And then it was time for the long-distance dedication.
As only Casey Kasem could, he dipped the letter in saccharin, rolled it in confectioner’s sugar and spun it with a cream-filled sweetness worthy of the Great British Baking Show.
“Dear Casey,” as it always began, “I’m hoping you can send a song out to someone I once loved but who I lost touch with several years ago …”
The letter went on to talk about the passionate relationship the woman had with George, a man who she had worked with. They were both married to other people at the time, and the relationship ended badly. She left the company shortly after and they hadn’t spoken since, but she thought of him and that time often.
“There was a song that meant a lot to us and we listened to it whenever we were together. I’m hoping you can play it now, and he’ll hear it and know I still care about him very much. Casey, could you please play ‘Afternoon Delight’ for us?”
This would result in one of those “Whaaaaaaa?” moments followed by laughter as my wife and I listened to the 1970s music channel on SiriusXM Radio, this time as it replayed an episode of “America’s Top 40” from 1978. Those moments are somewhat common as we hear songs we would sing along mindlessly to 40 years ago without any comprehension of the words or what some of the songs meant.
“Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band was one of those songs, the bouncy melody obscuring the illicitness of the lyrics and going way over the head of a 10-year-old boy cleaning his room. “You’re Having My Baby” by Paul Anka is another.
Anka, a Canadian crooner whom my mom had swooned over in the late 1950s — he was no Bobby Vinton, but he was up there — wrote the 1974 release intended to be a love song. It went to No. 1, his first chart hit in 15 years. A CNN poll in 2006 placed it at No. 1 on the list of all-time worst songs.
That’s a little harsh, though it isn’t as deep as “The Wall” or “Stairway to Heaven.” But considering other hits that year included “Kung Fu Fighting” and “The Streak,” an absence of lyrical depth was far from unusual. Even Vinton had a chart hit that year with “My Melody of Love” that included lyrics in Polish.
Anka’s lyrics for “You’re Having My Baby,” did not need an interpreter. It was pretty clear what one stanza meant, at least to someone whose age had hit double digits. Like 53.
“Didn’t have to keep it
Wouldn’t put you through it.
You could have swept it from your life
But you wouldn’t do it…”
Wait … what?
I turned to my wife in the car and asked, “Did he really just say she could have had an abortion?” My wife answered, “I don’t know. I was just singing along.”
Most Americans still do a lot of mindless singing-along, not understanding the deeper meaning of the words coming out of the speakers and our mouths. We all belong to one chorus or another, some in red robes, others blue and many in purple.
This week’s long-distance request is that in 40 years, Americans look back and ask themselves, “Was I really singing along to that?”