Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Song #116: "Calypso"--John Denver (1975)

A unique voice of the 1970's, and there were many of them, makes his one and only appearance along our journey today, and in a most unusual way.....

There's more than one song in the Top 500 that was originally discovered by being on the flip side of a 45 RPM record bought at either Woolco or Woolworth at Azalea Mall in the mid to late 1970's. And, after purchasing the John Denver single "I'm Sorry", which topped the charts, we take it out of the sleeve for the first time and flip it over to discover a tribute to Jacques Cousteau.

Now, at eight years old, my knowledge of Cousteau was this: he liked seas and oceans and ABC showed specials starring him from time to time. That was it. And, to this day, I don't think I've watched an entire show that he did. I also couldn't pronounce his name when it popped up in TV Guide.  :)

I didn't realize this song was Denver's tip of the cap to Cousteau, singing about his research ship. I just knew that I really thought the song was cool. I wasn't the only one. Radio stations across the country also flipped to the B-side and started playing this song, so much so that once "I'm Sorry", started falling off the chart, "Calypso" vaulted to #2. That simply did not happen for B-side songs.

The only other instance I can think of in this era that I can remember was Linda Ronstadt's "Love Is A Rose", the single which produced another hit on side B, preferred by pop radio, in "Heat Wave".

If you can think of any others from the mid-1970's, let me know. :)  For now, enjoy my favorite John Denver song (and I do thank him for the great contribution to Baltimore Oriole lore with the playing of "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" in the seventh inning stretch!).

Monday, February 27, 2017

Song #117: "Lies"--Thompson Twins (1983)

My first taste of the group Thompson Twins came during the crazy first few months of 1983 when today's song first hit American radio.

What would follow was a string of hits from another Top 500 entry in "Love On Your Side" to "Lay Your Hands On Me" and "Hold Me Now".

For my money, my first taste was the best taste, as "Lies" is my favorite song from the band, and a quirky song with a sound that reminds me of the frenetic pace of my life back in early 1983, finally finding a footing after two awkward years of junior high school, finding a passion in theatre, getting an incredible role as my first in a musical while surprising myself and everyone else in forensics competitions, all while watching my beloved N.C. State Wolfpack make the miracle run to the National Championship.

Happily, none of those events were lies.  :)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Song #118: "Kyrie"--Mr. Mister (1986)

It's the second of two Top 500 entries for the mid-1980's group Mr. Mister, the first, also from 1986, appearing here.

This song made a lot of people investigate (as oppose to Google) the meaning of the term "Kyrie Eleison", a term that appeared in a song we sang in Vocal Ensemble back at Patrick Henry. The answer, essentially, is "Lord, have mercy".

Lord, have mercy down the road that I must travel,
Lord, have mercy through the darkness of the night.....

I suspect many have worshipped over the decades via this pop song from 31 years ago this spring....

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Song #119: "Hollyanna"--Toto (1984)

It's a shame. The 1984 Toto album, "Isolation", has ended up, in part, as a partial footnote on their discography.

Two of my four favorite songs from the group are from this album, including today's, a great story of a guy simply infatuated with a girl named Hollyanna, who disagreed with her mother, wasn't acting like a proper girl, and, I hope, the singer had her best interests at heart. He should have.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Song #120: "The Look"--Roxette (1989)

It's early 1989, and I'm really digging into material at my job at WDYL Radio, about to dive head first into an additional job, that of Music Director. I had already shifted my focus to Contemporary Christian Music with the job, meaning listening to the Q94's and B103.7's, well, my "Time Spent Listening" to them literally disappeared.

But, one Sunday afternoon, heading to Colonial Heights for a baseball card show as that hobby began its late 1980s explosion (Remember Tuff Stuff?), I heard today's song at the end of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, and immediately got hooked.

Roxette's contribution to our countdown has "late 1980's" written all over it. Super beat, mesmerizing vocals, overall, just a super jam.

Flip the clock back to 28 years ago in March, as Roxette topped the charts....

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Song #121: "Point Of Know Return"--Kansas (1977)

It's the title track from the 1977 release from Kansas, who haven't appeared in our countdown since very early on, here, also from this album.

Today's tune only peaked on Casey Kasem's chart (Billboard Hot 100) at #28, the follow-up single from Kansas, a tune called "Dust In The Wind" would be more chart successful.

But I totally love this musical work, with a strong but simple opening, an easy to sing chorus, great harmony, and a perfect fade-out.

Kansas will return one final time.....down the road. Maybe way down the road.  :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Song #122: "Faster"--George Harrison (1979)

Side two of George Harrison's self-titled 1979 album began with the fade-up soundtrack of classic Formula 1 racing heading into a tribute to the men behind the wheel, and those who create the machines.

A look into the cockpit, the heart of a driver's wife, the fans, the sounds, all captured perfectly with the lyrics, and absolutely genius production work for this song, my favorite George Harrison solo effort of all-time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Song #123: "Your Wildest Dreams"--The Moody Blues (1986)

Settling in to my part-time role at my first FM Radio job in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in late spring of 1986, I was so happy to see a new cart enter rotation as summertime approached, the one containing today's song, the eighth of twenty Moody Blues contributions to our journey.

It was the most successful single from the album whose name shares a title with today's song, which is just as fun to sing along to today, whether at a concert, or in the privacy of your car. And on another unusually pretty February day, it looks like I will open the sun roof and listen along, since I still don't have a voice to sing along with.  :(

Monday, February 20, 2017

Song #124: "Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight"--Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (1980)

We start the new week saluting my favorite song from an artist, in this case, the great Bob Seger.

As you may remember, all three of his entries in the Top 500 came from his awesome 1980 "Against The Wind" album. Today's tune, a celebration because, well, Betty Lou's getting out tonight! We hear about all the boys, we had Mom's reaction (Mom's so understanding, well, after awhile....), and we had a recipe for a jammin' song.  :)

Thank you, Mr. Seger for one of my all-time favorite albums, and for freeing Betty Lou!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Song #125: "Big Yellow Taxi"--Joni Mitchell (1970)

We've had two Mitchells make appearance on the countdown as solo artists, here's the second, with a song I really, really dug in its heyday when WRVA played it quite often.

As young as I was, I really didn't understand its overtones, and now, many years later, I do, and agree with it on some occasions. I'm a realist in that there has to be growth for accommodation purposes. But soon, shouldn't we get developers to come back in towards a city, tear down older, unused buildings, and spring life anew?

Joni gets the nod here as the original singer, though I really liked Amy Grant's remake back in 1994.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Song #126: "Basketball"--Kurtis Blow (1985)

It's my senior year, we are about to witness the second biggest upset in NCAA Tournament Championship in history (sorry Wildcats, but N.C. State in 1983 is the gold standard....)

Of course, we're knee deep into the glorious age of Magic and Bird in the NBA with Dr. J, Moses Malone from just down the road in Petersburg, Kareem was still hooking for deuces and so much more.

What's fun about listening to Kurtis Blow's tribute is enjoying the references to players that, for many in today's millennial generation, are just footnotes.

For every Russell Westbrook is the GOAT reference I see, I think about Oscar Robertson. When people think pure shooting ability, I think of George Gervin and Alex English. Need someone to run the point? Tiny's got you.

Then, in the snapshot of time that is early 1985, hear the younger sounding man promoting a rookie, at the time, in Chicago by the name of Michael Jordan.

Bernard King? Willis Reed stood so tall? Classic, and historic stuff. Turn it up and rap along....while I go get ready to cover another week of postseason high school basketball. Maybe they'll rap about one of our current players in the future. :)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Song #127: "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through"--Jim Steinman (1981)

Okay, here's a weird convergence.

First of all, only in 1981, I believe, can a song like today's make headway in Top 40 radio, as we've discussed on multiple occasions on our journey how transitional the year was and that there was no dominant form of music jamming up the charts.

So, if "Stars on 45", Juice Newton, The Police, and the return of The Moody Blues to the Top 40 work, why not a song from an unknown commodity that feels like a "pop opera anthem"?

Then, on top of that, we spend that year jamming to the song, preferring, as usual, the long-album version with the great pseudo-acapella reprise to the end.....only to find out Jim Steinman didn't actually sing the song!

Who did? How about fellow Canadian Rory Dodd, who we would later hear as the "Turn Around, Bright Eyes" guy on Bonnie Tyler's 1983 hit, "Total Eclipse Of The Heart".

You also know Dodd from his work in commercials for, of all things, a great game of our youth, "Hungry Hungry Hippos"!

Only in 1981. Here's Rory, posing as Jim singing a pop opera (that would be covered by Meat Loaf a decade later).....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Song #128: "Lights"--Styx (1979)

Here it is, the seventh and final song from Styx in our musical journey, a beautifully penned and produced song that kicked off a Styx LP that, in history, often gets overlooked, having been released between the enormously successful "Pieces Of Eight", and "Paradise Theatre".

We already featured one song from "Cornerstone", "Why Me?" earlier in the survey, which actually has a feel of "Lights" on steroids when you compare the two songs.

Now, enjoy Tommy Shaw's great vocals and a thriller of a final minute of music with "Lights".

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Song #129: "Knock On Wood"--Amii Stewart (1979)

A song originally written in 1966 by a songwriting duo at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, which would become infamous two years later as the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed, later covered by the likes of Otis Redding and David Bowie, found its greatest success as a one-hit wonder.

Nobody knew Amii Stewart, and we certainly didn't know how to pronounce her name, when she released her disco-twisted version of "Knock On Wood" in January, 1979. But it exploded onto radio, even as the disco era was beginning to realize its time was short, it got a needed boost in the arm by this brilliantly produced song.

The drums. Oh, the drums. They make this song. Everything else, from Stewart's vocals (which are so good and so strong), to the synthesizers, et al, revolve around and pay homage to the drums.

Its sound pulled you in, and you didn't pull back. You wanted to experience all of it. When I was alone at home and it would hit the radio (or later, when I played the record), it was at full, full blast.

What happened to Amii? I don't know. Wikipedia tells me she is now 61 years old and lives in Italy. I hope she's well, and I thank her for this powerful contribution to our musical journey, a rare bit of disco in our countdown.

And yes, we put the extended version on here, because that's the way we like it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Song #130: "Hazy Shade Of Winter"--The Bangles (1987)

Imagine an all-girl rock band taking a classic song from Simon & Garfunkel, and turning it into an even bigger hit.

That's exactly what The Bangles did with today's song, recorded for the soundtrack of the movie "Less Than Zero" in 1987. The group was very familiar with the song, having covered it in concerts for several years prior.

This song lulls you in with the soft opening, and completely ensnares you with the first sounds of the driving guitar riff and drum beats. After that, you are putty in its hands.

The video for the song, for its time, was pretty futuristic. Had they had a stage filled with Samsung Galaxy S7 phones rather than TV screens......hmmm.......

We have one more Bangles song to go, coming up, in the spring, maybe even late in the spring. Hint. Hint.  :)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Song #131: "Mary's Boy Child/O My Lord"--Boney M (1978)

When this song first hit the radio after being rushed to completion in November, 1978, it made phones, as we say in the radio business, "blow up". I guarantee you, ask any WRVA veteran of that era and they will tell you they were besieged with request calls for "that Mary's Boy Child song".

The "Mary's Boy Child" part of this now Christmas classic was originally a hit for Harry Belafonte back in the late 1950's. Now, a Caribbean based group teams with a German producer to form a mesmerizing sound with the carol, and then add a twist that would cement the song's legacy on All-Christmas radio stations forever.

The addition of the newly written, at the time, "O My Lord", to create, in essence, a medley, was the cherry on top. And, every year since, you can hear Boney M on radio, on Pandora, or in malls and stores across America during the holiday season.

Knowing how important it was to get my hands on a copy of this song, and being unable to find it on a CD or LP in 1989 when we debuted "The Christmas Station" on the former WDYL-FM, I got a buddy of mine in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to record a copy and mail it to me, and we played that song on cassette, probably a thousand times over the years. It was a heavy rotation mainstay.

This is the #2 Christmas song on our countdown. Number one will probably around the time the temperatures are starting to surge towards summer...as if they haven't already.  :) :)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Song #132: "Message Of Love"--The Pretenders (1981)

It's the fourth of five tunes from Chrissy Hynde and a group that made more than its mark on multiple forms of music in the early years of the 1980's. It also did it while overcoming multiple tragedies, losses of band members.

"Message Of Love" would be on "Pretenders II", their second studio album release, the last release with the original band. I remember distinctly when this song debuted on AOR radio stations like XL102, 3WV, and K94 back in 1981, and immediately digging the tune, first, for its mesmerizing use of a hypnotic beat that started from the word go, and weaved its way through the song, giving the final part of the bridge an extra kick.

Next month, The Pretenders come to Charlottesville along with Stevie Nicks. If it were just The Pretenders, my butt would be at John Paul Jones Arena. I'd love to hear this song, and many others, live, including my all-time favorite Pretenders song, which I will unveil.....later this Spring.  :)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Song #133: "Keep It Dark"--Genesis (1981)

With the release of their LP "Abacab" in 1981, Genesis had completed the turn of the page from its experimental rock roots of the 1970's to a pop band for the 1980's, but not without taking some of the best elements of its past into its future.

The case in point is side one of the album. It begins with the title track, a seven-minute masterpiece of a rock song, continued by the eventual hit single, "No Reply At All", and concludes with today's song.

"Keep It Dark" wasn't released as a single in America, but was quickly discovered by fans who bought the album, and later by AOR radio listeners when they chose this as a "deep cut" from the LP.

What is a "deep cut"? That's when album-oriented rock stations (see? AOR?) would decide what non-single track(s) to play from a current album by an artist that fit their format. Genesis certainly continued to fit, even with its metamorphosis of sorts.

Parts of this song sound like they can be replicated in the kitchen with some wooden spoons and a few pots and pans turned upside down. In all, it's a great jam.

This is the fifth of ten Genesis songs in our countdown, meaning a whole lot of Genesis between now and the end. Partial spoiler alert! My favorite Genesis song will come late, perhaps, very late, or even near the end, of our journey.  :)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Song #134: "Wichita Lineman"--Glen Campbell (1968)

Before we start today's story.....


One year ago today, we began this Top 500 musical journey, and for each of you who have visited us along the road from time to time, I am very thankful. :)

Now.....about today's song.....

Today, it's my runaway favorite song from the great Glen Campbell, who, when you survey his discography, had a simply remarkable career.

His early hits, such as today's song, in the late 1960's, put him on the map, and, in America's living rooms with a successful television variety show. He blitzed the charts in 1975 with the "Rhinestone Cowboy" LP, and even had a very successful run in the Christian County and Contemporary Christian music genres in the early 1990's.

The premise of this tune, written by Jimmy Webb, is quite simple. His inspiration for the song reportedly came from driving through part of Oklahoma, seeing endless lines of telephone poles, eventually noting what looked to be a silhouette of a lineman at the top of a pole. Webb then wondered what the lineman was saying into the receiver.

Never really taking into account the lines being for telephones, I always thought they were electrical lines. So my mind has always thought like this when I hear the song:

A blue-collar, hard-working man working the electrical lines hears his lover through those same lines, and he wants her to know that, no matter how much the job, the lines, take him away from her, because he hears, he feels her electricity, her power, and her love, in reality, they are always together.

Note the incredible orchestration in verse one with these lyrics:

"I hear you singing in the wire,
I can hear you through the whine...."

This is musical perfection. I get a chill down my spine every time I hear this song.

And, in closing, the song has one of the most powerful love lyrics of all time:

"And I need you more than want you,
And I want you for all time...."

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Song #135: "Moonlight Serenade"--The Glenn Miller Orchestra (1938)

I have talked several times about my love of the Big Band/Swing era of music and how my first commercial radio job was at a station that played it. The Glenn Miller Orchestra makes its fourth and final appearance today with, perhaps, his signature song.

Glenn and the boys recorded this originally in 1938, the year my Mama was born. Quickly it became the band's "theme song", as bands tended to have back in the day. It ended as the fifth biggest song of 1939 on the Billboard music chart.

Those who produced the motion picture "The Glenn Miller Story" over a decade later are to commended for making a masterpiece. That movie will be forever in my heart, as it came on in the pre-dawn hours of June 15, 2010, a night where I couldn't sleep, so anxious and excited for my son Robbie's graduation from high school later that day, an event that more than one person told us over the years that it wouldn't happen.

When the movie draws to its heartbreaking conclusion, and June Allyson, playing Miller's wife, heard "Little Brown Jug" for the very first time over the radio, the tears flowed. But, interestingly when I think of that movie, and of that early morning six and a half years ago, I think of today's song, my favorite from the great Glenn Miller.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Song #136: "Linus & Lucy"--The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1964)

For all of us, it's very likely that the first time we heard today's song was on television, during a Peanuts special, and most likely it was the 1965 classic, "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

A year earlier, this song was actually released by composer Vince Guaraldi with his trio on his album entitled, "Jazz Impressions Of A Boy Named Charlie Brown". But it was when CBS premiered the aforementioned special during the holiday season over 51 years ago that America began to fall in love with "the unofficial music of Peanuts".

Now, over a half-century later, millions own the soundtrack CD to the special, the backbone of which is certainly this catchy tune.

A quick radio story: Back when I programmed the all-Christmas music format for the former WDYL-FM here in Richmond from 1989 to 1996, in the later years, I used this song as the background music for our traffic reports.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Song #137: "Alone"--Heart (1987)

For all the great music Ann and Nancy Wilson created in the first great run in the 1970's, Heart only got one song, "Magic Man", to hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It would be 1985 before they finally cracked the top five, and a year later when "These Dreams" hit #1. A year later, today's song, the first single from their ninth studio project, began its ascent to the top of the chart.

Between the piano opening and closing, this song is power packed with classic Wilson vocals, classic Wilson guitar play, and it oozes with burning, unquenchable desire to begin a relationship.

It's also my favorite Heart song, a group that, to me, never gets enough credit for its incredible contributions to rock music.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Song #138: "I Want To Hold Your Hand"--The Beatles (1964)

Today, the seventh of eight songs from The Fab Four in our musical journey, one that played a part of the memorable appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, ironically, 53 years ago this Thursday.

Still less than three months removed from the John F. Kennedy Assassination, the nation was in need of some distraction, something new, exciting, and positive. Now, parents back then probably didn't think this to be the case, but, compared to some of our "role models" in 2017, John, Paul, George and Ringo seem pretty tame by comparison.

From that musically altering Sunday night on CBS, here they are.

NOTE: You have to hit the pause button at 1:27, and look at the woman's reaction in the front of the shot, but, more interestingly, the reaction of the two older geezers behind her!  :) :)

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Song #139: "Can't Stand Losing You"--The Police (1978)

America discovered The Police a little later than those in their home continent of Europe. For example, today's song was never released a single in the United States. My first remembrance of the group was when "De Do Do Do, De Dah Dah Dah" hit radio in the fall of 1980.

We haven't heard from The Police in the Top 500 since the first week of the countdown, but they return today for the second of four appearances with a song that, when you really listen to it, is about as hopeless as it gets. Comparing the absolute despair of the words with the quirky nature of the tune, however, and, all of a sudden, you find yourself singing right along.

The Police returns twice more before our countdown ends June 23rd.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Song #140: "Hurting Each Other"--The Carpenters (1972)

In the opening week of January, 1972, Karen and Richard Carpenter released a song as a single that had already been recorded several times by multiple artists over the previous six years. From the album, "A Song For You", today's song was one of many excellent selections on that piece of vinyl, from "Top Of The World" (which WRVA played to death!) and "I Won't Last A Day Without You".

In the end, it's my favorite Carpenters song, a riveting story of a couple seemingly in an endless cycle of loving and hurting, with the usual masterful work of Karen vocally evoking every emotion from every part of that cycle.

We lost Karen Carpenter far too soon, but what a legacy of music we have to enjoy forever from her and from Richard.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Song #141: "Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)"--Glen Campbell (1975)

When most people think of 1975 and Glen Campbell, they think of his monster hit, "Rhinestone Cowboy", which was Campbell's first #1 country single in six years, and his first #1 song ever on the U.S. pop chart.

But it's his follow-up single, today's song, that is the second of three Campbell tunes to appear on this countdown, and it, too, was a chart success. Over forty years ago, I preferred this song over Rhinestone, and still do today. What's my favorite Glen Campbell song? We'll reveal that very soon.  :)

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Song #142: "Don't Pull Your Love"--Hamilton, Joe, Frank & Reynolds (1971)

46 years ago, today's song zoomed to the top of the "Cashbox" chart (Cashbox was a direct competitor to Billboard which eventually went out of business), and to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The music part of this song is just crazy good, then add excellent lyrics and strong vocals, and this is a song that made me stop and listen every time they would spin it on the old WRVA back in their wonderful music days (save "Open For Opinion" from 12:30 to 2pm). :)

HJF&R make their contribution to our musical journey with this early 1970's classic!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Song #143: "Lonesome Loser"--The Little River Band (1979)

We've gotten to the point in the Rob Witham 500 where you will, on more and more occasions, here me say, "it's my favorite song from (insert artist name here)".

That category returns today as we salute my top song from The Little River Band, a group with a string of hits in the 1970's and early 1980's.  Two of them made this journey, both from their 1979 album, "First Under The Wire".

Great vocals, and an excellent transition from the bridge to the final chorus, this was definitely a crank it up sing-along song from early in my seventh grade year in the late summer and fall of 1979.

Which reminds me of my Baltimore Orioles blowing a 3-1 World Series lead that October to those dreaded Pittsburgh Pirates and.....well.....but we weren't lonesome losers, we were at least American League Champions!  :)