All Over the World

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(Pictured: Christopher Cross.)

Here’s more inside the American Top 40 show from September 13, 1980, which features plenty of yacht rock and other stuff both good and not so good.

We’ll pick up with Casey’s answer to a question about the first #1 album ever. It was in the March 24, 1945, edition of Billboard: Collection of Favorites by the King Cole Trio. Casey didn’t elaborate, but I will: it was a folio of four 78s that included “Sweet Lorraine,” “Embraceable You,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” among others. Also appearing on the Best-Selling Popular Record Albums chart were Glenn Miller, Judy Garland, Tommy Dorsey, Danny Kaye, and the original cast album from Oklahoma.

Now on with the countdown:

23. “Someone That I Used to Love”/Natalie Cole. Nat King Cole’s daughter serves up the best record on the show so far. Really. “Someone That I Used to Love,” a Michael Masser/Gerry Goffin composition, might have become part of the Great American Songbook had it still been accepting new entries in 1980.

21. “Don’t Ask Me Why”/Billy Joel. Billy’s gotta Billy. This has a lovely tune, but read the lyrics. It’s essentially a string of insults, some pretty vicious, aimed at a woman who has somehow given offense by . . . being a woman.

19. “Boulevard”/Jackson Browne. Casey introduces this by telling that Phoebe Snow had finally revealed that Browne was the inspiration for her song “Poetry Man.” (Browne’s Hold Out was the #1 album in this week.)

18. “All Over the World”/ELO
17. “Xanadu”/Olivia Newton-John and ELO
As much as I love ELO, “All Over the World” sounds like all the boring parts of every record they ever made. “Xanadu” is vastly more interesting, but not enough to make me think I’ll ever need to hear it again, either.

16. “You’ll Accomp’ny Me”/Bob Seger
7. “Late in the Evening”/Paul Simon
To the extent that I care, Seger’s voice is too rough and Simon’s backing track is too spiky to be yacht rock. Am I doing this right?

12. “I’m Alright”/Kenny Loggins
9. “Another One Bites the Dust”/Queen
These are the two biggest movers on the show, Loggins up 15 and Queen up 14.

10. “Drivin’ My Life Away”/Eddie Rabbitt
8. “Lookin’ for Love”/Johnny Lee

It wasn’t just the Golden Age of Yacht Rock, it was the Urban Cowboy Era, too. “Lookin’ for Love” is #1 on the country chart in this week; Rabbitt had been #1 three weeks before. Eight more songs that would top the country chart between September 1980 and January 1981 would also become major pop hits, including three #1s: Kenny Rogers’ “Lady,” Rabbitt’s “I Love a Rainy Night,” and “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton.

LDD: “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer. This is the kind of letter Casey liked best, from a wheelchair-using former swimmer to the 17-year-old candy striper/nurse who responded to his anger and depression over the accident that paralyzed him by telling him he was better off than a lot of people in this world, before dying herself after being thrown from a horse. Because I have an irrational love for “When I Need You,” I will excuse the letter and the two minutes it took to read it, but come on.

5. “Sailing”/Christopher Cross. This gets its own entry instead of being lumped with the rest of the yacht rockers in the earlier post because it’s the most perfect example of the form, or so I have heard. But I didn’t like it in 1980, and I don’t have to like it now, either. The strings weigh it down so it kills momentum on the radio, and Cross can’t sing a lick. Without the promotional clout of a major label behind it and “Ride Like the Wind” to pave the way, it would have been sunk. (Yacht. Sunk. Hey-yo!) But it had all that going for it, plus the adult-ification of pop radio that we’ve discussed here a couple times this year.

3. “Emotional Rescue”/Rolling Stones. At #3 for a fourth week in row. After 40 years, I have decided to surrender to the weirdness of this and start liking it.

2. “All Out of Love”/Air Supply. I just typed and deleted the sentence “‘All Out of Love’ spent four years at #2.” It was four weeks, but you get the idea.

1. “Upside Down”/Diana Ross. Song lyrics can be poetry, but not all lyrics are poetry. We know how certain words and phrases fill a space or work well with the music, and not necessarily to carry any particular meaning. So it is with the repeated line “I say to thee respectfully” in “Upside Down,” which would be lame if wasn’t in the service of the funkiest thing Diana Ross ever took to #1.

Real Love

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(Pictured: Amy Holland, who has been Mrs. Michael McDonald since 1983.)

I have had my issues with American Top 40 shows from 1980 in the past, but what the hell, let’s take a bash at another one. It’s from September 13, 1980.

Casey starts the show by thanking last week’s fill-in, Australian personality Gordon Elliott, who would later become a fixture on American TV by producing various cooking and talk shows and hosting his own. After a recap of the previous week’s top three, it’s on with the countdown—which, among other things, represents a sort of high-water mark for a particular style.

40. “Who’ll Be the Fool Tonight”/Larsen-Feiten Band
39. “First Time Love”/Livingston Taylor
38. “How Do I Survive”/Amy Holland
29. “Look What You’ve Done to Me”/Boz Scaggs
28. “Real Love”/Doobie Brothers
20. “Hot Rod Hearts”/Robbie Dupree
14. “You’re the Only Woman”/Ambrosia
11. “Into the Night”/Benny Mardones
6. “Give Me the Night”/George Benson

I like a lot of yacht rock, but I don’t care for the term “yacht rock” itself. A lot of the people who use it, up to and including Sirius/XM on Yacht Rock Radio, do so to demean or belittle a certain group of artists and a musical style, as if it had been quaint and vaguely cheesy even in 1980 but we poor benighted simpletons weren’t able to tell. Holier-than-thou postmodern hipness makes me tired. Americans have difficulty correctly remembering stuff that happened six months ago; we misunderstand the world of 1980 as profoundly as we misunderstand the Middle Ages.

27. “He’s So Shy”/Pointer Sisters
26. “Never Knew Love Like This Before”/Stephanie Mills
15. “One in a Million You”/Larry Graham
While a white dude such as I needs to tread lightly around this topic, and I could be completely wrong, isn’t there an argument that the yacht rock canon is kinda racist? To the extent that I care about it, I’m struck by just how white it is. There’s a lightly rhythmic feel to a lot of it, but not so much that you’d call it funky. “Give Me the Night” represents the far extreme of yacht-rock funkitude, so George Benson may be the exception that proves the rule. I suspect you’d get some debate about whether the Pointers, Stephanie, and Larry Graham are yacht—and might that be due to their obviously black voices? But if you strip the vocals and listen only to the backing tracks, they’re clearly on the boat. In fact, if you strip the vocals from “He’s So Shy,” it becomes “What a Fool Believes.”

36. “More Love”/Kim Carnes. Casey introduces this with a tic that drives me nuts: “Kim Carnes is the biggest dropper in the countdown this week, tumbling 22 notches from #14 to #36. Kim Carnes, with “‘More Love’,” repeating her name as if we wouldn’t be able to remember it from literally five seconds before.

Casey opens the AT40 Book of Records to find which act had the most Top-10 hits in a calendar year. Jimmy Dorsey and the Beatles tied for third place with 11; Bing Crosby once had 12. The leader: Glenn Miller, who hit the Top 10 15 times in 1942 alone. That record has since been smashed by Drake, who has 25 Top 10s—but to climb back up on a hill I would die on, such achievements during the streaming-and-download era cannot be directly compared to the era when you had to put on pants, go to a store, and buy a piece of plastic.

35. “You’re Supposed to Keep Your Love for Me”/Jermaine Jackson. Before listening to this show, I’d never heard “You’re Supposed to Keep Your Love for Me,” or even heard of it. It’s a Stevie Wonder production that did four weeks in the Top 40, peaking at #34.

EXTRA: “Moody River”/Pat Boone
EXTRA: “Quarter to Three”/Gary U.S. Bonds
EXTRA: “Tossin’ and Turnin'”/Bobby Lewis
Casey is playing all of the #1 songs of the 60s, like ’em or not. “Quarter to Three” and “Tossin’ and Turnin'” rock harder than all but a couple of the hits on this week’s chart.

30. “How Does It Feel to Be Back”/Hall and Oates. Repeating myself here: as many iconic songs as Voices contained, “How Does It Feel to Be Back,” the first single, is still the best thing on it.

LDD: “You Are So Beautiful”/Joe Cocker. With a letter from Dawn in Davenport, Iowa, to Fred (“both my fiance and my very special friend”) in South Korea. The letter is standard-issue I-miss-the-father-of-my-baby junk. For chrissakes, Dawn, buy a damn airmail stamp, write to Fred yourself, and spare us.

25. “Jesse”/Carly Simon Is this yacht? I’m about an hour-and-a-half into the show and I’m losing interest in the basic premise of this post. So I’ll stop here and pick it up again on Monday.

No Mountain High Enough

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(Pictured: Diana Ross.)

I have already written over 1500 words about the American Top 40 show from September 5, 1970, and here are a few hundred more.

EXTRA: “Second Hand Rose”/Barbra Streisand
EXTRA: “Mr. Businessman”/Ray Stevens

When this show originally aired in 1970, it contained several extra songs beyond the week’s Top 40. They included “Hey Little Girl” by Dee Clark and “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, which were snipped from the modern-day repeat, along with CCR’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was probably spotlighted as a track from the #1 album that week, Cosmo’s Factory, something Casey did regularly during the show’s earliest days. “Second Hand Rose” was left in the repeat, however, and before playing it, Casey explains that Barbra’s then-husband, Elliott Gould, fell in love with her partly because she reminded him of a combination of his two favorite people: Sophia Loren and former New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle. With “Mr. Businessman,” Casey says that Ray Stevens is the great-great grandson of Alexander Stephens, who was the vice-president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Although Stevens has gone full Trumper in recent years, “Mr. Businessman” criticizes the soulless pursuit of success in period-appropriate fashion.

I wrote last week about how American Top 40 was developing in real time during 1970 and 1971, gradually becoming the show we know today. Beyond extra songs, there’s other stuff in the earliest shows that is edited out of the repeats. Teases for those extra songs are only a part of it. In the show’s first year or so, certain promos and national commercials were placed outside of the local break structure. They are usually removed from the repeats, although there was one show from May 1971, if I’m recalling correctly, that left ’em in, and it was fascinating to hear them. I am guessing there were some in the 9/5/70 show, although they aren’t shown on the cue sheet (which may be a modern-day recreation of the original). Because Casey talks so fast on this show, some of the edits are very abrupt. I’m not sure the average listener would notice them, but I do.

13. “Julie Do Ya Love Me”/Bobby Sherman. Have I ever admitted at this website that that this was one of the first 45s I ever owned?

10. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/CCR. The fifth and final CCR hit to eventually stall at #2. Despite its success, it was never played live, apparently—not until John Fogerty put it into a solo setlist in 1989.

9. “Spill the Wine”/Eric Burdon and War. I said on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that there is not enough alcohol in the world to get me to do karaoke, but if there was, “Spill the Wine” would be my song.

8. “Why Can’t I Touch You”/Ronnie Dyson
7. “Patches”/Clarence Carter
6. “25 or 6 to 4″/Chicago
5. “Close to You”/Carpenters
4. “In the Summertime”/Mungo Jerry
3. “Make It With You”/Bread
Top to bottom, the variety on this show is impressive, typified by this stretch: a glorious pop/soul production, a deep Southern soul story song, the hardest-rockin’ hit of the week, a Burt Bacharach/Hal David joint made immortal by a brilliant singer/producer duo, some thoroughly English pop oddness, and the template for 70s soft rock, one after the other.

2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Diana Ross. Up from #9 last week and headed for #1 two weeks hence, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” does not unstick me in time like other songs on this chart do. I’ve heard it too many times in 50 years for that to happen anymore. But it might be the best thing on the show nevertheless.

1. “War”/Edwin Starr. In 2020, a year of unchecked pandemic, economic ruin, racial hatred, and the looming threat of a fascist takeover, popular music has doubled down on escapism, to the point at which turning on the radio can be an embarrassment. Who are these vapid, singing nitwits, and what planet do they live on? Look, I get it. Music is a diversion for most people, a way to stop having to think about our collapsing society. But there’s a point at which seeking nothing but diversion becomes a lie you tell to yourself.

Here in 2020 there is no equivalent to “War,” a massive hit record that cries out in disbelief while it churns with rage. There is nothing, and there likely will be nothing, that says, “You might have the power to kill us, but we won’t go without telling how much we hate you.”

But there damn well ought to be.

Groovy Situation

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(Pictured: Melanie.)

Here’s more about the American Top 40 show from September 5, 1970—a half-century ago, and feeling every minute of 50 years gone, although maybe that’s just me.

The cue sheet for this show marks it as an artifact of a bygone time. The show is made up of 10 segments per hour and has about nine minutes of local commercial availability per hour. So the assumption was that the breaks would contain only a spot or two. Not only that—more than half of the show’s segments consist of a single song. The rest have two. The show would seem pretty choppy to a modern audience: a song, two spots, two songs, two spots, and so on. This was not terribly uncommon for Top 40 radio then. There was no premium on uninterrupted music, and “less talk” was not yet in anyone’s vocabulary. But anybody who’s grown up with radio since the 1980s would find it cluttered and frustrating. (Today’s edited repeats are structured with three breaks per hour.)

Now let’s talk about the music.

40. “All Right Now”/Free
39. “Summertime Blues”/The Who
38. “Neanderthal Man”/Hotlegs
37. “Peace Will Come (According to Plan)”/Melanie
This show starts out great, with the short radio edit of “All Right Now” in its first week on, but the next three are a slog. “Summertime Blues,” the single from Live at Leeds, has always seemed pointless to me, while “Neanderthal Man,” for what it is, is twice as long as it needs to be. Melanie’s appeal has always eluded me—her music is redolent of patchouli oil and wet dog, and I have never understood why, at age 23, she sounded like somebody’s grandmother.

36. “Closer to Home”/Grand Funk Railroad
35. “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith and the First National Band
30. “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me”/Robin McNamara
29. “Cracklin’ Rosie”/Neil Diamond
24. “Groovy Situation”/Gene Chandler
23. “Solitary Man”/Neil Diamond
This, on the other hand, is some of the stuff that got me started, on pop music, on radio, on everything that came after.

31. “(Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”/James Brown. Contrary to urban legend, Casey gives the title of this. In later years, he would announce other PG-rated titles including “The Bitch Is Back” and “I Want Your Sex,” also contrary to urban legend. Sometimes he would gloss over or omit them, but not 100 percent of the time.

28. “Tighter, Tighter”/Alive and Kicking. Casey says that this song is one of his favorites. In later years, he would rarely, if ever, be so explicit about which songs he liked. On a show that would become laser-focused on the music and the listener, the host’s opinion about what’s good is irrelevant.

26. “Rubber Duckie”/Ernie (Jim Henson). I haven’t been a program director for 25 years, but I still have that spidey sense. If some hilariously terrible record takes up three minutes of AT40 airtime with an audience that knows what they’re getting when they tune in, I’m fine with that. There are a couple of exceptions, however. A few years back, at my suggestion, my station snipped the full four minutes of Bloodrock’s godawful “D.O.A.” down to a minute. Were I programming an AT40 affiliate today, I’d do the same thing with “Rubber Duckie.” Although it got to #16 on the Hot 100, was #1 in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and smaller cities, top-five in other major markets, and top-10 at WLS in Chicago, the precise nature of its appeal is mystifying now.

Digression: “Rubber Duckie” is on The Sesame Street Book and Record, which came out in the spring of 1970. It would be my four-year-old brother’s gift from Santa at Christmas that year, so I would come to know it well. It has Kermit the Frog’s performance of “Bein’ Green,” the funky “Rub Your Tummy” by Gordon, and “ABC-DEF-GHI,” in which Big Bird reads the entire alphabet as a single word, pronounced: “abkadeaf-gheejekyllminop-qurrstoovwicksizz.” They’re all infinitely more listenable than “Rubber Duckie.”

18. “Candida”/Dawn. The biggest mover on the 9/5/70 show, up 15 “points,” to use Casey’s formulation from the early days.

The place of “Candida” in my personal mythology has been well-established at this website. I was listening to this show on a particularly horrible day this week, a day on which I was sick of my work, sick of this sad world, sick of everything from morning til night—and all I could think was how badly I wanted to be young again, my discoveries yet unmade and my roads yet untraveled, to be able to love my cherished songs again for the first time.

And I couldn’t get through it. But I will, and we’ll finish off this show in the next installment.

Tell It All Brother

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(Pictured: Kenny Rogers and the First Edition with drummer Mickey Jones on the right, 1970.)

It’s easy to forget that ubiquitous institutions, things that have been familiar forever, had to be conceived, built, and developed. It’s a rare vision that springs complete from the minds of its creators. The unfolding of that developmental process is why I am fascinated by the earliest editions of American Top 40.

The show from September 5, 1970, displays some serious growing pains, and its biggest problem is with its host. By the time the show launched in 1970, Casey had been a major-market radio jock for a decade in Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, and Los Angeles. But on this show, he just doesn’t sound good. He’s ragged and weird and amateurish at times, far more than on other shows from the late summer and early fall of 1970.

At the height of his career, Casey was one of the great communicators in media. You got the sense that he cared that you really heard what he had to say. But he wasn’t consistently that way during the first year of American Top 40. It’s not just his early tendency to rush—to move from point to point too quickly. On this show, the problem is greater. Often, he’s just saying words without being especially mindful of what they are, like his brain has already moved on, thinking of what he’s going to say or do next. Which is what radio jocks do when they’re winging it.

Just as important as what you say is how you say it. And mindfulness is the difference between somebody who is talking with you and somebody who is just talking at you. This is why I have come to rely so much on scripting my radio shows. I almost always have what I’m going to say in front of me before I say it, so when I say it, I can concentrate on communicating the intention of a thought I’ve already had, instead of having to simultaneously come up with a thought and how to communicate it.

(This is something I didn’t learn until I was literally 50 years old, which was about 25 years too late to advance my career.)

If you know what you’re going to say, and how, before you say it, you avoid poorly thought-out ideas like Casey’s tease for Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” which he says was inspired by a bottle of wine—only he sings the word “wi-i-i-i-ne.” I have to forgive that one, though, because I’ve done that: some combination of firing synapses makes you think something is a good idea in the moment, but the tape reveals that it was not.

Eventually, Casey’s shows would be largely scripted, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the show became The Show and the man became The Man only after that.

To the extent that this week’s show was scripted in advance, however, the writing is just not very good. An example: introducing “Tell It All Brother” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Casey wants to mention that the group’s drummer, Mickey Jones, recently played the vice president in a movie. But the way he does it is a horrible botch. He says, “The group’s drummer, Mickey Jones, told it all in a recent interview. Let me make this perfectly clear. He was vice president of the United States. Not in a dream, but in a movie, Wild in the Streets.” Which is horrid writing. Trying to get “tell it all” and an irrelevant Nixon catchphrase into the bit makes it incoherent. I had to go back and re-listen to the segment to decipher it, but listeners of 1970 did not have the luxury of rewind.

Eventually, Casey would become a master of the tease. But on this show, several teases hang awkwardly in space. It’s as if he has notes he wants to use somewhere but decides on the spur of the moment where to put them. One tease that is well-placed describes Tom Jones as “a guy who could stop the women’s liberation movement, if he wanted to, with a shake of his hips,” which is in keeping with the unconscious sexism of 50 years ago, but is also crappy writing. (And not the only time Casey would refer to the inability of women to keep from swooning over Tom Jones.) Also sexist, and also something he would do on other shows: he refers to 23-year-old Melanie and 25-year-old Anne Murray as “girls.”

Coming next: I stop banging on the host and start banging on the music. Some of it, anyhow.

Golden Rings and Other Things

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(Pictured: the Starland Vocal Band: Jon Carroll, Margot Chapman, Taffy Danoff, and Bill Danoff.)

We are back in the summer of 1976 for a second installment about the American Top 40 show from the week of August 7, guest-hosted by Los Angeles/San Antonio DJ Sonny Melendrez. Now on with the countdown:

18. “Baby I Love Your Way”/Peter Frampton
17. “I’m Easy”/Keith Carradine
There was a particular type of summer evening on the farm. You’d step out into it after supper and see the sun beginning to sink behind the barn, softening the light and lengthening the shadows. It may have been hot during the day, but it’s more pleasant now. (Later, in a house with no air conditioning, a box fan in a south window, pointing outward to draw the night air in through open bedroom windows on the north side of the house, will cool things off nicely.) Maybe you’ll be a part of this tableau only long enough to get into your car and drive into town seeking adventure. But maybe you’re going to finish mowing the lawn, or toss a ball around with your brothers, or pick raspberries, or play with the dog, or walk down to the creek to watch the water go under the bridge. Later, if the mosquitoes don’t chase everyone inside, maybe you’ll sit and watch the fireflies come out, blinking to life in the distance, near and far. As night falls, the first star you see is probably the planet Venus, but that’s a distinction without a difference. It won’t stop 16-year-old you from wishing you may and wishing you might have the wish you wish tonight.

Years from now, you won’t be able to remember the specifics of those nights as vividly as you remember how it felt to be in the place where you did them.

10. “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band. Many people have heard the story that “Afternoon Delight” was inspired by a restaurant menu, but how, exactly? Sonny says it was at Clyde’s, a place in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. Starland member Bill Danoff noticed a portion of the menu that was available only from 3:30 until 6, headed “the afternoon’s delight,” and one thing led to another. Sonny runs down the dishes: spiced shrimp with artichoke vinaigrette, fresh paté with French bread, and baked brie with slivered almonds. I can dig it. Sex is fine, but sometimes you’d rather have the brie.

8. “Kiss and Say Goodbye”/Manhattans
7. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Beatles
6. “Rock and Roll Music”/Beach Boys
The Manhattans are down a long way from #1 last week. The Beatles are in their third straight week at #7. Sonny introduces the Beach Boys by saying, “This is what American Top 40 is all about.” And the vibe on this part of the show is what the summer of 1976 is all about.

3. “Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck
2. “Love Is Alive”/Gary Wright
Before playing Starbuck, Sonny recaps the tops of the other charts. Earth Wind and Fire’s “Getaway” is #1 soul. (It will debut on AT40 next week.) “Golden Ring” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette is at #1 country (and will become an absolute classic). Breezin’ by George Benson is #1 on the album chart. And if there were a Song of the Summer chart for 1976, either “Moonlight Feels Right” or “Love Is Alive” might top it.

1. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Elton John and Kiki Dee. Me, 2016: “Songs from 1976 almost always take me back there in my head. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,’ however, has never done that for me. Figuring out why would probably require me to undergo deep psychoanalysis—which is not a bad idea, actually.” This is Elton’s sixth #1 single in America, but his first in England.

As I mentioned in the first installment, AT40‘s modern-day syndicator doesn’t offer substitute-hosted shows because Casey himself is a prime attraction. During its heyday, however, AT40 wasn’t about Casey Kasem, but the music, the artists, and the listeners. (That’s why those rare occasions when he talks about himself, going to a show in Vegas or doing cartoon voiceover work, are almost jarring.) Casey’s fill-ins had to fit into the show the same way he did. Sonny Melendrez certainly did that.

After Sonny’s final sign-off, the “shuckatoom” theme plays for 90 seconds, to the cold ending nobody hears on the modern-day repeats, and then the show’s over. But 44 years hence, some of us who were listening that week will be listening still.