(Pictured: Casey Kasem at work, 1998.)
Because I work for a radio station that’s an American Top 40 affiliate, I have been able to assemble a personal collection of shows. I have not been systematic about it at all. I look at the rundown, see a list of songs I’d like to hear, and rip a copy of the show. The breakout of my collection by year is both interesting and entirely predictable.
Specials: 3 (1986 Giants of Rock, 2014 Casey tribute, and one I’m going to write about in the near future and will not spoil here)
That I have collected nearly twice as many 1976 shows as any other year should surprise nobody. For what it’s worth, that year breaks down by month as follows:
Top 50 countdown: 1
I need only the July 17 and August 7, 1976, shows to give me a complete run of the show from May 22 through September 25. I thought I would have more from October, November, and December, but that’s the way it goes. What’s up with April I have no idea.
That I have few shows from 1973, 1978, and 1979 is not a surprise either. I spent a whole year at this website trying to parse 1973, and while I didn’t learn much, I did find that the music was better than I remember. I find it difficult to listen to the shows from 1978, as I have mentioned before. As for 1979, my musical tastes changed in that year, thanks to my involvement in college radio and country radio; also, as I’ll discuss in a future post, the popularity of disco did not square with my self-perception at that moment.
When we get to the 80s, a couple of things happen. In 1982 and 1983, for example, I started working full-time in radio, at country stations. I was not mainlining pop and rock music the way I had for a dozen years before. Instead, I experienced those years as a casual spectator, and I wasn’t hearing very much that I liked. For that reason, 1982 and 1983 countdowns have little appeal to me. From 1984 through 1986, I was a jock and program director at a Top 40 station. Two of those years, 1984 and 1985, are two of the best years pop music ever had—to look back at the record charts from 1984, especially in the summer and fall, is to look into a treasure chest of music that seems almost unreal. And 1985, while not as transcendently glorious, is still pretty dang solid.
But there’s a reason why I haven’t rushed to fill out my collection from those years: the 1980s shows are hard to listen to. I have said it several times: when the show went to four hours starting in October 1978, it didn’t need to be four hours as much as it needed to be 3 1/2. The #1 songs of the 60s and 70s, which were used as filler at first, are fine—many of the songs would have been in the libraries of affiliate stations already. But the Long Distance Dedications, popular as they were, iconic as they became, are my least-favorite part of the show. I often play a guessing game as I listen: first, how long is this letter going to be? I’ve heard ’em run better than two minutes, which is an eternity in radio bit time. And second, what sappy, clichéd record will the letter-writer ask for?
But beyond that, the four-hour shows can drag badly for other reasons. One I heard a while back played only six of the Top 40 in the first hour, and two of those were album versions that ran five and six minutes apiece. I have also been critical of Casey himself on some of these shows. He speaks slowly and repeats himself to fill time, but what’s worse is when he talks at a gathered audience of millions rather than communicating one-to-one. And it’s a particular shame, because one-to-one communication is one of his great strengths. Pick any show from 1972 through the early 80s and you’ll mostly hear a guy just playing records and talking. A lot of shows from the mid-80s sound like they’re intended to showcase The Most Famous Voice in America.
And so we conclude this narcissistic exercise. Starting tomorrow, we’ll take a break from the ongoing July Casey-thon. When we return to Casey next week, it will be to deal with the two subjects teased in this post.