(Pictured: the Isley Brothers, prepared to fight the power in 1975.)
American Top 40 wasn’t particularly shy about editing songs. The producers would snip a verse occasionally for timing purposes, figuring that a particular song would air again in a few hours anyway, and most people would barely notice. Some edits were made for content purposes, however. The show from September 20, 1975, contained a little bit of both.
When I heard “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers on the radio back in the day, the word “bullshit” in the refrain was bleeped: “I get knocked on the ground / By all this bull [bleep] goin’ down.” One version of the single posted at YouTube simply blanks the word. The 9/20/75 AT40 plays a version that splices in an “ooh” from elsewhere in the song. It’s arguable that by its awkwardness, the “ooh” edit calls as much attention to the word as leaving it alone might have done, and the blank is even worse. (I have heard the “ooh” version outside of AT40, so I wonder whether the label released it that way, or if radio stations did their own homemade edits.)
Debuting that week was Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood,” an eventual #1. I have previously mentioned AT40‘s edit of the song, in which the word “bitch” from the line “the bitch is in the smile” is replaced with “promises” from elsewhere in the song. I don’t recall hearing this version anywhere else—certainly not in 1975, when all the radio stations I listened to let the bitch ride. If it was controversial then, I didn’t know it. Without listening to an original 1975 pressing of the show, I can’t say for sure whether that edit dates back that far, or if it’s something the show’s modern-day producers have chosen to do, in a world more easily outraged than it used to be.
I suspect that the modern-day producers make occasional edits for time, but it’s likely that most of the ones we hear date back to the original shows. Sometimes they’re very well done, and sometimes they’re a little bit clunky. They rarely alter the meaning of the song, although that happened on the 9/20/75 show. “Rocky” by Austin Roberts is a jaunty little story-song in which Rocky meets, falls in love with, and impregnates a girl who contracts a fatal disease in the last verse. The song has a recurring motif, in which the girl says “Rocky, I never fell in love before / Don’t know if I can do it,” then “Rocky, I never had a baby before,” and finally “Rocky, I never had to die before.” You might be able to guess where this is going. We get the pregnant verse: “With so much love for just two / Soon we found there’d be one more” and then an edit to “Rocky, I never had to die before.”
All I’m saying is that perhaps I’d have done it differently.
Each week’s AT40 repeat contains one optional “extra” per hour, which stations can air to fill unsold commercial time. Extras on the early 70s shows are sometimes oldies removed from the original broadcasts, but most are future hits, on the Hot 100 during the week of the show but not yet within the 40. These are modern-day productions voiced by show announcer Larry Morgan. The razor-blade mania of the 9/20/75 show even extended to one of these: Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be” got snipped to about 90 seconds.
The September 20, 1975, show was a lot of fun in its full, weird glory. It’s topped by David Bowie’s “Fame,” which knocked Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” to #2 after two weeks at the top. These two men would be considered titans 42 years hence in a way they were not in 1975. Janis Ian’s morose “At Seventeen,” a record I find myself liking less as time goes by, is at #3. David Geddes’ “Run Joey Run” is at #7, a success so absurd you can scarcely believe it was real unless you were there to hear it. “Ballroom Blitz” by the Sweet and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Bad Company are a finely matched pair at #11 and #10, but then Freddy Fender’s “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” comes on at #9. The hottest record of the week? “Mr. Jaws,” a Dickie Goodman break-in record, another vivid reminder that this was the 70s, and we couldn’t help ourselves.
(Programming note: This blog’s companion, One Day in Your Life, will be a busy place during October, as I have a lot of October days to draw from. If you enjoy that kind of thing, head over and subscribe.)