Casey’s Triathlon of Rock

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(Pictured: Paul, Linda, and Michael, 1983.)

(We here conclude our July Casey-thon.)

For the July 4 weekend in 1988, American Top 40 presented a holiday special in addition to the regular countdown. “The Triathlon of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (which was offered to modern-day affiliates for the holiday last month) is a ranking of artists who could demonstrate a specific type of career longevity: Top 40 hits in the 60s and 70s and Top 10 hits in the 80s. In addition to the usual AT40 theme music, Casey uses the familiar Olympic theme from TV coverage. He also uses interview clips from some of the artists in the countdown, talking about their careers and their songs. The list follows:

40. Jimmy Page. Getting 60s credit for “Whole Lotta Love” and 80s credit for being in the Honeydrippers, as will one of his bandmates, shortly.

39. Cliff Richard. Casey says that Richard scored hits in four decades, having first charted in the 50s. It seems to me that should place him near the top of this list, which he ain’t.

38. Crosby Stills and Nash
37. Marty Balin
36. Robert Plant
35. Moody Blues
34. Patti Labelle
33. Graham Nash
Why Marty Balin (represented by “Hearts”) and not the rest of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship collective?, I asked myself. Then Casey got to Nash and explained that he gets credit for his years in the Hollies. OK, so maybe the whole Airplane/Starship will be on later.

As I will learn, thinking too hard about the logic of this show gets a person nowhere.

32. Kinks
31. Billy Preston
30. Bill Medley
29. Jermaine Jackson
28. Herb Alpert
The qualifications for this show are as thin as homeopathic soup. Preston is considered a 60s hitmaker thanks to his co-credit with the Beatles on “Get Back.” Medley gets credit for the Righteous Brothers and one 80s hit, the duet with Jennifer Warnes on “The Time of My Life.” Alpert’s 1987 duet with Janet Jackson, “Diamonds,” is enough to get him on.

27. Tina Turner
26. Eric Clapton
Casey mentions all the groups with whom Clapton has charted since the 60s including the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos, then plays “I Can’t Stand It,” which is in the same league with none of them.

25. Linda Ronstadt
24. Spinners
23. Bob Seger
Most artists on the show are represented by big 80s hits, which means “Shakedown” here. Ugh.

22. Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Represented by a montage of hits, the first artist on the list to be so honored.

21. John Fogerty
20. James Brown
Brown gets a montage too, and Fogerty could have.

19. Gladys Knight. The gruel is pretty thin here too. Doing one of the vocals on “That’s What Friends Are For” is enough to get Gladys on the show, Pipless.

18. Smokey Robinson
17. Dionne Warwick
16. Barbra Streisand
15. Cher
14. Paul Simon
13. Kenny Rogers
12. Neil Diamond
11. George Harrison
10. Aretha Franklin
9. Marvin Gaye
OK, sure, fine.

8. Barry Gibb. Just Barry, not Robin or Maurice, thanks mostly to Barry’s successful 80s duets with Barbra Streisand. He gets the montage treatment as well, starting with the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” and ending with his extremely minor 1984 hit “Shine Shine,” which few people would have remembered in 1988, let alone now.

7. Rolling Stones
6. Mick Jagger
Mick gets credit for everything the Stones did, but because “Dancing in the Street” with David Bowie was a Top-10 hit in the 80s, that’s enough to leap-frog him over his bandmates. OK, sure, fine. But by the same logic—hits in the 60s and 70s and at least one Top 10 in the 80s—the Beatles could have been #1 on this list if “The Beatles Movie Medley” had made it to #10 instead of #12.

5. Stevie Wonder
4. Michael Jackson
3. Diana Ross
Casey says there are eight Motown acts on this list in all. I count seven. The eighth mjust be Billy Preston, who was on Motown when he recorded “With You I’m Born Again” (which was on the show earlier because of course it was).

2. John Lennon
1. Paul McCartney
Paul gets a long, long montage of both Beatles songs and solo records, followed with all of “Say Say Say.”

One big thing that makes AT40 compulsively listenable is the stakes on it. Being #1 on the chart matters each week. The best of the special shows have stakes too: What’s the #1 hit of the disco era? Who are the most influential artists in history? Who’s the greatest one-hit wonder of the rock era? Which song with a girl’s name in the title was the biggest hit? But “The Triathlon of Rock ‘n Roll” falls flat because the stakes are so arbitrary. You get to the end and think, “Well that’s nice, but who cares?”

9 thoughts on “Casey’s Triathlon of Rock

  1. So Junior Walker coulda been on this list if those dweebs in Foreigner had given him a co-credit on “Urgent”? Now I like Foreigner even less.

    Glad to see the Kinks on there, even if they are four notches below Herb Alpert. Any time they show up in the rock n’ roll pantheon is fine with me.

  2. mackdaddyg

    ” Being #1 on the chart matters each week.”

    Songs such as “Overnight Sensation” by the Raspberries used to push that way of thinking.

    Given how so much has changed, do modern artists really care about reaching number one on Billboard?

    1. “Being #1 on the chart matters each week” to American Top 40 listeners, is what I mean. How much or whether Billboard #1s matter to artists anymore I have no idea. There’s such a proliferation of genre charts today that #1 seems devalued. I wonder if artists aren’t more interested in streaming statistics, since they translate to $$.

  3. Wesley

    Thanks for sharing this. And yeah, any historical pop chart that ranks Jermaine Jackson doing better than the Moody Blues is already suspect in my book. I kept looking for Neil Sedaka until I forgot that “Should’ve Never Let You Go” peaked at #19 instead of #10 or higher.

  4. Frank Aranda

    I really enjoy youe blog-it’s insightful and full of accurate facts and themes about rock and roll, here comes the but- I am getting tired of your constant reference to Casey Kasem as if he embodied all that is good about rock. As a person who grew up in Los Angeles in the 60’s and 70’s I can assure you that most kids i LA considered Kasem as a shill and a hack on KRLA and his afternoon dance program. Your blog is great without the constant refernces to American Top 40-thanks

    1. mikehagerty

      Most kids you knew, maybe, Frank. But not most kids. Were that the case, Casey wouldn’t have been employed for long at KRLA or at all at American Top 40, where he was hired by the show’s co-creator, Ron Jacobs—the former Program Director at KHJ (1965-69).

  5. I don’t believe I’ve ever said that Casey “embodied all that is good about rock.” My interest in American Top 40 is mainly as a barometer of what people were listening to at any given moment in history, which is basically the mission statement of this blog. I also dig into the minutiae of AT40 because I’m a radio guy, and the nuts and bolts of the most successful syndicated radio show in history are interesting to me. And I am pretty sure I’ve criticized Casey’s style and some of his programming choices over the years more than I’ve praised them. The post you’re commenting on is one of the more critical ones I’ve ever written.

    I am grateful to have you as a reader and I appreciate your kind words about the site. And I *am* going to give Casey a rest for a while now that I’ve worked through a backlog of shows. But I will also be writing about the show in the future, whenever the moment presents itself. Until then, if there’s something else you’d like to read more about, let me know. Unlike 99 percent of the radio stations in the world, we take requests.

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