Sucked Into the Radio

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(Pictured: Bachman-Turner Overdrive, beloved above all other bands by teenage boys of my acquaintance 40 years ago this fall.)

Recently I said this about American Top 40: “Every now and then [the show] hits a streak that captures the full, glorious panoply of 70s music, and even more than that, demonstrates just how much damn fun it was to listen to the radio back then.” It was like that on practically the whole show dated November 30, 1974—one of the most entertaining AT40s ever.

The first hour contains a few clunkers: “Whatever You Got, I Want” by the Jackson Five, in which a really good funk track is undercut by Michael’s pre-pubescent vocal; “Fire Baby, I’m on Fire” by Andy Kim, in which the guy who had asked you to rock him gently only a few months before now wants to burn you down like General Sherman; and “The Need to Be” by Jim Weatherly, in which a man of the Me Decade disappears up his own external orifice. But the show catches fire in the second hour with some quintessentially 70s radio songs and just keeps rolling right to the end. They’re on the flip.

19. “Touch Me”/Fancy. In which the beat and the riff are all, even more so than on Fancy’s earlier hit, “Wild Thing.” I fired it up just now and it scared the cat.

17. “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything”/Barry White. In which the maestro takes the Love Unlimited Orchestra out for its most satisfying spin this side of “Love’s Theme.”

16. “You Got the Love”/Rufus. The most ridiculously funky thing on this show. Dig it or GTFO.

15. “Junior’s Farm”/Paul McCartney and Wings. I’m tempted to say Paul hadn’t rocked this hard since “I Saw Her Standing There.” Too much?

14. “Back Home Again”/John Denver. You were never getting anything deep from John Denver, except sincerity. The best single he ever made.

13. “Sha La La (Make Me Happy)”/Al Green. The greatest introduction in the Al Green catalog (and that laugh, six seconds in). Sweet mama this is fantastic on the radio.

12. “I’ve Got the Music in Me”/Kiki Dee Band. Imagine not-yet-famous Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting by the radio in Seattle in 1974 going “damn, THAT’S the stuff.”

11. “Wishing You Were Here”/Chicago. Maybe this is the transitional record between the rockin’ Chicago and the supper-club Chicago. If so, so what? It’s another fantastic radio song.

10. “Angie Baby”/Helen Reddy. It’s not implausible that a boy could be sucked into the radio. After all, it happened to me.

8. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Casey notes that this former #1 song is back in the Top 10 after falling to #34 the previous week. He explains only that “the flip side is getting some action.” It would have made sense—and would probably have been quite interesting to the audience—had Casey played that flip side, the instrumental “Free Wheelin’,” after playing “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” the previous 10 weeks.

6. “Everlasting Love”/Carl Carlton. Another record made for the radio. It blazes out of the gate from the first instant, never slows down, and is done in 2:35.

5. “Longfellow Serenade”/Neil Diamond. Forty years later, I am pretty sure you can’t get anywhere with a girl by reading her Longfellow. I am not sure you could get all that far 40 years ago, either.

3.  “When Will I See You Again”/Three Degrees. Gamble and Huff, man. In their prime, doin’ work.

2. “Kung Fu Fighting”/Carl Douglas. As a jock, I’ll talk over the intro to “Kung Fu Fighting,” but never on the first “oh-ho-ho-ho.” One of the things you notice on this chart is the way records were so often constructed to grab you from the first instant—something they don’t do anymore. It’s remarkable how many records today just sort of start.

1.  “I Can Help”/Billy Swan. Out of time in 1974, with its rockabilly feel, two-fingered organ part, and Swan’s Roy Orbison drawl, there’s never been anything remotely like it in 40 years since.

As always, your mileage may vary with this stuff. The fall of 1974 is one of my favorite seasons, filled in memory with the golden light of the farm I grew up on—days and nights which were almost certainly not as golden as I remember them. But time shapes songs the same way songs shape time, and at this distance, if the mirror is distorted, there’s nothing we can do about it.

10 thoughts on “Sucked Into the Radio

  1. Yah Shure

    Number of times I ever heard “Free Wheelin'” on the four local AM top-40s in 1974: zero. I’ve often wondered whether that suspect 34-to-8 leap might have been Billboard’s way of appeasing Mercury after having free-falled the A-side from #1 straight to #12 (only the second such chart collapse after “The Sounds Of Silence” forgot to pack a parachute at the end of its second run at number one.)

    Agreed that “Junior’s Farm” was a blast, but the bonus was hearing that whopper of a dropout on the short mono side of the DJ 45. How’d *that* one get past quality control?

    Your cat proved that “Touch Me” is still the bomb.

    Recognized neither the Rufus title nor the song on YouTube. I’ll be GTFO now.

  2. Steve E.

    Naturally, the numbers you didn’t list inspire me to check out the full Hot 100 chart to see what songs were at Nos. 4, 7, 9, 18 and 20, which I conclude are not ones you look favorably upon. 1974 has been tarred in many places as being the nadir of 1970s Top 40, and admittedly there are a lot of high-charting records from that year that haven’t aged well. But damn — I was in 11th grade at the time of this show, and those songs sounded great then and still do. Oh, and one personal reason why this month has such a fond memory for me: My friends and I attended a taping of “Sanford and Son” at NBC in Burbank that month, and it was an episode where Fred Sanford and his friends go on a “Let’s Make a Deal”-type game show. So they used the audience at the taping as the audience for the fictional game show, and as luck would have it, my high school buddies and I were right in camera range. So for four decades, we’ve been immortalized in the back row, laughing our heads off at Redd Foxx. No doubt when we drove home that night, ecstatic that we would be seen on TV in a couple of months when the episode aired, we heard some of these very songs on KHJ.

    1. jb

      If you don’t want to look up the chart yourself, the songs I omitted among the top 20 were the following:

      4. “Do It Til You’re Satisfied”/BT Express
      7. “My Melody of Love”/Bobby Vinton
      9. “Cat’s in the Cradle”/Harry Chapin
      18. “Promised Land”/Elvis
      20. “Fairytale”/Pointer Sisters

      I omitted them mostly for reasons of space—nobody wants to read thousand-word posts and I don’t especially want to write them. I actually like “Fairytale” a great deal because it’s so odd (YouTube it and see). I don’t recall hearing “Promised Land” on the radio back then, and I don’t mind it now, although Elvis seems to be laboring on it, trying to rock as hard as he did when he was 15 years younger, and not quite getting there. “Cat’s in the Cradle” is dead to me from overexposure. “My Melody of Love” is the real oddball. It was kind of a kick to hear it since I hadn’t heard it in ages, but if it’s ages before I hear it again, I’m not going to feel a void in my life. And although there’s not much to say about “Do It Til You’re Satisfied,” I don’t dislike it.

  3. porky

    I think Rodney Dangerfield tried wooing a gal with Longfellow in “Back to School” but it involved a double entendre.

    That Andy Kim is a stinker, probably one of the lamest follow ups to a smash hit in history.

    Wow, what great records and yes, as a tenderfoot guitarist BTO had me in its spell. And listen to the drums on “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” a very unorthodox method, a drum roll through the verses before the standard beat/cowbell on the chorus. It really propels the song in a unique way.

  4. Steve E.

    Thanks for saving me the trouble of checking that full chart. The mention of “My Melody of Love” reminds me that another oddity about 1974 was that several singers from the 1950s and 1960s made big comebacks: Bobby Vinton, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Andy Kim, the Righteous Brothers, Carl Carlton, the Tymes.

  5. Listened to that show last weekend…Here’s the Casey intro you never got to hear:
    Now on AT40 is the song You Got The Love by Rufus. And its written by a man who go to celebrate his high graduation by hearing his guitar playing on a number one song. It was back in 1971 and Ray was graduating from Detroit’s Northwestern High School. At the same time Ray had been getting some session work at the local studios as a guitar. As luck would would have it he was heard by Holland Dozier Holland who had started a new label called Hot Wax. Ray played on a few sessions for a girl group that would be an updated Supremes called The Honey Cone. After a few releases, the song Want Ads with its distinctive choppy guitar hit the top of the pop and soul charts just as Ray was getting his diploma. Ray has used free time after school to also write hit singles. At number 16 and movin’ up, here’s Rufus with one of his post-school endeavors – You Got The Love

  6. If I had to choose any of the listed records to hear, I’d probably choose “Wishing You Were Here.”
    You know how Motown used to bring two of its vocal groups together from time to time to do albums together?
    When James Michael Guercio took over as manager of both the Beach Boys and Chicago, he shoulda locked them all into Caribou Studios and made them do a full LP together.
    No matter how good the songs were, the voices alone would have been ideal for ’70s pop-radio fans to wallow in.

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