Gourmet Cheese

The Mrs. was out of town this weekend, so Saturday night when I got home from work, I turned on the AT40 repeat that follows my radio show.

The cue sheet from the syndicator notes that the opening segment of the show (dated July 27, 1974) contains some tape warble. It didn’t sound especially awful, at least not to me—just the familiar sound of a tape briefly losing solid contact with the heads on the machine, as if there were a wrinkle in it or a bad splice, and it was gone before most listeners would have noticed it.

AT40 shows were originally mastered on tape and then sent to radio stations on vinyl discs. We know that some of the repeats are mastered from those discs. (In one of the most geektastic moments in this blog’s history, we determined a few years ago that a scratch we could hear on a remastered show was from a vinyl disc spinning at 33, which meant that the flaw was most likely on the show disc rather than the record Casey was playing.) But whether the shows are mastered from disc or tape, I wonder: Where have all the masters been living for the last 30 or 40 years?

This particular countdown is remarkably cheesy, loaded with the sort of goofball Top 40 music that made the summer of ’74 the 70s-summer-iest of the entire decade. One of the bigger wedges is “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. Yet anybody who puts it on any list of worst 70s records is dead wrong. The band gives it all they’ve got, its forward momentum makes it great fun to hear (and play) on the radio, and the payoff in its lyric—that heroism doesn’t mean a damn thing if it costs you the one you love—surely resonated with listeners at the end of the Vietnam Era. Who cares if the piccolo or tin whistle or whatever it is goes badly out of tune on its last chorus, right before the fade?

(Along similar lines, see also “Rock Me Gently” and “The Night Chicago Died,” further up the countdown. Cheese? Yup. Awesome gourmet cheese? Hell and yes.)

One of the debuts on the chart is “Rub It In,” a country crossover by Billy “Crash” Craddock, about a guy lying on the beach with his baby, asking her to put suntan lotion on various parts of his body—fairly risqué stuff for 1974. (I am surprised that none of today’s young-gun country stars has updated it yet.) Another crossover hit is set for later on: the country-soul record “One Hell of a Woman” by Mac Davis, the first of three straight pop hits for a guy who became briefly ubiquitous in that bygone year, with his own TV variety show and the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year award. Elvis is coming up, too (“If You Talk in Your Sleep”), and so is Jim Stafford’s twangy celebration of marijuana, “Wildwood Weed.”

Toward the end of the first hour, which has been full of lightweight pop and funk-free R&B, Grand Funk’s “Shinin’ On” blows you back in your seat like an astronaut pulling multiple Gs. Then “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” by Olivia Newton-John comes on and what passes for equilibrium on this show is restored.

Every week, Casey name-checks affiliate stations, although on this one, personalities from the stations themselves, including WNFL in Green Bay, voice their legal IDs and positioning slogans. A West Virginia station from coal country includes the following line: “There’s no fuel like an old fuel.” Maybe so, but what the hell is that doing in your ID?

You rarely hear records beyond the first hour that are completely unfamiliar, like “Fish Ain’t Bitin'” by Lamont Dozier, which kicks off the second hour. Dozier made his name at Motown as 33 percent of the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team, and he sounds remarkably like Phil Collins. See also “This Heart” by Gene Redding, which is another Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter production. I remember hearing that one on WCFL briefly—it’s a mighty fine pop/soul record that should have been far bigger than it was.

And that was where I fell asleep on the couch.

6 thoughts on “Gourmet Cheese

  1. bean

    Thank you for this post. I could not figure out why the Seattle AT40 70s affiliate started this week’s show at #36! They must have decided not to air the segment with the tape warble. SO i missed out on “Band On The Run” at #40, among others….

  2. The first CD I ever bought was Grand Funk’s live album “Caught In the Act,” which included a version of “Shinin’ On” about five times hotter and more energetic than the studio version.
    (I’m sure it was heavily overdubbed, as these things always are.)

  3. When Lamont Dozier first heard the opening bass notes of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater”, he thought they were covering “You Can’t Hurry Love”, which would become a hit just months later in the hands of…Phil Collins.

    “If You Talk in Your Sleep” is one of my favorite autumn-period Elvis records. My folks bought the 45 for its gospel-flavored flip, the Larry Gatlin-penned “Help Me”, but I knew where true salvation lay.

    The appearance of both “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “The Night Chicago Died” has inspired me to request a spotlight post on the songwriting team of Mitch Murray and Peter Callander in the vein of last week’s Lambert/Potter exposé. You’d have two charting versions of “Billy” to compare and contrast à la “One Tin Soldier”.

  4. J.A. Bartlett

    I want to highlight a reader comment that was added to one of the posts linked in this one, so people see it here. “The show was NOT mastered to vinyl disc until October 1971. The remastering of these shows, according to Shannon Lynn, is from the original master tapes with very few exceptions where they were restored from vinyl.”

    Thanks to Daniel. I gotta get me a copy of Pete Battistini’s book on AT40, which is from whence this info comes.

  5. porky

    If I recall “Fish Ain’t Bitin'” also had a Nixon/Watergate reference ala “Sweet Home Alabama.” Topicality in pop music is impressive in real-time but can backfire and leave the audience scratching their head a few years later.

    That Gene Redding record is killer, one that I didn’t recall by title but “came back to me” when I heard it again.

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