Cult of Personality

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(Pictured: Paula Abdul, 1989.)

I have mentioned that for all the time I’ve spent listening to American Top 40 over many years, I’ve never heard a full show hosted by Shadoe Stevens, who became the host when Casey Kasem left in August 1988. Reader Adam kindly sent me links to several Shadoe shows, and here’s what I noticed from the one dated April 8, 1989.

39. “Straight Up”/Paula Abdul
27. “Forever Your Girl”/Paula Abdul

Before playing “Forever Your Girl,” Shadoe reports that a few weeks ago he’d said that “Straight Up” was Abdul’s first hit, but a listener wrote in to correct him that two other singles from the Forever Your Girl album had charted in 1988. “Straight Up” was her first Top-40 hit. I was tempted to call it an enormous howling error, but I think it’s more likely that Shadoe simply misread the script and nobody on the production staff caught it.

36. “Seventeen”/Winger
35. “One”/Metallica
33. “Paradise City”/Guns ‘n’ Roses
30. “Cult of Personality”/Living Colour
20. “Rocket”/Def Leppard

Bang your head, everybody.

28. “You’re Not Alone”/Chicago. Our friend Tom Nawrocki, who has a vote for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, suggested that Chicago’s 80s output hits caused the band to play itself out of the Hall. “You’re Not Alone” would have been enough all by itself.

25. “Orinoco Flow”/Enya. Shadoe asks whether Enya’s music is “pop, new age, classical, or what?” and says that some people even compare it to Gregorian chant. “Orinoco Flow” is the most unusual sound on the show this week by many miles.

24. “More Than You Know”/Martika
23. “Thinking of You”/Sa-Fire
Before playing “More Than You Know,” Shadoe plays a quick audio clip of Martika asking, “Hey Shadoe, where’s my song on this week’s Top 40?” Before playing “Thinking of You,” he does one of those who-cares time-filling special reports, listing the 10 most-popular gemstones. (Sapphire—get it?) Casey often did this kind of thing straight, but Shadoe delivers it with the wisecracking tone it deserves. And after he back-announces Sa-Fire, he says, “Martika is Cuban and Sa-Fire is Puerto Rican. I’m Shadoe Stevens, Norwegian.”

LDD: “Born to Be My Baby”/Bon Jovi. Casey’s gone but the LDDs continue. This one is from a 17-year-old girl from Barcelona, Spain, to the boy she fell in love with during an exchange-student visit in South Carolina last year. She gains points for not choosing a sappy love ballad, but gives them right back for choosing “Born to Be My Baby,” which had gone to #3 in February 1989, and which is not good.

19. “Room to Move”/Animotion. Shadoe profiles the new lead singer of Animotion, Cynthia Rhodes, who has already appeared in several big movies and is also Mrs. Richard Marx, which she would be until 2014.

18. “Second Chance”/.38 Special. Is “Second Chance” my favorite record on the show? Yes. Is Rock and Roll Strategy a really terrible album title? Also yes.

14. “The Living Years”/Mike and the Mechanics. Shadoe says that while each Beatle had #1 hits as a solo act in the 70s, three members of Genesis have done the same in the 80s: Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike Rutherford, who hit #1 two weeks previously with “The Living Years.”

12. “You Got It”/Roy Orbison. After Roy, Shadoe plays a montage featuring the top five hits from the same week in 1976 and I AM HERE FOR IT.

11. “Superwoman”/Karyn White
7. “Dreaming”/Vanessa Williams
These are both really good, but it seems to me like they aren’t on the radio as much as they should be today, while lesser 80s hits are getting more exposure.

10. “Funky Cold Medina”/Tone-Loc
9. “Walk the Dinosaur”/Was Not Was
5. “Like a Prayer”/Madonna
4. “She Drives Me Crazy”/Fine Young Cannibals
3. “Girl You Know It’s True”/Milli Vanilli
Any of these might be considered peak 1989.

2. “Eternal Flame”/Bangles
1. “The Look”/Roxette
Roxette knocks the Bangles out of the top spot this wek, becoming the third Swedish act to hit #1, joining Blue Swede and ABBA. Shadoe says that all three of them hit #1 on the same date. Not exactly, but they did hit during the same week: Blue Swede on April 6, 1974; ABBA on April 9, 1977; and Roxette on April 8, 1989. But even with that quibble, it’s quite an oddity.

Shadoe Stevens has a big boss-jock voice, but also a touch of Gary Owens—with a friendly sparkle that makes clear there’s a real human being behind the voice. (A lot of boss jocks have only the voice, without the humanity. ) I liked him a lot more than I expected to. And thanks to Adam, I’ve got a few more of his shows to listen to.

11 thoughts on “Cult of Personality

  1. Wesley

    You’re as great summarizing the Shadoe Stevens years of AT40 as you are with the Casey Kasem ones, JB. Frankly, I’d rather hear a medley of the top five from 1976 from any week than any five of these (well, maybe I could handle You’ve Got It, Walk the Dinosaur, Like a Prayer, She Drives Me Crazy.and one leftover), but I guess that’s me being an old fart music-wise here.

    As for random observations, Tom Nawrocki is dead right about Chicago in the 1980s. Look Away from 1988 is arguably one of the worst songs to finish #1 on the Billboard year-end countdown. Orinoco Flow is one song I can imagine confounded a lot of programmers then and now (“How do I lead in and out into this?!”) And the Bon Jovi dedication definitely was a blown opportunity.

    By the way, any extras aired on this show, or are the links from Adam all the original programs?

  2. Alvaro Leos

    Actually, my reason for preferring Casey over Shadoe was the lack of sincerity of Shadoe. Yes he had the “Big Boss” voice down perfectly, and the production was MUCH better in the 90s. But his attempts at humor were annoying. And I remember when he didn’t do a story he liked, you could hear the condescension in his voice.
    Compare this to “Casey’s Top 40” I remember the week Frank Zappa died. AT40 fans know Casey’s knowledge of the rock scene was pretty poor; honestly he might not have known who Zappa was. But when Casey did the update, you knew Zappa was somebody who mattered and who would be missed. And that’s the sign of a master.

  3. mikehagerty

    Shadoe Stevens is….confounding.

    I first heard him in the spring of 1970 on KHJ in Los Angeles, where he was hired to do weekends and fill-ins (a full-time position at RKO stations in those days—full pay and benefits, two guaranteed weekend shifts plus fill-in for literally any other jock at any moment all week long. Some weeks you’d pull two shifts, sometimes you’d go three weeks without a day off).

    Shadoe arrived at KHJ (from WRKO, Boston) the same month Chuck Browning did (from KFRC, San Francisco—Chuck did 9-Midnight) and suddenly KHJ had these two great voices with subversive senses of humor (typical Browning intro to the Drifters’ “Under The Boardwalk”–“KHJ, the Chucker and the Drifters…answering the musical question…where’d you bury her?”).

    He’d been promised the first fulltime opening at KHJ, which is why he left evenings at WRKO. But, five months after he arrived, there was a change in PDs, and he was passed over for the next two openings in the space of three weeks. In fact, for one of them, KHJ hired a guy Shadoe had worked with at WRKO, who, objectively, wasn’t as good a jock as Shadoe.

    Shadoe then did something nobody has ever done. He did his Sunday evening show on KHJ, slipped the resignation letter under the PD’s door when he went home that night—and was on the air at KRLA the next evening at six.

    KRLA, by that time, was the underdog—NOBODY left KHJ for KRLA….except Shadoe.

    Well, within a year or so, Shadoe becomes Program Director at KRLA and takes it to an album rock format on AM, but with its own quirky sensibility. The numbers didn’t improve. There exists an aircheck of Shadoe, only 90 days in, feigning depression through his entire afternoon shift, and near the end of it, lighting a burner on the KRLA stove and striking a match. There’s a huge explosion, followed by Lee Baby Simms beginning his show, talking about what a great guy Shadoe was over the intro to his first record.

    Shadoe, of course, was back on the next afternoon.

    The numbers never got better, so in March of ’73, he jumped ship to KROQ-AM (KRLA went Adult Contemporary). Eight months later, just as KROQ added an FM signal, Shadoe became PD, and did essentially the same thing he’d done at KRLA. But KROQ was mismanaged, the AM signal was hopeless and the FM only marginally better. So , again, no improvement.

    Then, in 1974, Shadoe gets the PD gig at KMET, does pretty much the same thing he did at KRLA and KROQ—-and it works. Shadoe takes KMET, which in eight years had been just sorta there—and turns it into a powerhouse.

    There was the inevitable clash with management, a few months at KWST and a return to KROQ before he finally bailed for TV and advertising and the peak of fame—his run as “Fred Rated” in the TV ads for Federated Home Electronics Superstores, the stuff of Southern California legend.

    Somehow, that led to American Top 40, and to being Craig Ferguson’s sidekick on late night TV.

    I like to think that I can sum stuff up, but looking at all that, I can’t. Shadoe is just….Shadoe. You either dig him or you don’t, and I do (except he’s better at a station like KMET or KROQ than counting down the hits) but I can’t tell you whether that’s good or bad.

    1. I also remember Shadoe Stevens having a supporting role on the TV series, “Dave’s World” starring Harry Anderson and Delane Matthews on CBS. I don’t remember Shadoe having any significance on that show.

  4. In my high-school bass-playing days, “Cult of Personality” was a tremendously fun song to play. I wonder how much of it I could still find under my fingers.

    Can’t say I ever tried playing “Forever Your Girl.”

  5. Adam

    Thanks so much for this post as well as your kudos, JB! Though Derron Kerr (who uploaded those Shadoe shows to Mixcloud) is really the person who should be thanked.

    Shadoe had some mighty big shoes to fill as Casey’s replacement, and based on the shows I’ve heard, he could fall into autopilot mode at times, but I do appreciate that he brought his own irreverent sensibilities to the AT40 mic and made the show his own.

    Re: “Superwoman” by Karyn White not getting much exposure today, a thousand times yes to this, though I’d go further and say that White in general has been unjustly forgotten. Her self-titled debut album from ’88 is pretty damn good, and her other hits from that album (“The Way You Love Me” and “Secret Rendezvous”) are slabs of top-notch new jack swing that deserve more love.

    For reference, here’s the other Shadoe show links I shared with JB:

    Aug. 4, 1990 (with original commercials; I think #26 and #25 are missing from this show, though):
    Part 1: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/american-top-40-aug-4-1990-part-1/
    Part 2: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/american-top-40-aug-4-1990/

    March 9, 1991:
    Part 1: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/american-top-40-march-9-1991-part-1/
    Part 2: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/american-top-40-march-9-1991-part-2/
    Part 3: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/american-top-40-march-9-1991-part-3/

    March 14, 1992: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/at-40-march-143-1992/

    Sept. 25, 1993: https://www.mixcloud.com/derron-kerr/american-top-40-march-of-1993/

    And if we’re sharing Shadoe moments, we can’t forget his appearance on The Larry Sanders Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaIysLTNpFI

  6. I hadn’t really considered it before, but Shadoe is probably among the Los Angeles radio DJs famous for more than being DJs. A rough ranking (which would vary based on the age of the person reading it:

    1. Ryan Seacrest
    2. Wolfman Jack
    3. Casey Kasem
    4. Gary Owens
    5. Bob Crane
    6. Rick Dees
    7. Shadoe Stevens
    8. Jay Thomas
    9. Wink Martindale
    10. Geoff Edwards

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