I came to music geekdom by a different path than most. The typical kid in the summer of ’88 listened to the screaming of Steven Tyler, the shredding of Slash, the rhymes of a teenage Will Smith, and a light bulb went off in their head – “Hey, I wanna to learn to do that!” or, “I need to start dressing like that!”
Not this Aspie. For me, it was all about the numbers. Specifically, the Top 40. At 13 years old, the music charts fascinated me to no end. The seemingly random programming of commercial radio revealed itself as, in fact, a very orderly system. Popularity could be quantified! Rankings! Peaks! Notches! Eagle 106 carried the weekly Billboard Top 40 countdown with Shadoe Stevens, and I would listen to the whole four hours. Once I even brought my radio with me to the dinner table, so I wouldn’t miss anything.
Yet there was a dark side also. The music charts were ephemeral. No sooner would a song reach its peak, to be branded for all time as “a #3 hit,” or “a top ten smash,” than it would begin falling down the charts again. Even a #1 would last, at most, a few weeks. Today, we love you, and tomorrow, we’ve moved on. Each song’s journey was its own mini-narrative, that I felt compelled to witness from cradle to grave.
As my obsession grew, I found I would disagree with the countdown. So, I started my own. I kept my weekly Top 10 list in an AppleWorks database. (Now entering special interest territory, in case you hadn’t noticed.) “The Promise” by When in Rome a mere #11? No way, America! A multi-week #1! I made it so. New Kids on the Block? They don’t even chart. Suck it, teeny bopper girls!
But the best part was, because my database was sortable, I could do the ultimate extravaganza: The Year-End Top 100 According to Me! And boy, did I do it up right. All year long I recorded songs off the radio. In December, I tabulated, and I recorded them to tape, from 100 down to #1. It took 5 or 6 cassettes in all, and several days' work.
This was my #1 of the year 1989, Roxette’s “The Look.” (Super-cool Head Drum Remix version that Q102 used to play!)
And for the year 1990, “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground was my #1. What are you laughing at? You know you liked it, too!
I even stuck in some comedy bits from the morning zoo programs in between the songs. The B-52’s “Love Shack” spawned many - “Radio Shack,” and “Butt Crack,” just to name a few. Yes, it was a labor of love to assemble these elaborate tape creations. Of course, I didn’t share them with anyone. It seemed, somehow, too obsessive and personal, as if the only appropriate response would be, “Wow, someone has way too much time on his hands!” But I had fun.
After those two years, I lost interest in the music charts, both real-world, and my own. But I kept making my year-end mix tape compilations for another 8 years. My tastes evolved, and quickly turned far outside the mainstream and commercial radio. Nowadays, I have no need to rank what I like - I buy CD’s, or I download, and my favorites have a lot more staying power than a few weeks.
But sometimes I still miss the old days, glued to the radio, listening to the singles battle it out like gladiators, jockeying for position, and a big booming voice conferring the honor, over the opening notes of some omnipresent ditty. “The Num…ber One…. Song… In America….” Victorious at the top. For the moment.