The Ballad of Shaft

In the past, as the calendar year has drawn to a close, we have occasionally looked back at some radio station’s yearend countdown. This year, we’ll have to settle for live-blogging a couple of American Top 40 countdowns I’ve had on in the car lately.

The first one is the show from December 4, 1971. This is FM-radio Casey, talking softly, dropping his voice to a lower register at the end of his introductions, worlds removed from the voice of Shaggy on the Scooby Doo cartoons and the amped-up Casey of the late 70s and 80s shows. And the music mix is bizarre—Top 40 at this moment of the 1970s was eclectic to the point of schizophrenia.

40. “Your Move”/Yes. This is the first half of the song classic-rock fans know as “I’ve Seen All Good People,” which is shown with two parts on The Yes Album, first part titled “Your Move.”

38. “Behind Blue Eyes”/The Who. Or, as Casey refers to them at first mention, “Who.” Given the way this segment is going, perhaps FM-radio Casey is the most appropriate Casey.

37. “An American Trilogy”/Mickey Newbury. I cannot imagine by what alchemy the painfully slow, painfully sincere “An American Trilogy” turned up on your average Top 40 station, although it made the Top 10 in Fort Worth, Orlando, and Salt Lake City.

32. “Hey Girl”/Donny Osmond. “Hey Girl” blasted into the Top 40 from #70 this week and is better than either of Donny’s earlier 1971 singles, “Sweet and Innocent” and “Go Away Little Girl.” It would not outperform them.

27. “You Are Everything”/Stylistics. “You Are Everything” is all of what’s great about writer/producer Thom Bell and the Stylistics in three minutes. In fact, you hear everything that’s great about Bell in the first 20 seconds. Nobody ever made prettier records.

24. “Theme From Summer of ’42“/Peter Nero. Nestled between the Temptations (“Superstar”) and Rod Stewart (“Maggie May”), “Summer of ’42” creates the biggest train wreck on the show, although it wins the prize by a mere nose.

20. “Scorpio”/Dennis Coffey. Probably my favorite song of the moment in December 1971. Casey introduces it a great piece of trivia: during a single week in June 1970, Coffey was a session player on 11 different Hot 100 hits.

17. “A Natural Man”/Lou Rawls. While you’re digging Lou’s loose, funky swing, don’t lose sight of the song’s message, which can be either a declaration of black pride or the self-confident swagger of anybody (of any race) who knows he’s got it goin’ on and doesn’t mean to apologize for being awesome.

15. “Brand New Key”/Melanie. The hottest record of the week (leaping from 33) and a monster hit in its day, but 42 years later it’s aged less well than almost every other #1 song from the 1970s.

12. “Cherish”/David Cassidy and 11. “Everybody’s Everything”/Santana. This also could be the biggest train wreck on the show.

7. “An Old Fashioned Love Song”/Three Dog Night. Even hotter than “Brand New Key,” taking only three weeks to reach the Top 10.

3. “Baby I’m a Want You”/Bread. Introducing this, Casey says he can’t remember a time when eight of the top 10 were ballads. But saying that’s true in this week is a stretch. If you count everything downtempo as a ballad, there are five. If you count “Old Fashioned Love Song” you get to six. But which two of the other four is Casey counting: Aretha’s “Rock Steady,” “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves,” “Theme from ‘Shaft'” or the week’s #1 song?

1. “Family Affair”/Sly and the Family Stone. Casey introduces the week’s new #1 song in a weirdly flat, disinterested tone. Not impressed by There’s a Riot Goin’ On, apparently.

There are four records on this chart (not shown here) about which I intend to say a little more. Watch for that post at some point in the New Year. Coming tomorrow: another December chart, five years to the day after this one.

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