(Pictured: Diana Ross onstage, 1982.)
American Top 40 debuted on the weekend of July 4, 1970. Starting in 1972, it became customary for AT40 to air a special countdown sometime around the Fourth. Such shows could be recorded in advance, giving Casey Kasem and his staff the chance to take some time off.
—The first summer special ran on the weekend of July 1, 1972, and charted the top 40 songs of the rock era. Your top three: “The Twist,” “Hey Jude,” and Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife.” The latter two did nine weeks each at #1; “The Twist” had two separate runs to the top.
—On the weekend of July 7, 1973, AT40 counted down the Top 40 one-hit wonders of the rock era, including some fabulously obscure records. The list is topped by Zager and Evans’ 1969 hit “In the Year 2525.”
—On the weekend of July 6, 1974, the show featured the top singles artists of the 1970s. Top three were the Carpenters, the Jackson Five, and Three Dog Night. This was the week following the infamous show that counted down AT40‘s own estimate of what the chart would be, and not the actual Billboard Top 40.
—On the weekend of July 5, 1975, to celebrate the show’s fifth anniversary, the summer special was a repeat of the first AT40 show.
—On the Bicentennial weekend of July 3, 1976, AT40 featured the #1 songs on the Fourth of July from 1937 through 1976, starting with “It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane” by Guy Lombardo. The show also featured Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, the Ink Spots, and Perry Como before the rock era arrived with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” from 1955. The show gradually makes its way to July 4, 1976, and “Silly Love Songs.” I think I heard at least part of this show back then, but I can’t remember. (This is one that AT40 geeks long to hear repeated, but never, ever will.)
—The 1977 summer special, “The 40 Most Popular Girls of the Rock Era,” aired on the weekend of July 2, playing the top songs with girls’ names in the titles, based on chart performance of each record. If you peruse the list, you may find #1 to be as big a fizzle as I did.
—On the weekend of July 1, 1978, the summer special was the Top 40 hits of the 1970s, which might be the single greatest all-killer, no-filler edition of AT40 ever. (It was offered to stations around the country this July 4th weekend as an alternate show.) In 1987, the summer special would cover the Top 40 hits of the 80s, and it’s just as solid.
—The Top 40 hits of the disco era was the entirely predictable topic for the weekend of July 7, 1979. A memo from executive producer Tom Rounds, attached to the cue sheet for the week, asks stations to keep the special on hand after the weekend as an emergency show, in case the regular weekly program fails to arrive in the mail. (Old emergency shows became obsolete when the show went from three hours to four the previous October.)
—On the weekend of July 5, 1980, Casey looked into the AT40 Book of Records, maybe the most unconventional edition in the show’s history. It was the subject of a recent series at My Favorite Decade.
—On the weekend of July 4, 1981, the summer special featured the 40 biggest hits of the Beatles, together and separately. Your top five: “Hey Jude,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Silly Love Songs,” and “My Sweet Lord.” (Poor Ringo’s highest-rated hit was “You’re Sixteen,” down at #20.) This one is also rock solid from beginning to end.
—There was no July 4 weekend special in 1982, 1984, or 1985 that I can find. On the weekend of July 2, 1983, the show featured “The Top 40 Acts of the 80s So Far.” Your top three: #1 Hall and Oates, #2 Diana Ross, and #3 Air Supply, which you probably did not see coming. In 1986, it looks to me as though AT40 produced a regular countdown for the July 4 weekend as well as a special based on a poll of DJs around the world regarding the most influential artists of all time. The show was anchored by Pink Floyd, the Four Tops, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and concluded with the Beatles at #1, followed by Elvis and the Rolling Stones.
The tradition of summer specials continued through the end of Casey’s run at American Top 40 in 1995. If you’re interested in later years or other specials, look for them in the archive of weekly AT40 cue sheets at Charis Music Group, which is an excellent time-waster, on a holiday weekend or any other day.