(Pictured: Elvis in 1971, still a big deal.)
Back in the day, it was common for radio stations to do a year-end countdown based on their dial positions. For example, WLS, at 890 on the AM dial, counted down its Top 89 every year. At ARSA not long ago, I found one of the more ambitious year-end lists I’ve ever seen: from WCRV in Washington, New Jersey, 1580 on your AM dial, listing the top 158 hits of 1971.
It’s even bigger than that: the survey actually lists 167 songs in 158 positions: eight double-sided hit singles are included (although not Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” and “Reason to Believe,” which strikes me weird), along with three versions of the theme from Love Story (Francis Lai, Andy Williams, and Henry Mancini).
The top of the chart reflects the top national hits of the year: “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night is #1, “Maggie May” is #2, and “Go Away Little Girl” by Donny Osmond is #3. But those songs are just the tip of a 167-song iceberg.
15. “American Pie”/Don McLean. The American Pie album was released in late October, and the first listing for “American Pie” shows up at ARSA in early November. The song wouldn’t reach #1 on the Hot 100 until January 1972, and it wouldn’t appear on Billboard‘s year-end chart for 1971 at all. But the local chart action on the record was titanic from the start. WCRV would have been playing the song for maybe six weeks by the time the yearend rankings were created.
19. “Mama’s Pearl”/Jackson Five. The Jackson Five’s first four singles all went to #1. “Mama’s Pearl” was the fifth, stalling at #2 for two weeks behind the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple” in March, which must have been about the time I bought it on a 45. (“Never Can Say Goodbye,” the J5’s sixth single, also stuck at #2, but for three weeks.)
48. “Easy Loving”/Freddie Hart. “Easy Loving” has been a favorite of this blog since always. We sing along with Freddie’s Alabama twang, and we dig what the organist and guitar player are doing. (Freddie Hart is still with us, apparently, and will turn 90 in December.)
100. “I Really Don’t Want to Know” and 113. “I’m Leavin'”/Elvis Presley. The fine country blues of “I Really Don’t Want to Know” shows the power and expressiveness of Elvis’ voice. “I’m Leavin'” shows the artistry he was still capable of when he was willing to work at it. “I’m Leavin'” spent two weeks in the Billboard Top 40 in the summer, peaking at #36. This essay breaks it down in detail, and is well worth your time.
103. “When I’m Dead and Gone”/McGuinness Flint. Tom McGuinness and Hughie Flint were veterans of the British blues scene, having played with Manfred Mann and John Mayall. Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle would become more famous as a duo later in the 70s. Briefly together as a foursome, they made the odd acoustic folk-rock “When I’m Dead and Gone,” which was actually one of the first 45s I ever bought.
117. “Mandrill”/Mandrill. Guaranteed to put you in mind of Santana, “Mandrill” is a rager that must have sounded pretty great on the radio. It spent three weeks on the Hot 100 in the summer, peaking at #94.
134. “Maggie”/Redbone. “Maggie” charted in Billboard for 17 weeks in 1970 and 1971, peaking at #45 on the Hot 100. “Witch Queen of New Orleans,” which sounds almost exactly the same as “Maggie,” would get to #21 early in 1972. It would be two more years before “Come and Get Your Love” became a Top 10 hit and the Redbone record everyone knows.
139. “I Hear Those Church Bells Ringing”/Dusk. A studio group from producers Hank Medress and Dave Appell, the people who brought you Dawn, doing a song by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown, who wrote several of Dawn’s hits. Like Dawn, Dusk was fronted by a music-biz veteran, Peggy Santiglia, who had been one of the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”). “I Hear Those Church Bells Ringing” is an early-60s throwback, and pretty great if you like that sort of thing.
147. “Ajax Liquor Store”/Hudson and Landry. Los Angeles DJs Bob “the Emperor” Hudson and Ron Landry did several different “Ajax” sketches, in which Hudson played a drunk guy and Landry the straight man. Most of them are funnier than “Ajax Liquor Store,” and I would know, because I have several Hudson and Landry albums sitting on a shelf in my office right now.
Information on the web indicates that WCRV, located in rural western New Jersey, had a fairly weak signal. But like other small stations in other small towns in that far-off country known as the 1970s, it was rockin’.