Bullets Fly

Last week I wrote about the unusually large drops from #1 taken by a number of records on the Billboard Hot 100 during the fall of 1974. One commenter noted the role of Billboard chart director Bill Wardlow in lots of shenanigans during his tenure (1974-1983). A little more research indicates that chart positions were often up for sale. A message-board thread at the American Top 40 Fun & Games Site suggests that at the height of the disco era, RSO Records releases frequently moved in unusual ways, leading to suspicion that their positions were bought and paid for, especially the #1 hits “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman and “Love You Inside Out” by the Bee Gees. For a time, labels could supposedly pay a flat $5,000 for the all-important “bullet” designation, which shows that a record is likely to keep climbing the chart, important for maintaining radio airplay and retailer orders.

(In And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records, Larry Harris says that Wardlow, a disco fan, gave Casablanca whatever chart positions it wanted in exchange for invitations to the label’s events, at which he was treated like a big shot. “We never paid him a nickel,” Harris told AV Club in 2009. “Later, other people did.”)

The same AT40 message board thread notes instances in which specific chart positions seem a little too good to be true. For example, in December 1974, John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” held at #40 for a second week on its way down the chart, the week George Harrison’s “Dark Horse” joined McCartney’s “Junior’s Farm” and Ringo’s “Only You” in the Top 40. One poster suggested that Billboard jiggered the numbers to “create a cool Beatles story for Casey.”

All of this is a not-very-good introduction to what happened in the fall of 1975, when a lot of records made strange-looking moves. They aren’t falling out of #1 from great heights this time, but they are flying all over the place below the #1 spot. If you care, the rundown is on the flip.

—On August 30, “Please Mr. Please” by Olivia Newton-John falls from #10 to #31, while “I’m Sorry” by John Denver zooms to #20 from #49.

—On September 6, “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War falls from #9 to #30.

—On September 13, “Holding on to Yesterday” by Ambrosia and “Tush” by ZZ Top fall plumb out of the Top 40, from #17 to #41 and #20 to #42. In the same week, “One of These Nights” by the Eagles drops from #10 to #29.

—On September 20, “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band goes from #4 to #15. In this season, however, a double-digit fall out of the top 10 is not that unusual.

—On September 27, “Third Rate Romance” by the Amazing Rhythm Aces falls from #14 to #41.

—On October 4, Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood” goes from #25 to #8, “Rocky” by Austin Roberts goes from #24 to #10, and “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles goes from #40 to #18, but “The Way I Want to Touch You” by the Captain and Tennille outdoes them all with a move from #80 to #33. In the other direction, “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers drops from #4 to #24 and “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian falls to #21 from #7.

—On October 11, “Miracles” by the Jefferson Starship reaches #5 from #22. Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” swan-dives from #3 to #15, while “I Believe There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love” by Paul Anka plunges from #15 to #41.

—On October 18, “Mr. Jaws” by Dickie Goodman falls to #4 from #16.

—On October 25, “Rocky” falls from #15 to #40. So its run over the span of five weeks is 24-10-9-15-40.

—On November 1, “Island Girl” by Elton John goes from #8 to #1, and “That’s the Way I Like It” by KC and the Sunshine Band blasts to #28 from #50. On the way out, “Ballroom Blitz” by the Sweet goes to #33 from #9.

—On November 15, “That’s The Way I Like It” goes from #19 to #6. Paul McCartney’s “Venus & Mars”/”Rock Show” enters the Top 40 at #36 from #60 the week before.

—On November 22, in a remarkable coincidence, Pete Wingfield’s “Eighteen With a Bullet” is at #18 with a bullet. KC hits #1 from #6 and “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention shoots from #16 to #2. “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” by Esther Phillips falls from #20 to #51.

—On November 29, “Lyin’ Eyes,” which had been #2 only two weeks before, falls from #12 to #39.

Things start to quiet down toward the end of December, but not before “Fox on the Run” by the Sweet goes from #26 to #11 on December 6. Then, three of that week’s top 10 dive at least 10 spots the next week.

Maybe the Top 40 audience was unusually fickle in the fall of 1975 and the numbers reflect it. Maybe somebody at Billboard was sending coded messages to the Russians. Beats me. But it’s interesting.

12 thoughts on “Bullets Fly

  1. Gary

    Strange indeed. I can see a novelty record like “Mr. Jaws” dropping a bunch, when they have run their course, they disappear quickly and are never heard again. But some of the others are perplexing. Like they suddenly stop selling. I also wonder if airplay skids on some of them also going from “A” rotation to “B” status quickly after they peak. Just a thought.

  2. Andy Denardi

    I’ve got a Top 40 question, and since you’ve spent some time reading the charts, maybe you can answer it.

    I’m looking at the chart ending Sept 21, 1974. The song “Second Avenue” made it’s 1st appearance, at #77, sung by Art Garfunkel. A version by Tim Moore also charted that week at #83.

    I know that there were dueling versions of the same song on the charts on several occasions, so I did a little bit of checking to find out the highest position that a second version of the same song had reached in the same year. I found that “Ain’t That A Shame” peaked at both #1 and #10 in 1955. I believe that they were on the chart simultaneously.

    Are there any other songs to have one or more versions reach the top 10 in the same year?

    1. Yah Shure

      Off the top of my head, here are a few cover battles which had at least one version land at number one:

      From 1955: “Unchained Melody.” Les Baxter (#1), Al Hibbler (#3) and Roy Hamilton (#6) all landed in the top ten.

      1957 found face-offs between Charlie Gracie and Andy Williams with “Butterfly” and Tab Hunter and Sonny James on “Young Love.” All four of those records reached #1.

      1977 saw a pair of box office battles: Meco (#1) and the London Symphony Orchestra (#10) fought it out over the “Star Wars Theme,” while Bill Conti (#1) KO’d Maynard Ferguson’s (#28) cover of “Gonna Fly Now (Theme From ‘Rocky’).”

      1. Andy Denardi

        Three top ten versions of ‘Unchained Melody’ must have grated on the ears after a while. We complain now about limited playlists, but apparently the Fifties were prime time for hearing the same song again and again. It surprises me that folks kept sending these songs into the top ten instead of choosing one that they liked best.

        I vaguely remember the dual versions of the Star wars theme. I definitely remember Meco and Wikipedia tells me that the London Symphony Orchestra did the original theme. I assumed that I just knew that version because I’ve seen the movie several times.

        Thanks for doing the research!

      2. Andy – it was even worse for radio listeners in 1990 when the movie Ghost brought back the RBs Unchained Melody to the airwaves – and it competed with itself, by way of a newly recorded version by… the Righteous Brothers. Both made the Top 20! Like Colin Hay once said, it’s just overkill.

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  4. Mike Stenz

    For the past three or four years, I’ve been working on a project. I’m comparing the movement of songs, week by week, on the three major singles charts — Billboard, Cash Box, and Radio & Records. I’m coming up with a composite chart of CB and R&R as a counterpoint to BB. (I don’t consider it work, really.)

    This makes me somewhat of an old pro when it comes to digging deeper into these other charts.

    For the songs you mentioned from late summer and fall of ’75, here’s how the chart moves stack up:
    Aug. 30…”Please Mr. Please” CB 14 to 40, R&R 35 to off the chart. “I’m Sorry” CB 39 to 22, R&R 39 to 26.
    Sept. 6…”Why Can’t We Be Friends?” CB 6 to 17, R&R 10 to 13.
    Sept. 13…”Holdin’ On to Yesterday” CB 35 to 43, R&R 30 to 36. “Tush” CB 12 to 20, R&R 14 to 19. “One of These Nights” CB 25 to 41, R&R 11 to 23.
    Sept. 20…”Get Down Tonight” CB 4 to 21, R&R holding at #1 for second week.
    Sept. 27…”Third Rate Romance” CB 35 to 72, R&R 16 to 19.
    Oct. 4…”Bad Blood” CB 11 to 6, R&R 16 to 6. “Rocky” CB 14 to 13, R&R 8 to 14. “Lyin’ Eyes” CB 22 to 9, R&R 28 to 15. “The Way I Want to Touch You” CB 59 to 48, R&R not there yet. “Fight the Power” CB 31 to 33, R&R 26 to 28. “At Seventeen” CB 4 to 15, R&R 15 to 21.
    Oct. 11…”Miracles” CB 14 to 13, R&R 12 to 9. “Rhinestone Cowboy” CB 18 to 21, R&R 10 to 14. “There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love” CB 23 to 40, R&R 30 to off the chart.
    Oct. 18…”Mr. Jaws” CB 2 to 1, R&R 18 to 23.
    Oct. 25…”Rocky” CB 11 to 33, R&R 16 to 20.
    Nov. 1…”Island Girl” CB 8 to 2, R&R 7 to 6. “That’s the Way (I Like It)” CB 49 to 19, R&R 40 to 29. “Ballroom Blitz” CB 19 to 42, R&R 16 to 19.
    Nov. 15…”That’s the Way (I Like It)” CB 12 to 6, R&R 15 to 6. “Venus and Mars Rock Show” CB 51 to 29, R&R debuting at #34.
    Nov. 22…”Eighteen with a Bullet” CB 22 to 18 with a bullet, R&R 21 to 19. “That’s the Way (I Like It)” CB 6 to 2, R&R 6 to 2. “Fly, Robin, Fly” CB 2 to 1, R&R 13 to 7. “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” CB 36 to off the chart, R&R off to off.
    Nov. 29…”Lyin’ Eyes” CB 17 to 35, R&R 8 to 9.
    Dec. 6…”Fox on the Run” CB 17 to 12, R&R 25 to 16.

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