Category Archives: American Top 40

A Midwestern Boy on His Own

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(Pictured: Cheryl Ladd, front, with her Charlie’s Angels cast mates.)

Not long ago, I wrote about an American Top 40 show from mid-July 1978 and about my summer between high school and college. When the show from September 9, 1978, hit the air, I would have been finishing my second week at college. A lot was different from what it had been in July, in my world and on my radio.

38. “Talking in Your Sleep”/Crystal Gayle. Most days I wake up with a song running through my head. Sometimes I can tell where it came from, but other times I have no idea. One morning not long ago, it was “Talking in Your Sleep.” Later that day I put on this show and was gobsmacked when three songs in, there it was.

37. “I Love the Nightlife”/Alicia Bridges. Eighteen-year-old me did not like disco much; much-older me recognizes that “I Love the Nightlife” is legitimately great.

36. “You Never Done It Like That”/Captain and Tennille. On the verses, when Toni is describing in fairly explicit detail how she and the Captain got it on, she purrs like a soul singer.

34. “Think It Over”/Cheryl Ladd. As Cheryl Stoppelmoor, Cheryl Ladd was one of the voices of the cartoon singing group Josie and the Pussycats, whose 1971 album is a lost bubblegum classic. (Seriously, people, “Every Beat of My Heart” should have been a monster.) But “Think It Over,” propelled into the Top 40 thanks largely to Ladd’s Charlie’s Angels stardom, is not good.

33. “Come Together”/Aerosmith
24. “Oh Darling”/Robin Gibb
10. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Earth Wind and Fire
Has anybody written the inevitable modern-day reappraisal of the Sgt. Pepper movie that argues it was actually good?

29. “Right Down the Line”/Gerry Rafferty
23. “Whenever I Call You Friend”/Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks
17. “Reminiscing”/Little River Band
13. “Fool If You Think It’s Over”/Chris Rea

If you had asked me in the fall of 1978 how I was adjusting to college, I’d have said, “Fine,” and I’d have been lying. I was in way over my head, not so much academically but personally, and I was lucky to have sorted it out before anything profoundly terrible could happen. As it was, some of the stuff that did happen was terrible enough. I am mostly at peace with it now, and with these songs. But they, and others on this list, soundtracked some pretty dark times.

28. “Just What I Needed”/Cars
22. “Two Tickets to Paradise”/Eddie Money
I wrote a thing about both Ric Ocasek and Eddie Money after they passed earlier this month, but I like it less and less the more I read by other people. I don’t write all that many tributes because others can do them better.

19. “Hollywood Nights”/Bob Seger
12. “Don’t Look Back”/Boston
Casey’s edit of “Hollywood Nights” took out my favorite line, not just of the song but of Bob Seger’s entire body of work: “She has been born with a face that would let her get her way / He saw that face and he lost all control.” Casey also played an edit of “Don’t Look Back,” but whether it was the standard radio edit or AT40‘s own, I can’t recall.

14. “Love Is in the Air”/John Paul Young. “Love Is in the Air” is a master class in building up tension and releasing it in a glorious rush.

8. “Summer Nights”/John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
6. “Grease”/Frankie Valli
4. “Hopelessly Devoted to You”/Olivia Newton-John
This is peak Grease right here. Valli had spent the previous two weeks at #1.

5. “Kiss You All Over”/Exile. In Moline, Illinois, a born-again Christian DJ got performatively angry over this song, refusing to play it because it was “blantantly sexual” and a bad influence on children, and he ended up quitting his job over it. It seems to me, however, that there’s nothing in the song to suggest that the all-over-kissing isn’t taking place between two married adults for purposes leading to procreation. Get your mind out the gutter, son.

2. “Three Times a Lady”/Commodores. After two weeks at #1 in August, “Three Times a Lady” spent the next four weeks at #2. It had done a week at #2 before hitting #1, so that’s seven straight weeks at the very top of the charts. It’s beautiful, but all I can think of when I hear it now is Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat.

1. “Boogie Oogie Oogie”/A Taste of Honey. Like “I Love the Nightlife,” this sounds better to me now than it would have in 1978.

I’m better now myself.

Don’t Have a Wooden Heart

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(Pictured: Donny Osmond, jaded Casanova on the prowl for babes.)

I wrote about an American Top 40 show from late June 1971 earlier this summer, and while a few things had changed by the week of August 21, 1971, I would find myself plowing a lot of the same ground if I did the usual list of songs and comments. So here’s something different.

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Walk This Way

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(Pictured: Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines with Michael McDonald in his video for “Sweet Freedom.” I’ve used the pic before, but I’m bringing it back so you can see yet again the worst Chicago Bears knockoff jersey in the world.)

This is the second installment of various ruminations inspired by the American Top 40 show from August 16, 1986.

31. “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)”/Glass Tiger
22. “One Step Closer to You”/Gavin Christopher
Listing these songs separately is a distinction without a difference; they are remarkably similar. If I’m recalling correctly, my radio station got rush reservice on the automation tapes that announced “One Step Closer to You” as being by Christopher Gavin. But that too is a distinction without a difference.

30. “Walk This Way”/Run-DMC. Other rap records made the Hot 100 (“The Message,” “The Breaks,” “Rapper’s Delight,” “Planet Rock”), and Blondie’s “Rapture” had been to #1, but Run-DMC was the first rap act to crack the Top 40. While rap was growing in popularity in 1986, I suspect that a lot of people heard “Walk This Way” as a novelty remake and never bought another rap record. Given, however, that within the next decade, rap and hip-hop would become the dominant form of pop music, its success is one of history’s pivot points.

27. “Man Size Love”/Klymaxx
12. “Sweet Freedom”/Michael McDonald
Everybody’s got one obscure movie they love beyond all others, and mine is Running Scared, a buddy comedy featuring the amazing chemistry of Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, playing Chicago cops who want to quit and move someplace warm, but end up saving Crystal’s ex-wife from a drug dealer instead. (Crystal to the villain, played by Jimmy Smits: “You hurt that lady and you will never be dead enough.”) Running Scared never got above #6 in the weekly box office rankings that summer, but four songs from its soundtrack charted, and these two went into the Top 15.

24. “Stuck With You”/Huey Lewis and the News 
23. “Yankee Rose”/David Lee Roth
Of all the Huey Lewis records in the world, “Stuck With You” is the Huey-est. Of all the David Lee Roth records in the world, “Yankee Rose” is the crappiest. (The opening segment of the video contains something to offend almost everybody, even before the song starts.)

21. “Invisible Touch”/Genesis
16. “Danger Zone”/Kenny Loggins
13. “Sledgehammer”/Peter Gabriel
9. “Take My Breath Away”/Berlin
4. “Higher Love”/Steve Winwood
2. “Glory of Love”/Peter Cetera
Any one of these might qualify as the song of the summer for 1986, and I don’t think any of them have been off the radio since then. But on the other hand:

19. “All the Love in the World”/The Outfield
18. “Baby Love”/Regina
17. “Suzanne”/Journey
15. “Friends and Lovers”/Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson
10. “The Edge of Heaven”/Wham
8. “Rumors”/Timex Social Club
5. “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”/Jermaine Stewart

It’s strictly via the eyeball test, but it seems to me that a lot of big hits from 1986 (and not just these) disappeared without a trace as soon as they dropped out of current rotations. Apart from Casey reruns, I am pretty sure nobody has played any of these songs on the radio since 1986. “The Edge of Heaven” was Wham’s sixth Top-10 hit in two years, and their last; they would chart one more time as Wham before George Michael became exclusively a solo act.

6. “Venus”/Bananarama. I cannot remember what I thought of this record in 1986, when I was the morning jock and program director of a Top-40 station. I can tell you now that “Venus” was the kind of record that made your station sound hot and hip, and as a soundtrack for summer fun, you couldn’t do better.

3. “Mad About You”/Belinda Carlisle. I can’t remember how I felt about this in 1986 either, but hearing it again the other day all I could think was, “Holy smokes, this is the best thing on the show.”

1.”Papa Don’t Preach”/Madonna. Casey says that “Papa Don’t Preach” is Madonna’s fourth #1 hit, which ties her with Olivia Newton-John for second place all-time among female artists behind Diana Ross. That’s quite a statistic, from the pre-Mariah, pre-Whitney, pre-Janet, pre-Rihanna world. That Madge accomplished it in less than two years makes it even more impressive. Also impressive: her creative development since her first chart hit in 1983. “Papa Don’t Preach” takes her a long way from the chirpy boy toy who made “Holiday” and “Like a Virgin”—but she had even further to go.

As did we all. Although, as I wrote in the earlier installment, not all of us knew it at the time.

“After 1986, What Else Could Be New?”

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(Pictured: Billy Joel picks up a guitar, 1986.)

It’s a reasonably common literary trope, I guess: that fading, end-of-summer vibe, the last couple of weeks of summer vacation when you were still in school, or an August week or weekend spent away from work, at the lake or in the mountains in adult life. Such tales almost always involve something slipping away, changes coming, holding on to something precious, that kind of thing. It’s a fertile field for a memoirist to plow, and you’ve read a lot of stuff like that. (And not just at this website, where we specialize in it.)

What we can’t always see clearly is what those times felt like while we were living them. Did I look at the calendar back there in, say, August 1972, see the first day of school looming there, and think, “I should hang onto these days because they will soon be gone”? How about August 1976, as my summer of all summers turned toward the autumm of all autumns? Or August 1986, by which time I was out in the working world? Did it feel to me like summer was fading, or was I too busy with the day-to-day routine of programming a radio station and hosting a morning show?

Today, there are narratives, but they’re retroactively applied. For 1986, it’s not just the narrative of a summer, but of the arc of my career and ultimately, my life. Today, I know that I had already made a critical choice that would change the course of my career. And the narrative had a second part that had nothing to do with the first: leaving my radio station in December and moving to a new city in January 1987.

If, in my head, the summer of 1986 had a narrative while I was living it, it wasn’t either of those.

That’s a weird way to introduce a few thoughts about the American Top 40 show from August 16, 1986, but it’s what I found myself pondering as the show went along. I have just enough of the word count left to get started; we’ll finish it up in a future installment.

40. “Two of Hearts”/Stacey Q. During the football season of 1986, I made a bet with a DJ friend on the outcome of a game between the colleges in the towns where we worked. The loser had to sing along with “Two of Hearts” on the winner’s show. I hated “Two of Hearts” back then. Today I realize that what I hate is the stuttering electronic “I-I-I-I-I-I need you” effect. The rest of the song isn’t nearly so awful.

(I won the bet.)

38. “Take It Easy”/Andy Taylor. I have utterly no memory of “Take It Easy,” but I do remember the spate of Duran Duran side projects, including Arcadia, Power Station, and various solo singles. Apart from Power Station, none of them did much for me, and I dug Power Station because I was a Robert Palmer fan.

37. “Modern Woman”/Billy Joel. “Modern Woman” is probably meant to sound like a progressive take on 80s relationships but it comes off smug nevertheless; Billy can’t hide his condescension even though “she’s got style and she’s got her own money.” Notable lyric line: “After 1986 what else could be new?”

36. “Digging Your Scene”/Blow Monkeys
34. “The Captain of Her Heart”/Double
I adored “Digging Your Scene” back then, and I still like it today, even though the Blow Monkeys sound to me like they want to be funky but not break a sweat. “The Captain of Her Heart” represents an impressive level of white-boy soul for two dudes from Switzerland.

35. “Hanging on a Heart Attack”/Device. Device was fronted by Holly Knight, who would become one of the most esteemed songwriters in the business over the next three decades. I can’t say whether or not I like “Hanging on a Heart Attack,” but I can tell you that few records sound more like 1986.

Coming in the next installment: songs of the summer, songs that disappeared, and a ton of iconic 80s stars and hits including Huey Lewis and the News, Genesis, Wham, Lionel Richie, Madonna, and a bunch of others. Stay tuned.

[jingle out]

Casey’s Triathlon of Rock

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(Pictured: Paul, Linda, and Michael, 1983.)

(We here conclude our July Casey-thon.)

For the July 4 weekend in 1988, American Top 40 presented a holiday special in addition to the regular countdown. “The Triathlon of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (which was offered to modern-day affiliates for the holiday last month) is a ranking of artists who could demonstrate a specific type of career longevity: Top 40 hits in the 60s and 70s and Top 10 hits in the 80s. In addition to the usual AT40 theme music, Casey uses the familiar Olympic theme from TV coverage. He also uses interview clips from some of the artists in the countdown, talking about their careers and their songs. The list follows:

40. Jimmy Page. Getting 60s credit for “Whole Lotta Love” and 80s credit for being in the Honeydrippers, as will one of his bandmates, shortly.

39. Cliff Richard. Casey says that Richard scored hits in four decades, having first charted in the 50s. It seems to me that should place him near the top of this list, which he ain’t.

38. Crosby Stills and Nash
37. Marty Balin
36. Robert Plant
35. Moody Blues
34. Patti Labelle
33. Graham Nash
Why Marty Balin (represented by “Hearts”) and not the rest of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship collective?, I asked myself. Then Casey got to Nash and explained that he gets credit for his years in the Hollies. OK, so maybe the whole Airplane/Starship will be on later.

As I will learn, thinking too hard about the logic of this show gets a person nowhere.

32. Kinks
31. Billy Preston
30. Bill Medley
29. Jermaine Jackson
28. Herb Alpert
The qualifications for this show are as thin as homeopathic soup. Preston is considered a 60s hitmaker thanks to his co-credit with the Beatles on “Get Back.” Medley gets credit for the Righteous Brothers and one 80s hit, the duet with Jennifer Warnes on “The Time of My Life.” Alpert’s 1987 duet with Janet Jackson, “Diamonds,” is enough to get him on.

27. Tina Turner
26. Eric Clapton
Casey mentions all the groups with whom Clapton has charted since the 60s including the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos, then plays “I Can’t Stand It,” which is in the same league with none of them.

25. Linda Ronstadt
24. Spinners
23. Bob Seger
Most artists on the show are represented by big 80s hits, which means “Shakedown” here. Ugh.

22. Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Represented by a montage of hits, the first artist on the list to be so honored.

21. John Fogerty
20. James Brown
Brown gets a montage too, and Fogerty could have.

19. Gladys Knight. The gruel is pretty thin here too. Doing one of the vocals on “That’s What Friends Are For” is enough to get Gladys on the show, Pipless.

18. Smokey Robinson
17. Dionne Warwick
16. Barbra Streisand
15. Cher
14. Paul Simon
13. Kenny Rogers
12. Neil Diamond
11. George Harrison
10. Aretha Franklin
9. Marvin Gaye
OK, sure, fine.

8. Barry Gibb. Just Barry, not Robin or Maurice, thanks mostly to Barry’s successful 80s duets with Barbra Streisand. He gets the montage treatment as well, starting with the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” and ending with his extremely minor 1984 hit “Shine Shine,” which few people would have remembered in 1988, let alone now.

7. Rolling Stones
6. Mick Jagger
Mick gets credit for everything the Stones did, but because “Dancing in the Street” with David Bowie was a Top-10 hit in the 80s, that’s enough to leap-frog him over his bandmates. OK, sure, fine. But by the same logic—hits in the 60s and 70s and at least one Top 10 in the 80s—the Beatles could have been #1 on this list if “The Beatles Movie Medley” had made it to #10 instead of #12.

5. Stevie Wonder
4. Michael Jackson
3. Diana Ross
Casey says there are eight Motown acts on this list in all. I count seven. The eighth mjust be Billy Preston, who was on Motown when he recorded “With You I’m Born Again” (which was on the show earlier because of course it was).

2. John Lennon
1. Paul McCartney
Paul gets a long, long montage of both Beatles songs and solo records, followed with all of “Say Say Say.”

One big thing that makes AT40 compulsively listenable is the stakes on it. Being #1 on the chart matters each week. The best of the special shows have stakes too: What’s the #1 hit of the disco era? Who are the most influential artists in history? Who’s the greatest one-hit wonder of the rock era? Which song with a girl’s name in the title was the biggest hit? But “The Triathlon of Rock ‘n Roll” falls flat because the stakes are so arbitrary. You get to the end and think, “Well that’s nice, but who cares?”

See You Again

I have written a few times about my summer between high school and college, suspended between two worlds and all that. But not today. I’m trying to wean myself from the related ideas that A) I’m the first person in history who ever experienced things that are actually quite common, and B) everything that ever happened to me is automatically interesting. I have a relatively new acquaintance who’s like this, and it bugs me. For this reason, I am trying to take the plank out of my own eye.

So anyway: I have been listening to the American Top 40 show from July 15, 1978, and it’s making me think about stuff, but I will limit my discussion here to the show, which was really entertaining.

Casey starts by recapping the massive turnover on recent charts. The shows from July 1 and July 8 had eight new songs apiece; the July 15 show has only three, but that’s 19 songs that are new in July alone. It’s hard to imagine that any period of Casey’s reign was more volatile.

40. “I’ve Had Enough”/Paul McCartney and Wings
39. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”/Dave Mason
36. “Can We Still Be Friends”/Todd Rundgren
31. “Hot Love, Cold World”/Bob Welch
There are some bigtime rock stars on this show with good-but-obscure singles. I am not sure the world needed a cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” but Mason’s is lovely, and it was my favorite song of the moment in mid-July 1978. Welch recorded only a handful of hit singles, and while several of them sounded pretty much alike (“Ebony Eyes,” “Hot Love, Cold World,” “Precious Love”), they also sounded good, so who cares.

38. “Love or Something Like It”/Kenny Rogers. I hadn’t heard “Love or Something Like It” in years, and I was surprised how much I liked it, considering how much I didn’t like it in 1978.

37. “Only the Good Die Young”/Billy Joel
32. “Stay”/Jackson Browne
16. “Wonderful Tonight”/Eric Clapton

Opposite of the good-but-obscure singles, there are songs on this show I need never hear again.

34. “Love Is Like Oxygen”/Sweet
33. “You’re the One That I Want”/John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

28. “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight”/Atlanta Rhythm Section
27. “You Belong to Me”/Carly Simon
26. “Magnet and Steel”/Walter Egan
25. “If Ever I See You Again”/Roberta Flack
13. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”/Meat Loaf

Wow, some of these songs are powerfully evocative of times, places, and people from my summer of 1978, but we aren’t going there, I swear.

30. “King Tut”/Steve Martin
24. “Thank God It’s Friday”/Love and Kisses
These songs bring back my ill-fated tenure as a roller-rink DJ, which you can read about if you scroll down in this post. I am pretty sure the guy who owned the rink paid more to run the ad at the top of this page than he paid me the whole summer.

22. “My Angel Baby”/Toby Beau. The judges will accept either “My Angel Baby” or the name “Toby Beau” as answers to the question, “What is the diametric opposite of ‘bad-ass’?”

15. “Runaway”/Jefferson Starship
14. “Love Will Find a Way”/Pablo Cruise
We had this moment of yacht-rock nirvana years before we knew what yacht rock was.

12. “Bluer Than Blue”/Michael Johnson. In the car the other day, I may have sung along with every word of this. Possibly.

10. “Last Dance”/Donna Summer. Between August of 1977 and May of 1980, there was exactly one week without a Donna Summer song on the Hot 100. (It was the week of May 6, 1978, just before this song debuted.)

7. “The Groove Line”/Heatwave
6. “Miss You”/Rolling Stones
5. “Still the Same”/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
4. “Use ta Be My Girl”/O’Jays
3. “Take a Chance on Me”/ABBA
2. “Baker Street”/Gerry Rafferty
1. “Shadow Dancing”/Andy Gibb
This show is solid at the top, even accounting for the sorry fact that this was the fourth straight week that “Shadow Dancing” kept “Baker Street” at #2. (As we learned a few years ago, “Baker Street” was actually #1 for a few hours at one point that summer, until Billboard‘s chart director, Bill Wardlow, did that voodoo for which he became infamous.) “Use ta Be My Girl” and “Take a Chance on Me” back-to-back is maximum 70s flavor, and “The Groove Line” is a burner. Although the disco beat on “Miss You” sounds a little dated now, it was right in the pocket for 1978. And for a map of how the summer of ’78 felt to between-two-worlds me, you can’t do better than “Still the Same.” But we’re not taking about that today.

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