Tonight, come with me back in time, to the week of July 5-11, 1981. It was my first summer with a driver’s license, and I had the immense thrill of being in a car, often by myself, with complete control of the most important component in that automobile: the radio.
1981 was a mixed bag of music. The post-disco hangover was still looming, country acts were all over the place like roaches on a filthy kitchen countertop (Urban Cowboy, after all, was the movie hit of the previous year), but there were a few roses amidst the thorns. Let’s take a look at some of what Casey Kasem played on American Top 40 this nice Summer week in ‘81:
40) TWO HEARTS / Stephanie Mills & Teddy Pendergrass
A marvelous, underrated R&B single. But I never got to hear it much. At the time, I was living in Cape Girardeau, Mo., probably the whitest radio market in America – the top-40 stations were (and I can only trust still are) very skittish about adding black records. To a small extent, I didn’t mind; my tastes largely leaned toward the Midwest “arena rock” very popular in the area at that time, and my years in southeast Missouri (1978-82) turned me into a lifelong classic rock ‘n’ roller.
But I still had my love of ‘70s soul honed and developed thanks to Johnny Weber, overnight soul jock at dysfunctional Tupelo top-40 station WTUP — “The Top Dawg.” That love remained within my Pink Floyd, Beatles, and Blue Oyster Cult-centric music diet ... so hearing “Two Hearts” was a refreshing change of pace.
And it took an early August weekend in Tupelo before I heard "Two Hearts" for the first time — on WTUP, no less.
38) DOUBLE DUTCH BUS / Frankie Smith
Oh shizzit, Cape radio didn’t let this 45 past the lobby, either. For some twisted reason, I like it. I avehay onay deaiay hyway.
37) URGENT / Foreigner
The first single release from their album entitled 4, one of my top “high school memories” LPs. “Juke Box Hero” alone takes me back, although I could do without “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”
Remember the cover? That thing is known as an "academy leader countdown."
36) I LOVE YOU / Climax Blues Band
Sweet, with occasional gusts to saccharine. In other words, it's going for the Sweet 'n' Low packets. Word to Seraphim: If ever a man had it all / It would have to be me / And ooooooooooh, I love youuuuuuuuu!
34) A LIFE OF ILLUSION / Joe Walsh
One of Walsh's coolest songs. Truly an unappreciated masterpiece, probably even better than his 1978 classic “Life’s Been Good.”
33) IN THE AIR TONIGHT / Phil Collins
I can no longer hear this song without picturing the ‘bumper’ on VH-1 Classic, with the teenager in his bedroom listening to it on a small tape recorder, sitting on his bed, drumsticks in hand, with throw pillows in front of him ... just waiting for that orgasmic drum crescendo!
32) THERE'S NO GETTING OVER ME / Ronnie Milsap
31) IT'S NOW OR NEVER / John Schneider
1981 meant one thing: buttloads of COUNTRY CROSSOVERS! [cue “horror screams”]. There were a total of SEVEN on this list, alone. 1981 also meant a trashing of the 1960 Elvis workhorse by none other than Bo Duke. Why didn’t Luke roll up Bo’s window on the General Lee ... oh never mind, I’ve been watching too much Family Guy.
30) STRONGER THAN BEFORE / Carol Bayer Sager
A forgotten song. Very sweet uptempo ballad about a desperate woman trying to win back her man. Please take me back, I’ll do anything for you. You’re the light inside of me, I’ll take you anywhere you ever want to be.
Until you DO take me back, then I'll start treating you like whale vomit again. C'mon, Charlie Brown, I'm holding the football........
29) DON'T LET HIM GO / REO Speedwagon
Hi-Infidelity was another staple of the high school album shelf. Whenever I hear R-E-O’s last single, “Take it on the Run”, I still think back to cruising Broadway with girlfriend Paula, her head on my shoulder and legs hanging out the passenger window. “Don’t Let Him Go”, however, takes me back to one of the high school hubs: the skating rink!
Never mind that I couldn’t skate worth a couple dozen craps.
28) THE STROKE / Billy Squier
Two words: yeah, baby!! Of this list, it’s far and away my favorite. First time I heard it was in June, weeks before its debut on the top 40. I was on the way to picking up my younger brother from baseball practice (I don’t know who was happier to see me get a driver’s license – myself or Mom!).
The radio was on KYMO in nearby East Prairie, Mo. That little 500-watt AM coffeepot was a kick-ass rocker back in the day. And on the way to Capaha Park early that Summer evening, KYMO dropped the needle on “The Stroke.” And hearing it through the station's well-engineered highly compressed audio, it sounded beautiful. I damn hear had a Stroke. :-)
27) TOUCH ME WHEN WE'RE DANCING / The Carpenters
Casey went straight from Squier into The Carpenters. No commercial, no buffer, no nothing. Pugsley Addams couldn’t have fashioned a more spectacular train wreck.
Never mind that Karen’s request here is more than ludicrous; how could you touch her when you couldn’t bloody see her. “Now, Karen, don’t be shy. Come out from behind that fencepost.”
25) FOOL IN LOVE WITH YOU / Jim Photoglo
With a last name like that, I’d have considered marrying a woman named Jones or Smith and taking hers. I don’t think “Fool” got much higher than this. Which, no doubt, is why Delilah doesn’t go near it. From the record label to the milk carton — I think Mr. Photoglo is still playing this song in the lounge of that Congress Inn which closed about 20 years ago.
23) WHAT ARE WE DOING IN LOVE? / Kenny Rogers & Dottie West
Kenny, the roaster’s beeping — your chicken’s done and the customers are waiting. What are you doing still recording songs. I’ll just drop into your restaurant and see what condition your chicken’s conditions are in. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah.
22) IS IT YOU / Lee Ritenour
A couple steps’ removed from Easy Listening Hell. It would be a jerky segue going into something more hard-rocking, like The Carpenters.
21) QUEEN OF HEARTS / Juice Newton
Wiz, my friend and partner-in-crime back in Cape, did a funny parody of this song with his younger brother, both singing off-key, “Playing With the Five of Diamonds.”
I’ll take the joker instead ... and go off the board for Famous Stupid Country Crossover Hits, Jack.
20) TIME / Alan Parsons Project
First time I heard this record, I was headed back to school from a dermatologist appointment where he sprayed liquid nitrogen on a couple of warts I had on my hand. As I thought, “this is a nice song, quite different from ‘Games People Play’”, I was shaking and flapping my hand all around, because brother that nitrogen hurt like the much-fabled “maternal fornicator.”
19) MODERN GIRL / Sheena Easton
“Na, na, na-na-na, she’s a modern girl.” Guess she was now above taking morning trains, but was still not ready to allow her man to venture into her suga— ummm, anyway, moving right along...
18) WINNING / Santana
I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. I’m winning. Who needs to Google lyrics when you have ol’ Talmadge?
14) AMERICA / Neil Diamond
File under “Lee Greenwood” Now trotted out every Fourth of July, or other occasions when a right-winger wants to say “America stands for freedom, but all people who disagree with me and my president should be beat up, jailed and deported.”
13) HEARTS / Marty Balin
Why, isn’t that Grace Slick over there in the corner just laughing her ass off?
10) SLOW HAND / The Pointer Sisters
Just jam it in, then move around faster than you can say Neutron Dance.
9) I DON'T NEED YOU / Kenny Rogers
...or your stupid chicken.
8) BELIEVE IT OR NOT / Joey Scarbury
I can’t stand this song. The TV show wasn’t much to write home about, either. Guy in superhero costume who loses the manual and f(BLEEP)ks up the landings. It was funny the first couple of episodes. Then it got really old fast.
7) MEDLEY / Stars on 45
The record that started all those (BLEEP)damned medleys. “Hooked on Swing”, “Hooked on The Classics”, “Hooked on Country”, “Hooked on Phonics”, “Hooked on Blogs”, “Hooked on Talmadge Stretching a Joke Too Far”
I used to like bumping the turntable up a notch ... “The stars on 78, gee whiz aren’t they great....” Ahhhhh, youth!
6) ELVIRA / The Oak Ridge Boys
With whatzisname, whose bass voice makes Barry White sound like Frankie Valli.
4) JESSIE'S GIRL / Rick Springfield
I’m not gonna diss on Rick. The couch isn’t too comfy to sleep on.
3) THE ONE THAT YOU LOVE / Air Supply
Delilah probably keeps her “personal massage assistant” handy when she plays it. Yeah, both this record AND your little steely dan.
2) ALL THOSE YEARS AGO / George Harrison
Rumor had it that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, both uncredited, helped out. I’m sure it didn’t exactly hinder it being a smash. A nice record which brings back a sweet pocket of time on my life's travels.
And, for the eighth straight week, the #1 hit was:
BETTE DAVIS EYES / Kim Carnes
Way overplayed in its day, but let’s be serious – one could do MUCH worse in 1981.
Coming soon, a look back at November 1974. This ought to be fun .... maybe?
Ciao for niao.
— Talmadge “Keep your stars on the ground and keep reaching for your feet” Gleck
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