A Hazy Snapshot

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(Pictured: David Lewis, Barbara Weathers, and Wayne Lewis of Atlantic Starr, harmonizing onstage in 1987.)

After the Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986, people walked around in a fog for days. That’s not the reason why the American Top 40 show from February 1, 1986, is such a hazy snapshot of the time, though. I suspect you’d have a hard time finding an AT40 with more records that are utterly forgotten now, or that were nothing special in the first place.

40. “Everybody Dance”/Ta Mara and the Seen
33. “Digital Display”/Ready for the World
22. “A Love Bizarre”/Sheila E
18. “Sidewalk Talk”/Jellybean
Adjacency to Prince or Madonna, or imitation thereof, was a good business move as 1986 began. “Sidewalk Talk,” written by Madonna and released under the name of producer John “Jellybean” Benitez, is sung by Cat Buchanan, who is name-checked by Casey when he introduces the song. Madge sings backup. Prince wrote “A Love Bizarre,” sings on it, and produced it. “Everybody Dance” is produced by Prince associate Jesse Johnson. “Digital Display” sucks on its own.

39. “Day by Day”/Hooters
30. “Everything in My Heart”/Corey Hart
The production of these records hurts my ears: that flinty noise the Hooters put on everything and that drum sound on “Everything in My Heart,” plus Hart’s weird inflections, like he learned the words phonetically.

38. “Russians”/Sting
19. “Party All the Time”/Eddie Murphy
I have disliked “Russians” for years (receipts here), grim and pretentious and awful, although its appeal in 1986, with Ronald Reagan’s finger on the nuclear trigger, is understandable. Casey quotes Eddie Murphy telling an interviewer he was serious about his singing career, but in no universe does  “Party All the Time” sound like the work of an artist with something worthwhile to offer. Radio’s rapturous promotion of both is among the sins we’ll have to answer for on Judgment Day.

31. “Secret Lovers”/Atlantic Starr
21. “Alive and Kicking”/Simple Minds

20. “Life in a Northern Town”/Dream Academy
10. “Go Home”/Stevie Wonder
9. “Walk of Life”/Dire Straits

Any one of these might be the best song on the show, but there’s a good chance it’s “Secret Lovers.” Although “Alive and Kicking” got to #3, who remembers it now? “Life in a Northern Town,” about a British childhood in 1963, is both vividly drawn and half-remembered, like a dream can be. “Go Home” is Stevie’s final Top 10 hit to date. Casey precedes “Walk of Life” with a feature on what he calls the most famous “walks of life” in history: Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March, Mao Tse-Tung’s Great March of 1934, and the Trail of Tears. Anybody who’s ever been on the air knows that not every bit is going to be golden, so I ain’t mad about it.

Early in the second hour, Casey does a brief feature on Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” as the first song to hit #1 on the pop, soul, and country charts. He plays about 20 seconds of it, and it stomps every other record on the show.

17. “Goodbye”/Night Ranger
14. “Kyrie”/Mr. Mister
I recently called Night Ranger “bombastic, overblown hogwash that also sounded great on the radio,” and “Goodbye” is certainly that. “Kyrie” is equally ridiculous, although “Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel / Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night” is one of the greatest punch-your-fist-in-the-air choruses ever. Casey says “Kyrie” is one of many hit song titles in a foreign language, Greek, adding to a list that also includes French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Latin, and others.

6. “My Hometown”/Bruce Springsteen. Casey reports that Born in the USA has become the third-biggest selling album of all time, behind Thriller and Saturday Night Fever. It’s at #11 in this week after spent 84 straight weeks in the Top 10. Call me if Drake ever does that.

LDD: “Missing You”/John Waite. From high-school junior Jill to her loser friend Todd, who is currently in some kind of double-secret drug rehab program where he can’t receive letters or phone calls. I believe they call that “jail,” Jill.

4. “Talk to Me”/Stevie Nicks
3. “I’m Your Man”/Wham
2. “Burning Heart”/Survivor

There are maybe five songs on this entire list that you’re halfway likely to hear on the radio somewhere today, and these ain’t any of them.

1. “That’s What Friends Are For”/Dionne Warwick and Friends. Given its associated starpower (Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John) and its high-profile cause (AIDS research), “That’s What Friends Are For” (originally recorded by Rod Stewart in 1982) was never not going to be a smash. In fact, it would end up Billboard‘s #1 song for 1986. It’s one of seven singles from this show to make the year-end Top 10, which tells you plenty about the months to come.

There was a lot of hating in this post today. I’ll try to do better next time.

When Will I See You Again

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(Pictured: the Three Degrees, Valerie Hudson, Fayette Pinkney, and Sheila Ferguson, in 1974.)

I have written a lot about the fall of 1974, and I hereby vow as I start writing about the American Top 40 show from December 12, 1974, that I won’t get caught up in how the season felt. I’ll write only about the music and the show.

40. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”/John Lennon
32. “Dark Horse”/George Harrison
18. “Only You”/Ringo Starr
10. “Junior’s Farm”/Paul McCartney and Wings
Before playing the debuting “Dark Horse,” Casey talks about how this week marks the first time every member of “a defunct group” has a solo hit in the countdown. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” had to hold at #40 for a second week to make it happen, which has led some AT40 fans to suspect that the chart was manipulated to create that bit of trivia for Casey to highlight. Ringo’s “Only You” is one of the better reinventions of a 1950s hit; “Junior’s Farm” was probably my favorite song of the moment in 1974.

33. “Woman to Woman”/Shirley Brown. What was the last big hit to contain a long monologue like “Woman to Woman”? “I’ve Never Been to Me”? Or was there something later? Enlighten us, fellow nerds, if you can.

30. “Mandy”/Barry Manilow
16. “Laughter in the Rain”/Neil Sedaka
Here’s a major star whose career is at the embryonic stage (Manilow in his second week on the show) and a former star making a comeback (Sedaka’s first hit since 1963). The way AT40 chronicled musical history, in real time one week at a time, is one of the most fascinating things about it.

26. “Willie and the Hand Jive”/Eric Clapton. On which Clapton sounds like he just woke up and heard someone say, “We’re rolling, sing it.”

24. “One Man Woman, One Woman Man”/Paul Anka with Odia Coates. And now we come to one of those oddments that makes the study of AT40 on a molecular level so interesting. On the hit version of “One Man Woman,” Anka and Coates don’t just swap lines, like they did on “You’re Having My Baby,” they trade entire verses. But on this show, Casey plays a version with Anka singing alone. Coates is on it as a standard background vocalist. He plays the verse-swapping version on both earlier and later shows, so what’s happened here I don’t know.

20. “Must of Got Lost”/J. Geils Band
19. “My Melody of Love”/Bobby Vinton
Both of these songs are genres unto themselves compared to all the stuff around them. Not gonna lie: I kinda enjoyed hearing the galactically cheesy “My Melody of Love” when I wasn’t expecting it.

12. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive
11. “You Got the Love”/Rufus
I heard these two back-to-back and thought, “This is how the world is supposed to sound.” I’d elaborate, but I took a vow.

9. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”/Elton John. Up from #36 last week. Allow me to get back on my BS and say that the contrast between this and Elton’s “Hold Me Closer” could not be more stark. While it’s true that styles change in a half-century, the human ear does not. “Lucy” is a tapestry of sound in which the individual threads can be appreciated. “Hold Me Closer” is a bolt of neon-green polyester.

5. “Angie Baby”/Helen Reddy. Which gets a long introduction from Casey quoting songwriter Alan O’Day who says that it’s about “a bright but lonely teenager with no social life who just hangs out in her room living out romantic fantasies triggered by the pop songs she hears on the radio, and within the four walls of that room her fantasies become real.” But is it? O’Day’s own lyric says of her, “you’re a little touched, you know.” It calls her “a crazy girl” and says, “it’s so nice to be insane.” “Angie Baby” is a modern gothic horror story in which a mad girl commits the terrifying, fantastical act of imprisoning a boy in her radio. Is O’Day misreading his own song—or did he tell Casey what he wanted Casey to hear?

2. “When Will I See You Again”/Three Degrees. Listening to this show, I thought about my two best friends in the fall of 1974. One went to a different college and we just drifted apart. The other I was much closer to, and for much longer, but our friendship seems to have ended in the last couple of years due to COVID and Trump. It makes me sad, but there’s little to be done about it.

1. “Kung Fu Fighting”/Carl Douglas. You can trust me, I was there in the fall of 1974, and I can tell you beyond a doubt: not everybody was kung-fu fighting.

The Return of Mr. Cool

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(Pictured: Perry Como with Tom Jones and Debbie Reynolds on This Is Tom Jones, November 1970.)

As documented here, American Top 40 as it existed in the fall of 1970 was a slapdash work-in-progress, but it didn’t take long for Casey and his producers to figure things out. By December 5, 1970, his weird ad-libs and non-sequiturs are mostly gone, and the show is tighter and cleaner than it was only a month or two before.

40. “Do It”/Neil Diamond
31. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”/Neil Diamond
Casey mentions that “Do It” keeps Diamond with two songs in the countdown after “Cracklin’ Rosie” dropped off, and it’s pretty good. “He Ain’t Heavy,” on the other hand, is a weirdly lugubrious performance. He doesn’t seem to be feeling it at all until the very end.

39. “One Man Band”/Three Dog Night
29. “Green Eyed Lady”/Sugarloaf
22. “Be My Baby”/Andy Kim
21. “After Midnight”/Eric Clapton

20. “Stoned Love”/Supremes
18. “Indiana Wants Me”/R. Dean Taylor

17. “Black Magic Woman”/Santana
12. “See Me, Feel Me”/The Who
10. “Share the Land”/Guess Who
9. “Heaven Help Us All”/Stevie Wonder
4. “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five
3. “Gypsy Woman”/Brian Hyland

I couldn’t have articulated it after only a few months as a listener, but it wasn’t just the music that I loved, it was the way that music sounded on WLS. As I wrote a few years ago, it was “larger than life, better than real.”

36. “It’s Impossible”/Perry Como. Few people today grasp how big Perry Como was, and for how long. Casey calls him “the original Mr. Cool.” He came up in the 1940s during the musicians’ strike, so his first hits came fronting vocal groups. He was also a pioneer of television, with regular series starting in 1948 and continuing into the early 60s; after that, he did holiday-themed specials every year until the late 80s. His peak years as a hitmaker were the late 1950s, but “It’s Impossible” would make the Top 10 in January 1971, and he would return to the Top 40 one more time in 1973 with “And I Love You So.” Como died in 2001, but he routinely charts every year at Christmas, as his most famous holiday songs are discovered anew.

34. “Can’t Stop Loving You”/Tom Jones. There is no better indication of the growing maturity of American Top 40 than the fact that Casey does not feel compelled to make a cringey remark about Jones’ effect on his female listeners.

30. “Cry Me a River”/Joe Cocker. We have previously noted Casey’s tendency to pronounce “Sunday” and “Monday” as “sundee” and “mondee.” Another of his pronunciation quirks is “Joe Caulker.”

EXTRA: “Take Good Care of My Baby”/Bobby Vee. Which Casey introduces with a story about how Bobby Vee employed a young Bob Dylan for a while, but fired him to save money. In later years, Vee would say that he did not fire the young pianist, who called himself Elston Gunnn (with three n’s). Vee auditioned him and put him on stage for one show (at a badly out-of-tune piano), but then decided “it wasn’t gonna work.” Later, Vee said, he was walking down a New York street and saw an album in a record store window with “Bob Dylan” on it. “I thought to myself, ‘looks a lot like Elston Gunnn.'”

13. “My Sweet Lord”/George Harrison
11. “Patch It Up”/Elvis Presley
“My Sweet Lord” makes the highest debut of the week, up from #72. Casey notes that the flip side, “Isn’t It a Pity,” is also a hit. Two songs later, he plays “Patch It Up,” the other side of the much better “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Somebody with a better work ethic should look into the history of Casey playing both sides of double-sided hits.

8. “No Matter What”/Badfinger
7. “One Less Bell to Answer”/Fifth Dimension
“My Sweet Lord” isn’t the only record zooming up the chart. Badfinger was #24 the previous week and the Fifth Dimension #25. Casey notes that little is known about Badfinger beyond the first names of the members. He says, “A few people have come up with the theory that this song is an old Beatle recording released under the name of a non-existent group.” He doesn’t think that’s likely, however. After “One Less Bell,” Casey says, “Ahh, that’s so beautiful.”

2. “Tears of a Clown”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
1. “I Think I Love You”/Partridge Family
It’s the third week at #1 for the Partridges. Smokey will take over for two weeks starting on December 12.

Although some of the oddball stuff from AT40’s earliest days would persist for a little while yet, by the end of 1970, the show is clearly on its way to becoming an institution we would still care about a half-century later.

Express Yourself

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(Pictured: B. J. Thomas, 1970.)

A couple of years ago I wrote about the American Top 40 show from September 5, 1970, and described Casey Kasem’s performance as “ragged and weird.” So I listened to the show from the next week to see if that continued, or if things got better.

40. “Lola”/Kinks. In its earliest days, AT40 was recorded in real time, essentially a live radio show on tape. Fixing a mistake meant re-recording a whole segment. So if Casey launched an odd ad lib over an intro, like “Lola rhymes with cola,” and did so while being half drowned-out by the music, they were inclined to leave it in.

39. “Express Yourself”/Charles Wright
35. “Out in the Country”/Three Dog Night
33. “Closer to Home”/Grand Funk Railroad
31. “Long Long Time”/Linda Ronstadt
30. “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith
Casey introduces “Closer to Home” with a story about GFR’s block-long, hundred-thousand dollar billboard in New York City, says something nearly inaudible about Linda Ronstadt and Tucson over the intro of her song, and calls Michael Nesmith “a nice guy.” Although there are other candidates later on, any one of these could be the best song on the show.

37. “I Want to Take You Higher”/Ike and Tina Turner
36. “Tell It All Brother”/Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
34. “Peace Will Come”/Melanie
32. “Sex Machine”/James Brown
Elsewhere in the first hour, the contrasts between hard R&B and lame hippie twaddle can give a guy whiplash.

29. “Neanderthal Man”/Hotlegs. This website recently suggested that Godley and Creme’s 1985 hit “Cry” should be shot into the sun. It would like to suggest the same destination for Godley and Creme’s 1970 hit “Neanderthal Man.”

26. “All Right Now”/Free
25. “It’s a Shame”/Spinners
24. “I Just Can’t Help Believing”/B. J. Thomas
23. “Why Can’t I Touch You”/Ronnie Dyson
22. “Cracklin’ Rosie”/Neil Diamond
21. “Solitary Man”/Neil Diamond
20. “Groovy Situation”/Gene Chandler

This is a solid 20 minutes. “All Right Now” would become one of the most-played songs in the history of radio, although there was little reason to think so in September 1970. “It’s a Shame” is produced by Stevie Wonder, who also plays all the instruments. “Why Can’t I Touch You” and “Groovy Situation” have been favorites of this website since always. “I Just Can’t Help Believing” is always welcome, and the two Neil Diamond songs are probably the six best minutes of the whole 20.

19. “Hi-De-Ho”/Blood Sweat and Tears
13. “Signed Sealed Delivered”/Stevie Wonder
In which Casey gets off a couple of nice bits of jock-craft, talking around the horn fanfare that opens “Hi-De-Ho” and getting out of the way of Stevie’s verbalizing in the intro of “Signed Sealed Delivered.”

18. “Rubber Duckie”/Ernie (Jim Henson)
17. “Hand Me Down World”/Guess Who
16. “I Know I’m Losing You”/Rare Earth
We all love the Muppets, but sweet mama “Rubber Duckie” is intolerable. Thank goodness the Guess Who and Rare Earth are here to hose out the bathtub afterward.

15. “I (Who Have Nothing)”/Tom Jones. On early AT40s, Casey sometimes made cringeworthy remarks about Jones’ effect on the ladies, although he didn’t do it here. My favorite, which would come on the September 26 show, is “Something happens to a woman over 35 when she hears the voice of Tom Jones.”

11. “Candida”/Dawn
10. “Spill the Wine”/Eric Burdon and War
9. “Make It With You”/Bread
8. “Close to You”/Carpenters
7. “Julie Do Ya Love Me”/Bobby Sherman
Casey had started the third hour with an awkward tease about an artist who was discovered at a Hollywood party attended by Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Roddy McDowall, and Sal Mineo. Seven songs later, he got to the artist in question: Bobby Sherman.

From #11 on up to #1, this is where it all begins for me, songs I heard during my first few weeks as a listener, the ones that quite literally changed my life.

6. “Patches”/Clarence Carter
5. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/CCR
4. “25 or 6 to 4″/Chicago
3. “In the Summertime”/Mungo Jerry
2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Diana Ross
1. “War”/Edwin Starr
Casey refers to “In the Summertime” as “reggae fron England.” His engineer lays the “Billboard‘s number one” jingle over the drum-roll intro of “War,” but the level is too low and it gets buried.

Working out the obvious technical bugs (and there were several others) would be critical to the show’s development. So would a greater emphasis on scripting and timing. At this point, 10 episodes in, the staff was relying mostly on Casey’s radio skills and his gift of gab to carry the show, but it wouldn’t be long before they figured out the advantages of more rigorous preparation. As I wrote two years ago, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the show became The Show and the man became The Man only after that.”

No Lookin’ Back

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(Pictured: the hottest mom in the neighborhood, circa 1985. Hang on, I’m being told that’s Pat Benatar.)

I wasn’t really gonna tap out of the American Top 40 show from August 31, 1985, so here’s the rest of it:

40. “No Lookin’ Back”/Michael McDonald
37. “Every Step of the Way”/John Waite
36. “Live Every Moment”/REO Speedwagon
34. “State of the Heart”/Rick Springfield
27. “There Must Be an Angel”/Eurythmics
24. “Mystery Lady”/Billy Ocean
16. “Dare Me”/Pointer Sisters
14. “Freedom”/Wham
9. “You’re Only Human”/Billy Joel
4. “We Don’t Need Another Hero”/Tina Turner

Many artists with iconic records are on this show, but with songs that either aren’t all that great, or are largely forgotten.

35. “When Your Heart Is Weak”/Cock Robin. “When Your Heart Is Weak” didn’t do much for me in 1985, but hearing it again for the first time in a long time, it sounded a lot better.

32. “Glory Days”/Bruce Springsteen
31. “Saving All My Love for You”/Whitney Houston
11. “Don’t Lose My Number”/Phil Collins

10. “Money for Nothing”/Dire Straits
8. “Cherish”/Kool and the Gang
3. “Freeway of Love”/Aretha Franklin

Here are some icons being iconic. “Saving All My Love for You” might be the best of Whitney’s 80s singles, although its jingly keyboards and luxuriant saxophone make it sound dated now. “Don’t Lose My Number” is probably the most Phil Collins-y of all his 80s hits. I’m not sure anybody needs to hear “Money for Nothing” again, but there hasn’t been anything that sounds like it since.

29. “Cry”/Godley and Creme
26. “Oh Sheila”/Ready for the World
I’m indifferent to most of what’s on this show, but I actively dislike some of it. “Oh Sheila” is boring as hell but would end up #1 anyway. “Cry” stops any radio show’s momentum dead, and its octave-jumping conclusion should be shot into the sun.

28. “Take on Me”/a-ha
19. “Every Time You Go Away”/Paul Young
7. “Never Surrender”/Corey Hart
One of these could be the best record on the show, but keep reading.

25. “Shame”/The Motels. Which Casey introduces with a long and not-all-that-interesting feature on lead singer Martha Davis, in which he casually mentions that she got married when she was 15 and now, at the age of 34, has daughters who are 19 and 17.

17. “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”/Motley Crue. A bad and unnecessary but inevitable remake, which Casey follows with a feature on the 1955 hit “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” I might have put the feature nearly anywhere else in the show.

15. “What About Love”/Heart. “The two-woman, three-man band formed in 1972 in Seattle, and that’s where they’re based, Seattle, Washington.” Later in the show Casey will say, “Here’s Aretha, Aretha Franklin, with “Freeway of Love.” The repetition is a bit, right? It’s gotta be a bit.

12. “Invincible”/Pat Benatar. Casey introduces “Invincible” with a lengthy story about how Benatar was discovered, which repeats her name unnecessarily only once and is written in clear and direct English.

LDD: “Count on Me”/Jefferson Starship
LDD: “One Hundred Ways”/Quincy Jones with James Ingram
Casey believed that apart from the music, the Long Distance Dedications were the most valuable thing on the show, although there were dissenting opinions on his own staff. If we’ve got to sit through the sort of mawkish letters featured on this show (one of which contains details that sound fake), it helps if the songs are good. In fact, it’s “One Hundred Ways” that’s the best thing on the show.

6. “Shout”/Tears for Fears. At the end of the show, when Casey reviews the #1 songs on the other charts, he notes that a disco remix of “Shout” is #1 on the dance chart this week. “These are the things I can do without”? Yeah, I’d say so.

5. “Summer of ’69″/Bryan Adams. “Summer of ’69” is probably the single most enduring record on this show, unless it’s “Take on Me” or the song at #1. Casey introduces it with clips of the five songs that hit #1 in the summer of 1969: “Get Back,” Henry Mancini’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “In the Year 2525,” “Honky Tonk Women,” and “Sugar Sugar.”

1. “The Power of Love”/Huey Lewis and the News. If Huey never had another hit, we’d still be playing this one on the radio several times a week today because it’s perfect: seriously, you can’t name a single thing that would improve it. It was featured in the perfect place (Back to the Future) and at the perfect time, blasting out of radios across a hot-and-happening American summer.

Looking back across the whole show, however, I didn’t enjoy it all that much. Mid-80s Casey is hard to take, with his announcer-y delivery. And despite 1984 to 1986 being my Top-40 radio years, I find myself decades later respecting a lot of the music, but loving very little of it.

Step by Step

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We are fortunate, out here on this quiet corner of the Internet, to have a few people amongst the readership who worked on American Top 40 or for Casey Kasem on other shows. One of them, briguyx, commented on Monday’s post, in which I edited a long bit of a 1985 show:

When I wrote for Casey, it was very important to take the listener step by step, from one thought to another in each of the long intros, without skipping a step. You might call that spoon fed!

That’s an excellent definition of the process of informational writing: moving step-by-step from one thought to another without skipping a step. It’s the way to proceed when presenting a concept you want people to learn. In my two decades as an educational writer, it’s something I did all the time.

In education, we talk about scaffolding: building on a base of existing knowledge to introduce new concepts. It’s how any of us gets proficient at anything. We learn the basics, about building a birdhouse, or about biology. Then we learn other stuff that builds on it, until eventually we can make a chair or create a vaccine.

A teacher or instructional designer has to account for the fact that students’ scaffolds differ. Imagine a lesson about that old social studies favorite, triangular trade. A lesson for high-school seniors will be qualitatively different than one for fifth-graders. Although every student’s learning style is a little different, there are some valid assumptions you can make. For example, because upper-level students have a greater background in history and/or economics (theoretically), there are some things you either needn’t explain at all, or you need mention only briefly to refresh the recollection you expect them to have. Also, you can use more advanced vocabulary, because they know more and bigger words. In short, high-school students have a more elaborate scaffold upon which to build.

That doesn’t mean you won’t still spoon-feed—or, to use a better and more accurate term, that you won’t elaborate on certain ideas, explaining them in greater detail. Which ideas get elaborated depend on the age and/or proficiency of the student. The youngest ones (or beginners of any age) get elaboration on practically everything, because they gotta start somewhere. As students get older and/or more experienced, the elaborated concepts are likely to be more complex ones. We also tend to elaborate key ideas that need to become part of the scaffold, so that the students will be able to build on those ideas as their studies continue. Elaboration is meant to illuminate an idea, expand a student’s understanding, and help them connect it to the scaffold. It’s not mere repetition.

The central or main idea of the Casey bit is this: in her new song, Lisa Lisa uses a bit of an old song by a famous singer. Casey wants listeners to understand how Lisa Lisa and the old song and its singer relate. That’s a legitimate purpose, and you can argue that he accomplishes it. After all, I didn’t change a word of his original text, and I added only one word. But I did take out the stuff that sounds like, or perhaps was intended to be, elaboration that helps the listener better understand. I would argue that elaboration isn’t needed here. Casey’s audience of adults and young adults can follow and understand just fine: Lisa Lisa has a new song that is related to this old song by Ella Fitzgerald, and here’s who Ella is. The “elaboration” doesn’t illuminate the main idea, it belabors the point. That’s not good teaching; it’s just bad writing.

Depending on your purpose, taking your reader (or listener) step-by-step from one thought to another without skipping a step is absolutely a valid way for a writer to go. (And if it’s what the boss or the client wants from you, you’ll have to do it.) But for that approach to be truly effective, it has to account for the expectations and capabilities of the audience. Assume too much, be too complex, be unclear, and your piece will fail to accomplish its purpose. But you can also assume too little about your audience’s capabilities—and end up insulting their intelligence. That’s my gripe with the Ella Fitzgerald bit.

Am I overthinking this? Maybe. In any event, we will get around to a more mundane discussion of the AT40 show from August 31, 1985, on Friday.