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 . . .
In early 1984, even if you loved her first single, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” you couldn’t have been blamed for suspecting Cyndi Lauper might be a one hit wonder. But her second single, “Time After Time,” presented the promise of a great pop performer/songwriter with staying power. The song spent two weeks at the top of the pop charts in June 1984, it was nominated for song of the year and is considered to be one of the most beautiful ballads of the eighties.
Joining me to discuss Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is Nathan James, the author of one of my favorite blogs – The Relative Cartographer. Check out his blog for great short fiction, genealogical investigations, honest observations, wit and warmth.
Sean: Nathan – thanks so much for joining me to discuss Cyndi Lauper’s Number one hit, “Time After Time.”
Nathan: Oh, I’m happy to do it. Something about 1984 nostalgia makes me happy.
Sean: Me too! I’d love to start by asking you about your earliest memories of hearing, “Time After Time.”
Nathan: My earliest memories of “Time After Time” were hanging out at my neighbor’s house across the street. My parents would never pay for cable. So I had to go over there to watch videos. We’d get together after school and I’d help her with her house chores and then we’d turn on MTV and watch the videos. I remember “Time After Time” was her favorite song because she loved the plaster dog doll Cyndi has in the beginning of the vid!
Sean: I had forgotten about that plaster dog until I recently re-watched the video. I think there were many things about Cyndi Lauper that were attractive to kids and teens. Her image was kind of child-like. So how did you feel about Cyndi and the song?
Nathan: You know in the video when she takes off her hat at the diner? And she shows off that waffle iron pattern shaved in her scalp?
Nathan: I’d never seen a girl (or a guy for that matter) with drawings in her hair like that. I completely thought she was a weirdo!
Sean: You were just like her boyfriend in the video! You judged her and caused her to flee the diner!
Nathan: C’mon Sean, it was hard not to judge her. Her album is named, “She’s so Unusual” for a reason. And that bright red hair and her fever dream skirts in all those colors and glitter. She was a lot to take in.
Sean: I mentioned in an earlier post that she seemed to almost be a novelty act – I couldn’t figure out if we were supposed to take her seriously.
Nathan: I don’t think we were supposed to take her seriously for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” I think that’s what makes “Time After Time” so special. I think the powers that be made “Time After Time” her follow-up because it showed her range. She has some SERIOUS range, that Cyndi.
Sean: And it really is impossible to separate the image from the music.
Nathan: Yes! But Cyndi’s image always felt genuine to me. I LOVE Madonna. But we all know she would reinvent herself to get attention. Cyndi was real. Case in point: did you catch her on The Today Show last month for the She’s So Unusual 30th anniversary? Two hosts were interviewing her, and she was just a goofball with them. She’s endearing. You can see it in the “Time After Time” video too. You know that was her real mother and boyfriend in the video? Another case in my point that she’s not putting on a character.
Sean: So what’s your favorite moment of the video (Besides the waffle haircut reveal)?
Nathan: I’d like to say some poignant moment between her and her mother. That image fade in the vid is laughable now, but back then it was decent. But really, my favorite part of the vid is at the end when she’s on the train. The director of the video wanted to put a tear on her face using a dropper. But Cyndi was confident in her ability to cry on the spot. So that tear is hers. And I think it drives the point that “Time After Time” is a relatable song.
Sean: Is it too late to give her an Emmy?
Nathan: Hah! Only if the Emmy has a bright emerald wig and about 1,000 necklaces on it.
Sean: So how does the song age for you?
Nathan: Since it’s about deciding to move on, I think it ages really well. I think most of us have been in points in our lives where we either had to carry on a long distance relationship or break it off and start over again. So any teenager/college student can identify with the words.That’s why the song is still all over the radio and why so many artists have covered it. I have to say I was surprised when P!nk covered it at her concert and the audience was singing the words over her.
Sean: It’s nice to know Pink and her fans appreciate the classics! I think if you’re a female performer – who feels a bit different – a bit ‘unusual,’ shall we say – Cyndi is your muse.
Nathan: Oh, I think some guys have been influenced by her too. Neon Trees? Absolutely.
Sean: I really need to check those guys out.
Nathan: Yes, get back in your music time machine every once in a while and check out some current bands, Sean!
Sean: Ha! I do love some new music – really I do! Ok – pop quiz – if you’re at a karaoke bar and “Time After Time” comes on – do you get up on stage and sing?
Nathan: Uh. No. Sadly, I am not a fan of the spotlight. But my cats get extravagant stage shows on a weekly basis! I’m a megastar in the shower or in a room by myself.
Sean: Ok – now we will all have an image of you reenacting the “Time After Time” video with your cats! It’s an image we like!
Nathan: Haha! Not a bad idea for a new blog feature, Sean!
Sean: Yes! That would be guaranteed to be ‘Freshly Pressed’.Ok – one more question for you. I am such a fan of your fiction, so may I ask you to create a sequel to the video? Tell us what happens to Cyndi Lauper’s character after the train pulls off at the end of the video.
Nathan: Oh, she travels the country to find more WWF superstars to play her family members in future music videos, of course!
Sean: That’s a beautiful ending. Now I have a single tear rolling down my cheek.
Nathan: Ooo! I see what you did there! Nice.
Sean: Thank you so much for taking the time to journey back 30 years to revisit “Time After Time” with me.
Nathan: It’s been a pleasure talking Cyndi with you. Especially about this song. It’s a simple song really. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s catchy and dramatic, but tangible. She’s so good at those ballads. And it definitely paved the way for “True Colors” to explode a few years later!
Sean: Yet another classic from Cyndi. Well thank you – this was fun!
Nathan: So fun! Invite me back anytime! Maybe I’ll have cat pics next time!
Michael Jackson’s Thriller ended its 80 week run at the top of the album charts in April 1984. I’ve pulled together 3 MJ acolytes to discuss Jackson’s masterpiece. In our previous discussion we talked about our favorite and least favorite songs on the album, whether we consider Thriller perfect, and what drove Michael to create one of the most successful albums in history.
Sean: We’ve discussed Michael’s music – now let’s talk about the videos from Thriller.
Norman: He was a visual artist – he was one of the first visual artists and those videos (from Thriller) are incredible!
Sean: He was the first black artist to be played on MTV. Before 1983 MTV did not play black artists in heavy rotation.
Norman: That was 1983? That’s within my lifetime! And that was just ok with people?
Shana : Well Walter Yetnikoff got gangsta with it – you know that story. He was the head of CBS records and Michael was really pissed that he did not get the cover of Rollingstone after “Off the Wall,” and he was accusing the industry of being racist – rightfully so. But when MTV wouldn’t play (Billie Jean from Thriller) because they said it wasn’t their ‘audience’ – Walter Yetnikoff was like – I will pull all of our artists’ videos from your network if you do not play Michael’s videos. Which was at a time when it mattered to artists to have their videos played on that network. And that’s what set everything in motion.
Sean: And I love that Michael was like – you want rock? Here’s “Beat it”. You like R&B – here’s “Billie Jean”.
Norman: You like amazing novelty yet soul/funk? Here’s “Thriller”!
Sean: So what’s everyone’s favorite video from Thriller?
Norman: “Thriller”. That goes without saying, right?
Shana: I think my favorite is “Beat It”.
Sean: I’m going to say “Beat It” as well. It’s concise, it’s tight, it tells a story and has some of the most memorable choreography in music video history. Plus “Beat It” was so good he decided to make it again and call it “Bad”. “Bad” is basically ‘Beat It Part 2..’
Norman: There are only 3 videos from the album Thriller – “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Thriller”.
Sean: I’m sad that there was not a video for “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”.
Norman: Or “Human Nature”. I’ve seen the “Human Nature” video in my head!
Sean: Me too! It’s black and white – lots of beauty shots of NYC at night.
Sean: Christine – what’s your favorite video from Thriller?
Christine: I can’t answer this question without sounding like a hypocrite (Note: in our previous post Christine admitted the song “Thriller” was her least favorite on the album). The “Thriller” video is obviously my favorite. “Thriller” changed music video as we knew it.
Norman: Thriller is the best music video of all time! Of any artist! Ever! No video has come out that is better than Thriller!
Shana: But the best doesn’t have to be your favorite.
Sean: It’s two for “Beat It”, two for “Thriller”. Ok – most important question for everyone – can you do the “Thriller” dance?
Shana: Not in its entirety.
Norman: Not in its entirety.
Sean: I’m disappointed in all of you. Ok – let’s move on and discuss the aftermath of Thriller.
Shana: I’d argue in the scheme of things that Thriller was the moment Michael – who was always a performer his whole life – really just wanted to devote himself and almost sacrifice himself to the crowd, for the applause. Thriller is the last moment in his career when he made an album that was solely for the fans. After that – the albums were a little bit more for him. Bad, for example. He made that album when he was going through some stuff so he comes out with really personal songs like “Leave Me Alone” and “Dirty Diana” and “Another Part of Me”.
Norman: I don’t think Bad is like that – I think it (Michael working out his personal demons phase) comes later. I think Bad was trying to completely be Thriller Part Two.
Norman: He had every intention of making an album that was just as successful.
Shana: I think he became much more personal making Bad. Thriller was the least autobiographical.
Sean: But the most popular.
Norman: Thriller was for us. It was The Passion of the Jackson!
You Might Also Like my Countdown of the Best Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Songs in 1984:
Thirty years ago this week Phil Collins scored the number one pop song in the country with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” a song he’d written for the film Against All Odds. There’s no denying this is a great ballad and also one of the great soundtrack tunes from a year that produced many amazing songs from films (including Ghostbusters, Footloose, Sixteen Candles, Breakin’, Eurythmics’ 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), and of course Purple Rain). I liked the song but never developed a real love for it. I wanted to give the song its due so I invited my friend Caroline to share her very passionate feelings for it. In addition to being a Phil Collins devotee, Caroline is also the author of the hysterical blog Cringeworthy Stuff from My Journal. Prepare for the most emotional post this blog has ever seen!
Sean: Caroline, what are your memories of this song?
Caroline: I know it’s from a movie (Against All Odds) but I’ve not seen this movie. I was only 11 when the song came out but I absolutely loved it – and still do. I really think it’s a beautiful song. I don’t know if it stirred something in my pre-pubescent self – but of course I had no grasp of what the song was really about. I knew it was about love – in the abstract. I knew it was something about someone leaving you. I knew it was devastating. That was it. But I really thought that it was an emotionally wrought song and Phil Collins’ vocals were amazing and … this is all so embarrassing to admit!
Sean: So what’s your favorite moment of the song?
Caroline: It has to be towards the end when it sort of crescendos into that very passionate moment where he says, ‘Take a GOOD look at me now,’ instead of just ‘take a look at me now,’ as he has previously.
Sean: That ‘GOOD,” means he means it!
Caroline: He means it this time, with FEELING! And then it’s like a huge emotional moment but then it just goes back into the lilting piano of the beginning, very soft, very calm. I like the way it resolves. I love that moment. It’s very powerful
Sean: I can tell this is an emotional journey for you, both as an 11 year old girl and as a grown woman.
Caroline: And I don’t even know why. I remember seeing the video which of course had clips from the movie . And something very dramatic was going on, I couldn’t tell you what exactly.
Sean: I’ve never seen the movie either but based on the video i sense there’s infidelity. I also sense that at the end of the film someone drives into a garbage truck.
Caroline: A dramatic death scene perhaps! Very dramatic. My only beef with the song when I was younger was that I felt it should be longer. I felt there was a verse missing. As a child I remember thinking after the bridge there should be one more moment and I was sad it wasn’t longer – but today when I was listening to it it felt perfect at 3 and a half minutes.
Sean: For some reason I remember it being 12 minutes long. Ok now be honest with me – did you have a poster of Phil Collins on your bedroom wall?
Caroline: Surprisingly no -I did love the song, I did love many other Phil Collins songs but, however, I did not find him cute. Unlike Huey Lewis who did feature prominently on my wall, I did not have a poster of Phil Collins.
Sean: We’re going to deal with Huey Lewis AND The News in a future post. But back to Phil – no insult to him – but he is not the sexiest pop star – so applause to him for having number one songs without being a looker.
Caroline: Exactly – and I think he was genuinely a good singer.
Sean: A lot of people have covered this song. Mariah Carey famously. Have you heard the Mariah version?
Caroline: No – but I don’t know if Mariah can compete with Phil on this one. You don’t mess with the classics.
Note: I later played Mariah’s version for Caroline who had this to say: “Oooh she does a good job!! But that’s no shock- she’s Mariah, after all. I like hearing a woman sing it. But she doesn’t do the end justice like Phil did!!!! Too screechy.”)
Sean: This song knocked Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” out of the number one spot back in April, 1984. Do you remember that? How did you feel about it?
Caroline: I did like “Footloose” a lot but it did not have the emotional pull for me that “Against All Odds” did.
Sean: I envision 11 year old Caroline sitting in her bedroom listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 and dancing for joy when he announced “Against All Odds” stole the number one spot from “Footloose”.
Caroline: Absolutely – there may have even been tears. There was definitely a dash to the boom box to try to capture it on tape. And It stays with me as a song I just love. I don’t hear it very often anymore. I don’t even know if I can tell you why – all I can do is just tell you I love it, I think it’s a beautiful song and it’s obviously still resonating with me today.
Sean: I think you’re tearing up right now. That’s a fact. Thank you for talking with me and sharing your thoughts about a song I could not muster the passion or emotion to write about myself. Maybe I’m dead inside, I don’t know. Thank you Caroline
Caroline: No problem. My pleasure. I look forward to our chat on Huey Lewis.
This week in 1984 Kenny Loggin’s Footloose was the number one pop single (the song was number one for three weeks in a row – from March 31st to April 14th). This was the first single from the soundtrack for the hit film of the same name starring Kevin Bacon. Pop Culture confession – I’ve never seen this movie. Somehow I missed it when it was out in the theaters and then for the next 30 years on TV. I don’t feel like I’m missing out because the music video shows me everything I need to know. – Teen angst and parental oppression are no competition for the power of gymnastics, dancing and Kevin Bacon in a tank top.
I haven’t heard or thought about this song in years – but after watching the video I think it holds up really well. So much energy, so much fun. And despite some really stiff competition – this tune would go on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year.
What do you think – when you hear this song – does it still make you want to cut loose?