Tied to Their Moment

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(Pictured: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, 1987.)

Just as I was kind of underwhelmed by the American Top 40 show from June 21, 1986, the rest of the Hot 100 from that week is kind of meh also. There are a few songs of note, however.

41. “Secret Separation”/The Fixx. “Red Skies,” “Saved by Zero,” “One Thing Leads to Another,” “Are We Ourselves,” and “Stand or Fall” were all big radio hits, either on Top 40 or AOR and frequently both. So was “Secret Separation,” although didn’t have the same sort of staying power, despite outperforming most of the others on the American charts. The Fixx is still together with several original members, they released their first new album in 10 years earlier this month, and are still touring.

42. “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”/Jermaine Stewart. Well, son, strictly speaking, you’re right, although as a line of smooth talk, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” leaves a lot to be desired: “I’m not a piece of meat, stimulate my brain” and “Take my hand, let’s hit the floor, shake our bodies to the music, maybe then you’ll score.” Back in 1986, I hated hearing this low-rent Prince imitation on my air.

43. “West End Girls”/Pet Shop Boys
44. “What Have You Done for Me Lately”/Janet Jackson
48. “Your Love”/The Outfield
49. “Addicted to Love”/Robert Palmer
55. “Take Me Home”/Phil Collins
90. “Kiss”/Prince
If the summer of 1986 felt fallow, maybe it was because the spring had seen several iconic hits riding high at the same time. All of these were just out of the Top 40, and some would be heard on the radio regularly for at least 36 years to come. “West End Girls” might be the best song on the entire Hot 100 in this week, half-sung, half-rapped, a mysterious transmission from Another Place that didn’t sound like anything else. (The contrast with “Opportunities” couldn’t be greater. I would like to be able to explain to you why I hate that record so much. I tried listening to it again while writing this paragraph, but I was literally unable to get through it.)

47. “Bad Boy”/Miami Sound Machine
79. “Words Get in the Way”/Miami Sound Machine
“Bad Boy,” just out of the Top 40 in this week, is a tenacious earworm—seriously, it ought to come with a warning label—but “Words Get in the Way” was the first example of the kind of thing Gloria Estefan would make bank on for the next decade.

65. “Sweet Freedom”/Michael McDonald
96. “Take My Breath Away”/Berlin
I play “Take My Breath Away” on my radio shows once or twice each week here in 2022, but I’m not sure anybody would have bet on such longevity for it in June 1986. Another unlikely bet in June 1986: at WLS in Chicago, “Sweet Freedom” would end up the #1 song for all of 1986, the last year the station published a year-end survey.)

64. “I Must Be Dreaming”/Guiffria. Our friend Wesley made a good point in the comments to my earlier post, noting that “When the Heart Rules the Mind” by GTR, on this chart at #25, “is the type of undistinguished song that helped bring down AOR radio. Generic in all departments.” Record labels and radio became deeply invested in that kind of thing during the middle of the 1980s: “supergroups” making big, windy, empty, radio-friendly hard-ish rock, of which “I Must Be Dreaming” is a grade-A example. GTR was led by guitar heroes Steve Howe (who had already played in a band of similar ilk, Asia) and Steve Hackett of Genesis; Giuffria was led by Greg Guiffria, formerly of Angel. Both were lauded as the next big thing in rock, and were instantly added at AOR and Top 40 radio. They took up a lot of airtime and could do pretty well on the singles chart (Giuffria’s “Call to the Heart” got up to #15), but their style was tied to their specific historical moment. Before long, it would sound positively geriatric in a world dominated by Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Nirvana, and other, newer acts.

While the music of 1986 does not measure up to that of 1984 and 1985, the year itself remains a pretty good one in memory, as I have mentioned here before. I was doing the morning show in small-town Illinois, where we rattled around in a big old rented house. For a while that year, The Mrs. sold advertising for a regional tourism newspaper run by a guy who was a little better at planning and dreaming than execution. For that reason, at the end of the summer, she allowed herself to be drawn back into radio. Funny how that happens.

Right Now

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(Pictured: Mariah Carey on MTV Unplugged 30 years ago today, if we can trust the Getty Images caption.)

The March 14, 1992, American Top 40 show I wrote about last week was from an era when the show used Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay chart as opposed to the regular Hot 100 (although they didn’t announce that on this particular show). Compared to the actual Hot 100 from the same week, there are some differences. Certain songs riding high on the Airplay chart were not doing nearly so well on the Hot 100. (The opposite was also true.) One example is “Make It Happen” by Mariah Carey, at #8 on Airplay while it sat at #20 on the Hot 100 in its fourth week on.

I didn’t have room for this observation in my earlier post, but I think “Make It Happen” is one of Mariah Carey’s greatest performances. I have always found her technically impressive but emotionally reserved—she rarely sounds spontaneous to me, like she’s always conscious of the fact that she’s putting on a performance, and I might even go so far as to say “curating a brand.” But on “Make It Happen” she cuts loose, and it feels real in a way that her records often do not.

What else is there to see on the Hot 100?

Continue reading “Right Now”

Old Fashioned Love Songs

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(Pictured: the Stylistics on tour circa 1974. Note the song titles painted on the side of the bus.)

It is always a challenge, especially with time periods I have covered extensively, to find new songs to write about or new things to say. But I’ll take a shot with the Bottom 60 of the Hot 100 from the week of November 13, 1971.

59. “You Are Everything”/Stylistics. In the fall of 1971, I’d only been listening to the radio for a year, so lots of things would have sounded new and exciting. But “You Are Everything” hit different. There was not, had never been—and would never be—anything that sounded quite like it. I am a fan of little moments in songs, and the instant where the dreamy, ethereal introduction gives way to the opening line, “Today I saw somebody who looked just like you” is an all-timer, still raising goosebumps after 50 years, every time I hear it. But the whole record is great—pain and regret made impossibly beautiful in the way only the best pop music can. Last week I tweeted a new profile of the great Philadelphia songwriter/producer Thom Bell and suggested that while there should be a statue of Bell somewhere, “no matter how grand we made the thing, it wouldn’t be as great as intro of ‘Back Stabbers.'” I could have said “as great as ‘You Are Everything.'” Nobody else on Earth has that man’s gift. 

65. “Rub It In”/Layng Martine. I have written a bit here about Billy “Crash” Craddock, the mid-70s country star, and his pop crossover hit “Rub It In.” This is the OG, recorded by the man who wrote it, eventually a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and produced by Ray Stevens. (It’s easy to imagine Stevens singing it, actually.) Craddock’s version is better, and it was timed better, running the charts in the summer of 1974.

73. “Gimme Some Lovin’ (Part 1)”/Traffic, Etc. This is an oddly credited single from an oddly credited album. The album is Welcome to the Canteen, which is a live album taken from two English concert dates in the summer of 1971. The album was not credited to Traffic, but to the seven individual musicians who made up the group at the time: Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, Ric Grech, Dave Mason, Reebop Kwaku Baah, and Jim Gordon. But since it wasn’t practical to issue a single with all those names, “Gimme Some Lovin'” was credited to Traffic, Etc., with part 1 of the nine-minute album version on one side and part 2 on the other. That it got any traction as a single is pretty surprising, as it’s mostly a jam and not the sort of thing you’d expect your local Top 40 station to play.

76. “Stones”-“Crunchy Granola Suite”/Neil Diamond. Another excellent article I read recently was by the great Dan Epstein, about how Lenny Bruce inspired Neil Diamond to write his best song, “I Am … I Said,” which appeared (according to Epstein) on Diamond’s worst album. I feel more warmly toward “Stones” than Epstein does (fall of 1971 and all), and “Crunchy Granola Suite” is just odd enough to be charming. But your mileage, like Epstein’s, may vary.

77. “Old Fashioned Love Song”/Three Dog Night. A friend and I were talking the other day about the sound of music on AM radio. To the extent people think about it at all (which is not much anymore), I suspect they find AM’s sound quality inferior and figure that everybody just lived with it until something better came along. But the great AM music stations cared deeply about the quality of their audio. They tweaked their processing in various ways to minimize the limitations of the AM band, and to provide the best possible sound on the radios most commonly in use, especially little transistor sets and car radios. Although that’s not done much anymore, I still enjoy listening to 60s and 70s music on AM. (And it’s not just music. If I am listening to a sports broadcast and I have a choice, I will always choose the AM signal.) Record labels helped too, with special mixes for 45s and/or for radio. It’s a subject I’ve written about before so I won’t belabor the point here, but “Old Fashioned Love Song” is a record that you have not heard properly until you have heard its 45 mix.

It’s arguable, of course, that you have not heard “Old Fashioned Love Song” properly until you’ve heard it on a fading nighttime skywave from 100 miles and 50 years away, but insert shrug emoji here.

Anything You Want

Last weekend Radio Rewinder posted the Record World Top 100 for the week of September 25, 1976. (Click to embiggen.) Right on the edge between summer and fall, it’s got most of the essential Top 40 radio music from both of my favorite seasons. The oldest record, “More More More” by the Andrea True Connection, is in its 29th week, which meant it debuted in March; “Silly Love Songs” by Wings is in its 25th week, and several other songs have been around 20 weeks or more. On the other hand, certain recent debuts will remain popular at least until Christmas; “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. won’t hit #1 until January.

That I playlisted the chart immediately should not surprise you at all. I have 82 of the 100 songs in my digital library. But what about the other 18?

Continue reading “Anything You Want”

The Wind

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The kid gets on the school bus at 6:50 in the morning for the long ride through Clarno and Cadiz Townships. Other kids get on in ones and twos, some older, some younger, some he knows, and some he merely recognizes from other mornings. Some get on from neatly kept farmsteads, others from ramshackle houses or long-parked mobile homes. The gravel roads are rough and narrow, and as they track up and down and around, the kid sometimes worries that the bus, rolling like a ship in a storm, might actually tip over. 

If it were up to the driver, the school bus radio would probably be on local station WEKZ, but by passenger demand, it’s on WLS from Chicago, with Larry Lujack playing the hits. There’s news every half-hour, so the kid hears the Lyle Dean Report twice each morning. In September 1971, he knows about the Attica prison riot and the death of Nikita Khrushchev, even if he doesn’t understand all of the details. He cares more about the baseball scores, and that football season has started for the teams he follows. He plays a little organized football himself.

On certain mornings, the kid wrestles his saxophone aboard the bus. He enjoys honking away in rehearsal, although he already knows he doesn’t have much talent. He’d rather listen to other musicians, and his Ol’ Uncle Lar, on the radio. 

You’ve already read about some of the songs of September 1971. Here are a few more from below the Top 40.

42. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore”/Glass Bottle. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” is an American cover of a concurrent British hit sung by Cliff Richard, co-produced by Dickie Goodman, master of the break-in record. Wikipedia says that the group’s name was chosen to help the glass industry in a PR effort to boost the use of glass soda bottles over plastic ones. While it seems like almost anything else would have been more effective PR, the factoid has proliferated across dozens of websites, so it must be true.

43. “Sweet City Woman”/Stampeders
54. “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready”/Jr. Walker and the All-Stars
68. “Annabella”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
Old man yells at cloud: nobody making records today wants to grab the listener from the first second; producers would rather sneak up on them. (I am sick unto death of fade-ins, a production trick meant for earbuds and not for radio.) So you don’t get the banjo that opens “Sweet City Woman,” or the gloriously exciting 40 seconds that start “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready.” Related: I often can’t tell what people are supposed to remember about the hits of today. Fifty years later, “Annabella” is still right there in my head.

47. “All Day Music”/War
48 “Marianne”/Stephen Stills
These records made #35 and #42 respectively on the Hot 100 but were #4 and #6 at WLS. “All Day Music” is the single best song on the entire list of 100, BTW. It take you to a place you want to go, and if you play it again, you can stay there.

49. “Superstar”/Carpenters. The highest-debuting single on the Hot 100 in this week. To double down on something I’ve said before, had it been as easy to consume music in 1971 as it is today, the Carpenters would have debuted on the singles chart at #1 or close to it, more than once.

65. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love”/Denise LaSalle. There’s a lot of straight-up R&B records on this week’s Bottom 60, few of which got much play on pop radio, although “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” did. I would absolutely read a book about the relationship between R&B radio, the Black audience, and the record business in the first half of the 1970s. There was a whole ‘nother world out there that had little to do with white kids listening to WLS.

93. “Carey”/Joni Mitchell. The lone charting single from Blue is in its lone week on the Hot 100.

The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn’t sleep
Oh you know it sure is hard to leave you, Carey
But it’s really not my home

It will be years before the kid hears the arresting first lines of “Carey.” By then he will know, in a way he was only learning in 1971, that there’s something on the September wind that isn’t there the rest of the year: the knowledge that wherever he finds himself in the Septembers to come, it’s really not his home. Home is on the bumpy rural roads of Clarno and Cadiz, in other Septembers, on other mornings, at the beginning of everything that ever was, and all that will ever be.

Electric Boogaloo

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(Pictured: the Pointer Sisters at the American Music Awards in January 1985.)

Following up on a post about the American Top 40 show from September 1, 1984, that date was the single most exciting day of my radio career: the day we switched the soft-rock FM station to Top 40. So many songs, inside the Top 40 and out of it, can still bring back that day and the days thereafter, because that’s one of the things songs can do. Here’s some of what was below the Top 40 on that date.

41. “I’m So Excited”/Pointer Sisters
71. “Jump (For My Love)”/Pointer Sisters

Four Pointer Sisters singles were released in 1984, and every one of them smokes: these two plus “Automatic,” which preceded them, and “Neutron Dance,” which followed them and ran the chart into 1985. “I’m So Excited” was on its second go-round; it had made #30 in 1982, but this remix would go all the way into the Top 10.

43. “Infatuation”/Rod Stewart
46. “Some Guys Have All the Luck”/Rod Stewart
Rod’s full strutting cocksman mode, as on “Infatuation,” is insufferable. “Some Guys Have All the Luck” is far more charming and relatable, but if I had my druthers I’d rather listen to “Mandolin Wind” again.

55. “Breakin’ . . . There’s No Stoppin’ Us”/Ollie and Jerry
95. “99 1/2″/Carole Lynn Townes
Ollie and Jerry had taken the title song from the movie Breakin’ to #1 on the dance chart and to #9 on the Hot 100 while “99 1/2” peaked at #77 on the big chart. Breakin’ isn’t as well-remembered now as the parody-worthy title of its sequel: Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

56. “On the Dark Side”/John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Any resemblance to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was probably not coincidental, from Cafferty’s echo-drenched soul shout to the presence in the band of a large, amiable sax player named Michael “Tunes” Antunes. I have mentioned that I got to interview Cafferty before a show in my small Illinois town; I also did a pre-concert phone interview with Antunes, who surprised me by coming off as a regular guy, at a time when I assumed that most rock musicians were not.

58. “The More You Live, the More You Love”/A Flock of Seagulls. I was, in general, left cold by the English bands that proliferated in the early days of MTV’s dominance. Previous singles by A Flock of Seagulls had done nothing for me until “The More You Live” came along. As I wrote in 2009, “It’s the one I’ve never been able to get out of my head. The lead guitar has a haunting urgency that’s clearly conveying something we’d better pay attention to.”

54. “The Last Time I Made Love”/Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
73. “Hold Me”/Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston
Choose your flavor of tender, oh-so-80s R&B duet. “Hold Me” was the first hit Whitney Houston ever sang on, the summer before she released her debut album and ascended into the stratosphere. “The Last Time I Made Love” opens with a great soul-music line: “The first time I made love it wasn’t love at all.”

60. “The Only Flame in Town”/Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I have friends who are genuinely pained by the fact that I just don’t get Elvis Costello. The charm of what he’s doing eludes me. I respect his critical reputation and his body of work that spans nearly 50 years now, but I’d rather listen to quite literally anybody else.

83. “10-9-8″/Face to Face. On the morning of my radio station’s format change, I aired a series of countdown promos: “seven hours to go,” “six hours to go,” and so on, showcasing the hot hits we would be playing after we threw the switch at noon. But we were locked into a sequence provided by the company that syndicated our music, and so the first current-rotation song we played a few minutes after noon was “10-9-8.” It wasn’t exactly “Ghostbusters” or “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

85. “On the Wings of a Nightingale”/Everly Brothers. Written by Paul McCartney and in its first week on the Hot 100, “On the Wings of a Nightingale” would peak at #50 in a 12-week run, although it made #9 on the adult-contempoary chart and even got a little country airplay.

96. “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll”/Huey Lewis and the News. This was the first song we played on the new format. It was never going to be anything else.

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