On June 15, 2014 (three years ago today), 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!”
I remember hearing about Casey’s death during a trial run at a commercial radio station out of my hometown, Bar Harbor, Maine. I was pre-recording some voice tracks to be played on the air that Sunday afternoon, and saw it pop up on the news feed on a computer in the station’s main on-air studio. My heart sank. I knew Casey hadn’t been well, but I had hoped he’d live much longer than he did, though 82 was a long life, and what a life it was.
Due to a communication snafu, it never worked out with that radio station, but at the very least, I got to at pay tribute to him on the air at that station, if only for a moment. It’s the least I could do for a man who did so much for me – through music – all those years ago. Like John Hughes, Casey Kasem is one of the most-influential people for me with music that I DIDN’T meet.
A couple of Sundays later, I did get to pay tribute to Casey with the first of three annual 2-hour radio shows in his memory on STUCK IN THE 80s, and that featured nothing but music from 1979 through 1989 and reached the American Top 40. My theme song for each annual show was M’s No. 1 hit from 1979, “Pop Muzik,” which, to this day, I maintain is a song that epitomized the music of a decade – NOT the decade it came from, but the next one. And, I couldn’t think of a better name for these tribute shows than LONG DISTANCE DEDICATION.
One of the artists played on that show (and many other shows over the course of STUCK IN THE 80s’ 20+ years) was Blondie, who just released their eleventh studio album, the excellent and Rockin’ POLLINATOR.
By early 1979, Blondie had released three albums, with the latest one, PARALLEL LINES (which was released in September 1978), slowly climbing the BILLBOARD album chart. Blondie’s self-titled 1976 debut album didn’t even reach the album chart here in the U.S., and their second album, PLASTIC LETTERS (released in February 1978), reached No. 72.
The first U.S. single released from PARALLEL LINES – “I’m Gonna Love You Too” – ran parallel to the album’s September 1978 release, but the only places it became a hit was in Belgium and in The Netherlands. Second single “Hanging On The Telephone” is a revered Punk / New Wave classic, but again, it failed to make a dent here in America, though it was a Top 5 U.K. hit.
Though it may sound like a cliché sometimes, like the saying goes, “third time’s a charm,” and in the case of singles released from PARALLEL LINES, the ol’ saying proved to be right for Blondie to finally break through in their homeland of the U.S. of A.
“Heart Of Glass” was released in January 1979, and by mid-February, it debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 way down at No. 84. 10 weeks later, it spent a lone week at No. 1, helped PARALLEL LINES climb to No. 6 on the BILLBOARD album chart (becoming their first Platinum album), and reached No. 1 in at least seven other countries – and in the process, united both Punk and Disco fans alike – no easy trick. I can’t think of any other song that truly did that.
After the worldwide success of “Heart Of Glass,” Blondie’s record label, Chrysalis, released “Sunday Girl” in May 1979…but not here in the U.S., despite the fact “Sunday Girl” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. and four weeks at No. 1 in Ireland. (Thanks Chrysalis, you crusty jugglers! Just because the first two singles didn’t work out here didn’t mean “Sunday Girl” wouldn’t have charted!)
For the fourth single released here in the U.S. and in Canada, Chrysalis released “One Way Or Another,” a song inspired by one of Debbie Harry’s ex-boyfriends who had stalked her after they broke up. (Boy, you don’t wanna mess with Debbie, man! I believe it when she says she’ll “get’cha, get’cha, get’cha, get’cha!”)
“One Way Or Another” (which, oddly enough, was NOT released as a single outside of the U.S. or Canada) was more Punk and Rock-friendly than Disco friendly, although I don’t know anyone in the ‘Verse who wouldn’t want to dance to this gem. It’s infectious and instantly invites you to move.
Debuting on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in early June 1979 (with “Heart Of Glass” still in the Top 15), “One Way Or Another” found its way onto the Top 40 four weeks after its debut, entering the Top 40 at the end of June at No. 35. It inched up another notch the following week, and then for some weird reason, fell out of the Top 40 down to No. 41.
In an even weirder chart move (and one I’m sure Casey Kasem loved to talk about), the following week, “One Way Or Another” roared back into the Top 40 from No. 41 to No. 29, a feat more commonplace in the Digital Age of the Hot 100 today, but back in 1979, to make such a dramatic turnaround on the chart was quite rare.
And that would be the last of the rare, big moves for “One Way Or Another,” as two weeks later, in early August 1979, it would spend the first of two weeks at No. 24. Two weeks after departing the Top 40, it was gone from the Hot 100 completely. In Canada, “One Way Or Another” fared better, reaching No. 14.
The legacy of “One Way Or Another” didn’t stop there, though. It’s been covered since by the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, Alvin And The Chipmunks, the cast of GLEE, and in 2013, the popular British boy band, One Direction, who did a mashup of “One Way Or Another” with “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones – and titled “One Way Or Another (Teenage Kicks)” – and released a single in support of Comic Relief. It was, like One Direction and Blondie before them, a global sensation, and reached No. 1 in at least five countries. In the process, the original “One Way Or Another” squeaked onto the U.K. singles chart (through digital sales) at No. 98, its first appearance on that chart, and not bad for a 34-year-old song.
“One Way Or Another” has recently been in a number of commercials as of late (I think I heard it in two different commercials back-to-back, in fact), and in ROLLING STONE’s 2006 list of The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, “One Way Or Another” was ranked at No. 298.
Though I didn’t initially warm up to “One Way Or Another” as I did with “Heart Of Glass” or “Dreaming,” which would chart a couple of months after “One Way Or Another,” the song grew on me (how could it not?), and I really loved seeing Debbie and Blondie belt this out when my dear friend Shawn (formerly of Maine and NYC) and I saw them in New York back in October 2013.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention part of the reason PARALLEL LINES did as well as it did. The album was released the same month as my second all-time favorite TV show, WKRP IN CINCINATTI. The show was instrumental in not only the success of the album, but its use of “Heart Of Glass” really helped it to become the big hit it was, and the band’s record label, Chrysalis, presented the producers of WKRP with an authentic Gold RIAA record award for PARALLEL LINES, and it hung on the wall of the station’s “bullpen” for the remainder of the series. (While I don’t entirely forgive Chrysalis for not releasing “Sunday Girl” here, I thought it was a rare and wonderful and unusual gesture presenting a fictional radio station with a real Gold record.)
You know, some fans of Casey Kasem and AT40 might disagree, but in listening to some of Casey’s older 1970s AMERICAN TOP 40 countdowns on iHeart Radio (he started AT40, appropriately enough, on July 4, 1970, at the age of 38), I think Casey really started hitting his stride with AT40 in 1979 (though I may be biased, considering that’s the year I really started getting into music). Maybe that’s what compelled me to keep tuning in week after week, year after year, and as often as I can, three years after his death, on the Interweb.
I’ve been involved with mostly community and college radio for the better part of 30 years, and in my short-lived time on a commercial station here in Central Maine back in 2008, one of my all-time proudest moments in radio is going on at 10:00 on Saturday mornings, following my radio hero, Casey Kasem, and rebroadcasts of AMERICAN TOP 40.
Though I’ve preferred Alternative, New Wave and Alt-Dance to Top 40 for a long time now, I don’t think I would have ever have had the appreciation for music I do today if it hadn’t been for Casey Kasem.
I miss you, Casey, wherever you are, and I promise to keep reaching for those stars…