On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
More than 40 songs climbed as high as No. 17 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, again male-heavy selections, including two hits from Billy Joel, and two hits from Journey (plus, an additional No. 17 solo hit by Steve Perry, with Kenny Loggins – “Don’t Fight It”).
I must really like songs that reached No. 17, because I’ve already written blog posts about six of them – “Ain’t Even Done With The Night” by John Mellencamp, “Beat’s So Lonely” by Charlie Sexton, “Days Gone Down” by Gerry Rafferty, “In A Big Country” by Big Country, “Living In A Box” by Living In A Box, and the wonderful Howard Jones with “You Know I Love You…Don’t You?”
The No. 17 rank is also one of just two from positions 40 through No. 1 that do NOT claim any of the more than 100 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the Top 40 (the other is No. 6).
One of the later No. 17 hits from the 80s was the last Top 40 hit for The Cars – “You Are The Girl,” the first single from their sixth studio album, 1987’s DOOR TO DOOR.
Between the huge success of 1984’s HEARTBEAT CITY album and the release of DOOR TO DOOR, lead guitarist Elliot Easton and bassist and vocalist Benjamin Orr both released debut solo albums, and Ric Ocasek released his second solo album. Plus, THE CARS’ GREATEST HITS was released, generating the Top 10 hit, “Tonight She Comes.”
Released in late August 1987, DOOR TO DOOR was intended to get the Boston band back into their original Rock roots (think back to their incredible 1978 self-titled debut album), free of drum machines and sampling that helped make the HEARTBEAT CITY album such a huge success.
But, despite tension mounting within the (then) 11-year-old band, they pressed on and released DOOR TO DOOR. The first single from the album, “You Are The Girl,” was written by both Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, who share vocals on the song. They hadn’t shared vocals on a Cars single since their second album, 1979’s CANDY-O, and the song “Since I Held You.”
NERDY FUN FACT: Acclaimed cult film writer / director and actor, John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOS, HAIRSPRAY, CRY-BABY) directed the video for “You Are The Girl.”
“You Are The Girl” was the “Hot Shot Debut” on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 for the last week of August 1987, coming in at No. 65. It reached the Top 40 just two weeks later, and looked like it was headed for Top 10 territory. But, despite appearing on the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, where this song was played, “You Are The Girl” spent a quick week at No. 17 in late October 1987, and was out of the Top 40 and headed down the Hot 100 in November 1987, which is around the time I saw The Cars perform in Portland, Maine, at the former Cumberland County Civic Center.
Icehouse, who opened for The Cars, put on a solid show, and I became a big fan. The Cars put on an amazing show, but there was no interaction between the band members, and Ric Ocasek threw out the occasional, half-hearted “thank you” to those of us in attendance.
It was weird to see a band kick ass on stage and yet see them so distant from each other. Broke my heart. The band hadn’t broken up at that point (I think they wanted to finish the tour first), but they might have well as been broken up. And they did, a few months later, around my 21st birthday in February 1988.
Sure, there was talk of a Cars reunion in the 90s, and even Rhino Records helped out with their awesome 2-CD compilation, JUST WHAT I NEEDED: THE CARS ANTHOLOGY, plus other Rhino releases and reissues. But, a proper reunion was not to be. Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.
While Ric Ocasek continued with his solo career post-Y2K, in 2005, Cars stalwarts Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes teamed up with Rock legend Todd Rundgren and a couple other folks to form The New Cars, releasing a live album, IT’S ALIVE, containing a mix of Cars hits and Todd Rundgren hits, along with a new song, “Not Tonight,” which really did sound like it could have come from the late 70s or early 80s. I actually had tickets to The New Cars when they came to Portland, Maine, but for whatever reason, I missed it. Kinda wish I had been there though…
Hard to say, but maybe it was this successful spin-off of The Cars that inspired Ric Ocasek to reunite with the other surviving members of the band for a new album and tour in 2011: MOVE LIKE THIS. With a long distance dedication in the liner notes to Benjamin Orr (“Ben, your spirit was with us on this one”), the band sounded as great as they had 24 years before, and as if they had been together the whole time.
Ben Orr and Ric Ocasek usually split up the vocals on albums, but with Ben gone, for MOVE LIKE THIS, Ric sang on all of the songs. In an interview with ROLLING STONE about the reunion and the album, “I was aware that on half of the new songs, Ben would have done better than I did. But we never wanted anybody from the outside.”
One cool thing they did for the album was not hire a bassist to replace Ben Orr. Instead, any bass parts needed for the album were constructed and programmed by Greg Hawkes and MOVE LIKE THIS co-producer, Jacknife Lee, with Greg Hawkes playing a bass that had once belonged to Benjamin Orr.
A single from MOVE LIKE THIS, “Sad Song,” was well-received, sounded like The Cars of old, and reached No. 33 on BILLBOARD’s Rock Songs chart and No. 2 on BILLBOARD’s Triple A chart (it was heavily serviced to college and community radio stations).
The Cars finished up an 11-city mini-tour for MOVE LIKE THIS (appropriately enough) in Boston near the end of May 2011. The band was nominated for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2015, and I hope they will get in one year. So deserved.
And though the band is technically still together, they haven’t recorded anything new or toured since MOVE LIKE THIS in 2011, though Ric Ocasek has overseen the remastering of The Cars’ discography on CD and vinyl.
The Cars have long been and remain as one of my all-time favorite bands, and their last Top 40 hit to date is definitely a keeper, even if the song was actually about an ex…