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!”
No. 11 is a chart position that, while certainly respectable, carries an amount of frustration I’m sure for recording artists who peak there. Nearly 50 songs stopped just short of the Top 10 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, including such Top 10-worthy hits as “You Spin Me Round” by Dead Or Alive, “Doctor! Doctor!” by Thompson Twins, “Head Over Heels” by The Go-Go’s, “Good Girls Don’t” by The Knack, Prince’s first Top 40 hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Keep On Movin’” by Soul II Soul, the lovely “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert, “Spirits In The Material World” by The Police, Kiss and their brief flirtation with Disco, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” “Don’t Look Back” by Fine Young Cannibals, “The Promise” by When In Rome, Stevie Wonder’s country-flavored “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” and Michael Jackson’s “Another Part Of Me,” which prevented Michael from having two back-to-back albums with seven Top 10 hits.
But, in the scheme of music history, to some No. 11 is just a number. Case in point: one of the songs that reached No. 11 in the 80s is prolly the most-played solo hit by Stevie Nicks today – “Edge Of Seventeen (Just Like The White Winged Dove).” Whenever I hear a Stevie Nicks solo tune on the radio, usually this is the one I hear more than any other.
“Edge Of Seventeen” was the third consecutive solo hit for Stevie Nicks, and the third hit released from her 1981 monster debut album, the No. 1 album, BELLA DONNA.
Stevie wrote the song as an expression of grief over the the murder of John Lennon, and then the passing of her uncle Jonathan, both within the same week in December 1980. The producer of BELLA DONNA, Jimmy Iovine, was a close friend of John Lennon’s. The line in the song that says, “Words from a poet and the voice of a choir” refers to John Lennon.
The famous guitar riff that opens the song (and is continued throughout) is what is called a “16th note” guitar riff, which progresses through the C, D and E-minor chords (yes, I had to look it up). Guitarist and popular session musician Waddy Wachtel played the riff on the song, and has said that “Bring On The Night” by The Police was the inspiration for the guitar riff, which is very interesting, considering I have been a fan of both songs for decades and never made that connection! Apparently, according to Andy Summers’ autobiography, ONE TRAIN LATER, he confirms this and mentions how Stevie Nicks had asked to meet with him after a 1981 show in Los Angeles about the song.
As for the song’s subtitle, in a video commentary for the song, Stevie spoke about the “white winged dove” and what it meant to her: “It became a song about violent death, which was very scary to me because at that point no one in my family had died. To me, the white-winged dove was for John Lennon the dove of peace, and for my uncle it was the white-winged dove who lives in the saguaro cactus – that’s how I found out about the white-winged dove, and it does make a sound like whooo, whooo, whooo. I read that somewhere in Phoenix and thought I would use that in this song. The dove became exciting and sad and tragic and incredibly dramatic. Every time I sing this song I have that ability to go back to that two-month period where it all came down. I’ve never changed it, and I can’t imagine ending my show with any other song. It’s such a strong, private moment that I share in this song.”
“Edge Of Seventeen” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late February 1982, and reached the Top 40 in just three weeks. It made a steady climb up the chart but stalled quickly at No. 11 for two weeks in mid-April 1982. It was gone from the Hot 100 after just 14 weeks. It also reached No. 11 in Canada, and No. 4 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart.
QUIRKY FUN FACT: The title of “Edge Of Seventeen,” according to Stevie, came about from a conversation she had with Jane, the first wife of Tom Petty. Jane had told her she and Tom had met “at the age of seventeen,” but with Jane’s strong Southern accent, Stevie mistook it as “edge of seventeen.”
The guitar riff on “Edge Of Seventeen” was sampled on “Bootylicious,” a Destiny’s Child song that reached No. 1, and in the video, Stevie Nicks makes a cameo appearance, playing the guitar.
There’s even been a couple of different and critically-acclaimed coming-of-age comedy-drama films named EDGE OF SEVENTEEN: a 1998 LGBT film set in 1984, and a 2016 film with Hallee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick.
Some have called “Edge Of Seventeen” enduring and iconic, and they’re right. “Edge Of Seventeen” is a song that a written out of grief, but for 35 years has also served as a song about strength, endurance, and love…with a kick-ass guitar riff. And, it proves you don’t have to be a Top 10 hit to be enduring, iconic or loved.