History Lesson: Play That Funky Music, Francis

September 27, 1986: The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” peaks at Number 23 on re-entry to the charts after being featured in two hit movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Back to School. A couple of weeks later, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” would re-enter the chart and rise to Number 9 by Christmas, on the strength of its inclusion in a movie of the same name. These re-entries, coming swiftly on the heels of MTV’s rediscovery of the Monkees, marked the last gasp of ’60s nostalgia before the 70s nostalgia boom kicked into overdrive.

September 27, 1980: Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening” peaks at Number 6 on the Billboard singles chart. At the time of its release earlier that fall, it set a record for what we in the radio biz call “adds”–more radio stations began playing it in the same week than any other record in history up to that time. That big initial splash didn’t translate into enduring value, though–when was the last time you heard this on the radio?

Birthdays Today: Meat Loaf is 57. Only in the 1970s could somebody with that name have become a star, although Jim Steinman’s grossly overproduced and melodramatic songs certainly helped. Only in the 1990s, when universal taste was even worse that it sometimes was in the 1970s, could the same grossly overproduced and melodramatic sludge have become popular again. Randy Bachman is 61. The guitarist for the Guess Who gained greater fame with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which was enjoying its heyday 30 years ago this fall, as “Takin’ Care of Business” slipped into recurrents and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” began its climb to Number One. (If you remember his later band, Ironhorse, and their “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” ripoff “Sweet Lui-Louise,” well, you need to get out of the house more.)

Number One Songs on This Date:
1976: Play That Funky Music/Wild Cherry. Another bit of quintessential 70s trash. You really had to be there to fully appreciate it, and I was.
1974: Rock Me Gently/Andy Kim. Next to Jeff Barry, Kim might be the greatest bubblegum genius of all time. Together, they wrote two classics, “Sugar Sugar” (which was Number One 35 years ago today) and “Baby I Love You, which Kim took into the Top Ten. “Rock Me Gently” was Kim’s biggest solo hit.
1966: Cherish/The Association. As perfect a record as anyone ever made, anywhere, anytime. The only one I can think of that rivals it is another Association hit, “Never My Love.”
1957: That’ll Be the Day/The Crickets. This song has had so much exposure in 47 years that it’s hard to hear it as it really was: as a major hit single on the radio; and as it really is: one of the milestone records in the development of rock and roll.
1947: Near You/Francis Craig. Chart expert Joel Whitburn has a theory that a Number One song is the grand prize for a recording artist, producer, and record label, and that therefore, a record’s time spent at Number One is the most basic statistic establishing its popularity. Thus the song spending the longest time at Number One is the most popular song of all time. And that would be . . . this one, which did 17 weeks at the top, from late August through mid-December 1947. Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s collaboration on “One Sweet Day” did 16 weeks at the top in 1996, so technically, they win the prize for the Hot 100 era (1958-present). But Francis Craig is the king for the entire recording era, from 1890 to right now.

One thought on “History Lesson: Play That Funky Music, Francis

  1. Anonymous

    Not only do I remember “Sweet Lui-Louise” by Ironhorse, but I have a copy of the 45,…the result of a spring cleaning day of the Music Director’s office while I was working at WKAU/Appleton-Green Bay. Now, tell me…what has been going on in the outside world, outside of my house? —-Shark

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