Surveying Sgt. Pepper

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How did AM Top 40 stations of 1967 deal with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? No single was released from the album in the States; “Penny Lane” backed with “Strawberry Fields Forever” had been released in February, and “All You Need Is Love” would come out in mid-July. But pop-music stations in the summer of 1967 could not ignore this titanic release, even without a single to push.

The first song on the album to show up at ARSA is “A Day in the Life.” The earliest entry is from KRLA in Los Angeles, which shows it as “A Day & A Life” on their survey dated April 19, six weeks before the album’s release. Speculation at the Steve Hoffman forums is that somebody at the station got an acetate from Paul McCartney or Beatles publicist Derek Taylor. But the song also shows up on a survey from WFIL in Philadelphia dated April 24, and at KYNO in Fresno and KELO in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on the 29th, as well as WBAM in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 10, so the acetate theory may have a hole it it. (Plenty of time in there to mail tapes of an acetate, I suppose.) In June, “A Day in the Life” shows up in Seattle, Minneapolis, Jacksonville, San Bernardino, Calgary, Worcester and others. British pirate Radio London had it at #1 for the week of June 11. (ARSA shows 25 total entries for “A Day in the Life,” the most for any Sgt. Pepper song, nosing out “When I’m Sixty Four” with 23.)

At KJR in Seattle, “A Day in the Life” was merely the first Sgt. Pepper song to chart. It debuted on June 2; “She’s Leaving Home” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” joined it on June 9. On June 16, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” debuted. (Which one, the opener or the reprise, is not clear.) The four songs ran the chart together until the week of July 7, when both “A Day in the Life” and “She’s Leaving Home” departed and “Lovely Rita” debuted. During the week of July 14, “Lovely Rita” was the lone Sgt. Pepper song left on the KJR Fabulous Fifty, and the new non-album single “All You Need Is Love” debuted. The two songs ran the chart together until “Lovely Rita” dropped off after August 11.

At WORC in Worcester, Massachusetts, the survey dated June 10, 1967, shows eight of the album’s 13 cuts: the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise, “She’s Leaving Home,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” all in the Top 10, with “A Day in the Life,” “Lovely Rita, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and “Good Morning Good Morning” further down. (WORC billed its surveys as “Worcester’s Official Request Survey,” which helps explain the heavy Beatle-ization during that June week.) A complete run of WORC surveys is not available at ARSA; the next one available, dated July 29, shows the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise and “A Day in the Life” still on, along with “All You Need Is Love” and its B-side, “Baby, You’re a Rich Man.”

What about the country’s two largest markets? During the week of June 17, WABC in New York showed “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Getting Better” as hitbound. But because WABC didn’t publish their entire rankings every week (as you’ll see if you look here), it’s not possible to know if the station stayed on either song longer than the single week they appear at ARSA. Neither WLS nor WCFL in Chicago charted any Sgt. Pepper songs, although surely they must have played some.

Also in New York, WOR-FM listed the entire album on its singles chart starting June 17 and stayed on it at least until July 8, the last date for which a survey is available. There are 88 listings at ARSA with the whole album as one entry on various stations’ singles charts. WBZ in Boston put it at #1 on its survey dated June 3 and kept it there until the week of July 8. (WBZ had previously charted Beatles VI, Rubber Soul, Yesterday and Today, and Revolver on its singles chart, and would do the same with Magical Mystery Tour.)  WRKO in Boston showed the Sgt. Pepper album at #5 for the week of June 15 before moving it to #1 the next week. Several other stations in New England followed suit within a few weeks. Stations as far-flung as Los Angeles, Orlando, and Atlanta also charted the entire album as one entry, although without placing it at #1.

In the download era, non-single songs from an album frequently chart. In the vinyl era, when 45s ruled, and before there was such a thing as album-rock radio, these statistics about Sgt. Pepper further illustrate what a groundbreaking release it was.

11 thoughts on “Surveying Sgt. Pepper

  1. John and Macca look a lot happier than Ringo and George, which I think mirrors their real-life attitudes toward the record.

    I’m imagining that final furious rush up the scale at the end of “A Day in the Life” … and the split-second pause … and then some unknowing 1967 jock who isn’t familiar with the song yet starts blabbing (“Brand-new from The Beatles and you’re hearing it first on WXXX!”) and he talks all over the big final chord.
    (DJ protocol question: At what point is it acceptable to start talking over the big final chord?)

    “With A Little Help From My Friends” is the Sgt Pepper song I would most have liked as a single, though I imagine the perceived drug references would have kept it from airplay.

    1. Actually, not to dominate the rap, but maybe you can speak to that, JB:
      What does a DJ know about a record the first time (s)he spins it?
      Will the label be marked to indicate a 15-second instrumental intro, a dead-stop ending, a false ending, a fade, etc?
      Does somebody at the station give the thing a first listen and clue everybody else in?
      You’ve probably addressed this at some point in the past but I can’t remember the answer.

      1. The answers to these questions seem like they’d merit an entire post. Thank you for helping me to feed the content monster. Answers next week.

    2. CalRadioPD

      Looking forward to jb’s post, kblumenau, but my rule of thumb on “the big chord” depended on the era. In the early 70s, it was the same as anything else. Once the VU meter dropped to 40%, I’m on it, or the next element (jingle, next record) is. By the late 70s, though, with more FM competition and better audio processing, I’d ride the gain and milk every last second out of that sucker.

  2. Would it be safe to assume that request stats kept the reprise and “A Day in the Life” from charting as one selection or side by side on the WORC survey? Or do you suppose they were spun as separate entities? Similar wonder for the opener and “With a Little Help”. I guess you could play one without the other, but either track on its own is gonna sound awkward.

    Speaking of that album and this blog, have you done an individual track ranking yet? That’s a fun feature.

  3. Steve E.

    KHJ in SoCal didn’t list album cuts on the Boss 30 until Elton John’s “Pinball Wizard” in 1975, but I know the station played “Pepper” cuts, with the title song and “WALHFMF” played as one entity and the reprise and “ADITL” played as another. I know there is no way to know the answer, but I’m guessing “Within You, Without You” was the song played the least on AM radio. KHJ also played the TV-show version of the Monkees’ “Valleri” in 1967, and I know other stations did too. That’s a year before the remake was released as a single and went national top five. That early version fascinates me, because what would the stations have been physically playing? It didn’t exist on vinyl, but were carts around then?

    1. CalRadioPD

      Steve: KHJ also (if memory serves) gave “When I’m Sixty-Four” a few spins, too. PD Ron Jacobs played album cuts when there weren’t singles ( a situation he ran into again with the White Album).

      There were carts in 1967. They became common around ’62, and by ’67, I believe WABC was all-cart. Some stations didn’t trust them for music. When Jacobs was KHJ’s PD (1965-69), they carted only LP cuts, special edits and exclusives (carted with Jacobs’ voice whispering “93/KHJ…..World Exclusive” at strategic points so it couldn’t be recorded and played on another station).

      The story I get on “Valleri” was that one or more DJs around the country noticed early on that unreleased songs were showing up on the Monkees’ TV show. Recording off TV was actually pretty simple in those days. If you had a cabinet-style TV and a reel-to-reel recorder, all you needed was a cable with a phono plug on one end and alligator clips to the other. Take off the back of the TV set, attach the clips to any metal part of the TV speaker, plug into the reel-to-reel and you’re golden. If you were a poor DJ and had a smaller TV with an earphone jack, you just needed a mini plug on the end of the cable instead of alligator clips.

      What you ended up with was good quality, assuming you had a good signal and were in a major market that didn’t get its network TV feed over low-quality telco lines. The limitation in TV audio was generally the quality of the speaker. Bypass that, mainline the audio into a reel-to-reel running at 15 ips, and you’ve got something. Next morning (or that night), run the reel down to the station, cart it and you’re dialed in.

      I always preferred the TV version of “Valleri”. Colgems should have rush-released it (the Monkees were in between singles anyway) then. Waiting a year and re-cutting it meant stations like KHJ, which played the TV verison, skipped the ’68 single and it only made #3.

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