One Thousand Words on a Blast from the Past

Yesterday, I had a rare hour alone in the car.

The radio was playing quietly in the background as I drove through the rain in a happy, warm bubble. I do my best thinking in the car so I was lost in thought, hardly paying attention to the songs coming through the speakers.

But then a familiar voice cut through my reverie and I realized that I was listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty.

“The hits from coast to coast.”

My first thought was “My God, is Casey Kasem still alive?”

It certainly sounded like he was, alive and still spinning those records.

“Up five places to number twenty four, here is the group dubbed the greatest rock and roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones with Hang Fire.”

Now I admit, I’m not all that up on the Rolling Stones. I like their music just fine, but I’ve never been “into” them and I can only name their big hits. Satisfaction, Sympathy for the Devil, Beast of Burden.

But being sort of in the music business, I was surprised that I didn’t know the band was back in the top forty. The song sounded vaguely familiar, but all Rolling Stones songs sound alike to me.

After the Rolling Stones, I lost the station for a couple of minutes. When Casey Kasem returned, he was just finishing up his next introduction.

“… with number twenty three, Making Love.”

I hadn’t heard the song before, but it was one of those slow love ballad so maybe I just tuned it out.

I started to get suspicious with the next song, though. Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk by Doctor Hook. I knew that wasn’t a new song.

Initially I thought that maybe they were doing hits from the past. It was kind of a soft rock station, so that made sense to me.

But Casey was introducing the songs like they were current. He wasn’t saying, “Here’s the number 22 song from 1979.” He was saying, “Last week this song debuted on our countdown at number thirty seven.”

I knew the Doctor Hook hadn’t been number thirty seven last week. I couldn’t tell you if number thirty seven was Lady Gaga or Katie Perry, but it couldn’t possibly have been Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk.

At no time did they say that it was an old show. They’d go to commercial, return with those Casey Kasem singers and go right back into the countdown.

I admit, that for a few long minutes… probably the entirety of Ray Parker Junior’s The Other Woman (All Ray Parker Junior songs song just like Ghost Busters, don’t they?), I wondered if I had entered some strange time warp.

After all, I grew up listening to Casey Kasem. I trusted him. If Casey Kasem was telling me that the Willie Nelson’s Always on my Mind was number twenty on the charts that week, the only logical explanation was that I had time traveled back to the 1980s, right?

I listened to Casey announce songs by Olivia Newton John, Kool and the Gang and Daryl Hall and John Oates with a strange, detached air of confusion.

Rationally I knew that the show had to be a re-run, a classic presentation of Casey at his best. But I couldn’t wrap my head around why the station wouldn’t tell us that. Why would they let me think my car had turned into a magic, plutonium powered DeLorian that launched me back in time?

And then, just before I arrived at home and just after Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309 / Jenny (which was number eleven, by the way), a different deejay came on the air and told me that I was indeed listening to an encore presentation of Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty from April 24, 1982.

I was relieved to learn that I hadn’t time traveled.

I mean, if I were going back in time, there are certainly more appealing years than 1982. I already lived through that year.

And, judging by Casey’s countdown, the music wasn’t very good at all. Well, except for I Love Rock N’ Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I like that one.

The whole experience was surreal, and gave me a little glimpse into what it might be like to be insane. But, after the deejay restored me to sanity, I was disappointed that Casey hadn’t read a long distance dedication.

When I was a teenager, I loved those dedications. They were always so romantic. They guy in jail in California, sending out Journey’s Open Arms across the airwaves to his underage pen pal in New Jersey.

Or the woman in New Mexico asking Casey to play Do You Believe in Love by Huey Lewis and The News for her only true love, the boy she met fourteen years ago at summer camp in Oklahoma and never heard from again.

No matter how sappy or how trashy, those letters gave me the goose bumps.

It probably had more to do with Casey Kasem’s voice than the actual letters. The way he’d lower his tone, you could just picture him leaning in toward the microphone as if he was confiding in you.

“And here’s Dan Fogelberg’s Run for the Roses, from Jeffery to Julie as she moves from Pittsburgh to Detroit.”

And, although I was a little pissed at the station at first for not being clear about their programming and letting me think I had time traveled, I’m kind of glad I got to hear Casey Kasem again.

It brought me back to simpler time, both in music and in life.

I doubt those corny dedication would give me goose bumps now. More likely I’d be scoffing at the stupid people in dumb situations and how they thought a song on American Top Forty would make it better.

But it was fun to remember back to when I was more easily moved. Even if I did have to listen to Rick Springfield to do it.

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