Time Capsule

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(Pictured: Bram Tchaikovsky between bandmates Mike Broadbent and Keith Boyce, 1979.)

On September 1, 1979, American Top 40 had been a four-hour show for almost a year, and four-hour shows required some padding. In his first hour this week, Casey plays only six of the week’s Top 40. One of them is Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” which is heard in its interminable six-minute album version. In the same hour, listeners also get another of the #1 songs of the 1970s (“My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli) and a Long-Distance Dedication of the Bee Gees’ “Tragedy,” straight off the album for five minutes.

That LDD is from Moira in Northampton, New Hampshire, and her letter reads as follows:

Dear Casey: I’m a girl, 11 years old. I don’t have any girl friends. Why? Because I’m the only girl in my neighborhood, and in my family. Would you please dedicate “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees to the neighborhood for me? Thanks a million, Moira, queen of the neighborhood. 

I have never been more curious about the fate of one of Casey’s letter-writers. Moira would be turning 50 in 2018. I hope that she’s living in some cosmopolitan city surrounded by friends and lovers, and not Northampton’s crazy cat lady.

Regarding the #1 songs of the 70s, Casey reminds the audience he is playing three a week, but sharp-eared listeners to the repeat might have noticed that one was missing. “My Eyes Adored You” was, as Casey noted, the 133rd #1 song of the 70s. Later in the show, he introduced Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” as the 135th. Missing from the repeat was #134, “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle—although the segment was offered to stations as an optional extra.

When we got back to college in the fall of 1979, all of us on the campus radio station were thrilled by the return of legitimate rock music to the radio after a year spent drowning in disco. This show features a number of songs by new acts that fit quite nicely alongside the top-drawer rock acts we all liked: “Saturdaynight,” “Girl of My Dreams,” “Pop Muzik,” “Cruel to Be Kind,” “Driver’s Seat,” “Hot Summer Nights,” and all the way up to “My Sharona.” Although I don’t remember if we called ’em new-wave, I do remember that Herman Brood, Bram Tchaikovsky, and M seemed exotic to us. Their songs were certainly more interesting than “Hold On” by Triumph (which sounds like Rush, if Rush had 50 percent less talent) or “Highway Song” by Blackfoot (hookless minor-key Southern rock dreck).

“Highway Song” creats a spectacular train wreck on the show with “Born to Be Alive,” a disco burner by Patrick Hernandez, which is itself followed by Spyro Gyra’s “Morning Dance.” It’s like the engineer wrecked the train, backed up, and smashed into the wreckage again.

The Top 10 of this show contains five legitimate classics: “My Sharona,” “Good Times,” “After the Love Has Gone,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Also in the Top 10: “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” by Dionne Warwick and “The Main Event/Fight” by Barbra Streisand, neither of which get played on the radio anymore. That Barbra would make a disco record in 1979 was probably inevitable, although “The Main Event/Fight,” a movie theme, is incredibly flimsy. Despite spending four weeks at #3 and seven weeks in the Top 10, it vanished from history almost immediately after it fell off the chart. Barbra’s next foray into disco, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” with Donna Summer, would be much better.

Does anybody else think that in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Old Scratch got robbed by the refs?

In a memo accompanying the cue sheet for the original 9/1/79 show, AT40 executive producer Tom Rounds tells stations that the show has new jingles (which were actually launched the previous week), and that they’ll be retiring the “Shuckatoom” theme song, used since 1976, within two or three weeks. There’s also a reminder about Arbitron ratings that I’m not going to try to summarize, since I’m up against the word count here—but if you have some familiarity with how radio ratings used to work, you’ll probably remember doing what Rounds is telling stations to do, and why he’s telling them in all-caps.

As summer turned to fall in 1979, the musical world was changing—new acts, new styles, new jingles on AT40. How much of this we perceived at the time is hard to remember. Thirty-nine years later, we see that the signs of change were everywhere, and that makes the 9/1/79 edition of American Top 40 into a fascinating time capsule.

9 responses

  1. Man what an interesting countdown week. It just goes back and forth between disco and rock. BTW – what did the LDD letter sound like that prompted Helen Reddy?

    1. “We’re childhood sweethearts, we live thousands of miles apart now, he’s the only person who understands me.” Bog-standard LDD letter.

  2. Cannot provide specifics, but Shuckatoom didn’t go away completely for a long time.

  3. The four hour version of this show always drags for me. Hearing the top three songs twice in one episode gives me the impression that they had too much time to fill.

    Why did they expand to four hours, anyway? Was it to make more money off of ads?

  4. “Why did they expand to four hours, anyway? Was it to make more money off of ads?”

    Probably, But a four-hour show also fit into radio station programming schedules better than a three-hour show. Most DJ shifts at the time were four hours and a three-hour nationally syndicated program created an awkward extra hour.

    1. I don’t think its correct to say that most DJ shifts were four hours long in 1978. Some were, at some stations, but others were not. (Those of us who worked 10 til 3, 7 til midnight or midnight til 6 wave hello.) And weekends, when Casey most often aired, frequently had shifts less uniform than the rest of the week. The main reason I’ve heard for the move to four-hour Casey shows is that records were getting longer and it was harder to fit 40 of them into three hours w/o editing them and/or sacrificing the trivia and feature bits that were Casey’s trademarks. The chance for extra network revenue certainly would have been attractive to the production company as well.

      1. You’re probably right. I was just going by what the average DJ shift length was at the stations I listened to in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

  5. Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Strange Man Changed Man” is one of my favorite albums. Pure power pop that sadly was the best they could give us.

  6. I have never understood the rest of the world’s love for “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Plodding, repetitious, gimmicky; doesn’t swing; lyrically forgettable. In my humble opinion, anyhow.

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