September 22, 1965: Three Strikes and You’re Out

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Hank Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves, center, gets caught off third base by a pack of Los Angeles Dodgers on September 21, 1965.)

September 22, 1965, was a Wednesday. Pakistan agrees to a cease-fire in its war with India, which Pakistan started with a surprise attack on September 1. Pakistani Foreign Minister Bhutto demands voters in Muslim-majority Kashmir be permitted to decide whether to remain part of India or become part of Pakistan. In addition to fighting a two-front war with Pakistan, India has also been on the verge of war with China. Reports yesterday indicated that India had begun to remove troops from the border with Tibet, as China had demanded, although Indian officials denied that a withdrawal had begun. In New York City, seven of the city’s eight daily newspapers remain shut down as reporters continue a strike that began last week and other unionized workers refuse to cross picket lines. The New York Post, which is not affected by the strike, has doubled its press run, but to fill the void, radio and TV stations have expanded news coverage, and some out-of-town papers are being sold in the city. An Associated Press story published around the country reports that subway riders are not sure how to act without a newspaper to distract them from fellow passengers. In California, migrant workers are on strike for higher wages, threatening the harvest of grapes and other farm products.

In major-league baseball today, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Braves 7-6 in 11 innings at Milwaukee County Stadium. It seems likely that this is the last game for the Braves in Milwaukee before they move to Atlanta in time for the 1966 season. The win pulls the Dodgers to within two games of the National League-leading San Francisco Giants, who lost to the Cincinnati Reds 7-1. In the AL, the front-running Minnesota Twins lose to the second-place Baltimore Orioles 5-2, but the Twins still lead by eight games. They haven’t clinched the pennant yet, but it’s getting close. Future Twins pitcher Mark Guthrie is born. In London, Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen bring their son Zac home from the hospital nine days after his birth.

On TV tonight, a number of new shows that premiered last week air their second episodes, including Gidget, The Big Valley, I Spy, Lost in Space, and Green Acres. Elvis Presley continues work on his next film, Paradise Hawaiian Style. Jazz players Wes Montgomery and Wynton Kelly complete work on a new album, which will be titled Smokin’ at the Half Note and released later this year. Dean Martin headlines the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. At the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco, the Great Society, featuring lead singer Grace Slick, plays its first gig. Elsewhere in San Francisco, the Jefferson Airplane opens for Lightning Hopkins at the Matrix.

At WMCA in New York, “Yesterday” and “Help” by the Beatles are both in the Top 10, at #1 and #7 respectively. Also in the Top 10 is Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” which was #1 last week, along with the McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy,” “You Were on My Mind” by We Five, “The In Crowd” by Ramsey Lewis, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” debuts on the station’s Good Guys Top 57 survey all the way up at #24; “Everybody Loves a Clown” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys is red-hot right behind it at #25, up from #46 last week.  Across the country at KHJ in Los Angeles, “The In Crowd” is #1 on the Boss 30 for a second week. “Yesterday,” which is shown as being by Paul McCartney, is up to #3, and “Help” is at #8. The hottest record at KHJ is “Keep on Dancing” by the Gentrys, up from #29 last week to #14 this week.

Perspective From the Present: Milwaukee Braves ownership started thinking about a move to Atlanta in 1963, and wanted to be there for the 1965 season, but were forced to keep playing in Milwaukee while legal wrangling continued. Braves games were broadcast in Atlanta in 1965. The last legal roadblock wasn’t removed until shortly before the 1966 season began. The scars left by the drawn-out battle over the future of the Braves lasted a long time in Wisconsin, even after the Brewers began play in 1970.

I knew nothing about anything that happened on this day, for I had been in kindergarten for less than a month, and my world was much, much smaller.

All Over the World

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Christopher Cross.)

Here’s more inside the American Top 40 show from September 13, 1980, which features plenty of yacht rock and other stuff both good and not so good.

We’ll pick up with Casey’s answer to a question about the first #1 album ever. It was in the March 24, 1945, edition of Billboard: Collection of Favorites by the King Cole Trio. Casey didn’t elaborate, but I will: it was a folio of four 78s that included “Sweet Lorraine,” “Embraceable You,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” among others. Also appearing on the Best-Selling Popular Record Albums chart were Glenn Miller, Judy Garland, Tommy Dorsey, Danny Kaye, and the original cast album from Oklahoma.

Now on with the countdown:

23. “Someone That I Used to Love”/Natalie Cole. Nat King Cole’s daughter serves up the best record on the show so far. Really. “Someone That I Used to Love,” a Michael Masser/Gerry Goffin composition, might have become part of the Great American Songbook had it still been accepting new entries in 1980.

21. “Don’t Ask Me Why”/Billy Joel. Billy’s gotta Billy. This has a lovely tune, but read the lyrics. It’s essentially a string of insults, some pretty vicious, aimed at a woman who has somehow given offense by . . . being a woman.

19. “Boulevard”/Jackson Browne. Casey introduces this by telling that Phoebe Snow had finally revealed that Browne was the inspiration for her song “Poetry Man.” (Browne’s Hold Out was the #1 album in this week.)

18. “All Over the World”/ELO
17. “Xanadu”/Olivia Newton-John and ELO
As much as I love ELO, “All Over the World” sounds like all the boring parts of every record they ever made. “Xanadu” is vastly more interesting, but not enough to make me think I’ll ever need to hear it again, either.

16. “You’ll Accomp’ny Me”/Bob Seger
7. “Late in the Evening”/Paul Simon
To the extent that I care, Seger’s voice is too rough and Simon’s backing track is too spiky to be yacht rock. Am I doing this right?

12. “I’m Alright”/Kenny Loggins
9. “Another One Bites the Dust”/Queen
These are the two biggest movers on the show, Loggins up 15 and Queen up 14.

10. “Drivin’ My Life Away”/Eddie Rabbitt
8. “Lookin’ for Love”/Johnny Lee

It wasn’t just the Golden Age of Yacht Rock, it was the Urban Cowboy Era, too. “Lookin’ for Love” is #1 on the country chart in this week; Rabbitt had been #1 three weeks before. Eight more songs that would top the country chart between September 1980 and January 1981 would also become major pop hits, including three #1s: Kenny Rogers’ “Lady,” Rabbitt’s “I Love a Rainy Night,” and “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton.

LDD: “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer. This is the kind of letter Casey liked best, from a wheelchair-using former swimmer to the 17-year-old candy striper/nurse who responded to his anger and depression over the accident that paralyzed him by telling him he was better off than a lot of people in this world, before dying herself after being thrown from a horse. Because I have an irrational love for “When I Need You,” I will excuse the letter and the two minutes it took to read it, but come on.

5. “Sailing”/Christopher Cross. This gets its own entry instead of being lumped with the rest of the yacht rockers in the earlier post because it’s the most perfect example of the form, or so I have heard. But I didn’t like it in 1980, and I don’t have to like it now, either. The strings weigh it down so it kills momentum on the radio, and Cross can’t sing a lick. Without the promotional clout of a major label behind it and “Ride Like the Wind” to pave the way, it would have been sunk. (Yacht. Sunk. Hey-yo!) But it had all that going for it, plus the adult-ification of pop radio that we’ve discussed here a couple times this year.

3. “Emotional Rescue”/Rolling Stones. At #3 for a fourth week in row. After 40 years, I have decided to surrender to the weirdness of this and start liking it.

2. “All Out of Love”/Air Supply. I just typed and deleted the sentence “‘All Out of Love’ spent four years at #2.” It was four weeks, but you get the idea.

1. “Upside Down”/Diana Ross. Song lyrics can be poetry, but not all lyrics are poetry. We know how certain words and phrases fill a space or work well with the music, and not necessarily to carry any particular meaning. So it is with the repeated line “I say to thee respectfully” in “Upside Down,” which would be lame if wasn’t in the service of the funkiest thing Diana Ross ever took to #1.

Real Love

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Amy Holland, who has been Mrs. Michael McDonald since 1983.)

I have had my issues with American Top 40 shows from 1980 in the past, but what the hell, let’s take a bash at another one. It’s from September 13, 1980.

Casey starts the show by thanking last week’s fill-in, Australian personality Gordon Elliott, who would later become a fixture on American TV by producing various cooking and talk shows and hosting his own. After a recap of the previous week’s top three, it’s on with the countdown—which, among other things, represents a sort of high-water mark for a particular style.

40. “Who’ll Be the Fool Tonight”/Larsen-Feiten Band
39. “First Time Love”/Livingston Taylor
38. “How Do I Survive”/Amy Holland
29. “Look What You’ve Done to Me”/Boz Scaggs
28. “Real Love”/Doobie Brothers
20. “Hot Rod Hearts”/Robbie Dupree
14. “You’re the Only Woman”/Ambrosia
11. “Into the Night”/Benny Mardones
6. “Give Me the Night”/George Benson

I like a lot of yacht rock, but I don’t care for the term “yacht rock” itself. A lot of the people who use it, up to and including Sirius/XM on Yacht Rock Radio, do so to demean or belittle a certain group of artists and a musical style, as if it had been quaint and vaguely cheesy even in 1980 but we poor benighted simpletons weren’t able to tell. Holier-than-thou postmodern hipness makes me tired. Americans have difficulty correctly remembering stuff that happened six months ago; we misunderstand the world of 1980 as profoundly as we misunderstand the Middle Ages.

27. “He’s So Shy”/Pointer Sisters
26. “Never Knew Love Like This Before”/Stephanie Mills
15. “One in a Million You”/Larry Graham
While a white dude such as I needs to tread lightly around this topic, and I could be completely wrong, isn’t there an argument that the yacht rock canon is kinda racist? To the extent that I care about it, I’m struck by just how white it is. There’s a lightly rhythmic feel to a lot of it, but not so much that you’d call it funky. “Give Me the Night” represents the far extreme of yacht-rock funkitude, so George Benson may be the exception that proves the rule. I suspect you’d get some debate about whether the Pointers, Stephanie, and Larry Graham are yacht—and might that be due to their obviously black voices? But if you strip the vocals and listen only to the backing tracks, they’re clearly on the boat. In fact, if you strip the vocals from “He’s So Shy,” it becomes “What a Fool Believes.”

36. “More Love”/Kim Carnes. Casey introduces this with a tic that drives me nuts: “Kim Carnes is the biggest dropper in the countdown this week, tumbling 22 notches from #14 to #36. Kim Carnes, with “‘More Love’,” repeating her name as if we wouldn’t be able to remember it from literally five seconds before.

Casey opens the AT40 Book of Records to find which act had the most Top-10 hits in a calendar year. Jimmy Dorsey and the Beatles tied for third place with 11; Bing Crosby once had 12. The leader: Glenn Miller, who hit the Top 10 15 times in 1942 alone. That record has since been smashed by Drake, who has 25 Top 10s—but to climb back up on a hill I would die on, such achievements during the streaming-and-download era cannot be directly compared to the era when you had to put on pants, go to a store, and buy a piece of plastic.

35. “You’re Supposed to Keep Your Love for Me”/Jermaine Jackson. Before listening to this show, I’d never heard “You’re Supposed to Keep Your Love for Me,” or even heard of it. It’s a Stevie Wonder production that did four weeks in the Top 40, peaking at #34.

EXTRA: “Moody River”/Pat Boone
EXTRA: “Quarter to Three”/Gary U.S. Bonds
EXTRA: “Tossin’ and Turnin'”/Bobby Lewis
Casey is playing all of the #1 songs of the 60s, like ’em or not. “Quarter to Three” and “Tossin’ and Turnin'” rock harder than all but a couple of the hits on this week’s chart.

30. “How Does It Feel to Be Back”/Hall and Oates. Repeating myself here: as many iconic songs as Voices contained, “How Does It Feel to Be Back,” the first single, is still the best thing on it.

LDD: “You Are So Beautiful”/Joe Cocker. With a letter from Dawn in Davenport, Iowa, to Fred (“both my fiance and my very special friend”) in South Korea. The letter is standard-issue I-miss-the-father-of-my-baby junk. For chrissakes, Dawn, buy a damn airmail stamp, write to Fred yourself, and spare us.

25. “Jesse”/Carly Simon Is this yacht? I’m about an hour-and-a-half into the show and I’m losing interest in the basic premise of this post. So I’ll stop here and pick it up again on Monday.

No Gal Made Has Got a Shade on Sweet Georgia Brown

Certain pieces of music stop time, take you places, call up images that are indelible. When you play the song at the top of this post, what do you see? If you are of a particular age, you can probably picture the famous Harlem Globetrotters “weave,” the warmup the team does when they first hit the court, which has been accompanied by the sound of “Sweet Georgia Brown” since 1952.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” was already an oldie by 1952. The original recording by Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra spent five weeks at #1 on the primordial charts of 1925, while competing versions by Isham Jones and Ethel Waters also charted. Bing Crosby took it to #2 in 1932. But the recording you know, the one that the Globetrotters use, came along at the end of the 1940s.

Freeman Davis was born in Alabama in 1902 but discovered in California. His prowess as a whistling shoeshiner earned him the nickname Whistling Sam, but he was also proficient on the bones, a percussion instrument often made from real animal bones, but also of wood. (They’re cousins to castanets and spoons.) In the late 40s—maybe 1947—Davis got a chance to record for the Hollywood label Tempo, laying down “Sweet Georgia Brown” and three other sides, which were credited to Brother Bones and His Shadows. In addition to Davis on bones and whistling, two other musicians are heard on “Sweet Georgia Brown”—a tenor saxophonist whose name is unknown, and Herb Kern on Novachord.

Herb Kern on what?

The Novachord was the original electronic synthesizer, manufactured by the Hammond Company and introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as yet another avatar of times to come. It was a cousin to the Mellotron, capable of recreating a high-pitched flute or a deep theater organ, with 120 presets to create other, more exotic sounds in between. But the Novachord was not destined for mass popularity. Each one weighed 500 pounds, contained 163 vacuum tubes, and had miles of cable and hand-tied wiring. It required the skills of an electronic tinkerer to operate and maintain. A new one cost $1,900—which is equivalent to about $35,000 today. Only about a thousand Novachords were manufactured between 1938 and 1942. But one of them belonged to Tempo Records, which released a number of Novachord-and-organ duets in the 40s featuring Kern and a guy named Lloyd Sloop. Kern was the organist of the duo, but he moved over to the Novachord to provide the bassline for “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

“Sweet Georgia Brown” sat in the Tempo vault until the summer of 1948, when it finally was released to what was known as the “race” market. After it caught on among black audiences, it crossed over to pop, eventually hitting #10 on Billboard‘s main chart early in 1949. Brother Bones got his picture on the covers of Billboard and Cash Box, and a 1951 starring role in a blackface musical called Yes Sir Mr. Bones.

(In his Pop Memories: 1890-1954, Joel Whitburn says that the Brother Bones “Sweet Georgia Brown” features not sax and Novachord but organ and a clarinet played by Joe Darensbourg. Darensbourg was a prominent New Orleans-born clarinetist who worked in Los Angeles during the late 40s, and he played on some of Brown’s other recordings, apparently, but I’m pretty sure he’s not on this “Sweet Georgia Brown,” mostly because there’s no clarinet. On another matter, Whitburn says that Davis charted a version of “Ain’t She Sweet” in 1949. It was a duet with organist Barney Lantz but was released under the bizarre, awkward name of Mr. Goon Bones and Mr. Ford.)

Brother Bones does not appear to have had any connection with the Harlem Globetrotters apart from his performance of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which has granted him a peculiar combination of immortality and obscurity. Freeman Davis died in 1971 and is buried in his longtime home of Long Beach, California.

The Novachord was used to score movies and TV shows as late as the 1960s, but apart from “Sweet Georgia Brown,” its most famous appearance on record might be on Vera Lynn’s original 1939 recording of “We’ll Meet Again.” Her more famous recording, which did not hit in America until 1954, was backed by a conventional orchestra, but her first recording features Arthur Young on the Novachord, sounding very much like an organ, but also very much not.

Additional postscript: it was easy to miss in the frantic 2020 news cycle, but Vera Lynn, who was one of the most popular performers in Britain during World War II and through the 50s, died in June at age 103. 

Past Masters

Embed from Getty Images

The Beatles released their last album of new material, Let It Be, in April 1970. But by that time, the re-purposing of Beatles content (not a phrase anyone would have used, but an idea whose time had come nevertheless) was underway.

—Even before Let It Be, in February 1970, Apple released Hey Jude, a compilation mostly of singles and B-sides that had been hard to find in America since their original release, thanks to Capitol’s practice of reprogramming Beatles albums for North America. Although it’s completely forgotten today, Hey Jude went to #2 on the Billboard 200.

—In 1973, in response to the success of a copyright-violating Beatles compilation called Alpha Omega, came the fabled “red” and “blue” releases: The Beatles: 1962-1966 and The Beatles: 1967-1970. During the week of May 26, 1973, the two albums sat at #3 and #1 respectively on the Billboard 200. They were critical in the musical education of kids who had missed the 60s. Young me bought the blue one; the young Mrs. bought the red one.

—In 1976, responding to the success of a couple of Beach Boys compilations and a cresting wave of nostalgia for the 50s and early 60s, Rock and Roll Music hit the stores. It was boosted by an honest-to-goodness hit single, “Got to Get You Into My Life,” repurposed from Revolver. Rock and Roll Music went to #2 on the Billboard 200; Wings at the Speed of Sound kept it from #1.

—A year later, some sketchy 1962 recordings made at the Star Club in Hamburg and released on a couple of obscure European labels started getting some traction, to the point at which the Beatles sued to keep them off the market. Capitol dipped into its vaults for The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, recorded in 1964 and 1965. Although prominent critics praised it, what listeners heard most clearly was the frenzied screaming of the audiences. It went to #2 on the Billboard 200 during the summer of 1977, but was quickly forgotten and fell out of print for 30 years. (The album was reissued in 2016, remixed to clean up the sound.)

—At the end of 1977 came another two-disc compilation in the mold of Rock and Roll Music: Love Songs. (In his book Dreaming the Beatles, Rob Sheffield differentiates the two albums as the one with fast songs and the one with slow ones.) It hit record stores just in time for Christmas, but made it only to #24—the first Beatles album of any sort to place below #3 on the American charts since Capitol’s first repurposing effort, the 1964 album The Early Beatles.

—In 1980, Rarities collected songs that were, for various reasons, hard to find in America, including alternate versions and rare mono or stereo mixes. Most notable among these were “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” which had been the flipside of “Let It Be,” and the German-language version of “She Loves You,” “Sie Liebt Dich.” Rarities went to #21 in Billboard.

—In 1982, Reel Music collected songs from the soundtracks of A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be. Several songs appeared in stereo for the first time in America. Released with the album but not appearing on it was “The Beatles Movie Medley,” a cheesy and overlong montage that rose to #12 on the Hot 100 mostly on curiosity value at the height of the medley craze. (On the whole it’s not good, but some of the transitions from one song to another are well done.) This was Capitol, and its British parent company, EMI, scraping the bottom of the Beatle barrel: the band remained the most popular of all time, but EMI was running out of ways to monetize them.

—At the end of 1982, purportedly to celebrate the 20th anniverary of the band’s first hits but also just in time for holiday shopping, came 20 Greatest Hits which, in pure Capitol/EMI fashion, was released in separate UK and US configurations. Perhaps America was Beatled out at that point, as the album made it only to #50.

—In 1987, the Beatles’ original albums began coming out on CD, in their UK configurations. This necessitated a series of albums to catch up on the non-album singles: Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2, which were released in 1988.

—In the CD era, Beatles compilations remained thick on the ground. Three volumes of Anthology went to #1 in 1995 and 1996; the compilation titled simply 1 went into millions of Christmas stockings in 2000 and was Billboard‘s #1 album of the year in 2001.

Fifty years after the Beatles’ breakup, with streaming the main mode of musical consumption, this kind of catalog chopping and channeling will happen no more. (At least not at the behest of a record company. Playlisting is another thing altogether.)

The Other Side of the Clock

Embed from Getty Images

I’ve done a lot of stuff in radio, with one peculiar omission: in all my years, I’ve done one overnight. Not one overnight gig, but  a single overnight shift. I was simply never asked to do one. I did lots of 6- and 7-to midnights and on-air and automation-tending shifts that ran until 2AM, but the opportunity to do a full overnight show just never came up, except the one time. It was an 11P-to-5A shift if I’m recalling correctly, sometime in 1994 or 1995, when I was working part-time before trying to get out of the biz altogether.

Overnight radio today ain’t what it used to be, thanks to syndication and voice-tracking and auto-pilot. In big cities, you still hear a few live-and-local overnight shows, but even they are growing increasingly rare. Years ago, practically every voice you heard on stations large and small was live, local, and in real time.

The overnight shift could be a proving ground, where young talents earned their stripes, or a dumping ground, a place to put somebody good enough to hire but not good enough to promote. There were, however, certain people who became stars on overnights and never left. In the Midwest, Yvonne Daniels, Eddie Schwartz, Jay Andres, Franklyn MacCormack, and Mike Rapchak all became known far beyond Chicago thanks to long tenures on AM stations that blanketed much of North America. But other cities had overnight stars whose regional reach was enormous—Franklin Hobbs on WCCO in Minneapolis and John R on WLAC in Nashville are two from the middle of the country who have been mentioned here in the past. But overnight stars weren’t heard only in big cities. In smaller markets, too, there was almost always somebody with a sizeable following “east of midnight,” a phrase that seems to have originated at WLS in Chicago sometime around 1960, but was widely borrowed.

Midday jocks can often work a normal 7:30-to-3:30 or 8-to-5 day. Everybody else has to adjust. Morning people go in while it’s dark and are often home by noon; afternoon jocks get used to eating dinner at 8 or 9PM. But doing overnights is not merely an adjustment, it’s a lifestyle. Some overnighters sleep in shifts—a few hours after getting home in the morning and a few more before going back at night, which leaves time in the middle of the day for normal day-side life and/or a few hours of office work back at the radio station. Others take up full-time residence on the other side of the clock. If the working day runs from, say, 10PM to 6AM, they find it easier on their bodies to keep to something like those hours on their days off. Back in the day, stations themselves didn’t always make this easy—you wouldn’t give your afternoon jock a regular weekend shift from 2 until 6 on Sunday morning, but overnighters were frequently asked to do a regular Saturday or Sunday afternoon. But not everyone can live entirely on the night side. One big example: when you’re married to a day-sider. One overnight guy of my acquaintance reset his body clock every weekend because his wife insisted, so on Monday and Tuesday, he’d be half in a fog.

(Most of those who are married to radio people understand the life and accept its peculiarities. This woman did not, really. I suspected that she found her husband’s east-of-midnight job embarrassing, and radio itself vaguely disreputable.)

Overnight jocks frequently heard from truckers, nurses, shift workers, and other people who were grateful to have a friendly voice keeping them company during the long dark hours. What those listeners didn’t always realize is that the overnight jocks appreciated them too. It was (and is) a solitary occupation, being on the air after hours, especially in the overnight hours. It’s good for a jock’s morale to know that yes, there is somebody else up at this hour, and that what you do matters to them.

Overnight jocks tend to have the best radio stories, because weird stuff happens in the middle of the night. Unusual interactions with listeners on the phone were almost routine, but sometimes listeners would actually come knocking on the station door, like Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti. Since some amongst the readership have been overnight jocks (for more than one night), let’s hear some stories.