(Edited to add and link to tasty new knowledge.)
I’m especially fond of the late summer music surveys from 1970. As I have repeated repeatedly over the years, I first discovered music and radio on the school bus in the fall of 1970, and those twin obsessions have never left me. But in late August 1970, a week or so before I would go off to Mrs. Barribeau’s fifth-grade class at Northside School, all that was in the future. So looking at this week’s survey (from KADI in St. Louis, dated August 19, 1970) is like looking at my life in the test tube, all mixed up but not yet poured out: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “I Know I’m Losing You” and “Groovy Situation” still have their time-traveling mojo, and I could write volumes about them, but I’ll try to focus instead on some of the other interesting tunes on the radio at the same time.
1. “25 or 6 to 4″/Chicago. (up from 4) As thorough an ass-kicking as anybody administered to Top 40 listeners in 1970, or in any other year of the ’70s, actually. Makes Van Halen sound like pussies.
8. “Solitary Man”/Neil Diamond. (up from 11) This song was Diamond’s first single, and hit Number 55 in 1966. The version that was a hit in 1970 is a different recording, however—but as for the provenance of each one, who the hell knows. Here’s what I think I think: Diamond came up on the Bang label; his 1966 hit single version of “Solitary Man” was Bang 519 and appeared on the album Just for You. By 1970, Diamond had left Bang for Uni Records, but Bang was still releasing Diamond product from its vaults. The single version of “Solitary Man” that reached Number 21 in 1970 was Bang 578, taken from a Bang compilation album called Shilo, which featured remixed and even partially re-recorded versions of songs, many of which overlap with Diamond’s very first album, a compilation of Bang singles called The Feel of Neil Diamond, released in 1966. I am tempted to say that the version of “Solitary Man” that was a hit in 1970 is actually the first recording of it, and the 1966 hit version is the second. I believe the instrumental track is the same on both, but mixed differently on each; the vocal is clearly different on each recording. However, listening to them side-by-side (as you can do below), the 1966 hit version sounds like the work of a callow young singer just learning how to perform, while the 1970 hit version sounds like the work of a more mature singer—an impression shared by The Mrs., who’s a serious singer herself.
(After all this, I half-expect to find out that the version I remember from 1970 is the 1966 version and the 1966 version is the one that was released in 1970. If that happens, I may go back to blogging politics instead of music.)
(Be sure to read the comment on this post from reader Yah Shure, who sorts things out considerably.)
20. “Rubber Duckie”/Ernie. (up from 23) From Sesame Street, and the moment the show broke into the national consciousness, this was an actual Number 16 hit in Billboard. It would be even bigger in St. Louis (and in Dallas and Denver, too). If, somehow, you have missed hearing it in the last 38 years, here ya go. I have played some annoying shit on the radio in my time, but even I can scarcely imagine the horror of having to play this two or three times a shift for weeks on end.
37. “Fire and Rain”/Georgie Fame. (first week on) Which may be same song that James Taylor would take into the Top 40 a month later, or it may not be. I can’t find information to confirm or deny.
Help a brother out if you can. (It’s James Taylor’s song all right. Now I’d like to know how Fame got it on the radio before Taylor did.)
40. “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”/Johnny Cash. (first week on) I’ve heard this dozens of times since 1970, maybe hundreds, and every time it comes on, I listen closely, both to the lyrics and to the way Cash sings them, trying to figure out everything it could possibly mean. And I don’t know yet. Here’s a video, in which Cash precedes Kris Kristofferson’s song with a brief monologue offering some of his own insights into its meaning, before going into a lip-sync performance. It’s intercut with some footage of a lonely drifter that adds to the song’s already-powerful emotional wallop.
No arguments allowed: “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down,” sung with so much dignity in the face of such great pain, is a masterpiece.
You can buy “Solitary Man” at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com, but beyond that, you’re on your own. My 1970 version of the song comes from an out-of-print compilation, and I have no idea which version is contained on which in-print Diamond compilation—so good luck to ya.