(Pictured: Van Morrison at work in the studio in 1971.)
I have written before about how weird the first hour of the typical American Top 40 show can be, thick with hits that never were, novelty records, oddball format crossovers from country or R&B—fun listening for geeks, even as they make radio station program directors cringe. The early 70s shows often have a lot of these, and often beyond the first hour. For that reason, a lot of AT40 affiliates rarely carry shows from 1970 through 1972. In weeks when Premiere Radio Networks offers a show from one of those years, it also offers an alternate show from later in the decade, and stations are free to choose the one they want. (In 2015, they’ve started doing this with 80s shows, too.)
This past weekend, Premiere offered the show from November 20, 1971—and the alternate was a Christmas show. AT40 has offered Christmas alternates in years past, but this is the first year they’ve started doing so in November, likely responding to the number of affiliates who go all-Christmas well before Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately for the stations who rarely carry an early 70s show, the 11/20/71 show is remarkably solid. In fact, you’d have a hard time finding an AT40 show from any year that started stronger than this one. The first hour is remarkable.
40. “I’d Love to Change the World”/Ten Years After. Spending just two weeks at #40, “I’d Love to Change the World” would nevertheless become one of the core songs of the album-rock format, played over and over and over again for the next 25 years or so.
39. “An Old Fashioned Love Song”/Three Dog Night. In its first week on the chart, and heard in its great 45RPM configuration, which is different from the one heard widely on oldies radio, at least until Three Dog Night got too old for oldies radio. Listen for the differences in the guitar, the backing vocals, and the fade.
38. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love”/Denise LaSalle. Fine Southern soul. Dig it or GTFO.
37. “You’ve Got to Crawl (Before You Walk)”/8th Day. Another deep soul trip from the group who sang “She’s Not Just Another Woman” earlier in 1971.
36. “Wild Night”/Van Morrison. “The inside jukebox blows out just like thunder.”
35. “Only You Know and I Know”/Delaney and Bonnie. Right at the nexus of country and blues, and a song that would have sounded weird and dated had it come along a year later.
On the original show, there were two commercial breaks within these five songs. On the recent repeat, all five were in the same segment. That’s how you start a radio show.
34. “One Fine Morning”/Lighthouse. Heard in its 45 configuration, which is in mono.
33. “Scorpio”/Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band. Hot damn, this show has been smokin’ for like 20 minutes now.
32. “Superstar”/Temptations. Casey notes that this is the third different song titled “Superstar” to hit the Top 40 in 1971, preceded by the Murray Head “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar and the Carpenters’ cover of Leon Russell’s “Superstar.”
At #31, the spell is broken with pianist Peter Nero’s instrumental “Theme From ‘Summer of ’42’.” But not for long.
30. “Where Did Our Love Go”/Donnie Elbert. A thumpin’, keyboard-driven version of the Supremes hit. Forgotten now, but insanely great.
The David Cassidy version of “Cherish,” a Partridge Family record in all but name, is at #29. It’s not remotely as good as the Association’s original, but what is?
28. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”/Joan Baez. Your mileage may vary on this; Joan changed up the lyric and softened the power of the Civil War story the Band originally told, but I didn’t know that in 1971.
27. “One Tin Soldier”/Coven. From the movie Billy Jack, which was released in 1971 but did not become a hit until it was re-released in 1973. We have noted before how “One Tin Soldier” is an artifact from a very specific moment in pop-culture history.
And with that, the first hour of the November 20, 1971, AT40 show comes to a close. I may write about the rest of it, or I may not. I haven’t listened to it yet.