It recently came to my attention that iHeartRadio has a station that is nothing but replays of American Top 40 broadcasts from the ’70s and ’80s. Needless to say, I now have my new soundtrack for work.
AT40 was my musical obsession when I was a kid. It started off as a way to make sure songs I liked were being given their proper due. I’d listen in every weekend, thrilled when my favorites moved up, outraged when they fell, baffled when something I didn’t like inexplicably scaled the heights to #1. In time though, it became a way for me to zero in on new artists, since I really didn’t listen to a lot of other music radio, outside of whatever my parents had on in the car. It was the pre-MTV days, when all we had was radio, and Casey Kasem’s endlessly cheerful voice presided over a parade of styles and genres that have pretty much vanished in today’s world of over-programmed narrowed-down sameness.
In the course of four hours, you could hear country, R&B, disco, punk, rock and pop all mixed together, and all given the stamp of legitimacy simply by virtue of Kasem putting a number in front of them. Even though they were counted down from 40 to 1, there were also all sort of equal, all worthy of being on the list, even if they came from polar opposite ends of the musical spectrum. For something that insisted on saying this song was better than this song because its number was lower, it was surprisingly egalitarian, with Kasem never putting down or ridiculing a song, not matter how silly it might have been.
Of course, MTV did come along, and put a good dent in AT40 and radio in general, at least as far as discovering the new was concerned. And new ways of tracking music made it possible for songs to debut at #1, without the thrill of the climb, and stay there for epic runs that would have been unimaginable in the old days. But hearing those old broadcasts is a shot of instant nostalgia, a reminder of lazy Sunday mornings spent with a tinny transistor radio listening to find out if “Dancing in the Dark” would finally muscle its way past “When Doves Cry” (it never did) or if “Cum On Feel the Noize” could actually make it to the top (it did).
So I’m glad I can listen to these again, even if having every week’s Top 40 list available online means there’s no more suspense in how things turn out. It’s like a musical all-star game, where the outcome isn’t nearly as important as seeing your favorites all in one place. Although I still have a bit of a grudge against Prince. The Boss deserved that #1.