My curmudgeonly post of yesterday about never going to the movies nearly came around and bit me three hours after it went up. I had time to kill late in the day before meeting The Mrs. for dinner at a spot we like, and I had to walk by a movie theater to get there. If The King’s Speech had been playing at 3:30 instead of 4:30, I probably would have bought a ticket.
We’ve become so atomized as a culture, each of us a member of several little tribes, many of them remarkably insular, that there are practically no cultural events left that we all take part in together. And so, even though The King’s Speech won Best Picture, only a tiny fraction of the population will ever see it, and its impact on whatever’s left of our common culture will be extremely limited.
I was thinking about this even before yesterday, while listening to this past weekend’s vintage American Top 40 broadcast, which counted down the chart from February 27, 1971. The show contained three different versions of the theme from the movie Love Story—a vocal by Andy Williams, the original soundtrack version by Francis Lai, and the Henry Mancini version—and a fourth recording, by Tony Bennett, was bubbling under the Hot 100. And later, Love Story would inspire yet another hit single: “Love Means (You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry)” by the Sounds of Sunshine, which would squeeze into the Top 40 in July.
That’s decent evidence that Love Story, about the doomed love of Oliver and Jenny (Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw), resonated within the culture of 40 years ago to a degree we just don’t see anymore. And never mind now—we never saw it to that degree again in the 1970s. Can you think of another movie that produced so many different hit versions of its theme? Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind each had two, original soundtrack versions by John Williams and disco versions by Meco. Perhaps there were others with more than one, but four?
Another oddity about the February 27, 1971, countdown: Right there alongside all of the romantic toonage from Love Story was one of history’s most bizarre hit singles: “D.O.A.” by Bloodrock, the lugubrious, minor-key, overly long tale of how it feels to die in an airplane crash, or a traffic accident, or some damn thing. Somebody who was there back then would have to tell me how it was that this record got onto mass-appeal Top 40 in the first place, and how it managed to do so well: ARSA shows “D.O.A.” reaching Number One in Tulsa, Kansas City, Phoenix, and San Diego, and going Top Ten in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I can understand why people might have bought it—there is no accounting for taste—but what I can’t grasp is how programmers of that day decided to play something that seems so uncommercial, right alongside the Partridge Family, Dawn, Three Dog Night, and the Osmonds.
Programming Note: Starting tomorrow, I’ll be writing Rock Flashback posts for WNEW.com six days a week. If you want to keep up with them, the best way is to follow WNEW on Twitter, since the new WNEW site doesn’t have an RSS feed yet. I’ll do my best to tweet the posts too, so check “Real Stupid in Real Time” at the right for those updates, or follow me on Twitter. I hope that the amount of work I’ll be doing over there won’t interfere with the regular goings-on at this blog, but we’ll see.