It’s an oft-told tale, although how many times I have told it for public consumption I don’t know. This may be the first.
In the fall of 1970, I was the first kid on my school bus every morning (at 6:50AM), and thus I rode on gravel roads and paths trodden by cows through the wilds of Clarno and Cadiz Townships for over an hour before getting to school. Being the first kid on, I had my pick of seats. The back of the bus is the most desirable spot, but what you must know about the social dynamics of the school bus is that little kids don’t get to sit in the back. One particular morning, the seat I chose was underneath the radio speaker. And on that morning, the bus driver responded to popular demand by tuning in WLS, the Classic Top 40 giant from Chicago. And the rest, as they say, is history. Your correspondent fell utterly in love with radio and with the music that came out of it. So in honor of our having made another trip around the sun since that life-altering event first took place, here are the Top Five tunes from the Billboard chart on this date in 1970.
5. Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Creedence Clearwater Revival. Maybe the first alt-country record. CCR took unadulterated twang and spiced it with up-to-the-second psychedelia. If it’s not the first alt-country record, it’s surely the weirdest record CCR ever made.
4. 25 or 6 to 4/Chicago. In later years, Chicago was criticized for making overblown dinner music–and they did. But at this point in their career, they found a way to integrate a horn section into a rock band and still rock. I heard “25 or 6 to 4” again the other day, and noticed again just how much ass it kicks.
3. In the Summertime/Mungo Jerry. Drums? We don’t need no stinkin’ drums. Very British and extremely odd.
2. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough/Diana Ross. The full-length version of this clocks in at over six minutes, and you really need to hear it all. It’s hard to think of another Motown moment more thrilling than that last recitative:
If you should fall short of your desires
Remember, life holds for you one guarantee
You’ll always have me
And if you should miss my lovin’ one of these old days
If you should miss the arms that used to hold you so close
Or the lips that used to touch yours so tenderly
Just remember what I told you the day I set you free
1. War/Edwin Starr. Still topical after 34 years–dammit. It’s hard to imagine anything so fearsomely angry could get wide radio play, right up there alongside the Carpenters and Bobby Sherman, but it did. It’s equally hard to imagine anything remotely like it making a remotely similar impact on the charts today.
Shout Out: To Dave at Memory LAME Radio, who found this blog and sent an e-mail. Dave’s got a web radio site devoted mostly to 80s music, with the kind of playlist I like–one that makes you go, “Damn! Haven’t heard that in a while.” Thanks for checking in.