If you had asked me in January 1980, I would have told you that it was my world and everybody else was paying rent. I was not yet 20 years old, but I was program director of my college radio station. I had landed a part-time job at KDTH in Dubuque, in what we called “commercial radio” to distinguish it from what we were doing at school, and to distinguish ourselves as people who were good enough to get paid to be on the air. (Not paid much, however—the minimum wage, which practically all of us got, was $3.10 an hour.) I’d met a cute girl, I had a car and lots of good friends, and the drinking age was 18.
It was good to be the king.
As I look over the record chart from KKEZ in Fort Dodge, Iowa (“100,000 Watts of Power for the 80s”), dated January 19, 1980, some of the songs snap me back hard to that winter. I was still living in the dorms, which I hated, although I had a good roommate, a guy named Ron. We co-existed amicably, although we didn’t have much in common except our address—and after school got out in the spring, I don’t think I ever saw him again. I was taking a lot of broadcasting courses, plus an English course called Modern Grammars. I remember nothing about that one, which is not surprising, since I didn’t remember anything while I was taking it, and I got a D. I also took Medieval Europe, which I liked a lot better. (We joked that our professor lectured so well because she had lived through so much of the period. Her relatively advanced age seemed hilarious to us at the time. Now, not so much.)
A few favorite songs from that month, and a couple of oddballs, follow.
1. “Sara”/Fleetwood Mac (up from 2). What I like about “Sara” now is what I liked about it then—its hazy, hypnotic fall into a deep well of passion. “Undoing the laces”? Why yes, please do.
10. “Lost Her in the Sun”/John Stewart (holding at 10). The third single from Bombs Away Dream Babies is the least well known, but the best by a mile.
14. “Looks Like Love Again”/Dann Rogers (down from 8). Dann Rogers was big in Iowa, apparently, because we played his song at KDTH for a long time. From its skillful deployment of love song cliches to the style of its production, “Looks Like Love Again” screams 1980. YouTube DJ Music Mike has it here.
21. “I Wish I Was 18 Again”/George Burns (up from 28). George Burns turned 84 in January 1980, and since he’d done everything else by then, it was apparently time for another hit record, 47 years after his first charted song. “I Wish I Was 18 Again,” which made #49 on the Hot 100 and #15 on the country chart, is sappy and sentimental, which should surprise exactly nobody. Neither should the fact that it blew out the phones at KDTH.
26. “Him”/Rupert Holmes (up from 30). The Mrs. hates “Him,” although maybe not as much as she hated it 31 years ago this winter, when it was all over the radio at a moment when she had to choose between the rugby player she was dating and this guy at the radio station. “What’s she gonna do about him?/She’s gonna have to do without him/Or do without me.” Seems like an easy choice now. Right, dear?