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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

The Countdowns No One Asked For, 1979-80: #100-91

I started junior high in the fall of 1979. The average American income was $17,500. A gallon of gas was 86 cents and a new home would run you around $58,000. You could score one of those high-tech Atari video consoles for a couple hundred bucks. A little cable network called ESPN launched and my friends were talking about HBO, which made me feel like a bumpkin. A typical weekend for me was watching "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Incredible Hulk" on Friday nights and "The Carol Burnett Show" on Saturday nights. I played outside a lot. Usually pick-up games of football, softball, kickball, or just goofing off. What social life I had consisted of occasional trips to the roller rink where I could skate really fast, perform prat fall, and discover puberty to the latest top 40 hits. Those nights skating influenced my love of music, as did the discovery of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. His weekly countdown of the 40 biggest songs in America fascinated me for some reason. Maybe it was because I lived in a small town and this felt like a connection to the larger world. That's a big reason why I decided to do these top 100 countdowns. That, and it provides a way to present the illusion that I'm writing while still managing to avoid completing my novel.

Okay, enough intro. Let's get on with...


This entry focuses on numbers 100-91.

100. "Pilot of the Airwaves," Charlie Dore

I don't know this song. I had never heard of it until researching for this list. Yet, it reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and finished at number 77 for 1980. I placed it here, not because of a specific memory or its influence, but because it represents the discovery of the unknown that came with moving from elementary school to junior high. Seventh grade was a whole new world. Kids from all the grade schools now were at one behemoth academy. This was uncharted territory and I had no guide, no map. All I knew was some of the boys had gotten bigger over the summer and the girls had gotten prettier and I didn't understand the concept of popularity beyond the basic fact that I didn't possess it. Lunchboxes were not cool, which I still don't understand and kids were going to parties while I was still roller skating. I knew right away that my adjustment to this strange place would be rocky.

99. "Dirty White Boy," Foreigner

My brother owned Foreigner's Head Games LP and I would listen to it when he was at work. He had a nice stereo with a slick turntable and an 8-track player that recorded onto blank 8-track tapes. My first mixtape was on 8-track and included "Dirty White Boy." I, personally, was not a dirty white boy. I was a boy, yes, and most certainly white, but I was not dirty. True, I had discovered Playboy and Penthouse and certainly understood their charms (those interviews!), but I also knew that kissing a girl would get me pregnant and I wasn't ready to be a father. So, I'd just listen to the album or my mixtape and imagined the life Foreigner allowed me to dream of.

98. "Good Girls Don't," The Knack

My microscopic understanding of girls only lessened during pre-pubescence. I had had girl friends and "girlfriends" in that chaste, theoretical sense in grade school. I had never been on a date and wouldn't have known what to do on one, anyway. Yet, girls fascinated me. In seventh grade, I discovered they could be funny and smart (way smarter than me) and charming and mean and angry and distant and warm and lovely. Looking back, I realize I was still rather simple and immature. I played board games by myself for entertainment and pretended I was an alien sent to Poplar Bluff Junior High to study Earthlings. They were discussing make-up, fashion, and relationships. Girls were maturing faster than me at an alarming rate. I heard probably apocryphal tales about weekend parties and no one wanted to talk about what Bill Bixby did on "The Incredible Hulk." I thought about going to a dance, but chickened out. It was a choice I regretted and would never make again.

RANDOM FACT: When you type 'good girls don't' into the Yahoo! search engine (not Google, this is an important distinction) the first option is not about The Knack. Rather, it's an article on "9 Gross Things All Girls Do (But Love to Pretend They Don't)" by the folks at Thought Catalog. I'm sharing here as a public service and really wish 12-year old me had had access to such vital information. Spoiler alert: one of them is pee in the shower.

97. "Heaven Must've Sent You," Bonnie Pointer

My taste in music has always embraced the obscure and relatively forgotten. I remember this song, not because it was the talk of the lunch table like, say, "Another Brick in the Wall," but because it was my first tangible experience with an earworm. I heard it on the radio and couldn't get it out of my head. I sang it silently to myself as I walked from class to class. "Heaven Must've Sent You" also inspired my first foray into songwriting. I wrote my own lyrics to a song set to this tune and had planned to offer those up in a note to a girl I had a crush on. The day of my mission, though, I saw her walking to class holding hands with an eighth grader wearing a football jersey, so I tossed the note in the trash and learned the cleansing power of angst.

96. "Desire," Andy Gibb

This was another song of which I have no recollection during my research. I knew, of course, about "Shadow Dancing" and the absolutely sublime "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," but I initially couldn't remember anything about this song. Then, upon repeat listening, a memory rushed forward. My mom was taking one of my friends and me somewhere. Could've been a movie or a ball game. The details are fuzzy. But, I do recall this song playing on the radio and my mom saying, "I like this. Is this the Bee Gees?" My friend said, "no, this is Andy Gibb." Why was my mom talking about popular music? That was a little weird.

RANDOM FACT: Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" is featured in the first chapter of my novel Kilroy Was Here, which you can order from this very website. No pressure.

95. "Rockin' Into The Night," .38 Special

This song did not hit the top 40 during my seventh grade year, but whenever I hear it, I immediately imagine a pickup truck with this song blaring out of it in the parking lot of either McDonald's or Burger Chef. My seventh grade year introduced me to many new and wondrous experiences. Cruising was one of them. Now, this wasn't the cruising associated with that controversial Al Pacino film. No, this was the ritual of driving one's vehicle up and down the main strip of Poplar Bluff stopping at strategic locations along the way to see your chums and engaging in the wholesome revelry of listening to rock music and probably buying pot. I never smoked pot in those days because I knew it would get me pregnant. I could never score a job as a Playboy Interviewer with a baby.

94. "When I Wanted You," Barry Manilow

I grew up on Barry Manilow's music. His greatest hits 8-track was a staple of my early pop music diet. I knew every lyric to every song and, since I was a latchkey kid who spent a lot of time alone, would perform concerts to no one in our living room. When I reached seventh grade, I was caught referencing "Copacabana" during some lively banter with some cool boys, who promptly mocked me and told to quit listening to his music. They used a derogatory, homophobic slur to describe Barry Manilow and his songbook that I'll not repeat here. They also provided wise counsel and recommended music they deemed more masculine: Queen. I determined it was not the time to mention my enjoyment of Village People and opted to judge them silently and keep listening to Barry Manilow. It was an early lesson in being careful about championing what you enjoy. It was also an early lesson in learning that someone could love all styles of music.

93. "September Morn," Neil Diamond

Just read the "When I Wanted You" post and substitute Neil Diamond for Barry Manilow and forget the fact that the kids who teased me for loving Neil Diamond in 1979 happily and drunkenly wail "Sweet Caroline" at every karaoke event as if they've been a lifelong fan. Posers.

92. "Jane," Jefferson Starship

I knew about Jefferson Starship because my brother owned their album Earth on 8-track, something I probably could've told those Manilow-hating cool kids when they mocked my taste. That's why I should've done. I should've stood tall on those wooden bleachers, pointed my judgmental finger in their popular, but narrow-minded faces and said, "Do you assholes know about Jefferson Starship? Formerly, Jefferson Airplane? Do ya? Are you familiar with Marty Balin, Grace Slick, and Mickey Thomas? Have you heard of a little album called Freedom at Point Zero? Call me when you have, artistic bourgeois." I wouldn't know what "artistic bourgeois" meant, but neither would they, so I'd still have the upper hand. Then, before stomping off in intellectual triumph, I would ruin my moment by schooling them on the finer sitcom writers of the day, which was also something I knew.

91. "Video Killed the Radio Star," The Buggles

Yes, it's the answer to the trivia question "What was the first video aired on MTV?" but MTV debuted in 1981. "Video Killed the Radio Star" was released in 1979 and, no, I had no idea of its existence even after it debuted on MTV because I didn't have cable growing up. My parents didn't have cable until long after I moved out and they bought a satellite dish. I don't want to talk about it. I included this song on the countdown for its significance and its enduring popularity. The top 40 station in Poplar Bluff, MO, was not playing "Video Killed the Radio Star." Another reminder that, even though my 12-year old brain took in as much pop culture information as it could hold, there was much I had to learn.

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