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(Pictured: Larry Gatlin (C) and the Gatlin Brothers Band.)

I used to have quite a collection of radio surveys, although I lost them in the big smoky fire we had in the upstairs of our house when I was 14. By that time, WLS Hit Parades had grown scarce in southern Wisconsin, and as a result I’d largely stopped collecting them. Through the late 70s, I would occasionally pick up surveys from WISM, Madison’s legendary Top 40 station, and I am pretty sure that I once had a copy of the survey dated February 26, 1976. Back then, I would have been interested in the songs at the top: Queen and the Eagles and the Four Seasons, Rhythm Heritage and Gary Wright and Paul Simon. Today, the obscurities further down are what I want to hear.

10. “Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye”/Jonathan Cain (down from 8). Only his mother had heard of Jonathan Cain before 1976, although everybody would, eventually, as a future member of the Babys, Journey, and Bad English. I’d hear of him again in a year or so, when a song of his called “Windy City Breakdown” turned up on one of those Warner-Reprise samplers I used to buy. “Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye,” a melodramatic power ballad, made #44 in Billboard, and got Cain a spot on American Bandstand.

16. “Broken Lady”/Larry Gatlin (up from 18). This was Gatlin’s first big country hit, which launched him on an 12-year run of success that would eventually total 17 top-10 hits. “Broken Lady” didn’t make the Hot 100 and it’s got a strong mid-70s countrypolitan feel, but the WISM audience obviously didn’t mind. (Listen to the song, and check out some awesome 1970s country music fashions, here.)

22. “Back It Up”/Benedict (up from 23). This is as obscure a record as we’ve ever come across. Benedict was apparently a Wisconsin act produced by WISM’s Jonathan Little, and “Back It Up” might have been the same song Nils Lofgren recorded in the middle of the 1970s.

25. “Cupid”/Tony Orlando and Dawn (up from 29)In the early spring of 1976, Tony Orlando and Dawn were coming to the end of the second full season of their TV variety show, and the end of a successful five-year run on the radio. “Cupid,” the old Sam Cooke hit that would be redone by the Spinners in 1980, was the group’s last Top 40 hit, and tries pretty hard to channel the feeling of “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You),” their last #1 a year earlier. They would manage one more Hot 100 hit early in 1977, not long after their TV show was canceled.

26. “The Homecoming”/Hagood Hardy (up from 27). Hardy was an Indiana native transplanted to Canada, where he wrote commercial jingles and scored TV programs. “The Homecoming,” an instrumental featuring piano, guitar, and pillowy soft strings, started as a tea jingle, but was way too good for advertising. Is it sappy and sentimental? Hell and yes. Is that a problem? Remember whose blog you’re reading.

Also of interest on the WISM survey is the cover picture of evening jock Charlie “Rock and Roll” Simon, and the unusual caption, “A bullet in the gun of 1480.” That’s a reference to Elton John’s then-current “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” I hope.

(Rebooted from a post that originally appeared in March 2012.)

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