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!”
Folks of a certain age (yours truly included) remember junior high school dances always concluded with the double dose of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” Every single dance. It’s like, in the late 70s and early 80s, there was a DJ requirement to play those two songs back-to-back at the end of every school dance. Maybe it was also because the combined time of the studio album versions of both songs were 17 minutes long, a good amount of time to get all your albums and shit together, with minimal clean up after the dance was done, so you could zip right out of there. Unfortunately, for me, it was 17 minutes of much suckage. I don’t recall this wallflower ever dancing to either of those classics at a junior high dance.
It’s funny – I remember my junior high dances way more than my high school dances. I can’t even remember if “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” were even played. I also wonder if this DJ requirement to play both of these songs helped propel them to the top of annual radio station holiday countdowns. To this day, they both usually find themselves in the Top 10 of every countdown, if not the Top 5 or Top 3. (I just checked out a recent list by one of Portland, Maine’s Classic Rock stations, and they had “Free Bird” at No. 1, and “Stairway To Heaven” at No. 2. What rebels.)
What can I say about Led Zeppelin that hasn’t been already said before? I wouldn’t call them the Godfathers of Heavy Metal (most would say that distinction goes to Black Sabbath), but Led Zep sure did have a hand in it. They were one of THE BIGGEST Rock groups of all time, and were rightfully inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995, where, at the museum, Led Zeppelin is stated as being “as influential” in the 1970s as The Beatles were in the 1960s.
Any non-believers yet? Led Zeppelin released just nine studio albums between 1969 and 1982, and every single album went platinum, and every single album reached the Top 10. Actually, no Led Zep album charted lower than No. 7 on BILLBOARD’s album chart, and that was the first album. The only albums that didn’t hit No. 1 were their self-titled debut, LED ZEPPELIN IV (this surprised me), and 1982’s CODA, which was released two years after the band broke up, due to the death of drummer John Bonham.
Still some non-believers out there? You fools! Four (of nine) Led Zeppelin studio albums (and one box set) have been certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as Diamond certifications. What qualifies as a Diamond certification? Sales of more than 10 million copies (with multiple sets counting for each disc in the set). In the U.S. alone. These albums are 1969’s LED ZEPPELIN II (12x Platinum), 1971’s LED ZEPPELIN IV (the third biggest-selling albums of all-time here in America, 23x Platinum), 1973’s HOUSES OF THE HOLY (11x Platinum), 1975’s double-album PHYSICAL GRAFFITI (16x Platinum), and 1990’s 4-disc LED ZEPPELIN BOX SET (10x Platinum).
London’s Led Zeppelin – singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist / keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham – had already been around for 11 years when I discovered them in 1979, and it wasn’t “Stairway To Heaven” or “Black Dog” or “Kashmir” or “Whole Lotta Love” that sucked me in – its was all “Fool In The Rain,” from their eighth studio album, IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR.
The album was released in mid-August 1979, and was housed in what looked like a brown paper bag. I still have mine, though after nearly 40 years, it’s looking a lot like a brown paper bag that’s been around for 40 years.
IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR only took two weeks to reach No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s album chart, and not only spent seven weeks at No. 1, but sold three million copies by the end of September. Pretty impressive for 1979. Actually, pretty impressive for 2017 too – a total like that now could land an album at No. 1 for the entire year.
“Fool In The Rain,” the only single released from IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR, was released in early December 1979, more than a month after IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR finished its seven-week run at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s album chart.
It was not your typical Rockin’ Led Zeppelin song. According to a piece in ROLLING STONE about the band’s 40 Greatest Songs Of All Time, “Fool In The Rain” (ranked at No. 24) came about when Robert Plant and John Paul Jones head a Samba song while watching the 1978 World Cup, and that influenced the Latin-jam middle section. Jimmy Page called “Fool In The Rain” “a springboard for what could have been” (of course, referring to the sad death of John Bonham, who died 13 months after the release of IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR).
“Fool In The Rain” (musically, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard) is a song about a guy who is supposed to meet up a woman on a particular street corner. When the woman doesn’t show up, he is disappointed about being stood up. Well, by the final verse of the song, the guy realizes that he didn’t go to the right place, making him “just a fool waiting on the wrong block.”
The song only took a couple of weeks to debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, debuting on the last official chart of 1979 at No. 64, and reached the Top 40 in its fourth chart week. It went on to spend a couple of weeks at its peak position at No. 21 in late February 1980, was the last Led Zeppelin single released commercially (they didn’t release many), and the last (of six) to reach the Top 40.
They say you never forget your first love, and I suppose that could apply to music as well. I know I’ll be forever grateful that “Fool In The Rain’ was my introduction to Led Zeppelin, and that unlikely hit that turned me on to them for the rest of my life, even if it didn’t work out too well for the guy in the song…