Friday, June 23, 2017

Song #1: "Fire On High"--Electric Light Orchestra (1975)

My first recollection of this song (which, in its edited form contains all of three words, the title, sung during the build-up to the finish) is when it was used by CBS Sports as the theme to "CBS Sports Spectacular" from 1976 to 1978. That show was their answer to ABC's more popular "Wide World of Sports".

Then, in 1978, ELO places the song as the B-side of the 45 to 'Sweet Talkin' Woman", and suddenly, I had my own copy, and it grew on me. I played it quite a bit, in fact, much more than the "A" side. :)

Then, early in the 1980's, my second favorite radio station ever, K-94 from Tidewater, used it for the most awesome Legal ID, in my view, in radio history, back in the day when you did a longer ID, usually around midnight, if you were on-air 24 hours, otherwise it was used as a sign-off or sign-on. You can listen to the K-94 package below.

"Fire On High" continued to be a staple on AOR radio stations, and my love continued to grow for the song over the years.

But it wouldn't overtake "My Sharona" by The Knack as my all-time favorite song until an unforgettable day in January, 2007. I took the day off from work, got up early, and headed down to North Carolina to attend my niece's wedding. That seems simple enough, right?

Except that I had not been out of the Commonwealth of Virginia by that point in three and one half years. It was, on many Sundays, everything I could do to travel the 45 miles down to the church I pastored at the time in Prince George County. As part of my severe depression, and severe grieving over the passing of my Mama late in 2002, I developed an outrageous, and unhealthy desire to be as close to home as humanly possible.

I was taking a huge chance that day, going by myself and out of state all at the same time. Heading through the final miles of Southern Virginia, today's song came on the radio. Moments later when I passed the state line, I called my wife, crying, to give her the good news that I had made it into The Tar Heel State.

Later that day, the song was played again. Now, catching this song once on a random day in 2007 on the radio was a treat, but twice? It was a sign from God. That part of my depression began to fade away after that day, and the song took on a much deeper meaning.

And, after discovering years later it had an "opening" edited off of the radio/record version, I believe that, while listening to the entire piece, it pretty much explains my first fifty years.

--The opening to the song (which some of you may never have heard) is an opera of the battle for the mind. In one moment, someone speaks backwards while music plays backwards, and, moments later, the heavenly choir sings "Hallelujah!" from Handel's Messiah. It's the perfect microcosm of my life as a sufferer and survivor of sudden onset obsessive compulsive disorder. Some days, that's how my mind sounds on the inside. I think I hide that very well.

--The song has two great "build-ups" in lieu of verses to get to the chorus, and I look at one with all the milestones of childhood, the second with the milestones of adulthood.

In the end, all of it crescendos together for a final build-up, including the aforementioned three-word lyrics of the song, before ending with a finish like no other.

It's totally fitting that I've chosen, essentially, an instrumental, as my favorite song. They've always been a big part of my musical life. So has ELO. If the Moody Blues couldn't occupy the top slot, I'm glad it's ELO.

My deepest thanks to everyone who have put up with this journey over the past 500 days. I will post a full list of the Top 500 as soon as possible. Now, my question for you: What's your number one song?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Song #2: "My Sharona"--The Knack (1979)

For a long time, this was my all-time favorite song.

Around the beginning of August in 1979, I did on a typical Friday what every other preteen or teenager did by picking up that evening's edition of The Richmond News Leader and immediately going to the "Young Virginians" section.

Yep, once a week, the now defunct evening paper would spend a few pages with articles and features for the generation that's now 40 to 64 years old. There was the advice column for teens, "Ask Beth", and, my favorite part, the Billboard Top 10 Singles Chart.

They posted a few charts, but the first one was what I focused on, future radio programmer that I was at the time.

One Friday, I looked, and there was a song listed that, well, I had never heard before.

What's is "My Sharona by The Knack"??  I distinctly remember asking myself that question, mispronouncing "Sharona" in the process. Not too many days later, I got my answer, hearing the song for the very first time.

(NOTE: "My Sharona" was #45 on the Hot 100 the week of July 14th, then went to #34, #18, then #6 the week of August 4th)

In my first fifty years, NO other song has ever made me obsessed from the first listen like this one did. Immediately, my daily hope in the waning weeks before seventh grade began at Beaverdam Elementary was to hear the song, hear it again, get it on tape, and play said cassette to death.

To this day, when I hear it, I am immediately transported back to August, 1979, in my brother's Chevrolet Monza, listening to it as high as the volume for that little car radio would allow, absolutely and totally enthralled. And I smile. And I crank it up again.

The beat, the riffs, the drums, the bridge, the vocals. It's everything wrapped into one incredibly perfect piece of music, and perfect for late summer, 1979, a summer we've saluted here many times.

I eventually bought the album, "Get The Knack", and I, along with many others, thought we had the second coming of Beatlemania on our hands. That is, until early 1980, when, fatefully, The Knack released an album obviously rushed to completion to capitalize on the massive, monster success of today's song.

It was a flop. And, as quickly as they stormed the charts, sadly, The Knack disappeared from them. But I'm still a fan, as shown by the fact that several of their songs made the Top 500, a few others came close.

I salute and thank The Knack for providing me the most musically charged moment of my life: the first time I heard today's song, and knew, beyond reasonable doubt, what "My Sharona" was.

In a word? Life-changing.

Or is that two words.... :)

What eventually supplanted "My Sharona" from the #1 spot? There's a major story, in parts, behind its ascension. See you tomorrow.  :)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Song #3: "Sausalito Summernight"--Diesel (1981)

We've talked about the year in music 1981 extensively over the past sixteen months, a year that allowed for so much musical variety in the Top 40, our generation simply wouldn't believe it.

Among those who made their mark 36 years ago was the Dutch group "Diesel". Formed three years earlier, their album, "Watts In A Tank" first debuted in their homeland in 1980, then Regency Records released it in America the following year.

Sometime, I believe, in the Summer of 1981, today's song debuted, first on the cool AOR radio stations like XL102 in Richmond, K94 near the coast, and 3WV up in Charlottesville. And, as I mentioned yesterday, when I first heard the song, especially its opening, on the airwaves, time stood still.

"What IS this song??", I asked. The funky opening and driving beat were absolutely mesmerizing.

And back then, you couldn't do The Google and go find out with a few keywords of lyrics. You know, "Google, can't afford to blow it 'cuz we haven't got a spare."

You hoped the DJ back sold the song, and that it wasn't in the middle of "ten songs in a row commercial-free!", because to find a new group's name and song title was not exactly simple back in the day.

This is one of the reasons why, and I've never understood this, many people thought The Steve Miller Band recorded and released this song. No way, Miller's vocal range was far too low.

Did I buy "Watts In A Tank"? You betcha. I liked the second single, "Going Back To China", too. But, in the Summer of 1981, THE song that made everything stop, the song I had to have a recording of off the radio before I could get the album, and the song I prayed would come every time I was in a car, was today's song.

So, drop a quarter in the meter, hit the sidewalk for awhile, and have a burger and a root beer!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Song #4: "Face The Face"--Pete Townshend (1985)

Keen observers of this countdown may have realized, thanks to a hint or two dropped along the way, that we hadn't heard the last of Pete Townshend, longtime member of The Who, and a pretty doggone good solo artist in his own right.

Today begins a stretch of the three songs that "stopped me dead in my tracks" the most when I first heard them over the past fifty years. You know the feeling. The song comes on the radio for the first time and everything else doesn't matter. You ask, "what IS this??" while cranking up the volume, beginning a lifelong relationship with a perfect piece of music.

Such was the case late in 1985 the first time I heard Townshend belt out this, the first single from "White City: A Novel", his fourth solo project.

You have to remember, the radio edit cuts out the actual long piano opening that slowly gives way to the band that jams better than any other ever. Ever. Ever. The super hot start to the song, as a single, was actually the second part of the full event.

How anyone could listen to this song and not "turn it all the way up" is beyond me. It was a cherished favorite my freshman year of college, remembering fondly when I heard it on a Sunday afternoon early in January, 1986 when I was finally allowed to take my car to college with me, specifically because I had landed a radio job, and needed wheels to get back and forth.

In the late 1990's, during my wonderful stay-at-home Dad era, I got Townshend's Best Of CD, and, of course, immediately introduced my kids to the song. Robbie, all the time, would ask, "Hey Dad, you got Face The Face?" when getting in the car. And somewhere, I believe, I have a copy of them singing along to this tune. I hope I find it during my summer break cleaning. I'd love to hear that again!

As Pete noted about the song, "We overdubbed everything." The "Big 80's". Gotta love it.  :)

Get ready for the party jam of party jams!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Song #5: "When I Fall In Love"--Nat King Cole (1956)

We begin the top five with, for my money, the greatest love song of all time.

Originally written in 1952, the song first achieved popularity with the version recorded by Doris Day. There have been countless versions released over its 65-year history. Three of them stand out for me.

I want to give kudos to the 1993 version with Clive Griffin and Celine Dion recorded for the movie, "Sleepless In Seattle". Their vocals are wonderful, and the ending is almost perfect.

But, in the end, no one matches the incredible vocal talent of the great Nat King Cole. It's a simple, yet elegant version of a simple, yet timeless message. I've decided to post both Nat's rendition, taken from an early television show, and the "virtual remake" done by the late Natalie Cole 40 years later.

Both I and my wife come from broken homes. I told her, on bended knee, on Christmas Eve, 1987 that I was only going to ask "this question" once. I had to find someone willing to spend the rest of their life with me, because I knew I wanted kids, and I never wanted them to experience what I had at just seven and a half years old.

After begging, and a promise to write her a check once a year (hee hee), she said yes.

So, for as much as I poked at Bonnie yesterday, I honor her today. Unbelievable to me that someone has been willing to put up with my idiosyncracies, quirks, OCD, and issues over nearly three decades now.

Thanks, sweetie!  :)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Song #6: "Anything She Does"--Genesis (1986)

Today, the highest song in the countdown that was never released as a single to radio. It comes from Genesis' wildly successful "Invisible Touch" release, and it has a rather bawdy background, which probably explains why they invited the great British comedian Benny Hill to star in the song's music video.

My biggest memory of this song, however, has to do with my first official date with my then future wife.

It's October 17, 1987, and Bonnie and I would spend a Saturday night nervously picking at our food at the old Bonanza on Parham Road (where Aldi is today), following by some time walking around and shopping at Regency Square (which is in serious, but stable condition today). Right before I picked her up to begin the evening, I had been listening to my "Invisible Touch" cassette, and today's song came on. My date said the following:

"Um, if I'm going to be in your car, I would appreciate it if you wouldn't play that kind of music."

See, Bonnie came from a, putting it mildly, strict upbringing. So, being the respectful guy I hope I am, I complied and shut down Phil and company.

Fast forward thirty years later, and it's Bonnie's Hyundai that is tuned to Q94 and other stations, listening to music that I have little clue about (I get help to find what's popular so I make good bumper music for high school football broadcasts every fall.....).

So, needless to say, she's changed, a little.  Hee hee.....

When I hear today's song, I think of our first date, the life-changing year of 1987, and Benny Hill. Now, that's a combination.  :)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Song #7: "What's New?"--Linda Ronstadt (1983)

Released in 1983, I would not be exposed to this song until two years later when I began my first professional radio job, spinning "The Music Of Your Life" on WUHN-AM in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The career of Linda Ronstadt was absolutely amazing. Found as a folk singer with a touch of blues, country and rock abilities, she spent the decade of the 1970's releasing album after album after album of incredible music, with so many different styles of music, the tapestry of that library held together by Ronstadt's unbelievable voice. She also helped launch the career of a little group known as "Eagles".  :)

I personally feel that, if there were a "Mount Rushmore" of female vocalists of the Twentieth Century, one of the positions has to be occupied by Linda Ronstadt.

So, three years after her "Mad Love" release, what does Ronstadt do? She gets together with the legendary Nelson Riddle, whom you might know best as the creator of the theme from the television series "Batman", and begins work on a trilogy of albums of adult standards music. To some, it's "Big Band". She immediately received major airplay with "Music Of Your Life" stations across the country. MOYL was, and still is online, a radio format available to stations that featured the best music from the 1930's to 1950's, reaching an older demographic, much like 1980's oldies stations do today.

There were several Ronstadt songs from her trilogy in rotation when I arrived at WUHN, and one song immediately stood out.

This song is the epitome of someone's lament over the love you never had. Whether it was because the two of you drifted apart, either by circumstances beyond your control, or by choice, or it was love that one person felt for the other, but it was not reciprocated, or for whatever other reason, no other song that I've ever heard captures the immense, and intense feeling, aching of lost love like this one.

If you've never heard this song, originally written in 1938 as an instrumental number, then Johnny Burke's lyrics were added a year later, you need to. Positioned as a one-sided conversation when former lovers happen to cross paths (which didn't happen nearly as much back in 1983 as opposed to our social media age of today), it begins innocently, and, by the time, Ronstadt belts out the final line, "I still love you so", near the end, the tears are flowing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Song #8: "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five"--Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

I can remember sitting in Mrs. Hartsell's class at Beaverdam Elementary School, counting years to figure out when I was going to graduate high school. When you're twelve years old and in seventh grade, and your seventh year of elementary school, thinking ahead another six years was a challenge!

Today, six years seems like a drop in the bucket. :)

It seemed inevitable that I, someone who would graduate in 1985, and today's song, would somehow merge. Now, it didn't necessarily mean that it would become one of my all-time favorite songs, and, honestly, I cannot remember when I first heard this song. But, whenever I did, the year in the title certainly was a hook, but I fell in love with the song itself.

It was certainly thanks to the XL102's and 3WV's of the radio world that I got exposed to this, cut #10 on the classic 1973 "Band On The Run" album from McCartney and company. You didn't hear it very often, but, when I did, I jammed to the best of my ability.  :)

I can also remember the afternoon of December 31, 1984. Before a New Year's Eve get-together with lots of church friends, I went over to the church, our family vacuum cleaner in tow, to, well, clean the sanctuary. Something good to do on an afternoon, rather than watch the Sun Bowl.  :)

And I think it was 3WV that cranked this song on that day while I sat in my classic first car, the 1979 Chevrolet Chevette. And I also distinctly remember being practically in shock that I was, finally, just a few hours away, from actually experiencing the year Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.

Paul McCartney occupied, either with the Beatles, Wings, or as a solo artist, sixteen positions on this countdown. Today, my favorite song, one which McCartney said he only had the first line lyrically for the longest time.

From start to finish, a complete masterpiece.  :)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Song #9: "The Metro"--Berlin (1983)

Four of the top sixteen songs in our musical journey came from the year 1983, and today's is the second highest ranking.

It's from Berlin, a song originally released two years earlier. But the version I first heard, and immediately fell in love with, was a remake which found its way onto radio, mostly on stations willing to take a chance on songs that didn't fit the "mold" of the current time.

1983? Dominated by Michael Jackson, then by The Police (see Song #16), but you would also hear Dexy's Midnight Runners alongside Billy Joel, and, for awhile, you would hear Terri Nunn and Berlin.

The most success for this song was found, not on radio, but in heavy rotation on MTV, thus, I post the video, which I rarely saw, below. It's the longer, remixed version, by the way.  MTV, as I've noted before, was not in Beaverdam, Virginia then, so radio was still clearly king.

As was a song once I finally recorded it off radio onto an 8-track tape (yes, the stereo my brother generously gave me when he moved to North Carolina in 1982 had an eight-track recorder/player, not a cassette. So, I'd buy old eight-track tapes of any kind and record over them.

Back to this song.

It's the very definition of both haunting, and matching the music perfectly to the "scene of the song". Every second of the song, you feel like you're in a tube in London, or another European city, you feel the motion as well as the emotion, and Terri's vocal work is the cherry on top.

Berlin may have hit it big three years later thanks to the movie "Top Gun", but to me, their pinnacle came when they invited us for a ride on "The Metro".

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Song #10: "Sunset Grill"--Don Henley (1985)

We've finally made it. The top ten songs begin now.  :)

There was a pizza joint on the road between Lenox and Pittsfield, Massachusetts that I visited a few times with college friends during my freshman year at Berkshire Christian College, specifically during fall semester in 1985.

And, every time I hear this song, my mind drifts back almost 32 years to this place, the name of which I cannot remember. It was during that fall that today's song dotted the radio landscape, peaking at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I was 500 miles away from home, lonely, and trying to find my footing after living eighteen of my first eighteen years in one home, in one location. It was, by far, the most difficult transitional period of my life, as I guess it should be, going from childhood into adulthood.

But this song is also to me an anthem to wherever that "sane place" is for me, and for you, where you can always go and feel comfortable, feel at home, or at least feel wanted and appreciated. Most people think about "Cheers" when they are making that analogy.

Instead, since I never watched that show, I think of "Sunset Grill".

This is the fifth and final song from Henley as a solo artist on the countdown.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Song #11: "Blue World"--The Moody Blues (1983)


Out of the twenty, count them, twenty songs from my favorite group in the Rob Witham 500, none of them are in the top ten, as today I reveal my favorite Moody Blues song of all.

Of course there's a story behind it.  :)

After great success with "Long Distance Voyager" in 1981 and before the even greater success of "Your Wildest Dreams" in 1986, there was the album "The Present", released in 1983. It did not yield the commercial radio success of the other albums noted above, in fact, only "Sitting At The Wheel" cracked the Top 40 back in my eleventh grade year.

Today's song was the first single, released in August, 1983, and it didn't do well. Now, I liked the song, and, unfortunately, you didn't hear it a lot on radio due to its lack of chart success.

Fast forward about fifteen years later. I'm a stay at home father of two, the van-driving, pick up the song from school, take him to t-ball practice guy who was the room mom, the team mom, all with Rachel in tow in her car seat with her ever-loving, steady personality.

I ordered "Anthology", the two-CD best of set from the Moodies, and listened to it in the car a lot during all those short trips from here to there. And guess which song Rachel began to enjoy, and sing along to, back in the day?

You guessed it. So, since either 1998 or 1999, when I hear "Blue World", I think of little Rachel in the back seat, juice cup in hand, singing her best when the chorus came on.

"Oooooooooooo earllllddddddddddd".

It was close enough.  :)

So, even though this is not played in concert (but can be heard over the speakers before the show as we all file in to our seats), "Blue World" is my favorite Moody Blues song of all time, because of the bond shared between a father and a daughter.  :)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Song #12: "50/50"--Stephen Stills (1984)

It didn't get nearly the airplay it deserved back 33 years ago, so today's song certainly ranks among my favorite "hidden gems" of all-time.

From Mr. Stills' album 'Right By You", this song kicked off the LP, an anthem to how important work is in any relationship regarding love, how both parties must be equally invested (50-50), but also how each member must hold nothing back for it to be a success (or 100 at a time).

Add the seriously cool beat and instrumentation, and a good jam to close it out, and it's hard to beat this song. In fact, in my view, only eleven others did.

My thanks to Sara Sullivan, my former co-worker at Robinson Radio, who loved me enough to spend 99 cents on iTunes eight years ago to get me a copy of the song, which, at the time, I had not heard since high school (some 25 years). I still have the CD I burnt that only contains this tune to this day.

Jar your memory, or, introduce yourself to an absolute 80's classic below.  :)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Song #13: "Big Time"--Peter Gabriel (1986)

We're at the point in our musical journey where some of the top songs grew on me, and some of them had me at the word go. Today's song falls in the latter category. From the very first time I heard it, I became obsessed.

Released as a single just before the end of 1986, "Big Time" was on Peter Gabriel's massively successful "So" album, and peaked on the Hot 100 in the top ten early in 1987.

"Big Time" holds the distinction of having perhaps my favorite opening to any song of all-time, a very simple message from Gabriel of , "Hi there!", before launching head first into one fantastic jam.

The message sets you up for success (though be careful what kind of success it is you're looking for), and the song ends up being one big party. The ending ain't half bad, either.

Gabriel used techniques from his groundbreaking video for "Sledgehammer", which owned MTV in 1986, for "Big Time" as well, as you will see below.

For a guy who led a rather progressive group like "Genesis", then had some rather progressive solo hits earlier in the decade, Gabriel did pretty well when he settled into the pop world mid-decade, but doing so in his own way. No one sounded like Peter Gabriel during his "So" days, which made it that much more popular, and successful.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Song #14: "Lessons In Love"--Level 42 (1987)

Our third and final contribution from the mid-1980's group Level 42 would become their last hit single. With three strong songs in our musical journey, it's hard to believe their "success" was all packaged within a period of about a year.

The final, and my favorite, song of their triumverate of hits graced the airwaves in the Spring/Summer of 1987 as I was spending a few nights a week driving down to Williamsburg to do the overnight shift on the former "Soft 96, WQSF", an opportunity to finally get my foot into the Richmond radio door after moving home from Pittsfield, Massachusetts as 1986 drew to a close.

Now, mind you, I had decided to leave college and return home in late October of '86, but, a few weeks later, the college announced it was closing due to financial problems, so, I would have had to come home anyway, ending my precious time at WUPE/WUHN, the place where I got my professional radio start, and a place very, very dear to my heart.

So, I enjoyed today's song many times either driving down I-64 and Route 60 heading to work, or cranking it coming back to Mechanicsville in order to stay awake after getting off at 6am.

Thank you, Level 42! Your time in the limelight may have been short, but your music was awesome.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Song #15: "Sharp Dressed Man"--ZZ Top (1983)

Ah, yes, three guys from Texas.  :)

ZZ Top has the distinction of being one of only two groups whose lone song in the Top 500 ranks in the Top 15, and it comes from the Summer of 1983, in the midst of a very successful period for the boys with long beards.

From "Eliminator", today's song was part of a string of hits for ZZ Top, from "Gimme All Your Lovin'" to "Legs", as well as a song that just missed our musical journey in "TV Dinners".

The Summer of '83 will be remembered for many things, but certainly two of them are today's song, and its music video. If you were a sixteen year old boy in 1983, the video was everything. Trust me.

This song grabbed me from its opening notes and, 34 years later, has not let go. Some of the best guitar playing ever came from ZZ Top, and its on full display here.

So, swing that right arm around and point to the left, then wag your finger in the air at the end of the chorus, and dream you were handed the keys to the Eliminator..... :)

Heck, they even had "Boris and Natasha" dancing by the end.  :)

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Song #16: "Synchronicity I"--The Police (1983)

1983 was a monster year for The Police thanks to the hit factory that was the album "Synchronicity".

Of course, you still hear "Every Breath You Take" all over the radio, while "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "King of Pain" and "Synchronicity II" each did well on the singles charts back in the day.

But there was a little ditty that opened the album that took my breath away (pun intended). I heard it just a few times on AOR radio, fell in love with it, then have to thank Sharon Swingle for allowing me to borrow her cassette copy of the album so I could play today's song over, and over, and over.

It's my favorite song from The Police, by leaps and bounds, and the perfect song to get your heart rate pumping as you get into the heart (pun intended again) of a workout. It's also a blast to sing along with in the car, as always, full blast.  :)

And, if someone did some digging,  I'd wonder if the song was the early forefather for the theme song to the television show "The Big Bang Theory".....

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Song #17: "The NBA on CBS Theme" (1983-1990)

If you've followed me much during this countdown, you know my great affinity for theme songs, mostly from the genres of sports packages of various networks, as well as game shows. Today, I reveal my favorite.

And it's not even close.

When this song began opening CBS' coverage of NBA Basketball during the lackluster 1983 NBA Finals (when the 76ers and the late, great Moses Malone finally won Dr. J. a title with a sweep of the Lakers), it immediately became a staple, a new height in the use of opening theme music for sporting events.


It was among the first times, to my knowledge, that a theme song was built specifically so it could be used, in its entirety, to both open the telecast and set up the storylines of the game. Thus, the open, the two "verses" if you will, then the ending. Add the what is now considered ancient computer graphics of a basketball arena, and the punctuating final note that segues back into the song as you are taken live into the actual arena for the night's impending game, and it was next level production, and something you could hum along to at the same time.

I've read over the years that the majority of people are of the opinion that the subsequent NBA on NBC Theme written by John Tesh that premiered when that network took over the NBA package in the fall of 1990 is the best NBA theme of all time. Hogwash.

Listen to today's song below, then to NBC's song. CBS, upon hearing it the first time, I'm sure thought to themselves, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Let's go back to the best decade in NBA history, which started with the emergence of Magic and Bird, gave us the latter years of Abdul-Jabbar, Malone and Dr. J., the party crashing Houston Rockets, and, later on, the start of the career of one Michael Jordan.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Song #18: "Gemini Dream"--The Moody Blues (1981)

It will come to be a surprise to many that, although you now are well-versed concerning my deep love and affection for The Moody Blues, what you didn't know was I didn't become a fan until they released "Long Distance Voyager" in 1981, and when today's song first hit radio that year.

Sure, I'd heard some of their earlier classics on AOR radio from time to time, but to begin to dig their music, it was here. Now, 36 years later, I'm six weeks away from my eighth journey live with the band.

1981 was the perfect year for the group to, while stay true to its foundation, reinvent a thing or two, and reach a new group of fans, which they did, continuing that relationship through their next two releases in 1983 and 1986, the latter of which gave us "Your Wildest Dreams".

When I hear this song I go back in time to the Summer of 1981, my deep enjoyment of music that summer, my angst about another impending year in junior high school, and I feel much gratitude that this was the song that started it all for me and The Moody Blues.

Today, it's the song that usually begins the concert. And maybe again, July 20th, they'll look at all of us once more and say, "long time, no see, short time for you and me".  :)

My favorite song from my favorite band......coming soon. Some of you will be very surprised.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Song #19: "All For Leyna"--Billy Joel (1980)

Around the same time that yesterday's song was on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, it was also being graced by the return of Billy Joel, who had just released what is, by far, my favorite album from him, "Glass Houses". In fact, to this day, it's still the only original release by Joel that I own(ed).

We all became familiar with "You May Be Right" and "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me', Joel wearing the skinny tie to fit in with the fashion of the dawning decade (fat ties? definitely out.....), and it prompted me to save $4.98 plus tax to buy the album.

Once I did, I got introduced to a gem, one that got some airplay on AOR radio, but, for the most part, you discovered it on the LP. The opening piano work screams angst and obsession, as the song goes into the story of the journey to find Leyna, a woman with which the man had, well, had a one-night stand with, and he wanted much more than that.

Being still 12, the "one night stand" portion didn't click with me; I heard a song about a desperate guy trying to be with the girl he was head over heels in love with. You genuinely feel the pain with every word Joel sings.

Enjoy my favorite Billy Joel song of all time. :)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Song #20: "Give It All You Got"--Chuck Mangione (1980)

When ABC broadcast the 1976 Summer Olympic Games from Montreal, they used some music from emerging jazz great Chuck Mangione in its coverage. For its upcoming work at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York in 1980, the network approached Mangione to create a song that could serve as a theme for the coverage.

From that, we get, for my money, one of the greatest instrumental pieces of all time. I bought the single, and frankly, wore it out, especially early in the mornings during my music jam before school. I've mentioned this with several songs on the countdown during their appearances, but this is the last song I would play before leaving to hit the school bus every morning.

Hit play below to either jog your memory, relive some memories of your own, or, maybe for the first time, enjoy the brilliance of Chuck Mangione. And, when you go out and do your thing today, give it all you got.  :)

And yes, the full version is posted for your enjoyment.  :)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Song #21: "Christmas Wrapping"--The Waitresses (1981)

In the early 1980's, it was fun to listen to the radio during the holidays. There were not all-Christmas music formatted stations, stations began playing a few tunes after December 1st, and ramped them up later in the month. The perfect mix.

Top 40 and Rock formatted stations were just beginning to get Christmas songs that better suited their format, so they wouldn't have to segue between J. Geils Band and the New Christy Minstrels. One of those songs made its first appearance over the holiday season in 1981.

It takes a bow, to a point, to Blondie's "Rapture" from earlier in the year, where Deborah Harry didn't mind doing a little rapping in a seminal early 80's dance tune that zoomed up the charts. But the vocal prowess of Patty Donahue was much better suited for a genre such as this, and the first time you heard her belt out, "Bah Humbug, now that's too strong, 'cuz it is my favorite holiday....", you immediately dropped what you were doing, and asked, "what is this??" in a very favorable way.

It took no time for this to become an instant Christmas classic for my generation, the story of a star-crossed couple who never had the time, or opportunity, to spend time with each other until, suddenly, one Christmas Eve, Patty's character went out to A&P because, well, they provided "the world's smallest turkey".

Alas, while it was ready in the oven, nice and hot, she realized she forgot the cranberries. After arriving at the all-night grocery store in the eleventh hour, she ran guessed it. And the rest is history.

After programming an All-Christmas music station for eight years, I still, twenty years removed, can't listen to much of it. It was simply a case of overload. My Christmas playlist is short, but from the "secular" side of all things Christmas, this song is at the top of my list.

We dedicate this one to the late Patty Donahue, who left us way, way too early back in 1996, and, to her world's smallest turkey.  :)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Song #22: "CBS Sports NCAA Basketball Theme" (1987-1992)

When the NCAA announced in 1981 that it was moving coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament from NBC to CBS, it was, for its time, huge media news.

The tournament had become to find its footing thanks to the classic 1979 championship game between Magic Johnson and Michigan State and Larry Bird and undefeated, unheralded Indiana State. I was captivated by that game, and the announcing team of Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire, the best three-man sports crew of all time (and it's not even close, sorry Monday Night Football and others...), who also brought us UCLA's return to the title game, falling to Louisville in 1980, then Indiana knocking off North Carolina in 1981 in a game almost postponed due to the shooting of President Reagan.

The biggest part of the aftermath of the CBS move was the end of the Enberg/Packer/McGuire team. Billy Packer, who those of us who grew up in the Mid-Atlantic knew for many years thanks to his work with the great Jim Thacker on ACC Basketball telecasts from C.D. Chesley, moved to CBS, while Enberg, who was the voice of NBC Sports at the time and McGuire continued to partner on regular season games for several years at NBC.

As CBS began its initial coverage for the 1982 Tournament, they utilized what would become the term "The Road To The Final Four" for the first time, in this case, using "The Road To New Orleans" as a theme for their three weeks of coverage. Back then it was SO different. Until 1982, you generally found out about the tournament field on Monday in your local newspaper. There was no "Selection Show" until CBS created it 35 years ago.

First round games were not live, unless you had cable and knew about ESPN in its early years. CBS would show a game at 11:30pm on Thursday and Friday nights, but nothing else until the weekend. Then, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, no primetime. The Final Four that year? Two afternoon games on Saturday that pushed up against the early evening, with Houston losing to North Carolina and Georgetown defeating Louisville.

CBS got lucky, too, in a sense, that their ride with the NCAA coincided with a string of several great NCAA Championship games, from Georgetown/UNC in 1982 to N.C. State's mammoth upset of Houston a year later, Villanova/Georgetown in '85, and Indiana/Syracuse in 1987, also in New Orleans.

Up until the '87 Tournament, CBS used this theme song:

But that's NOT today's song. That theme debuted in 1987 and lasted through the 1992 Tournament. And, in 1992, I was enjoying two things: my second year of taking vacation time to watch the tournament, and the impending birth of my first child.

I know this is a long post, but trust me, it's worth it to explain this song's significance to me.

I take you to 1990, when the NCAA Tournament made its first of two appearances in Richmond for first and second round play at the Coliseum. One of the stations I worked for at the time, WDYL-FM, was the flagship station for VCU Basketball, who hosted the event. The night before the tournament started in Richmond, I'm downtown helping produce VCU Sports Talk for our station, and afterwards thought, if we're the flagship station, we should be at the tournament.

Somehow, in the space of an hour or so, I got credentialed and got permission from my boss to get someone else on the air, then, the next day, left work at midday, went to the Coliseum, and produced live phone-in updates from the event. I saw Terry Holland's career at UVA end, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse with Derrick Coleman and company, Clem Haskins and Minnesota, and some guy named Digger Phelps and Notre Dame.

Brent Musburger, who would be unceremoniously fired by CBS on April Fools Day two weeks later, and Billy Packer were there for Sunday's second round. It was an incredible atmosphere. I was in love with the NCAA Tournament at a level I never thought imaginable.

So, in 1991, with CBS taking over the entire tournament, I starting taking precious vacation days in the middle of March so I could stay home and watch, and record, the tournament. I still have Richmond beating Syracuse in 1991 the night of the Goochland earthquake on VHS. Great times.

In 1992, with the tourney coming six weeks before Robbie's due date, I used the theme song as, well, psych up music for his impending arrival, much like baseball players pick songs to walk up to as they stride to the batter's box.

I recorded the song over and over (and over) until I had about a 20 minute or so montage, long enough to last the drive to and from work, and it was my jam until Robbie finally arrived, nine days late, on April 29, 1992.

So, imagine my stunned disappointment the following March, about to watch the Tournament for the first time in my new home, to hear a new theme! Ugh! Of course, that song is the one that's lasted to present day, with a change to orchestration back in 2004.

So, when I think of the day my son was born, and the ensuing 25 years with him, excuse me while this song comes into my head, and puts a definitive smile on my face.  :)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Song #23: "People Of The South Wind"--Kansas (1979)

Back we go to 1979 for today's song, a masterpiece written by the great Kerry Livgren for Kansas' "Monolith" album. It's a tribute to the Kaw, a group of people who gave the state of Kansas, and by extension the group, its name.

Also known as Kanza or Kansa, the Kaw Nation is federally recognized, and they live currently in Oklahoma. They were known as both "People of Water", and "People of The South Wind".

The lyrics are a great journey through both history and one's personal life. We've all been asked the question, if you could go back and live "_________" over again, would you? I've generally answered yes. Even with the angst that existed, I'd gladly go back to relive glory days at Patrick Henry, or my early radio days, the stay-at-home Dad era. Absolutely.

It's another song from the unforgettable music year of 1979, which will contribute again in due time.

As a single, this song never reached the Top 20, peaking at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also peaks at #23 here! Thank you Kansas for preserving the People of The South Wind for all time.  :)