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.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/2/85: Midnight Star, “Operator”

My schedule during the spring term of my junior year at Transy included three math classes (one of which double-counted toward my CS major), an intro course in microeconomics, and U.S. National Government. The last of these was my second foray into the realm of political science; for a short while, I considered trying to squeeze in a poli-sci minor. Even though I have no talent or inclination in that direction, I still follow national politics all too closely, and local stuff to a lesser extent.

The Government course was a good one. The professor was often gruff, a curmudgeon-in-waiting, but honestly I liked him (he’s still at Transy, one of maybe three faculty remaining from my day). He had us purchase a couple of textbooks, but there were also readings on reserve in the library, including most of another book. I was actually faithful about going through the reserve materials. I have no idea now what book that was (I’ve retained syllabi from many of my college classes, though apparently not this one), but it must have included an analysis of the nation’s political landscape of the day. The author’s prediction for the coming decades: a decided shift to the right. I’ve thought about this with some frequency over the years; on the whole, he hasn’t been wrong.

There are other things I associate with that class. It’s where I first met my good friend Judy, then a first-year student. The second exam was postponed when classes got cancelled due to snow, the only time school was called off during my four years there–it also happened to be my 21st birthday. And after the term ended, the professor sent me a letter through campus mail. I don’t imagine I was unique in hearing from him in this manner, but it was definitely tailored to me.

I appreciate his kind words, but this pokes at me, bringing to the surface again a nagging feeling of inadequacy, of not contributing enough, of not realizing potential, that I don’t ever really shake.

The songs on this show became one of the collections I assembled for our iPod well over a decade ago. The one that comes next in chronological order is 5/18, fifteen weeks later. In between these two dates were the entire Top 40 runs of “One More Night” and “Material Girl,” songs that peaked at #1 and #2, respectively. It’s a reminder to me that by the mid 80s, the average stay on the show for the biggest hits was down from the tail end of the Bill Wardlaw years.

For a musical selection, let’s get a little funky. Midnight Star got its start just down the road from me, at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. They had several Top 10 hits on the R&B chart, but only one of their seven trips to the Hot 100 resulted in a song Casey played. I wouldn’t call “Operator” their most memorable cut, but it’s the one that broke through, sitting at its peak of #18.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/5/77: Al Stewart, “Year of the Cat”

It’s time to complete the trilogy I started almost a year ago in which I take a look back at three of the first LPs in my collection, attempting to order their tracks in some semblance of personal preference. First it was Silk Degrees, then A New World Record. Now, it’s Al Stewart’s first experience with big success, Year of the Cat.

Stewart had been kicking around for about ten years by this point, slowly gaining a following, perhaps more in the U.S. than the UK. Year of the Cat was his seventh album, and the second (of three) to be produced by Alan Parsons. Everything came together: an impeccable array of instrumentation ranging from Spanish guitar through violin, harmonica, and piano to saxophone, as well as a dazzling landscape of topics transformed into thoughtful, well-constructed poetry. The public was buying, as it climbed to #5 on the Billboard album chart. Still surprisingly fresh-sounding, coming on almost forty-five years later. Let’s take a look, why don’t we? I’ll include one of my favorite lyrics from each song.

9. “Midas Shadow”
The one song on the album that I might not miss if it weren’t there. It’s hardly bad–I’m generally a sucker for rhymes across verses–but it doesn’t stick with me afterward. Memorable line: “Conquistador in search of gold, for all the jackdaw reasons.”

8. “Sand in Your Shoes”
Perkier-sounding than the subject matter seems to dictate. I assume the title, which comes not from the lyrics, sums up how the rejected suitor feels about his former love. Memorable line: “And you lay there by the Do Not signs, and shamed them with your spark.”

7. “On the Border”
Basically impossible to separate the next four: ask another day, and I’d sort them some other way. The only of Stewart’s charting singles not to make the Top 40–it fell two spots shy in May of 1977–and also the only not to feature scorching sax work. Memorable line: “No one notices the customs slip away.”

6. “One Stage Before”
This one is much more about the music than the words for me, particularly the synthesizer rhythm underpinning it all. Simply mesmerizing, and a nice meditation on becoming one with performers of the past to boot. Memorable line: “Although we may not meet still you know me well.”

5. “Lord Grenville”
I wonder now what I thought about this album the first time I put it on the turntable of my father’s stereo. I can see being captivated by this sweeping opening number about sailors on the run, even while not understanding its references. History Lesson #1: Sir Richard Grenville was a 16th-century explorer/sailor who bravely/foolishly met his match going against the Spanish Armada. Memorable line: “I never thought that we would come to find ourselves upon these rocks again.”

4. “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It”
Stewart does an amazing job throughout, matching sounds and making it all feel so natural. Memorable line: “Well I’m up to my neck in the crumbling wreckage of all that I wanted from life.”

3. “Broadway Hotel”
The B-side to the 45 for “Year of the Cat.” I flipped over many of the early singles I bought when playing DJ on my little turntable, and “Broadway Hotel” was among the best I discovered that way (I dearly love the violin solo and the piano/guitar on the outro). It’s possible that it’s what pushed me to take a chance on the album. Memorable line: “And a door sign keeps the world away behind the shades of your silent day.”

2. “Flying Sorcery”
It took over a decade to really appreciate this one. Year of the Cat was in the first wave of albums I re-purchased on CD, in the spring of 1988; listening one time in our apartment on Elm St. I was suddenly and permanently charmed by the narrator’s affection for his female pilot friend. History Lesson #2: Amy Johnson’s story is amazing, if you don’t know it. Memorable line: “Just call me if you ever need repairs.” Gets me every time.

1. “Year of the Cat”
Hardly a surprise. It was #20 on this show, steaming toward a #8 peak. Its trip up and down the chart was relatively quick, so it wound up only at #98 on AT40‘s year-end rankings for 1977. Memorable line: So many, but we’ll go with “She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/30/88: Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

If it’s a 1988 countdown, the pickings I might want to write up tend to be a mite slim. I will say the landscape here in late January looks better than it will in April: “Hazy Shade of Winter” is a pretty hot track, and I’m fine with “Need You Tonight,””Cherry Bomb,” and “Pump Up the Volume.” There’s also a surprisingly good run between #16 and #12; four of the five are well above average, including “Crazy,” “Don’t Shed a Tear,” and “Tunnel of Love” back-to-back-to-back. Capping this part of the show is one of my faves from this period, sitting at #12, the future #2 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

It was a big comeback out of almost nowhere for 60s British star Dusty Springfield. Her steady stream of success started with folk trio The Springfields, and blossomed further on both sides of the pond after she went solo at the end of 1963. Nine Top 10 songs in the UK, three here. Fabulous songs like “I Only Want to Be with You,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” But the hit machine abruptly turned off when the 70s arrived; her final solo U.S. Top 40 appearance, “A Brand New Me,” was off the chart by the end of January 1970.

I know popularity can slip away quickly, and possibly without good reason, but that almost eighteen-year gap until PSB came calling got me wondering: what had happened with Dusty in the interim? It wasn’t a pretty picture, based on the few articles I’ve read. She’d been boxed in for a long time by the cultural norms of the day regarding her sexual orientation. These were years of rampant alcohol and substance abuse, too. While I can’t know whether there was cause and effect in play, the combination of an unhappy childhood and not feeling free to be her true self makes me suspicious. It’d be nice if we could someday learn not to be so awful to people about some things.

Neil Tennant’s invitation to sing on “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” turned to be a bit of a life preserver for Springfield. She wound back on the British charts with a few hits soon after, including a couple that went Top 20. Alas, breast cancer staked its claim in the mid 90s, and she died very shortly before her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

We don’t get to see all that much of Dusty in the video that put her back in mind, but toward the end we do catch a few frames where she gets to bust a move or two. I think I can even see some of the joy and playfulness she had performing “Stay Awhile” on American Bandstand in May 1964:

I’m thinking I may be taking a trip to hear Dusty in Memphis very soon…

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/27/73: Timmy Thomas, “Why Can’t We Live Together”

I don’t recall hearing “Why Can’t We Live Together” back at the beginning of 1973 (I can say the same for the other two very fine songs on this show that peaked at #3: “Oh Babe, What Would You Say” and “Last Song”)–I guess I was still just a little too young to be paying regular and active attention to the radio. In fact, it came to my attention only after I started tuning in to AT40 rebroadcasts, first on the 1/20/73 show played seven years ago. I confess I didn’t listen carefully enough at first to recognize the song is about the desire for peace and racial harmony. No, I just heard the title and my brain went elsewhere: as a child more of the late 70s, the last two words meant something entirely different to me.

I bought Barry Manilow Live sometime in the summer of 1977 (which means I’ve been forgetting to include it when recounting the first LPs in my collection). I’ll freely admit I liked a bunch of his 70s hits, and Live delivered many of them in one package. Of course, I got to hear other tunes, too, including “Jump Shout Boogie Medley” and eventual single “Daybreak.” Another one that was new (to me) had a prime location on the double album, song two on side one: “Why Don’t We Live Together.” Very much a song of the times, this one is an invitation to cohabitation. A rough summary: I don’t know exactly what we’ve got here, I think it could be good, but if I’m wrong, “at least we’ll know we tried.” I guess the narrator gets credit for not being starry-eyed?

One of the messages I picked up from watching TV in the 70s was that cohabitation was: a) becoming much more of a thing, yet b) still reasonably stigmatized. (I can imagine my mother tut-tutting it.) But I wanted to see how accurate these impressions were, particularly the first. An internet search on “history of living together 1970s” led me to an academic paper written in 2005 that I found pretty interesting: The Rise of Cohabitation in the United States: New Historical Estimates, by three researchers (at least two of whom are historians) from the Minnesota Population Center, located at the University of Minnesota. While I did get an affirmative answer to my baseline question of “Did cohabitation grow a lot in the 1970s?,” there was much more in the article’s twenty pages for folks with a quantitative bent. I learned that the U.S. Census Bureau began including “unmarried partner” as a status in the 1990 Census; this paper used multiple linear regression to take its best stabs at what self-identified unmarried partner numbers would have been in 1960, 1970, and 1980 had that been an option (bottom line: the authors think the estimates in use fifteen years ago were too high). I geeked out on all this plenty, but the highlight may have been seeing in print an acronym I heard back in college and perhaps not since: POSSLQ, for “persons of the opposite sex, sharing living quarters.” My then-girlfriend used it at least once in reference to the home status of one of the English professors.

But back to Timmy Thomas, who was at #5 on this show. The reason I remember hearing “Why Can’t We Live Together” back in January 2013 was the story Casey told of the song’s genesis. Thomas had a gig at a club in Miami at the time, and one night he was simply jamming on stage. Out popped a keyboard riff and a few lines about getting along better with everyone. Afterward, he was encouraged to put what he’d just performed to record. What we hear today is Thomas’s best approximation of the song he’d spontaneously generated.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/16/82: The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”

I don’t think I’m obsessive about it, but I do pay attention to the weather. At my wedding, Greg joked during his best man’s toast about how often I had the TV tuned to the Weather Channel the year we roomed together (he wasn’t entirely wrong). And looking back, I can think of more than a few posts where I’ve made a point of referencing the outdoor conditions that I think existed when recalling various memories.

Perhaps the peak of my weather-watching ways was the first two-and-a-half months of 1982. Every day, I’d check high and low temps, as well as precipitation info, in the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer. I believe this info came from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG), located maybe fifteen miles north of our house in Walton. I then appended my own impression of the day just past. Here’s a look at a big chunk of January:

When I came back across this a few years ago, I was a little surprised by how cold it had gotten that winter (there was another night well below zero in mid-February). Granted, I live sixty-ish miles south of CVG these days, but I haven’t experienced frequent bouts of cold like this in a long while. I’m pretty sure that “normal” today isn’t anything like the above ranges, either.

Looking at this sheet shakes loose a couple of memories. I think it was the night of Friday, January 8 that three friends and I had a memorable evening of late-night bowling in Florence (bowling was a very frequent weekend activity in my circle during our senior year of high school). When the center closed down at 2am, we elected not to head home but instead went to an apartment close by, where our driver’s older sister lived (I guess I’d used a pay phone earlier in the evening to give my parents a heads-up). She wasn’t there when we arrived, but my friend had a key to let us in. We hadn’t been settled for very long when sis came home. Let’s just say that any plans she and the guy with her had didn’t pan out, since for whatever reason we wound up staying. I don’t imagine that I heard any details of the ensuing conversation between my friend and his sister. What makes me think it was this particular weekend is the image I have of snow flying in the air as we drove home once the sun came up.

On a different note, I love foggy weather. Everything has a radically different feel to it–places you know become all kinds of mysterious, and you truly don’t know what’s just around the bend. I especially enjoy walking around on a foggy evening (driving at night in the soup is a completely different matter). I distinctly remember those three fog-filled days of the 19th through 21st, with the remains of recent snowfalls still hanging on as temps oscillated around the freezing mark.

Like with so many other projects, I gave up on weather-tracking after a while. The last entry is from March 15th.

A few weeks ago I was rummaging through my collection of cassettes that we’ve stowed away in a cabinet in our basement. Several of them caught my eye, but one in particular is germane at this moment:

I had a combo alarm clock/radio/tape recorder then. It appears I had nothing better to do that Sunday, arguably the coldest day of the year, than to sit in my bedroom with the radio and push record when a song I liked showed up. I know you’re anxious to find out what’s on it. Turns out I filled up only one side this way:

10cc, “I’m Not in Love” (LP version)
Atlanta Rhythm Section, “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight”
Diesel, “Sausalito Summernight”
(single edit)
Mike Post featuring Larry Carlton, “Theme from ‘Hill Street Blues'”
Leo Sayer, “Living in a Fantasy”
Greg Lake, “Let Me Love You Once”
The Miracles, “Love Machine (Pt. 1)”
The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”

Love the 10cc, the Diesel, and the Sayer still (gotta admit I think “Living in a Fantasy” is criminally underrated). The Lake piece, full of all-too-familiar early 80s male bravado, was sitting at #61 at the time, just down from its #48 peak. “Our Lips Are Sealed” was literally my favorite song right then, hanging out at #1 on this week’s Harris Top 50. It’s at #31 on the real thing, its last on the countdown, having peaked at #20.

The Go-Go’s finish before I run out of tape, and it becomes evident that I’ve recorded over something. We get to hear most of an ad for a big promotion being run by WYYS, Yes 95, which spent a good portion of 1980-81 trying without success to break WKRQ’s stranglehold on the Cincinnati Top 40 market. They were giving away a cool half-million; my best recollection is that the contest ran in the fall of 1980. There’s supporting evidence for this claim after the ad wraps up, as we get about thirty seconds of ELO’s “All Over the World” before the side ends.

Side two might just be my first attempt at creating a mixtape from my vinyl collection, though it must have been recorded several months later. It’s a much more AOR-dominated affair.

The Sherbs, “No Turning Back”
Foreigner, “Night Life”
Journey, “Feelin’ That Way/Anytime”
Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure”
Little River Band, “Man on Your Mind”
Electric Light Orchestra, “Confusion”

This time at the end, I find a snippet–just a very few seconds long–that’s both tantalizing and frustrating: the outro as one of the first three hours of an American Top 40 show comes to a close. My guess is that this is also from the fall of 1980; definitely bummed that I recorded over it.

Beauty and the Beat is another album whose tracks I’m tempted to rank, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. All I’ll say right now is that I’ve always strongly preferred its first single over its second.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/18/75: Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good”

To cut to the chase: “You’re No Good” was Linda Ronstadt’s first Top 40 hit in over four years, her only Billboard Hot 100 #1 (it’s at #21 on this show and would reach the top four weeks later), and the beginning of a multi-year run of hits that were almost all covers. Granted, Ronstadt wasn’t ever a songwriter, but working with now-producer Peter Asher seemed to make her gravitate toward re-recording major and minor works–often R&B–from the late 50s or 60s, and spinning them into gold. (Asher was doing the same thing at this time with James Taylor.)

Anyway, it’s very near the top (if not the top) of my list of Ronstadt singles from her commercial peak. I dig the range of emotions in her voice, though I think it’s the instrumental solo and coda that really suck me in.

“You’re No Good” was an oft-covered song, and I wanted to highlight a few of the other takes. It seems to be invariably brought up in conversation as a Betty Everett cover, and it’s true that Everett had the highest-charting version prior to Linda, reaching #51 in January 1964. Nice and smoky.

The Merseybeat group The Swingin’ Blue Jeans cut their version shortly thereafter, and it made #97 in August of the same year (#3 in the UK).

I was blown away, however, by the original. It’s by Dee Dee Warwick, who sounds nothing like her older sister Dionne. It made the faintest of chart noises the same time that Everett was getting traction, scoring a #117 peak the weekend of the Kennedy assassination. Simply incredible; distinct from the others, yet a clear ancestor of Ronstadt’s version.

Other acts to have taken on the song include Ike and Tina Turner, Van Halen (whose attempt I’d somehow never heard before writing this up), Elvis Costello, and Wilson Phillips. The truly interested can look those up themselves; here’s Linda.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/15/83: Juice Newton, “Heart of the Night”

A few thoughts on the first third of this past weekend’s 80s Premiere rebroadcast:

–Leading off the show is Ray Parker Jr.’s “Bad Boy,” a sequel to the previous spring’s #4 hit, “The Other Woman.” Refreshing myself on the lyrics of “Bad Boy” it’s pretty clear the title character is seeking pleasure to go with his pain. As much as I liked most Raydio tunes, Parker Jr.’s solo hits, with I suppose the exception of “Ghostbusters,” leave me completely cold.

–Call me a member of the grammar police, but when I sing along with Air Supply at #38, it’s always “Two Fewer Lonely People in the World.” Though I’ll admit I expect our two lovebirds are indeed both less lonely, say what you mean, guys!

–I know exactly where I was when I first heard “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” which is debuting at #35: the song came over the PA while I was in a cheap import store at the long-defunct Turfland Mall in Lexington. It was likely finals week at Transy, around a month before this show.

I’ve come to be convinced that my college years, fall of 82 to spring of 86, were the prime time for pop music in the 80s (I understand I’m being U.S.-centric in this statement). An important part of this was the Second British Invasion which arose throughout 83. We’re on the precipice of that moment: Culture Club first appearing now, Duran Duran coming on board the following week. That’s not to ignore A Flock of Seagulls (#37), Peter Gabriel (#32), or ABC (#18), but C^2 and D^2 were just about to blow everything up.

–I’ve written before about those few weeks I first got to play DJ at WTLX in the spring of 83. The station manager hadn’t bought too many 45s for us to weave into our shows; based on what I recall seeing in the studio, what little she’d done probably occurred at the very beginning of the term. One of those I played, at least once, was “Heart of the Night,” the sixth of Juice Newton’s seven Top 40 hits. It’s at #29 on this show and would reach #25 the following month. I’ve always liked “Angel of the Morning” and “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” pretty well, but “Heart of the Night” communicates its atmosphere, its sense of anticipation and desire, so well that I wonder if it isn’t her best single.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/8/72: Three Dog Night, “An Old Fashioned Love Song”

This past Wednesday evening through Sunday afternoon, we hosted my cousin from Massachusetts and her friend. The four of us spent three days gallivanting all around these parts, and had quite the good time doing it. On Thursday, we took an informal tour of the horse country that surrounds the county in which I live, visited the local food co-op, and checked out a favorite Indian restaurant (the veggie samosas were especially to die for this time). Friday, we headed west to Louisville for a smallish but fascinating Picasso exhibit, a late lunch of massive non-standard burgers, and wrapped up with a trip to the very cool art studio of one of my cousin’s HS classmates. Saturday took us south and east, first to Richmond to see the church where my cousin’s parents were married and accidentally discover that the house where my grandparents had lived back in the early 70s had been recently demolished. After that, we went to the arts-and-crafts mecca of Berea. Dinner was at local landmark Boone Tavern, but before that we’d hit the state-run Kentucky Artisans Center and an amazing pottery, Tater Knob. The latter of these is fifteen minutes east of town; to call it “out of one’s way” is a sizable understatement. But I’m so glad we went–Sarah, the owner and one of the primary potters, was incredibly welcoming and gracious in showing us how she plies her craft. Martha and I bought a couple of juice cups–I have a feeling we’ll be going back again before all that long.

Needless to say, we were all a bit worn down by the end of our time together, but it was a fun, fun long weekend. Today, I’m back in the classroom, as Georgetown rings in the Spring 2020 semester. It’s good to see the students again.

Toward the end of our visit to Tater Knob, Sarah mentioned a business partnership of sorts she’s struck up recently with a group in Stanford, about forty miles to the west of the pottery. The folks there run a guest house, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a store featuring soaps and other handicrafts (such as Tater Knob pottery). What piqued my interest about this was that Stanford was the town where I lived between September 68 and June 72, covering the end of my pre-school days up through second grade. I’d been in town a little over two years ago, but hadn’t paid any attention to these Main Street businesses then (turns out they’re closed on Sunday, anyway). It’s not like I need all that much reason to return to the hometowns of my youth, but knowing about these might get me there a little sooner than otherwise.

During my second-grade year at Stanford Elementary, they undertook a school-wide spelling bee. Each grade was to select through competition one champion, and the six representatives would face off at an assembly. I had started reading at an early age, and spelling turned out to be one of those things that came pretty naturally to me. I wound up being the second-grade winner; I’d guess that within the next couple of weeks the assembly was held. Mom probably had me dress up somewhat. I remember the bright stage lights beating down on the six of us and whoever it was that served as pronouncer (the principal?). We all survived the first round, but my nerves weren’t calming down. The second word I got was a homophone–was I being asked about a body part or a first-person pronoun? I came to understand it was the latter. “i,” I said, and out to a seat in the crowd I went.

My recollection is that the sixth-grader won. He was someone I knew, an occasional companion on the afternoon walks home from school. Nice kid. I think he may offered some consolation the next time we walked together.

I did wind up having a modicum of spelling bee success a few years later, in seventh and eighth grades, but any tales about those can easily wait for some other time, if ever.

I have no idea what portion of the 71-72 school year the spelling competition took place, though I’m somewhat doubting it was January. Regardless, mention of my old stomping grounds over the weekend, in conjunction with the show selected by Premiere for rebroadcast, perhaps made it a decent choice for writing up now. Looking over this countdown, I realize that I was still some time away from regularly being able to focus on what was playing on the car radio in the moment (I was a few weeks shy of turning eight). But Three Dog Night was one group whose work I already had some awareness of. They had two songs on this show: “Never Been to Spain” debuts at #24, while “An Old Fashioned Love Song” tumbles from #4 to #18. The one that’s falling is among my favorites of theirs, so it gets the nod here. The speller in me is twitching over the lack of a hyphen in the title, however.