“I'm Casey Kasem.” That simple phrase was a mainstay of the 1980’s. It marked the beginning of Casey Kasem’s weekly radio show, American Top 40 (AT40). For a few hours each week, Kasem commanded the attention of music fans across America as he counted down the top 40 hits in the USA. During his show, Kasem intertwined a treasure chest of music and biographical trivia. Each week, he chose a letter from a fan and read it on the air. Indeed, Kasem had an uncanny ability to weave a cheesy, poorly written letter, into a heartfelt story that captivated his listeners. At its conclusion, Kasem would call out the author by name, “…Katie in Nebraska…Robert in Wyoming…”etc, and dedicate a song to them. After the countdown was complete, Kasem signed-off the same way each week, reminding his audience to "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."
An Abbreviated History
Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem was born on April 27, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. His initial foray into radio was at Northwestern High School where he announced sports. After high school, Kasem attended Wayne State University where he pursued a degree in education. He was drafted into the military in 1952 and subsequently sent to Korea where he served as the DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Network.
Following the Korean War, Kasem toiled at several different radio stations and locations including WJBK in Detroit, WBNY in Buffalo, KYA in San Francisco, and KRLA in Los Angeles. He also appeared on screen securing bit parts in a few low budget films and appeared on network TV, in Hawaii-Five-O. While hosting a TV show on a local station, Dick Clark noticed him and offered him a position to host a teenage music show. It was, however, Kasem’s voice that would be his ticket to success. In 1969, he landed a role that would make him famous, serving as the voice of Shaggy on the popular show, Scooby-Doo. In the 1970’s, the decade AT40 was born, Kasem continued acting, doing voiceovers and narrating.
American Top 40
In 1970, Casey Kasem co-founded and launched American Top 40. The show was initially aired on seven stations and soon thereafter went nationwide. Since its inception, AT40 has experienced multiple iterations. Kasem hosted the show from 1970 to 1988 and from 1998 to 2004 (he was replaced by Shadoe Stevens in 1988 because of a contract dispute). In 2004, Ryan Seacrest took over and is the current host of AT40. However, the apex of the show's success was in the decade of the 80’s
Thirty-five years ago in 1985, Casey Kasem counted down the songs listed below. We picked out a few tunes and provided some supplemental information.
1) SAY YOU, SAY ME- LIONEL RICHIE
Released in October of 1985, “Say You, Say Me” hit #1 on AT 40 in December of that same year. The song would also mark Lionel Richie’s 9th number #1 hit in the Adult Contemporary genre. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Although it was penned for the movie White Nights, “Say You, Say Me” is not included in the film’s soundtrack. Reason being Motown Records (Richie’s label) did not want his first single following the success of “Can’t Slow Down (1983)“ to be released by another record company. Instead, it was included in Richie’s 1986 release, Dancing On The Ceiling.
“Say You, Say Me,” performed particularly well in South Africa, occupying the #1 spot in that country’s rankings for 30 weeks.
In 2008, “Say You, Say Me” was selected the 74th best song of all time by Billboard Hot 100.
2) PARTY ALL THE TIME- EDDIE MURPHY
3) ALIVE AND KICKING- SIMPLE MINDS
4) THAT' S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR- DIONNE AND FRIENDS
5) I MISS YOU- KLYMAXX
6) SMALL TOWN- JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP
"Small Town" was penned by John “Cougar” Mellencamp and released in November 1985 on his album titled “Scarecrow.” Unlike most rock musicians who chose to record in New York or California, Mellencamp, true to form, stayed close to his roots and recorded the song at the Belmont Mall Studio in Bloomington, Indiana.
As the title implies, “Small Town” is about Mellencamp’s experience growing up in rural, Seymour Indiana. This week in 1985 would mark the peak for “Small Town” on the charts, at #6 on America’s Top 40.
7) BROKEN WINGS- MR. MISTER
8) SEPARATE LIVES- PHIL COLLINS & MARILYN MARTIN
9) TONIGHT SHE COMES- THE CARS
10) ELECTION DAY- ARCADIA
11) TALK TO ME- STEVIE NICKS
12) SLEEPING BAG- ZZ TOP
13) WALK OF LIFE- DIRE STRAITS
“Walk Of Life” by Dire Straits was released on November 29th 1985, off their Brothers In Arms album. The song peaked in the U.S. at number #7. In the U.K., it reached number #2.
An interesting factoid about this tune was that it almost never made it onto their album. One of the bands’ producers, Neil Dorfsman, did not want to include the track. Thankfully for Dire Straits fans (and Mr. Dorfsman’s wallet), he was overruled by the band.
14) PERFECT WAY- SCRITTI POLITTI
15) BURNING HEART- SURVIVOR
“Burning Heart” was made famous by the blockbuster film, Rocky IV. The time of its release in 1985 marked the peak of the cold war between America and the Soviet Union. In the film, the song encapsulated the tensions between the two nations; the The U.S. in the West represented by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and the U.S.S.R. in the East, represented by Ivan Drago, (Dolph Lundgren).
Side Note: Dolph Lundgren has an IQ of 160, which puts him in the top .1% of people in the world. Lundgren earned an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology, a masters from the University of Sydney, and a Fulbright scholarship to MIT. Lundgren is a black belt in karate and won the European championship in 1981.
16) MY HOMETOWN- BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
17) LOVE IS THE SEVENTH WAVE- STING
18) EMERGENCY- KOOL & THE GANG
19) IT'S ONLY LOVE- BRYAN ADAMS & TINA TURNER
20) I'M YOUR MAN- WHAM!
21) CONGA- MIAMI SOUND MACHINE
22) GO HOME- STEVIE WONDER
23) YOU'RE A FRIEND OF MINE- CLARENCE CLEMONS & JACKSON BROWNE
24) SPIES LIKE US- PAUL MCCARTNEY
25) NEVER- HEART
26) WE BUILT THIS CITY- STARSHIP
“We Built This City” was the debut single on Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla album. The song hit #1 in the United States on November 16th 1985. It also spent time at the top spot in Canada and Australia. This week in 1985, in came in at #26.
Though nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, “We Built This City” eventually came to be known as an annoying, nuisance of a song. In 2011, Rolling Stone anointed it the worst song of the 1980’s. Blender Magazine and VH1 placed it in the 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs list. In 2016, GQ called it the worst song of all time.
Despite its commercial success, “We Built This City” created tension within the band. Many members did not want the group’s legacy to be underpinned by a generic 80’s tune, as opposed to their more creative, substantive hits.
27) GOODBYE- NIGHT RANGER
28) EVERYBODY DANCE- TA MARA & THE SEEN
29) OBJECT OF MY DESIRE- STARPOINT
30) SIDEWALK TALK- JELLYBEAN
31) WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING- BILLY OCEAN
"When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going" was penned by Billy Ocean along with Wayne Brathwaite, Barry Eastmond, and the famous producer and songwriter John “Mutt” Lange. Released in November 1985, it was the theme song for the box office hit, The Jewel of the Nile starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito.
32) SEX AS A WEAPON- PAT BENATAR
33) FACE THE FACE- PETE TOWNSEND
34) WHO'S ZOOMIN WHO- ARETHA FRANKLIN
35) WRAP HER UP- ELTON JOHN
36) HOW WILL I KNOW- WHITNEY HOUSTON
37) A LOVE BIZARRE- SHEILA E
38) THE SWEETEST TABOO- SADE
39) EVERYTHING IN MY HEART- COREY HART
40) LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME- THE THOMPSON TWINS
"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."
Casey Kasem possessed a special ability to connect with, calm, and invigorate his listeners. To that end, a few of his well-deserved accolades include being inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1985, the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992 and receiving a Lifetime Achievement award from the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.
In 2007, Casey Kasem was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; a condition made public in 2013. He was subsequently found to have a disease called Lewy Body Dementia, which eventually rendered him unable to speak. When a man famous for his voice loses the ability to communicate, perhaps it was not a complete surprise that during Kasem's final years, a family feud erupted over his medical care and estate that resulted in lawsuits, countersuits, public relations battles and even a police investigation.
Casey Kasem died on June 15, 2014 in Gig Harbor, WA. He was 82 years old. If Casey Kasem could write (or better for Casey, say) his own obituary - one of the greatest radio personas of all time might conclude it the same way he ended each American Top 40: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”