Top 5: Made for AM Radio

I swear, this blog writes itself some days. Today I wanted to start writing about yearend countdowns. Then I started fooling around at ARSA and the yearend countdowns could wait. When the Christmas music was put away in 1970 and the Top 40 stations returned to regular programming, here’s some of what they were playing, from the WSGN/Birmingham, Alabama, chart dated December 28, 1970:

1. “My Sweet Lord”/George Harrison. You can’t go wrong with this. Back in the day, the distinctive sound of AM radio turned the acoustic strumming that starts it and the first ringing notes of George’s electric into a sonic blast that seemed to come from the hand of the gods straight into your head.

3. “For the Good Times”/Ray Price. Country crossovers were thick on the ground around 1970, mostly non-twangy pop tunes designed to appeal to urban listeners, which this did. It’s a Kris Kristofferson ballad (and a fine one) performed by a man who was, at the time, one of the long-standing legends of country music. (Hear it here; ignore the video.)

4. “Be My Baby”/Andy Kim. This was the first version of “Be My Baby” I ever knew, and I’m almost completely irrational about it. In addition to working on some of the Archies’ brilliant bubblegum, Andy Kim also made a handful of great records himself, and this version of the Ronettes’ classic is one of them. The made-for-AM-radio craftsmanship is easy to spot here: the echo, the falsetto backing vocals, and whatever makes that sound in the instrumental break were carefully calculated for maximum sonic power out of those little speakers. (They’re never going to let Andy Kim into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame unless he buys a ticket—and that’s the Hall’s loss.)

6. “Stoney End”/Barbra Streisand. Streisand, best known as a Broadway and film singer in the 60s, tried singing more contemporary material at decade’s end. Her first attempt, What About Today in 1969, didn’t work. She went further on the next two albums, Stoney End and Barbra Joan Streisand, each of which contained a hit single that rocked pretty well: this, which is Streisand’s single most satisfying radio record, and “Where You Lead,” which stomps Carole King’s original.

11. “River Deep Mountain High”/Supremes and Four Tops. Motown had successfully paired the Supremes with the Temptations in the late 60s, so it was natural that the label would pair the Supremes and the Tops, too. This is the post-Diana Ross version of the Supremes, however, and singing duet with Levi Stubbs, new lead singer Jean Terrell gets blown to kingdom come (but the Funk Brothers and the orchestra backing them up hold their own, and then some). Like “Be My Baby,” this is a cover of a Phil Spector monument, and while it’s nowhere near so monumental as the original, it still captures the inherent thrill of Spector’s greatest song.

OK, next time, yearend countdowns. I’m sure. Really.

“Be My Baby”/Andy Kim (buy it here)

2 thoughts on “Top 5: Made for AM Radio

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