Category Archives: Under the Influence

DEAR CASEY. . . THE EARNEST INFLUENCE OF AMERICAN TOP 40

KasemIn 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  . . . 

 

 

Under the Influence: 92.7 WLIR

radiodial2In 1984 I had two favorite radio stations that each had a very different, but equally profound affect on my musical taste. There was 107.5 WBLS, which featured my favorite DJ – the ‘Chief Rocker’ Frankie Crocker. Every weekday from 4p-8p he’d spin R&B hits but also play everything from the Tom Tom Club to James Moody. On the opposite end of the dial, and the musical spectrum, was WLIR.

wlir292.7 WLIR played New Wave (also known as Alternative, New Music and Modern Rock – why so many names?). I don’t remember why I started listening or how I found out about it but I know for a fact I didn’t stumbled across the station. WLIR was located near Hempstead, Long Island  – just about 25 miles from my home in Brooklyn. But the station’s signal wasn’t very strong so I’d have to perform all sorts of high-tech feats to get a clear signal (my most effective method was to interlace the antenna of my boom box through the Venetian blind slats in my bedroom window).

daretobedifferentThe station’s tag line was “Dare to Be Different’ – which worked for me (and probably every other teen listening). One of the ways I decided to explore my feelings of otherness and oddness was through music. A young Black kid listening to R&B and Hip Hop was expected. But what if that kid started listening to Euyrthmics or The Smiths? Then that kid was different. He was a bit of freak.  I wasn’t ready to ‘freak out’ in other ways –  so I bought Culture Club records and hung U2 posters on my bedroom wall (I hedged my bets by hanging a Tina Turner Private Dancer poster right next to U2).

Plus – the music was great.

When the radio waves cooperated WLIR introduced me to great artists like Duran Duran, R.E.M., INXS, Thompson Twins, and Psychedelic Furs. And best of all – every week the station would allow viewers to vote and choose the best new song of the week.  The station’s DJ’s (Donna Donna, Malibu Sue, Larry the Duck) would each rally behind one song and attempt to convince listeners to pick their ‘Screamer of the Week’. The DJ’s were passionate and knowledgable and they helped shape the musical taste of countless teens in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. So much of this blog is a testament to that station’s influence. The right music at the right time.

Additional Screamer of the Week posts:

The Psychedelic Furs – Heaven

The Thompson Twins – You Take Me Up

Prince and the Revolution – When Doves Cry

R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion

Thompson Twins – Sister of Mercy