Category Archives: American Top 40

Wonderland

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(Pictured: Isaac Hayes, 1980.)

The American Top 40 show from February 2, 1980, was a recent weekend repeat, and as I listened, I was surprised at how vividly it put me back in the studios of KDTH and D93 in Dubuque, where I’d worked since the previous April. I think I was working two shifts a weekend by then, playing country from 6PM til KDTH signed off at midnight, then automation-tending Top 40 D93 until it signed off at 2. Surely there are other images that the show should bring back: I was getting involved with the woman who would become The Mrs., and I was the new program director of the campus radio station. But that stuff doesn’t come back as fast as the KDTH/D93 memories do.

Some of the songs on the 2/2/80 show are pretty obscure now. Let’s tackle a few.

35. “You Know That I Love You”/Santana. From 1977 until about 1982, Santana recorded a number of reasonably successful singles, but they’re completely generic. Even the biggest of them, “Winning” and “Hold On,” sound like they could be by anybody. And so does “You Know That I Love You.”

34. “Wonderland”/Commodores
30. “Do You Love What You Feel”/Rufus and Chaka
I couldn’t recollect “Wonderland” when Casey front-announced it, and I soon realized why: it leaves no impression whatsoever. It’s barely there while it’s on, and after it’s over, it’s gone. Similarly, if it is possible to love four minutes of wondering when a record is going to be over, then I do indeed love what I feel.

Extra: “Him”/Rupert Holmes. Voiceover announcer Larry Morgan refers to Holmes as a British singer. True, he was born in the UK to an American soldier and his British wife, but was raised in suburban New York City from the age of six. Holmes holds dual citizenship, but he’s hardly a crumpet-munching limey.

29. “Working My Way Back to You”/Spinners
20. “Daydream Believer”/Anne Murray

Casey plays a snippet of the Four Seasons’ 1966 original before he brings on the Spinners, and they blow the Seasons away. The reverse happens with “Daydream Believer”—10 seconds of the Monkees’ original beats three minutes of Murray’s cover by many miles.

28. “Forever Mine”/O’Jays. Gamble and Huff had gotten aboard the disco train by 1979, but “Forever Mine” is a pleasant throwback to Philly soul’s still-recent heyday.

27. “Why Me”/Styx. Casey says that according to a new Gallup poll, American kids aged 12 to 19 have a new favorite rock band. For the last two years, it’s been KISS. But in the latest poll, that group has fallen to #4 behind Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees, and the new #1, Styx.

25. “September Morn”/Neil Diamond
24. “Fool in the Rain”/Led Zeppelin

23. “Third Time Lucky”/Foghat
After “September Morn,” Casey teased a story about a rock star who liked to fish and caught a shark. Having peeked ahead on the cue sheet, I knew “Fool in the Rain” was next, and the first thought that flashed into my mind was “oh god no.” Fortunately, the story turned out to be about Foghat’s Roger Earl (although it happened at the same place as the Zeppelin incident).

18. “Don’t Let Go”/Isaac Hayes. The radio stations I was listening to in 1980 weren’t playing this, and I never paid enough attention to it to realize that it’s a remake of the old R&B song: “Ooh wee / This thing is killin’ me / Aw shucks / Can’t stop for a million bucks.”

17. “Longer”/Dan Fogelberg. Casey says that Fogelberg was up for the job in the Eagles that Joe Walsh got, but that he wasn’t disappointed to lose out. “I get a lot more sleep than they do,” Dan says. Then Casey introduces “Longer” by saying, “Here’s the slumbering Dan Fogelberg.” Sounds about right.

32. “Voices”/Cheap Trick
10. “Don’t Do Me Like That”/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
7. “Sara”/Fleetwood Mac
One of these is the best record on the show, and I can’t decide.

3. “Coward of the County”/Kenny Rogers
2. “Do That To Me One More Time”/Captain and Tennille
1. “Rock With You”/Michael Jackson
Behold yet again the crazed variety of Top 40 radio in America. These three were in the same positions as the previous week, and they would hold the next week as well. It was Michael’s third of four weeks at the top. “Do That to Me One More Time” would spend eight straight weeks among the Top Three and hit #1 two weeks hence.

(For more on this show and the music of this week, including a handwritten copy of the list, visit Wm.’s site here.)

The Best of Intentions

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(Pictured: Styx in the 70s.)

I’ve said before that it’s probably not fair to listen to American Top 40 on the molecular level. Casey Kasem and his staff were just making a show from week to week, one that they hoped would be A) entertaining and B) profitable. They didn’t realize they were creating an institution, one that nerds would continue to obsess over even after Casey left this plane of existence for the Great DJ Booth in the Sky.

But here we go anyhow.

This blog has made its share of mistakes over the years, and has proliferated plenty of misinformation. I’ve done it on the radio, too. There’s less justification for errors in the Internet age because it’s easier to fact-check than it used to be. But AT40 did not have the benefit of such a miraculous resource. Like DJs in other places (and bloggers in modern times), the AT40 staff went ahead with the best of intentions, hoped to get things right, and sometimes did not.

Some feats of research accomplished by the AT40 staff were positively heroic in an age before searchable electronic databases. By the time the show reached its height of influence and popularity, a lot of the features came from original reporting, from exclusive interviews with stars and record-industry people. But even those interviews could lead to misinformation, most famously John D. Loudermilk’s tale of how he came to write “Indian Reservation.” That dramatic story was a fabrication concocted for the benefit of an AT40 researcher. Casey repeated the story a couple of times over the years, even after it should have been possible to debunk it.

As former AT40 staffer Scott Paton told us a few years ago, AT 40 also relied on popular music magazines for content. Those magazines also hoped to get things right, but sometimes they didn’t either.

Most often, mistakes involved little things. On the show dated February 1, 1975, Casey mentioned that members of Styx, then rising with their first hit, “Lady,” had been in the Trade Winds, who had recorded the 1964 hit “New York’s a Lonely Town (When You’re the Only Surfer Boy Around).” But they weren’t. The Trade Winds (two words) were from Providence, Rhode Island. Chicago-area teenagers John Panozzo, Chuck Panozzo, and Dennis De Young were in a band called the Tradewinds (one word), but they changed their band’s name to TW4 after “New York’s a Lonely Town” hit.

Casey had made a similar error in 1971. He told listeners that James Taylor had been in the Flying Machine, a group that had hit in 1969 with the bubblegum classic “Smile a Little Smile for Me.” James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine had banged out some demos in 1966 but they weren’t released until 1971. And that Flying Machine had nothing to do with “Smile a Little Smile for Me.”

I know from bitter experience myself that erroneous leaps of logic like those are fabulously easy to make.

The very first thing people ever knew about Barry Manilow besides the fact that he sang “Mandy” was that he wrote and sang on many famous commercial jingles. On the 2/1/75 show, with “Mandy” still on the chart, Casey mentions one of those jingles: “you deserve a break today” for McDonalds. That bit of trivia actually has a narrative arc: for a long time, it was believed to be true; then it was believed to be false, and pedants such as I would point out that one McDonalds jingle Manilow really did write was the somewhat less famous “you, you’re the one.” Today, most sources say it’s unclear whether he wrote “you deserve a break today,” although he definitely sang it on a number of ads.

There’s no malice in these mistakes. They’re just part of making a show, day to day or week to week. You do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes you just get stuff wrong.

On Another Matter: AT40‘s modern-day repeats contain extra segments that affiliates can use to fill unsold commercial time. Most of these are voiced by the show’s announcer, Larry Morgan, and they’re usually highly familiar hits that are a week or two away from hitting the countdown. The 2/1/75 show included Neil Diamond’s “I’ve Been This Way Before” which, compared to the usual run of extras, is fairly obscure. It debuted on the Hot 100 at #73 that week, and would peak at #34 in a three-week run on the Hot 100. It was a #1 Easy Listening hit, however, and it’s easier to imagine it there than on your typical Top 40 blowtorch.

A Hard Luck Woman After the Lovin’

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(Pictured: Rose Royce, fronted by lead singer Gwen Dickey.)

“I am entirely irrational about the songs on the radio during the winter of 1977,” I wrote three years ago. “Most of them sound great to me, and you can’t persuade me otherwise.” So I enjoyed the recent repeat of the American Top 40 show from January 29, 1977. In this post, I hope to say some new things about the hits of that season.

37. “It Keeps You Runnin'”/Doobie Brothers 
35. “You Got Me Runnin'”/Gene Cotton
“It Keeps You Runnin'” wasn’t the first big hit by Doobies Mark II—that was “Takin’ It to the Streets” the previous summer. We still didn’t quite know what to make of the new sound, however; this is as high as “It Keeps You Runnin'” would get. Cotton recorded steadily for years before breaking onto Top 40 radio with hits in 1977 and 1978, none of which get much airplay anymore: “You’ve Got Me Runnin,'” “Before My Heart Finds Out,” and a duet with Kim Carnes called “You’re a Part of Me.” Cotton’s 1978 single “Like a Sunday in Salem,” which was less successful than the other three, is obliquely about the McCarthy/blacklist era of the 1950s, and is pretty dang good.

In the first hour of the show, Casey welcomes some new stations to the AT40 family including WLSD in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and the fact that they weren’t running an underground rock format was a great lost opportunity. (I can hear the jocks now: “You’re trippin’ on WLSD, Big Stoned Gap.”) The call letters have nothing to do with the drug: according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), they stand for the four counties served by the station, which went on the air in 1953 and still exists today, with the same set of calls, playing Southern gospel.

31. “Save It for a Rainy Day”/Stephen Bishop. Like “You Got Me Runnin'” and several others on this chart, “Save It for a Rainy Day” is a light-and-easy feel-good pop song. This kind of thing would grow in popularity as the boomers hit their mid-30s.

26. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
25. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
24. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
These three songs ran the chart in a clump for several weeks, as you’ll see if you look at the 2016 post linked above. Hearing them in the context of their time once again was strangely moving. While I’m sometimes sorry to have missed the musical 60s, I feel lucky to have grown up with the music of the 70s.

20. “Hard Luck Woman”/KISS
19. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck
There are no words for how much I love this train wreck.

10. “Walk This Way”/Aerosmith
9. “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”/Barbra Streisand
Or this one. “Evergreen” was up 11 spots this week.

(Digression: I have heard the Oscar-nominated song from last year’s remake of A Star Is Born, “Shallow,” only a couple of times, but I have opinions. One, the crowd noise on it is pretty obviously fake, as if the producers were trying to subliminally suggest to us, “This song is really good! Just listen to people liking it!”) And two, you can hear how hard Bradley Cooper is working to be an adequate singer. When Lady Gaga comes in, her virtuosity reveals how limited he is. The fact that non-singing actors aren’t dubbed anymore isn’t a victory for artistic integrity, it’s the triumph of ego.)

11. “Enjoy Yourself”/The Jacksons. After the Jacksons left Motown, their first album for CBS/Epic was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble says they taught Michael and his brothers a lot about songwriting and production. While “Enjoy Yourself” has a spiky beat that falls in line with the sound the Jacksons had established during the Motown years, a better indication of what might have been, had Gamble and Huff continued to produce them, is the followup single “Show You the Way to Go.”

3. “Dazz”/Brick
2. “I Wish”/Stevie Wonder
1. “Car Wash”/Rose Royce
This is a pretty solid ending to the show. One of these three songs was on the radio literally every hour between December 1976 and March 1977. Brick had been in the Top 10 for five weeks at this point; Stevie was coming off a week at #1. As for “Car Wash,” if you haven’t seen the movie, go find it. It captures the look and attitude of a particular moment of the 1970s, and it features a lot of actors whose faces you’ll recognize (Franklin Ajaye, Ivan Dixon from Hogan’s Heroes, Professor Irwin Corey, and Melanie Mayron, who would be in the cast of thirtysomething), plus Richard Pryor and George Carlin too. (See a clip of the title song here.)

That’s The Way I Like It

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(Pictured: KC and the Sunshine Band.)

I wrote a few years back how Kurt Vonnegut was onto something with the concept of foma, or harmless untruths. What does it matter if your memory of some personal event is wrong, as long as the memory makes you happy and nobody gets hurt? Behold the soundtrack for one of my fomathe American Top 40 show from December 20, 1975. The family was happy, I was doing well in school, and I was secure in my friendships—because at this distance, why not?

39. “Fire on the Mountain”/Marshall Tucker Band. This song would become an album-rock radio staple, but this is its only week on AT40. It would peak at #38 the week of 12/27 and then fall out of the 40, but the 12/27 show was the first part of AT40‘s 1975 year-end countdown.

35. “Winners and Losers”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds. There is nothing about “Winners and Losers” that’s not awesome, and if you do not dig it, we shouldn’t see each other anymore. It’s a great big Hollywood production with the piano player getting his Liberace on amidst an oceanic orchestra arrangement. Also, the introduction dares a radio jock to be great.

33. “Volare”/Al Martino. In which one of the great Italian-American saloon singers hits a mid-70s pop chart with a famous Italian song. Might it be a disco version of said song? Hell and yes. (See also Frankie Valli’s disco version of “Our Day Will Come” at #11.)

The original 1975 broadcast of this show contained two Christmas warhorses: “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Feliz Navidad,” both of which were edited from the pre-Christmas repeat. Subject for further research: how AT40 programmed Christmas music during its heyday.

24. “You Sexy Thing”/Hot Chocolate. This is the good stuff right here.

19. “The Way I Want to Touch You”/Captain and Tennille. When I wrote about C&T last week, I mentioned that I didn’t like this song much in 1975. It liked me, however, and now it’s one of the songs that most strongly evokes my late-’75 foma.

18. “The Last Game of the Season”/David Geddes. The story of a scrub football player who performs heroically after his blind father dies during the game. Asked why he played so well he says, “It’s the first time my father’s seen me play.” Geddes, just off the craptastic “Run Joey Run,” sings “The Last Game of the Season” with the same melodramatic manliness, backed by the same angel chorus. In storytelling terms it makes “Run Joey Run” sound like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”—but schlock sells, and it always has.

14. “Convoy”/C. W. McCall. “Convoy” was, at Christmas of 1975, the one record nobody could get enough of, and I’ll have more to say about it on Monday.

10. “Nights on Broadway”/Bee Gees. What you want is the radio edit, without the verse in the middle (“I will wait / Even if it takes forever”), because that way, the Bee Gees’ hellaciously good band never has to let off the throttle.

4. “Saturday Night”/Bay City Rollers. Casey talks over the “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!” cold vocal opening here.

3. “Fly Robin Fly”/Silver Convention. On both the original shows and the repeats, songs are sometimes edited to save time. “Fly Robin Fly” is loaded with obvious edit points, so I have no idea why this show used a smash cut so abrupt it sounds like the record skipped.

1. “That’s the Way I Like It”/KC and the Sunshine Band. My memory is either full or failing, so I didn’t remember that this song made #1 for a week, spent three weeks out of the top spot (falling as far as #4), and then went back for a week. Casey calls it a “yo-yo” record. Second subject for further research: how many yo-yo records there were during the rock era, and how far they bounced.

The truth, as 1975 turned to 1976, school wasn’t so great. I had a chemistry course in which I was barely hanging on, a speech class I didn’t like, the tedious classroom part of driver education, and the routine horror of physical education. A couple of my friends were prone to turn on me when we were in a group. I could talk to girls, but couldn’t bring myself to ask one of them out. And our family, with two teenage boys whose desires were occasionally selfish, was every bit as fractious and no more harmonious than any other. But all of that is overshadowed now by the songs that were on the radio, because that’s the way I like to remember it.

Hard to Turn the Radio Off

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(Pictured: I never need a reason to post a picture of Linda Ronstadt.)

I had so many Christmas and end-of-the-year posts lined up in the last half of December that there was no room to write about one of the American Top 40 shows rebroadcast around the country during that time. The show from December 17, 1977, was ridiculously entertaining.

—We know that at some moments in history, radio music is better than at other moments. It’s important to define “better” or “good”—I’m not talking about records that speak to us personally in some way, or that recapture a time, or perform some other sort of psychological function in our lives. I’m talking about records that are critically acclaimed, or are otherwise “good,” with a timeless, mass-appeal sound. (We can recognize certain records as “good” without adding them to our personal canon, and that’s the kind of thing I mean.) As reader Mike pointed out before Christmas, the 60s had that mark of quality, when the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and the like were firing on all cylinders. As 1977 turned to 1978, the top acts of that era made it similarly hard to turn the radio off. Your mileage may vary, but I count at least 15 records that represent the best work of the artists who recorded them, or close to it: “Turn to Stone,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Your Smiling Face,” “Swingtown,” “You’re in My Heart,” “Come Sail Away,” “Sentimental Lady,” “Isn’t It Time,” “Slip Slidin’ Away,” “You Make Lovin’ Fun,” “Baby Come Back,” “We’re All Alone,” “Blue Bayou,” and “How Deep Is Your Love.”

—I didn’t like Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” as 1977 turned to 1978, but it sounded surprisingly good to me here, at #10.

—The 12/17/77 show originally contained three Christmas songs, one per hour, although only one of them was heard on the recent repeat: Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys were snipped, although the segments were offered to stations as optional extras. By the week of December 17, 1977, most AT40 affiliates would have been playing a good bit of Christmas music, and I suspect most program directors welcomed those three songs.

—On the original show, “Blue Christmas” was followed by the Elvis version of “My Way,” which was sitting at #28 in that week. (It would peak the next week at #24.) Elvis had been singing “My Way” on stage for several years, including on the Aloha From Hawaii special in 1973. The hit version had been recorded in June, less than two months before his death. It would go to #2 on the Billboard country chart and #6 on Easy Listening. I hadn’t heard it in years before this show, and it’s better than I remember. A lot of Elvis performances toward the end of his life are big and airy but emotionally empty; on “My Way,” he seems to be really feeling it.

—The week of 12/17/77 was the high-water mark for Linda Ronstadt, with two singles at their peaks in the Top Five, and her album Simple Dreams at #1 for the third of what would be five weeks. “Blue Bayou” (#3) and “It’s So Easy” (#5) had been released as separate singles; “Blue Bayou” had debuted on the Hot 100 on September 10 and “It’s So Easy” on October 8, which was the week “Blue Bayou” cracked the Top 40. Each song spent four weeks at its peak position; for three of those weeks, they peaked together (12/17 and 12/24, plus a third week’s credit for the frozen chart of 12/31).

—As sometimes happens with AT40 shows, the #1 hit is a fizzle: Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” which is in its 10th week at the top, the longest run at #1 since 1957. Four songs made it to #2 during those 10 weeks and failed to knock Debby out, but the fifth, the Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love,” #2 in this week, would hit #1 on the chart dated December 24, 1977. Although the song would hold the top spot for three weeks, it would be heard at #1 on only one AT40 show, for the week of January 7, 1978; the shows for the weeks of 12/24/77 and 12/31/77 counted down the year’s top 100 hits.

It’s a waste of time defending opinions about what’s good, of course. We are all chauvinistic about the music of the times we love best. Forty years from now, some guy will wax lyrical about how the very best time to listen to music was when he was 17, when Drake and Ariana Grande ruled.

He’ll be wrong, of course. I’ll be long dead, and still right.

As the Years Go By

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(Pictured: Badfinger. AM radio was not the only thing smokin’.)

This post is based on the American Top 40 show from November 21, 1970, but it’s also a companion piece to my earlier post about the way music sounded on AM radio. Links go to WABC-processed versions except for one.

40. “Black Magic Woman”/Santana. The first few notes of this creep out of any radio. They are especially effective when creeping out of an AM soundscape, and especially especially effective at night.

36. “No Matter What”/Badfinger. If I were to do a list of the five best-sounding AM Top 40 records, this would be on it, and it might be #1. The opening riff (whomp-whomp-whomp-whompity-whomp-whomp) is awesome at any level of fidelity. On a processed AM Top 40 signal, it’s glorious.

35. “Deeper and Deeper”/Freda Payne. Thanks to the sound quality of the AT40 repeat, this sounded a little mushy at first; really busy, with a lot of sounds all at once. Then came Freda rising from the deep, and it’s fabulous.

32. “After Midnight”/Eric Clapton. “After Midnight” comes vividly back to me from my first radio, the green Westinghouse tube-type, at night, all of the arrangement folded down into a single laser beam of sound and sensation. See also #15, “Engine Number 9” by Wilson Pickett, where the guitar is razor-sharp at full fidelity but would slice you to ribbons on AM. Equally bracing: the first five notes of Brian Hyland’s “Gypsy Woman” at #9, which might be the song on this list that’s most strongly evocative of listening to that particular radio at night. See also #28, “One Less Bell to Answer.”

31.  “As the Years Go By”/Mashmakhan. Mashmakhan was a band from Montreal whose roots went back to 1960 and which had become appropriately psychedelic by 1970, after being renamed for a strain of marijuana popular in late 60s Toronto. We’ve all got gaps in our musical knowledge, and “As the Years Go By” is one of mine. Although the title and artist are familiar to me from bumping into them in print over the years, I am pretty sure I never heard it until I listened to this show on its recent repeat.

29. “Stand by Your Man”/Candi Staton. A magnificent soul update of Tammy Wynette’s country standard. I wonder how many times in a row I could listen to this before I would want to hear something else.

26. “Candida”/Dawn. As I’ve mentioned many times before, “Candida” was the first record I ever loved. See also #17, “Cracklin’ Rosie,” the second record I ever loved; #6, “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, which may have been my favorite song of the moment in late November of 1970; and inevitably, #1.

22. “Stoned Love”/Supremes. “Stoned Love” was a lost record, one I didn’t hear between its falling-out of regular rotations in 1971 and its repackaging on CD in the early 90s. See also #18, “(5-10-15-20) 25-30 Years of Love” by the Presidents.

19. “Share the Land”/Guess Who. Is this the best song on this entire AT40 show? Possibly. The WABC-processed version sounds so great I can hardly stand it.

10.  “Montego Bay”/Bobby Bloom. I think I bought this 45 with Christmas money in 1970. Although it’s frequently heard today in a longer version that ends with a bit of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” that bit wasn’t on the hit version. (Hot damn the WABC remix is fantastic.)

3.  “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five. Eternally magical in its 45 mix (of which no good upload exists at YouTube), this hasn’t been processed by the WABC guy yet, which may be a good thing, because if it was, I’d be slain eternally dead.

1.  “I Think I Love You”/Partridge Family. Kurt Blumenau, who was not weaned on this stuff the way I was, listened to some of the WABC remixes and said, “It sounds like they’re playing in a train station, and yet I cannot deny the appeal.” The train-station metaphor fits the WABC remix of “I Think I Love You,” but notice how intimate the record suddenly becomes when the harpsichord kicks in.

In an ideal world, radio sound would be precisely faithful to the way artists and producers imagine their art. In this deeply flawed world of ours, radio sound is intended to serve the needs of stations—in many cases, simply to make them louder than other stations on the dial. In the world we used to know, radio sound enhanced the listening experience without intruding on it.

I have never forgotten what it was like to listen to that world, and sweet mama do I miss it.

(Note to patrons: There’s another new post at One Day in Your Life today. There will be more than usual the rest of this month, so bookmark it or subscribe.)

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