Thursday, September 30, 2004

A Saw That Cut Through Flowers

You've seen the bumper sticker that says "Still Pissed at Yoko"? All she was accused of doing was breaking up the Beatles. Mark David Chapman killed one of them, so it's no surprise that his parole hearing next week has lots of Beatles fans suggesting that contrary to letting him out, they should throw away the key. Prison officials might want to do just that, as much for Chapman's own safety as for punishment. He's in a special unit in prison for his own protection. On the street, he'd probably have the approximate life expectancy of a gallon of milk.

Everybody has their where-were-you story about John Lennon's assassination. I was coming home from a night of drinking at a campus bar. Monday Night Football had been on the TV, but the sound was down, so nobody caught Howard Cosell's announcement of the murder. When I got home, the phone was ringing, and it was one of the guys I'd been drinking with, telling me what had happened. My roommates and I turned immediately to the fledgling CNN, where the network was showing a montage of photos to Lennon's music. I was a respectful Beatles fan but not a reverent one. Plus, Paul was my favorite Beatle, so I was shocked at the powerful emotional reaction I had to Lennon's death. I wanted to weep, but I was afraid to let go in front of my roommates.

The next morning, somebody had posted pictures of Lennon on bulletin boards and message posts from one end of campus to the other. I went to the office of the student newspaper and rewrote my weekly music column on deadline, but the rest of the day was a fog. One thing I didn't do was go to the campus radio station, where it might have been therapeutic, for all of us, to play nothing but Lennon's music. But the station was off the air due to transmitter troubles--thus we missed the biggest rock and roll story of our lives.

So where were you?

Pre-Friday Mini Top Five: Five Essential Lennon Tunes
1. In My Life (with the Beatles)
2. Whatever Gets You Through the Night (his only solo Number One in the States)
3. I Saw Her Standing There (with Elton John, recorded live)
4. Stand By Me (with Julian on guitar)
5. Happy Xmas (War is Over) (with Yoko)

Monday, September 27, 2004

History Lesson: Play That Funky Music, Francis

September 27, 1986: The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" peaks at Number 23 on re-entry to the charts after being featured in two hit movies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Back to School. A couple of weeks later, Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" would re-enter the chart and rise to Number 9 by Christmas, on the strength of its inclusion in a movie of the same name. These re-entries, coming swiftly on the heels of MTV's rediscovery of the Monkees, marked the last gasp of '60s nostalgia before the 70s nostalgia boom kicked into overdrive.

September 27, 1980: Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" peaks at Number 6 on the Billboard singles chart. At the time of its release earlier that fall, it set a record for what we in the radio biz call "adds"--more radio stations began playing it in the same week than any other record in history up to that time. That big initial splash didn't translate into enduring value, though--when was the last time you heard this on the radio?

Birthdays Today: Meat Loaf is 57. Only in the 1970s could somebody with that name have become a star, although Jim Steinman's grossly overproduced and melodramatic songs certainly helped. Only in the 1990s, when universal taste was even worse that it sometimes was in the 1970s, could the same grossly overproduced and melodramatic sludge have become popular again. Randy Bachman is 61. The guitarist for the Guess Who gained greater fame with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which was enjoying its heyday 30 years ago this fall, as "Takin' Care of Business" slipped into recurrents and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" began its climb to Number One. (If you remember his later band, Ironhorse, and their "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" ripoff "Sweet Lui-Louise," well, you need to get out of the house more.)

Number One Songs on This Date:
1976: Play That Funky Music/Wild Cherry. Another bit of quintessential 70s trash. You really had to be there to fully appreciate it, and I was.
1974: Rock Me Gently/Andy Kim. Next to Jeff Barry, Kim might be the greatest bubblegum genius of all time. Together, they wrote two classics, "Sugar Sugar" (which was Number One 35 years ago today) and "Baby I Love You, which Kim took into the Top Ten. "Rock Me Gently" was Kim's biggest solo hit.
1966: Cherish/The Association. As perfect a record as anyone ever made, anywhere, anytime. The only one I can think of that rivals it is another Association hit, "Never My Love."
1957: That'll Be the Day/The Crickets. This song has had so much exposure in 47 years that it's hard to hear it as it really was: as a major hit single on the radio; and as it really is: one of the milestone records in the development of rock and roll.
1947: Near You/Francis Craig. Chart expert Joel Whitburn has a theory that a Number One song is the grand prize for a recording artist, producer, and record label, and that therefore, a record's time spent at Number One is the most basic statistic establishing its popularity. Thus the song spending the longest time at Number One is the most popular song of all time. And that would be . . . this one, which did 17 weeks at the top, from late August through mid-December 1947. Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's collaboration on "One Sweet Day" did 16 weeks at the top in 1996, so technically, they win the prize for the Hot 100 era (1958-present). But Francis Craig is the king for the entire recording era, from 1890 to right now.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Top 5: It's Late September and I Really Should be Back at School

It's September of 1971. I have been an obsessive Top 40 listener for a year, I'm starting to understand the context of things, and my taste is improving. (I know this because nobody at our house buys the Partridge Family's big single of the moment, "I Woke Up in Love This Morning"--at least not until it comes out on CD 20 years later.) One thing I have developed by this time is a real taste for one-hit wonders, and there are lots of good ones that month--the Undisputed Truth ("Smiling Faces Sometimes") and Lee Michaels ("Do You Know What I Mean") and Free Movement ("I've Found Someone of My Own"). I also know a killer hook when I hear one--like the demonically catchy breakdown in the middle of Honey Cone's "Stick Up." And I am buying 45s like crazy, for 95 cents each at S&O TV in Monroe, Wisconsin. Here are five of them I brought home that fall.

Maggie May-Reason to Believe/Rod Stewart. Nobody remembers anymore that 1971 was the golden age of the two-sided hit single, or that "Reason to Believe" was the side the record company was pushing when this single was released. I remember being disappointed when I got it home and discovered that the long acoustic guitar intro to "Maggie May" that I was used to hearing on the radio wasn't on the 45.

Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey/Paul and Linda McCartney. As if to prove my point about two-sided hits, the B-side of this single, "Too Many People" also got some airplay. And as if to prove my point about killer hooks, this record has several--from the acapella opening to the low brass in the "Admiral Halsey" part.

Won't Get Fooled Again/The Who. Listening to the 45 version of this now, after becoming so familiar with the nearly nine-minute album version, is like watching highlights on ESPN instead of a whole football game--you get the flavor, but not the experience. I couldn't have gotten the lyrics about co-opted revolution back then, but it's a different story now.

Signs/Five Man Electrical Band. If you wanted one song to sum up what the Top 40 sounded like during the late summer and early fall of 1971, this would be it. It was another disappointment for the eager young singles buyer, though--the 45 was missing the long intro, with the smokin' organ and distorted guitar.

Marianne/Stephen Stills. Another killer hook, but one that went pretty much unrequited, as "Marianne" scraped only as far as Number 42, despite its jet-propelled wah-wah guitar and bubblegum feel. Definitely worth seeking out if you've never heard it, it's on Stills' second solo album, the inventively titled Stephen Stills 2.

You can make a pretty good car tape with nothing but songs from the fall of 1971--and I have. These are all on it.

Note to All: Just because I have updated this blog three days in a row this week doesn't mean I'm always going to be that diligent. So you don't have to check back only to be disappointed, I have started an e-mail list that you can join, so you'll be alerted when there's a new post to be read. The signup box is on the main page of the blog. (If you came here via a link to an individual post on the Daily Aneurysm, you won't see the box. Click here to go to the main page.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sheena Is a Girl We Never Met

Yesterday I caught a review of the documentary film End of the Century, about the Ramones, and it reminded me that I hadn't written anything here about the recent death of Johnny Ramone, and the fact that 75 percent of this pioneering American punk band is now dead. Here's what I might have written:
The Ramones burst onto the American scene in 1976, when rock was dominated by dinosaur acts like Peter Frampton and Queen, and represented not just a breath but a blast of fresh air. Their thundering, three-chord, sub-three-minute anthems, such as "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," stand alongside the greatest American pop. While they did not receive the recognition other punk pioneers did, their music remains a vital force, and is fondly remembered by every kid who grew up in the 1970s.
There are two reasons why I didn't write that. First, everybody else who wrote about the Ramones last week said approximately the same thing. And second, the Ramones are, to me, like one of those foreign film masterpieces everyone talks about--I'm sure it's great, but it's not to my taste, so I haven't seen it, and I don't feel especially deprived because I haven't.

How does a 70s music geek like me fail to get the Ramones? Easy. I grew up in a world where punk rock never happened.

In my world, we heard about punk rock, sure. We read the reviews of punk records in Stereo Review and Rolling Stone, and it was hard to escape mainstream media stories about the Sex Pistols once they made their grand entrance. And I was probably one of the first people in Wisconsin, if not the whole damn midsection of the country, to own a copy of the Pistols' legendary "God Save the Queen," which my girlfriend brought home to me from Europe in the summer of 1977. Far from representing some sort of rescue from drowning, "God Save the Queen" was a novelty record in my world. It was hard to deny the menace of the record's churning guitar onslaught, but Johnny Rotten's vocals were so pre-literate that we dismissed it as something that would never catch on over here. It was loud, but it lacked the hooks we expected good music to have, and so it was mostly a curiosity. It didn't make us want to hear more, from them or anybody else like them. By the time I got to college, the Pistols' lone American album, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, had come out, hard on the heels of the band's famous implosion during its American tour. My roommate owned a copy, but we rarely played it, and when we did, it was mostly for laughs.

The Pistols aside, I can think of only two or three people at college who were into punk in any way at all. The rest of us were still quite happy with Peter Frampton and Queen. Most of my friends and I were radio people, and our universe tended to be circumscribed by what got played on the radio. And because our campus radio station was trying to emulate the kind of stations we listened to and hoped to work at one day--as opposed to being an alternative to them--we had no interest in playing what wasn't already getting played somewhere else. (Our idea of being "alternative" was, for example, going four cuts deep on the new Foreigner album instead of just two.)

Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry Johnny Ramone has passed, because he had a family and lots of friends who will miss him. And surely, icons of the 1970s ought not to be dying yet, because that means my number is going to be up before long, too. But I can't write a love letter to the Ramones for changing my life, because they didn't. In the world where punk rock never happened, they were a rumble of distant thunder that never brought us any rain.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Can't Keep It In

Whether or not it was true that, as he once sang, "I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow," Cat Stevens was definitely being followed by the Department of Homeland Security, which forbade him to enter the United States earlier this week due to suspected terrorist connections.

During his prime, Stevens was not so much the singer/songwriter of 70s cliche, introspective bordering on narcissistic, and talking about love from every conceivable angle. Instead, he seemed to be creating intricate and occasionally obtuse works of art on a very tiny scale, like a guy doing engravings on grains of rice or something. And he was essentially a singles artist, although he did reach Number One with his 1972 album Catch Bull at Four, an album without a major 45rpm hit. The best of his singles were probably "Wild World," "Morning Has Broken," and "Oh Very Young," none of which you are likely to hear on the radio again anytime soon. In the late 80s, when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or death sentence, against author Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses, Stevens, known since the 70s as Yusef Islam, praised the Ayatollah--and brought down the wrath of radio stations across the country, which swiftly pulled his records from the air. His reputation was later rehabilitated, but I'm guessing his records are being yanked again today. Yeah, that'll teach him.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Old School

So I was in Oklahoma on business this week, driving a rental car without tapes or CDs to accompany me. Because audio in the car is as necessary to my driving as gasoline in the car, I was at the mercy of the local radio dial. For years, "local" radio has for me meant either NPR or one of the national sports talk networks, which, of course, aren't really local at all. Not that it matters all that much. With the rise of corporate consolidation and the attendant evils of voice-tracking, you can't even be sure that more local forms of radio are actually local.

(Grim radio joke: "What's the difference between your local McDonalds and your local Clear Channel station? The voice on the microphone at McDonalds is live and local." The DJs you are hearing on your local station talking about local events may actually be in Baltimore and may have recorded their shows several days ago. Why this doesn't bother people more, I have no idea.)

I bounced between a couple of oldies stations in Tulsa, KTSO and Kool 106.1. I was guessing that Kool 106.1 was voice-tracked from elsewhere, although the DJ profiles on the station's website tout the local Tulsa roots of most of the jocks. It was hard to detect a hint of it. The jocks at KTSO were even more anonymous. Both stations cranked out a decent mix of oldies--KTSO's with a 70s/80s flavor and Kool 106.1 more in the 60s/70s vein--but there was nothing surprising about either station, ever (except maybe The John Tesh Show evenings on KTSO--what fresh hell is this?). They were perfectly serviceable radio stations, typically contemporary, with slick jingles, well-produced promos, and music that pushed the envelope never. I wouldn't have bothered to remember them at all, or to write about them here, were it not for another radio station I heard on the trip.

I had to head from Tulsa down toward Oklahoma City yesterday, and when I got out of range of the Tulsa NPR affiliate, I hit the "seek" button and landed on another oldies station, KOMA from Oklahoma City. The call letters sounded familiar--it wasn't until I got home and researched a bit of the station's history that I realized why. In the 1950s, KOMA was part of the Storz Broadcasting chain. Todd Storz was one of the primary inventors of Top 40, thus KOMA is one of the places where the format was born. Sure, it was an AM station back in the day, and it's been through the wringer format-wise since then, but it's been playing oldies since 1988. KOMA's playlist is almost exclusively 60s music (although I heard a couple of things from the early 70s), but it's what goes on between the records that makes it extraordinary.

I could tell by listening that KOMA's jocks are all veterans, and they are--the greenest of them has been in radio since 1975, the oldest since 1947. Guys from the old school know that a good DJ does more than just talk and play tunes. Anybody can be trained to do that. An old radio guy uses everything at his command, including his control board, to create atmosphere--what he says, how he says it, and how he times the play of jingles, records, and commercials, (There was a time when DJs touted their skills at the control board--"good production, tight board"--but that subtle art is almost entirely dead today.) An old radio guy also adds to his show by interacting with other people on the air--the news guy, the traffic reporter, the meteorologist, or callers on the phone. (This, too, is a dying art. The only people permitted to talk on the air anymore are morning show hosts, and most of them don't know when to shut up.) Old radio guys tend to know where they're from. A couple of the people I heard on KOMA still possessed Oklahoma accents, unlike the Tulsa jocks, who were bland and quirk-free and thus could have come from anywhere.

KOMA also has a seriously old-school jingle package, and they know how to use it. Jingles aren't as common as they used to be--stations tend to use what are known as "breakers," which are voiceover lines with sound effects (and the clips from movies and TV shows that everyone uses), because they're cheaper. Singing jingles cost a lot--and with stations changing call letters and formats as often as they do these days, the cost is often prohibitive. KOMA's jingles capture the flavor of vintage jingles--and their top-of-the-hour legal ID is one of the best you'll ever hear: "K-OMA--Oklahoma City, USA!"

Bottom line: What I heard yesterday on KOMA was so utterly solid, so perfectly balanced between music, humor, personality, and information--in other words, so much like radio used to be, and so much like the radio I grew up listening to and wanted to do--that the single worst moment of the trip was when I lost the signal on the way back to Tulsa. And here's what really sucks--the station isn't streaming its signal on the Internet, which means I'll have to go back there to hear it again.

Friday Mini-5: Five Great Legal IDs
1. WCFL, Chicago, 1974-1976 (Big fanfare followed by a donut for the jock to identify himself: "Seven o'clock with World Famous Tom Murphy at the Voice of Labor," and then the singers do the call letters. Still gives me chills when I hear it at
2. WLS, Chicago, 70s and 80s (The Musicradio ID--to follow this with anything that didn't rock was a sacrilege.)
3. Q106.5, Davenport/Quad Cities, 1995 (Great whooshing sound effects and a dead-cold ending that required you to nail the next record at precisely the proper instant. I am pretty sure it was developed by accident.)
4. KOMA, Oklahoma City, current (As noted above.)
5. WSUP, Platteville, WI, late 1970s (I will never forget rolling this one at high noon to start the second radio show I ever did in my life, and following it with Billy Preston's "Space Race"--which I nailed at precisely the proper instant. Just born with it, I guess.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

History Lesson: Don't Do It Without the Fez On

September 15, 1985: Willie Nelson hosts the first Farm Aid concert. Spawned by an offhand remark made by Bob Dylan at Live Aid in July, the concert series continues today, long after the plight of the farmer has dropped off the radar screen. The 2004 edition is set for this coming weekend in Washington state. Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews are among the artists who serve on the event's board of directors.

September 15, 1976: Steely Dan's The Royal Scam goes gold, despite spawning only a couple of minor hit singles, "Kid Charlemagne" and "The Fez." The Dan is my favorite band, and this is probably my favorite album, although it's mighty hard for me to pick one. Essential track: "The Royal Scam," which might be the darkest-sounding thing they ever recorded.

September 15, 1970: Spiro Agnew, who was Richard Nixon's designated culture warrior before Nixon's whole party declared the culture war, criticizes rock music, movies, books, and underground newspapers for brainwashing young people into the drug culture. The key soundbite was Agnew reciting "I get by with a little help from my friends/I get high with a little help from my friends," which he managed to do in approximately Ringo's rhythm. So yes, in spite of all the evidence, Spiro Agnew might have had a little bit of Elvis in him.

September 15, 1969: Ed Sullivan had no Elvis in him, although he should have gotten a contact buzz, at least. On this date, the Ed Sullivan Singers and Orchestra release a single called "The Sulli-Gulli," which, because it is 10 years out of date at the moment of its birth, disappears without a trace.

Tulsa Time: I have no list of Number One songs on this date for you this time, because I am in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on business this week, some 900 miles away from my research library. I tried coming up with a list of songs about Tulsa, but I can only think of two: "Tulsa Time," recorded by Eric Clapton and by Don Williams, and "24 Hours From Tulsa" by Gene Pitney. If you can think of others, let me know.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Top 5: Why Time Begins in September

It's an oft-told tale, although how many times I have told it for public consumption I don't know. This may be the first.

In the fall of 1970, I was the first kid on my school bus every morning (at 6:50AM), and thus I rode on gravel roads and paths trodden by cows through the wilds of Clarno and Cadiz Townships for over an hour before getting to school. Being the first kid on, I had my pick of seats. The back of the bus is the most desirable spot, but what you must know about the social dynamics of the school bus is that little kids don't get to sit in the back. One particular morning, the seat I chose was underneath the radio speaker. And on that morning, the bus driver responded to popular demand by tuning in WLS, the Classic Top 40 giant from Chicago. And the rest, as they say, is history. Your correspondent fell utterly in love with radio and with the music that came out of it. So in honor of our having made another trip around the sun since that life-altering event first took place, here are the Top Five tunes from the Billboard chart on this date in 1970.

5. Lookin' Out My Back Door/Creedence Clearwater Revival. Maybe the first alt-country record. CCR took unadulterated twang and spiced it with up-to-the-second psychedelia. If it's not the first alt-country record, it's surely the weirdest record CCR ever made.

4. 25 or 6 to 4/Chicago. In later years, Chicago was criticized for making overblown dinner music--and they did. But at this point in their career, they found a way to integrate a horn section into a rock band and still rock. I heard "25 or 6 to 4" again the other day, and noticed again just how much ass it kicks.

3. In the Summertime/Mungo Jerry. Drums? We don't need no stinkin' drums. Very British and extremely odd.

2. Ain't No Mountain High Enough/Diana Ross. The full-length version of this clocks in at over six minutes, and you really need to hear it all. It's hard to think of another Motown moment more thrilling than that last recitative:
If you should fall short of your desires
Remember, life holds for you one guarantee
You'll always have me
And if you should miss my lovin' one of these old days
If you should miss the arms that used to hold you so close
Or the lips that used to touch yours so tenderly
Just remember what I told you the day I set you free
1. War/Edwin Starr. Still topical after 34 years--dammit. It's hard to imagine anything so fearsomely angry could get wide radio play, right up there alongside the Carpenters and Bobby Sherman, but it did. It's equally hard to imagine anything remotely like it making a remotely similar impact on the charts today.

Shout Out: To Dave at Memory LAME Radio, who found this blog and sent an e-mail. Dave's got a web radio site devoted mostly to 80s music, with the kind of playlist I like--one that makes you go, "Damn! Haven't heard that in a while." Thanks for checking in.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

From Memphis to L.A.

Soul music, as a distinct offshoot of R&B, had a brief reign--a dozen years at the most, from maybe the early 60s to the mid 70s, coinciding roughly with the heyday of Stax Records in Memphis, an independent label that provided a launching pad for Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, and dozens of lesser-known artists. As chronicled in Rob Bowman's excellent book, Soulsville USA, the label was as much about black empowerment as it was about music. And it was in that spirit that Stax presented a 1972 concert commemorating the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles. Wattstax, as it was known, has been remembered as the Black Woodstock. As at Woodstock, a film crew was on hand to record events as they happened. Wattstax was released in theaters in 1973, and it makes its broadcast TV debut on the PBS series POV tonight. Check your local listings for time and channel, as they say on TV. (A Village Voice review of the film from its 2003 DVD release is here.)

I've never seen the movie, although I remember when it came out, and I've read a lot about its role in the history of Stax. As a document of African-American culture circa 1972, it's supposed to be pretty valuable--as much in comparison with that culture today as it is by itself. Politics and sociology aside, there's some great music in it, too, including performances by Isaac Hayes (best known to the current generation as the voice of Chef on South Park) that were lost for 30 years until the restored DVD was released. It's mostly forgotten how enormous a star Hayes was for a few years in the early 1970s, but Wattstax serves as a reminder.

Wattstax was supposed to mark Stax Records' entry into movie production, which was part of label president Al Bell's plan to build a media empire. As it turned out, the label was already badly overextended, and the film didn't help. It would be only a couple of years before Stax went bankrupt. The old movie theater on McLemore Avenue in Memphis that housed the company was later torn down, and Stax was left entirely to history. Recently, however, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music has rebuilt the original building on the same site--which means I gotta get back to Memphis pretty soon.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Rockin' the Kitchen

So tonight The Mrs. and I were watching Emeril Live on the Food Network and Emeril's special guest was Pat Benatar. She and her husband/lead guitarist, Neil Giraldo, are apparently serious foodies, and by the end of the show, Pat was in Emeril's kitchen chopping pine nuts. That's a long way from the spring of 1980, when she was the newest pouty rock chick to take the country by storm.

Benatar's first hit was the iconic "Heartbreaker" in the spring of 1980. It broke first on album-oriented radio and rose to #23 on the singles chart, and it established the Benatar persona: the streetwise city girl who'd just as soon bust your chops as kiss your lips. Except I didn't buy it for a second because it looked and sounded completely false, as if it were more marketing decision than artistic choice. It seemed to me that she could just as easily have been the second coming of Olivia Newton-John, but since punk was in during her struggling days in late 70s New York City, she cut her hair short and wore dark lipstick.

When "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" made the Top Ten late in 1980, it seemed like Benatar was going to be one of the 80s' biggest stars. But it would be three years before she got back to the Top Ten, and in the interim, she kept recycling the same ideas over and over. You'd have to be a fan to care about the difference between "Treat Me Right," "Fire and Ice," "Promises in the Dark," and "Shadows of the Night." When she did break the mold, the results could be disastrous: her anti-child abuse anthem "Hell is For Children," from her second album, was probably the low point of her career, and 1984's "Love is a Battlefield," her most successful single, would be a worthy entrant in either the Tortured Metaphor Olympics or the International Cliche Festival.

Benatar's last Top 40 hit was another Tortured Metaphor Moment, "Sex as a Weapon," early in 1986. Since then, she's recorded an album of R&B and blues covers, an album of mostly acoustic material, and straight-ahead rock albums like back in the day. She doesn't look all that different in 2004 than she did 20 years ago, but the rest of the world has caught up with her look. Now, her look isn't all that different from the one that might be adopted by the hottest mom in the PTA. And because the baby boomer generation has made it unnecessary for rock stars to outgrow their youthful passions, Benatar is still out there touring, still doing the pouty rock chick bit. And chopping the occasional pine nut.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Summer's End

It's Labor Day weekend. You can see summer's end in the body language of every kid laden with a backpack and in the slant of the sunlight in the late afternoon. Which means it's time to look back at the Top 20 summer records of all time. Well, not all time, but from the British Invasion to the year I went into elevator music radio and quit listening to the Top 40 on a regular basis--1964 through 1986, which is close enough to all time for me. The list contains tunes that peaked at Number One in June, July, or August, and is ranked by total weeks at Number One, in the Top Ten, and in the Top 100. Plus I made a couple of minor adjustments in a couple of spots because this is my website and I can do any damn thing I want. In the end, I was mildly surprised by the results--even knowing the charts as well as I do.

1. Every Breath You Take/Police '83
2. Shadow Dancing/Andy Gibb '78
3. Bette Davis Eyes/Kim Carnes '81
4. Eye of the Tiger/Survivor '82
5. Flashdance/Irene Cara '83
6. Alone Again Naturally/Gilbert O'Sullivan '72
7. In the Year 2525/Zager and Evans '69
8. When Doves Cry/Prince '84
9. Ebony and Ivory/Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder '82
10. Bad Girls/Donna Summer '79
11. Silly Love Songs/Paul McCartney and Wings '76
12. It's Too Late-I Feel the Earth Move/Carole King '71
13. I Just Want to Be Your Everything/Andy Gibb '77
14. Close to You/Carpenters '70
15. Magic/Olivia Newton John '80
16. Funkytown/Lipps Inc '80
17. My Love/Paul McCartney and Wings '73
18. Windy/Association '67
19. Satisfaction/Rolling Stones '65
20. Don't Go Breakin' My Heart/Elton John '76

It's interesting to me how few of these are still radio staples today. "Satisfaction" on classic rock, "Windy," "It's Too Late," and "In the Year 2525" on oldies stations, "Every Breath You Take," "Eye of the Tiger," and maybe "Flashdance" and "When Doves Cry" on adult contemporary. But most of the rest, despite having been Number One for between four and seven weeks, would be banished to 70s or 80s specialty shows, or in the case of the Carpenters, nostalgia formats targeted at your grandmother. And look at who's not here: Lots of McCartney but no Beatles (although "A Hard Day's Night" was close). No Beach Boys. No Motown (although "I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops was close).

Sure, what makes a summer memory is not necessarily chart position. It's not even necessary for a song to have been a hit in the summer to be associated with the season--for example, the Temptations' "My Girl" topped the charts in the dead of winter, but it's a summer song for me because I heard it a lot one particular summer. Which only proves that memory isn't necessarily history. But it's weirdly illuminating to know that while we were listening to the summer songs we remember--the ones we worked by, played softball by, or made love by, we were listening to these songs, too.