Various Artists

Casey Kasem Presents: The Long Distance Dedications

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The 24th volume in a series of compilations beginning with the words "Casey Kasem Presents," Casey Kasem Presents: The Long Distance Dedications, released just in time for 2007's Valentine's Day (a major record-selling date each year), is a CD representation of what annotator Rob Durkee says is "the most popular feature in all of Casey Kasem's countdown shows." Since August 26, 1978, to be exact, the nationally syndicated DJ has been reading over the air letters from listeners in which they ask that particular songs be played and dedicated to some far-off loved one. If these 20 Top 40 hits, at a CD-filling length of nearly 76 minutes, are the most popular parts of that most popular segment, they represent a diversity of dedication on the part of those listeners. Three-quarters of the songs date from the '70s and '80s, a number that increases if you consider one of tracks that was recorded in the '60s, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," a de facto '80s song by virtue of its renewed popularity as a movie theme in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). (By this measure, the other '60s track, the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," itself a remake of a '50s movie theme, could be moved to 1990 due to its association with the film Ghost.) Whatever period the recording comes from, however, the musical approach is the same. Practically every song is a ballad, sung with painful sincerity over a simple piano melody augmented by a finger-picked acoustic guitar. The messages conveyed in these dedications range from simple expressions of romantic feelings ("You Are So Beautiful," "Endless Love," "You're the Inspiration") to more complex declarations that acknowledge separation or turmoil ("Unchained Melody," "Somewhere Out There," "Right Here Waiting," "Babe"), and on to romantic regret and dissolution ("If I Could Turn Back Time," "Against All Odds," "I Honestly Love You"). Two songs proclaim "I Will Remember You" (different compositions performed by Sarah McLachlan and Amy Grant); a couple are philosophical ("I Hope You Dance," "What a Wonderful World"); and there are messages of fraternal ("Daniel") and paternal ("The Living Years") attachment. Perhaps oddest of all is the leadoff track, lyricist Linda Creed and composer Michael Masser's theme song for the 1977 film biography of Muhammad Ali The Greatest, as rendered in its 1985 hit recording by Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love of All." This ode to selfishness and egotism (or, as its adherents would claim, self-esteem and empowerment) concludes, "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." That truly makes it the anthem of both the "Me Decade" of the '70s and the "greed is good" Reagan era of the '80s. But, in this context, its inclusion provokes the question, who would you dedicate it to? Yourself? Durkee helpfully notes that it was in fact once requested by "a girl overcoming bulimia" who wrote, "Believing in yourself is the only way to accomplish things." Well, that explains the "dedication" part, sort of, but the "long distance" part remains problematic.

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