Just Exactly Where We’re Going I Cannot Say

Today is my blog’s third birthday. The last couple of years, I’ve listed the most-viewed posts from the previous twelve months, along with a few other favorites. I’m not going to really do that this go-round, mostly for two reasons.

1) The average number of views any single post gets has gone down overall—I’m guessing that, like I do with other blogs, plenty of folks have the home page bookmarked;

2) There are a few posts from the past that draw an oddly large amount of attention. Right now, there are about four that get 2 or 4 page views every few days (and it’s always an even number of views). This happened last fall, as well; it eventually quit, but started up again a few weeks ago. Theories as to why this happens are welcome—I’m assuming it’s some sort of bot behavior. (The post that’s gotten picked on the most, by far, is a brief feature I wrote up in the spring of 2019 on World Party’s “Ship of Fools.”)

Anyhoo, excluding all these oddities, the three most-viewed posts of the past year included the two most personal pieces I’ve put up here: about the man who helped me meet my wife, and the events surrounding my mother’s final months. I’m most appreciative of the kind words and thoughts I received in response. I’ve said before that being an author was the first thing I can remember wanting to do when I grew up; that won’t really ever become a reality, but I don’t deny deriving satisfaction from having folks dropping by to read what I write. Thanks to all of you who do that.

(The other is one people find by accident, about a former church choir director written right after he passed away more than two years ago. I’ve discovered this year there’s a YouTube personality/music critic also named John Heaton, who I believe lives in the UK. Many of his fans stumble across my tribute in search engine results and click through, which only raises its profile…)

Both shows that Premiere featured this past weekend were dated 7/20, the only two Casey AT40s possessing that chart date. I have just a few scattered thoughts about those years.

1974: When I was young, we frequently took summer vacations to state parks in Kentucky. In 1974, we went to Pennyrile Forest State Park, out in the western end of the state; I’m sure Amy and I played a slew of miniature golf and shuffleboard that week.

On site at Pennyrile. It’s next to a man-made lake; that’s maybe a dam behind us in the right picture?

While hardly luxurious, the appointments at these parks bring back fond memories: the wood paneling everywhere, the dining rooms that often have a wall of windows affording some gorgeous view, the gift shops containing all things Kentucky that are arty-and-crafty. The quality was uniformly good across the system, too (at least based on my experiences, which have continued occasionally over the years). It feels like I could use a few days at one of them right about now.

Here’s that week’s #37 song, a future #9. This one hangs on me much more heavily than it used to. One of my mother’s central tenets was, “You can’t rely on anyone except yourself.”

1985: My summer at IBM. This may have been the weekend that Mark H and I drove down to Chattanooga to visit my friend Kristine. She was already on her own in an apartment, only one year through college. She had a summer job at the local zoo (she was pre-vet); Mark and I spent a decent part of that Sunday morning getting a behind-the-scenes view, chatting with Kristine while she worked in her lab/office space and around the grounds. (The radio in the non-air-conditioned office was playing late 60s rock—whenever I hear “Going Up the Country” now, I’m always taken back there.)

Speaking of the late 60s, here’s what was at #15—its peak—this week 35 years ago.

My parents died fifteen months apart. After my mother’s funeral in March 2015 and some of the initial aftermath, Martha asked where I wanted to go on vacation.  I immediately knew: “The mountains.” That July, we rented a small house for a week just outside of Estes Park, Colorado, near Rocky Mountain National Park. I was hoping to find some peace there, to just be for a few days. That didn’t exactly happen—it was too easy to get caught up in the moment planning out the days or losing my patience at little things gone awry. The highlight of the trip was a great hike in the park, on a trail that hits three small, charming lakes. The second one we encountered was Dream Lake; we stopped there for lunch. After eating, I wandered off to be alone and wound up sitting on a boulder abutting the lake. I was in search of a few minutes to reflect on loss, to mourn, to meditate, to commemorate the lives of my parents. I think it turned out to be a somewhat successful endeavor. When I’d done as much as I was going to do, I took out my phone and snapped a picture, in perhaps a vain attempt to retain the moment.

I see that photo, taken a little more than five years ago, just about every day, and my Twitter peeps might recognize it, too.

The third lake—and terminal point—of the hike is called Emerald Lake and lies about a mile straight ahead, tucked neatly in front of that peak.

I expect posting to be lighter for a while—I’m behind where I should be in planning for the upcoming fall semester, one which promises to be a challenge.

Oh, here again is the song I apparently must embed every July 20.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/11/70: Pacific Gas & Electric, “Are You Ready?”, and Rare Earth, “Get Ready”

Anyone who knows me more than passingly–be that IRL or online–is well aware of my interest in the eighteen-plus years of the original Casey Kasem run at the helm of American Top 40. I charted the show over roughly the middle third of that span. Even when I “outgrew” faithfully listening to the show not long after I left for college, it would be years before I stopped paying attention to the up-and-down rhythms of the Billboard Hot 100 and stopped listening to stations that played most of the songs Kasem would have been announcing. About the time I turned forty, now a husband and a father of a pre-schooler, nostalgia for those days began setting in, leading me to assemble playlists for dozens of those countdowns. In summer 2012, I became re-obsessed with hearing the actual shows not long after I realized they were being remastered and distributed again to stations everywhere for rebroadcast. I’ve now been at that game for longer than I listened as a teenager. It’s immensely enjoyable to have the opportunity to hear shows of all stripes–before, during, and after my charting years. With a few exceptions, I don’t have much desire to own personal copies of the shows, to listen to on demand–it’s enough right now to be able to check in on whatever the execs at Premiere and SiriusXM select each week. I imagine there’ll come a day when those same execs realize the folks most interested in classic-era AT40 are too old to make continued broadcasting sufficiently profitable, but I’m hoping that time is several years off.

AT40 of that era touched–to varying degrees, of course; I’m an outlier on the high end–the lives of a large proportion of people my age, plus or minus a decade or more. This weekend makes fifty years since Casey’s first broadcast. Numerous stations are celebrating by playing many of the special shows originally broadcast on various July 4th weekends of the 70s and 80s. There’s been some media attention given to the anniversary, too. And Premiere has the first show, chart date 7/11/70, on offer this weekend. I’ve never heard it in full, but I hope by the end of today that will have changed.

Two songs from that show, brimming with very different kinds of energy, have titles that, when taken out of context, feel appropriate for the occasion. If you secularize Pacific Gas & Electric (#19, on its way to #13) and de-sexify Rare Earth (#13, heading down after peaking at #4), the question “Are You Ready?” and command “Get Ready” tell us everything we need to know about the cultural tsunami headed our way.

Happy golden birthday, American Top 40.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/28/80: Rupert Holmes, “Answering Machine”

Funds for music purchases in the first half of my teen years were pretty limited, mostly derived from a weekly allowance, and perhaps the occasional odd job for a neighbor or my grandparents. I was 16 in the spring of 1980, able to drive, but real, though only passing, gainful employment was still a few months away. Whether by design or accident, vinyl for me then tended to come in the 7″ variety–there was definitely higher confidence one was getting something one really liked that way. I think I had maybe just a half-dozen LPs at the time.

I’d been a regular consumer of Dad’s Stereo Review magazines for about two years. Accurate or not, it seemed that Best of the Month and Recordings of Special Merit selections all too frequently were by artists I wasn’t hearing on the radio stations I tuned to. My money was too precious for leaps of faith. But in the April 1980 issue, one highlighted review caught my eye.

Over the previous few months, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” and “Him” had both impressed me reasonably, enough to at least entertain the thought of buying Holmes’s album. While I’m sure I didn’t pay attention that the reviewer was not from SR‘s regular stable, Partners in Crime did become the first LP I purchased due to a thumbs-up in Stereo Review (but far from the last, which was probably Suzanne Vega, more than six years later).

On the whole, I recall being a little disappointed after getting PiC home. Mitz notes ‘sparse production,’ and he’s right–the first two singles were a little more fleshed out, less sterile than most of the other tracks. The relatively naïve and sheltered me was taken aback at first at the kinky inclinations noted in the title song, and the rampant horniness of all the characters in “Lunch Hour” (which I liked a lot, nonetheless). Still, I listened to–and enjoyed–it enough to have songs like “Nearsighted,” “The People That You Never Get To Love,” and “Get Outta Yourself” stick in my head over the years.

The real discovery, though, was song two on side two, the one that soon became the LP’s third single. A clever, if slight, tale about the shortcomings of modern technology, “Answering Machine” made me glad in the end I’d bought the album. While I had to have known about such marvels by the summer of 1980, I’m thinking my parents didn’t get an answering machine until they moved to Florence a few years later. I didn’t have any reason to own one until I began apartment life after my first year of grad school, in 1987.

Wife and son got a kick out of listening to me sing along with Rupert this past Saturday afternoon, the tune sitting at its peak of #32. Afterward, Ben noted that Holmes’s “I’m so sorry” begins with the same intervals that Hall and Oates later used to spell out the title of “Method of Modern Love.” The kid’s got an ear for 80s music…

Did you ever notice, though, that the entire unfortunate situation would have been avoided had both parties realized that their machines gave callers just twenty seconds of message time?

American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/24/72: Godspell, “Day By Day”

This week marked twenty-three years since Martha and I moved into our current home. Even if you count only the time following my 2004-05 sabbatical year in upstate New York, this is the longest I’ve ever spent in one location. My first move came at the age of six months, when Mom, Dad, and I relocated from Ludlow (a small KY river town near Cincinnati) to La Grange (about twenty miles NE of Louisville). A little over four years later, around Labor Day of 1968, our now family-of-four headed south and east to Stanford, about forty miles south of Lexington. My education began there, up through second grade. But being a church minister often means being rather peripatetic, and at some point in early 1972, my father put out feelers for a new pastorate. Mom was wanting to get back closer to the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area–her parents would soon be moving back there after my grandfather retired from being Director of Medical Services at Eastern Kentucky University, in nearby Richmond–and at some point that spring, Amy and I were informed that we were leaving Stanford for Walton, a town of about 2000 about twenty miles south of Cincinnati.

While I have held on to tiny slivers from my time in La Grange, the bulk of my earliest memories occurred in that house in Stanford, in a subdivision called Oakwood Estates. I think it was a parsonage.

This is the best picture of it I can easily lay my hands on–there are plenty of shots much closer in, generally of Amy and me standing in front of those columns on Easter morning. What we can’t see here is the driveway running down the left side of the house, around to a two-car garage in the basement. Dining/living area to the left of the front door, bedrooms to the right, kitchen/family room/stairs/bathroom/bedroom from left to right on the back of the house. You’d think I’d remember which bedroom was mine.

The moving van arrived on Saturday morning, June 24, 1972. It was unseasonably cool and cloudy; my father would turn forty-one the next day. I don’t recall now any of the preparations, but Mom and Dad must have had things well in hand for the movers. Several families around us had children close to our age, so there were at least a few goodbyes to be shared. My strongest memory of the day, though, is of pulling my father around the side of the house while the van was being loaded, asking him to comfort his sad son by singing a couple of verses of a hymn. I believe it was my choice, semi-appropriate for the occasion only by coincidence: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” My father showed me countless kindnesses over the years, but this is one of the more treasured.

The end of one chapter means a new one begins, however. Mom and Dad had picked a brick house toward the end of Bedinger Avenue, just beyond a left turn onto Plum Street.

I don’t have much in the way of full photos for this house, either. This was taken in the spring of 1973. Amy’s bedroom is on the far left, with my room (the smaller of the two, but I’m not bitter) immediately to the left of the front door. There’s no garage, just a slab driveway on the right, but there was a walkout basement. There were several acres of largely open fields to the left, with just a single house owned by one of the town’s attorneys and his family a couple hundred yards down that gravel road you see.

Here’s another view, this time featuring your humble blogger and his sis.

The back of the picture informs me it’s now the summer of 1975. Looks like by this time we’d replaced the flowering tree between my and Amy’s windows with something hardier. That cigar box came from my grandfather; wish I still had some of those (boxes, not cigars). We stayed in that house until a few months after my sister graduated from HS in 1983 (Dad was no longer in the ministry by the mid-70s)–not too surprisingly, that’s the second-longest stint I’ve had in a single spot.

Living close to Cincinnati afforded us some cultural opportunities we didn’t have in Stanford. One–perhaps canonical for PKs in those years–was getting to see a production of the recent Off-Broadway musical Godspell. Felt certain I still have a program from it among my bins of goodies from my youth, but it didn’t turn up in a search this morning (a scrapbook given to Amy and me by the folks at Stanford Christian Church right before we moved did, though). “Day By Day,” the song from Godspell you’re most likely to know, debuted at #37 on our moving day, very close to the end of the God Rock era. Five weeks later, it reached its peak of #13. The vocalist is Robin Lamont.

My final excursion in the Before Times was on March 9. The first positive test for COVID-19 in Kentucky had been announced two days earlier, in a town about fifteen miles away from Georgetown. It was the Monday of my spring break, and I drove north to take care of various pieces of business: dealing with our taxes, taking flowers to my mother’s gravesite (it was the fifth anniversary of her burial), doing some research at a public library and county courthouse. I had lunch at a barbecue place not far from my parents’ final home–I wonder now when the next time I eat a meal inside a restaurant will be. I’d brought a large bottle of hand sanitizer with me and used it liberally throughout the day. A couple of days later I’d learn that instruction was moving online for at least the next few weeks. Martha and I had planned a quick trip to the Carolinas later in the week but in the end thought better of it.

There’d been a bad accident on southbound I-75 that morning near Florence, and it was still bottling up traffic for miles when I was ready to head home mid-afternoon. It was very slow going trying to make my way from Burlington, a few miles west of the interstate, over to US 25, the obvious alternate route south. Traffic on 25 eased only after we reached access to I-75 south of the tie-up, but I didn’t jump back on quite yet–I wanted to go through Walton, another five miles south on 25. Our old house on Bedinger was on my mind.

Years ago, that attorney had sold the property adjacent to our plot, and dozens of houses had been built as Bedinger had been extended and new streets added. I parked my car on the corner of one of those streets, not far away from the place I’d left thirty-six-and-a-half years before, at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. I wandered around the neighborhood for a good bit, exploring some of the ‘newer’ parts but also the places from the old days, ticking off the families who’d lived in each of the houses (and seeing a few of those names still on the mailboxes). That section of street from US 25 to 33 Bedinger is much shorter than it seemed when I was nine, twelve, even eighteen years old. I took a few pictures, of course. My #LastNormalPhoto happens to be of that house we moved into on 6/24/72.

The driveway’s width got expanded by about 50% somewhere along the way, and there’s no window AC unit in the kitchen, next to the side entrance–it wouldn’t shock me if central air has been installed. The basketball goal we put up at the end of the driveway, the television antenna, the shrubbery, the weeping cherry tree in the front right corner of the yard–all are looooong gone. The iron railings on the porches, however, appear to be unchanged. It’s entirely recognizable.

There was a vehicle in the driveway that I’ve cropped from this picture. As much as I’d have enjoyed taking a look inside, I know it wouldn’t have been appropriate in the least to knock on the front door. Instead, I walked back to the car, drove south through downtown Walton, and worked my way over to the interstate so that I could scurry back home.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/11/77: John Miles, “Slowdown”

Well, at least that’s the way the title was written down in my own charts (as we’ll see by the end of the month). If you listen to the lyrics though, it’s plain that John Miles is imploring us to take it easy, not engage in performing less work. So where did I pick that up? From Billboard, on one of my many visits to Recordland at the Florence Mall. This is from the 6/11/77 Hot 100, courtesy of americanradiohistory.com.

Note who produced Miles’s hit.

It’s not a one-time typo, either, as I’ve got it this way for all five weeks it appeared on AT40. The next question becomes: why did Billboard do this? Well, take a look at the US single (from Discogs):

I’m speculating here, but it looks to me that whoever created the label on this side of the pond must have simply forgotten to hit the space bar. Here’s the UK single (also via Discogs):

Not a huge deal, but the error did propagate, all the way down to a 13-year-old’s sheet of notebook paper.

Miles’s biggest hit worldwide is “Music,” which reached #3 for three weeks in April 1976 in his home country–it peaked at #88 here a month later. It’s a hybrid ballad/anthem/proggy thing, complete with strings and a lengthy interlude in 7/4 time. Hearing it now (for the first time, actually), I can understand how it resonates, but the lyrics also seem plenty clichéd. I might feel differently if the song had been with me my whole life.

Miles has participated annually in the European concert series Night of the Proms since its inception in 1985. Last month, he, the NotP band, and the Antwerp Philharmonic created a quarantine version of “Music.”

Rebel, the album on which “Music” appeared, was produced by Alan Parsons (perhaps that’s not a surprise upon reflection). Miles subsequently provided vocals for several songs on Alan Parsons Project albums over the years, including APP’s first Top 40 hit “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” as well as their last appearance on the Hot 100 (one of my favorites), “Stereotomy.”

“Slow Down” (I’ll use the actual title for once) was a sizable hit in the US discos–Wikipedia says it reached #2 on the disco chart. It’s sitting at its AT40 peak of #34 on this show.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/31/86: GTR, “When the Heart Rules the Mind”

When I first started assembling playlists of AT40 countdowns to replay on our iPod, I figured I’d be content with picking a few collections from the June 1976-October 1982 period I kept charts. A couple years into the process, I realized there were any number of weeks from deeper into my time at college that I’d be happy to relive, so I began doing the research necessary to reconstruct charts from 1983-early 1986 (I wasn’t especially savvy about leveraging the Web to get that information fifteen years ago). Ultimately I settled on the end of May 1986 as the terminal point for my project, for three reasons: 1) I graduated from Transy on 5/25/86, so it was more or less an inflection point in my life; 2) my tastes in music had begun their turn away from pure pop; 3) since my charts began with the first weekend of 1976, ending it then would make it an even ten-year-long venture.

I’ve had it in my mind for quite some time to one day create the 500+ playlists for all the countdowns between 6/5/76 and 5/31/86–maybe this is the summer I start making real progress on that. I’ve always arranged the songs on my lists like they were on the show, starting at #40, so if I ever got all those lists together and then played them all consecutively, they’d start with Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” and wrap up with Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” But if instead one considered the lists as they appeared in Billboard (that is, beginning with #1), in the leadoff position would be “Love Hangover” from Diana Ross, and the very last tune encountered would be by a one-hit/one-off wonder fronted by a couple of prog-rock guitarists who shared a first name and a last initial. The Steves, Hackett and Howe, got together after the latter left Asia to form GTR. “When the Heart Rules the Mind” in some ways sounds indistinguishable from other AOR tunes of the period, but since it never advanced into the classic rock hits canon, I don’t object to hearing it when these summer of ’86 shows crop up. It eventually reached #14.

What’s In A Name: Major Harris, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”

Almost two years ago, I wrote up the first of what I claimed would be a nine-part series on the solo charting acts of the rock era with whom I share a surname. The curious thing about this collection of singers was that eight of the nine hit the Top 40 exactly once (the ninth, Tony Harris, the subject of that first piece, was the one who didn’t hit at all). It’s taken too long, but I’m finally getting around to a second installment; the impetus was the artist’s appearance on last week’s 5/24/75 rebroadcast.

Major Harris is best-known for that one song, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.” It’s a not-so-quiet-storm jam, as Harris pleads for (and by song’s end, apparently obtains) a night of ecstatic explosiveness with the woman in his company. It reached #1 on the Soul chart, and made #5 on AT40 (it was #13 when I listened last week).

But finding out very much more about Harris’s life and times has proved somewhat elusive. Searches on Google and Bing lead mostly to obituaries posted soon after he passed away in November 2012 (by about the eighth page, search results begin including references to the late 80s quarterback from West Virginia University with the same name). These articles usually have similar skeletons.

Major Harris was born in Richmond, VA, in 1947. According to his Wiki page, both of Harris’s parents had connections to and interest in music. He sang with several groups you’ve heard of, but invariably after they were done generating their big hits: the Jarmels (also from Richmond), the Teenagers (post-Frankie Lymon, of course), and most notably, the Delfonics (he went back to them after his solo career faded).

Harris put out a couple of singles in the late 60s that went nowhere, although “Call Me Tomorrow” is pretty tasty (the B-side is a decent cover of “Like a Rolling Stone”).

His early 70s work with the Delfonics got him a solo deal with Atlantic, and his debut album My Way (yes, it includes his take on the Paul Anka-penned classic) produced his big hit, as well as “Each Morning I Wake Up,” which made #3 on the Disco chart. Jealousy came out a year later; the first single, “I Got Over Love,” almost sounds like it’s surveying the scene from the morning after “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” opening with (the same?) woman crying, “Major, don’t go.” It barely crawled into the top 25 on the Soul chart and couldn’t crack the Hot 100 (though two singles from Jealousy–the title cut and “Laid Back Love”–did). Atlantic then dropped him, and it appears he later released two other albums that didn’t go anywhere. Beyond that, the record out there on the Internet is pretty thin, until we get to his death at age 65. One tribute did mention four children.

I don’t have any recollection of “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” getting radio play on WSAI during its run on the pop charts (which may or may not mean anything). I probably learned of its existence from a late 80s Joel Whitburn book; the first time I can recall hearing it was almost exactly eight years ago, when Premiere played 6/7/75. That happens to be the show that got me hooked once again on AT40.

(This is the 300th post with the PastBlast tag.)

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/16/81: John O’Banion, “Love You Like I Never Loved Before”

Here’s a one-hit wonder, a song I enjoyed plenty that spring I was 17. The 45 for “Love You Like I Never Loved Before” is in my collection, though I’m pretty certain I didn’t get it until the late 80s. It’s also on a Time-Life CD compilation of 1981 hits I picked up after I was asked to put together some disks of high school-era hits for my 20th high school reunion in 2002 (the classmates organizing it knew who to turn to for that).

But I got to wondering this morning about the guy who made the record, which is sitting at its peak of #24. The only thing I could recall about John O’Banion from his seven-week run on the show was that he was a native of the Hoosier State (Kokomo, specifically); Joel Whitburn doesn’t say more than that, and Pete Battistini’s book about 80s shows indicates that Casey never told any extended stories about O’Banion. Surely there was something out there on the interwebs about him? Why yes–here are a few nuggets I’ve picked up today:

–O’Banion was already 34 when he had his hit. He’d been out in LA throughout the 70s; his first break was catching on as vocalist for a band put together by Doc Severinsen.
–This ultimately led to a few appearances on the shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin.
–For a while in the 80s, O’Banion was big in Japan. In 1982, he took the Grand Prix at the Tokyo Music Festival, for “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love.” A couple of years later, the song was a #2 country hit for Crystal Gayle. It’s incredibly drippy and full of self-pity; that said, had I heard Gayle’s version when it was released in late winter of 1984, the lyrics quite possibly would have resonated with me.
–He also made a few B-movie appearances in the mid-to-late 80s.
–At some point O’Banion was involved in an accident in New Orleans that resulted in serious head trauma. I haven’t been able to pin down a date for it, but complications from the incident led to a premature death several years later, on Valentine’s Day in 2007, just two days before his 60th birthday.

Much of the above came from his Wiki page and an article that appeared in a Kokomo newspaper a few months after O’Banion died.

It’s largely gone down the memory hole now, but “Love You Like I Never Loved Before” was one of the perkier, cheerier songs on this show. No official vid to be had, alas.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/4/85: Rick Springfield, “Celebrate Youth”

Submitted the last of my grades on Friday night. Doing so in any semester always feels like a burden being lifted, but the relief is greater than normal this go-round. It’s Saturday evening as I start this, and I’m totally beat. I commented earlier to Martha and Ben that it’s almost like a mild case of whiplash. Again, I know the stress for many of my students has been higher, but I am glad this most unusual semester is now in the rear-view mirror. I’d like to think I adapted reasonably well at least some of the time. I’ll debrief myself at some point; right now, though, I need some time off from thinking about the college professor life.

A part of that will be (I hope) paying more attention to this venture. There have been a few thoughts that seem partially related to one another chasing around my head over the last couple of weeks; let’s see if I shape something semi-coherent out of them.

My alma mater traditionally hosts its Alumni Weekend at the end of April (one casualty of not fielding a football team is being able to hold a Homecoming celebration in the fall). Unsurprisingly, this year’s model wound up being a virtual event. Prior to the cancellation of in-person festivities, the class of ’85 had invited the graduates from ’84 and ’86 (my year) to join in on their 35th reunion reception. Even if there aren’t (m)any folks from the class ahead of me with whom I’ve maintained contact, I would have given some consideration to attending. I’m sorry they missed their every-half-decade shot at a reunion; at this point, though, I’m wondering about the likelihood of my 35th being online, too.

There are a few artifacts from the spring of 1985 in my bin of college goodies. That May Term (Transy has a short, four-week term at the end of the year) I took Environmental Philosophy, from a faculty member in his first year. Our text was a collection of essays on environmental ethics; while I don’t seem to have the book any more, I do have the booklet from an essay exam (though not the questions) and a five-page paper I submitted on The Necessity of Establishing an Environmental Ethic. Hardly original thoughts being expressed, but I feel like maybe I had synthesized something decently in the first paragraph.

Comments by the instructor were few, but for what it’s worth, I got an A on it.

I enjoyed the class and the professor. There was a kerfuffle a couple of years later when he was denied tenure (he’d come to Transy with credit for previous service). I was in grad school by then, but was still in touch with plenty of folks still there who weren’t pleased. My understanding is that he eventually landed on his feet at a school in the Northeast.

I guess I was also on the production staff that spring for The Transylvanian, “the oldest university literary journal west of the Allegheny Mountains.” I don’t have any recollection of doing the slightest bit of work for it; I have a feeling it might be connected to having taken creative writing the previous fall. But hey, my name is there on page one for anyone who still has a copy to see.

The contents are mostly student work: poems, very short stories, sketches, etc. There are a few pieces by faculty as well. One poem was by George Ella Lyon; an adjunct at Transy at the time, she’s had several books and collections of poetry published in the decades since, and served as Poet Laureate of Kentucky five years ago. “How It Is” in part expresses the frustrations of teaching students who don’t have the same appreciation for the subject matter as the instructor. I can relate.

I also hope that Editor isn’t right in that second stanza.

I spent the last day of April 2016 at my 30th college reunion. It was an all-day affair, including a couple of afternoon receptions, a group photo (though only fifteen members of my class were there for it), and a class dinner at a downtown Italian restaurant. The weather didn’t cooperate much; it rained much of the day. Nonetheless, I had a grand time, re-establishing connections with some folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

The most enjoyable part of the day was getting to be with a smaller group in the morning and early afternoon. We began with a breakfast that was in part a gathering of alums from across the years who’d been recipients of a generous scholarship offered by the school. I had been in the first cohort, a group of ten. The program quickly turned into a public relations windfall for the college, expanding in subsequent years and becoming a significant factor in the growth of Transy’s enrollment throughout the latter half of the 80s. Back in the fall of 1982, though, the scholarship program was a novelty; no one quite knew what to make of it. Several of us became good friends from the start, though over time our social circles and interests diverged in various ways. By the time we graduated, fortunately it felt like we stood out less than we had at the beginning.

Five folks from that first group, now in our early fifties, were among those who sat together at the breakfast. Conversation was plenty lively. Some of it was catching up, and some of it proceeded as if the intervening years had never happened. Afterward, we wandered around campus some, celebrating our youths and reliving old glories, eventually winding up at a deli a few blocks away for lunch with James, my roomie.

Before I left the house that morning for those reunion festivities, I heard most of the opening hour of that weekend’s 80s AT40 rebroadcast; I doubt you’re surprised to learn it was 5/4/85, which got played again a week ago. Even though a show from 1983 would have been more appropriate given who I was going to be seeing, 1985 turned out to be a very good choice for setting the mood for the day. For a while, I could see the older man looking at the younger man he’d been, the college junior who apparently was involved in putting together a journal, and who was thinking about how to think about the environment. 

Thirty-five years on, it’s clear that enough, or maybe the right, people weren’t/couldn’t be convinced of the deficiencies in our approach to the environment. Eventually a price will be exacted. Some days I conclude that’s just how it is.

(Rick Springfield’s star was beginning to wane by this time. I’ve always liked this song, but it stalled out at #26 a couple weeks later. It was #32 on this show.)

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/5/73: First Choice, “Armed and Extremely Dangerous”

In last week’s Albert Hammond post I gave a quick shout-out to “The Free Electric Band,” a song I knew only because of its appearance on Fantastic, a K-Tel compilation that my father must have brought home toward the end of 1973. (If I had to guess, my sister and I might have requested it after seeing ads on TV; “Little Willy” would have been a big attraction.) As fate would have it, this weekend’s show features nine of that LP’s twenty-two tracks, including the songs at #1, #3, #5, and #8. But I don’t want to talk about Tony Orlando, Donny Osmond, or that mess that Vicki Lawrence sings (even if I do kind of like it). Instead, here’s a toast to a few of Fantastic‘s less well-known 1973 offerings.

Rod Stewart was in the midst of his mid-70s mini-drought between “You Wear It Well” and “Tonight’s the Night.” This Sam Cooke cover hit #59 in September.

I was really surprised to learn that Cliff Richard didn’t even chart with “Power to All Our Friends.” It was one of the cuts on Fantastic that really stood out after Amy and I took possession of the album and slapped it on the family hi-fi.

I’d be remiss not to include Hammond’s cut. It’s #89 on this chart and would reach #48 in a few weeks. Playing it a couple of times this past week has me realizing it’s quite the quality tune.

One of the greatest songs evah to peak at #40 was the top discovery I made from Fantastic. Worthy of its own post someday, but I can’t talk about this album without inserting Gunhill Road’s “Back When My Hair Was Short.”

Four of those nine Fantastic songs on the 5/5/73 show were played in the first quarter of the show; two debuts (from Barry White and Lobo), and two R&B one-hit wonders in their second week, both of which I’m thinking had received play in that ad: “I’m Doin’ Fine Now,” by New York City, and “Armed and Extremely Dangerous,” from First Choice. The latter song, courtesy of three women based in Philly, is at #34 here and would climb just seven spots higher. Casey compares them to the Honey Cone, and I’ll allow that “Armed and Extremely Dangerous” bears a resemblance, at least subject matter-wise, to “Stick Up.” It’s a tasty piece that should have fared better.

Our friend HERC has written up a number of K-Tel releases from the 70s and 80s; you can find his tribute to Fantastic here.