The Summer Of ’81

May 22, 2010

Rolling past a junior high school on the morning commute, I noticed that the final day of class was plastic lettered onto the marquee out front.

This week.

11:15.

Class dismissed.

I still had one more year of junior high when school broke for the summer in ’81, but it was the first summer for which I was legally and officially a teenager.

I got started quickly, sleeping in ’til ten.

In previous summers, I’d be up several hours earlier, my schedule hardly altering from the school year. There were places to go and things to do.

OK. I was on the outskirts of a town of less than three-thousand and there was a cornfield across the one-lane road from our house. There was nowhere to go and even less to do.

That was cool, though.

There were half a dozen kids, roughly the same age in our subdivision. We played a lot of baseball.

Little had changed in ’81.

There were still the same kids.

There was still baseball.

There was still nowhere to go and even less to do.

And, I knew it.

And I was less interested in baseball and more interested in Angie. I was quite smitten with her – a gangly tomboy of a girl with short, tousled red hair. We had hung out a lot that spring waiting for the same bus after school. Sometimes, we’d shoot hoops in the gym to kill the time.

But, she lived in a farmhouse several miles away with thirty-six brothers and sisters, a burly, overall-clad father, and a mother who was overly exuberant for Jesus and possessed a withering glare.

So, there was little need to be up early – I could be petulant at any hour – and that meant staying up late to maintain equilibrium.

Not that there was much to do late except sprawl out on the couch and search for something to watch between six television channels (if you counted PBS – and I don’t think it even aired past eleven).

Some nights I’d watch Johnny Carson and, on other nights, I’d check out the CBS Late Movie.

I was truly nocturnal for the first time that summer, usually not crashing until two, two-thirty in the morning. At which time of night, the viewing choices usually were winnowed down to the one independent station.

But it was late one night that I stumbled upon America’s Top 10 and the oddly engaging little fellow hosting the program. It was the first time I’d ever seen Casey Kasem.

Of course, I’d heard him before as the voice of the sandwich-loving stoner Shaggy in the Scooby Doo cartoons. I wouldn’t hear him counting down songs on the radio, though, for another six months when I happened upon American Top 40.

I was increasingly interested in music, so I watched as Casey gave a rundown of the Top 10 charts. I likely recognized the songs from the pop chart, some from the R&B chart, and few – if any – from the country one.

From then on through high school, I’d occasionally catch the show. As it was syndicated, it didn’t really seem to have a set schedule on our ABC affiliate. Usually I’d randomly find it on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but, every now and then, it would air late, late at night after whatever regular programming had ended.

I’m not sure when it was exactly that I first saw America’s Top 10 or what songs Casey highlighted that week (hell, I barely remember what I had for breakfast), but according to a music chart archive I found, here are four songs that were in the Top 10 or from albums in the Top 10 from this week in 1981…

REO Speedwagon – Take It On The Run
from Hi Infidelity

Years of relentless touring helped make REO Speedwagon a radio fixture in the Midwest during the late ’70s and Hi Infidelity, released in late 1980, launched them to superstar status when Keep On Loving You ruled the airwaves in early 1981.

Though it was hardly rocket surgery, Hi Infidelity struck a chord with my classmates at the time with its straight-ahead rock and tales of romantic entanglements which were suddenly becoming something to which we could relate.

Of course, it was the album’s second quasi-ballad, Take It On The Run, that we were hearing in early summer of ’81.

John Lennon – Watching The Wheels
from Double Fantasy

In college, one of the most popular classes was one on the history of rock and roll. It was taught by a professor that was, apparently, one of the world’s most respected historians on The Beatles. Regrettably, I was never able to work the class into my schedule.

However, several friends took the class which began with the early years of rock and culminated around 1980. When the final class arrived, the professor would walk into class, play John Lennon’s Watching The Wheels and dismiss everyone for the semester.

AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Though it had been issued in the band’s homeland of Australia five years earlier, AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap didn’t receive a release in the States until the spring of 1981, following the massive success of the previous year’s Back In Black.

I’m certain that, at the time, I had no idea that I wasn’t hearing lead singer Brian Johnson but, rather, the late Bon Scott, whom Johnson had replaced on Back In Black. But it’s certainly the charismatic Scott that gives the song a charming menace that makes the song one of the band’s classics.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – The Waiting
from Hard Promises

Hard Promises found Heartbreaker’s lead singer Tom Petty fighting with the band’s distributor over the sticker price which had been scheduled to be tagged at a higher “superstar pricing.”

(a battle that Petty would win)

According to Wikipedia, Petty and the band were scheduled to be in the studio recording at the same time as John Lennon and Petty was eager for the opportunity to meet the music legend. Sadly, Lennon was murdered before the two could meet.

(as a tribute, the band had “WE LOVE YOU JL” etched onto the master copy of Hard Promises and, thus, the millions of copies which the album sold)

As for The Waiting, it sounded simply perfect on the radio that summer.


Saturday Mornings With Casey

February 20, 2010

Growing up in a household with no older siblings and with parents who had merely a passing interest in music, I didn’t have familial influences when I began to listen to music.

In junior high, music was a big topic of conversation as teammates fought for control of the stereo in the locker room with Billy Squier, Van Halen, and Led Zeppelin being in heavy rotation. There was music on the bus rides to games and meets with rock stations tuned in during football season and – with girls on the team – Top 40 during track season.

Slowly I began to develop my own interests and it was Casey Kasem who first provided me with information and knowledge that wasn’t so easily found before the advent of cable, the internet, and electricity.

(though I had no idea that I had met Casey years earlier on Scooby-Doo)

It was January of ’82 when I first stumbled across Casey on a cold, snowy Saturday morning with a broadcast of American Top 40 on WRIA 101.3 out of Richmond. I was familiar with the concept of musical countdowns from listening to Q102’s Top Ten at 10 most nights (though as the station was in Cincinnati and in the Eastern time zone and we were in the Central, it was actually 9 for us).

From that point on, American Top 40 was appointment listening on sleepy Saturday mornings, though, if I missed it for some reason, I soon found several other stations that broadcast the show each weekend.

The show was a chance to hear a lot of my current favorites – songs that were showing up on crude mix tapes I was recording from the radio – as well as songs with which I was not familiar. With no concept of radio playlists or the other basics of the music industry, though, I was often puzzled.

There were songs that I heard constantly on the stations to which I listened which were not in the Top 40 or that ranked far lower than it seemed they should. Conversely, there were songs which I wasn’t hearing much (or at all) which were moving toward the top of the chart.

It was an education, a chance to learn some of the history of pop music and about some of the iconic artists as well as more trivial items that Casey would offer up during each week’s show.

Maybe it’s been the snow and slush we’ve endured the past few weeks, a winter unlike most I’ve experienced over the past twenty-years, which has made me think of those early months of ’82.

Some of the songs I was hearing Casey count down this week in 1982 as, more than likely, I was sprawled out on my bed listening on a cold Saturday morning…

Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend
from Tattoo You

Personally, I’ve always thought that Waiting On A Friend was one of the Stones’ finest post-’70s moments. The song is so casual and the vibe so laid-back that it’s always welcome when it pops up on shuffle.

Apparently it was the first video by the Stones played on MTV (with reggae great Peter Tosh hanging out on the steps). Casey well might have told me about jazz legend Sonny Rollins providing the saxophone.

The Police – Spirits In The Material World
from Ghost In The Machine

Though I had just started diving full-on into music in late ’81/early ’82, I was well familiar with The Police. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic was deservedly huge and my friend Beej was already a massive fan from their first three albums, so I heard them through him.

If I had to choose a top five from The Police, Spirits In The Material World would have a good shot at making the cut. It sounded so eerie and otherworldly, and it’s so concise, clocking in at just under three minutes.

Quarterflash – Harden My Heart
from Quarterflash

Thanks to Casey I know that Quarterflash got there name from…I think it’s an Australian saying…yeah, I had to look it up. “It came from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as ‘one quarter flash and three parts foolish.'”

The song was catchy and seems to have retained a bit of a presence.

(and lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross had a certain appeal to us at the time)

Huey Lewis & The News – Do You Believe In Love
from Picture This

I hear the name Huey Lewis and I have a Pavlovian moment and think Marin County. It seemed like every time I heard Casey mention the band, he noted that they were based in Marin County.

(or, that’s what I remember)

I had an unusual pizza with clams as a topping in Marin County once and I didn’t see them.