The Best of Intentions

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(Pictured: Styx in the 70s.)

I’ve said before that it’s probably not fair to listen to American Top 40 on the molecular level. Casey Kasem and his staff were just making a show from week to week, one that they hoped would be A) entertaining and B) profitable. They didn’t realize they were creating an institution, one that nerds would continue to obsess over even after Casey left this plane of existence for the Great DJ Booth in the Sky.

But here we go anyhow.

This blog has made its share of mistakes over the years, and has proliferated plenty of misinformation. I’ve done it on the radio, too. There’s less justification for errors in the Internet age because it’s easier to fact-check than it used to be. But AT40 did not have the benefit of such a miraculous resource. Like DJs in other places (and bloggers in modern times), the AT40 staff went ahead with the best of intentions, hoped to get things right, and sometimes did not.

Some feats of research accomplished by the AT40 staff were positively heroic in an age before searchable electronic databases. By the time the show reached its height of influence and popularity, a lot of the features came from original reporting, from exclusive interviews with stars and record-industry people. But even those interviews could lead to misinformation, most famously John D. Loudermilk’s tale of how he came to write “Indian Reservation.” That dramatic story was a fabrication concocted for the benefit of an AT40 researcher. Casey repeated the story a couple of times over the years, even after it should have been possible to debunk it.

As former AT40 staffer Scott Paton told us a few years ago, AT 40 also relied on popular music magazines for content. Those magazines also hoped to get things right, but sometimes they didn’t either.

Most often, mistakes involved little things. On the show dated February 1, 1975, Casey mentioned that members of Styx, then rising with their first hit, “Lady,” had been in the Trade Winds, who had recorded the 1964 hit “New York’s a Lonely Town (When You’re the Only Surfer Boy Around).” But they weren’t. The Trade Winds (two words) were from Providence, Rhode Island. Chicago-area teenagers John Panozzo, Chuck Panozzo, and Dennis De Young were in a band called the Tradewinds (one word), but they changed their band’s name to TW4 after “New York’s a Lonely Town” hit.

Casey had made a similar error in 1971. He told listeners that James Taylor had been in the Flying Machine, a group that had hit in 1969 with the bubblegum classic “Smile a Little Smile for Me.” James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine had banged out some demos in 1966 but they weren’t released until 1971. And that Flying Machine had nothing to do with “Smile a Little Smile for Me.”

I know from bitter experience myself that erroneous leaps of logic like those are fabulously easy to make.

The very first thing people ever knew about Barry Manilow besides the fact that he sang “Mandy” was that he wrote and sang on many famous commercial jingles. On the 2/1/75 show, with “Mandy” still on the chart, Casey mentions one of those jingles: “you deserve a break today” for McDonalds. That bit of trivia actually has a narrative arc: for a long time, it was believed to be true; then it was believed to be false, and pedants such as I would point out that one McDonalds jingle Manilow really did write was the somewhat less famous “you, you’re the one.” Today, most sources say it’s unclear whether he wrote “you deserve a break today,” although he definitely sang it on a number of ads.

There’s no malice in these mistakes. They’re just part of making a show, day to day or week to week. You do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes you just get stuff wrong.

On Another Matter: AT40‘s modern-day repeats contain extra segments that affiliates can use to fill unsold commercial time. Most of these are voiced by the show’s announcer, Larry Morgan, and they’re usually highly familiar hits that are a week or two away from hitting the countdown. The 2/1/75 show included Neil Diamond’s “I’ve Been This Way Before” which, compared to the usual run of extras, is fairly obscure. It debuted on the Hot 100 at #73 that week, and would peak at #34 in a three-week run on the Hot 100. It was a #1 Easy Listening hit, however, and it’s easier to imagine it there than on your typical Top 40 blowtorch.

3 thoughts on “The Best of Intentions

  1. spinetingler

    That James Taylor bit of erroneous trivia got me into a heated argument over the cutout record bin at Middle Tennessee State University’s bookstore at bandcamp in 1977 or 8.

  2. Wesley

    My favorite bit of AT40 misinformation came late in Casey’s run in 1987, when he announced that only two #1 hits at that point had returned twice to the summit to mark three nonconsecutive times total at the top . While he was right saying “Le Freak” hit #1 at three nonconsecutive runs, he was dead wrong about “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” by the Four Aces doing the same in 1955. Perhaps his researchers got confused by the multiple charts at the time (Best Sellers, Jukebox, Deejays, etc.), but this simply didn’t happen on even one of them.

  3. This reminds me of something I heard a few days ago while listening to the Forty:
    During the chart run of “Romeo’s Tune” in early 1980, Casey called out Steve Forbert at least once, and maybe more than once, for giving false biographical info to interviewers.
    (Apparently Forbert, no fan of the star-making machine, would just make stuff up about his family background.)
    Casey told Forbert that Forbert’s fans would want to know accurate info about him.
    But behind the lecture you could imagine Casey thinking, “*I* want accurate info about you, so I don’t tell millions of listeners that your dad is a four-star general.”

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