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!”
Throughout the years, whether it’s because of an inclusion in a movie or a commercial or a TV show, or a radio station rediscovered it and started playing it again, songs sometimes have more one chart life. The best example of this is Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” which reached No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 twice. In its initial run, the dance craze favorite spent one week on top in September 1960, and again in January 1962 for two weeks. No other song has done that here in America. And, because of its two chart runs that ended at No. 1, “The Twist” is ranked at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 for all time.
I believe all decades have had songs re-enter the chart with new chart runs, but I think no other decade has as many as the 80s did. There were “second-chance singles” (as I like to call them) that went to No. 1 on the Hot 100, like “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & The Beaters and “When I’m With You” by Sheriff, “second-chance singles” that were “(real) one-hit wonders,” like Sheriff (again), Benny Mardones (“Into The Night”) and Moving Pictures (“What About Me”), and songs that benefited from appearing in movies, like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (…SAY ANYTHING) and Billy Idol’s “Hot In The City” (BIG).
Then you have songs that were hits in other decades and, also due to their inclusions in films, were reissued and hit the chart again, like The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout” (featured in both FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF and BACK TO SCHOOL), Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” (from the incredible film of the same name), and The Contours’ “Do You Love Me” (from DIRTY DANCING).
Prince’s “1999” reached the Hot 100 four time in three decades, and reached the Top 40 three of those times. In its original 1982 chart run (as the debut single from the album of the same name), it stopped at No. 44. After “Little Red Corvette” reached No. 6, “1999” was re-released and reached No. 12 in 1983. When the calendar changed from 1998 to 1999 (even though the song wasn’t about the year 1999), it re-entered the Top 40 for one week at No. 40. And, as BILLBOARD has been doing for several years now, a number of Prince songs re-entered the Hot 100 following his sad passing in April 2016. In its fourth Hot 100 appearance, “1999” reached No. 27.
These “second-chance singles” don’t always chart higher than their original chart runs (like the Moving Pictures, Peter Gabriel and Billy Idol singles mentioned above), but lots of times they do. UB40’s “Red Red Wine” originally peaked at No. 34 in March 1984, but in a re-release (after being performed at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert in 1988), the album version of their Neil Diamond cover spent a week at No. 1 in October 1988. And, the original version of The Pointer Sisters’ classic, “I’m So Excited,” stalled at No. 30 in late 1982, but after being remixed for their 1984 album, BREAK OUT, the song was reissued and did break out, reaching No. 9 on the Hot 100 about two years later.
And, sometimes, “second-chance singles” get another shot at the Hot 100 for multiple reasons. In the case of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” its success can be attributed to growing praise and sales for its brilliant parent album, GRACELAND (and its big Album Of The Year Grammy Award), and a smart change in music videos.
“You Can Call Me Al” (a song about someone going through a midlife crisis), the first single released from GRACELAND, debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 83 in early August 1986, about a month before the album was released. The original video for “You Can Call Me Al” was a performance Paul Simon gave (in the perspective of a video monitor) during a monologue when he hosted SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
Well, Paul Simon wasn’t happy with the video, which didn’t seem to attract many fans to buy the record, and GRACELAND had just been released (and wasn’t the brilliant classic most people associate with it now). “You Can Call Me Al” spent a couple of weeks at No. 44 in September and October, and dropped off the chart in November 1986 after 14 weeks.
A new video was commissioned, and Paul Simon stayed with his friend and SNL creator, Lorne Michaels, to put together another video. This one (one of my all-time favorite music videos) pairs Paul with another friend (and SNL alum), Chevy Chase, who lip-syncs Paul Simon’s vocals, leaving Paul to twiddle his thumbs, although Paul ends up lip-syncing his backing vocals throughout, and in the last 30 seconds of the video, the focus switches from Chevy to Paul (although Chevy almost takes Paul’s head off with a trumpet). It’s an incredibly funny and smartly done video, and I think it resonated with fans, MTV watchers, and radio stations alike.
Between a hilarious new music video and a big Grammy win for GRACELAND in late February 1987, “You Can Call Me Al” re-entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late March 1987 at No. 92. About a month later, it surpassed its original No. 44 peak, and reached the Top 40. About a month after that, it spent a couple of weeks at its (new) peak position of No. 23, departing the chart in early July 1987, with a total of 27 weeks spent on the Hot 100 (strangely enough, in its highe-charting second run, it spent one less week than the first chart run). To date, it’s Paul Simon’s last Top 40 hit here in America.
Around the globe, “You Can Call Me Al” said, “You can call me a big hit in” Australia, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa (where it reached No. 2), plus the U.K. (No. 4), the Netherlands (No. 5), Finland (No. 9), France (No. 16) and Canada (No. 19).
Paul Simon is 75 now, and still very much active in the music scene. In 2016, he released his 13th studio album, STRANGER TO STRANGER, which reached No. 3 on BILLBOARD’s Album chart, his highest-charting album since GRACELAND went to No. 3 three decades ago. And, just this month, he released his fourth live solo album, PAUL SIMON – THE CONCERT IN HYDE PARK.
I don’t know what it is, but I love the idea of songs getting a second chance – for whatever reason – to do better on the chart than they did before. And, though sometimes it doesn’t work out, the times it does happen can be pretty amazing. And other times you just need a gifted comedic actor and friend to play off against, who’s a full foot taller than you to create a really fucking hilarious music video to help out a really cool song about trying to cope with middle age.