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.

Diamond Anniversary Day

It was a sleepy, warm Saturday night in the Kentucky counties immediately south of Cincinnati. Friends and family from across the area gathered at the church on the southern corner (yes, the roads run SW-NE and NW-SE right there) of Graves Ave. and Home St. in Erlanger to bear witness to a third-grade teacher living in Fairborn, OH, and the minister at Bromley Christian Church (situated just a few miles north of the evening’s festivities) becoming united in holy matrimony.

The two had met a little over a year earlier, when her father, the minister’s physician, decided to visit the church in Bromley one Sunday morning with his wife and middle daughter. They took the minister out to lunch afterward, and sufficient sparks flew between the two younger folks that they soon arranged a date. Things became serious quickly enough, and before you knew it, Caroline Houston and Richard Harris, who were to become my parents, were making plans for a wedding, one which occurred sixty years ago tonight.

Someone–though I doubt it, maybe my grandmother Harris?–added watercolor to one of the invitations and gave it to Mom and Dad. I remember this sitting on an end table during my youth. The service started plenty late in the day, 7:30pm.

I fortuitously stumbled across my parents’ wedding album this past weekend. If you’re willing to stick around, I’ll share a few moments from the event. The picture at the top is obviously from after the ceremony; Martha and I have a photo analogous to it in our album.

Mom’s two sisters were already married. That’s younger sister Nancy next to her, serving as matron of honor. The two flower girls are my cousins Carol (on the right) and Diane, the third and fourth daughters of older sister Sue. In between is Mom’s best friend from high school and college (and fellow elementary school teacher), Betty Jane Webb.

The sanctuary in the original Erlanger Christian Church was unsurprisingly not air-conditioned (it was demolished in 1976, the replacement building erected adjacent to it). I’m digging the white tux jackets. My grandfather was four weeks away from turning sixty.

The happy couple, now husband and wife.

My paternal grandfather had passed away the previous November–my mother never got to meet him. You can tell that it’s already (mostly, at least) night in these outdoor photos. Initial research indicates that Kentucky may not have been observing Daylight Savings in 1962, in which case sunset would occur a little after 8:00.

The reception was held at my maternal grandparents’ house in Union, several miles to the south and west of Erlanger. It was a grand old stone house, well over a century old even then. My cousins and I have so many happy childhood memories being out at “the farm.”

That’s a pretty impish look on Dad’s face, but it’s looking like he suppressed any impulse to misbehave with the cake.

View of the front of the house (not the side we usually entered–the driveway wound around from U.S. 42 on the back). Mom is visiting with guests, while Dad seems to be chatting with two of the groomsmen.

I love the kinetic energy in this one, an artifact of photographic technology of the time; you sure can sense their happiness as they jog toward the car. The honeymoon took them to Niagara Falls (my wife and I found two commemorative painted plates of the falls among their belongings when sorting through things after they both had passed).

Mom and Dad made it to anniversary #51. I imagine both would acknowledge it wasn’t the happiest marriage ever. As the years passed, though, each came to depend on the other, to be grateful for the other, in their own way.

The last good photo of my parents together was taken in 2009, when the Erlanger Christian Church member directory was undergoing one of its periodic updates. I’m sure I received a framed copy that Christmas. It resides on a shelf in our basement.

Stereo Review In Review: July 1977

Last year I received in the mail a package from friend Mark over at My Favorite Decade. Inside were a couple of vintage music magazines; he figured I might be interested, and of course he was most correct: I had become the happy possessor of the October 1981 issue of Musician and July 1977 issue of Stereo Review. The latter is particularly cool to have, as it goes nicely on the shelf next to the June ’77 issue I had earlier picked up on eBay (and subsequently examined). Now that we’ve reached July once again, it’s the perfect time to stroll through its pages to see what delights await–and delights there are.

Articles
One Hundred Years of Recording, by Ivan Berger
It’s the centennial of the first recorded sound, and Berger takes us on a tour of the visionaries who led the way to where we were three-quarters of the way through the 20th century: Thomas Edison, Charles Cros, and Emile Berliner. (Also in the issue, a selection of the best recordings of the past century–classical only, natch–by David Hall.)
The Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, by Chris Albertson
Albertson tells the story of how pianist Akiyoshi rose in jazz circles, first in post-WWII Japan and then in Boston (after getting a scholarship to Berklee) and New York, where she met tenor saxophonist Tabackin in the late 1960s. After they married and relocated in LA, they formed their Big Band. By 1977, they were big in Japan and finally gaining a bit of traction in the States. A review of their live album Road Trip comes at the end of the article: “This group has everything you ever wanted to hear from a big band: the heat and bounce of Basie at his best, imaginative Gil Evans-esque voicings, and as fine a battery of soloists as your ears are likely to encounter. Akiyoshi, who composed and arranged all but one selection, paints her orchestral pictures with strokes that are modern, yet unmistakably rooted in the past.”

This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–Miles Davis, Water Babies (CA) Material recorded prior to Bitches Brew sees the day at last. “For wine this is, and a fine vintage too. Hearing Miles’ clear, sharp tones again without that damn wah-wah device is a joy…”
–Diana Ross, An Evening with Diana Ross (PR) “It isn’t precisely what you’d call easy-chair listening. With this lady, you’d better be sitting bolt upright in one of those thousand-dollar leather-and-chrome Mies van der Rohe jobs, preferably in dinner clothes and ready to go-go-GO!”

Recordings of Special Merit
–Jorge Ben, Tropical (PR) “The arrangements are as extravagantly thick and heavy as the scent of sandalwood in an overheated room, but they fit Ben’s work perfectly.”
–The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 25th Anniversary Reunion (CA) “It is excellent throughout, a wonderful reminder of what jazz was before musicians became electronic engineers.”
–Bing Crosby, A Legendary Performer (JV) “How can anyone sound so casual and be such an uncanny craftsman at the same time?”
–Jonathan Edwards, Sailboat (NC) “Edwards seems to have great confidence in his voice these days and doesn’t hesitate to give it some tough assignments.”
–Michael Franks, Sleeping Gypsy (JV) “But the more I listened to this album, the more I grew accustomed to his voice and his tonal flapdoodles–and the more I liked his songs.”
–Andy Fairweather Low, Be Bop ‘n Holla (JV) “Low gleefully glides through several styles–Latin, jazz, reggae, rock, country–with accompanying lyrics that are alternately zany and straightforward…If you put this charming and infectiously satisfying album on your turntable you will probably not be able to take it off.”
–The Marshall Tucker Band, Carolina Dreams (NC) “It must have been well planned, but it sounds spontaneous, and how it sounds is what counts.”

Featured Reviews
–Dexter Gordon, Homecoming (CA) “Highlights? The album itself is a highlight, and I hope it sells as well as the music merits. Maybe a decent sales record for this one would encourage not only Columbia but the rest of the sleeping giants to reactivate their jazz catalogs.”
–Nils Lofgren, I Came to Dance (SS) “His best songs are melodically charming, neatly constructed, and imbued with a teen romanticism that never rings false. Bruce Springsteen excepted, he may be the last real innocent in rock.”
–Loretta Lynn, I Remember Patsy (NC) “Still, this is an interesting thing to have around; it does satisfy a sort of what-if peckishness one might have about singers identified with certain styles. Lynn proves she can do the other person’s kind of song, and her way never wavers from true-blue Loretta Lynn.”
–Helen Schneider, So Close (PR) “She’s what pop music has grown up to as the Seventies draw to a close: a performer who uses ‘rock’ as an action verb in her musical sentences; one who can actually sing and thus doesn’t have to fake it and try to cloak that fakery with ‘meaningfulness’; and most of all, a performer who wants to get close to her audiences, not dazzle or berate them.”
–Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, This Time It’s for Real (SS) “…they are now resolutely making a unique and personal kind of music that owes a debt to the past but is stamped with an instantly identifiable character of its own…The Asbury Jukes are the first white band since the Rolling Stones to manage that kind of quantum leap.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–America, Harbor (NC) “You can’t sue yourself for plagiarism, which may come in handy for America with parts of this album.”
–Bad Company, Burnin’ Sky (SS) “Paul Rodgers remains, technically, a great vocalist, but I haven’t believed a word he’s sung since he left Free, and the rest of the group might as well be Kiss, Aerosmith, or any other of the undistinguished loud noises currently being enshrined in vinyl.”
–Dee Dee Bridgewater, S/T (PR) “Bridgewater ought to leave the heavy breathing to others who do it a lot better and concentrate on her comic gift.”
–Don Harrison Band, Red Hot (JV) “What the Harrison band ought to do–what hundreds of bands ought to do–is give up the false notion that self-penned material is essential to its glory and start drawing on the catalog of solid, proven tunes that are both fun to play and can reveal the band’s talents.”
–Roger McGuinn, Thunderbyrd (SS) “This album should once and for all put an end to the Roger McGuinn-as-auteur theories of certain rock critics.”
–Split Enz, Mental Notes (JV) Vance misidentifies the band’s country of origin. “It is difficult to tell when this group–or any English Gothic group–is kidding or when the emotional imbalance described in the music does in fact reflect the state of mind of the musicians.”

Forgotten Albums: Anne Richmond Boston, The Big House of Time

My wife’s sister lives in the suburban Atlanta area. Despite our regular visits there over the years, I’ve yet to set foot in Wax ‘n Facts, a semi-famous record store that’s been in the Little Five Points district for over 40 years. Expect this oversight to be corrected on our next visit to see Ruth.

The co-founder of Wax ‘n Facts is Danny Beard, who subsequently stumbled into becoming a record producer and the proprietor of DB Records, a small label that punched above its weight during a twenty-year existence. DB’s biggest moment was probably its first, when it released the original version of the B-52’s “Rock Lobster.” The label became a launching pad for other groups (mostly originating in Georgia) that graduated to major-label status, including Fetchin Bones, Guadalcanal Diary, the Swimming Pool Q’s, and the Reivers. The last of these became a favorite of mine in the early 90s.

The lead singer for the Swimming Pool Q’s, Anne Richmond Boston, left the group after their 1986 album Blue Tomorrow flopped and they lost their deal with A&M. (If you want to know what the Q’s sounded like, check out “The Bells Ring.”) She resurfaced four years later on, yep, DB Records, with a delightful album titled The Big House of Time. Of course it didn’t sell well, and soon found itself relegated to cutout bins across the country. I scooped it up in Lexington for $2.99 not long before I moved back to Kentucky in the fall of 1992 (a sticker with the price is still on the jewel case). It’s perhaps the most obscure album I’ve written up in this series–I can find clips for just four of its eleven songs. Fortunately, they’re all among the disk’s best tracks.

The opening song is the cheery “Dreaming,” one that Boston wrote with her husband Rob Gal.

A majority of the tunes on The Big House of Time are covers. One is John Hiatt’s “Learning How to Love You,” from his breakthrough Bring the Family. Boston brings an enthusiasm that’s a welcome contrast to the somber, acoustic treatment in the original.

The other two songs I’m able to embed can be found on mixtapes I made for myself around thirty years ago. The closing track on one them (I wrote it up here) is her take on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.”

Finally, Boston offers a driving version of Neil Young’s “When You Dance I Can Really Love.” While a faithful cover in terms of arrangement, it’s (dare I say it?) an improvement on the original.

I wish I could offer up other cuts now (maybe I’ll add some should they ever appear). Should you ever come across a copy of TBHoT, it might be worth a small investment (used copies start at $11 on Amazon these days).

DB Records lasted until 1997. The only other DB releases in my collection are the first and fourth Reivers albums, Translate Slowly and Pop Beloved. Given how much I enjoy what I have, I imagine I’d do well to jump on other DB disks should I ever see them.

This weekend included the memorial service for my college roommate James. I’m not going to attempt any sort of summary, at least just now–I’m still processing it all, I suppose. If you’re interested, my friend Warren did a fine job of expressing his experience of the event here.

Songs Casey Never Played, 6/8/85

Assembled the songs for this a week ago, but just couldn’t get in the mood to finish it off. Summertime blues, maybe?

Regardless, here are six tunes from the 6/8/85 Hot 100 that couldn’t cross the Rubicon into Casey-land. I was definitely aware of all of them at the time, either via Lexington’s AOR station or album purchase. Let’s rock it out some.

89. Kim Mitchell, “Go for Soda”
Starting off today with a Canadian rocker who’s less than a month away from his 70th birthday. “Patio Lanterns” was the bigger hit in his native land, but south of the border we were much more into this song encouraging us to lay off the beer for a night. It almost made top 10 on the rock chart, but had stalled out at #86 here a week earlier.

85. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Make It Better (Forget About Me)”
At the time, new material from Petty qualified as must-buy, and I picked up Southern Accents not long after it was released in late March. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was plenty good, and I liked “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” (even if it was an undisciplined mess). On the whole, though, I was disappointed, and I struggled to hear a second hit single on it. Turns out I was right: this follow-up, even with some swell horn action, limped only to #54, and a few months later “Rebels” (maybe the better song) peaked at #71.

71. Foreigner, “Reaction to Action”
Agent Provocateur had been in my collection since Christmas break, and it was another LP that wound up receiving limited play. The “Check-one-one-one” opening on what became its third single definitely caught my attention when I first heard it, but man, are the lyrics to “Reaction to Action” dumb. I guess they were trying to mine the “Hot Blooded” vein again, but clearly that had been tapped out in 1978. This also reached #54.

69. The Hooters, “All You Zombies”
I don’t care what you say–I like this song. While the biblical references are admittedly strained, Hyman, Bazilian, et. al. wind up making their point. It’s no “And We Danced,” but it’s always a welcome play in my house. Made it to #58.

53. John Fogerty, “Centerfield”
Maybe folks today are surprised that the title track from Fogerty’s comeback-of-the-year album didn’t crack the 40–it fell four slots short of Casey putting it into play.. Thirty-seven years on, it’s certainly the most well-known song of the six in this post; I’m guessing that album sales cut into the potential for a third big hit.

52. Gino Vannelli, “Black Cars”
I have the 45 for this, though I’m thinking I didn’t buy it in ’85. I was glad to hear Vannelli rock it out a little after the much more languid “Living Inside Myself” from four years earlier, even if I’m in the distinct minority based on chart peak (the engine died at #42 for “Black Cars”). It’s always fun to watch for dead technology in videos–look at all those Polaroid cameras…

Modern Rock Tracks, 6/6/92

May and June were busy months thirty years ago. I covered part of what happened then in early 2020, but to recap briefly: after going 0-for-March-and-April on getting job interviews, I scored opportunities at a couple of small schools, one in northern Indiana in mid-May that didn’t pan out, and one in north-central Kentucky during the first week of June that did. Once I had an offer from my soon-to-be (and still current) employer in hand, I scheduled my dissertation defense; it wound up happening on my father’s 61st birthday, toward the end of June.

I spent a lot of time on the road during this period: if I’m reconstructing correctly, it was home to Kentucky after classes ended to see family and college friends, up to Indiana for the first interview, over to Urbana again for a few days, including an appearance at a bridge tournament, then back to Kentucky for the second interview. During that second trip to the Bluegrass, my 81-year-old grandmother underwent heart surgery, so lots of relatives were around to visit. (She came out of it just fine, living almost nine more years.) Gran was the first to learn of my job offer; I leaned over and whispered the news to her in her hospital bed.

I was mostly flipping between stations while in the car throughout the period, sometimes Top 40 (big fan of what Tom Cochrane and En Vogue had on offer that spring), occasionally country (Mary Chapin Carpenter was the main attraction–more on her in the August installment of this series, believe it or not), and college/alternative when I could find it. As usual when traveling between Florence and Indianapolis, I’d tune in to WOXY in Oxford, OH. That’s how I was introduced to several of the songs discussed below–#24, #16, and #14, in particular.

25. Tom Tom Club, “Sunshine and Ecstasy”
Dark Sneak Love Action, the Club’s fourth album, had just been released. “Sunshine and Ecstasy” is trippy and groovy, but there is no mystery as to why Tina or Chris were featured as vocalist on any Talking Heads tune.

24. Meryn Cadell, “The Sweater”
Boy, do I love this piece. It’s so eminently quotable, and you can be sure many of its lines run through my head plenty–“different is NOT what you’re looking for,” “Monday…wear the sweater…to school,” “definitely wear lip gloss,” “you realize that love made you temporarily blind.” The favorite, though, gets wheeled out anytime a certain synthetic substance arises in conversation, in almost any context: “100% acrylic.”

23. Curve, “Horror Head”
Hearing “Horror Head” in Record Service prompted me to buy Doppelgänger and led to a minor obsession with Curve. Maybe a tossup whether this or “Coast Is Clear” is my fave of theirs.

Greg was already familiar with Toni Halliday’s 1988 solo work Hearts and Handshakes–you can definitely hear in “Time Turns Around” where her future was headed.

21. Pearl Jam, “Even Flow”
This was a much bigger hit on the Album Rock Tracks chart. Gotta say I’d much rather hear it now than “Jeremy.”

18. L7, “Pretend We’re Dead”
The first compact disk I purchased in 1990 (don’t ask me why or how I remember) was an obscure compilation called The Radio Tokyo Tapes, Volume 4: Women. Radio Tokyo was a studio in Los Angeles operated by Ethan James, who served as the disk’s producer and also played on several of the tracks. The overall conceit of the (wildly eclectic) compilation was to try to break some new female voices/bands. A few of the acts appearing on Women did wind up with record deals, but the only one to have any sort of chart success was the rock quartet L7. (For the really curious, here’s a link to “Sweet Sex,” their contribution to Women.)

Now I need to pull that CD out and listen to its highlights (there are a few) again.

17. Ride, “Twisterella”
Time for this post’s lost gem–I’m aghast at having missed it in real time. Amazingly close to perfect: fabulous bass line, snazzy drum fills, chiming guitars, charmingly cryptic lyrics, and everybody’s showing their best moves in the video, to boot. Put this one on replay.

16. Indigo Girls, “Galileo”
Rites of Passage is my favorite album from Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, and this meditation on reincarnation (which includes what I’ve always taken as a playful jab at Shirley MacLaine) is one of its best songs.

14. Annie Lennox, “Why”
Diva was the first we’d heard from Lennox post-Eurythmics. She gives a great performance on “Why,” though I happen to like “Walking on Broken Glass” and “Little Bird” better.

12. Material Issue, “What Girls Want”
Maybe Destination Universe was a case of sophomore slump, a bit rushed to capitalize on the momentum of International Pop Overthrow? I’ll admit I wasn’t as taken by “What Girls Want” as I had been with their earlier singles.

11. The Beautiful South, “We Are Each Other”
We last visited the Beautiful South a little over two years ago, when “You Keep It All In” paid a trip to the MRT charts. This one turned out to be their most popular song on this side of the pond.

7. Cracker, “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”
Things former Camper Van Beethoven leader David Lowery and his new band think are needed: a new kind of tension, true words of wisdom, and a new Frank Sinatra. Another folk singer, on the other hand…

5. The Charlatans, “Weirdo”
This one sure had gone down the memory hole, not that it’s especially regrettable to be the case. Two weeks earlier it had been #1 on this chart. The Charlatans had only a little more success on the U.S. alternative scene but kept generating hits in Britain for another decade.

3. The Soup Dragons, “Divine Thing”
In contrast, this Scottish band was almost to the end of their line; Hotwired would be their final album to generate any traction anywhere. “Divine Thing” would make the U.S. Top 40 in September, eventually peaking at #35. I’ll grant it’s got a memorable riff.

2. The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love”
The days-of-the-week litany in the verses is cute enough, but it’s the bridge that pulls everything together and convinces me that our protagonist really is in love, dammit.

1. XTC, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”
Is Peter a stand-in for JFK? Jesus? Some random populist dude? All or none of the above? Got me; what I do know is I was disappointed that Nonsuch became the last new music from XTC until almost the end of the decade.

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.

Stereo Review In Review: May 1980

Let’s stick with the same time period mined in last week’s Songs Casey Never Played; in fact, the intersection of acts addressed below with that post is very much nonempty. Lots of good stuff in this one.

I think these late 70s/early 80s issues of SR are the ones nearest to my heart. The number of reviews in each issue declined starting around 1984, so I look back now and appreciate all the more the density of their efforts during this period. Additionally, as I was moving into my mid- and late teens, I perhaps recognized a higher percentage of the artists being written up.

Article
Zita Allen interviews Stevie Wonder
Allen gives a brief overview of Wonder’s career to date and then talks with him about his most recent release, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The process Wonder undergoes to create the soundtrack for a movie, with the music keyed to the visual, is involved and interesting.

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Edward Buxbaum, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–Gene Parsons, Melodies (NC) “Parsons, a former Byrd, has a serviceable plain voice, but he sings with feeling, and in this case he sings only songs he obviously cares about.”
–Ray, Goodman, & Brown, S/T (JV) “The prominent bass and the tenor/falsetto have not been in fashion for over a decade, but RG & B restore them to their original roles.”
–The Searchers, S/T (SS) “…the result—their first album in almost a decade—is something of a small miracle: a thoroughly modern, utterly captivating record that rocks like mad, retains the essence of the original sound, and in general is as fully (if not more) satisfying as anything churned out recently by the group’s younger heirs.”

Recordings of Special Merit
–Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, S/T (EB) “Do yourself a favor: before you dance your way through these songs, sit down and listen.”
–Blossom Dearie, Needlepoint Magic Volume V (PR) “To listen…is to be given a painless lesson in how very fine popular singing can be when it is practiced by a real artist. When you add to it Dearie’s wit, style, musicianship, and shrewd whimsey you have a one-of-a-kind listening experience.”
–Robert Gordon, Bad Boy (SS) “…probably the best album Gordon’s done, a near flawless mix of period re-creation…and rockabilly/New Wave fusion…”
–J. Geils Band, Love Stinks (JV) “J. Geils is probably the ultimate in blues-derived rock bands. Few other groups manage to embellish the two simple and limited forms without overloading them.”
–Cheryl Lynn, In Love (PG) “Her splendid new album, the second of her short career, is enough to propel even the stodgiest soul to his feet; it explodes with volcanic force, generating enough energy to fuel a cross-country bus.”
–The Specials, S/T (SS) “The Specials do (ska) very well; they know that, as with reggae, the sound is as important as the notes, which means some raggedness around the edges is necessary or the stuff degenerates into Sergio Mendes/Martin Denney island exotica.”
–Tavares, Supercharged (PG) “…the ear-catching arrangements and instrumentals are deftly interwoven with the voices, which are employed with polished flexibility.”

Featured Reviews
–Three albums by or featuring Chico Freeman (CA) “Freeman’s music gives me hope because it is original without being absurd, because it gets its tonal character from the inherent qualities of the instruments and its direction from his own distinct personality.”
–Peggy Lee, Close Enough for Love (PR) “There is a vague disco tinge to the arrangements, but that interferes only about as much as an up-to-date setting for a really important diamond would…”
–Mireille Matheiu, Mireille Mathieu Sings Paul Anka (PR) “Like Piaf, like Garland, like Streisand, her combination of torrential emotion and fierce conviction can singe the ears of anyone willing to give her a listen.”
–Bonnie Pointer, S/T (PG) “…she compensates for her vocal limitations with musical imagination and a keen sense of what works.”
–Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love (NC) “In lesser hands such a venture would have gone belly-up on the New Wave, but this—to the degree anyone can take it on its own terms—is a well-intended, spirited, almost plucky little album.”
–Grace Slick, Dreams (Mark Peel, before he was brought on staff) “What I do not hear is the Grace Slick who contributed to such Airplane successes as ‘Greasy Heart’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ and who, most important, contributed something that was, for better or for worse, recognizably and memorably hers.”
–Warren Zevon, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (SS) “In any case, slickness is not the problem with (this album). Chalk it up instead to a creative dry spell, celebrate the not inconsiderable virtues of the best things in it, and then hope that Zevon does what he promised he’d do after Excitable Boy—move to New York City.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–The Babys, Union Jacks (JV) “The mid-youth malaise they are currently dispensing isn’t interesting to anyone who has passed through it unless it’s expressed in an unusual or startling way.”
–The Buggles, The Age of Plastic (SS) “They can’t sing worth a lick, their technological obsessios are already clichés, and for all their studio tinkering, they finally come off about as moderinist as, say, the Electric Prunes.”
–D. L. Byron, This Day and Age (NC) “Byron’s songs are mostly the expected nonsense about scrounging around in the streets—him and his version of Wendy, they were born to run, you can bet your tee-shirt on that—and his singing is projected from the same physical spot as Springsteen’s, the voice gathered up in the top of the throat and squeezed out at ya.”
–Heart, Bebe Le Strange (JV) “Parts of the album are interesting, parts are dull, and parts are silly; some skill and talent do show through now and then.”
–The Jam, Setting Sons (Mark Peel) “They work in two time-honored British traditions: writing sardonically witty lyrics that strike right at the soft white underbelly of the bourgeoisie and affixing to these clever lyrics a barrage of noise from which the conventional musical elements of melody, harmony, dynamic variation, and rhythm seem to be absent.” Clearly, Peel was trying to impress the editors!
–The Knack, …but the little girls understand (SS) “Great composers steal, said Stravinsky, while mediocre ones borrow. Well, the Knack borrows like crazy here…and the recorded results prove that Igor was right on the money. There isn’t a note her that suggests an original idea.”
–Lipps Inc., Mouth to Mouth (EB) “Somebody’s got to get in there and pull the vocal tracks and the strings forward from time to time, to refocus our attention from the thumping monotony of the beat.”
–Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (JV) “Nobody so far has figured out how to use the synthesizer as an instrument instead of a machine, and Numan certainly isn’t a contender for the solution.”
–Rush, Permanent Waves (JV) “Loud groups that play overblown material at great length irritate me, but I’m inclined to be charitable with Rush. I suppose what I like about them is that they are personally modest, work hard for a living, and entertain rather than manipulate their audiences.”
–Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Against the Wind (Mark Peel) “I am more sympathetic to Seger’s reminiscences. At their most affecting—Seger is often a very affecting songwriter—they deal with the choices made, the friends left behind, the incidents of experience that must certainly weigh heavily on someone like Seger, now looking back down a long hard road.”

Songs Casey Never Played, 5/10/80

Disco, alas, had been in retreat for several months by this time, with me nearing the end of my sophomore year in HS and in possession of a driver’s license for about a month. With softer rock largely ascending to take its place, perhaps it’s not too surprising there were several rockers that had the AT40 door slammed in their faces. Let’s take a quick tour through six of them.

96. The Cretones, “Real Love”
The first half of 1980 was this L.A. band’s moment in the sun, such as it was. Debut LP Thin Red Line came out, including their only charting single (it would soon reach #79), and Linda Ronstadt covered three of their songs on Mad Love. It’s feeling like I need to give this album a solid listen or two. Leader Mark Goldenberg went on to write or co-write 80s hits “Automatic,” “Along Comes a Woman,” and “Soul Kiss.”

83. The Knack, “Can’t Put a Price on Love”
Top 40 days for Doug Feiger and the boys had ended two months earlier, when “Baby Talks Dirty” stalled out at #38. This bluesy number from ...But the Little Girls Understand was a reasonable enough choice for second single, but we were already moving on. “Can’t Put a Price on Love” had already fallen from a #62 peak.

76. The Babys, “Midnight Rendezvous”
If “Midnight Rendezvous” had a bridge and a third verse, it might have been the Babys’ second-best song, behind only “Isn’t It Time.” As it is, I kinda get how it didn’t climb above #72.

74. The Little River Band, “It’s Not a Wonder”
I honestly can’t tell you why I know this song as well as I do–I’m certain I heard it more often in record stores (twice at most?) than I did on the radio. That chorus, that guitar lick toward the end, though…they just lodged in my brain instantly. This live version of a song originally on First Under the Wire would soon top out at #51.

61. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Here Comes My Girl”
I have nothing new to write about “Here Comes My Girl” that hasn’t already been put in print or pixels. Just a damn fine song that unjustifiably peaked only two spots higher; I suppose most folks who would have purchased a 45 already had the LP.

48. Red Rider, “White Hot”
Not sure how “White Hot” escaped my notice back then–“Lunatic Fringe” sure didn’t 18 months later. I guess this was a little before I veered more toward the AOR side of the dial. Pretty sure I could have identified the year it came out just by listening–sounds very much of its time. It wouldn’t climb any higher than this.