Snippets of 1980

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(Pictured: Linda Ronstadt with David Bowie, 1980.)

I wasn’t going to write about the American Top 40 show from May 3, 1980, partly because Music in the Key of E wrote about the same week’s chart (part 1 here, part 2 here) and it was great. Then I got done listening to the show and decided that what I want to say about it won’t overlap, so here goes.

—The recap of the previous week’s chart was a fine idea, as a way of padding the shows out to four hours, because the Top 40 stations airing the original shows would likely have played the top songs twice in that span anyhow. But with the shows running today as repeats on oldies, AC, or classic-hits stations, it doesn’t work nearly so well.

—On the subject of padding, Casey is almost done running through the #1 hits of the 70s, which he started doing when the show went to four hours in October 1978, and which he plays at the rate of three a week. He’s up to the spring of 1979 on this show and the 234th #1 hit, “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees. I count 19 more to go, which will take him well into June.

—A listener writes to ask about the most popular songs by Caribbean acts. Casey runs down a list that’s topped by Cuban bandleader Perez Prado, whose “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” was #1 in 1955, before the advent of the Hot 100. I wonder how many AT40 listeners of 1980 had heard of that song from 25 years earlier, considering that it wouldn’t have been in anybody’s oldies rotation.

—Before playing Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “Hurt So Bad,” Casey plays snippets of earlier versions by Little Anthony and the Imperials and the Lettermen. Each version has something to recommend it: I am a fan of Little Anthony’s voice and the Lettermen’s harmonies, but Linda stomps both of them.

—Before playing “Biggest Part of Me” by Ambrosia, Casey opens “the AT40 book of recipes” and tells listeners what’s in ambrosia salad. It probably wasn’t the least interesting thing I ever heard him say, but it would be in the semifinals. (Sirius/XM’s Alan Hunter also talked about ambrosia salad when he counted down this list recently, so it’s the only thing anybody can think of to say, apparently.)

—Casey follows “Biggest Part of Me” with a feature listing the biggest hits Frankie Valli ever sang on, solo and with the Four Seasons, and then he plays the biggest, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Subject for further examination: do we still want to hear the Four Seasons’ 60s hits today, over 50 years later? The last few times they’ve popped up on shuffle, I’ve had a strongly negative reaction to them.  I’m fine with Valli’s 70s stuff, and on some of the lesser-known 60s material. But lately, they sound dated and gimmicky in a way they never did before.

Now, some of the Top 10, in the usual style.

10. “Hold on to My Love”/Jimmy Ruffin
9. “Sexy Eyes”/Dr. Hook
I barely remembered “Hold on to My Love,” which was co-written and produced by Robin Gibb. Backed up with “Sexy Eyes,” you’ve got two records that practically no radio station played after they fell out of recurrents.

8. “I Can’t Tell You Why”/Eagles. Casey describes Joe Walsh’s record of hotel-room destruction, which he portrays as rock-star eccentricity. He closes the story by saying that Walsh may be ramping up his destructiveness after his manager gave him a chainsaw for Christmas. In the context of what we know today about Walsh’s substance-abuse problems (and our ongoing international plague of spoiled, entitled people behaving badly without being held to account), none of it is funny.

4. “With You I’m Born Again”/Billy Preston and Syreeta
3. “Lost in Love”/Air Supply
Casey calls “With You I’m Born Again” the most romantic record of the year. All I hear is the longest three minutes of the year, which sucked the life out of your favorite station then and would do the same thing today. It’s a subtle difference, but I think this is it: “With You I’m Born Again” is the sound of people telling how it feels to be in love, while “Lost in Love,” all dreamy, wondrous befuddlement, actually captures the feeling.

1 “Call Me”/Blondie. I didn’t know anybody in 1980 who liked this song, but it did six weeks at #1, so somebody did.

Go read Music in the Key of E on this week, and on other weeks too. And be sure to stop by on Monday for a new thing I have discovered that we can do, entirely by accident.

Whatever Will Be, Will Be

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(Pictured: Peggy Lipton, in a 1972 still from The Mod Squad.)

We know they don’t really go in threes . . . although they do.

Peggy Lipton passed over the weekend at age 72. Her obituaries assumed the form that all celebrity obituaries do, hitting familiar highlights, in her case The Mod Squad, her marriage to Quincy Jones, Twin Peaks, and her celebrity daughter Rashida Jones. But Peggy Lipton had a brief recording career, too: a single album in 1968, produced by Lou Adler and backed by members of the Wrecking Crew. Peggy Lipton included a version of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” which bubbled under the Hot 100 at #121 as 1968 turned to 1969, two years before Barbra Streisand hit with it. She cut a few other sides after that. One of them was “Lu,” which hit a few radio charts early in 1970 and bubbled under at #102. A version of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which appears to have been recorded at the time of her album but not released on it, got a little traction in the summer of 1970, bubbling under at #108.

Doris Day died on Monday. Her obituaries had their own familiar form: big-band singer, solo star, movie star (Hitchcock and Rock Hudson), TV star, celebrity son Terry Melcher, animal rights activist. My introduction to her as a singer came during my brief time as a big-band radio jock. “Sentimental Journey,” from when she fronted the Les Brown band, is a record most people know, but she also sang on Brown’s “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time.” Both were #1 hits in 1945. I played her solo hits too, not just “Que Sera, Sera,” “Secret Love,” and “Everybody Loves a Lover,” but also “Love Somebody” with Buddy Clark, “An Old-Fashioned Walk” with Frank Sinatra, and “A Guy Is a Guy.”

Tim Conway died yesterday. His obituaries mostly involved television: McHale’s Navy, Turn-On, The Carol Burnett Show, Dorf on Golf, and Spongebob Squarepants, with a detour into his 1970s Disney movie comedies. But Conway, too, had a recording career. After he got out of the Navy in the late 50s, he worked for several years on local TV in Cleveland, with a partner, Ernie Anderson. As local TV personalities frequently did in those days, they would host the showing of a movie and goof off during the breaks. Conway and Anderson eventually released two comedy albums. Are We On? was recorded live at a show in Bowling Green, Ohio, and came out in 1967; Bull appeared in 1968. It’s not clear to me when the albums were recorded, however. Their Cleveland partnership had ended in 1962 when Conway went off to Hollywood, first for a featured-player role on The Steve Allen Show and later on McHale’s Navy. Anderson stayed in Cleveland, where he became famous as the horror host Ghoulardi, and later as the voice of ABC-TV in the 70s and 80s. He would also be reunited with Conway on The Carol Burnett Show, where Anderson was the announcer and an occasional actor. (Ernie Anderson was also the father of film director Paul Thomas Anderson, and he died in 1997.)

For the families and friends of Peggy Lipton and Doris Day and Tim Conway, the losses are deeply personal. For the rest of us, it’s our memories of them, and how we watched them with the family around the electronic hearth, that make their passings noteworthy. We remember The Mod Squad, and how we’d laugh at Tim Conway on Saturday nights with Carol Burnett, after laughing at Archie and Edith and Mary and Ted and Bob and Emily. Doris Day’s TV show (1968-1973) followed The Red Skelton Show, a particular favorite at our house, and I can’t hear her theme song, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” without remembering that when it came on TV, we had to go to bed. In that same era, Mother sometimes said to my brothers and me, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” I didn’t know until years later that the line came from “A Bushel and a Peck,” which was a hit for Day in 1950, when Mother was a schoolgirl.

They don’t really go in threes . . . but however and whenever they go, they take pieces of our youth with them.

Life Is a Song

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(Pictured: Canadian singer Ginette Reno, who has come out of semi-retirement several times in recent years to sing national anthems during the NHL playoffs, seen here in 2017.)

ARSA, frequently mentioned here, is the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. It has over 91,000 radio station music surveys in its collection now, an unmatched resource for the history of popular music and pop radio in last half of the 20th century. The other day, while looking for something else, I found a year-end survey for 1970 from CKLG in Vancouver, British Columbia. CKLG was at 730 on the AM dial, but instead of listing the Top 73 for the year, CKLG listed the Top 173. And it’s actually even bigger than that: CKLG’s Top 173 includes six two-sided hits, so it’s actually 179 songs. Three of the six are by Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Travelin’ Band”/”Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door””/”Long As I Can See the Light,” and “Up Around the Bend”/”Run Through the Jungle.” Three others are by the Guess Who: “American Woman”/”No Sugar Tonight,” “Share the Land”/”Bus Rider,” and “No Time”/”Proper Stranger.”

CKLG’s Top 173 of 1970 includes a number of Canadian acts besides the Guess Who with hits south of the border: Anne Murray, Andy Kim, the Poppy Family, Mashmakhan, Gordon Lightfoot, Edward Bear, the Original Caste, Tom Northcott, and Ronnie Hawkins (who was born in America but has lived most of his life in Canada). The 1970 list also has a couple of acts that would eventually hit in America but hadn’t yet, including the Bells and Terry Jacks (who was part of the Poppy Family). But what interests us more are those Canadian acts who remain unknowns down here. Such as:

71. “I Must Have Been Blind”/The Collectors. A Vancouver act with a handful of late 60s hits in Canada, the Collectors eventually morphed into the better-known and more-successful Chilliwack.

91. “One Way Ticket”/McKenna Mendelson Mainline. A blues band made up of musicians from four prominent Toronto bands whose album bore the rather unfortunate title Stink. By the time 1970 had dawned, the band had already begun to fall apart. Future funk legend Rick James was a member for a while during its later stages.

123. “Life Is a Song”/Gainsborough Gallery. The lone black member of this five-piece group left soon after they recorded their album, allegedly because certain American clubs didn’t want to book a mixed-race band. Their album, described as “experimental melodic and psychedelic garage pop,” was produced by Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, at the same studio where Buddy Holly recorded. “Life Is a Song” is about as substantial as a soap bubble, and you can hear it at the bottom of this page.

124. “We Were Happy”/Jason Hoover. A meandering bit of prog rock that’s credited incorrectly on the CKLG survey. This band was properly known as The Trials of Jayson Hoover, one of several identities assumed by various combinations of Vancouver musicians of the 1960s, always fronted by one Jayson Hoover.

125. “My Home Town”/Seeds of Time. Another Vancouver act, some members of which would move on to the more successful group Prism, best known in America for “Don’t Let Him Know,” as well as the ridiculous and awesome “Armageddon” and “See Forever Eyes.” “My Home Town” is the first song on this list so far that I’d be interested in hearing again.

129. “Beautiful Second-Hand Man”/Ginette Reno. Reno is from Quebec and would become a much-decorated star of music, movies, and TV through the course of her long career, which began in the 60s. Thanks to her anthem performances at National Hockey League playoff games over the last several years, she might be the best-known performer on this list. Celine Dion considers Reno one of her idols.

142. “Ten Pound Note”/Steel River. It’s not correct to say this Toronto band was utterly unknown in the States. We’ve mentioned them at this blog once before, during one of our earlier forays into Canadian content. Two of Steel River’s singles, including “Ten Pound Note,” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and 1971.

158. “We Will Find Love”/Ann Attenborrow. This record was produced by Tom Northcott, whose fingerprints were on a fair number of Canadian hits of this period. Apart from that, the Internet knows nothing.

172. “As Feelings Go”/Spring. Still another Vancouver band, Spring seems never to have recorded an entire album, only a few singles in 1969 and 1970. “As Feelings Go” sounds like Badfinger, and I like it.

If you are interested in the Vancouver music scene (scoff if you must, but somebody amongst the readership might be), there’s plenty here.

More and More

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(Pictured: a look inside my head, and maybe yours too.)

Certain songs seem to have been in my head forever. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a house where the radio was always on. When I hear those songs now, they come with associations positively ancient, from the beginning of time and possibly before. A lot of those songs date back to the late 50s and the early 60s, to what I have called “time without a calendar,” before I started listening to my own radio stations and could use the record charts to mark my passage through the years. A lot of them call up rainy Saturday afternoons, Mother bustling around the house doing the endless chores required while raising two and later three young boys, those young boys with Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys spread out across the living room, Dad periodically coming in from whatever he was doing outside, and all of it soundtracked by our hometown radio station, or maybe by WGN from Chicago.

This post is about one of those songs.

Doris “Dotty” Babb was in showbiz early, having performed at Carnegie Hall in the late 1920s, when she was 13 years old. As a girl, she also performed on Broadway and radio. But showbiz was not going to be her life. She was attending business school when she met Art Todd, a fellow musician from her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and married him the same year, 1941. After Art got home from the Second World War, they relocated to California, where they worked in radio, and played hotels and casinos.

Art and Dotty Todd eventually got a record deal from RCA; in 1953, “Broken Wings” did big business in the UK but nothing at all in the States. In 1958, songwriter/producer Wayne Shanklin brought them “Chanson D’Amour,” and they cut a demo in the style of Les Paul and Mary Ford, who had recorded a string of successful duets going back to 1951. But no record label wanted it until a small label called Era decided to bite. (Even then, one of Era’s owners told the other that “Chanson D’Amour” was, in his words, a “piece of shit.”) Rather than recutting it, Era released the demo as it was.

“Chanson D’Amour” rose to #6 on Billboard‘s Top 100 in May 1958, and was a #1 hit at WOKY in Milwaukee and at WGR in Buffalo. Art believed that its popularity was partly driven by the resistance of some DJs to rock ‘n’ roll, and their preference for more traditional sounds. (In Buffalo, it ran the Top 10 alongside the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Twilight Time” by the Platters, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and David Seville’s novelty “Witch Doctor.”) “Chanson D’Amour” got its first big boost when it was featured on the TV show Your Hit Parade. Art and Dotty themselves appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and on American Bandstand as well; I have seen a clip of their Bandstand appearance, which featured Dick Clark introducing them from horseback for some reason, but it’s not at YouTube anymore.

Six decades later, it’s easy to hear the appeal of “Chanson D’Amour”: Art and Dotty’s close harmonies, the ever-so-slightly lascivious saxophone (which honks just enough to appeal to rock ‘n’ roll fans of 1958), and “rah-ta-ta-ta-da.”

For all their success in 1958, Art and Dotty Todd never returned to the big Billboard chart, although they continued to record and perform. They were regulars at casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, and in 1980 moved to Hawaii and opened a club there. Dotty Todd died in 2000 at age 87; Art died in 2007 at age 90. Wayne Shanklin, who had written Frankie Laine’s big 1951 hit “Jezebel,” went on to write “Primrose Lane,” a 1959 hit for Jerry Wallace (another song that comes to me with associations from the deepest past). He died in 1970.

In 1953, Art and Dotty’s “Broken Wings” was outdone in the UK by a version by the Stargazers, which went to #1. Their “Chanson D’Amour” was bested in the UK as well, but not until years later. In 1977, Manhattan Transfer took a version to #1. While it imitates Art and Dotty, it doesn’t capture whatever was the indefinable something that made the original insinuate itself into my head years before, when I was too young to know it.

Back in the Saddle Again

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(Pictured: Aerosmith, 1977.)

Because no good idea ever goes unrepeated around here, let’s look at what was below the Top 40 on the chart from April 16, 1977, which I wrote about on Friday.

45. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner
49. “Tie Your Mother Down”/Queen
57. “Do Ya”/Electric Light Orchestra

58. “Sleepwalker”/The Kinks
61. “Margaritaville”/Jimmy Buffett

70. “Back in the Saddle”/Aerosmith
74. “The Whistler”/Jethro Tull
76. “Sound and Vision”/David Bowie
77. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac
81. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
92. “Arrested for Driving While Blind”/ZZ Top
98. “Go Your Own Way”/Fleetwood Mac

The spring and summer of 1977 were seasons in which a lot of the classic-rock radio canon was first laid down. “Hotel California,” “Carry on Wayward Son,” “Lido Shuffle,” and “Fly Like an Eagle” were already in the Top 40 in this week. “Dreams” would make #1 in June; “Feels Like the First Time” and “Margaritaville” would make the Top 10, and both “Night Moves” and “Go Your Own Way” had already been there; “Do Ya” had been up to #24; “Back in the Saddle” would make #38. “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Sleepwalker,” “The Whistler,” “Sound and Vision,” and “Arrested for Driving While Blind” wouldn’t crack the Top 40, but they got Top 40 airplay in a few places in 1977 before getting it on classic-rock radio in far more places for years thereafter. And this was only the beginning: by the middle of May, “Jet Airliner,” “Solsbury Hill,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “Peace of Mind” would also debut on the Hot 100, on the way to a highly crankable radio summer.

51. “Old Fashioned Boy (You’re the One)”/Stallion. “Old Fashioned Boy” is a record I liked a lot more in 1977 than I do now, but the refrain remains the distilled essence of 70s radio pop: “You’re the one that I’ve been lookin’ for forever / The one who makes my life seem so much better.” It would spend two weeks in the Top 40, peaking at #37.

55. “Sailing Ships”/Mesa
56. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor
90. “Sad Girl”/Carl Graves
91. “Rock and Roll Star”/Champagne
“Torn Between Two Lovers” had been  #1 in February. Mesa was a five-piece band of session players; Graves was a Canadian soul singer who had been in Skylark, famous for the 1973 hit “Wildflower”; Champagne was Holland’s attempt to recreate ABBA (and what a remarkably faithful attempt it was). What they all have in common is the Ariola America label, which was (wait for it) the American subsidiary of the European Ariola label. Its most prolific hitmaker was singer/songwriter Gene Cotton. Other artists with hits on the label in the late 70s included Billy Ocean, the disco group Chanson, and the heartland rock band Prism. This week may have represented peak Ariola America, although the label would get to #1 in 1979 thanks to Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood.”

62. “Theme From Charlie’s Angels“/Henry Mancini
83. “Roots Medley”/Quincy Jones
100. “Deeply”/Anson Williams
Even though synergy between television and the pop charts was extremely strong at this moment in time (as mentioned on Friday, and be sure to read the comments on that post, which elaborate on it), not everything from the tube became a big radio hit. The Charlie’s Angels theme would peak at #45; “Roots Medley” had reached #57 the week before this; “Deeply,” sung by the guy who played Potsie on Happy Days, had topped out at #93.

93. “Whatcha Gonna Do”/Pablo Cruise. From this debut position, “Whatcha Gonna Do” would slow-cook its way up the chart, losing its bullet (Billboard‘s signal of strong upward movement) a couple of times along the way. It crept into the Top 40 on June 11 at #39 and peaked at #6 for the weeks of August 20 and 27. It would stay on the Hot 100 until October, 26 weeks in all. Despite all the classic rock on here, if I were to pick one song that sums up the way the summer of 1977 sounds in memory, “Whatcha Gonna Do” might be it.

97. “Phantom Writer”/Gary Wright. Wright’s album The Dream Weaver had been one of the big hits of 1976 with two singles that hit #2. “Phantom Writer,” from the album The Light of Smiles, had peaked at #43 the week before. (They loved it in Bangor, Maine, though, where WGUY took it up to #9.)

104. “Theme From Rocky“/Current. This studio group got to the chart with its Casio keyboard version of “Gonna Fly Now” before versions by Bill Conti and Maynard Ferguson (both of which would leap over it and into the Hot 100 the next week). It was produced by Joe Saraceno, who had produced records by the bushel since the early 60s, including a few surf-rock classics by the Marketts (“Out of Limits”) and the Ventures (“Hawaii Five-O” and their Christmas album).

Please imagine a clever, poignant, or insightful concluding sentence here, because I got nothin’.

Right Time

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(Pictured: Thelma Houston at Motown 60. She’s still got it and she knows it.)

I have written about other weeks from the spring of 1977, but I don’t think I’ve written about the AT40 show from April 16, 1977, so here you go.

40. “Spring Rain”/Silvetti
39. “Uptown Festival (Part 1)”/Shalamar
This is not the most scintillating way to start a radio show. “Spring Rain” (which is at #40 for a second straight week) has some nice piano, but that’s it; “Uptown Festival,” a medley of Motown songs set to a disco beat, never catches fire.

34. “Dancin’ Man”/Q. Late in April 1984—I forget the precise date—my best friend died, after the third open-heart surgery of his short life. We never talked about it, but I suspect that he always knew he wasn’t going to live as long as the rest of us, which would explain why he lived the way he did: with no limits and no regrets. “Dancin’ Man” was a song he liked, and every time I hear it, I can see him improvising a dance step to the radio, grinning beneath the white-guy Afro he sometimes wore.

33. “Sometimes”/Facts of Life
30. “At Midnight”/Rufus

28. “New York, You Got Me Dancing”/Andrea True Connection
25. “Free”/Deniece Williams
A lot of the songs on this chart (“Spring Rain” and “Uptown Festival” too) weren’t on the radio stations I was listening to that spring.

32. “Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow”/Tom Jones
3. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell
Both of these had been to #1 on the Billboard country chart earlier in the spring. Ten of the year’s #1 country hits would cross over. Another of the #1s, Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille,” will debut on the 40 next week.

23. “I Like Dreamin'”/Kenny Nolan. Casey says that Nolan wrote “I Like Dreamin'” out of anger, after his songs were rejected by prominent performers even after he’d written two #1 hits, “My Eyes Adored You” and “Lady Marmalade.” Only in the sensitive 70s would an angry man channel that emotion into an ultra-sappy love song.

22. “Your Love”/Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. A #1 hit like “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” was the kind of record that made careers back in the day, and as the summer of 1977 glimmered in the distance, it must have seemed like Marilyn and Billy would become Captain-and-Tennille-level stars. “Your Love” was climbing the chart, and they’d landed a limited-run summer variety show on CBS. But it didn’t happen: “Your Love” stalled at #15, “Look What You’ve Done to My Heart” got only to #51 in the summer, and they never hit the Hot 100 again. Still, they won at life: this summer, they’ll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

17. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs
16. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band
15. “I Wanna Get Next to You”/Rose Royce
14. “Carry On Wayward Son”/Kansas
13. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer
12. “Tryin’ to Love Two”/William Bell
11. “Right Time of the Night”/Jennifer Warnes
That’s some serious Top 40 pleasure right there. As much as I love #17, #16, #15, and #13, “Tryin’ to Love Two” might be the best song on the show.

8. “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”/Barbra Streisand
6. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
After spending three weeks at #1 in March and starting on its way down, “Evergreen” is actually up one spot this week, its 12th straight week in the Top 10. Lots of people would be surprised to learn “Dancing Queen,” last week’s #1, was #1 for only a week, and that it came and went in a hurry compared to other top hits of 1977.

2. “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/Thelma Houston. If you saw the Motown 60th anniversary special a couple of weekends back, you saw Thelma Houston, age 72, blow singers young enough to be her grandchildren right off the stage. I tweeted something to that effect during the show using the Motown 60 hashtag, and it ended up with 32 retweets and 187 likes from around the world, which would make it the single most popular thing I ever said on that hellsite. Perhaps I should quit now. Perhaps all of us should.

1. “Don’t Give Up on Us”/David Soul. In a three-channel universe with mass-appeal radio stations, we all watched and listened to pretty much the same stuff. “Don’t Give Up on Us” got a weekly boost on TV every time Starsky and Hutch was on, even if the song had nothing to do with the show. If I had a longer attention span, I might research the synergy between TV and the record charts in the last half of the 1970s. A better work ethic wouldn’t hurt, either.

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