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!”
Nearly 80 songs reached No. 7 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, a list comprised of many (then) up-and-coming R&B / Hip Hop and Dance stars, like those awesome Beastie Boys (with “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)”), plus Young MC bustin’ a move, Babyface, Bobby Brown, Dino and Karyn White.
No. 7 was a popular number for hits for The Cars, Michael Jackson and Juice Newton, who had two No. 7 hits each. There were also No. 7 hits from Bruce Springsteen, and Rhode Island’s answer to Bruce Springsteen – John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, plus you had Heart and Corey Hart (“Who Will You Run To” when you have on “Sunglasses At Night?”). Heart’s Ann Wilson also reached No. 7 with “Almost Paradise,” the love theme from FOOTLOOSE, a duet with (real) one-hit wonder Mike Reno of Loverboy.
In 1989, though they would be their last Top 10 American hits, there were a few 70s superstars who had big comeback hits that reached No. 7 – Bee Gees (“One”; their first Top 10 hit since 1979), Alice Cooper (“Poison”; his first Top 10 hit since 1977), and Donna Summer (“This Time I Know It’s For Real”; her first Top 10 hit since 1983).
1989 was a huge year for No. 7 hits on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 – 14 of them reached the peak that year. One of those songs was a song was by a singer, at the time, that I could not stand and a song, at the time, I could stand even less – “What I Am” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.
Ever have some songs that just eat away at you for whatever reason? Sure you do. A handful of songs from the 80s do that to me. Maybe one day I’ll mention them. When “What I Am” came out, there was just something about it that was so as repulsive to me. I don’t know if it was the hippie-ish nature of Edie Brickell, her voice, or the guitar style that sounded like something Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead would do (I was also not a fan of The Dead in 1989). Whatever it was that bugged the fuck out of me about that song, it’s long gone now.
The New Bohemians formed as a trio in Dallas, Texas in the early 80s. The drummer for The New Bohemians, Brandon Aly, guitarist Kenny Withrow and percussionist John Bush had all attended the same magnet performing arts school as Dallas native Edie Brickell, though at the time, Edie was there for art, not music.
In 1985, Edie Brickell was asked to join the band onstage and sing with them, and she continued on from there. After being a local favorite for years, playing in clubs and even backing Bo Diddley one time, the band’s big break came in August 1988, when they released their first album as Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS.
Edie Brickell was just 22 years old at the time (I believe they were all young), and SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS was incredibly well-received for a debut album by a young band. In a review on the AllMusic site by Kelly McCartney, Edie Brickell’s “simple observations offer deep contemplations for the willing disciples of her musical philosophies. ‘What I Am’ is the perfect example: ‘I’m not aware of too many too many things / I know what I know, if you know what I mean…’ Zen and the art of songwriting.”
Well, the songwriting, the vocals, the Alt-Folk tunage – it all found a place in homes and radio stations and record stores across the country, and eventually SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS sold than two million copies in the U.S. alone.
The first single from SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS, “What I Am,” was released in November 1988, a few months after the release of the album. By month’s end, it debuted on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 chart at No. 96. By mid-January 1989, “What I Am” had found its way to the Top 40 of the Hot 100, and for several weeks since debuting on the chart, had been in competition with Information Society’s “Walking Away,” which debuted a couple places below “What I Am” back in late November 1988.
By mid-February 1989, “What I Am” surpassed “Walking Away” for the first time since they debuted, and in early March 1989, “What I Am” spent a week at its peak position of No. 7. And, in good form (though unintentional, I’m sure), both “What I Am” and “Walking Away” walked away the Hot 100 in early April 1989.
Around the globe, “What I Am” was a No. 6 hit in Canada, and it reached No. 11 in New Zealand, No. 18 in Australia, No. 23 in Ireland and No. 31 in the United Kingdom. It also reached No. 4 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart, and No. 9 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart.
Edie & The New Bohemians charted on the Hot 100 just one more time, with “Circle,” the follow-up single to “What I Am,” which stopped at No. 48, and was a modest hit around the globe, reaching the Top 40 in Belgium and the Netherlands.
QUIRKY FUN FACT: On November 5, 1988, the same month “What I Am” was released, Edie and the band performed the song on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Well, Paul Simon was there by a cameraman, and in a January 2011 interview with the TODAY show, she said, “Even though I’d performed the song hundreds of times in clubs, [Paul] made me forget how the song went when I looked at him,” she said smiling. “We can show the kids the tape and say, ‘Look, that’s when we first laid eyes on each other’.” Paul Simon and Edie Brickell were married in late May 1992, and they have three children – Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel.
After a six-year break in the 90s, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians have been together for the past 20 years, most-recently playing three sold out nights in April 2017 in the Dallas suburb where Edie was born, Oak Cliff.
When she’s not working with New Bohemians (their last album was in 2006), she’s released several of her own albums, including her other band, The Gaddabouts, and has recorded two Bluegrass albums with the brilliant Steve Martin – 2013’s LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU and 2015’s SO FAMILIAR. Both albums went to No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Bluegrass Albums chart. LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU was BILLBOARD’s No. 1 Bluegrass album for 2013, and No. 3 for 2014. SO FAMILIAR was the No. 3 Bluegrass Album for BILLBOARD in 2016, six positions higher than the year-end chart for the year it was released.
In the liner notes for SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS, Edie Brickell wrote out some annotations about each song on the album, replete with illustrations. For “What I Am,” she wrote, “‘What I Am’ is a smart-alec’s way out of a deep discussion on the universe as it relates to the self.”
Well, as for this self, I’m not trying to get out of a deep, universal discussion as to why “What I Am” and Edie & Co. didn’t do anything for me for all those years, though maybe it was more of “Who I Am” than “What I Am.” And while I’m still not a big fan (although I LOVE their 1989 cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY), I’m glad the song eventually grew on me, and became part of what – and who – I like…