It was one of the weirder incidents in radio history: In 1976, a few days before its famous format flip from Top 40 to elevator music, WCFL in Chicago fired its morning team, Dick Sainte and Doug Dahlgren, for discussing the change on the air. It didn’t matter that the station was already accepting ads from other music stations in the market soliciting listeners to move after the switch—jock-talk about it was verboten. ‘CFL didn’t explain what had happened to them, of course. They just disappeared, and in the middle of their show at that. So, not long after, Dick and Doug did a guest shot on the WLS with their former competitor, Fred Winston, to explain why they’d been sacked. (Aircheck here if you scroll down; subscription required, but it’s cheap and worth it.) This week in January 1969, however, that was years in the future. Dick Saint, who had yet to add the “e” to his last name, was doing afternoons at KFRC in San Francisco, one of the great stations of the Classic Top 40 era, and was the cover boy on their weekly survey. Here’s some what he was playing:
1. “Hang ‘Em High”/Booker T. and the MGs. I’ve just finished rereading Soulsville U.S.A. The Story of Stax Records by Rob Bowman, in which Booker T. Jones and his bandmates get their due for what they did at Stax, not merely for backing up everybody who was anybody there in the 60s, but for what they did on their own. “Hang ‘Em High” is one of their greatest achievements, although Bowman notes an oddity: Although it was a smash on the pop charts, it barely squeaked into the R&B top 40. Booker T.’s academic training in music is audible here: the way the record keeps going up in key builds the tension to the breaking point, so that the release that comes with one more screaming organ line (starting at the 2:40 mark) is positively orgasmic.
14. “This Magic Moment”/Jay and the Americans. By the sound of it, you’d guess this had been a hit long before 1969, and it was—the Drifters did it in 1960. Jay and the Americans put it on an album of what were then not-very-oldies, and took it into the Top 10. It’s not a mere throwback, though. A listen reveals that while Jay Black’s lead vocal is pure 50s emoting, the backing vocals and instrumental track are clearly late-60s bubblegum.
20. “Witchi Tai To”/Everything Is Everything. It was the Sixties, so no one could have been too surprised when a song based on a Native American peyote chant became a modest hit. Band member Jim Pepper, who was of Creek and Kaw ancestry, learned the chant from his grandfather. Pepper moved on to a successful career in jazz fusion, as did another bandmate, Larry Coryell.
22. “Baby Baby Don’t Cry”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. If you set out to name as many Miracles tunes as you could, this probably wouldn’t come up in the first 20, but it should. Smokey rarely sings more beautifully than he did here. (Scores extra points for rhyming “has to be” and “catastrophe” without sounding stupid.)
25. “It Never Rains on Maple Lane”/Five Man Electrical Band. The band had relocated from Canada to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune. “It Never Rains on Maple Lane” was their first hit single, but what they really needed were work visas. Without them, they were soon on their way back to Canada. Fortunately for them, hits would follow from there.