In the past year or so, I’ve become obsessed with the old “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40” shows from the 70’s that they play on KJR every Sunday morning. Sometimes it’s wonderful. Most of the time it’s awful, but it is always entertaining. Here’s an article I wrote about it for Sound Magazine last May:
Taylor Swift. Nickelback. Avril Lavigne.
This will be the soundtrack to my children’s formative years. As much as I try to shelter them from such awfulness, I know someday they will discover that there are other radio stations besides KEXP, and the hipster, little Johnny Cash onesie I gleefully overpaid for might someday be replaced with a (shudder) Jonas Brothers baseball jersey (probably done in some retro-cool 80‘s style that resembles my treasured “Van Halen World Tour ’83” shirt).
Popular music wasn’t this awful when I was a baby, was it? The 70’s had Bowie, Lou Reed, Television, The Ramones, Devo. Music that stood the test of time, not just catchy, disposable tunes that get stuck in your head like gum on your boots. The music of my childhood had to be better than today’s Top 40.
To find out, I tuned in to the local oldies channel (double-shudder) for their weekly encore presentation of “Casey Kasem’s Top 40” from the 1970’s (they’re careful to add “nineteen”, so no one thinks this music is from the future).
This week, the countdown is from March 6, 1971–ten months before I was born. This is the music that was on the radio when I was a baby, and probably shaped who I became as an adult. It must be better than Hannah Montana, right?
The first thirty songs in the countdown are a remarkable mix of genres, reflective of the culture shock hitting America at the time. You’ve got old-timers like Andy Williams and Henry Mancini butting heads with the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, Santana and Rufus Thomas. Just the type of post-Manson free-for-all you’d expect from the early 70’s.
But now we’ve reached the highlight of the countdown–the top ten. These gems would surely prove the superiority of my baby music to that of my children. I mean, these had to be the cream of the crop.
#10 “SWEET MARY” – Wadsworth Mansion
Uh . . . what in the hell is a Wadworth Mansion? Is it a band? A dude? A large house? This is horrible. Luckily, it’s only number ten.
#9 “MR. BOJANGLES” – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Absolute garbage. This is the worst song ever. (Our music teacher made us sing this in grade school, along with other cheery tunes like “Horse with No Name” and “Knights in White Satin”. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure she was on Quaaludes.)
The only thing worse than this awful song is the cringe-inducing name of the band. If it were up to me, anyone caught using the words “Nitty” and/or “Gritty” would be shot on sight. But that’s probably not going to happen.
Afterwards, Casey Kasem points out that this song is not about “famous negro dancer Bill Bojangles” as commonly believed. Thanks Casey.
#8 “AMOS MOSES” – Jerry Reed
I have to admit, I loved Jerry Reed in Scooby Doo and Smokey and the Bandit, but I can’t understand a word this cracker is saying. It sounds like he’s got a mouth full of mashed potatoes. Next time, stay on the gator farm, Jerry.
#7 “FOR ALL WE KNOW” – The Carpenters
Why does this woman sound like she wants to kill herself? Oh yeah, because she WAS trying to kill herself! (Sorry, but I’m still not over her being chosen “Drummer of the Year” in 1975 by Playboy Magazine. Had these people never heard of JOHN BONHAM? I hate you Karen Carpenter!)
#6 “SHE’S A LADY” – Tom Jones
Now we’re talking. Say what you will about Tom Jones, but this guy brings it every time. He could be singing the Love Boat theme and he’d still bust a nut trying to hit the high notes. Whew! Thank god we’re past all the crappy songs. I’m sure it’s clear sailing from here . . .
#5 “IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND” – Gordon Lightfoot
GAAHHHHHH!!!!! What the hell?! This song just gave me cancer of the soul!
Remember when I said “Mr. Bojangles” was the worst song of all time? Well, I was wrong. The worst song of all time is EVERY SONG EVER WRITTEN BY GORDON LIGHTFOOT!
#4 “JUST MY IMAGINATION (RUNNING AWAY WITH ME)” – The Temptations
Normally, I love The Temptations, but this song is creepy. It feels like being molested by Smokey Robinson, and he’s not even in the band!
#3 “ME AND BOBBY MCGEE” – Janis Joplin
I know this is a rock and roll classic, but I’ll never understand how “Me and Bobby McGee” became Janis Joplin’s biggest hit. It’s certainly no “Ball and Chain”. (My apologies to Kris Kristofferson–please don’t kick my ass.)
#2 “MAMA’S PEARL” – The Jackson 5
Maybe there was a songwriters strike going on during this time, because here we have another great group doing another luke-warm song. I’m a big Jackson Five fan, and even I’ve never heard of this one. It’s amazing it made it this far.
Well, we’ve got Temptations, Janis Joplin and The Jackson 5 in the top four spots. The top one must be someone really great.
#1 “ONE BAD APPLE” – The Osmonds
Why would a just and kind God permit this kind of atrocity to exist? Answer: because there is no God. If there was, he just shot himself. This song is like a brain aneurism wrapped in the Holocaust.
It’s like the producers said “Gee, I really like the Jackson 5, but wouldn’t it be great if they were white? And really homely?”
If there were any justice in this world, the Osmonds would all be cut into tiny pieces. And then all the pieces would be put into separate rockets and blasted into the far corners of the universe. And then every existing recording of them would also be cut into pieces and shot into space. And then anyone with any knowledge of the Osmonds whatsoever would have their minds erased. And then they would be blasted into space.
But that’s probably not going to happen.
Instead, I am left with sickening fact that my childhood music was just as bad or worse than the popular music of today. Top 40 music has and will forever be horrible. It represents the lowest common denominator. The homogenized lump that is left after you boil the danger out of rock and roll. It is pablum.
And it is stuck in my head.