May just slipped away this year, Memorial Day came in early, and we haven’t had very much warm weather up here yet. It’s downright odd seeing June on the calendar, but the evidence that summer has arrived is just outside my window. Today I thought we’d take a trip through some past summers one song at a time. Number-One songs would be a logical way to do it, but that’s been done to death. Let’s grab the Number 40 song from the Hot 100 on the first of June in some selected years and see what they can tell us about the summer.
1972: “Rocket Man”/Elton John (eventual peak: #6, July 15). I remember the day I brought this single home from the record store. My brother and I are waiting in a parked car (still the ’65 Comet, I believe) for Mom to come out of whatever store she’s in. Rain is falling lightly on the window. I’m in the front seat and I’m holding the record, which has a (mostly) yellow Uni Records label and a flimsy red-and-yellow paper sleeve. It’s the first Elton John record I’ll ever buy, but not the last.
1974: “On and On”/Gladys Knight and the Pips (eventual peak: #5, July 13). The fire that damaged the upstairs of our house was only a couple of weeks in the past; my new hangout was the semi-finished family room in the basement, where I listened to Chicago’s WCFL, which was about to pull even with WLS in their great Top 40 war. You couldn’t get ‘CFL in Wisconsin after dark, however, so I switched over to WACI, an FM station from nearby Freeport, Illinois. In those days, small-town rock stations could be every bit as good as the major-market flamethrowers, and for a brief time in the 70s, WACI frequently rose to that level.
1976: “Still Crazy After All These Years”/Paul Simon (peak position). A summer I’ll conjure with until the end of time begins with an ill-fated effort to get hired by my hometown radio station. It’s the last year I’ll play organized softball, and I’ve never forgotten the way it felt to be out on the field, swatting gnats and mosquitoes in the sticky air, the lights taking hold as the sun goes down. My enthusiasm far outweighs my skill, but it doesn’t matter. The failure of “Still Crazy After All These Years” to rise any higher than Number 40 doesn’t matter, either. It will be around until the end of time, too.
1978: “Stay”/Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan (eventual peak: #38, June 10). I graduated from high school on May 30, and this song was just another way in which the radio talked to me all that spring. “Stay” wasn’t around long enough to leave much of an impression, however.
1979: “Dance the Night Away”/Van Halen (eventual peak: #15, July 14). I was working weekends at KDTH in Dubuque by this time, but still living at home. Since it was too far to commute to work, I spent the weekends with a couple of older college friends who had an apartment in town. I followed them around like a puppy, trying to absorb all they knew about radio and the real life of radio guys. It was my first extended exposure to city life, too—not an especially large or cosmopolitan one, I know, but I liked it nevertheless.
1981: “Nobody Wins”/Elton John (eventual peak: #21, June 20). This was the first summer I spent entirely away from home, in an apartment known as Broadcast Manor, although it was a mere two-bedroom townhouse. The charcoal grill was always hot and the beer was always cold, although I also saved some time to wonder what had become of Elton John since the summer of “Rocket Man.” We played tracks from The Fox on our college radio station, but I was completely unimpressed. Even the disco album Victim of Love had the fascination of a bad highway accident; The Fox was just dull. Here’s the video for “Nobody Wins,” in which a sweaty Elton rocks a Garth Brooks getup as the cast of a German impressionist film looks on.
By 1982, I had my first full-time radio job, and the summers that followed would rarely be remembered in their totality the way summers used to be. And life has never been quite the same since.