song of the day – “What’s Going On” | CYNDI LAUPER | 1987.


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).american-top-40-casey-kasem

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!”

rod n cyndi

On Friday, July 14, 2017, I will be seeing my favorite recording artist, the incomparable Cyndi Lauper, perform here in Maine, and it’ll be my fourth time seeing her perform (for the time I got to interview her and meet her in July 2002,  I didn’t actually get to see her perform due to a transportation snafu, which would have been the first time I would have seen Cyndi perform).  She will be performing on the same bill as Rod Stewart, who, to my knowledge (the brain’s a bit fuzzy on this) is someone I have not seen perform live before.  I can’t wait.

true colors world tourAnd, if my fuzzy brain is again correct, I believe this is the first time Cyndi has performed in the Pine Tree State since her TRUE COLORS world tour brought her to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine in December 1986 (sadly, I was sick and couldn’t go; I would have been there in a heartbeat).  I tried to get Cyndi to come back earlier than now (I mentioned it to her in my 2002 interview with her), but she’s been busy and then some.  Still, it’ll be wonderful to see her perform again, and it’ll be my third time since 2013.  My goal is to see her every year she’s performing from here on out.

Since Cyndi will be opening for Rod Stewart on this short tour, I’m betting her gorgeous cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (from the TRUE COLORS album) won’t be on the setlist.  But a hopelessly devoted Cyndi Lauper fan can hope, right?

“What’s Going On” was one of nearly 70 songs that reached No. 12 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, and covers were a theme, apparently, for the No. 12 position.  There were also No. 12 covers by Daryl Hall & John Oates (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”), The Fat Boys & The Beach Boys (“Wipeout”), Carole King (“One Fine Day,” a song she actually wrote, but was a hit three times before her version charted), Van Halen (“Oh Pretty Woman”), The Nylons (“Kiss Him Goodbye”), David Lee Roth (“Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody”), Anne Murray (“Daydream Believer”), plus one parody (“Eat It” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, parodying Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), and two medleys (though not covers) by The Beach Boys and The Beatles (I think you can thank Stars On 45’s 1981 No. 1 hit, “Medley” – which WERE covers – for that).

marvin what's going on

Released as the third single from Cyndi’s wonderful 1986 album, TRUE COLORS, “What’s Going On” was a cover of the No. 2 Marvin Gaye hit from 1971, written during the heart of the Vietnam War.  Its personal and poignant lyrics (which could have been written today) resonated with the people of a generation, and it’s been hailed as one of the greatest songs of all-time.  In 1995, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame included it in its list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock, and in 2010, ROLLING STONE ranked it at No. 4 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

Cyndi’s spirited version of “What’s Going On” entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in mid-March 1987 as the “Hot Shot Debut” of that week, coming in at No. 63.  The second single released from TRUE COLORS, the No. 3 hit “Change Of Heart” (with The Bangles on backing vocals), was just ahead of it at No. 58.

true colors

“What’s Going On” blasted into the Top 40 the following week, winning the airplay award for that week.  It won the sales award on the Hot 100 two weeks later, and looked like another Top 10 hit for Cyndi.  But, for whatever reason, the sales and the airplay slowed, and “What’s Going On” spent a week at its peak position of No. 12 in early May 1987, and was gone from the Hot 100 by mid-June.

what's going on title


From the “What’s Going On” video.

Around the globe, “What’s Going On” also reached the Top 40 in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and two excellent dance remixes by Shep Pettibone helped land the 12” single of “What’s Going On” at No. 17 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.  The energetic and passionate video for “What’s Going On” was also nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography In A Video.

Cyndi’s done a ton of incredible covers during her career, covering many genres, starting with her stint in Blue Angel to covers on SHE’S SO UNUSUAL to last year’s extraordinary Country covers album, DETOUR, and her songs, especially 1984’s “Time After Time,” have been covered many, many times.  But her cover of “What’s Going On” has always stood out to me, despite what it did or did not do on the Pop charts.      

Today, when I listen to Cyndi’s version of “What’s Going On,” I see the same thing Marvin Gaye saw when he co-wrote the song all those years ago – war, police brutality, injustice, and an aching lack of peace.  All of that shit is still happening today, but now includes events such as attacks on night clubs and concerts, attacking and killing people who just want to be free, and free to have a good time and be who they are.  What’s going on?! 

I wouldn’t even want to research how many people have been shot by police in the last several years (that didn’t need to be) and the cops got away with it.  Prince hit upon this in his brilliant 2015 song, “Baltimore,” talking about the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray (“If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace!”).  (All six officers involved in the Freddie Gray death – including one Sergeant and one Lieutenant – were acquitted and all charges dropped.)  What’s going on?!


The cover art for the 2015 benefit concert Prince put on in Baltimore.

I try to maintain a sense of it all, but most times I can’t.  We have the elected “leader” in Washington, D.C., trying to get answers out of Russia over the 2016 election and trying to have North Korea not launch any nuclear missiles, which is all fine and good (I don’t want a World War III), except for the fact that more than half of the country didn’t vote for this man, and who don’t believe in him.  #MyFakePresident would rather ban beloved Maine author Stephen King from tweeting to him than to be presidential.  What’s going on?!

Well, for now, when I can, I take comfort in things that make me happy and help me forget (albeit temporarily) that there’s all this other unnecessary bullshit going on in the world, like going to the ocean, seeing a movie, spending time with awesome people (you know who you are), and seeing a concert, which I will do when I see the lovely Cyndi Lauper (and Rod Stewart) on Friday, July 14, 2017 here in Maine.  I’d take you all there if I could.

You have to do everything in your power to do the things that make you happy and make you feel at peace – not just with everything in the world, but mostly with yourself – as much as you possibly can, to forget everything else going on, at the very least for a little while. 

And, if for some reason, you don’t think you can get to that point (or at least try to) where you do things – even little things that don’t cost much money or time – that make you happy or make you feel at peace, what’s going on?

peace love understanding 80s

Peace, Love, Understanding, 80s.  Works for me!  How about you?

“You see, war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate / You know we’ve got to find a way / To bring some lovin’ here today…”

what's going on


song of the day – “Pancho And Lefty” | MERLE HAGGARD & WILLIE NELSON | 1983.

Country music legend Merle Haggard passed away today (4.6.2016), from complications of pneumonia.  It was his 79th birthday.

If you ever thought (like I did) that Merle Haggard looked a bit weathered, it’s because Merle led a hard life, at least in the beginning.  When Merle was 8 years old, his father died of a brain hemorrhage, and he never really recovered from it.  Merle’s brother, Lowell, gave Merle his first guitar at age 12, but within a couple of years, music took a back seat to committing crimes, from shoplifting to larceny to assault to attempted robbery.

A couple of bright spots during this early and troubling time for Merle involved music.  First, at an early 50s concert for one of Merle’s music heroes, Lefty Frizzell, Lefty heard Merle singing to his songs backstage and got Merle to come out onstage.  Merle’s performance was well-received, so much so that Merle decided to give music a shot. 

young merleA few years later, after being transferred to San Quentin Prison for another crime, Merle heard Johnny Cash perform at the prison and ultimately joined the prison’s Country music band.  In 1960, Merle Haggard was released from San Quentin (he got a full pardon in 1972 from then-Governor Ronald Reagan).  Within 3 years of being a free man, he scored his first BILLBOARD Top 40 Country hit, “Sing A Bad Song.” 

By the end of the 60s, Merle Haggard had racked up 8 (of 38) No. 1 BILLBOARD Country hits.  That total of 38 ranks him third of all-time on that chart, behind Conway Twitty (40) and George Strait (44). 

Merle’s last No. 1 Country hit of the 60s turned out to be not only his signature song, but a nickname as well – “Okie From Muskokee,” which sparked debates about the Vietnam War, and has since cemented its place in pop culture, from being featured in Oliver Stone’s PLATOON to a 2015 episode of the popular TV show, MAD MEN.  The song spent 4 weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s country chart, and just missed the Top 40 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, stopping at No. 41.

In 1983, Merle Haggard recorded a Honky-Tonk album with another fellow Country outlaw – Willie Nelson.  PANCHO & LEFTY was a huge album for Country music that year, spending 8 weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Country album chart between April and October 1983.  The title track was written by Folk and Blues legend, Townes Van Zandt, who first recorded it in 1972.

pancho n lefty album

Emmylou Harris covered “Pancho & Lefty” in 1977, as did Hoyt Axton (who appeared on 2 episodes of WKRP IN CINCINNATI in 1979).  But, it was the 1983 version by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard that gave the song its biggest audience (there’s a live, later version of the song for you at the end of the post).  It spent a week at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Country singles chart in July 1983, and was one of an impressive 14 No. 1 Country songs Merle had in the 1980s (to compare, Michael Jackson, the biggest Pop star of the 80s, tallied 9 No. 1 songs on the BILLBOARD Hot 100).

django n jimmieMerle and Willie teamed up for a total of 6 albums, the sixth of which was released just last year, DJANGO & JIMMIE.  It was Merle’s last album, and yes, it did find its way to No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Country Albums chart, as it should have.

To be honest, I’m not a big Country music fan, but, I can say I have a lot of respect for Merle Haggard.  And, so did other folks, especially fellow musicians like The Grateful Dead.  The Dead covered “Mama Tried,” Merle’s No. 1 hit from 1968, nearly 300 times. 

R.I.P. Merle, and many thanks…

merle 1937-2016