Quiet Desperation

Stuck in a groove because of Top 40

Column by Craig Marshall Smith
Posted

No wonder I am out of whack: I listened to Top 40 radio. I had no choice. We had no choices. WSAI in Cincinnati, and hundreds of AM stations across the country, played 40 songs a week, in constant rotation.

It is kind of unbelievable now, because we have many, many choices. I have an AirPort, so I can listen to my CDs, Internet channels and iTunes stations upstairs and downstairs, and never hear the same song twice in one week.

There are songs and performances on YouTube. It's wonderful.

But in the early and mid-'60s, we had one choice, and that was Top 40. Of course, you could have a record collection, and I had an IHOP-high stack of 45s. They were about a dollar each. Up until recently you could download a song for 99 cents on iTunes.

The playlists were completely nuts, surreal. You would hear something erotic and visceral like "Satisfaction" by the Stones, then three commercials, then "Dominique" by The Singing Nun.

Back to back I would hear a great Carole King song by the Shirelles, and "See the Funny Little Clown," by Bobby Goldsboro. Bobby sang one disturbing hit after another. Remember "Watching Scotty Grow"? Goldsboro, 73, is a painter now.

The Top 40 would penetrate your life, and those songs still do. They are used over and over in films, and often wind up being film titles. Here are a few: "Stand By Me," "Sixteen Candles," "My Girl," "Pretty Woman," "Ode to Billie Joe," "Blue Velvet," "Corrina, Corrina," "Sea of Love," "La Bamba" and "Walk the Line."

The film "Stand by Me" was based on a novella by Stephen King.

The song "Stand by Me" was recorded by the great Ben E. King, who was once the lead singer of the Drifters. I loved the Drifters.

"When this old world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face." That's the way "Up On the Roof" begins. It was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. King's musical contributions are extraordinary.

Some of her songs include, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?", "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Some Kind of Wonderful" "The Loco-Motion," "Crying in the Rain," "Chains," "One Fine Day," "I'm Into Something Good," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "You've Got a Friend."

Later she became a zillion-selling recording artist herself.

You would hear something seductive by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and they would follow it with "Big Bad John." That was Jimmy Dean's biggest hit, and long before he started selling sausages.

AM radio began to break apart in the late '60s, fortunately, but it would be years before MTV, iTunes and YouTube.

I had hundreds of LPs, alphabetized (See: "High Fidelity"). They're all gone except "Meet the Beatles" and a rare album by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Were the Beatles named after the Crickets?

AM and FM radio ratings have been in a steady decline. We have too many other options. I have listened to KBCO ever since I moved here in 1977, but I wince every time they play "Landslide." I think they play it every day.

I wanted to be a DJ. I wanted to have a late-night program that had a theme every night. I have a voice - and a face - for radio.

Some of those Top 40 songs still get to me. "Tonight you're mine completely, you give your love so sweetly, tonight the light of love is in your eyes, but will you love me tomorrow?"

Yes.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.