Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'American Top 40's' Golden Years: Part 1

Even as a lad, I was not a fan of commercial music and rarely listened to the radio. My town had MTV by then, and it was easy to see there was a lot going on out there that my local FM pop and rock stations were ignoring. Having said that, in the early '80s I had a Sunday morning tradition of listening to 'American Top 40' with host Casey Kasem. I was forced to go to church with my family, but I could hear numbers 40 to about 33 while getting ready for the day and numbers 32 to 30 on the drive to services.

It's difficult to believe now, but this was a window in time when it was still possible for bands I liked to occasionally sneak a song onto the charts. (I think MTV had more to do with these successes than FM did, but that's another story.) I always relished those moments when Kasem had to introduce a band I was quite sure he knew little about. For the next few posts I'll take you back to the times I remember most vividly. In the meantime, "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Icicle Works - Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly) (mp3)
The trio from Liverpool is the only band in this series that can be described as a one-hit wonder, but I still contend this minor hit is one of the best songs of the decade. It peaked at No. 37 in May of '84. Buy

The Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods (12" Version) (mp3)
I had just begun discovering The Jam when Paul Weller hit the charts with his new band in May of '84. I bought the album immediately and still listen to it regularly. Although the song peaked at a rather anemic No. 29, at least Kasem had to spin the vinyl six weeks in a row before it left the Top 40. Buy

Depeche Mode - People Are People (mp3)
The synth gods were a staple of mine before their first U.S. hit, and I was shocked to hear this one on 'American Top 40' the week of June 22, 1985. The band had so many better singles before this one, and I remember thinking it was funny that the public chose this one to buy. Of course, I had no idea that five years later they would begin a run as Top 40 regulars. I was long over them and the Top 40 by then. Oh, this song made it all the way to No. 13, topped only by the No. 8 hit "Enjoy the Silence" in '90. Buy

INXS - The One Thing (Extended) (mp3)
Although these Aussies had been around for a couple of years, it wasn't until I saw the video for this song that I had ever heard them. I would continue to follow the band closely throughout the '80s, but this first hit was the moment I was hooked. They made Kasem's show the week to May 14, 1983. It stayed in the Top 40 for five weeks and peaked at No. 30. It would be three more years before we would hear them on the show again but, of course, they became a hit-making machine after that. Buy

Madness - It Must Be Love (mp3)
Many old-school fans of this ska band thought they had already peaked when they had their first U.S. hit, "Our House," in the spring of '83. I wasn't in this camp. I had never heard Kasem play something so English... well, maybe "Come on Eileen" a few months earlier. Madness followed up their No. 7 smash with this even better pop song that stalled at No. 33 in September of that year. Although they would never be heard on the show again, I'm going to take this moment to plug a much later album, 2009's 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate.' It's very good. Buy

No comments: