In the mid eighties, the highlight of many of my Sundays involved sitting down to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdown. Sometimes I’d sit alone in my bedroom – doing homework or reading a comic. Sometimes I’d talk on the phone with a friend who was also listening – a friend equally obsessed with the minutiae of the countdown: Do you think “The Reflex” will go to number one this week? Will Eurythmics stay in the top 10? Why isn’t R.E.M. breaking into the top 40?!?
Why did I care so much? Why should any of us care whether a song sells more than another in any given week? Does it matter that a single spends 6 weeks in the top 10 before it falls out of the countdown? Does the fact that a song ‘jumps 6 spots’ make us like it any more? Or any less?
Quantifying music sales and airplay seemed antithetical to the act of enjoying music for music’s sake. But Casey Kasem and his weekly countdown inspired a greater appreciation of pop music for generations of fans. He definitely had a profound influence on me.
On his show – pop music became something of a sport. But in addition to supplying a dramatic narrative for record sales – Kasem also supplied context. He’d share information about where a band recorded their album, who inspired the lyrics of a certain song, when a band was planning to tour, and why a certain song would be a group’s next single. He was a trusted source, full of information, but most importantly, he conveyed a sense that he cared about pop music as much as a 16 year old boy in Brooklyn.
Casey Kasem presented an earnest appreciation, interest and respect for pop. Each week his show told me: This music IS special. It deserves your attention. Your obsession is valid.
Readers of this blog know that each week I typically include a post about the number one song of the week in 1984. Each and every time I title one of those posts I imagine Casey’s dramatic announcement:
(Drum roll) And the most popular song in the land is . . .