Saturday, November 25, 2006

Top 5: Like a Dinosaur

It's 20 years now, sometime between Thanksgiving and the first full week of December, that I bagged my job as program director and Top-40 morning show host in Macomb, Illinois, to move up to a larger market--on an elevator-music station.

By the fall of 1986, I'd been at WKAI for 2 1/2 years. The owner who'd brought me on board had sold the place about a year before; the new owner was, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, neither ignorant nor simian, but I ended up wanting to leave anyhow. As a programmer, I wanted to strive for excellence regardless of our market size; the new owner was OK if the stations sounded good enough for where they were, which I interpreted as settling for mediocrity. Sometime during the last half of 1986, he hired a guy to take over programming of the AM station so I could concentrate on the FM--but he also gave the guy the title of operations manager, which put him above me on the organizational chart. We co-existed, and for the most part he didn't mess with me--but his very presence was a daily reminder of the gulf between the owner's goals and my own.

So I started poking around for another job, and landed an interview at what was billed as a "soft AC" up the road a couple of hours in Davenport, Iowa. It turned out to be an elevator-music station, but one that was supposedly committed to doing elevator music with a touch of personality, and I was just the kind of guy they said they wanted. In addition, the program director and I hit it off on a personal level, trading banter like old friends about 15 minutes into the interview. Davenport was a place we wanted to live, even though the station was not exactly the kind I wanted to work for. When they offered me the job at about $2,000 a year more than I was making in Macomb, it didn't take long for The Mrs. and me to decide.

So anyway, this is an incredibly roundabout way of introducing the top five songs on the Cash Box chart from this week in 1986, while we were deciding to move on. Perhaps it was time for me to start exploring an entirely new musical genre, because looking back on it now, this was a perfectly dreadful week for the Top 40. If you can find something on the chart worth posting as an mp3, let me know, because I can't.

5. "The Next Time I Fall"/Peter Cetera and Amy Grant. With this, Cetera had flown millions of miles from Chicago. A guy who'd been an integral part of a politically aware and progressive rock band, who'd been hippie enough to get beaten up at Wrigley Field one day in '71 for being a longhair, he decended willingly into a solo career from adult-contemporary hell. With a mullet, yet.

4. "You Give Love a Bad Name"/Bon Jovi. Sounds like a hard-rock record, don't it? There was always something about phony about Bon Jovi, though--as if they were the product of a focus group designed to sell records to teenagers. The biggest joke was on Jon Bon Jovi himself, who actually believed he was a genuine rock icon.

3. "True Blue"/Madonna.
Her most charming record. It's like you took the Material Girl out of the expensive gown, put her in a cheerleader sweater and jeans, and took her to a sock hop. This is grade A girl-group bubblegum, like Abba by way of Josie and the Pussycats.

2. "Human"/Human League. In which hot-producers-of-the-moment Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were making a star of Janet Jackson at about the same time, put some warmth into a group that had, up to this moment, sounded pretty cold.

1. "Amanda"/Boston.
It had been almost eight years since Boston's last visit to the Top 40. I remember thinking when "Amanda" came out that it was an interesting novelty, only to be shocked when it smoked up the charts and made Number One. If Boston had waited another year, however, it's likely that "Amanda" wouldn't have had the same impact. The pop landscape was changing; rap and dance-pop were on the rise. By the fall of 1987, "Amanda" would have sounded even more like a dinosaur than it did in the fall of '86.


At 2:27 PM, Anonymous said...

If you get the time, please read my comment on your post, "The Gift". I was searching the internet for info on a particular Christmas song I heard on the WLS Festival of Music and I came across your story. Great post!

At 11:05 AM, Blogger jabartlett said...

I really enjoyed mpadalik's comment--it's one of my favorite comments received in the entire history of this blog. If you'd like to read it, go here:

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JBJ thought he was a rock icon??? Hmmmm he still is 20 yrs on and over 100,000,000 records later...he's just been inducted into the UK music hall of fame...and ya know what. I think you were just jealous :)

At 6:31 AM, Blogger lee said...

I notice that the difference between jon bon jovi then and now is that he is now minus all that chest hair ;).

At 8:47 AM, Blogger jabartlett said...

When provoked, I can go on for hours about the phoniness of Jon Bon Jovi. He was a convincing simulation of a rock star, more about the look (long hair, ripped jeans, leather, etc.) and the pose (fist in the air, inciting arenas full of teenagers to adolescent ecstasy) than he was about making actual art. (I'd call him the second coming of Archie Andrews if I didn't think it demeaned the Archies too much.) The music was merely an adjunct to the look of the commodity. What amazes me most about that music is that it *sounds* like hard rock, it's got all the trappings, guitar noise and percussive thump, but the longer you listen, the more you realize it's as insubstantial as cotton candy. At least bubblegum (the Archies, et al) had no pretensions to be anything greater.

Equally offensive to me: While parading his outlaw nonsense onstage ("Wanted Dead or Alive"--yeah, right), he also portrayed himself as a regular guy, family man, etc., who just happened to be a big ol' rock star. At some point in the 90s, he started playing up his New Jersey roots, deciding it was easier to piggyback on the equation that New Jersey=Springsteen=rock credibility than it was to actually find something worthwhile to say in his music.

So he sold 100 million records. Big whoop. McDonalds has sold 100 billion hamburgers, but that don't make it fine cuisine.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger C. said...

testify! One of the best summaries of the utter phoniness of J. Bon Jovi that I've read. And "True Blue" is indeed a gem--i've always thought it and "Live to Tell" were Madonna's best singles.


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