Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

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(The choice of photo for this post came down to either the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Stevie Nicks posing on the hood of a car in 1976. Mine eyes have seen the glory all right.)

Me, listening to the AT40 show from May 1, 1976: “I’m not going to write about this show. People are probably tired of hearing me go on about 1976.”

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Do That Again

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(Pictured: Bob Seger, 1980.)

I think I have stumbled into a new feature for this website of mine. American Top 40 represents only part of any given week’s record chart. Billboard ranked 60 other songs each week—more if you count Bubbling Under the Hot 100. Since I’ve written about a couple of those “bottom 60s” already, why not make it a thing?

So: beyond the Top 40 of May 3, 1980, there was this:

43. “It’s Hard to Be Humble”/Mac Davis. In the spring of 1980, I had been doing weekends at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa, for about a year. “It’s Hard to Be Humble” was a big country hit (#10) and a popular request at KDTH. Radio jocks get sick of hearing most records long before listeners do, but novelties like this one burn out even faster.

53. “Coming Up (live)”/Paul McCartney
54. “Against the Wind”/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
65. “Little Jeannie”/Elton John
76. “Theme From New York New York“/Frank Sinatra
These were the four optional extras provided to AT40 affiliates with the 5/3/80 show, and the latter three were the highest-debuting singles on the Hot 100 that week. Nobody remembers now (including me, who had to Google it) that New York, New York was a 1977 Martin Scorsese film starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, and that Liza, not Frank, sings the song in the movie.

55. “Solitaire”/Peter McIan
61. “New Romance (It’s a Mystery)”/Spider
The FM side of KDTH, D93, was a Top-40 station programmed by a guy with adventuresome taste in music. He got some gold records for being on certain songs early, but played a lot of stiffs, too. “Solitaire” was in the hot rotation on D93 for many, many weeks in the spring and early summer of 1980. Although it never cracked the Billboard Top 40, it’s pretty good, and it got McIan a spot on American Bandstand. “New Romance” is heavy bordering on lumbering, and far less memorable. Spider lead singer Holly Knight would end up in the Songwriters Hall of Fame after writing hits for Tina Turner, Aerosmith, Pat Benatar and others. Drummer Anton Fig is best-known for being part of Paul Shaffer’s band on David Letterman’s late-night shows, and as a session musician with practically everybody.

68. “Rock Lobster”/B-52s. In the spring of 1980, I was wrapping up my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and my first semester as program director of the campus radio station, WSUP. While I am sure a lot of college radio stations were on “Rock Lobster” that spring, I don’t recall that we were. We were far more interested in playing the superstars we heard on our favorite “real” radio stations, and not so much in music discovery.

73. “Let Me Be”/Korona. This band was led by Bruce Blackmon of Starbuck, and is sometimes referred to as “Starbuck under another name.” “Let Me Be” isn’t quite as slick as Starbuck’s stuff, and is not quite as good.

84. “Stay in Time”/Off Broadway
85. “It’s Not a Wonder”/Little River Band
87. “Midnight Rendezvous”/Babys
These were all favorites at WSUP as school got close to letting out, and all great records to crank while driving your car on a warm spring day. “Stay in Time” famously rose to #9 at WLS in Chicago during a 19-week run on the station’s chart, far outperforming its Hot 100 numbers, a peak of #51 and seven weeks on. “It’s Not a Wonder,” a live single from the album Backstage Pass, also peaked at #51. “Midnight Rendezvous” was the second smokin’-hot Babys single that spring, following the more successful “Back on My Feet Again,” which was also a college fave.

91. “Three Times in Love”/Tommy James. This was on its way out of the Hot 100 after topping out at #19, and is a record we have dug around here since always.

100. “Borrowed Time”/Styx. I have told this story before, but it’s worth repeating. When my pal Shark and I worked at WXXQ in Freeport, Illinois, in the summer of 1980, he sometimes hung out with me on the night shift, even though he’d have to be back for the morning show at 6AM. Shark adored “Borrowed Time,” and one night he did an acrobatic air-guitar routine while I was playing it. The station was located on a high floor of an office building, and one wall was all windows. When the song ended, the phone rang, and a guy who had been watching from a building across the street asked, “Hey man, when are you gonna do that again?”

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.

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