Thursday, June 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Casey Kasem's American Top 40, April 26, 1980

This week, in honor of the recent passing of Casey Kasem, who died June 15 at age 82, I'm also honoring another institution from my youth: American Top 40, the weekly radio countdown show that Kasem hosted from 1970 to 1988 and 1998 to 2003. In this post, instead of counting down the biggest singles in the country from 40 to 1 according to Billboard magazine, I'm counting them down in ascending order from my least favorite to my favorite. Now, on with the countdown...

Let's go back to the chart for the week ending April 26, 1980, one day before Kasem's 48th birthday and 11 before my 11th. I downloaded this flashback episode two months ago at the AT40 Chart Store, which offers more than 500 others just like it, and spent several hours of Hump Day listening to it for the first time and a few more on Throwback Thursday listening to it again. Memories flooded back, from the songs themselves, from AT40 staples like the long-distance dedications, Q&As and assorted trivia, and, of course, from Casey's voice.

As for the episode itself, well, it would be nearly three months after it aired before I listened to my first American Top 40 countdown, the one for the week ending July 19, 1980, when Billy Joel's chart-topping "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" succeeded Paul McCartney's "Coming Up," which had debuted at No. 73 on the April 26 Hot 100. Back then each countdown began with a recap of the previous week's Top 3, a practice that must have ended by the time I got around to listening to AT 40, for I don't recall ever hearing three songs twice in the same show.

Not that I would ever complain about having to listen to Christopher Cross's "Ride Like the Wind" more than once! Now, really, on with the countdown!

Song Title/ Artist/ This week/ Last week/ Peak

40. "Fire in the Morning" Melissa Manchester 32/ 33/ 32
This "Fire" just can't beat the heat of "Don't Cry Out Loud" and "Midnight Blue," and Manchester doesn't sound like she's even trying. "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" couldn't have come quickly enough!

39. "The Seduction (Love Theme)" (from American Gigolo) The James Last Band 40/ --/ 28
Unless it was a TV theme (Dallas!) or a massive hit ("Chariots of Fire"), Top 40-charting instrumentals (thankfully rare) have always tended to go in one of my ears and out the other. With all due respect to Giorgio Moroder (who wrote it), I forgot this one, which I heard for the first time ever on Wednesday, before it was even over.

38. "Set Me Free" Utopia 36/ 27/ 27
How is it possible that this and not 1977's "Love Is the Answer" was the Todd Rundgren-led band's only Top 40 single?

37. "Pilot of the Airwaves" Charlie Dore 15/ 17/ 13
I'd never heard of Charlie (who's a woman, by the way) or her single, although it got as high as No. 13. Apparently, she was a pretty big deal, mostly because she co-wrote Sheena Easton's "Strut," a No. 7 hit four years later.

36. "Hold On to My Love" Jimmy Ruffin 14/ 12/ 10
Another high-charting single I'd never heard (of) until now. I'd never heard of Jimmy Ruffin either, though I had heard at least one of his three previous U.S. Top 40 hits ("What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," No. 7, 1966); of his little brother, the late former Temptation David Ruffin; and Robin Gibb, the Bee Gee who co-wrote and co-produced this Top 10 single. Unlike other Bee Gee-affiliated hits of the late '70s/early '80s (including Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John's "I Can't Help It," coming up), it actually sounds nothing like the Brothers Gibb, which isn't necessarily a plus. I'm not one to begrudge anyone a comeback hit, but "Help Me!" -- Gibb's duet with future Shakespears Sister Marcy Levy (aka Marcella Detroit), a follow-up Gibb/Blue Weaver co-composition/production that hit No. 50 several months later -- was far more deserving of Top 10 status.

35. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" Queen 27/ 15/ 1
I get what the veteran band was trying to do, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

34. "I Pledge My Love" Peaches and Herb 19/ 20/ 19
Unfortunately, the retro-'50s Happy Days/Sha Na Na effect of the '70s was still rippling through pop music in 1980 (see Queen above).

33. "Do Right" Paul Davis 31/ 35/ 23
If you thought the guy who sang "I Go Crazy" was a one-hit wonder, you were so wrong, but there were far better and bigger Top 40 follow-ups ("Cool Night" and "'65 Love Affair") to come.

32. "Call Me (from American Gigolo)" Blondie 1/ 1/ 1
Confession time: "Heart of Glass" aside, I probably love Blondie a lot less than I should overall, and I still can't believe this was the band's biggest hit and Billboard's No. 1 song of 1980. There's nothing specifically wrong with the song. My indifference to it is just a gut reaction -- make that non-reaction.

31. "Only a Lonely Heart Sees" Felix Cavaliere 37/ 36/ 36
This song is new to me, although the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (as a founding member of The Young Rascals) who sings it isn't. Had I been aware of it then, when it was in its third Top 40 week, its nostalgia value might have taken it up at least five notches on this countdown.

30. "Sexy Eyes" Doctor Hook 10/ 13/ 5
Dr. Hook always created the illusion (to me) of being a part-time act, though they had a solid run of hit singles, of which this was the biggest one. Maybe it was that Dr. Hook was totally a singles band (not one Dr. Hook studio LP ever made it to the Top 40 of Billboard's Top 200 album chart) or that the band just seemed to vanish after the early '80s. I never really understood the doctor-pirate connection, or the one guy who wore the eye patch but nothing else pirate-related, or why the group's turn-of-the-decade hits sounded kind of country. Even now when I think of Dr. Hook's No. 25 1982 single "Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk," I hear Mel McDaniel's 1985 country No. 1 "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On."

29. "Special Lady" Ray, Goodman and Brown" 5/ 5/ 5
R&B hits didn't go Top 10 pop with any regularity back then, so I'm not sure what was so special about "Lady" to make it a rare exception to the general rule. Formerly The Moments (of "Love on a Two-Way Street" fame), the trio proved that you can switch names mid-game, well past halftime, and still score a touchdown.

28. "The Rose" (from The Rose) Bette Midler 39/ --/ 3
Preferable to "Wind Beneath My Wings," but Bette wouldn't really grab me with one of her hits until "From a Distance" a decade later.

27. "Hurt So Bad" Linda Ronstadt 18/ 23/ 8
Decent enough, but it's mostly about Ronstadt's impossible vocal acrobatics.

26. "Another Brick in the Wall" Pink Floyd 3/ 2/ 1
Maybe it was the goody two-shoes in me (I was even more hopelessly nerdy then than I am now), but at 10, I just couldn't fully get behind a song with the refrain "We don't need no education." Not only was it heretical but ungrammatical, too!

25. "Anyway You Want It" Journey 23/ 26/ 23
Escape was still one year away, and so was my interest in the band.

24. "Off the Wall" Michael Jackson 16/ 10/ 10
Better than I remember it being. Or maybe the recent posthumous Xscape has heightened my appreciation of his "real" work.

23. "You May Be Right" Billy Joel 12/ 9/ 7
I've always loved him in rock & roll mode. This was the first Billy Joel song that I actually knew as a Billy Joel song, though I may have heard it first on the TV commercials for The Chipmunk's Chipmunk Punk that same year. His previous Top 10s, "Just the Way You Are" and "My Life," were just songs by some singer that I heard everywhere, in cars, in malls and as the theme music to Bosom Buddies.

22. "And the Beat Goes On" The Whispers 28/ 19/ 19
I love The Whispers now, but at the time, it was really all about The Brothers Johnson for me.

21. "Breakdown Dead Ahead" Boz Scaggs 26/ 30/ 15
I love Boz, but like the good Dr. (Hook), he always seemed to be merely moonlighting as a singer, possibly because after three more Top 20 hits in 1980, he wouldn't release another single until 1988's "Heart of Mine."

20. "Funkytown" Lipps Inc 29/ 37/ 1
Of all the songs that hit No. 1 in 1980, I might have considered this to be the one least likely to be covered mid-decade by an Australian band (Pseudo Echo) and sent back into the Top 10.

19. "Him" Rupert Holmes 34/ 21/ 6
As rebound follow-ups credited to an artist you probably thought was a one-hit wonder -- via 1979's chart-topping "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" -- go, one can do so much worse than "Him."

18. "Train in Vain" The Clash 38/ --/ 23
I never realized until this very moment that whenever I think of this song, I don't think of the Clash's original, the first of the seminal British punk band's two U.S. Top 40 hits, but of Annie Lennox's churchified remake from her 1995 covers album, Medusa. Take us to the river (to quote the Al Green classic that later became Talking Heads' first U.S. Top 40 single and another Medusa cover), indeed!

17. "Brass in Pocket" The Pretenders 25/ 29/ 14
It's hard to believe that despite releasing such fantastic singles as "Stop Your Sobbing," "Kid" and "Talk of the Town," The Pretenders only managed this one trip to the U.S. Top 40 until "Back on the Chain Gang" in 1982.

16. "Stomp!" The Brothers Johnson 24/ 28/ 7
I'm a sucker for an exclamation point in a song title -- a point (!!!) that Shania Twain would drive home again and again years later!!!

15. "Lost in Love" Air Supply 6/ 6/ 3
My first-ever favorite band (before I discovered Duran Duran, my second group love), though "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" and the spacey intro to "Sweet Dreams" aside, I don't love Air Supply's singles today as much as I did circa 1980 to 1983. I don't think I ever noticed how country this one sounds, which might be why I was so lost in love with it myself at the time.

14. "Too Hot" Kool and the Gang 14/ 11/ 5
A highlight of one of my first K-tel compilations, it oozed sex (even to my virgin 10-year-old ears), but was still so elegant and classy.

13. "I Can't Tell You Why" The Eagles 8/ 8/ 8
I remember hearing this on the radio all the time at the time and thinking it was the most eerie-beautiful thing ever. And I've always been a sucker for a gorgeous, moody outro.

12. "Biggest Part of Me" Ambrosia 17/ 24/ 3
Along with Dr. Hook's "Sexy Eyes," the final stand of the Sound of the Seventies. This has soft rock circa 1978 (my favorite year in music!) written all over it. It's no "How Much I Feel" (Ambrosia's actual 1978 hit), but then what is?

11. "With You I'm Born Again" Billy Preston and Syreeta 4/ 4/ 4
It's sort of cloying, almost psychedelic, and as soon as Syreeta opens her mouth, total magic.

10. "The Second Time Around" Shalamar 35/ 31/ 8
I can't listen to this song, or think about it, without imagining the trio dancing to it on Soul Train or American Bandstand. I'd venture out on a limb and say that Shalamar may have been the first act whose moves were as integral as the music, paving the way for Michael Jackson to moonwalk his way to iconhood. That's some legacy.

9. "Heart Hotels" Dan Fogelberg 33/ 40/ 21
A career highlight by an early '80s pleasure that was hardly guilty, one who, from this follow-up to his biggest hit ("Longer," dreadful) to 1983's "Make Love Stay" (heartbreaking, especially that key change near the end) made nary a questionable peep in Billboard's Top 40.

8. "How Do I Make You" Linda Ronstadt 30/ 18/ 10
I've loved this song for nearly three and a half decades and always knew it peaked at No. 10, but thanks to Casey, I now know that it spent three weeks there (joining Paul McCartney's "Take It Away" and Diana Ross's "Muscles" in the future club of songs that peaked at No. 10 and spent multiple weeks, as in more than two, there). I live to collect that kind of useless trivia.

7. "I Can't Help It" Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John 21/ 32/ 11
I was so jealous of the youngest brother Gibb because he got to sing with my beloved No. 1 pop crush, which goes to show how different things were then.

6. "Fire Lake" Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band 7/ 7/ 6
Words to live by. And I still do.

5. "Ride Like the Wind" Christopher Cross 2/ 3/ 2
This was Cross's debut single? I must have completely slept on it during its chart run. I'm pretty sure that "Sailing," the Grammy-winning (Record and Song of the Year) No. 1 follow-up, was the first thing I ever heard from him. According to Cross's Wikipedia entry, he wrote "Wind" while he was tripping on acid, which makes me love it a little more. I imagine that at the time, the song, which did exactly what its title described, must have given people the impression that Cross would be a totally different kind of artist, but Casey called it a "driving ballad," so maybe everyone knew exactly what they were in for.

4. "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer" Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes 13/ 16/ 4
I absolutely hated this song in 1980 (I can recall the week it was No. 3 for the third time -- once again behind Ronnie Milsap's "My Heart" and Don Williams' "Good Ole Boys Like Me" -- like it was last week), so I'm not sure whether it's nostalgia or my changing taste in middle age that makes it one of my all-time favorite duets today. I remember thinking at the time, Who is that nobody singing with Kenny? She'd show me about a year later. ("More Love," her interim solo Top 10 hit between this and the monster that became "Bette David Eyes," was still a few months away.)

3. "Think About Me" Fleetwood Mac 20/ 22/ 20
It wasn't the giant radio hit that its Tusk predecessor, "Sara," was, and since I still mostly listened to country at the time, I completely missed it until half a decade later when I bought a used vinyl copy of Tusk. "Think About Me" remains my second or third favorite Fleetwood Mac single, after "Tusk" and perhaps "Big Love" (the latter depending on my mood), and the main reason why I thought the band was never the same without Christine McVie. (Welcome back, girl!)

2. "Cars" Gary Numan 22/ 25/ 9
This week in 1980 I was still just branching out from listening to mostly country music, and my taste in pop was still fairly middle of the road. I thought I was the coolest 10 year old on the planet for loving "the song with the robot feel" (according to Casey, who also dubbed Numan "the mechanical man"), which still sounds like nothing that came before it, with it, or in the years since.

1. "Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl (Medley)" The Spinners 11/ 9/ 2
As bridges between '70s disco and early '80s roller-rink soul go, it doesn't get better than The Spinners biggest hit that wasn't a 1974 No. 1 collaboration with Dionne Warwick called "Then Came You." You know you're dealing with a killer medley when you wouldn't dare try to play favorites with the parts of the sum. I've long considered The Spinners' decade-long run as a crossover hit-making act (seven Top 5 singles) to be one of the greatest triumphs of excellent taste on Billboard's Hot 100 circa 1970 to 1980, and this was the pinnacle of a chart career full of creative and commercial high points.

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