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, 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. On June 30, 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!”
Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers. Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.
More than 100 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s reached the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, and in this month-long tribute to Casey Kasem, I’ll feature five of them. Out of the 100-plus (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the Top 40, just three of them peaked at No. 29. One of those acts was a Glam Metal band originating from Pasadena, California – the home of fellow Hard Rockers Van Halen – the five-man band, Autograph.
The band actually started as a solo project in June 1983 for singer / songwriter / guitarist Steve Plunkett, who had worked on the second album for another (real) one-hit wonder of the 80s, Silver Condor (who reached No. 32 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in 1981 with “You Could Take My Heart Away”).
Steve Plunkett got the idea for the name Autograph from hearing Def Leppard’s first big hit, “Photograph” (from their album, PYROMANIA), when hearing it on the radio. Steve formed the band with some of his musician friends, one of which – drummer Keni Richards – was good friends with David Lee Roth, and that friendship with Diamond Dave was instrumental in Autograph hitting it big the following year.
Keni Richards gave David Lee Roth a copy of their demo tape, and Dave liked it so much, he invited Autograph to open for them during the tour for Van Halen’s huge 1984 album, 1984. Autograph opened for Van Halen on 48 dates during that tour, which led to a contract with RCA Records sometime that year.
The band’s debut album, SIGN IN PLEASE, was released in October 1984. A play on the album’s title can be seen in the laser-friendly music video for the album’s first single, “Turn Up The Radio,” the only song on the album to be written by all five band members.
“Turn On The Radio” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 the last active chart of December 1984 at No. 89 (at that time, BILLBOARD froze one chart around the Xmas holiday). Here in Central Maine, where Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and its subsequent music cousins were highly popular, “Turn Up The Radio” was played A LOT. And it kicked ass, and I loved it (and still do!). “Turn Up The Radio” was released during my Senior year of high school, and every time I heard it on the radio, I was always compelled to turn it up (and not just because they told me to).
It took a couple of months and change, but “Turn Up The Radio” reached the Top 40 of the Hot 100 in its 10th chart week. Three weeks later, in mid-March 1985, it peaked at No. 29 for one week, and fell from the Top 40 a couple weeks later. “Turn Up The Radio” was one of the longest-charting one-hit wonders of the 80s, spending 19 weeks on the survey. Autograph would go on to release a couple of more albums before breaking up in 1989, but they never reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 again.
After a 24-year break, (most of) Autograph reunited in 2013. Steve Plunkett did not want to reunite with the band he formed 30 years before, but the reunion pressed on. Autograph played cruises and jams and state fairs and festivals, and earlier this year, Autograph finished recording a new album, which was scheduled for release later this year. Sadly, drummer Keni Richards died on April 8, 2017, at the age of 60, due to what appeared to be a drug-related homicide.
In a 2011 interview, Autograph’s lead guitarist, Steve Lynch, had described “Turn Up The Radio” as “a last-minute song that RCA didn’t even want on the album because they thought it had no commercial value.” The band fought to have “Turn Up The Radio” on the album, and RCA allowed it. (Again, silly record labels. I could prolly do a post just about how many times record labels have been wrong about not wanting to release future hits, or changes that didn’t need to be made at all. Maybe I will.)
Despite Autograph being a one-hit wonder, the legacy of “Turn Up The Radio” has long outlasted its four-and-a-half minutes. Not only did “Turn Up The Radio” appear on a 1984 episode of MIAMI VICE, it was featured in the video games GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY and ALPHA PROTOCOL, and an updated version of it appeared on the hilarious 2010 John Cusack film, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, one of my all-time favorite films.
For me, I would like to think that me turning up “Turn Up The Radio” when Autograph told me to on the radio or on the iPod wasn’t subliminal, but for whatever reason, it worked, and still does. Prolly would for you too…