Monday, July 07, 2014

casey, will you please play...

Record stores sell 'em, radio stations play 'em, and Billboard count's 'em down...

Casey Kasem died a few weeks ago, and I started this the day after his death, only to finish it a few days ago... sorry it's late.  While I will admit it doesn't leave a hole in my being at this stage in my life, it does strike me as kinda sad.  He died of a form of dementia, but his death was somewhat quickened by the way his family jockeyed him back and forth in his final years... his second wife, the current one, forbade his children (with his first wife) to even see Casey, to which they turned around and sued.  At one point, Jean Kasem hid her husband, telling the court that Casey was "no longer in the United States".  He was found in Washington state soon after.  His kids finally got the injunction they wanted, and took over his care, getting a court order to allow Kasem to be taken off ventilators and food machines. 

As a lifelong fan of music, there are three main individuals that had an impact on my musical knowledge... in no particular order:

John Garabedian, the host of Open House Party.  I was never all that popular in school, especially middle school... I didn't go to many parties, mostly because I wasn't invited, and I didn't get asked to hang out a lot on the weekends.  I listened to Open House Party on WKMX 106.7, and understood all the new stuff coming up.  (I wrote another two paragraphs on this just now, and realized this should be it's own blogpost)

Dave "Doc" Kirby, the program director for WTBF 94.7 in Troy Alabama.  First, he hired on my best mate Wookiee as a part time DJ, then he hired me on in 1997, where I ran the mid-morning show for two hours, then some talk radio programs.  But in those morning two hours, I got my education on 60s and 70s rock, everything from Firefall to The Doobie Brothers. 

and finally...

Casey Kasem.  Every Sunday, on the aforementioned WKMX Maximum Music 106.7, Casey Kasem's American Top 40 would play, starting at noon, and ending around 4pm.  And every Sunday, right after church, I would go to my room and spend the afternoon doing whatever, including writing, LEGOs, drawing, creating whatever my 10 year old mind would create... all the while, Casey would tell us "Record stores sell 'em, radio stations play 'em and Radio & Records counts them down!", then he'd get onto the countdown. 

I would write down each song as it was ranked...

I would wait anxiously for how many songs debuted, keeping track of the new music that would end up being huge, like if Lionel Richie's new song "Dancing on the Ceiling" premiered at #35, or this new band, New Kids on the Block, and their first song, which debuts at #37... and how many dropped out, using the dropping out as a benchmark for the end of a song's run, like when "Beat It" finally fell out of the Top 40 after a bajillionty weeks on the countdown.

Then I'd listen as the songs came one by one...

" number 34 for a second week in a row is the British band Tears for Fears, with their latest hit, 'Head Over Heels'"
" peaked at number 5 on the AT40 charts, but Belinda Carlisle falls three notches to number 25 with her latest smash, 'Heaven is a Place on Earth'"
"...that was Boston, dropping down to number 2 after spending two weeks at the top spot with 'Amanda'... and now, our new number one song in the land (insert story here about the band) is... 'Human' by The Human League!!!"

Several times, there'd be a listener question that would be teased in one segment ("Coming up, a listener wants to know, what song had the longest title to hit #1 in the rock era?  The answer features a beach and swimwear... we'll have that answer coming up!") and then the commercials, and then the familiar voices of the chicks, singing "American... Top Foooorty...."

Then Casey would play a song, and then answer the question... "John from Des Moines wants to know, what song had the longest title to hit #1 in the rock era?  Well, you have to look all the way back to 1958 when..." and then he'd explain.  By the way, the answer is, in fact, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"--I used that example because it actually is the right answer.

I always wondered if these were actual letters from fans across the country, or if every Tuesday Casey stuck his head in the writers room and said, "Okay guys, I need questions.  You come up with three each, plus the answer, and I'll pick my favorites.  Go!"

Then later in the broadcast, several times, we'd have the infamous Request and Dedication... again it would be teased right before a break ("Up next, a request and dedication from a man in Florida who seeks to find the one that got away... I'll have details coming up...") and then commercial, and then, of course, a song. 

"And now, a request and dedication from a man in Florida who wants to reconnect with his soulmate.  It reads: 

Dear Casey, I made a terrible mistake.  I let the one girl I loved get away.  I lived next door to my best friend, Judy, for over ten years, starting when we were in 7th grade.  We grew up together, side by side, walking to school together, learning to drive together, even going to prom together, though we were always just friends.  Then, when we graduated, she went out of state to college, and I went to a local junior college.  She wrote me a letter before she left, and it told me how she had always loved me, and wanted to know if I felt the same.  I didn't know how I felt, because Judy had always been just my friend, so I wrote back and told her that I didn't and that I loved someone else who I was dating at the time.  But I then realized that I did love Judy.  I broke it off with the other girl, and tried to find Judy, but I know that I've broken her heart.  She won't return my phone calls and all of my other letters have been returned unopened, and I don't know how to find her.  I miss her every day, and wish I had a chance to tell her that I love her too.  Casey, would you please play REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Loving You", to let Judy know that I'll wait for her to come back.  Signed, Robert.

Robert, here's your long distance dedication."

I made this up... but it certainly fits the narrative.  By the way, the R&D was the source of Casey's infamous "Snuggles" cursing rant, when in September of 1985, he had just finished playing an upbeat Pointer Sisters song, and then took several takes because he couldn't find the right amount of somberness to properly read a sad dedication about a woman who's dog had just died.  He then went into a saucy, profanity filled tirade at his producer for putting the dedication right after such a happy song.  I've heard it, it's glorious.  Mental Floss actually has a link to it, plus some other Casey facts, including mistakes he's made, and the one song title he wouldn't say during the song's entire chart run.

Anyway, I'd be on my bottom bunk of my bunk beds, listening, soaking up every word Casey said, learning about the singers and bands--like, the band Simply Red was at first just called "Red", but when someone was introducing them, they were called something else by accident... the lead singer whispered to the guy "NO!  Not that!  It's just RED!  It's simply... Red!" and the announcer said, "Oh, I'm sorry... here comes SIMPLY RED!"

And how .38 Special got it's name, something about an incident with a gun that almost killed someone... and every now and then, he'd do a special report on a trend in the music industry, like one in particular that told me how .45s were beginning to fade away, and the newest thing was "...the cassingle... it's a cassette tape with a song on each side, and they are gaining in popularity!"  (Obviously so, I still have over 200 of them in a box)

Casey would get to the Top Five, and nothing would tear me away from my stereo... of course, since I listened so regularly, by the time he got to #3, I had an idea of how it would play out, but still... I'd hear that drumroll, and I'd be ready, not daring to write down what I already knew would be the top song... "For the second week in a row, the number one song in the nation is... 'Shake You Down' by Gregory Abbott!"

And of course, after he reads all the credits, he'd remind us to "keep our feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!"  They should put that on an inspirational poster.

That was a typical Sunday for me... but then, the big countdowns would be even better... he'd take the last week of December and the first week of January, and do the TOP ONE HUNDRED of the year--fifty songs on one show, fifty songs on the next... and even if I had several of these countdowns written down, I'd still write down all 100, song by song as it's played.  I was at my friend Greg Avant's house one New Year's Eve, and I made him listen to the countdown as WKMX was playing it where the #1 song would coincide with midnight... we railed against the fact the #1 song was Elton John, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder's "That's What Friends Are For".  The following year, it was much better, with The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian", and I was pleased that Debbie Gibson, my Hollywood Girlfriend in 1987, ranked in the Top 10 for the year with "Lost in Your Eyes".

All in all, I was a huge fan.  A local radio station in Birmingham, WMJJ Magic 96.5, plays old countdowns on Sunday morning, starting at 9am.  As we are racing to church, we usually can hear the first couple of songs, and by the time we get out of church, it's usually in the Top 6 or 7.  I've actually sat in the car before going in a restaurant because it was on #2, and I had to know what #1 was (that particular week it was "What's Love Got to Do with It?" by Tina Turner).

And it irritated the heck out of me when last November, they went wall-to-wall Christmas Music, meaning no Casey for two months.   Sidenote:  One thing I have learned in listening to this countdown on Magic 96.5 as we go to church is that the early 80s really sucked when it came to music.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I like about one in every five songs we hear, many of them have never been heard before by our own ears.

So there ya go... I enjoyed him as Shaggy in Scooby Doo cartoons... I really liked him in Battle of the Planets, my favorite cartoon as a kid... but American Top 40 was were it was at for me when it came to Casey Kasem. 

Thanks Casey, for decades of enjoyment.  My feet will stay on the ground, and I'll reach those stars one day, I promise. 

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