Radio Days: American Top 40

Radio music provided the soundtrack to my life as a youngster. Remember those long-distance dedications and waiting to hear what song would be number one for the week? Well, a local radio station plays original broadcasts of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem countdowns every Saturday morning, and listening to it has become one of my favorite parts of the week.

This week’s countdown from March 26, 1983 is a literal time machine, and I’m allowing myself to travel back as I listen to Casey Kasem’s quintessential voice and the top hits from 35 years ago on this chillingly sunny March morning…

I was twelve years old and in sixth grade, and man, was life simple back then. The only stresses were math homework and figuring out what route to take as I aimlessly wrote my bicycle around my neighborhood. Saturday morning cartoons and Battle of the Network Stars were still the things to watch, and the patchouli-reeking maze of stores called Peddler’s Village over in Wall Township was still the place to wander on a rainy weekend day to buy stickers, feather clips, and pencils with fuzzy toppers.

Whatever happened to Christopher Cross and Joe Jackson? In retrospect, I realize I like both of them and just added a few songs by each to my playlist for the upcoming week.

Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle, and a dash of Anne Murray and Barry Manilow thrown in here and there…these artists were on constant rotation in our olive-green shagged-carpet family room that hid many a Star Wars figure’s small blaster within its threads…never thought those soft voices could ever be a trigger, but I digress….

Are the songs Little Red Corvette, Down Under, Allentown, and Stray Cat Strut really this old? Sidebar: I distinctly remember receiving Down Under as a 45 record for my birthday in February 1982. In fact, I think I still have it somewhere in my John Travolta record case that is buried deep in my attic.

Der Komissar! I’m creeping around dancing to this one like a secret agent. Not sure what that means, but that’s what I’m doing…don’t turn around…Der Komissar’s in town!

We didn’t have MTV yet in my house in 1983, but NBC aired a two-hour long show called Friday Night Videos. Knight Rider and Friday Night Videos were the first two shows we taped on our brand-new VCR, and I’d watch those videos over and over. I always believed the story about the video for Michael Jackson’s Beat it casting real gang members, but my father tried his best to set my warped thinking straight. “Look at how they dance. Gang members wouldn’t be able to dance like that,” he said, or something along those lines. Guess what? I just looked it up and apparently, I WAS RIGHT!!!! They WERE gang members! I also wanted to go to that diner in the video because, for some reason, I thought the food would be really good.

The zombies in the video for Jeopardy by The Greg Kihn Band freaked me out. I can picture them in my mind as clearly as if I saw them yesterday.

And speaking of my dearly departed father, he loved the song Come On Eileen, but in true dad fashion, he did not have a clue about what the lyrics really were (you in that dress, my thoughts I confess verge on dirty). I would cringe every time he’d sing the main chorus of Come On Eileen and the ‘to ra loo ra too ra loo rye eye’ part to a young girl named Eileen in Sunday church. I fear thinking about the possibility of ramifications gone viral if he did such a thing in 2018.

A rush of images from walking home from middle school flooded my brain when One on One by Hall and Oates began to play. The mood quickly switched to wanting to victoriously punch my fist in the air to the beat of Separate Ways by Journey, and before I knew it, I’m back in my friend Susan’s closet eating Smurfberry Crunch listening to Mr. Roboto by Styx. Ironically, I live on her street now, but she moved away a long time ago.

Yes! Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran! I still write this down on any and all school dance/prom song request lists that appear in my classroom, but for some reason, it’s never played.

The number two song is Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. Boy George’s voice is simply entrancing, and Culture Club is scheduled to perform this summer at a local outdoor concert venue. I really wish I could go but I’m going to be in Dublin.

And the number one song for the week is….drum roll please….

Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. As soon as the opening note drops, the highlight reel from one of my best moments as a teacher begins to play in my mind’s theater. How is it possible that the secret closing number during the December 2007 fund raiser happened more than ten years ago? The quote “In life, there is no five-minute intermission” was born that evening by a young man named Matt, and it’s morphed into one of my mantras for life. Special times and special memories with special people who walked through my journey for sure, and the value of this memory is worth millions.

It often blows my mind that while I might have trouble remembering what I did yesterday, I can recall, no problem, the words to many of these 35-year-old songs. This trip down memory lane today was a good one, and today’s soundtrack surely helped form the person I am today.

Here’s the full list of American Top 40 Hits from March 26, 1983 as per Casey Kasem’s countdown.

40: So Close – Diana Ross

39: I Don’t Care Anymore – Phil Collins

38: Winds of Change – Jefferson Starship

37: I Like It – Debarge

36: My Kind of Lady – Supertramp

35: I Won’t Hold You Back – Toto

34: Even Now – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

33: Dreaming is Easy – Steel Breeze

32: Just You and I – Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle

31: She Blinded Me With Science – Thomas Dolby

30: Lies – Thompson Twins

29: Make Love Stay – Dan Folgelberg

28: Change of Heart – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

27: Little Red Corvette – Prince

26: Allentown – Billy Joel

25: Poison Arrow – ABC

24: Down Under – Men at Work

23: Baby Come to Me – Patti Austin and James Ingram

22: Breaking Us In Two – Joe Jackson

21: Stray Cat Strut – The Stray Cats

20: Little Too Late – Pat Benetar

19: All Right – Christopher Cross

18: I’ve Got a Rock and Roll Heart – Eric Clapton

17: Fall In Love With Me – Earth, Wind, and Fire

16: Der Kommisar – After the Fire

15: Beat It – Michael Jackson

14: Jeopardy – The Greg Kihn Band

13: I Know What’s Going On – Frida

12: Shame on the Moon – Bob Segar and The Silver Bullet Band

11: Come on, Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

10: Twilight Zone – Golden Earring

9: One on One – Hall and Oates

8: Separate Ways – Journey

7: Mr. Roboto – Styx

6: We’ve Got Tonight – Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton

5: Back on the Chain Gang – The Pretenders

4: You Are – Lionel Richie

3: Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran

2: Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club

1: Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

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