Everybody’s Doing It

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(Pictured: the Village People onstage in the summer of 1979.)

On the weekend of July 7 and 8, 1979, American Top 40 counted down the Top 40 Hits of the Disco Era, covering big hits on the radio and in clubs over the preceding five years. It’s all killer and no filler. Seven songs from Saturday Night Fever are on the show: “How Deep Is Your Love,” “You Should Be Dancing,” “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps, “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy, and Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You.” (The latter might be the best song on the show, if it’s not “Stayin’ Alive,” or “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, which sounded great in this context.) As an individual performer, Donna Summer has the most songs on the show, five: “Love to Love You Baby,” “Last Dance,” “I Feel Love,” “Hot Stuff,” and “MacArthur Park.”

“MacArthur Park” was Summer’s first Hot 100 #1, in the fall of 1978, but after the twin barrage of “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” a few months later, you stopped hearing it much. “Bad Girls,” which is not on the list, would make #1 the week after this show aired and end up the longest-running #1 hit of Summer’s career—something the AT40 staff could not have predicted when they were researching, scripting, and recording in the spring and early summer.

The show is packed with informational factoids. At one point, Casey says that the popularity of disco means that everybody is doing it, referencing the forthcoming Ethel Merman Disco Album and a disco version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” by baseball announcer Harry Caray. (The latter is quite something. Harry sings, but he’s swamped by the female singers with him.) Elsewhere, Casey mentions that disco DJs like to play a slow song every 45 minutes to one hour, and lists the most popular slow-dance numbers: “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Three Times a Lady” by the Commodores, and “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb. All are heard as extras on the show.

Other extras include “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, widely considered to be the first disco record to hit #1; “The Twist,” the most popular dance hit of all time; “The Hustle,” the most popular song named for a disco dance step; and “Disco Duck,” which Casey cites as an indication that disco is here to stay and more than just a fad. Also included: “San Francisco” by the Village People, which Casey says is the most successful record in clubs never to make AT40, because it was never released as a single.

Casey offers quotes from record executives, journalists, and broadcasters discussing the disco phenomenon. Several of them suggest that disco’s popularity has a lot to do with people’s desire to escape economic and social hardships. Others portray it as a communal art form in which the audience is the star. He mentions a couple of different times that there are 20,000 discos in America, which seems like a lot. I suspect that number includes any small-town bar or Holiday Inn lounge that put up a disco ball or had a DJ rig. He name-checks a doctor who claims to be a practitioner of something called “discogenics,” which treats injuries people get from dancing. (There is a real thing called discogenic pain, which is caused by degenerating discs in the spine, regardless of whether the condition is caused by too much boogie-ing.)

But despite all of its undeniable bangers, the show has an odd vibe, and it’s because of Casey himself. It sounds like he’s not entirely present in the moment. He zips through his scripted lines in perfunctory fashion, like he’s trying to get the show done, just another item on a jam-packed To Do list. (What we know of Casey’s career as a voiceover talent by 1979 indicates that certainly could have been the case.) The show largely lacks the feeling of one-to-one communication that made Casey such a pleasant companion on the radio.

AT40 compiled its list based on Billboard chart data and a survey of disco DJs across the country. The #1 song is “Le Freak” by Chic, which spent six non-consecutive weeks at #1 as 1978 turned to 1979. (Like “MacArthur Park,” “Le Freak” would soon be surpassed in importance within a few months by another of its own performer’s hits: “Good Times.”)

When this show aired in the summer of ’79, the disco tide was already going out a bit after peaking in the spring. But as a snapshot of an all-consuming cultural moment, you can’t do better.

If You Know

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(Pictured: George and Louis Johnson didn’t make #1 in the summer of 1976, but those ‘fros were winners.) 

Everybody has a favorite summer, and regular readers of this pondwater know that the summer of 1976 is mine. The American Top 40 show from the week of July 10, 1976, which I listened to on that long-ago weekend, has got almost all of the music that matters from that summer.

40. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”/England Dan and John Ford Coley
39. “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel”/Tavares
37. “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”/Lou Rawls
On the current Billboard Hot 100, only four songs in the Top 30 have titles more than three words long. One of those is “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, which is 37 years old, and two have unnecessary parentheticals that make them longer. There are probably algorithmic reasons for this, or maybe our attention spans just are shot.

38. “Silver Star”/Four Seasons. I know I listened to this show when it first aired because I remember hearing “Silver Star” and liking it. This was the only week Casey ever played it. It was too ornate to go where “December 1963” and “Who Loves You” had gone, but it’s still a favorite of mine today.

35. “Something He Can Feel”/Aretha Franklin
34. “Good Vibrations”/Todd Rundgren
33. “Somebody’s Gettin’ It”/Johnnie Taylor
32. “Mamma Mia”/ABBA
AT40 listeners back in the day found that there were always songs on the show they didn’t hear on their local stations regularly, and Casey even mentioned the phenomenon from time to time. If I heard “Mamma Mia” anywhere other than on AT40, it wasn’t frequent. Casey introduces it with the story of an Australian man named David Abba, who says he has been the butt of jokes and public harrassment since ABBA became a worldwide success. It’s a weird, context-free bit that sounds like it came from a press release issued by David Abba himself. “Somebody’s Gettin’ It” is fine, but it doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing likely to do big business among the same singles buyers who had made “Disco Lady” #1 earlier in the year. (Soul Train performance here.)

29. “I Need to Be in Love”/Carpenters
26. “I’m Easy”/Keith Carradine
23. “Today’s the Day”/America
Right now, there are a couple of big adult contemporary hits that are straight-up ass. One of them is by an extremely successful band banging out their customary humorless bombast, joined this time by a rapper who, paradoxically, makes their record sound even whiter than the rest of their stuff. (Seriously, there is not one atom of Elvis within a thousand miles of them.) The other is produced and performed in a way that suggests the band doesn’t even like music all that much. What is the precise nature of the pleasure listeners take from this kind of thing I do not know. You can’t fall in love to that shit, surely.

17. “If You Know What I Mean”/Neil Diamond. I was tempted for a few minutes, instead of going through the effort of writing yet another post about the summer of 1976, to just copy out the lyrics to this.

15. “Rock and Roll Music”/Beach Boys
10. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Beatles
I love that these two bands rode into the Top 10 together during this summer. Casey says the Beatles have now made the Top 10 32 times, but they’re still behind the all-time leader, Elvis, who has 38 Top 10 hits. (As I count them, “Got to Get You Into My Life” was actually their 33rd; “Real Love” got to #6 in 1996 to make #34.) Madonna would eventually enter the chat and has 38 Top 10s; Drake recently surpassed everybody by hitting 40, but you know how I feel about that.

8. “Love Is Alive”/Gary Wright. The sound of humid nights in a house without air conditioning.

3. “I’ll Be Good to You”/Brothers Johnson. This was my favorite song of the moment, in the first of three straight weeks at #3.

1. “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band. As Casey introduces this at #1 he says, “I know what you’re saying, ‘I knew it all the time.'” Well, yeah, we did, Case, since you spoiled it earlier in the show by saying that the week’s new #1 song is “delightful.”

It was a different world in the summer of 1976, where you could get to #1 by sweetly harmonizing about a nooner. That world is where I came from. It’s a place I understand, and one that understands me. In this foreign land of 2022, like exiles everywhere, I want to go home. This show didn’t get me there, not really, but it allowed me the sensation of looking at some pictures of the place, which is at least something.

Nasty

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(Pictured: Janet Jackson on American Bandstand, 1986.)

At this website we often noodle with the idea of greatest Top 10 or greatest weekly chart of all time. But it’s a fact that sometimes, pop music goes through fallow periods, and there’s plenty of evidence for that on the American Top 40 show from June 21, 1986.

40. “Glory of Love”/Peter Cetera
38. “Modern Woman”/Billy Joel
32. “Love Touch”/Rod Stewart
24. “If You Leave”/OMD
22. “Danger Zone”/Kenny Loggins
9. “Who’s Johnny”/El DeBarge
4. “Live to Tell”/Madonna
It was the golden age of the movie soundtrack song, punctuating a scene or just playing under the closing credits. “Glory of Love” and “If You Leave” are still part of the 80s canon today, and “Danger Zone” and “Live to Tell” ought to be.

37. “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”/The Models
36. “Be Good to Yourself”/Journey
33. “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)”/Pet Shop
Boys
29. “One Hit (To the Body)”/Rolling Stones
28. “Is It Love”/Mr. Mister

27. “Mountains”/Prince
18. “Vienna Calling”/Falco
12. “I Wanna Be a Cowboy”/Boys Don’t Cry

This is what I mean by “fallow period.” The Models, Journey, the Stones, Prince, and Mr. Mister are all just dull, but “Opportunities,” “Vienna Calling,” and “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” are actively horrid, as is “Love Touch” at #32. The nine songs represent over 20 percent of the countdown.

35. “Digging Your Scene”/Blow Monkeys. I like “Digging Your Scene,” even as I acknowledge that it sounds like what you’d get if you fed a songwriting bot all the Motown, Stax, and Philly soul it could eat, but turned the whiteness up to 100.

34. “If She Knew What She Wants”/Bangles
10. “Nothin’ at All”/Heart
3. “Crush on You”/The Jets
Introducing “Crush on You,” Casey says that in the rock era, only four bands (as distinct from singing groups) with at least two sisters have hit the Top 40. The first was Fanny, in 1971. The other three bands are in this week’s countdown: the Bangles, Heart, and the Jets, an eight-member family group made up of three sisters and five brothers. That’s the kind of trivia you could win money with.

31. “Mad About You”/Belinda Carlisle
21. “Your Wildest Dreams”/Moody Blues

20. “Like a Rock”/Bob Seger
16. “Tuff Enuff”/Fabulous Thunderbirds
14. “Nasty”/Janet Jackson
13. “Something About You”/Level 42
8. “Holding Back the Years”/Simply Red

One of these is the best record on the show. I played “Tuff Enuff” on the radio the other day, but like “Deacon Blues” in 1978, it’s a one-song genre all its own in this company. So it’s probably “Nasty,” which, in a way far different from “Tuff Enuff,” also kicks every ass in the neighborhood. My fondness for the sadly nostalgic “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Like a Rock,” and “Holding Back the Years” will not surprise you at all.

26. “Rain on the Scarecrow”/John Cougar Mellencamp.
I bang on Mellencamp a lot, not because I don’t like his music, but because I find his legacy and influence to be greatly inflated. His greatest achievements are probably his ongoing support of Farm Aid and “Rain on the Scarecrow,” an angry and honest song about the toll taken on families by the cratering farm economy of the 1980s.

LDD: “Against All Odds”/Phil Collins
25. “When the Heart Rules the Mind”/GTR
19. “All I Need Is a Miracle”/Mike and the Mechanics
17. “Invisible Touch”/Genesis
15. “Sledgehammer”/Peter Gabriel
Introducing “Sledgehammer,” Casey tells the story of how British pop star Jonathan King discovered Genesis and produced their first album, thereby starting several successful careers. (GTR is led by former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett.)

LDD: “The Long and Winding Road”/Beatles. In which the daughter of American hostage David Jacobsen wants him to know he and the other Americans currently being held hostage by Islamic Jihad in Lebanon have not been forgotten. (Jacobsen had been taken hostage in May 1985; he would be released in November 1986.) She has received letters from her father, and he has told her he has access to a radio. Casey says, “We’re not sure American Top 40 can be picked up in Lebanon right now, but that certainly doesn’t change the spirit of your dedication.”

I honestly have no idea how to feel about this.

6. “No One Is to Blame”/Howard Jones. Back in 2007, a fellow blogger asked me to write about the day-to-day life of a radio DJ, so I wrote about the summer of 1986. I don’t like “No One Is to Blame” quite so much 15 years later, but the piece remains a pretty good description of what that summer felt like.

1. “On My Own”/Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald. Which Casey introduces with a story about the theft and recovery of a $5000 necklace belonging to Patti. Nearly every story he tells on the show goes on just a little bit too long, but on the four-hour shows, that’s a feature, not a bug.

I Don’t Want to Die in Nashville

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(Pictured: Donna Summer takes the wheel in 1978.)

I have written a lot about the summer of 1978 at this website, so in this rundown of the American Top 40 show from June 17, 1978, I promise not to repeat myself.

40. “Warm Ride”/Rare Earth
39. “Grease”/Frankie Valli
Casey opens the show by saying it’s the first edition of AT40 in nine months without a song by the Bee Gees, although they’re on several times as writers and/or producers, including these two debut records.

34. “I Can’t Stand the Rain”/Eruption
28. “I Was Only Joking”/Rod Stewart
23. “Last Dance”/Donna Summer
20. “Bluer Than Blue”/Michael Johnson
14. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”/Meat Loaf
12. “Use Ta Be My Girl”/O’Jays
6. “You Belong to Me”/Carly Simon

5. “Too Much Too Little Too Late”/Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams
4. “It’s a Heartache”/Bonnie Tyler
It seems like there’s an unusual number of songs of loss and regret on this show, so maybe it wasn’t just me that summer.

(Didn’t take long to break my promise, did it?)

32. “Cheeseburger in Paradise”/Jimmy Buffett. Which Casey introduces with an anecdote about the time Buffett and his drummer got into a fight with Walking Tall sheriff Buford Pusser. It’s too long and not all that interesting, but it does include the line, “I don’t want to die in Nashville in a rented Gremlin.”

26. “Baby Hold On”/Eddie Money. It occurs to me that “Baby Hold On,” now on its way off the chart after a run to #11, is one of the more impressive debuts of the 1970s. Money had his sound and vision down from the jump, and he made a success of it for decades to come.

22. “Even Now”/Barry Manilow. Another song of loss and regret. I once described it (broken promise again) as “eternal romantic damnation.” Although he didn’t write the lyrics, the song becomes even more powerful when you realize that in 1978 Manilow was a closeted gay man—you wonder who he might have been pining for. Casey says “Even Now” makes Manilow the third male solo singer to hit the Top 40 with his first 10 hits, joining Ricky Nelson and Chubby Checker. Elvis Presley doesn’t qualify because he released several EPs during his early chart run that failed to make the Top 40.

19. “Deacon Blues”/Steely Dan
18. “Every Kinda People”/Robert Palmer
17. “With a Little Luck”/Wings
16. “Still the Same”/Bob Seger
This is the best part of the show, with songs I have praised in the past. (Promise now officially shot to hell.) In the context of the other radio hits in this summer, “Deacon Blues” is something from another planet entirely, a one-song genre all its own.

There’s a lot of solid trivia on this show. Casey says that no act made up of a father, mother, and children had ever hit #1, but the Cowsills (mom and six kids), the Staple Singers (dad and three daughters), and the Partridge Family (mom and stepson) did. The artists with the most successful remakes of their own songs are the Ventures, with “Walk Don’t Run” in 1960 and 1964, and Neil Sedaka, who did “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” in 1962 and 1976. The largest number of songs in the Top 10 all at once is five, and it’s been done several times: Glenn Miller in 1940 and 1942, Jimmy Dorsey in 1941, Bing Crosby in 1944, and the Beatles in 1964.

The latter record has since been broken by Drake, who put seven songs into the Top 10 in a single week of 2018 and nine in 2021 (and released a new album overnight, thereby making it likely that he will dominate the list again next week). This, of course, means that he is the greatest, bestest, most awesomely awesome recording artist of all time.

1. “Shadow Dancing”/Andy Gibb. For the second time on this show, Elvis gets knocked out of the record books on a technicality. “Shadow Dancing” makes Andy Gibb the first solo artist to hit #1 with his first three single releases. Elvis did it with his first three chart hits, but they weren’t the first three records he ever made.

There’s an argument that Andy Gibb was the Drake of his day—an artist whose historical stature is obviously nowhere near the legends of popular music, but who took advantage of his historical moment to outperform them.

A Final Word: In 1970, when Casey Kasem and Don Bustany were licensing the Billboard charts for their new radio show, Joel Whitburn was licensing them for a chart book. His death at age 82 is noteworthy, but he had already built his monument long before. His books are quite literally bibles to many of us. I have a whole shelf of them, but they’re never on it. They’re always stacked within arm’s length of my desk. 

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.