Top 5: One Little Speaker

As I’ve noted a million times before, the fall of 1970 is where time really begins for me—when the record charts first became the calendar of my life. I heard the season like the 10-year-old I was, gravitating toward my generation’s answer to the Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana—the Partridge Family and Dawn. But while I was buying that stuff, I was also buying “Love the One You’re With” and “Domino,” and digging “Tears of a Clown” and “Share the Land” and “Immigrant Song.” And in the lifetime since, I’ve discovered the context in which those first beloved records appeared. And there’s context aplenty on the survey from WIXY in Cleveland, dated November 27, 1970:

3. “Back to the River”/The Damnation of Adam Blessing (up from 4). A Cleveland band from the same scene that produced the James Gang and the Raspberries, the Damnation of Adam Blessing made three albums between 1969 and 1971 before renaming itself Glory and eventually disbanding. The group’s bassist, Ray Benich, has an extensive website covering his and the group’s history, in which he mentions that he did nearly 18 years in prison (1982-2000) for a domestic shooting, “despite having no prior criminal record (except for that Glory album).” You gotta respect a man able to retain his sense of humor after all that. I’ve cooked up and discarded a whole string of metaphors describing what “Back to the River” sounds like (crappy example: “like ‘Run Through the Jungle’ done by Iron Butterfly, only without the organ”), so click the link, see if you can do better, and share in the comments

10. “No Matter What”/Badfinger (up from 15). Here’s a record that loses something in pristine stereo sound. It’s meant to be processed for AM radio and blasted, preferably from a few hundred miles away, into a little speaker you can hold in your hand. It was produced by Beatles’ road manager Mal Evans, and it should have made Phil Spector proud (although it more likely made him envious and bitter).

12. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”/Neil Young (down from 8). According to Young’s biographer, the After the Gold Rush album, from which this comes, was Young’s attempt to merge the sounds of Crazy Horse with Crosby Stills Nash and Young. If so, “Only Love” comes pretty close. Here’s Young with Graham Nash and David Crosby performing it live in 1970:

Plus, it’s a waltz, which you hardly ever got on the Top 40.

13. “You Better Think Twice”/Poco (down from 10). The clip below is from a TV series called Something Else, hosted by comedian/impressionist John Byner that ran in the early 70s. It featured an impressive array of then-current stars, many of whom didn’t appear on television much, including the Flying Burrito Brothers, Canned Heat, the Ides of March, Richie Havens, Melanie, the Turtles, CCR, Taj Mahal, and others. I’ve been able to find precious little about this show online, but I intend to keep looking.

19. “Be My Baby”/Andy Kim (up from 27). This is one of the greatest made-for-AM-radio productions of all time—the echo, the ringing piano chords, and the skittering bass guitar, and that’s just the first 10 seconds. And whatever’s playing the instrumental break before the final refrain—string section? Theremin?—came sizzling out of your little speaker and straight into your brain. I can’t hear it without thinking about how WLS sounded at night—or about the 10-year-old me, listening on one little speaker, 135 miles away.

“No Matter What”/Badfinger (buy it here)

5 thoughts on “Top 5: One Little Speaker

  1. whiteray

    Re: “Back to the River” by The Damnation of Adam Blessing. Comparable to Sweathog? Rare Earth? The tight vocal harmonies echo something I can’t quite put my finger on. I know I’ve heard something that’s not far different. Whatever it is, I like it plenty.

  2. Three Dog Night plus Blood Sweat & Tears (but without the horns)?

    CCR having a three-way with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and CSN?

    Okay, I’m out of metaphors for now — but damn, that’s a tasty song!

  3. PS: says The Damnation of Adam Blessing covered “Last Train to Clarksville” on their first album as “an odd, heavy, funk-rock version.”

    Now that’s something I’d love to hear (I’m thinking something like Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”)…

  4. Yah Shure

    Damnation has never reminded me of anyone else, having cut my teeth on the single version in college (and it remains a favorite to this day.) There were so many great harmony rock bands kicking around like them. Gypsy, Cargoe, Circus… man, I miss that sound.

    WIXY 1260 was plenty adventurous for a top-40 AM at the time. Damnation, Poco, “Chestnut Mare”… god, I hope they were playing the full-length commercial Byrds 45 and not the helium-infused promo edit to end all promo edits (although I really do enjoy it in a falling-off-a-cliff sort of way.)

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