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.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/27/74: Albert Hammond, “I’m a Train”

My mother returned home in the second half of February 2014 after the better part of three weeks at the hospital and a rehab facility following surgery. Her lung cancer was causing her oxygen saturation levels to decline, so she was now, and would remain, on oxygen. A home health company brought a concentrator and enough tubing for her to wander all around the main floor of her townhouse. She learned to master portable tanks as well–at first those large ones you pull behind on wheels, later the much more compact type you could sling over your shoulder as you would a purse–for trips out, almost always to see her doctors.

The recognition that her days were decidedly finite led Mom to focus more on what would happen after she was gone. One early spring morning, I met a representative from the cemetery in Florence where her parents and older sister were buried. He and I trudged through the light snow that had fallen overnight, surveying available lots; when I reported back to Mom there was nothing especially close to her family, she said, “Well, I’ll just be buried next to Richard, then.” (I would describe my parents’ relationship through much of my life as more symbiotic than loving.)

Several weeks later, an appraiser recommended by Mom’s next-door neighbor dropped by one Saturday morning to have a look at the antiques Mom and Dad had inherited from their families. There were several items to examine in the basement, so I unplugged and toted the concentrator downstairs so that she could join in the conversation. It was one of only two or three times Mom would venture down there that year.

I was not quite two years in to my re-formed obsession with listening to AT40 at this point. Since I spent most weekends in 2014 with Mom, there are a number of the 70s shows I heard that year which immediately transport me back to her place; this week’s rebroadcast is one of them.

If memory serves, the appraisal took place six years ago this weekend, the previous occasion 4/27/74 was rebroadcast by Premiere. It was one of the times I stayed overnight on Saturday; I called Martha and Ben that evening in time for him (a seventh-grader then) to hear “The Streak” debut at #19.

The first hour of that show likely introduced me to a few songs: “Mighty Mighty,” “Thanks for Saving My Life,” and the feature, Albert Hammond’s second and final Top 40 hit, the chirpy, cheery “I’m a Train,” at its peak of #31. (I’ve long been aware, though, of another of his singles, “The Free Electric Band,” from its appearance on the 1973 K-Tel compilation Fantastic.) Everyone my age knows “It Never Rains in Southern California,” but Hammond made more of a mark as a songwriter, co-penning “Gimme Dat Ding,” “When I Need You,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” The younger folks probably care more about his son, AH Jr., guitarist for the Strokes.

Spring and autumn are usually my favorite seasons, and it’s the shows I heard during those periods of 2014 that have stuck with me most. Even though Mom was weighed down by adjusting to her new normal and wasn’t as well as she seemed, the spring shows still give me a sense of rebirth and optimism I associate with that time of year. The shows I heard in September and October, on the other hand, offer little but melancholy, thinking about a woman trapped at home, looking out her living room window and watching the leaves turn and fall for the final time.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/26/77: Andrea True Connection, “N.Y., You Got Me Dancing”

So, life has been rather different these last couple of weeks as I, along with so many other college educators, have been forced to completely revamp the structure and delivery of our courses. I don’t mean to whine, but at times it’s been overwhelming and plenty stressful (and I know that holds for many of my students). I suspect this will remain the case for the duration of the semester. Efficiency has plummeted, and I still spend much too high a percentage of the day checking on the latest developments in the spread of and fight against COVID-19. My friend Warren, who teaches English at a small college in South Carolina, and I compared our respective situations messaging on FB over the weekend. He’s feeling relatively Zen about matters, seemingly recognizing what he can and can’t control. I am nowhere near there yet; while I’m not exactly waking with anxiety in the middle of the night, worries aren’t held at bay easily or often, either (it probably doesn’t help that I have a bit of a hypochondriacal streak). I’m sufficiently introverted that staying cooped up at home for days at a time hasn’t bothered me much. Yet.

My guess is that dealing with classes will make it harder to break away to write, at least for the next little bit. I’m hoping it will do me good to indulge occasionally, even if I’m not sure I can completely afford it.

Last weekend’s 1977 and 1984 AT40 rebroadcasts were both thorough delights; I even listened to the former twice, on two different upstate NY stations. The national commercials, particularly those for Purple Mattress, felt largely disconnected from current reality (ads for online degrees from Arizona State University were an exception of sorts). The local spots and news break-ins, though, reflected well what’s going on in the Empire State, including one from, coincidentally enough, a regional mattress firm. They were pitching a variety of deal sweeteners to entice folks to scurry in and make a purchase before the close of business on Sunday (after which stores would be shuttered for an indefinite period). Crafty–and nimble–salesmanship, I thought. I wonder if it convinced anyone to drop by.

Leading off the 1977 show was the second and final Top 40 appearance for porn actress-turned-singer Andrea True (Casey called her a solo female act on this show, ignoring her Connection). Like the recently-blogged “Dreamin’ Is Easy,” this was a 45 I picked up in the late 80s. It doesn’t groove me nearly the way that “More, More, More” did a year earlier, but that’s okay.

(Rambling stream-of-consciousness aside: “More, More, More” was one of the first three singles I ever bought, in June of 1976. Got it at Sears not long after they moved to Florence, one of four anchor stores for a mall that opened a few months later. There’s a water tower adjacent to the mall that was originally painted with the words “FLORENCE MALL.” It was soon determined that advertising a commercial enterprise in a such a manner was legally dubious, at best; my uncle, C. M. “Hop” Ewing, mayor of Florence at the time, devised a brilliant branding solution: transform the M to a Y’.

There’s a major interstate that runs right past the tower and mall. This is still a significant local landmark after almost 45 years. And by the way, his daughter, my cousin Diane, is now mayor of Florence.)

“N.Y., You Got Me Dancing” reached #27 a month after debuting. Not trying to be glib, but I’m so sorry it’s going to be a good while before N.Y. gets dancing again.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/12/83: Steel Breeze, “Dreamin’ Is Easy”

When I refer to my “charting years,” I’m talking about the 6/5/76 through 10/2/82 AT40 shows, the period during which I produced (with a few weeks’ exception in Sept/Oct of 1976 and Nov/Dec of 1977) a (relatively) carefully written piece of paper with each week’s countdown. It actually took a few more months after October of 1982 before I truly gave up listening and writing down the songs, though.

In my stack of unfiled 70s/80s pop music-related materials are several sheets of notebook paper with the skinny. They start with the 9/25 countdown–apparently I took the time to transfer two weeks’ worth of notes to make my final ‘official’ charts. Here are three of them:

The one on the left has the 10/30 list, with information about 11/6 and 11/13 alongside (I wonder now what I was taping–and I see there are some chemistry calculations, too). The middle one has all of December, including info about 12/25, which was preempted by the first half of the year-ender (I presume I went to Recordland at the Florence Mall for that–old habits died slowly). The right sheet is a tiny bit interesting in that it’s for 1/15/83, with info about the previous week encoded.

I’d forgotten that I’d kept this up for so long–I have complete records up through 1/22. After missing part of 1/29 and the next two weeks completely, there’s one final entry:

It’s 2/19/83, with the numbers from 2/26 too. My recollection is that the show was being broadcast on Sunday mornings at this point. You can see that’s someone else’s handwriting on #29-#25. A couple of days ago, I showed this picture to James, my roommate–he confirmed my suspicions that I’d enlisted his aid, perhaps while I went down the hall to take a shower. He told me he has vague memories of being asked to help and feeling slightly fearful of making an error. You did just fine, man!

The song at #39 on the above sheet, “Dreamin’ Is Easy,” by Sacramento’s very own Steel Breeze, was one I liked fairly well at the time. It was in the middle of a three-week run at its peak of #30 by the 3/12 show rolled around. Several years later, I remembered it enough to want to snag a used copy of the 45 as part of a decently large haul. I’ll easily take it over “You Don’t Want Me Anymore” these days.

One other note about this show: it was Neil Diamond’s last week ever in the Top 40.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/16/74: Stealers Wheel, “Star”

I guess it’s been more than a month now since I’ve done one of these…thinking that for the next little bit this series will mostly be brief posts about songs that didn’t reach the Top 20.

I’m certain I heard the #6 hit from Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You,” back in the 70s; it was a hit here in the U.S. the spring I was 9, but Gerry Rafferty’s massive “Baker Street” almost certainly ensured it got some recurrent play at the end of the decade. It’s only over the past few years I’ve discovered that Rafferty and fellow Wheel Joe Egan were two-, not one-, hit wonders. “Star” had only a don’t-blink-you’ll-miss-it three-week 33-31-29 run on AT40 (this show is the middle of those). It’s a fantastic pop delight, though, well worth seeking out today. Yes, it’s another song that muses on the potential perils of musical success–I presume it’s at least semi-autobiographical–yet it was also prescient regarding the upcoming fate of Stealers Wheel: “After all you’ve been through tell me what will you do/When you find yourself back on the shelf.”

I’d be interested in reading a biography of Rafferty, who clearly had battles with various devils over the years. Rafferty left Stealers Wheel for several months in between their first two albums. He and Egan had an acrimonious break-up not long after Ferguslie Park, the album containing “Star,” was released. That ultimately led to delays in the resumption of what became Rafferty’s shooting-star-like solo career.