"American Top 40" aired Sunday nights, when I was in the prime listening demographic. Six to ten p.m., or 7-11:00 maybe? My mom was still rigid about school night bedtimes, but at some point in my middle-school years I was allowed to--or figured out that I could--listen to my crappy clock radio on the lowest possible volume, while lying in bed.
I'd get misty while Casey called out the long-distance dedications. I could not wait, to have, and possibly then break up with, an Actual Boyfriend to whom I would devote the syrupy regret of a pop song. Casey Kasem willing, I'd do so in a forum broadcast to everyone in the United States. Learn from my romantic tragedy, fellow tweens! Heed my hard-earned relationship wisdom!
I rooted for my favorite songs to move up in the countdown, as if I had money riding on it. I guess in a way I did, hoping that my latest obsession would crack the top 20 and thus appear on the wall behind the cash registers at DJ's Sound City, four rows of 45s in their paper sleeves. The other bins of singles were a crapshoot, but I knew that one slat-wall would be fully stocked. The cashier could just turn 180 degrees and hand down the record. If it wasn't top-20, though, you had to wait. If you had particularly esoteric tastes, you might wait a long time. This was the 80s, luckily, already a wondrous and bizarre mishmash of pop trends, where stations on the AM band played Kenny Rogers cheek-by-jowl with Alice Cooper and the Beatles and the Knack.
But I think about it a lot, the patience that's no longer required. Was delayed gratification ever that much sweeter? (Usually, I think this after I've gone on a nostalgic iTunes binge, snapping up every crazy one-hit wonder I can think of, most of which are preeeeeety terrible.)
Anyway. Casey Kasem and "American Top 40." A primitive map, for the adolescent culture I was on the periphery of. Teenagers! Here were things that teenagers did: listened to music, bought records, affected the surge and sway of the pop charts. Casey was my guide. And, ever the straight-A student, I took notes, writing down the most thrilling countdown moments on my calendar.
I knew I'd saved one somewhere--for the calendar illustrations (vintage children's-book illustrations, if you're wondering. Nothing racy, ew! I was in 7th grade! And a nerd!). I didn't realize what an excellent anthropological document I was preserving, though. Here's April, 1983. I was thirteen.
I've always enjoyed the Oscars, though I was nonplussed by "Gandhi" winning Best Picture. "Tootsie" was my pick, and I'd evidently seen it twice, which I hope did not adversely affect my performance on that Western Hemisphere test in Social Studies. But I digress. Check out Sunday the 24th. Dexy's Midnight Runners, with their fiddles and their overalls, had hit number one--in the USA!--with "Come On, Eileen." The mildly suggestive lyrics were luckily obscured by the lead singer's incomprehensible mumbling, and so I think we even convinced my mother to buy the whole album, on cassette, from Columbia House Records and Tapes. I hope we got that one for the proverbial penny.
But I suspect I slipped out of bed to write this, to find a pen and scribble down this milestone, lest I forget. I had a babysitting job on the horizon, and I have a pretty good idea now where that cash was gonna go. It was spring, it couldn't BE any more 80s, and it was totally awesome. Thanks, Casey. Rest in peace.