Precision in Language, Casey

Looks like I missed both June and July with blog posting. For the past couple months I've posted primarily short pieces directly on LinkedIn, and I've started a new job. And of course, I'm working on other things -- go visit to see the film project I'm involved with. But before you go over there, check out this five minute analysis prompted by Casey Kasem's American Top 40.*

A few days ago I listened to a rebroadcast of American Top 40 from this week in 1978. It's an interesting transition time in music. The forty songs in the countdown include some last bastions of disco, country singers, some Motown, and a bit of incoming rock. Plus Steve Martin singing "King Tut." Go figure.** 

Joe Walsh, or Joe Walsh and the James Gang?

Joe Walsh, or Joe Walsh and the James Gang?

When he reached number 12 (Jefferson Starship's fantastic song, "Runaway") Casey mentioned that Starship is "one of 17 bands in the countdown."

Interesting. At first I thought he meant that there were only 17 different performers accounting for 40 songs. That seems like a massive anomaly, so I looked online for the complete countdown. No data science needed here; just a glance shows you that there are more than 17 performers.***

I say that no data science was needed, but why not create a quick pivot table? After all, I might decide later to do some screen scraping to get the entire decade, then try out some tools for processing unstructured data and...oh, the possibilities are endless. All seventies, all the time.

So, clearly, there weren't only 17 acts accounting for 40 hits this week. There were 39 distinct acts. Dampens my enthusiasm, but does raise a good "business question" if I have the full decade of data: what's the smallest number of individual acts in the top 40 countdown for any week in a decade? I feel like I need to know this now.


But back to precision in language. Casey mentioned that there were specifically 17 groups (i.e., non-solo acts) in the countdown. I went through the 39 acts and tagged each one as "Group," "Solo," or "Unknown."

Why "Unknown?" This is where business rules governance comes into play. Bob Seger albums are almost always listed as "Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band." Solo or group? "Joe Walsh and the James Gang?" At first glance it looks like this is the answer: these are both groups, which brings the total number of groups to 17. 

Alas, no. "Life's Been Good" was not a James Gang song. It was written in 1978 for the movie "FM," and the final James Gang album came out way back in 1971. (Not counting the 1973 Best Of album.) Joe is clearly a solo artist in this week's countdown.****

Unfortunately, the most likely answer here is that Casey simply got it wrong. But that's okay, there have been far more egregious errors in the history of music. After all, "My Sharona" ends up as the #1 song of 1979.

* For you millennials, the American Top 40 was a weekly countdown show where Casey Kasem played the top 40 hits from the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Back then, music popularity was actually measurable. Oh, and we bought most of our music, rather than stealing it.

** I was going to point out that the days of every television star pressing a musical album are gone, but since I have a theory that David Caruso and Rick Astley are the same person, I'll take it back.

*** In fact, Andy Gibb is the only performer in the countdown that week with more than one song. "Shadow Dancing," one of the most overrated songs of the 70s, was in the #1 position and eventually becomes the #1 song of 1978. How is this possible with "King Tut" in the lineup? Life's a mystery.

**** (Likewise, the theme from "Grease" is Frankie Valli solo, not with the Four Seasons.)