Right Now

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(Pictured: Mariah Carey on MTV Unplugged 30 years ago today, if we can trust the Getty Images caption.)

The March 14, 1992, American Top 40 show I wrote about last week was from an era when the show used Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay chart as opposed to the regular Hot 100 (although they didn’t announce that on this particular show). Compared to the actual Hot 100 from the same week, there are some differences. Certain songs riding high on the Airplay chart were not doing nearly so well on the Hot 100. (The opposite was also true.) One example is “Make It Happen” by Mariah Carey, at #8 on Airplay while it sat at #20 on the Hot 100 in its fourth week on.

I didn’t have room for this observation in my earlier post, but I think “Make It Happen” is one of Mariah Carey’s greatest performances. I have always found her technically impressive but emotionally reserved—she rarely sounds spontaneous to me, like she’s always conscious of the fact that she’s putting on a performance, and I might even go so far as to say “curating a brand.” But on “Make It Happen” she cuts loose, and it feels real in a way that her records often do not.

What else is there to see on the Hot 100?

Continue reading “Right Now”

Remember the Time

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(Pictured: Vanessa Williams, 1992.)

The early 90s was no golden age for pop music. My re-listening to American Top 40 shows from the 90s has not always gone well. But let’s take a bash at the one from March 14, 1992. It uses Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay Chart, as distinct from the Hot 100 itself. Hot 100 Airplay would not have been as volatile as sales charts driven by Soundscan, and it could accommodate radio hits not released as physical singles.

You can listen to the show here; the cue sheet is here. My customary half-assed notes follow.

40. “Hazard”/Richard Marx
31. “I Can’t Make You Love Me”/Bonnie Raitt
30. “Until Your Love Comes Back Around”/RTZ
29. “I’ll Get By”/Eddie Money
28. “Mysterious Ways”/U2
15. “Tears in Heaven”/Eric Clapton
14. “I Can’t Dance”/Genesis
“Rock” as a thing was on its way out in the early 90s. U2 became their own genre, kinda, and managed to carry on for years thereafter; Genesis and Phil Collins had a bit of gas left in the tank, but only a bit. Eddie Money is on his last Top 40 hit; Richard Marx would have three Top 40 hits after this, Clapton two, and Bonnie Raitt one. RTZ featured Brad Delp and Barry Goudreau from Boston and would never return to the Top 40. 

39. “Live and Learn”/Joe Public
38. “Vibeology”/Paula Abdul
37. “I’m the One You Need”/Jody Watley
36. “Paper Doll”/PM Dawn
35. “You Showed Me”/Salt-n-Pepa
34. “What Goes Around Comes Around”/Giggles
33. “Too Blind to See It”/Kym Sims
32. “Keep It Comin'”/Keith Sweat
I like the organ line that keeps resurfacing in “Too Blind to See It,” even as I feel that there is practically no difference between it and the preceding six records. Hot take: the new jack swing/hip-hopification of pop created a lot of profoundly boring music.

There was a radio thing on this show that drove me nuts: the transition from Keith Sweat’s big beats at #32 to Bonnie’s bluesy ballad at #31 with Shadoe talking over the intro. Didn’t it occur to anybody on the production staff to put a jingle or something between them? It’s the kind of train wreck that a radio music programmer would usually try to avoid. Better to roll from Bonnie into “Until Your Love Comes Back Around” at #30.

27. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”/Paul Young
26. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/George Michael and Elton John
Paul Young’s taste in covers (and he did a lot of them) was pretty good. A lot of people love this version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but I am not one of them.

25. “If You Go Away”/New Kids on the Block
24. “Everything Changes”/Kathy Troccoli
23. “I’m Too Sexy”/Right Said Fred
22. “Romeo and Juliet”/Stacy Earl
21. “Uhh Ahh”/Boyz II Men
20. “Thinkin’ Back”/Color Me Badd
The show really blurs here. Hard as it is to believe, I may never have heard “I’m Too Sexy” past the first line until this show. The rest of it doesn’t ring a bell at all. Also:  “Uhh Ahh”? What kind of a title is that?

19. “Beauty and the Beast”/Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion
10. “Missing You Now”/Michael Bolton with Kenny G
2. “Save the Best for Last”/Vanessa Williams
Fossils: the jingly, echoey production on “Beauty and the Beast” and “Save the Best for Last”; Michael Bolton, veins standing out on his forehead as he yowls his devotion; and Kenny G’s noodling saxophone.

18. “It’s a Love Thang”/CeCe Peniston
17. “The Way I Feel About You”/Karyn White
16. “Breakin’ My Heart”/Mint Condition
13. “Finally”/CeCe Peniston
12. “Justified and Ancient”/The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette
11. “All 4 Love”/Color Me Badd
9. “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do”/Tevin Campbell
More new jack blur, although there’s something about “Finally” that appeals to me where similar records on the show do not. “Justified and Ancient” strikes me as a band thinking, “Who’s the most unlikely, buzz-generating person we could get to sing this?”

LDD: “More Than Words”/Extreme. Belinda from Johannesburg has written several times to an American named Eric, whom she met during a ski vacation in Austria, but she hasn’t received a reply. She wants to thank him … for changing her views on South African politics. Long Distance Dedications: different host, still mostly worthless.

8. “Make It Happen”/Mariah Carey
7. “Diamonds and Pearls”/Prince
6. “Good for Me”/Amy Grant
5. “To Be With You”/Mr. Big
4. “Masterpiece”/Atlantic Starr
3. “I Love Your Smile”/Shanice
“I Love Your Smile” was just off five weeks at #1 on the show despite being insert shrug emoji here.

1. “Remember the Time”/Michael Jackson
In my head, 30 years doesn’t seem very long ago. But then we remember the time when Michael was still a transcendent cultural figure, before the child-abuse allegations, and it suddenly seems like ancient days.

A couple of years ago, reader Adam was kind enough to send me a list of links to several of the Shadoe-era AT40 shows. I have some left, so we may do this again.

The King in His Castle

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(Pictured: I’m clearing up some odds and ends today, with two bits that didn’t add up to full posts on their own. There is no picture that fits both subjects, so please enjoy this cat listening to music.)

When radio stations opened their weekly package from American Top 40, they sometimes found a memo attached to the cue sheet. It would inform stations of extra commercial time available to them that week, alert them to the presence of a guest host on that week’s show, or remind them of upcoming specials. The show dated February 9, 1974, included a memo promoting a couple of upcoming TV appearances Casey was making. He had a guest role on Hawaii Five-O, but also: “Casey plays a comic Adolph Hitler in a Dean Martin roast of Don Rickles.”

That might be the most 70s sentence ever written. Go and watch it, then come back here and read the rest of this.

Continue reading “The King in His Castle”

The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be

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(Pictured: Linda Ronstadt in a Boy Scout getup is quite a vibe.)

Not long ago, I listened to American Top 40‘s special countdown of the Top 40 acts of the 1970s. I may have heard this show when it first aired in 1978, although I don’t recall specifically. A few years ago, based only on looking at the cue sheet, I called it the single greatest all-killer, no-filler edition of AT40. Let’s see if that’s true.

40. Earth Wind and Fire
39. Electric Light Orchestra
38. Grand Funk
37. ABBA
36. Steve Miller
35. Ringo Starr
34. Captain and Tennille
33. Stylistics
32. Carly Simon
31. Donny Osmond
Casey plays “Go Away Little Girl” because he had to play something, and most of Donny’s solo hits are equally objectionable. I never noticed it before, but the vocal on “Go Away Little Girl” is double-tracked.

30. Linda Ronstadt. Casey says that in the 23 years of the rock era (to 1978), nine acts have managed two Top-10 hits at the same time, but Linda is the first woman to do it, with “It’s So Easy” and “Blue Bayou” in December 1977.

29. Rod Stewart
28. Roberta Flack
More good trivia: Casey says Roberta Flack has spent more weeks at #1 than any other female act of the 70s so far, 12 in all: six for “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” five for “Killing Me Softly,” and one for “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”

27. Temptations. A lot of songs on this show are shortened. Casey plays about two-and-a-half minutes of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” although he had managed to play all of “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” and “Killing Me Softly,” and most of “Maggie May.”

26. James Taylor. “You’ve Got a Friend” loses a verse. Casey discusses Taylor as a pioneer of the “soft sounds of the 70s.” Several others are yet to come.

25. Paul Simon
24. War
Casey plays “The Cisco Kid,” which, against all odds, is the single most evocative time-and-place record on this list for me, with the exception of the one he plays at #14.

23. Bread
22. Olivia Newton-John
21. Elvis Presley
20. Spinners
Casey plays “The Wonder of You” and notes that Elvis is the #1 recording artist of all time. The Spinners are the lone answer to the following question: name the acts that hit the Top Five in five consecutive years at any point between 1970 and 1978.

19. Marvin Gaye
18. Barry Manilow
17. Aretha Franklin
16. Neil Diamond 
15. John Denver
Casey notes how most of Neil Diamond’s songs are about “heavy” subjects, and he calls John Denver “Mr. Clean.”

14. Eagles
13. Al Green
12. Diana Ross
Casey plays “New Kid in Town,” which was the #1 song on my 17th birthday with all such a thing implies, and I’ve never gotten tired of it. He also plays “Let’s Stay Together” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and at this point, the show becomes radio comfort food. At the moment I listen, there’s nothing I need more.

11. Tony Orlando and Dawn
10. Helen Reddy
This list shows that Helen Reddy is the #1 female solo star of the 1970s. But like Olivia Newton-John back at #22, she was not invited to the party when oldies and classic hits radio started playing 70s hits. (Dawn was slightly more welcome: “Knock Three Times” fit the vibe pretty well, at least for a while.) Both Reddy and ONJ moved not just singles but albums by the barge-load during the 1970s, so audiences clearly liked them. But when the oldies boom began, maybe they were perceived as dated or unhip or something else. Beats me.

9. Gladys Knight and the Pips 
8. Three Dog Night
Casey notes how Three Dog Night consistently chose the work of unknown songwriters who later became famous, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Paul Williams, and Laura Nyro among them. It doesn’t really work that way now, when Max Martin writes pretty much everything for everybody.

7. Chicago. Casey says that Chicago’s 11 million-selling albums since 1970 makes them the most successful album group of the 70s so far.

6. Jackson Five
5. Stevie Wonder
4. Carpenters
3. Paul McCartney and Wings
Although Paul far outdistanced his bandmates for solo success by 1978, he wasn’t always out front. Up until 1974, George and Ringo had done about as well.

2. Bee Gees
1. Elton John
Casey says that based on the point system AT40 used to determine this list, Elton placed #1 by an enormous margin. But in July 1978, it had been a year-and-a-half since he’d had a significant hit. We know now that he would never again scale the heights he achieved during the period of this survey.

All killer, no filler? Donny Osmond’s got some things to answer for, but otherwise, yeah.

Collectibles From 1971

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(Pictured: the Carpenters on The Johnny Cash Show in March 1971.)

On Christmas weekend in 1971, American Top 40 aired a countdown of the Top 40 Christmas hits. On New Year’s weekend in 1972, Casey counted down the Top 40 hits of 1971. It’s a weird show. Even taking into account Casey’s evolving style throughout 1971, it’s unusually low in energy. He speaks very softly most of the time, and as I listened, I wondered if he was ill. In addition, the show was produced so that when he’s talking over intros, you can barely hear the music, which doesn’t help the energy level.

Now on with the countdown:

38. “Rainy Days and Mondays”/Carpenter
35. “For All We Know”/Carpenters
30. “Superstar”/Carpenters
The Carpenters are the only act with three songs on the show, unless you want to count Donny Osmond and his brothers, who have three between them. Putting aside all that: have you ever noticed that Casey pronounces “Sunday” and “Monday” as “sundee” and “mondee”? It’s a quirk he maintained even after he had become the Most Famous Voice in America. It’s probably not a regionalism—some googling reveals that too many people from too many parts of the country claim it’s unique to where they live. It’s more likely generational, something Casey acquired from growing up in the 1930s and 40s.

34. “Chick-a-Boom”/Daddy Dewdrop
33. “Put Your Hand in the Hand”/Ocean
32. “Sweet and Innocent”/Donny Osmond
31. “My Sweet Lord”/George Harrison
This is quite a blend of the sacred and the profane.

29. “Temptation Eyes”/Grass Roots
26. “Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey”/Paul and Linda McCartney
9. “Just My Imagination”/Temptations
There was nothing on this show I enjoyed hearing more than these songs, unless it was “Chick-a-Boom.”

27. “Superstar”/Murray Head
14. “Smiling Faces Sometimes”/Undisputed Truth
Casey wraps up the first and second hours by inviting listeners to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope and 25 cents to cover printing and handling costs to receive a list of the top 40 of 1971 plus a list of the top 40 Christmas hits from the week before. If you send a dollar, you can get both of them plus a 2-by-3-foot poster with the American Top 40 logo, and what a collectible that would be.

21. “What’s Going On”/Marvin Gaye
2. “Maggie May”/Rod Stewart
Good trivia notes from Casey: Marvin has more Top 10 hits since 1963 than any other solo recording artist, and in 1971 Rod Stewart became the first artist since the Beatles in 1964 to top the American and British singles and albums charts all at the same time, with “Maggie May” and Every Picture Tells a Story.

18. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight
15. “Treat Her Like a Lady”/Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
Casey introduces both of these songs by asking the listeners if they remember them. The answer seems obvious: of course they would, since both were hits only a few months ago. However, in the different radio programming world of 1971, a lot of hits slipped into a kind of netherworld after they left current rotations. They faded from popularity but had yet to achieve “oldies but goodies” status, which both required time and reputation. A listener in December 1971 might not have heard “Treat Her Like a Lady” for six months, and in the absence of a followup hit, might indeed have forgotten about it.

16. “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones. Casey says that since the breakup of the Beatles, the Stones are the most important rock band in the world. But hang on, the Led Zeppelin of 1971 would like a word.

10. “Knock Three Times”/Dawn. Casey’s low-energy presentation really annoyed me here. “Knock Three Times” is an uptempo bubblegum record on which Tony Orlando sounds completely confident in his ability to win the heart of the girl downstairs, but Casey introduces it morosely, talking about the many young men who fall in love with women who don’t know they exist. In 50 years of listening to “Knock Three Times,” I never interpreted it that way, not once.

6. “Indian Reservation”/Raiders. Casey introduces this by telling yet again the bogus story of how it came to be written.

1. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night. Casey sounds a little more energized as he announces this one, although maybe it’s just relief that the taping is almost over and he can go lie down.

Many thanks to Chuck, a longtime friend of the blog, for providing me with a copy of this show. He’s also provided the Top 80 of 1970 show, which I’ll get to eventually.

Casey’s Christmas Countdown

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Fifty years ago, on Christmas weekend, American Top 40 aired a countdown of the Top 40 Christmas hits of all time. I wrote about the show several years ago, and some of that post follows, with a couple of added notes and hyperlinks. 

It started off reasonably enough, with “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” by Elvis. But the six records that followed Elvis represented as horrid a stretch as any in AT40 history: “Santa Claus Is Watching You” by Ray Stevens, “The Happy Reindeer” by Dancer, Prancer, and Nervous, “Little Altar Boy” by Andy Williams, Dickie Goodman’s “Santa and the Satellite,” “Santo Natale” by David Whitfield, and “Baby’s First Christmas” by Connie Francis. “The Happy Reindeer,” a Chipmunks record in all but name with the same speeded-up voices, created an epic train wreck alongside the Williams record, which runs something like five minutes and seems twice as long. Goodman and Whitfield created precisely the same sort of mess.

After the wretched “Baby’s First Christmas,” the proceedings took a more positive turn with the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” and Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Paper,” only to crash to a halt again with Stan Freberg’s “Christmas Dragnet.” … The first hour ended with the Chipmunks version of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” And thus another big problem with the show is revealed: specifically, too many Chipmunks records (three in all, counting “The Happy Reindeer”), and generally, too much novelty crap. It’s like Casey was possessed by the spirit of Dr. Demento.

Casey skipped certain songs that ranked among the Top 40—“Christmas Polka” by Guy Lombardo and the Andrews Sisters, “You’re All I Want for Christmas” by Frankie Laine, and “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen—supposedly because copies fit for air couldn’t be found. The omission of “Snoopy’s Christmas” is weird given that it was the most recent release on the list, and a giant hit besides

The second hour was a little better, although it’s hard to understand at [50] years’ distance the attraction of “Christmas in Killarney.” Up at #17, Casey mentioned that several versions of “Nuttin” for Christmas” had been popular in 1955, but he chose to play the ear-bleeding version by Ricky Zahnd instead of the more popular (but equally ear-bleeding) one by Barry Gordon. Also, having to put “Nuttin’ for Christmas” two spots away from the original “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Jimmy Boyd at #15 is solid evidence that mathematics is no damn good for anybody.

In addition to being heavy on the Chipmunks, the countdown was also loaded with Gene Autry tunes—three in all. No juxtaposition was more telling than the one between Autry’s versions of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Frosty the Snowman” and the Phil Spector-produced versions by Bobb B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and the Ronettes—the contrast between Autry’s rural honk and Spector’s citified “little symphonies for the kids” make clear what rock ‘n’ roll came to destroy, and why.…

In the third hour, listeners were still forced to sit through some dreadful records, including the Four Seasons’ version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” all copies of which should be collected and burned. But it was in this hour that the show finally got to Nat King Cole and the Harry Simeone Chorale and “White Christmas,” all of which were legitimately classic in 1971 and remain so today.

Casey did another Christmas countdown in 1973. Several songs were heard in medley form, a few new ones were added, some were dropped. But the top seven were the same in both years, and Casey ended both shows with an extra: Bing Crosby’s “Silent Night” because, as I wrote in 2016, “a recap of America’s all-time Christmas favorites would have been inconceivable without it.” 

Next to the 1976 show with 40 years of #1 hits, the 1971 Christmas countdown is probably among the most sought-after shows among AT40 fans today. But it’s only a curiosity, because so much of the music borders on unlistenable. In 2013, I called the show “an epic disaster, and the worst installment in AT40 history.”

Today, maybe. But surely listeners of 1971 heard it differently. 

Note to Patrons: The death of Michael Nesmith over the weekend was a surprise, considering that he played a show with Micky Dolenz in Milwaukee just last month. I can’t add much to the chorus of remembrance about him, except to say that his 1970 hit “Joanne” remains one of the most evocative records from my first season as a young radio listener. Whenever I hear it, I’m there again, even now. That was Nesmith’s gift to me, and I’m grateful for it.