Top 5: Which Way You Goin’?

This week in 1970, campuses were aflame in the wake of the American invasion of Cambodia and the killing of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University. More would be killed and wounded the next week at Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi. Before the month was out, student strikes would take place across the country, and 30 ROTC buildings would be burned. On May 8, major cities had been scenes of mass protest. In New York, protesters had marched on City Hall, where they were attacked by construction workers in what became known as the Hard Hat Riot. During the early morning hours of May 9, students keeping vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington were shocked by a 4AM visit from President Nixon. All in all, Time magazine called the week after Kent State “the most searing week of [Nixon’s] presidency.” Radio and TV newscasts that week must have seemed almost surreal.

The typical AM Top 40 station must have seemed somewhat surreal too, after the newscasts were over. It was as if radio stations sought to provide refuge from the real world by programming the most inconsequential pop music they could find. (Instead of singing about revolution, even the Beatles were singing “Let it Be,” from their album of the same name that had come out that very week.) Music concerned with heavier subjects was around just the corner, of course: CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and most famously, Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s “Ohio.” But in May, that stuff was, as CCR’s then-current hit put it, “up around the bend.” Here are some of the songs on the air at WDRC in Hartford, Connecticut, from the chart dated May 8, 1970.

4. “For the Love of Him”/Bobbi Martin (up from 8). In which Bobbi celebrates the joys of housewifely subservience in a voice that sounds like Connie Francis on quaaludes.

9. “Birds of All Nations”/George McCannon III (up from 10). This is as obscure a record as I’ve ever come across—there aren’t even any copies for sale on eBay. “Birds of All Nations” missed the Hot 100 entirely and appeared in Cash Box for only two weeks, peaking at Number 97. It was on Amos, a Los Angeles label, although McCannon also recorded on Bob Crewe’s Dynovoice label, which we mentioned just the other day. I know little about McCannon, except that he was a native of Connecticut. I know a little more about Amos Records: In 1969, the label released an album by Longbranch Pennywhistle, which featured Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther; in 1971, it put out the first album by Shiloh, which featured Don Henley.

15. “Tennessee Birdwalk”/Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan (up from 19). Almost entirely forgotten today, this was an absolute rage in the spring of 1970. Blanchard and Morgan were husband and wife. She was a piano player, he was a songwriter and comedian, and somebody once called them Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood on acid. “Tennessee Birdwalk” was all over pop radio, eventually reaching Number 23 on the Hot 100. On country stations, it was even more inescapable, reaching Number One, and ending up the Number Three country song for the whole year. Blanchard and Morgan do it live in this clip from a show hosted by legendary Nashville personality Ralph Emery, in which Emery’s jacket and shirt threaten to take over the whole thing.

17. “Which Way You Goin’ Billy”/Poppy Family (up from 27). Another of those 70s records about which I am totally irrational. The organ rush up the scale at the start of the refrain is shiveringly gorgeous, and I can say without fear of contradiction that Susan Jacks was smokin’ hot. And that guy with the afro, strumming the guitar with the poppy stuck in the neck? That’s Susan’s husband, Terry. Terry Jacks. Yup. That guy.

24. “What Is Truth”/Johnny Cash (up from 26). The real world, it seems, would not be escaped completely. “What is Truth” is the most overtly political record of Cash’s career—to my ears, it’s one of the most pointedly political records ever to make the Top 20. It asked some vital questions seeking answers that turbulent spring, and it gains extra points for taking the side of those doing the asking. Here’s Cash performing it (along with some original poetry) on his TV show in 1970.

3 thoughts on “Top 5: Which Way You Goin’?

  1. Miles

    Tennessee Birdwalk was a great song! Great to listen to while driving around. Good to see Jack and Misty stop by.

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