Black is Back

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(Pictured: country-pop singer Jeanne Black poses with Dick Clark on American Bandstand, July 9, 1960.)

Last week, I wrote about the American Top 40 show from May 22, 1976, in which Casey answered a listener letter about the most successful answer song in history. It was Jeanne Black’s “He’ll Have to Stay,” which was an answer to Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go.” Both were sizable pop and country hits in 1960, although Reeves’ original remained in the country radio canon for the next quarter of a century while Black became the answer to a trivia question on American Top 40.

The day after my post appeared, The Mrs. and I were in the car, listening to the AT40 show from May 29, 1976—the very next week. And in the final hour of the show, Casey teased the same question from the same listener, and one song later, gave the very same answer.

I do my best to get facts right at this blog, but for various reasons, I don’t, always. It’s mortifying to get stuff wrong, but it’s destined to happen now and then. But if I had gotten the May 22 post wrong—if I had some how mixed up two weeks’ worth of AT40 shows in my memory—it would be a WTF moment for all time.

I told myself that I simply could not have gotten it wrong. I could not have commingled the two shows, because to my knowledge, I hadn’t heard the May 29 show, at least not since it originally ran in 1976. I vividly remember listening to the May 22 show a few years ago, when I wrote the post on which last week’s was based, and the post describes what I heard, moment by moment. But how in the hell could the same letter be on the show two weeks in a row? Had Premiere, the latter-day syndicator of the show, swapped out a letter and replaced it with a different one for some arcane reason? But that couldn’t be—Casey’s tease of the letter on the May 29 show was seamless and couldn’t have been a replacement. “I have last week’s show in my archives,” I said to Ann, “but this is gonna drive me nuts until we get home.”

When we did, I cued up the May 22 show, which unfolded exactly as I described it in my post. So it had undeniably happened: 40 years ago, Casey read the same letter and did the same trivia bit on two consecutive shows. As it turns out, the explanation is fairly prosaic: it was, according to AT40 historian Pete Battistini, a good old-fashioned production error. They simply used the same bit two weeks in a row, and nobody caught it. I’m not sure how, but nobody did.

The 5/29/76 show is notable for other reasons: it features the debut of “Crazy on You,” the first chart single by a new band called Heart, as well as Hall and Oates cracking the Top 10 with their first chart hit, “Sara Smile.” Themes from two of the top TV shows of the moment, Welcome Back Kotter and Happy Days, sit back-to-back in the Top 10, and are separated on the show by an AT40 extra, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. “The Twist” adds more padding to a show that’s already heavily padded despite the presence of two lengthy records, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Jimmy Dean’s spoken-word tribute to Mom, “IOU”—there’s a feature on “Waltzing Matilda” being named the Australian national anthem and a “whatever happened to” feature on Bobby Lewis that includes his lone claim to fame, the 1961 rager “Tossin’ and Turnin’.”

As I noted above, I am fairly sure I listened to this particular show when it aired 40 years ago. AT40 was rarely on the station I listened to primarily; I always had to go looking for it. WROK in Rockford, Illinois, carried it on Sunday nights, but their FCC-mandated power cut at sunset often caused me to lose the very end of the show, and I’d sit there trying to pick it out through the static on the high end of the dial. And I expect that’s what I did on Memorial Day weekend of 1976.

One thought on “Black is Back

  1. Guy K.

    I remember riding with my parents up to a weekend trip to the Poconos when the 5/29/76 AT40 originally aired. We were beginning to lose the signal from the NY station (WPIX-FM) that was airing the show, but not before “Crazy on You” jumped out of the speakers like it was grabbing me by the throat. I’ll always remember that, and it remains arguably the best thing Heart ever did (even if it vastly underperformed the follow-up single “Magic Man”).

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