Young, Beautiful, Talented, and Stoned

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(Pictured: Carly Simon and James Taylor, 1973.)

On Monday, I wrote about how pop music, at least as it was heard on the radio via the American Top 40 show from May 4, 1974, was retreating from the innovation and ferment of the previous decade, citing the incredible blandness of many of the most popular songs, and the fact that certain significant artists and styles of the earlier period were ceasing to be as popular. In this post, there’s evidence that the thesis in my earlier post could be completely full of it.

40. “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend”/Staple Singers
35. “Mighty Mighty”/Earth Wind and Fire
32. “For the Love of Money”/O’Jays
27. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”/Stevie Wonder
19. “My Mistake”/Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye
17. “You Make Me Feel Brand New”/Stylistics
5. “Dancing Machine”/Jackson Five
4. “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
Sure, Aretha Franklin and James Brown were coming down from the peaks they had reached in the 60s and early 70s, but there was a whole raft of stars who were either 60s mainstays doing fine, emergent stars in the 70s at a peak, or future hitmakers on the way up. In defense of my original thesis, I will say that in 1974, some of these acts were not especially long for the charts. For example, Philly soul would cease to be as powerful a force as disco rose, and Michael Jackson would swallow his brothers whole not too long after.

38. “Thanks for Saving My Life”/Billy Paul
23. “Help Me”/Joni Mitchell
2. “T.S.O.P.”/MFSB

And there were still innovators at work in this period. Joni Mitchell hired jazz musicians for her band because they were the only ones capable of keeping up with her explorations. Billy Paul came up as a jazz singer, which explains the way he sings ahead of, behind, and all around the swingin’ band backing him on “Thanks for Saving My Life.” That band, MFSB, made up of Philadelphia session players, had jazz chops to burn. (Listen to the sax solo on “T.S.O.P.”) Outsiders and outside styles continued to influence pop just as they had in years before.

33. “Mockingbird”/Carly Simon and James Taylor
31. “A Very Special Love Song”/Charlie Rich
21. “I Won’t Last a Day Without You”/Carpenters
One might consider these to be emblematic of the bland, adult-contemporary direction of Top 40 music as 1974 unfolded. Charlie Rich had taken that same sensibility to the top of the country charts: Casey mentions that in a recent week, Rich held the top three positions on the country album chart. (Of all his hits in the 1973-1974 period, “A Very Special Love Song,” which had been to #11 on the Hot 100 in April, might be the best of the bunch.) I did not lump the Carpenters with the previous post’s examples of records dull enough to stop time, even as it sounds exactly right alongside of them. That’s because by 1974, the Carpenters’ record-making craft was so accomplished—seriously, they were approaching McCartney levels by this time—that I’m impressed by it even when it’s in the service of a song that’s not especially memorable.

As for Carly and James, leave it to nerds such as we to consider where  “Mockingbird” fits on a creative spectrum or within the course of history. In 1974, they had hit the quinella of being young, beautiful, talented, stoned (just JT), and in love, so good for them.

29. “Let It Ride”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive

22. “Band on the Run”/Paul McCartney and Wings
3. “Bennie and the Jets”/Elton John
1. “The Locomotion”/Grand Funk

Here are more stars who were either just starting a run of success (BTO) or in the middle of one. But they also represent the only real rock music on this chart. Does “Bennie and the Jets” even count? I am almost convinced that “The Locomotion” is more akin to the novelty cheese of “The Streak,” which would knock “The Locomotion” from the #1 position during the week of May 18, 1974, and stay in the Top Five until July.

While there are some specific exceptions, in general I find the radio pop from first half of 1974 hard to love. It gets better as the year goes along, but I can never be sure that doesn’t have as much to do with the pleasant associations I have with the music as it does with the music itself. If I’m onto anything here, it’s the idea that there was a degree of qualitative retreat going on in that year, moving in a direction that would necessitate new innovations—disco, new wave, MTV, take your pick—in not too many years after.

Tell Me a Lie

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(Pictured: John Denver, outdoors.)

Popular music runs in cycles, periods of innovation followed by retreat, which inspires new innovation. It’s always been true, as David Wondrich demonstrates in Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843-1924. Innovations bubble up into the mainstream and change the course of it, but after a while, the innovations (and the inventive spirit that inspired them) get co-opted to various degrees by the keepers of orthodoxy until the next new bubbling innovations come along. In Wondrich’s book, it happens to minstrel music, coon songs, and ragtime. Although eras don’t break cleanly and there are always individual exceptions, in later years it went generally like this: the Jazz Age and Swing Era (from the 20s to the start of World War II) was followed by an era of mostly sweet and unthreatening pop songs (to 1954), which was followed by the birth of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, which was followed by another era of mostly sweet and unthreatening pop songs (late 50s/early 60s), which was followed by the British Invasion, the rise of soul, and the whole ferment of the 1960s. That latter period lasted longer than it seems. I believe that certain innovations and spirit of the 1960s persisted as late as 1973. It wasn’t until 1974 that pop music became truly quiescent, in need of new bubbling innovations.

It’s easy to say that the bland and escapist pop of 1974 was birthed by the psychological weight of outside historical forces coming down—Vietnam, Watergate, energy crisis, etc.—and that’s probably part of it. Wondrich notes how the outside force of Jim Crow in the 1890s changed the nature of racist coon songs. But the biggest historical force driving co-optation at any point is probably capitalism, in which somebody hopes to profit by making an outsider art form palatable for a broader, less sophisticated audience. Top 40 radio, the main means of music discovery for a generation, was transformed by that desire to profit. By 1974, some of the big stations increased their efforts to achieve truly mass audiences by bringing more soft rock/adult contemporary music into the Top 40 mainstream to attract the olds, while others went all-in on attracting teenagers, which kept bubblegum and teenybopper acts alive (and which drove young adults away from AM to FM rock stations, another historical force in motion).

All that explains something, but not everything, about the the American Top 40 show dated May 4, 1974 (a show I’m sure I heard on the weekend it first aired).

39. “My Girl Bill”/Jim Stafford
37. “I’m a Train”/Albert Hammond
28. “Seasons in the Sun”/Terry Jacks
26. “Keep on Singing”/Helen Reddy
25. “The Lord’s Prayer”/Sister Janet Mead
20. “Sunshine on My Shoulders”/John Denver
14. “Come and Get Your Love”/Redbone
7. “Hooked on a Feeling”/Blue Swede
6. “The Streak”/Ray Stevens
This right here is the reaction, or the co-optation, or whatever you want to call it, in response to the years since 1964. With these records, it didn’t feel like pop music had lost an edge as much as it had actively stopped trying to hone one. Even “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Come and Get Your Love,” catchy though they are, feel a little enervated. The very topical “The Streak” was on its way to #1 as one of the top hits of the year, but it generates a chuckle at most. In the aggregate, the blandness of these records is enough to stop time.

36. “I’m in Love”/Aretha Franklin
34. “Tell Me a Lie”/Sami Jo
30. “The Payback”/James Brown
And here are some casualties of the reaction, two stars and one style (deep Southern country-soul) that had been ascendant in years before but would never be quite so dominant again.

11. “The Entertainer”/Marvin Hamlisch
8. “Tubular Bells”/Mike Oldfield
The blandness was not all-consuming, however. Any era in which both The Sting and The Exorcist were playing in your town (and in which Chinatown was a coming attraction, to open in June) was a good one. The Sting drove the success of “The Entertainer,” originally a ragtime piece written in 1902, but as a retroactive argument for the blandness of radio pop in the spring of 1974, you can’t do better, even if “Tubular Bells” represents a dissenting view.

Cherry-picking the charts in search of support for a particular thesis is a dangerous occupation. You can prove anything by selectively interpreting your source material. And in fact, what I’ve suggested here is probably a gross oversimplification of what was happening back there in the spring of 1974. Coming in the next installment (and I desperately did not want this to require two posts but gasbags gotta gas and I’m sorry), I’ll suggest that my whole thesis could be wrong.

Never as Good as the First Time

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(Pictured: Sade performs at Live Aid, 1985.)

Here’s some stuff about another AT40 from my collection that I haven’t written about yet. It’s from April 26, 1986.

(Not a very snappy lede I know, but it’s all I’ve got in me today.)

40. “Tomorrow Doesn’t Matter Tonight”/Starship
39. “For America”/Jackson Browne
38. “Feel It Again”/Honeymoon Suite
37. “Stick Around”/Julian Lennon
31. “Rough Boy”/ZZ Top
As I’ve said many times, I was program director and morning jock on a Top 40 station in an Illinois college town in 1986. We ran an automated Top 40 format, which came to us on big reels of tape, and I had little control over the songs we played. There are songs on this chart I know by title and that we must have played, but which left little impression then and haven’t stuck with me 35 years later.

32. “Never as Good as the First Time”/Sade
9. “Your Love”/The Outfield
Casey refers to Sade’s “Never as Good as the First Time” as “their third Top 40 hit.” The pronoun is technically accurate, in the same way one might call Alice Cooper “they,” but it’s a distinction without a difference. Similarly, Casey says of the Outfield, “They’re not named for a baseball outfield, they’re named for the outfield in the English game of cricket.” DO TELL SIR

30. “Secret Lovers”/Atlantic Starr
26. “Saturday Love”/Cherelle with Alexander O’Neal
Casey says “Secret Lovers” is the oldest record in the countdown, 14 weeks, and it is one we played positively to death. “Saturday Love,” on the other hand, we didn’t play at all.

29. “I Can’t Wait”/Stevie Nicks
22. “I Can’t Wait”/Nu Shooz
Nothing in Stevie’s catalog is dated worse than “I Can’t Wait.” The Nu Shooz “I Can’t Wait” has worn somewhat better, although I hated it back then.

28. “Is This Love”/Mr. Mister
6. “Harlem Shuffle”/Rolling Stones
Like ’em or not, #1 hits “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie” are at least memorable. You and I have forgotten “Is This Love,” and that it made #8. Also forgotten: the Stones were making the Top 10 as late as 1986.

27. “R.O.C.K. in the USA”/John Cougar Mellencamp. Which Casey precedes with a brief biography of Frankie Lymon, who’s name-checked on the record. This was my favorite song of the moment in 1986, although I wouldn’t rank it as my favorite on the show now, as you’ll see below.

24. “Live to Tell”/Madonna. Casey takes a very long time and repeats himself a lot to answer a listener question about the biggest female artists of the 80s: Diana Ross, followed by Olivia Newton-John and the Pointer Sisters. Madonna is currently fourth on the list. “Live to Tell” makes the biggest move up in the countdown, 11 places.

23. “I Do What I Do”/John Taylor. Riding the Duran Duran/Power Station wave of success and 80s radio’s willingness to play absolutely anything that came from a big movie (9 1/2 Weeks), “I Do What I Do” is an eight-bar drum track stretched out to 3:40.

21. “On My Own”/Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald
20. “Something About You”/Level 42
11. “What You Need”/INXS
3. “West End Girls”/Pet Shop Boys
One of these is the best record on the show, but as usual I can’t decide which, although it’s probably “West End Girls.”

LDD: “Carry on Wayward Son”/Kansas. One of the more unusual LDD letters I’ve heard: from a woman to her father, whose death in 1983 was linked to radiation poisoning contracted while serving on Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific during the post-World War II nuclear tests there.

15. “Let’s Go All the Way”/Sly Fox
13. “Bad Boy”/Miami Sound Machine
One of these is the deadliest earworm on the show. Ask me in a couple of hours and I’ll tell you which one.

A radio DJ writes to ask if a taxi driver he met during a visit to the UK was telling the truth when he claimed to have hit the American charts with a song called “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.” Casey says that Rolf Harris did indeed hit with that song in 1963. That doesn’t prove the driver really was Rolf, though.

7. “Rock Me Amadeus”/Falco. On the original 1986 show. “Rock Me Amadeus” was followed by a commercial for Spam. Just sayin’.

LDD: “You’ve Got a Friend”/James Taylor. In which graduating high-school senior Brian doesn’t want it to be over, and pays tribute to the last four years in a letter that seems strangely familiar.

1. “Kiss”/Prince. Which Casey introduces with a lengthy “special report” on kissing at the movies: first kiss, longest kiss, most kisses in a single movie, etc. It’s possible somebody somewhere found it interesting, I guess.

Coming next time: the usual look at what else was on some radios in some places that same week.

(Also: a new Sidepiece went out last night. Check your spam filter.)

One on One

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(Pictured: Laura Branigan, 1982.)

Old AT40 shows often seem to me to be both very far away and very close in time. So it is with the weekend of April 9, 1983, itself, for that was the weekend The Mrs. and me became Mr. and Mrs. We didn’t hear American Top 40 that weekend, but America did, and here’s some of what was on the show.

39. “I Don’t Care Anymore”/Phil Collins
30. “Lies”/Thompson Twins
21. “Change of Heart”/Tom Petty
20. “Little Too Late”/Pat Benatar
18. “I’ve Got a Rock and Roll Heart”/Eric Clapton
13. “I Know There’s Something Going On”/Frida
8. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”/Journey
6. “We’ve Got Tonight”/Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton
3. “Hungry Like the Wolf”/Duran Duran
2. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”/Culture Club

We’ve discussed how early 80s Billboard charts hardly moved at all some weeks; in this week Casey mentions several songs that had been in the same spot for a while: four weeks for Journey, two weeks for Petty, and three weeks each for the rest of these.

38. “Some Kind of Friend”/Barry Manilow. Like him or not, you gotta admit that Barry Manilow’s arrangements gave his records their own distinctive sound—which he abandons entirely on “Some Kind of Friend” in favor of a cutting-edge-of-the-80s rock track that could be by anybody.

36. “Make Love Stay”/Dan Fogelberg. Behold some of the most dreadful rhymes in all of pop music:

Moments fleet, taste sweet within the rapture
When precious flesh is greedily consumed
But mystery’s a thing not easily captured
And once deceased, not easily exhumed

But even cannibalism and necrophilia aren’t as gross as the saxophone that’s slathered all over the record like mayonnaise.

29. “Let’s Dance”/David Bowie
28. “Overkill”/Men at Work
Both of these are debuts on the show: “Let’s Dance” is Bowie’s first Top 40 hit since 1976; “Overkill” is new on the Hot 100 in this week, making the highest debut since John Lennon’s “Imagine” came in at #20 in 1971.

26. “Solitaire”/Laura Branigan. Casey tells an amusing story about Branigan’s appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade the previous year. She sang her hit “Gloria” riding on a float with her name on it, but she says she told the organizers, “You’d better put ‘Gloria’ on it too, or nobody will know who I am.”

LDD: “Ships”/Barry Manilow. Casey reads a long letter from a woman who took a temp job at the circus when it came through her town and fell in love with an injured French acrobat who had fallen off the trapeze, only to have him move on after five days. If that’s not a Hallmark movie plot, my name isn’t whatever my name is.

15. “Twilight Zone”/Golden Earring
9. “Jeopardy”/Greg Kihn Band
7. “One on One”/Hall and Oates
One of these is the best record on the show (and “Jeopardy,” Casey says, is #1 on the dance and disco chart in this week). How did I not know that future Stars on 45 impresario Jaap Eggermont was the drummer in Golden Earring until they fired him for incompetence?

LDD: “Don’t You Wanna Play This Game No More”/Elton John. From a guy in Chicago to his former co-workers at a pizza restaurant in Connecticut, for whom he used to play “Don’t You Wanna Play This Game No More” on the jukebox after closing. I can’t think of a more obscure song to be featured as an LDD, with two weeks on the chart in 1980, peaking at #39. At least it’s one of those that sounds familiar even if you don’t know it.

5. “Mr. Roboto”/Styx. There is not enough of the word count left for me to talk about how much I hate this record, and the toxic self-regard that drove Styx and their label to make it and release it.

1. “Billie Jean”/Michael Jackson. It seems deeply weird that “The Girl Is Mine” was the first single from Thriller ahead of two all-time bangers like “Beat It” (on this show at #10) and “Billie Jean,” until you consider that Paul McCartney was a bigger star than Michael at the end of 1982, and it made sense from a marketing standpoint. Now, however, “The Girl Is Mine” is widely considered the worst track on the record. “Billie Jean,” on the other hand, in its sixth week at #1 here, raised the bar—not just for dance music and music video, but for pop stars themselves, and what would they have to do if they wanted to keep pace with Michael. Even Paul couldn’t do it.

I have some more AT40s from the 80s in my archive, so look for more posts along this line, especially written for those amongst the readership not as deep in the tank for the 1970s as I am.

The Guy From American Bandstand

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During Casey Kasem’s years on American Top 40, his list of fill-in hosts was a who’s-who of radio stars: Robert W. Morgan, Charlie Tuna, Bob Eubanks, Wink Martindale, Humble Harv Miller, Charlie Van Dyke, Sonny Melendrez, and Gary Owens among them. His most famous substitute, however, was Dick Clark, who hosted the show on the weekend of March 25, 1972. Although Clark had started in radio as a teenager during the late 1940s, he’d been primarily a TV personality since the late 50s. And in 1972, he was best known as the guy from American Bandstand.

At the beginning of the show, Clark explains that Casey was delayed returning from a trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and asked him to fill in. [jingle] Now on with the countdown!

40. “Do Your Thing”/Isaac Hayes
39. “Could It Be Forever”/David Cassidy
38. “The Day I Found Myself”/Honey Cone
37. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”/Paul McCartney and Wings
36. “No One to Depend On”/Santana
35. “Every Day of My Life”/Bobby Vinton
34. “Glory Bound”/Grass Roots
33. “Take a Look Around”/Temptations
This chart doesn’t get Clark off to a flying start. “Every Day of My Life” would end up the #1 jukebox hit of 1972, so people liked it then, even if it sounds like something from the Jurassic Period today. “The Day I Found Myself” and “No One to Depend On” are terrific, but the show doesn’t generate much interest until:

EXTRA: “Me and Bobby McGee”/Janis Joplin
32. “Day Dreaming”/Aretha Franklin
31. “Taurus”/Dennis Coffey
30. “Don’t Say You Don’t Remember”/Beverly Bremers
29. “Sweet Seasons”/Carole King
Now we’re talkin’. Clark pays tribute to Janis one year after “Bobby McGee” hit #1, and tells the story of how Beverly Bremers went from sitting in the audience at a performance of Hair to a solo spot in the show to the lead role on Broadway, all within two years.

Clark does Casey-style bits and teases, and even uses some of Casey’s positioning liners for the show, but his energy is different. He’s kind of dry at the beginning, although he gets more comfortable as he goes. After this show, he would suggest to the producers that the talk segments could be pre-recorded and mixed with the music later (and presumably scripted too), so that a mistake wouldn’t ruin a whole segment being recorded in real time.

22. “American Pie”/Don McLean. Clark says that “American Pie” has been on AT40 longer than any other song in the nearly two-year history of the show, 17 weeks. This is its final week.

17. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”/Roberta Flack
14. “Rockin’ Robin”/Michael Jackson
Roberta Flack has the highest-debuting record of the week, zooming in from #42 the week before. It would go to #10 and then to #3 before spending six straight weeks at #1, eventually becoming Billboard‘s #1 song for all of 1972. “Rockin’ Robin” makes the biggest move within the countdown, up from #33 the week before.

18. “Betcha By Golly Wow”/Stylistics
16. “Rock and Roll Lullaby”/B. J. Thomas
12. “Precious and Few”/Climax
9. “Everything I Own”/Bread
As an adjective describing music, the word “pretty” is loaded. It can be used to damn with faint praise, to suggest that something is decent if you like that kind of thing, but not worth serious attention. But consider this: classic AM Top 40 radio was, to a great degree, built on pretty songs, pleasing melodies earnestly performed, for people to sing along with and/or fall in love to, and this is a pack of songs that are just straight-up pretty. There’s probably an entire essay in the idea of “pretty music,” and I hope to get around to it next week.

4. “Puppy Love”/Donny Osmond. On March 15, 1972, at KHJ in Los Angeles, Robert W. Morgan played “Puppy Love” for 90 minutes straight one morning, hoping to burn it out for the teenyboppers who kept calling to request it. Concerned listeners called the police, fearing Morgan was the victim of some sort of bubblegum terrorism.

2. “Heart of Gold”/Neil Young
1. “A Horse With No Name”/America
This show began with a string of now-forgotten songs, but it finishes with two that people would still be listening to an unimaginable 49 years in the future.

Dick Clark would eventually become a radio fixture just as he was on TV, with his own weekly countdown show and the long-running oldies show Rock, Roll and Remember. His 1972 fill-in on American Top 40 is merely a footnote to his remarkable career—but we always read the footnotes.

(Note to Patrons: a new Sidepiece went out this morning. Check your spam filter. Your comments on it are welcome.) 

Teardrops and Laughter

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(Pictured: Rufus, 1976.)

“Surely, Jim, you must have written about all of the American Top 40 shows from 1976 by now.” Oh, surely not. Not March 13, 1976. Not in detail, anyway.

37. “Show Me the Way”/Peter Frampton. Part of the appeal of old AT40 shows is witnessing history in real time. This is a debut; Frampton Comes Alive was about to become an inescapable phenomenon. As Mike Myers said in Wayne’s World II: “Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.”

34. “Inseparable”/Natalie Cole
27. “Just You and I”/Melissa Manchester
Both of these are fine, highly polished adult-contemporary presentations, although I can’t remember a thing about them, and it seems like there’s a nonzero chance they’re the same record.

32. “Good Hearted Woman”/Waylon and Willie
31. “Love Is the Drug”/Roxy Music
23. “Sweet Love”/Commodores
One of these is the best record on the show, although “Love Is the Drug” was edited to two minutes. (I wrote about the large number of edited songs on this show a few years back.) Listening to “Good Hearted Woman,” I was struck by the line “through teardrops and laughter they’ll pass through this world hand-in-hand.” It’s a simple thing. If, when the world ends, we have had someone, a spouse or a partner or a child or a sibling or a friend or a parent who was beside us for all of it, how could we ask for more?

28. “Let Your Love Flow”/Bellamy Brothers
25. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale

13. “Money Honey”/Bay City Rollers
12. “Disco Lady”/Johnnie Taylor
These are the hottest songs of the week. “Right Back Where We Started From” is a debut, zooming in from #45 the previous week. “Let Your Love Flow” and “Money Honey” are up 10. (Casey says “Money Honey” might make #1, but it will stall at #9.) “Disco Lady” is up 14 spots in its second week among the 40.

22. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen. AT40 never edited “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to my knowledge. To play it for six minutes basically means finding room for an extra song, but the way this show plays out, that could have been done without editing so many others. The original 1976 broadcast included Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” as an extra, which was cut from the repeat. Casey’s modern-day producers kept an extended feature on Wayne Newton, including “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.”

(Digression: In the late 80s, when I worked at the elevator-music station, we helped promote a Wayne Newton show in our town, and several of us attended. I was skeptical about whether I would enjoy it. I expected old-school showbiz on steroids, and at times, it was cheesy bordering on cringeworthy. But no entertainer ever worked harder to win over an audience, or succeeded so spectacularly. By the end, we were all eating out of the palm of his hand. Even me.)

11. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
10. “Junk Food Junkie”/Larry Groce
9. “Sweet Thing”/Rufus
8. “Love Hurts”/Nazareth”
7. “Theme From SWAT”/Rhythm Heritage
6. “Lonely Night (Angel Face)”/Captain and Tennille
5. “Dream Weaver”/Gary Wright
4. “Take It to the Limit”/Eagles
3. “Love Machine”/Miracles
2. “All By Myself”/Eric Carmen
1. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons
I listened to the last hour of this show driving back to Madison from a funeral visitation in my hometown. I hadn’t seen Joel in years, and I went to his visitation mostly for the sake of his mother, who has now buried two sons and a husband in the past three years. When they were all young marrieds, she and her husband, my parents, and a handful of other couples attended the same church and frequently socialized together. All of them had multiple children at about the same time. Four of us would end up graduating in the same high-school class. I said to her, “We were babies together,” thinking not just of Joel, but of that entire flock of kids born around the turn of the 1960s.

American Top 40 not only gives us a chance to witness history as it unfolded in real time, it can remind us of how much history we have been through ourselves. As I listened, I thought about teardrops and laughter, and the journey from babies together to teenagers in 1976, and now to the place in adulthood where we are required to bury our friends.

That’s probably not the ending you were expecting when you started. Me neither.