Music News

Counting Down: a Tribute to Casey Kasem

Before the option of typing the name of any song into Google, the surest way to hear the hits of the day was on Sunday mornings. You would simply turn the radio station to American Top 40 and Casey Kasem would count the best tunes down from numbers 40 to one.

Between songs, he would spout out little known facts about the artists, the movement of the songs on the charts, and even recite long distance heartfelt song dedications between lovers, proud parents, or grieving pet owners.

Kasem who died this past Sunday had a timeless voice that continues to live on with rebroadcasts of the syndicated show American Top 40 - The 70's that can be heard locally on Magic 102.7 every Sunday morning 7 to 10 a.m. In honor of the man's passing here's a top 10 countdown of Casey Kasem's 82 years on this Earth.

Coming in at number 10, Casey was born Kemal Amen Kasem, the son of Lebanese immigrants who owned a grocery store in Detroit. Kasem said his oratory was influenced by "the Arabic tradition of storytelling one-upmanship."

Moving up the charts at number 9, Kasem started American Top 40 in 1970. In 1988, due to contract disputes, he left and started a rival show Casey's Top 40 before getting the original title back. Kasem continued to host American Top 40 until 2004 when he handed over the reins to Ryan Seacrest.

Number 8 is a long distance dedication to Kasem's wife of 34 years, Jean. The duo's 1980 marriage was officiated by Jesse Jackson. Jean was most famous for the role of Loretta Tortelli on the sitcom Cheers that turned into a lead role in the spin-off from that show The Tortellis which lasted all of 13 episodes. Like her husband, she also landed a cameo role in Ghostbusters.

This week's number 7 is... Casey Kasem once hoped to be an actor. He later got to stretch those acting muscles doing voice work for cartoons including playing Peter Cottontail, Batman's partner, Robin in Superfriends, Alexander Cabot III in Josie and the Pussycats and several characters in Transformers.

Number 6, we have Casey Kasem's most famous voice work as Shaggy in Scooby Doo. Kasem, a strict vegan quit the gig when they wanted to have him voice Shaggy for a Burger King ad. Kasem returned to voice the green shirted bohemian in 2002 only when producers agreed to make the character vegetarian.

Which brings us to number 5, where even though Kasem kept politics off of his radio show, he was a die hard liberal who tried to make a difference in the world. A supporter of political long shots like Dennis Kucinich, Jesse Jackson, and Ralph Nader, Kasem organized conflict-resolution workshops between Arabs and Jews. Beyond getting Shaggy to say no to factory farming, Kasem also used cartoon activism to increase diversity within the Transformers cartoon by leaving the show until they had a positive Arab character to counteract all the evil Arabs on the show.

Moving up the charts to number 4... Kasem wanted American Top 40 to be a wholesome family affair, so when "I Want Your Sex" was moving up the charts in 1987 instead of saying the name of the song he would introduce it simply as "George Michael's latest."

At number 3 we have the news that Kasem didn't mind swearing in his private life. Snippets of outakes of Kasem cursing can be found all over the web. Most famously in 1985, he lost it when he had to dedicate a song to a dead dog coming out of a Pointers Sisters song. "I want somebody to use his fucking brain to not come out of a goddamn record that is up-tempo, and I got to talk about a fucking dog dying."

Number 2, we have the San Francisco experimentalists Negativland who mixed snippets of Kasem cursing with U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for" in a nearly six minute song, they dubbed "The Letter U And The Numeral 2" which earned them a cease and desist letter and lawsuit from U2's record label.

And at number 1, we have Kasem's sign off for every episode of American Top 40. "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland