As a faithful weekly listener to American Top 40 in the mid '80s to early '90s -- both in the Casey Kasem and Shadoe Stevens eras -- I tend to remember things that have no relevance to anything other than in my own mind, thanks to the little facts about songs that Kasem and Stevens would often mention. Of course, as the years go by and there is some strange factoid I heard once upon a time, I now question if it was something real or if I was misremembering. One of those things I remembered as soon as I heard "When I'm With You" Sunday night was that, at the end of the song, the singer sang what was the longest-ever sustained note in a Top 40 song.
That's something that will keep me up at night, so I made sure to look up the song as soon as I got into Target. I was confused when I saw that the song was originally released in 1983. How could this be?, I thought, This song wasn't popular until I was in fifth grade. Well, friends, this is where the story gets interesting -- not that you haven't been captivated thus far.
Sheriff was a Canadian rock band in the early '80s. They released one album, their self-titled 1982 release that included "When I'm With You." The song was a hit in Canada, hitting #8 on the Canadian pop charts, but only a minor hit in the U.S., topping out at #61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sheriff broke up by 1985, and the guys in the band went their separate ways.
Fast forward to late 1988, and a few DJs in the U.S. start playing "When I'm With You" on their local stations, and sure enough, it started to gain popularity. Capitol re-releases it as a single, and it goes to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1989, becoming one of the only songs in the MTV era to hit #1 without a music video. And sure as shit, the last note of the song, which singer Freddy Curci sustains for 19.4 seconds, is the longest known note sustained by a male singer in pop history.
So what's a broken-up band to do when they have a #1 song six years after it was released? Well, the keyboardist (who wrote the song) and bassist had already formed another band, so a Sheriff reunion was out of the question, leaving the lead singer (Curci) and guitarist Steve DeMarchi to form their own band, Alias. Of course, Alias had a #2 hit in 1990 with "More Than Words Can Say," another power ballad I haven't heard since the elder Bush Administration.
As I drifted off to sleep Sunday night, I had an earworm in the form of "When I'm With You." In the pantheon of non-hair band power ballads from the late '80s and early '90s, I'll admit that I used to mix up Sheriff, Alias, and Bad English, and their respective songs "When I'm With You," "More Than Words Can Say," and "When I See You Smile." Throw in Extreme's "More Than Words," and it could get very confusing back between 1989 and 1991. I will never make those mistakes again.
It turns out that my earlier concerns about Sheriff-related trivia keeping me up at night were unwarranted. What would keep me up, however, was severe digestive issues. As I mentioned in my post earlier tonight, Sunday night and early Monday morning were marked by nausea of an unknown origin. After tossing and turning for a couple hours with some queasiness, I woke up at about 4 a.m. Monday morning, stumbled to the bathroom, and had a rather voluminous vomit. Well that was strange, I thought, I didn't feel queasy before I went to bed. Surely, it was some freak glitch in the computer game that controls my life, and now that I've got that out of my system, I'll go back to bed and wake up refreshed when my alarm goes off. That's always how these things work, right? Wrong. Around 5:15, after some restless half-sleeping, I realized that if I didn't get up right then, I'd be cleaning puke out of my sheets for the first time since I was a kid -- well, my own puke anyway. I gave whatever was left in my stomach to the bottom of the toilet, and then some, before returning to bed, informing my wife that I would not be going to work, and curling up in the fetal position wondering what I had done to upset Xenu.
Sometime between 9 and 10, after the wife and kids went to work and school, respectively, I crawled out of bed and made my way downstairs to grab a cup of water, feeling like someone had beaten my abs and kidneys with one of those little souvenir baseball bats. My head felt worse.
I spent most of yesterday lying on my couch, occasionally checking my email on my phone, and then checking out YouTube to listen to "When I'm With You" and Alias's "More Than Words Can Say."
If you were to walk into my living room yesterday, you would have seen one a rather pathetic scene. An outside observer might have assumed I was in the throes of a devastating break-up with the only girl I've ever loved. Here I am, curled up on the couch under a blanket in a dark room, shades drawn, lights off, TV off, looking like pallid death, eyes half open, mouth breathing, half-groaning every third breath, staring blankly at the ceiling, while listening to '80s power ballads about unrequited love.
What one contemplates when lying on his couch at 11:30 on a Monday morning is why "When I'm With You" wasn't a hit in 1983, but then was a #1 song in 1989. My only thought was that it was ahead of its time. I'm not kidding. So Sheriff was a rock band. I won't call them a hair band because, after a quick listen to the other songs from their album, I'd put them more in the category of a Foreigner or a Boston or a Night Ranger. Good, solid AOR. But the hair band reference is important. It wasn't for another few years before Mötley Crüe released "Home Sweet Home" that really kickstarted the era of the rock power ballad, which was mainly spearheaded by hair bands. By the time "When I'm With You" was rediscovered in 1988, it was not only acceptable for rock bands to have power ballads, but that's what the record companies wanted and expected, for better or worse. To paraphrase some hair band rocker, you released the hard rock songs to get the guys to buy your records, and you released the power ballads to get their girlfriends to buy your records.
When you listen to "When I'm With You" -- and you will, very soon, I promise -- you may or may not reach the same conclusion as I did: this could just as easily be on an Air Supply record in 1982 as it could be on Warrant record in 1989. I don't mean that in a bad way. It's catchy as hell. Curci's "bay-bay-ee-yay-ee-yay" at the beginning of each verse is bound to stay in your head for a few days. And don't forget to listen to that last 19.4 seconds.
Curci's follow-up hit, Alias's "More Than Words Can Say" is another solid power ballad, with a little more power (and a wicked guitar solo), given that it was written in the era of the hair band power ballad. And that song actually has a video!
So in the matter of two days, I have gone from barely remembering "When I'm With You" and not knowing the name of Sheriff's lead singer to forever equating Freddy Curci's voice -- which is fantastic, by the way -- with praying for the strength to eat a piece of toast and wishing I hadn't eaten chicken the night before. I'm serious when I say that I'm going to think of these two songs whenever I'm sick from here on out. But don't think this is a negative connection. If given the choice of lying alone on a couch in agony for seven to nine hours and listening to or not listening to "When I'm With You" and "More Than Words Can Say," always chose the former, and then may-bay-ee-yay-ee-yay-yay you too will feel a little bit better thanks to two highly successful power ballads sung by a relatively obscure Canadian rock singer. Thank you, Freddy Curci, for making yesterday a little less miserable than it could have been.