American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/17/86: Phil Collins, “Take Me Home”

Saturday’s attendees, as we appeared in Transy’s first-year student lookbook in 1982. We weren’t arranged this way on my version of the Zoom call.

This is my year for a college reunion (the 35th, if you must know), but, like essentially every other event these days, scheduling something formal has been a challenge. Once the vaccine rollout began gaining steam, my alma mater elected to move Alumni Weekend away from its traditional spring spot on the calendar (Transy doesn’t have a football team), pushing it this year near the end of October. I’m hoping to go.

Back in January, before any such planning had taken place, I’d floated the idea to a few of my classmates over email about holding a virtual mini-reunion in the spring. I brought it back up with one of them in mid-March, and she and I began working on an invitee list and thinking about possible dates. This past Saturday evening, nine folks from the Class of ’86 climbed into our little boxes on Zoom to catch up and share memories (a tenth was unable to make it).

I had a lot of fun over those two-plus hours, even if it wasn’t quite as lively as maybe I’d hoped it would be (given the format and the lofty percentage of introverts among us, that can’t be much of a surprise, though). We shared college-era photos and scans of artifacts, talked about kids and pets, reminisced about classes we’d taken together, profs we’d had, and so on, and so on. The nostalgia was there, but I don’t think any of us were letting it define who we were that night. For me, our 30th gathering five years ago was an inflection point of sorts in renewing some friendships, and my hope is that this event will further that along. We lived in close proximity during a formative period; while we still share that—or at least, what we now remember of it—advancing years and the ever-growing awareness of the finitude of my days make me want to circle back to these old friends and better see what we’ve become (currently three academics, an accountant at a university, a psychiatrist, a home-schooling mom, a retired state employee, an environmental lawyer, and an IT specialist; the one who couldn’t attend is a general practitioner), how we got there, and maybe what we can still learn about ourselves and each other.

(Much of the above may sound anodyne but believe you me, I’m happy that folks want to keep in touch. It was a great time in my life, but I think plenty about mistakes I made then, both social and academic, about how immature I was in various respects. I want to believe I’ve grown—including learning to cut myself some slack—but I’m not the best one to judge that.)

Quite a few of us had been involved with WTLX, so I don’t stand out as the Top 40 music geek with this crowd in quite the same way I do with my high school friends. I did share a picture of one of our posters, and Kevin, the station manager for three years, reminded us about the Top 57 countdown of favorites—as voted on by the student body—we ran our sophomore year (WTLX’s frequency was 570 AM; he promised me he’d forward me that list, which I’m a little surprised I don’t already have).

When I sent out a reminder email last Wednesday, I remarked upon the coincidence that the weekend’s AT40 rebroadcast would be 5/17/86, just a week before our graduation (perhaps unsurprisingly, I also included a list of the week’s Top 10). As it happens, one of the photos shared on Saturday night, with eight of the nine of us in it, had been taken that very day: all too aware of our impending scattering, we’d driven down, along with a couple of friends a year behind us, to my roommate James’s house for a cookout/picnic.

Most of us plus a few others four years later, on 5/17/86. Picture taken by James’s mother, courtesy of Angela Ray.

There may have been a volleyball game or two; I do know that later on, we drove to the nearby road sign that marks the original site of our institution.

“Take Me Home,” the fourth single from No Jacket Required, was sitting at its peak of #7 then, the second of its three weeks there. Phil wasn’t singing about reliving the glories of college, and I can’t even tell what he doesn’t remember. But Transy was home, and felt like home, for the better part of four years. By 5/17/86, I was ready to move on to the next phase. As far as letting my thoughts drift back there now and again these days, though—well, I don’t mind.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/29/83: Fleetwood Mac, “Love in Store”

Whether it was fully intentional or not, one of the things that happened after I began buying LPs much more frequently (usually at Cut Corner Records) in the spring of 1984 was stocking up on previously owned copies of Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac albums. I skipped over Live, but the other four wound up in my hot little mitts in fairly short order. While not the classic that Fleetwood Mac and Rumours are, I found Mirage rather charming from the get-go. After listening to it again a couple of times over this past week, here’s a decent approximation of its tracks ordered in terms of personal preference.

12. “Only Over You”
The one song on the album I wouldn’t miss. I can confirm Wikipedia’s claim that Christine McVie offers “special thanks for inspiration to Dennis Wilson” for this song on the lyric sheet.

11. “Straight Back”
Stevie contributed just three songs to Mirage; maybe she was holding back a bit for The Wild Heart? This one might not have been out of place there.

10. “Empire State”
Buckingham had quite a few punchy, sub-3:00 pieces appear on FM albums over the years, including three on Mirage. This ode to NYC opens up side two.

9. “Can’t Go Back”
When I bought Mirage, I knew only the hits. I kinda remember the first time I played the album on my stereo back in the dorm: I recognized upon hearing “Can’t Go Back” rev up right after “Love in Store” that I’d made a sound purchase.

8. “Hold Me”
That “Hold Me” reached #9 on my personal chart is more a tribute to its lengthy run than my high esteem, though I fully admit it’s a quality piece. Still not sure about that “damage/manage” rhyme, however.

7. “Book of Love”
Three of Buckingham’s five contributions, including “Book of Love,” were co-written with co-producer Richard Dashut. This one’s a mid-tempo meditation on end-of-relationship angst (i.e., getting dumped).

6. “Love in Store”
I don’t really think of the two Christine-penned singles as fully hers, since Lindsey (and Stevie, to a lesser extent) has such a strong vocal presence on both. This is sitting at #22 for the third week on this show; it’d turn out to be the Mac’s last appearance on AT40 for more than four years.

5. “Eyes of the World”
Steve Simels singles this song out for praise in the October 1982 issue of Stereo Review, particularly noting Buckingham’s acoustic/electric guitar interplay toward the end. What stands out for me now is the single word “eyes,” repeated over as a sort of chorus, foreshadowing what was to come on Go Insane.

4. “That’s Alright”
A gently-rollicking kiss-off, as maybe only Nicks could pull off.

3. “Oh Diane”
A top 10 hit in England; I’d like to know what it might have done as a fourth single stateside.

2. “Wish You Were Here”
Since I never got around to repurchasing Mirage on CD, I’d put it aside for a long time. When I finally wheeled it out again on YouTube, I was struck by how well I could sing along with “Wish You Were Here.” It must be on one of the now-broken mix tapes I made my senior year that I absolutely must find a way to fix. Simply a stunner.

1. “Gypsy”
I’m pretty irrational in my love for “Gypsy.” Outside of “Silver Springs,” it’s my favorite song from Nicks. I’ve always liked the extended version in the video, and I’m a sucker for all that joyful dancing in the rain, too. But why is only just now that I’m picking up on the phrase “velvet underground” in the opening line?

American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/1/79: Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Wait for Me”

8/12/79: It’s Sunday morning, and I’m hearing voices. More accurately, the voices of folks around me in the hotel restaurant and the swimming pool area sound just like those of people I know, which makes no sense. I keep looking up in surprise—why are they here?—but of course it turns out I’m imagining things. It’s more than a little alarming that it keeps happening as the day progresses.

I chalk up the hallucinations mostly to the very tiny amount of sleep I’ve had the last three days.  On Thursday, I’d gone on an overnight hiking/camping trip to a state park in southern Ohio, maybe a couple of hours east of Cincinnati. There were five of us: my church’s minister, the female half of our youth group leadership, Meg (who’s my age), Dean (a couple years older), and me. (Those aren’t their actual names.)  I enjoyed backpacking through the woods, and I suppose cooking dinner over a fire was fine. But I’d laid my sleeping bag over some roots and rocks and had a miserable night trying in vain to get comfortable. I closed my eyes for 10-15 minutes a couple of times on the ride home, and it helped a little, I guess. Regardless, I wasn’t going to be kept from going to Friday night’s youth lock-in at the church. My fellow campers are there, along with maybe a dozen others, including my sister (I don’t remember why she bailed on the hiking trip). A lot of fun was had, but sleep was naturally not high on the agenda. After Amy and I got home late Saturday morning, we packed a suitcase and headed south to Lexington for a couple of nights. We didn’t have a family vacation in 1979; this would be the closest we’d come that summer. I imagine we visited with one of Mom’s oldest and dearest friends on our way to the Campbell House, but I was so wiped out, who knows.

So, throughout Sunday, I keep thinking that folks with whom I’d spent so much of Thursday and Friday were at the next table over or just out of sight, around a corner. As the hours pass, there is something else: a strange and funny feeling surfacing in both head and stomach. Meg. The Big Crush of my high school years has just happened. (Did I know then that this was her birthday? Maybe; maybe not.) I’m positively moony for several days as I adjust to my new reality.

12/1/79: It’s hard to say how cool I’ve played it at youth group throughout the fall—less well than I think, I bet. Talking to girls is definitely one of my many kryptonites, but so is acting normal around someone I “like.” One thing I’ve learned about Meg is that she’s in the flag corps at her school, and that turns out to mean she’s here tonight in my high school gym. I’m keeping stats for the boys’ basketball team as our respective schools do battle. As the buzzer for halftime sounds, I leave the bench and dash to the corner where the pep band takes up residence to pick up my trombone and blast a few tunes, foregoing the opportunity to listen to any berating from the coach in the locker room.

It also allows me to watch Meg take part in the corps’ routine. I’m surprised to hear the song to which they perform: “So Fine,” the opener on side two of ELO’s A New World Record. After they’re done, do I seek Meg out to talk? Doubtful. What about at church the next day? More likely, but I can’t say now one way or the other.

Sometime after New Year’s, I summon up the courage to give Meg a call. I slink downstairs to our partially finished basement; there’s a wall phone in the unfinished part, almost under the stairs and next to the washer/dryer. (It’s also the room where our dog Frisky spends most of her time.) Her father answers, and somehow I manage to identify myself and ask to speak with her. We talk for a moderate amount of time. Either it goes well enough or I’m oblivious to the opposite, because I find myself calling back regularly, maybe weekly, for a few months. Meg is certainly some combination of patient and kind in these conversations. There’s youth group, too, but when we’re both there neither gives any sign of additional contact. In the middle of all this, I get my driver’s license, but I guess I’m too nervous to ask her out.

Several months into 1980, it dawns on me that there’s been no particular sign of reciprocity, and I start calling less frequently. I’m surprised when she rings me up one day toward the end of the summer—the first time that’s happened—to ask if I’d like to go bowling. We have a nice enough time, but it’s obvious that we’ll stay “just friends.” By this point, I’m okay with that. Meg will agree to be my junior prom date the following April, our second and last time out together. Throughout this period, and for many years after, Meg’s mom is super nice to me when I see her at church on my infrequent visits home (to be honest, I’ve always wondered if the bowling get-together was her suggestion).

I missed the start of AT40 on that early December Saturday night just over 41 years ago now. My dad, forever indulgent of his son’s chart addiction, was pressed into service to listen to the beginning of the show and do some record-keeping. (This wasn’t the first time, as you may see someday in a Charts post.) At the top of the list Dad handed me when I got home was “Wait for Me,” a debut from Daryl Hall and John Oates; it would reach #18 at the end of January.

It’s one of those weird quirks of memory that I’ve come to associate a song I didn’t hear on 12/1/79 with the events of that day. Indeed, in this YouTube age, you’ll find me on December 1 more often than not—it happened again this past Tuesday—seeking out both “So Fine” and “Wait for Me” for a listen.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/19/77: Dave Mason, “We Just Disagree”

I began buying 45s in the middle of 1976, right around the same time I started keeping my AT40 charts; my sister jumped in on the fun not long after. By the end of 1977, a high percentage of our allowance money was being shoved at Sears and Recordland in the Florence Mall, so much so that while listening to this weekend’s show it felt like close to half of the songs would have been in our hands by Christmas that year. I rifled through my collection of singles last night in an attempt to verify my memories. Several tunes I expected to find didn’t pop up, but they were mostly the ones I remember to be Amy’s–I guess they wound up in her hands in the end. A visit to my trusty Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, which lists B-sides, helped me confirm those I don’t appear to have anymore.

With that, let’s take a peek at what was being spun on the turntable chez Harris 43 years ago. An asterisk * means the single must have been my sister’s.

#40. The Bay City Rollers, “The Way I Feel Tonight”
You are not going to shame me on this one (Amy and/or I also bought “I Only Wanna Be with You” and “You Made Me Believe in Magic”). It’d never really registered with me until this weekend that they modulate going into the chorus two different times. Whitburn notes this single was released with two different B-sides.

#39. Foreigner, “Cold As Ice”
Did this one have a single mix? In my head I always hear the strings more prominently.

#35. Meco, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band”
There are two copies in my collection–pretty sure at least one of them came courtesy of a neighbor who lived up the street.

#32. *Bob Welch, “Sentimental Lady”
Was disappointed not to find this one. That winter I grabbed onto the flip side “Hot Love, Cold World,” which also wound up being the third single from French Kiss, hitting #31 in July 1978. How often was that sort of thing happening in the late 70s?

#23. Barry Manilow, “Daybreak”
This one wasn’t on 45–your humble blogger had broken out the big bucks several weeks earlier for Barry Manilow Live.

#22. The Babys, “Isn’t It Time”
With apologies to “I Feel Love” and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” I’ll stick my neck out and claim this is the best record on the show. I wrote an homage to it three years ago in my first year of blogging; as a pop record, it’s just got it all.

#17. Dave Mason, “We Just Disagree”
A minor gem. My recollection is it didn’t take too many times hearing this on the radio before I went out and got it. Compact storytelling, mature lyrics, sweet harmonies. Still dig it.

#14. The Little River Band, “Help Is on Its Way”
Probably my favorite song at the time of this show. I imagine I’ve noted before that LRB was right up there with ELO as my favorite band in the late 70s.

#10. Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better”
It’s no “You’re So Vain,” but except for that one, I’m not sure I like anything of hers more. Not sure how it took me over forty years to understand the word toward the end between “Baby, baby” and “You’re the best” is an over-emoted and growled “Darling.”

#8. *Rita Coolidge, “We’re All Alone”
Between my “Lido Shuffle” 45 and subsequent purchase of Silk Degrees, I knew the song well by the time Coolidge released her version. I see how her take was a hit, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s better than Boz’s.

#7. Paul Nicholas, “Heaven on the 7th Floor”
If only this hadn’t climbed one more notch… A song designed to appeal to teenagers.

#6. *The Bee Gees, “How Deep Is Your Love”
The only single from Saturday Night Fever either one of us bought (no LP, either), though I liked “Night Fever” and “If I Can’t Have You” plenty. I guess we didn’t lack for hearing those songs on the radio practically any time we wanted.

#5. *Chicago, “Baby, What a Big Surprise”
Their last hit prior to Terry Kath’s death. Was always kind of meh on it.

#1. *Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life”
Not my doing, as you can tell, though I’ll tip my hat to the key change at the end of “And fill my nights with song.”

Okay, so it turned out to be ‘only’ fourteen of this countdown’s songs (though some years later I would pick up “I Go Crazy” and “Send in the Clowns”). I’d keep buying 45s at a steady clip over the next 4 or so years–the rate probably began tailing off once I got to college.

As for a feature, let’s land on Mason, who would climb to #12 with “We Just Disagree.” He was almost a one-timer on AT40, touching #39 with a remake of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” seven months after this one peaked.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/11/72: Nilsson, “Spaceman”

A good while back I mentioned in passing that one of my good friends from high school introduced me to Harry Nilsson’s 1972 album Son of Schmilsson. He’d learned about it when we were seventh-graders, as a member of the golf team–one of the seniors played the cassette (or would it have been an 8-track?) in his car on the way to practice and matches. It would be the summer of 1979 before my friend shared his find with me. The main attraction was the utter naughtiness of some of its lyrics, chiefly Nilsson telling us how hard he sang to impress a female studio visitor in “Take 54” and giving the finger over and over to his soon-to-be-ex-wife in “You’re Breakin’ My Heart.” I mean, they’re tuneful pieces with fine studio playing, but that was plainly secondary to the opportunity to giggle over what Harry was getting away with singing. (I clearly wasn’t all that mature at 15 and 16.)

Forty years on, I hear Nilsson beginning to spiral a little out of control. He is not in particularly good voice, devolving into semi-screaming too often. There are some interesting songs: I guess I was too young to recognize “Ambush” as anti-Vietnam War or “I’d Rather Be Dead” as pro-assisted suicide (watch the video) when I first heard them. On the other hand, there’s “Joy,” which Casey noted on the 8/19/72 show was released as a country single under the pseudonym Buck Earl. (That Nilsson thought this was a reasonable idea is additional evidence that his judgment was already in decline, never mind the fact I laughed hard over this song many a time.)

What feels somewhat odd is that I don’t have memories from the late 70s of hearing the song on Son of Schmilsson that actually made the Top 40: “Spaceman” is at its peak of #23 on this show. It’s another tune of its time, touching on the same theme of feeling alienation while circling above the earth in a tin can we hear in “Rocket Man” and “Space Oddity” (“Spaceman” made AT40 in between those two, though of course Bowie’s piece was over three years old by the time it hit).

I still have the LP–I must have picked it up sometime while in college. But that wasn’t the only vinyl copy of Son of Schmillson I ever bought; my friend reminded me when I saw him a little over a year ago that I had given one to him as a gift in January 1985, just before he moved away from KY to start on his career as an air traffic controller (a job from which he retired this past July; my-oh-my, how the years do fly).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/23/82: Sylvia, “Nobody”

I’ve never been much of one for organizers and planners. When I was younger, I managed to do pretty well just storing things in my head. Now that I’ve reached the second half of my 50s, the old brain cells don’t quite function like they used to, and I’m starting to see the wisdom of entering appointments etc. on my phone.

When Mom and I went shopping for college supplies in the summer of 1982, one of the items we wound up with was a large pad for my dorm room desk, essentially a combination blotter/daily planner. I actually used it for the latter purpose most of my freshman year–for years after, alas, it served only in the former capacity. Yes, I still have the sheets for September 82-February 83–why do you ask, and why are you surprised? Here’s October:

This is one of the more fully filled-out months, even if it’s mostly due dates for assignments and birthdays. Somehow, I still have artifacts that verify a number of these notes, too. Let’s take a quick tour of a few:

October 6:

“S. O. L.” stands for Student Orientation Leader–maybe this was one final meeting with the group I’d gone through orientation with?

The interview was for my first newspaper article assignment; I posted a picture of that article this time last year, but I still have my notes from that interview, along with a second, with a faculty member, the following morning!

October 11:

We’d been reading parts of Plato’s Republic in Images of Man (our frosh comp-equivalent), and this was the day my three-pager on it was due. The comments from the professor mostly focus on how the paper would have been strengthened with some well-chosen quotes and support from Socrates, but I was given an A- in spite of that.

I typed that paper on my high school graduation gift:

The typewriter used cartridges for both film and correcting tape. When I popped the film cartridge out last night, I could identify the final characters I ever typed on it: Farmville, VA 23901. If I had to guess, I’d venture that was related to a job application to Longwood College (now University) in the spring of 1992.

October 15:

Two exams in one day. We had one in chemistry every other Friday (eight in all); this was the third. All were scored out of 90 points.

I’d be willing to bet the calculus test is in a drawer in my office, but I’ll just leave it there for now.

October 17:

Three years ago, I came across the first letter I sent home, dated 10/9. It referenced this upcoming event, in which I treated my new college friends to sights that formed a key part of my church youth group experience. (I wrote up my most recent trip to the Pinnacles here.)

Birthdays toward the end of the month included those of my maternal grandmother and my Great-Aunt Birdie (the latter’s birth occurred 119 years ago today–look for a write-up about her next year). The young woman I’d started dating earlier in the month shared her day with Aunt Birdie.

That fall, the local Top 40 station’s playlist included “Nobody,” country singer Sylvia’s one pop hit, stopping off at #25 on this show and heading toward a #15 peak. Not sure I ever hear the chorus without thinking just maybe I’m catching her singing along, perhaps like what might have happened while we were doing chemistry homework.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/20/79: Ian Gomm, “Hold On”

A few observations from the weekend in music 41 years ago:

–Several songs from this period had incredible helium. The previous week, “Heartache Tonight” jumped from #52 to #15. On this show, “Tusk” and “Still” made enormous advances (40-15 and 38-10, respectively). Over the next two weeks, “Babe” would go 26-14-7, and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” would hopscotch 59-33-10. On the 11/3 chart, these five made up half of the top 10, all getting there by no later than their third week in the 40. I don’t think I encountered this sort of mass forward movement any other time while I was watching closely.

(A quick trip to the odd coincidence department: Premiere’s 80s show this weekend is 10/17/81. The Commodores have two songs on both countdowns, and just as with “Still,” they have the biggest mover within the show–“Oh No”–on the 81 countdown. Additionally, no matter which one you listen to, Barry Manilow debuts, and Foreigner and the Little River Band go back-to-back.)

–A few weeks ago, we heard “Fallin’ in Love,” by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, on the 9/21/74 show. Five years later, those three made separate appearances on AT40. Chris Hillman had gotten back together with fellow former Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark and hit #33 with “Don’t Write Her Off” back in May. Richie Furay would have a solo hit in the #39-peaking “I Still Have Dreams” in December. And J. D. Souther is making his mark this week, as the future top 10 song “You’re Only Lonely” bows in at #37.

–More temporal shenanigans: Pop music lovers of a certain age may recall that Genesis and former lead vocalist Peter Gabriel hit #1 in consecutive weeks in the summer of 1986. A not nearly-so-notable confluence of a similar type is happening on this show. Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm were mates in the British pub band Brinsley Schwarz in the early 70s, and they each managed to have their one and only hit on the American charts virtually simultaneously. Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” is just about to drop off after peaking at #12. Gomm, in his third week with “Hold On,” seems to be advancing nicely, having gone 34-26-20 so far. I recall being a little surprised back then at how quickly things fell apart; the next two weeks “Hold On” was at #18, and then it dropped off to #65, gone from the Hot 100 after one more week. It’s no classic, but it deserved a somewhat better fate. The crisp production and that gorgeous sax work keep it sounding fresh even today.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/3/70: Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, “Joanne”

Like lots of folks who grew up in the 70s, I had plenty of exposure to The Monkees via syndicated reruns on television. I couldn’t tell you any of the plot lines (such as they were) now, but I do recall the invariable silliness and slapstick nature of the show, frequently involving some ludicrous chase scene. Did I have a favorite Monkee? Probably Mickey, though Mike, as the more cerebral one, definitely held appeal as well. (I will admit I found the dark glasses Mike wore in the later episodes a bit scary.) I paid only slight attention when MTV introduced the series to a new generation of viewers during my last semester of college in 1986. The losses of Davy in February 2012 and Peter (with whom I share a birthday) almost seven years later didn’t go unnoticed in these parts, however.

Michael Nesmith’s name popped up for me a few times over the years. Eventually I learned he’d written “Different Drum.” I didn’t ever manage to see Elephant Parts when it came out in 1981, though I was well aware he was attached to it. And I probably caught wind while I was in college that Nesmith was executive producer of Repo Man. It would be decades, though, before I realized he’d had a post-Monkees Top 40 hit of his own.

October 4, 2014. Like so many Saturdays, I wake up early after a fitful night’s sleep. I slip quietly upstairs to the kitchen and fix myself a bowl of cereal and a small glass of orange juice. As usual, I launch the TuneIn app on my iPad and set it to WMVL, Cool 101.7, out of Meadville, PA, to catch the 70s rebroadcast of AT40. I keep the volume low enough so as not to disturb–they begin their show each week at 7:00am. After breakfast, it’s back downstairs to shower and dress, maybe even make the bed.

By the start of the second hour, I’m ensconced in a chair in the main room of the basement, the den. (That chair nowadays is in my living room; I’m sitting in it as I type these words.) Maybe I’m grading, but it’s also quite possible I’m playing a stupid game on the iPad. What I do remember particularly is the string of songs I hear over a 30-minute period, the final two for probably the first time:

#27. Grand Funk Railroad, “Closer to Home”
#26. Linda Ronstadt, “Long, Long Time”
#25. The New Seekers, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma”
#24. Three Dog Night, “Out in the Country”
#23. R. Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me”
#22. Hotlegs, “Neanderthal Man”
#21. Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, “Joanne”

It must not be long afterward that I hear stirring upstairs. Mom stays up plenty late watching TV and has a harder time each week getting going in the morning. I better go check on things.

(It’s hearing the story Casey tells about the multi-national New Seekers again, here in 2020, that jolts me and sends me back in time six years. I start to tear up when I sing “I wish I had you to talk to” along with Taylor.)

“Joanne” is a sad, beautiful song; I can listen to it over and again. That #21 showing, fifty years ago now, was its best.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/25/76: Paul Davis, “Superstar”

WSAI in Cincinnati spent a few weeks late in the summer of our nation’s Bicentennial trying to break Paul Davis’s lead single from his album Southern Tracks and Fantasies. I confess that all I picked up at the time was the beginning of the chorus, “Superstar, I want to thank you for what you are,” somehow not realizing it was all about showing appreciation to four rock luminaries of the day (I like it now plenty, but seriously, what’s up with telling Linda Ronstadt that she’s “lookin’ thinner than (she) used to be”?). My recollection is that WSAI had already dropped “Superstar” by the time it made AT40 in September. This was its third and final week on the show, at its peak position of #35.

So I’d also missed Davis’s line, “On your six ninety-eight, Lord, you sound so great,” not that I would necessarily have recognized the number as the then-suggested list price for a vinyl LP. But hearing the song again this week got me wondering just how long this lyric reflected reality. I couldn’t think of any phrase to enter in Google that gave me any dope on the history of LP prices; then I remembered that album prices were included on Billboard‘s Top LPs chart for a good while. After a little digging around the archives at worldradiohistory.com, I have a few things to report, in case anyone cares.

Billboard began showing suggested list prices in the 2/17/73 issue. I chose to look at the LP charts from the first week of July, about the time of year that “Superstar” was released, between 1973 and 1988. That’s essentially up to the end of the Classic Casey era (though there’s another reason to consider that as a cutoff date, as we’ll see). To keep things simple, I’m focusing only on the albums in the Top 10.

Year$5.98$6.98$7.98$8.98$9.98No List2 LPs
197382
19742611
1975181
197682
1977181
197882
1979541
1980343
198182
19821441
1983631
198455
1985532
1986721
1987253
1988154

Some notes and thoughts:
–The “no list price” in 1974 was Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
–In 1976, cassettes and 8-tracks are listed at $7.98. Thereafter, prices match for the three formats.
–Sitting at #6 in 1981 was Hard Promises. Just a week earlier, on the 6/27/81 show, Casey told one of my favorite stories, about Petty’s resistance to listing his new album at $9.98, going so far as to threaten to re-title it as The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ $8.98 Album if MCA gave it the higher price. (Hat tip to the Soft Rock Kid for reminding me of the exact ‘alternative’ title). Hard Promises is indeed listed at $8.98 (so were subsequent TP albums), but I’m guessing that the growth in the “no list” column through the first half of the 80s was not-so-secretly about pushing $9.98 titles.
–The Human League’s Dare is the $6.98 LP in 1982.
Genesis and 90125 are the first legit $9.98 titles I see, on the 1984 chart, already well off their peaks from earlier in the year.
–All of the Top 5 in 1987 were listed at $9.98 (Whitney, U2, the Crüe, Whitesnake, and Heart).

But major change was creeping in as the 80s progressed. Check out part of this article on the front page of the 7/7/84 issue of Billboard:

Soon after, most top titles are also being released on CD: 7 out of the Top 10 in 1985, 8 in 1986, and all 10 in 1987 and 1988.

But back to where this started: we can see that line in “Superstar” was obsolete within months. Maybe it’s just as well it didn’t make an impression in real time?

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/5/81: REO Speedwagon, “In Your Letter”

Even at the beginning of my senior year in HS, I was buying only the occasional LP—maybe I had around a dozen by then. One, likely purchased sometime early in the summer of 1981, was REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity. I liked it pretty well; it definitely got quite a few spins on my dad’s turntable in our basement back then. While in college, I picked up You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish and Wheels Are Turnin’, but it’s fair to say that Hi Infidelity is still the REO album I know best overall.

A quick check at setlist.fm tells me that the Speedwagon played Champaign once while I was at UIUC, in November 1987. I didn’t go, and I don’t really recall any swelling sense of love for the hometown heroes during my time there, either. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to them for working hard and making good.

As I’ve done with other albums from my teen years that I owned, I’m taking a crack at ranking Hi Infidelity’s tracks.

10. “I Wish You Were There”
I get that rock bands need to do the ballad thing (though that’s frequently not my thing), and I guess this one isn’t terrible? It didn’t do much for me back in 1981, either, though.

9. “Don’t Let Him Go”
Third single, got to #24 the first two weeks of August. I seem to remember a school dance early that fall (DJ’ed by students) where this one got played—it cleared the floor. I’m just hoping I wasn’t the one responsible for that…

8. “Shakin’ It Loose”
How many times did I listen to this album after I graduated from HS, though? Very, very few. I’ll confess now that the names of the last three songs on side two didn’t trigger any music in my head prior to playing them earlier today. That said, I like this one fine—nice piano solo from Neal Doughty, for sure—but it’s still pretty close to filler.

7. “Someone Tonight”
Bassist Bruce Hall wrote it and sang lead. The sentiment behind the lyric is, um, uninspiring. Nonetheless, it’s a decent little rocker with good harmonies.

6. “In Your Letter”
This week’s #28 song, heading toward a peak of #20. I’m surprising myself a little by placing it as high as this, given that it didn’t exactly groove me in real time; I’m coming around to admiring it for channeling the pop of years past.

5. “Keep on Loving You”
On the other hand, maybe this one’s the victim of hearing it too much over the decades. It made #1 on my own chart for two weeks at the end of February (see, I can like rock ballads). Full credit for the “missin’/listen/hissin’” rhyme in verse one.

4. “Take It on the Run”
One of three songs—along with “I Love You” and “Sweetheart”—that became instant favorites in April and dominated my charts in May (got to #5 on the Hot 100, three weeks at #2 for me). This one may be the reason I bought the album. I remember it getting played over PAs at track meets that spring.

3. “Tough Guys”
Does Gary Richrath’s screaming guitar sound add to the song or not? I’m torn. This one has more fun writing (great second verse, and I’m a fan of “she’s gonna call your bluff, guys”). I’ll also cop to approval of the Little Rascals intro.

2. “Out of Season”
Another pop-rock gem. I was listening to WEBN, the AOR station in Cincinnati, quite a bit at this point, and I have to believe they were playing all of the top 3 in this list that summer. Classic song structure, but so well-executed.

1. “Follow My Heart”
First heard this by flipping over my “Keep On Loving You” 45, and liked it immediately. The urgency was palpable to a 17-year-old, not that I had any reason to relate to Kevin Cronin’s dilemma. It’s the cut from Hi Infidelity I would pick to take with me if made to choose just one, so that puts it at the top of the list. (It was the third song in the mixtape series that kicked off this blog, too.)