American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/24/79: Cheap Trick, “Dream Police”

On the first weekend of January 2007, Premiere Networks began offering remastered AT40s from the 1970s to terrestrial radio stations (it was 1/31/76, for the record). This past weekend, 11/24/79–the last regular Casey-voiced countdown from that 9.5 year span–was finally re-played. It had been the only remaining such show for two years, ever since 12/1/79 had been rebroadcast toward the end of 2020. Obsessive AT40-philes (raises hand, I suppose) can perhaps breathe a little easier now that they’re all out there.

(It’s not a surprise that the last shows to see the light of day were from 1979. Premiere initially was unsure what to do with 70s countdowns between 10/7/78 and 12/22/79, after AT40 had become a four-hour affair. They didn’t offer any up from that block until November 2010, and even then it was only the last three hours. The first hour began being provided as optional about 18 months later, and to do this day only a few stations will play it–I can imagine the pain it could be for stations to deal with the variable length. Many thanks go to Matt, who has compiled and curated the history of the series’ offerings in a thread on the AT40 Fun & Games site.)

As for the special shows consisting of all or mostly pre-70s songs, my guess is those aren’t likely ever to be wheeled out. The same is largely true for guest-hosted shows, though a couple have been offered as bonuses in recent years following the passing of said guest host (Dick Clark, Mark Elliott). I’ve been tuning in now (again) for more than a decade; while I haven’t heard them all yet, I’m among the many who are grateful for all those who’ve labored over this project, particularly Shannon Lynn. I joke with my wife that should I ever get dementia she’ll have to endure my blathering on about the Top 40 and the songs of my youth–I suspect that all these weekends since 2012 I’ve been spending in Casey’s company have only increased that likelihood?

I’m one of the few people I know who isn’t a big fan of Cheap Trick’s breakthrough single, the at Budokan version of “I Want You to Want Me.” (I mean, it’s not bad–it just never captivated me.) The lead single/title song from the studio album that followed, though? That’s absolutely the stuff, my fave song of theirs to this day. I didn’t know “Surrender” at the time, so I wasn’t aware of how “Dream Police” echoes it to a decent extent. But the energy, the strings, the three 3/4 measures inserted in the driving instrumental toward the end–I can’t get enough of it. They really should have had more hits.

Casey introduced “Dream Police” on the 11/24/79 show (its last week on, at its peak of #26) by connecting it to Orwell’s 1984 (though he didn’t use the term “thought police”).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/20/82: Billy Joel, “Pressure”

My small high school didn’t offer a calculus course when I was a senior—I took a class called Advanced Math instead. Among other things, we learned trigonometry (a good thing) and how to interpolate values of logarithms from a table (not remotely useful now—ah, those pre-calculator days). Still, I wasn’t hesitant about signing up for first-semester calculus as I began my trek at Transy; math had long been my thing, and was one of my intended majors, besides.

There were two sections of Calculus I on offer for Fall Term 1982, taught by different professors. Over the summer I wrote a letter to Susan, my soon-to-be Student Orientation Leader, seeking advice on which one to take. “I had Dr. Shannon for calculus and recommend him. He challenged me.” (I’m paraphrasing, since—shocker, I know—I don’t appear to have that letter anymore.) That was all I needed to hear: David Shannon, at 1:30 MWF, immediately prior to my chemistry class, it would be.

Classes began the Wednesday after Labor Day. I had Thursdays completely free of classes or labs that fall, and I remember spending hours in my room that first Thursday, thinking about polynomial inequalities, including some involving absolute value. It was my first inkling that there was much more going on in math—and this was “only” pre-calculus material—than I’d previously considered. We quickly moved on to limits and an introduction to the derivative of a function, along with some of its interpretations.

According to the calendar I kept that fall, the first test was on the last Wednesday of September, just three weeks after we’d started. I felt good about much of the exam but found myself stumped on two questions, the second of which has stayed with me throughout the years.

Looking at that test forty years later, I see it’s plenty lengthy for a fifty-minute period. My suspicion now is that I took too long with the first problem that gave me fits to spend much time at all on this one. The scribbling you see came after the exam had been returned to me with “0/5” written halfway down the page—it’s much fainter, more informal, than everything else I’d supplied in real time. But you can see to the right of Dr. Shannon’s sketch the essential part of the question’s solution: you set the slope of the line joining (4,8) to an arbitrary point on the curve equal to the slope of the tangent line at that arbitrary point as given by the derivative. It becomes a second-degree equation that you must solve via the quadratic formula.

Over the next week or so, Dr. Shannon reinforced the notion that the value of the derivative at a point measures the slope of the tangent line; it dawned on me that he had been prodding us, trying to make us think a little about how the ideas we’d been discussing could lead us to new places. I wasn’t unhappy about the missed points—I was fascinated (after all, he’d written, “very good paper!” at the top of the test next to my score).

This wasn’t the moment that I decided to throw my lot in with mathematics instead of computer science. But it almost certainly was a factor in David Shannon becoming a role model and trusted mentor, in taking as many classes from him as possible. We remain in touch to this day, meeting for lunch once this past summer.

One of my favorite things about that exam question is that “she” appears four times in it; I am confident I noticed it during those final minutes before I submitted the paper. I know now that Dr. Shannon is a voracious reader and keeps well informed of world events, so I believe it likely there was literally a cosmic rationale for that choice. The conceit probably arose from one (or both) of two things: the turn Svetlana Savitskaya had taken aboard the Soviet space station Salyut 7 just one month earlier, or the announcement from the previous spring that Sally Ride would be the first U.S. woman to go into space, aboard Challenger the following year.

(No, I don’t have “We Didn’t Start the Fire” going through my head right now—why do you ask?)

Speaking of Billy Joel, The Nylon Curtain is one of the albums I most closely associate with that first fall of college, having been released toward the end of September. I didn’t purchase it, but I’m thinking my then-roommate did and played (at least) the first side some when I was around—it feels like I’ve known “Laura” and “Goodnight Saigon” forever. “Scandinavian Skies” received play on the local AOR station. Lunch conversations often featured semi-passionate discussions about new music, and first single “Pressure” (at its peak of #20) wasn’t a complete hit with my crowd, maybe because it seemed such a departure from the pop bliss of Glass Houses? I probably dig it myself more today than I did at the time.

While I don’t recall feeling any particular pressure getting ready for those calculus exams, I did quickly realize the need to be prepared for hard and interesting questions from Dr. Shannon. I finally nailed one three semesters later, in differential equations.

One last note: the Challenger disaster occurred in January of my senior year at Transy. Outside of the horror of watching the replay of the explosion, my primary memory of the day is sitting in Dr. Shannon’s office that afternoon, numbly talking with him about it. Two women astronauts, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe, had been aboard.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/15/78: Pablo Cruise, “Love Will Find a Way”

When Casey wrapped up recording the 6/24/78 AT40, he was nearing his eighth anniversary as its host. The following week, he presented a special show, “The Top 40 Acts of the 1970s (So Far),” while the 7/8 installment was guest-hosted by Mark Elliott (the cue sheet says that Kasem was off “filming a theatrical feature”). As Casey got back in the seat for a regular show for the first time in three weeks, he remarked rather matter-of-factly at the top that almost half of the songs he’d spun at the end of June were nowhere to be found: eight debuts on each of 7/1 and 7/8, with three more coming aboard on 7/15. By this time I’d been a faithful listener for more than two years, and it was my first experience with so many debut songs in one week, and to have it occur two weeks in a row…my guess is that I was somewhat amazed by it. Makes me curious: how much was hosting the show just a job for Casey at this point, and how much of a sense of wonder remained for unusual occurrences such as this?

Here are some of the deets of this fast-and-furious action.

–This wasn’t the first time in the 70s for consecutive charts with eight new songs; it’d also happened the first two weeks of October 1974.

-Six newcomers also on 6/24 and 7/22 made July 1978 the second and final period in the 70s to average more than six debuts over four-week stretches, the other (naturally) being in that fall of ’74.

–Casey didn’t play nineteen new songs, however. Tuxedo Junction’s disco cover of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” spent 7/1 and 7/8 at #32 and was one of this week’s three songs to depart. (That suggests two possible research projects to me: 1) Is #32 the highest peak for a song that spent only two weeks in the forty during Kasem’s 1970-1988 run as AT40 host? 2) How many other Top 40 songs from that era were never played by Casey due to special shows, guest hosting, etc? Maybe I’ll/we’ll learn about these things someday…)

–Both “I Was Only Joking” and “Follow You, Follow Me” had climbed a healthy six positions on 6/24/78, but both stalled the following week and then fell off the show. This sort of thing makes me think that it was a soft period for sales, with songs like these two getting sucked up in a vacuum caused by spring hits finally losing popularity.

–Barry Manilow was in the Top 20 and climbing on both 6/24 and 7/15, but with different songs. “Even Now” went 28-22-19 the last three weeks of June, but had its legs cut out from under it by the release of “Copacabana.” The former spent 7/1 again at #19, then was replaced by the latter at #22 on 7/8. Don’t blame me–I had bought the “Even Now” 45 at the time. (Okay, I also bought “Copacabana.”)

–Casey missed out on the last week Seals & Crofts ever spent on the show; their “You’re the Love” dropped from #18 on 6/24 to #40 on 7/8.

–Despite all the turmoil in the nether regions, seven of the Top 10 from 6/24 were still there on 7/15. It would turn out that only five of the nineteen debuting over those three weeks would reach the Top 10 and just two would go Top 5 (the #1 “Three Times a Lady” and #3 “Hot Blooded”).

–Neither “Shadow Dancing” nor “Baker Street” had budged from #1 and #2, respectively. There’s a story circulating out there, though (what I’ve read comes from an AT40 insider), about shenanigans at Billboard that prevented Gerry Rafferty from overtaking Andy Gibb one week in July. Perhaps it was 7/15? Before he plays “Baker Street,” Casey tells us that Scotland has produced more #1 artists per capita than any foreign country–sounds like something they might have saved for the (hoped-for) occasion when Rafferty joined the ranks.

The new song that had advanced the farthest by the time Kasem returned from his break was sitting at #14, closing out the second hour. I think of Frisco-based Pablo Cruise as faceless, but maybe that’s because they lost their place in the sun right around the time the video age dawned. “Love Will Find a Way” would be their second song to reach #6 (truth be told, I’m much more of a “Whatcha Gonna Do?” guy).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 7/12/80: Ali Thomson, “Take a Little Rhythm”

Evidence I listened to this show 42 years ago.

How about a helping or two of trivia related to songs and acts on the 80s countdown that both Premiere and SiriusXM are featuring this weekend?

–There are five covers of songs that first hit the Top 40 in the 60s. Mickey Gilley is taking on “Stand By Me,” the Blues Brothers are updating “Gimme Some Lovin’,” Kim Carnes gives us “More Love,” Carole King re-does her own composition, “One Fine Day,” and the Spinners include “Cupid” in a medley. Only Carnes and the Spinners made the Top 10, both also peaking higher than the Miracles and Cooke originals, respectively.

(A couple of side notes here: 1) Spyder Turner’s version of “Stand By Me,” which hit #12 in early 1967, is more than interesting, due to his imitations of various R&B singers; 2) there were two songs in 2007 with ‘Cupid’ in the title that charted, but I know the #66-peaking “Cupid Shufflemuch better than the #4 hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.” While my son was in HS, the former would play over the PA at home football games during halftime, usually immediately after the band had performed, and many band members–surprisingly, my son was one of them–would sprint to the sidelines to line dance when it came on.)

–Meanwhile, as best as I can tell, only “Funky Town” would chart as a remake, although there were different songs that hit later in the 80s with the titles “Call Me,” “All Night Long” (be a stickler if you want over Lionel Richie’s parenthetical), “I’m Alive,” and “Magic.”

–Movie songs were all the rage. I count eight, from American Gigolo, Urban Cowboy (three), The Blues Brothers, Xanadu (two), and The Rose. Additionally, Meco was doing his thing with music from The Empire Strikes Back. And soundtrack fever wasn’t soon to abate: not only were more hits from the mechanical bronc-busting and roller disco films soon to chart, but tunes from Fame, Caddyshack, and Roadie were also on the way.

–“Call Me” had already outlasted Blondie’s next single–“Atomic,” from Eat to the Beat, fell off after topping out at #39 the previous week.

–Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes appear on the countdown both individually and in a duet with each other. I have no clue how common that sort of feat was back then, but I will point out it happened again just a few weeks later with Olivia Newton-John and ELO.

–The first six songs are also those that debut this week; none would reach the Top 10. This was one of two times in the 80s (at least through 8/6/88, Casey’s last show at the helm of AT40) when six or more songs came on the show without any getting higher than #11 (the other set being the seven that debuted on 9/11/82). I know of three times in the latter half of the 70s–6/26/76, 5/27/78, and 6/24/78–when this also occurred.

The highest of the new songs, at #35, is Ali Thomson’s only Top 40 hit, “Take a Little Rhythm.” I’m sure at some point during the song’s run Casey noted that Ali is the younger brother of Supertramp bassist Dougie Thomson, though he didn’t on this show (Mark Goodman did mention it). “Take a Little Rhythm” would climb to #15, the same position that his brother’s band would take their live version of “Dreamer” in the fall. On my own Top 50 chart, Ali spent the last two weeks of August at #5.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/29/76: Starbuck, “Moonlight Feels Right”

When I was growing up, there was a pattern to meals at home over the course of a week. My mother was a traditional stay-at-home mom, having retired from her elementary teaching career when she learned I was on the way (what I’ve read in recent years makes me realize that the school system may not have given her a choice about leaving or staying), and she took full responsibility for planning and preparing what went on the table. By and large, dinners on weekday evenings were basic meat/potato/vegetable/canned-fruit-or-jello fare, with very little ethnic content. Of course, a number of recipes were in regular rotation. Despite its extreme sodium content, I do miss chipped beef and white gravy (with sliced hard-boiled eggs mixed in) over toast; on the other hand, I never need to have liver and onions again.

It was a little different on the weekends. Saturday mornings were in some ways the high point of the week, since that’s when Mom would whip up pancakes or French toast in the electric skillet (with waffles on occasion–we had an iron in the early days if I’m recalling correctly). During my father’s days as a minister, we’d have a big meal on Sunday for lunch–fried chicken, or a roast that Mom slid in the oven before we left for church. (In later years, when we were attending my grandparents’ church in Erlanger, Sunday lunch became brunch at the Drawbridge Inn, or buffet at the Oriental Wok, or steak tips at York Steak House, or…) Maybe because we were usually stuffed from lunch, maybe because Mom decided she deserved a night off–I never really thought about asking why–as far back as I can remember, Sunday dinner was spartan–invariably for me a bowl of cold cereal and milk, often fixed on one’s own schedule. I didn’t mind in the least, perhaps in part due to my mother not being super-strict about the sugar content of what we could keep on hand. The lack of Sunday evening meal structure may have facilitated my AT40 obsession in the spring of 1976. Since Casey started on WSAI at 6pm, I didn’t have to turn him off in favor of quality family time around the table.

I’m guessing that by that Memorial Day weekend I had wrapped up sixth grade. That meant a sizable transition was looming. Come fall I would no longer have to ride the school bus five times a week to and from the elementary school i Verona six miles away–instead I’d disembark with the “big kids” in Walton, at the combined junior high/high school.

I’ve noted before that one thing I can recall from many of the first shows I heard was the name and position of that week’s highest debuting tune; the 5/29 show was not an exception. Coming on board at #34 was a new group out of Georgia with a song I’m certain that WSAI was already playing (Casey says on the intro there are seventeen acts with their first Top 40 hit this week, more than they’ve had in a while). Starbuck reached #3 by summer’s end with “Moonlight Feels Right,” and while one more minor Top 40 came just about one year later, the well soon dried up. Not even a name change in the early 80s, to Korona, could improve their fortunes.

On that holiday weekend forty-six years ago, I was just one week away from beginning what became a six-and-one-third years chart-keeping odyssey. I can’t recall now when exactly the plan formed, but maybe I hatched it over a bowl of Alpha-Bits (or was it Cocoa Pebbles?) while a groovy xylophone marimba solo came over the airwaves.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/21/83: Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me With Science”

Notes and scenes from the end of the first year of college:

1) My May Term class was a lit topics course, Studies in Short Fiction. The professor was Dr. Holmes, the same fellow I’d had back in the fall for my composition course. He’d come to Transy in the early 60s, having been Ivy-trained at Cornell and Columbia. Maybe he had a bit of the patrician in his demeanor but on the whole was eager to engage with students. His comments on papers were generous though occasionally hard to decipher. (He seemed plenty old to me at the time, but I’m able to determine I’m now the age he was then. Yikes.) We read stories in an anthology and also imbibed from Joyce’s Dubliners and a Chekhov collection. As much as I enjoyed writing, looking back at my work I can tell I definitely needed the feedback. I’m glad I took the class–I still have a deep appreciation and affection for the short story format.

2) Having just one class for two hours a day gave one plenty of free time (they didn’t call it “Play Term” for nothing). I’d been maintaining some sort of distance running program, as I participated in a rain-soaked 10K race in mid-May, my second and final effort at that distance. Top 40 radio ruled in James’s and my dorm room, I suspect largely at my behest. (I’ve been trying to bring to mind what James was taking that May–thinking it was a history course, since he was a minor. Would that I could consult him.) For two weeks in May, I taped a ranking of my favorite songs to the door of our room (the outside, of course, so others could bear witness to my excellent taste). The second was that for 5/21, our last weekend before finals.

That spring of 1983 remains one of my favorite periods for pop music, and I’m still very much okay with all ten of these tunes.

3) Voting in the Kentucky primary would occur on 5/24, the same day as my final exam. 1983 was a gubernatorial election year (only KY, LA, and MS choose governors the year before a presidential election). Back in the day the Democratic nominee was highly likely to prevail in November, and that year featured a fierce, three-way competition among Martha Layne Collins (then Lt. Governor), Harvey Sloane (mayor of Louisville) and Grady Stumbo (a physician from the eastern part of the commonwealth). All three would score more than 30% of the primary vote, with Collins eking out a victory over Sloane by a little more than 4500 votes. (She would win in November over Republican nominee and future Baseball Hall of Famer/U.S. Senator Jim Bunning by a little more than 10 percentage points.)

The ads on television must have been incessant that spring, since I’d been inspired also to put this on our door, maybe right below my top 10 list:

About that write-in line…my college and grad school friends can attest that my father wasn’t shy in the least about disclosing his political loyalties to anyone and everyone. The young woman I was dating at the time apparently felt obliged to offer him up as an option.

4) The last entry in the diary I’d started the previous August came on 5/20; this was the first time I’d written in it in four months. It acknowledges the upcoming time apart between my girlfriend and me, notes that my sister’s HS graduation would also be on 5/24, and discusses my high school friend Frank’s relatively-new-yet-very-serious dating relationship (I’ve been asked to be best man at the as-of-then unscheduled wedding). While I wrap up with “maybe I’ll be becoming more acquainted with this book in the near future,” I’d never put pen to it again.

My favorite at the time was #5 in America, in the second of a four-week run at that position. Despite its nod toward novelty, “She Blinded Me with Science” seemed to be a pretty big hit all around me–I’ve noted before how a hall-mate was fond of blasting it at high volume after classes were over for the day. While I wouldn’t see the video for months (I lived in an MTV desert), the 45 quickly found a spot in my collection.

While it wasn’t perfect, on a personal level that spring turned out to be the high point of the year. The next several months would be quite bumpy, and it was entirely of my own doing.

Thirty-four years later, on an unseasonably cool and rainy day toward the end of April 2017, I met up with college friend Pat in Lexington to participate in the local March for Science. James was there as well, with his wife Amy and their two children; most of us carried homemade signs (mine read “Science Makes Our Children’s Future Brighter”). I’d guess that several hundred people gathered next to the county courthouse that afternoon to first walk southeast on Short St. and then northwest on Main St. Afterward, we gathered in a nearby covered space where we could learn about local organizations whose goals likely aligned with those of attendees and grab a warm drink. They had music playing in the background, and it was perhaps no real surprise when at one point Thomas Dolby came over the speakers.

I fear that in the years since we’ve learned that too many folks are blinded to, not with, the stuff.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/19/86: Sade, “Never as Good as the First Time”

Just like last August, the powers-that-be at Premiere have scheduled shows from 1986 and 1982 for rebroadcast on consecutive weekends. Then, preparations to decamp for grad school and college were on my mind; now, I’m thinking back on those final weeks of college and high school. This past weekend I rummaged through my brain and a bin of college memorabilia to pull out artifacts from my senior spring, a couple of which are tangible. Here are three short tales.

I. Transy observes a 4-4-1 calendar, with the spring term ending right around this time of year. One of the classes I took my final spring was a general education course called something akin to Music Theory for the Liberal Arts Student, to fulfill a distribution requirement. My recollection is that it was interesting enough, though given past experiences with piano lessons and band, perhaps I would have enjoyed a similar course designed for majors more? Anyway, the professor was in her first year on campus, her specialty in composition.

Fast forward almost six years. I’m at the interview in NW Indiana I mentioned in last week’s post, talking with one of the members of the search committee. He pulls out a picture with three people in it, asking if I recognize them. I do know two–they’re faculty in English and art at my undergraduate institution. The third turns out to be that music theory instructor, to whom my interviewer is now married–he tells me that when he mentioned that Transylvania was on an applicant’s resume, she was able to verify I’d once been her student (gradebooks are forever). I suspect he’s been waiting for this moment for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve kind of blown it. (In retrospect, I half-wonder if the connection didn’t play at least a minor role in securing an on-campus interview. My faux pas had nothing to do with failing to merit an offer, though.)

II. At the end of my junior year I was elected president of our campus’s leadership honorary, Omicron Delta Kappa. In March 1986, I flew down to Baton Rouge to represent Transy at ODK’s national conference. Two items of mild note from the trip: 1) one piece of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was being held at LSU at the same time as the conference, and one morning I shared a hotel elevator with then-Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins; 2) I also got to briefly meet Frank Rose, a bigwig in the ODK leadership structure. Rose had assumed the presidency of Transy in the early 50s, about halfway through my father’s time there, despite being only about a decade older than Dad. He left Transy after several years to become president at the University of Alabama. Desegregation occurred during his tenure in Tuscaloosa; he also hired Paul “Bear” Bryant away from the University of Kentucky’s football team. Dad knew Dr. Rose, of course, and regarded him with esteem, so he was glad I was able to introduce myself.

Transy’s circle (that’s what ODK calls their chapters) was the Lampas Circle, Lampas being the name of TU’s leadership honorary prior to pursuing national affiliation. Early in the school year, we’d been approached by the national office about inviting Lampas members from the past to become formal ODK members. I somewhat naively went along with this effort, and in March we sent out letters to appropriate alums to join us for an induction service on the first Sunday in May. Perhaps not too surprisingly, only a few folks (one of whom was my father) accepted–I assume most just ignored it. One invitee, an alum from the late 60s, did take the time to respond in memorable fashion, cc-ing the college President along the way.

Looking back, she was hardly wrong to see the invitation as a money grab. And I’d obviously been sloppy in not clearly identifying myself in the letter. While I think in part I simply had the misfortune of being a convenient target for venting, I actively chose to hold on to this letter as a reminder to stay humble and not get too wrapped up in self-importance.

III. The “1” in the 4-4-1 calendar is a four-week period known as May Term. Students take just one class, frequently a non-standard offering. My last May Term class was a topics course in Archaeology. Ostensibly taught by the college’s anthropology prof, it was in reality directed by an archaeology Ph.D. candidate from UK; I imagine we were helping him with his doctoral research. We first learned a little about field techniques, and then got to put them into practice on a real dig. Our site was farmland south and east of Lexington, just outside the small burg of Athens (for the non-locals, it’s pronounced AY-thens; if you think that’s funny, wait until you hear how we say the name of the town due west of Lexington known as Versailles). Evidence of past Native American settlement had been found in some of the farm’s fields, and our task was to discover what we could over a two-plus week period. We started by laying out plots via elementary surveying and then tucking in, taking off a layer at a time, moving on once we’d found what we could. One of the course requirements was to keep a journal of daily activity–while we had to hand them over at the end of the term, you know that I made photocopies before I did so. Here are two of the entries.

Chris T. was the UK grad student; Chris B., then a sophomore, later got his Ph.D. in anthropology and now teaches at our alma mater. That plot turned out to be plenty fruitful the next day.
The weather didn’t always cooperate, but we did find some pretty interesting stuff–a later entry notes some bone awls we’d dug up. MFA = Mitchell Fine Arts, a Transy classroom building.

The final journal entry was from 5/19, just six days before my graduation ceremony. I don’t know how it all turned out, whether there was subsequent work on the site, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, though.

Good times, they come and they go. I had a wonderful college experience, but by April 1986 it was just about time to move on to the next stage. Staying at Transy probably wouldn’t have been the same, been as fun.

Sade is singing about romance in “Never as Good as the First Time” (debuting at #37 on 4/19/86, heading toward a peak of #20), not four years in college, but work with me here–there are plenty of things in this world that simply aren’t as enjoyable if extended beyond their shelf life. Savor the moments, treasure them, recall them fondly, but maybe think twice before you attempt to re-create them.

What’s In A Name: Emmylou Harris, “Mister Sandman”

At long last, the third installment of what’s turning into a very occasional series about the nine solo artists named Harris who hit the Billboard pop charts over the first thirty years of the rock era. (At this rate, I’ll finish about the time I turn 70, which suggests I should speed things up a bit.) As I’ve noted previously, the odd thing is that none of them hit the Top 40 more than once. This time around, it’s the most highly regarded (not to mention successful) musician of the nine, country legend Emmylou Harris. The source of inspiration? “Mister Sandman” is at #39 on this weekend’s 4/11/81 Premiere offering, embarking on a three-week ride that peaked at #37.

My write-ups about Tony Harris and Major Harris attempted to provide a bit of biography because of their relative obscurity, and also because there just wasn’t much out there. Since this isn’t the case for Emmylou Harris, I’ll largely content myself with a few choice passages about her courtesy of Stereo Review, since that’s where I would mostly have learned about her. A quick perusal of the SR archives reveals an article by Carol Offen in December 1975 (which summarizes Harris’s life and career up to her breakthrough LP Pieces of the Sky, including her serendipitous introduction to and work with Gram Parsons) and at least a half-dozen Best of the Month, Recordings of Special Merit, and featured reviews, all courtesy of Harris mega-fan Noel Coppage.

From the Offen article, a quote: “I’d rather have somebody come see me and, instead of going out and buying my album, go buy a Louvin Brothers album and experience what I experienced the first time I heard it. I would really get off on that.”

As for Coppage…
–on Pieces of the Sky (BotM, 6/75): “Emmylou’s voice is smooth, it has good range and a lovely tone that shimmers on the high notes, and she complements all this with a folksinger’s straightforward phrasing.”
–on Elite Hotel (RSM, 5/76): “..she simply doesn’t need quirky songs or chestnuts everyone knows by heart, just a few that really say something she can wholeheartedly connect with…”
–on Blue Kentucky Girl (BotM, 5/77): “Harris has prodigious talent as a singer, and more than enough style to make her the absolute owner of a song once she’s recorded it. She also has good instincts about what kinds of songs go together…”
–on Evangeline (BotM, 6/81): “…she is one of the few singers around now who give the (probably accurate) impression that they won’t do songs they don’t identify with, let alone don’t like, even if it means going without hits.”

Coppage died in late 1982, and his final reviews appeared in the March 1983 issue. Appropriately, those include one for Late Date, a live Harris album.

Despite the high praise from Coppage, despite rave reviews of later albums such as Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl, I remain almost completely ignorant of Harris’s body of work. My excuse back in the late 70s/early 80s was that country music outside of Waylon Jennings wasn’t much my thing. Later, though? Now? It’s just an outright unforced error that I’m more familiar with “Emmylou” by First Aid Kit than any of the real Emmylou’s songs. I expect that to change, and soon.

I feel certain that Casey mentioned on one of those April 1981 shows that Emmylou first recorded “Mister Sandman” with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. For years I didn’t realize that the take on the single was all Emmylou, harmonizing with herself–Ronstadt’s and Parton’s record companies wouldn’t allow the trio’s version to be released on a 45. It was on Evangeline, however; I’m thinking Kasem played the album cut at least once?

See which one you favor.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/5/88: Aerosmith, “Angel”

A couple of months ago I, like lots of folks, got sucked into the Wordle vortex. I’ve always had an affection for logic puzzles, including playing a decent amount of Mastermind in my youth, so this development was not exactly shocking. It’s quickly become a part of my morning routine: get up, let the dog outside, try my first two words while she’s eating her breakfast, mull over the positive and negative inferences while she goes out a second time, hope to discern the answer by the fourth line. (It doesn’t always work out that way, of course.) I’m part of a couple of small Facebook communities devoted to sharing results of our daily efforts, and I’ve also become intrigued by Quordle, and to a lesser degree, Nerdle.

A few days ago, the Wordle answer was NASTY; for the rest of the day, Miss Jackson’s jam from the summer of 1986 bounced around my head. This got me to wondering, too: how many other song titles of Top 40 1980s hits could show up inside those five green boxes? Based on a quick-but-fairly-careful examination of 80s charts, I think the answer is that there are twenty-eight songs, with twenty-six unique words.

Not all five-letter song titles qualify, at least as I understand Wordle’s rules. Proper nouns are out, so say goodbye to JESSE, GYPSY, JAMIE, BRUCE, KYRIE, and VENUS. Next to go are plurals, meaning YEARS, SOULS, GIRLS, and TEARS are also right out (meaning poor Rick Springfield misses out twice). Lastly, the judges here are disqualifying PRIDE due to the parenthetical portion of its title.

That leaves the following, presented by year:
1982: TRULY
1983: none
1988: ANGEL
1989: STAND
*yes, it’s more of a 1979 song, but it was ‘still’ in the Top 10 in January 1980
**debuted the last week of December 1984, but it’s a 1985 song for me all the way

Congrats to the Cars and Heart for double representation. I missed the first 199 Wordles, so I don’t know if any of these besides NASTY has appeared to date. Perhaps honorable mention status should be extended to HELLO AGAIN (twice, giving the Cars a third appearance today, all from Heartbeat City, even), SUPER FREAK, HUMAN TOUCH (have a bone, Rick), and especially SHINE SHINE. Feel free to identify omissions.

Aerosmith had begun their comeback after re-forming in 1985, but the bucks didn’t start raining on them again until 1987’s Permanent Vacation. The second time a song called “Angel” made it in the 80s would become Tyler, Perry, and company’s biggest hit to that point, reaching #3 (it’s #36 on this show). It’s not a particular favorite in these parts, but I’ll give it full marks today for providing a hook for this post.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/13/82: Eddie Schwartz, “All Our Tomorrows”

The Cincinnati Bengals began play in the American Football League in 1968, and became part of the NFL two years later when the merger between the two leagues was completed. My father had been a Cleveland Browns fan in the 1950s and 60s but switched allegiances when their former coach Paul Brown became owner/coach of the new team closer to home. That quickly rubbed off on his children.

The Bengals had some success early on, scoring three playoff appearances in their first eight years, but it wasn’t until 1981-82, my senior year in high school, that they were able to win some postseason games and advance to Super Bowl XVI. They were legitimately the best team in the AFC, benefiting from a career season by QB Ken Anderson, who was the league’s MVP. Alas, they lost 26-21 to the equally upstart San Francisco 49ers in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

(Seven years later, the Bengals were in Super Bowl XXIII. They were legitimately the best team in the AFC, benefiting from a career season by QB Boomer Esiason, who was the league’s MVP. Alas, they lost 20-16 in heartbreaking fashion to the now dominant San Francisco 49ers. I wrote about that season three years ago.)

Soon after the 1980s ended, the Bengals became a really bad team for a really long time, almost fifteen years. Since 2005, they’ve been occasionally decent, occasionally awful, but until this year hadn’t won a playoff game since January 1991. They were probably the third or fourth best team in the AFC this past season, but lucked out in that there wasn’t a truly dominant team and have–finally–for the third time made it to the Super Bowl (maybe their real luck was not having to face Buffalo in the playoffs). QB Joe Burrow wasn’t the MVP, but seems to be on the cusp of a fabulous career.

The one time February 13, my birthday, was a chart date during the years I paid close attention to AT40 was that senior year in high school. While it was the last birthday celebration before I began my journey toward independence, nothing has stuck in my head from the day. FBLA Regionals and track season were in the offing, my college decision had already been made–I suppose I was taking life in stride (but perhaps also for granted).

The #30 song on that day was from a Canadian enjoying his one moment of glory on the U.S. pop charts as a performer. Eddie Schwartz would soon reach #28 with “All Our Tomorrows,” but he was already collecting royalties from penning “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” Eventually he’d also contribute to Paul Carrack’s hit “Don’t Shed a Tear” and “The Doctor” for the Doobies.

Maybe on this date forty years ago, I was among the Bengals faithful still licking their wounds from the Super Bowl loss almost three weeks earlier. Thanks to now starting the season a week later than before, adding a week between the conference championships and the Big Game, and tacking on a seventeenth regular season game, the Super Bowl will now happen on my birthday every so often. It’s a trip and a treat to have the Bengals playing tonight.

In several hours, we long-suffering Bengals fans will know if we get to spend all our tomorrows remembering this as the day they won it all.