originally began playing AT40 in October 1975 (Casey had welcomed it aboard on 10/18) but pulled the plug after the 9/4/76 show. Sufficient was the hue and cry that they brought it back six weeks later, starting with the 10/16 countdown. It’s here that informed speculation starts: they almost assuredly announced the return in advance and decided to kick things off the week before by dusting off and playing the disks from the 10/4/75 50s special–there’s no doubt I would have tuned in, regardless of what Casey had queued up. Why am I saying the weekend of 10/9? That’s the week that “She’s Gone” and “Shake Your Booty” were #10 and #9, respectively. The rest of that week’s Top 10 is on the next page of the pad, courtesy of the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer. I likely had been hoping to hear the regular offering.
This was a show my father would have loved, and I can only hope that he was in the room with me as it played. I have distinct recollections of hearing “Honky Tonk” at #40 and “Come Softly to Me” at #37, and it may have been that evening that I learned of Dad’s fondness for Jim Lowe’s “The Green Door.” It was a gift to have the chance to hear it, a gift to still have an artifact to remind me.
I did write down the top 10 acts several pages later in the memo book, along with a few of the songs there were featured (several acts got two songs). You can also see one of the pen-and-paper games my sister and I liked to play at the time; it appears I emerged victorious that time.
(For those curious about all the tunes on the show, here’s a link to the cue sheet posted on the Charis Music Group website.)
Between what feels like a busier-than-normal start to the school year and recently coming down with a cold (pretty sure it wasn’t COVID, thankfully), I haven’t been able to carve out much time for musings here as of late. I’m hoping I can change that going forward; here’s something I’ve been trying to work through all month.
I’m guessing this issue of SR arrived at my parents’ house in late August, and that I leafed through it not long before I took off for my senior year of college. There are some reviews (Dire Straits, Petty, plus one other that you can already guess) I distinctly remember seeing then.
Articles A few pieces about speakers: how to go about purchasing them, what you should listen to when testing them, and a look at new technologies being developed in service of the reproduction of sound.
Basic Handel, by Stoddard Lincoln In recognition of the tricentennial of George Frideric’s birth, SR presents an annotated list of recommended recordings for one’s collection.
This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Louis Meredith, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, and Steve Simels.
Best of the Month –Bob Dylan, Empire Burlesque (SS) “Overall, however, the music suggests a kind of barely checked rage that is marvelously bracing. And it’s nice to have Dylan waxing apoplectic rather than apocalyptic for a change.” –Sting, The Dream of the Blue Turtles (MP) “Now that Sting no longer has to invent an image for himself, this is the most relaxed music he has ever made…a less driven, quasi-jazz style that is clean, uncluttered, and gracefully low-key without being wimpy.”
Featured Reviews –Sam Cooke, One Night Stand—Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (PG) “For the first time on records, everyone can hear the gutsier Cooke who was known to those who followed his career from the beginning.” –Suzanne Vega, S/T (SS) “…as haunting and powerful a (mostly) acoustic album as anybody has made in years. It’s a dark, obsessive cycle of songs about relationships and feelings in a poetic style that might be called Zen Jesuit.” It took more than a year, but this review eventually led me to purchase Suzanne Vega, a key moment in my turn toward women singer-songwriters. It’s one of the SR pieces that’s had the most influence on my musical tastes (perhaps behind only that for Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, also penned by Simels three years earlier). –Cris Williamson, Prairie Fire (AN) “Making unpredictable, breathtaking dips and turns, her urgent but sophisticated soprano is a ready guide on a joyous journey of the spirit, a journey that anyone who cares about personal identity, universal quest, or literate music will surely want to take.”
Other Disks Reviewed –The Boomtown Rats, In the Long Grass (MP) “This is an album of mature mayhem that stops just short of head-knocking and glass-shattering.” —The Breakfast Club soundtrack (SS) “Masterminded by Keith Forsey, this record collects a bunch of extremely forgettable neo-New Wave time-wasters.” –Eric Clapton, Behind the Sun (SS) “Well, the Eric Clapton (here) sure doesn’t sound like a bluesman. He sounds more like a cross between Toto and Air Supply.” –Miles Davis, You’re Under Arrest (CA) “Fans may find some profundity in these grooves, but I hear not a trace.” –Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms (MP) “It’s not the step forward Love Over Gold and Local Hero were. But even when Knopfler stands pat, he provides stimulating, thought-provoking, and entertaining listening.” –Eurythmics, 1984 (MP) “The problem, of course, is that because 1984 succeeds so well in conveying the gloomy landscape of Orwell’s cautionary novel, there are virtually no ‘home applications’ for this record, unless you’ve got youngsters whose minds you want programmed for Big Brother.” –Dan Fogelberg, High Country Snows (AN) “But—and this is a very important but—if you forget about pre-conceived notions and just enjoy what’s here, you’ll probably have a fine time.” –The Kendalls, Two Heart Harmony (AN) “But to their credit…the Kendalls still manage to remain stalwartly themselves on this outing—they just sound a lot less old-fashioned, and a lot less like hicks.” –Kathy Mattea, From My Heart (AN) “I’m not bowled over by the songs, but Mattea is a real find, and worth checking out.” –Men at Work, Two Hearts (MP) “Hay’s songs here are awful—singsong, nursery-rhyme melodies and nonsensical, non-sequitur lyrics that grow more wearisome and annoying with each hearing…it’s growing increasingly clear that the tremendous success of Men at Work’s first album was a fluke.” –Graham Parker and the Shot, Steady Nerves (SS) “His last album, The Real Macaw, found him both angry and tuneful, but this new one, disappointingly, finds him simply peevish.” –Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Southern Accents (SS) “…a nearly unlistenable mess, easily the worst record of Petty’s career.” –Rick Springfield, Tao (SS) “Somebody give this boy a massage and a couple of Valium, or at least take away his drum machines.” –Dionne Warwick, Finder of Lost Loves (PR) “…while it’s now way past the days of ‘San Jose,’ there are still a few flickers of excitement when Warwick and Bacharach work together.” –Willie and the Poor Boys, S/T (SS) “Still, everyone concerned seems to be having a good time, and as oldies tributes go, this one catches the sound of the music far more accurately than, say, Robert Plant’s recent Honeydrippers project.” –Bill Withers, Watching You Watching Me (PG) “Although it has been five years since Bill Withers released an album, his singular sound, with its folksy, homespun quality and uninhibited sentimentality, is instantly recognizable on this new one.” –Paul Young, The Secret of Association (MP) “Young is ostensibly a soul singer, but this is soul robbed of its humanity by production that can’t distinguish between tinkering and arranging.”
Video Reviews –David Bowie, Serious Moonlight (LM) “The crack band Bowie assembled sounds awfully good except on some of the lusher, older material…(h)e also plays to the camera like the pro he is, though whether you find his emoting intense or merely hammy is purely a matter of taste.” –Queen, The Works (LM) “Sure, the band’s music is utterly meaningless, big-budget arena-rock at its most contrived, but it’s so massively overproduced that you just know it’s being purveyed with a wink. Not so coincidentally, it’s also ideal video fodder…” –Michael Stanley Band (LM) “…derives mostly from a concert in front of a hometown (Cleveland) crowd, and chances are that you’ll find it fairly tedious if you’re not a fan. Fortunately, though, the tape opens with three made-for-MTV videos, and they’re another story altogether.” –Tears for Fears (LM) Three videos from The Hurting. “The common theme here is the quest for order and meaning in today’s complex world, and the emotions and anxieties that accompany it make for some pretty provocative music as well as some fairly seductive concept videos.” –38 Special, Wild-Eyed and Live (AN) “Overall, this is a thoroughly professional job and one of the best concert videos on the market.”
This was the first weekend back on campus for my sophomore year of college; classes would have started the previous Wednesday. James and I had picked a room on the top floor of our non-air conditioned dorm. The hot weather that lasted well into September that year may have made us question the wisdom of the choice…
As ever, there were songs being released then that would never grace American Top 40. Here are six, including some by acts who enjoyed great commercial success within a couple of years.
92. Tears for Fears, “Change” As big a fan of Songs from the Big Chair as I became, you’d think I would’ve checked in on The Hurting before 1987, after I’d already been in Illinois for a year. Jim, one of my two roommates at the time, had it on one of those newfangled CD-things, which I quickly ripped onto a cassette.
I don’t believe “Change” (on its way down after reaching #73) made the Lexington radio scene at the time it was a single, and if someone played it in the dorm, well, that completely slipped by me. It and “Pale Shelter” are my personal faves from The Hurting.
86. Herbie Hancock, “Rockit” This was around the time I became more invested in MTV (my parents were soon to move to a house that had cable so I could check it out over weekends at home). Thus, I got enough exposure to “Rockit” to believe it had some chance to become a bigger hit than its eventual #71 peak.
72. The S.O.S. Band, “Just Be Good to Me” This and the next one did receive play on at least one Lexington station that fall. I have a feeling I didn’t connect “Just Be Good to Me” at the time as being by the band who’d given us “Take Your Time” three years earlier. It’s one of the first songs written and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and deserved a better fate than a high of #55.
70. Midnight Star, “Freak-a-Zoid” Talk about your jams. I’m sure Midnight Star derived some of its attention in my sphere due to their local connection (they formed in Frankfort, less than 30 miles away from Lexington), but they earned every bit of it. Somehow “Freak-a Zoid” reached just #66.
(Which is better? This one or “No Parking on the Dance Floor”? I lean toward the latter.)
62. Wham!, “Bad Boys” The second U.K. band in this post who’d make it big with their second album. George (like Curt above) sure looks mighty young in the video. While “Bad Boys” was a huge hit in their homeland, it only made #60 here.
47. Heart, “How Can I Refuse” IMO, this was the best single Heart had released since, oh, “Straight On” almost five years earlier. Passionworks was their first album not to produce a Top 40 single (this peaked three spots higher), though it was really just another stop on a continuing decline in sales and popularity. They were soon dropped by Epic; new label Capitol would make them use outside writers for what turned out to be all the singles from their 1985 smash comeback.
Bonus content! It’s one of the three sheets I picked up over the summer of 1983 that list the hot-and-happening tunes being played on Cincinnati’s then-AM pop hits station. I almost certainly got them at a record store in the Florence Mall, this one not long before heading back to Transy. Note that all six of the songs featured here are listed, plus several others I could have chosen.
I’m not sure what the Springfield/Kihn thing is about–setlist.fm says that both were in Tucson (though at different locations) that day. My guess is that the station broadcast a recording of recent concerts…