(Pictured: Freddie Mercury of Queen, onstage in Chicago, 1980.)
I had quite a backlog of American Top 40 shows from December to listen to, and I spent the month gradually working my way through them.
The show from December 9, 1972, represented one of the great weeks in soul music history, with the Temptations, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Al Green, Billy Paul, and the Stylistics all in the Top 10 with classic records. It’s a week one can cite to give the lie to the tired idea that 70s music was consistently inferior to that of the 60s, and not just because of all the soul music: the twosome of Jim Croce’s “Operator” (#17) and Lobo’s “I’d Love You to Want Me” (#16) might represent some kind of high point for forlorn singer/songwriter pop. (Re-listening to this particular point in the show represented some kind of high point for Jim singing along in the car.)
At #20 on the 12/9/72 show, “Sweet Surrender” by Bread contains the line “you keep your rights, I’ll take your nights.” I can’t decide: it’s either an open and progressive attitude toward the woman in question at a time of change, or another example of the ham-fisted sexism of a time we like to believe is long gone but clearly is not. It’s either “be yourself and love me too” or “having dignity and independence is your thing, now let me unhook your bra.” Meanwhile, up at #1, introducing 31-year-old Helen Reddy’s liberation anthem, “I Am Woman,” Casey refers to her as a “pretty girl.” So maybe we can figure out what Bread’s attitude was after all.
The show from December 7, 1974, comes from the time when I first discovered FM radio but was still mostly an AM kid. I would switch back and forth from band to band depending on where I was listening, upstairs in my room, downstairs on the console stereo, or in the car when I could commandeer the radio. It wasn’t long before I noticed how Fancy’s “Touch Me,” “Everlasting Love” by Carl Carlton, and “Junior’s Farm” by Wings—among many others—were clearer on FM but hotter on AM.
The show from December 13, 1975, had seven debut songs, three of which are still on the radio 42 years later: “Evil Woman” by ELO, “Over My Head” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Singasong” by Earth Wind and Fire. The highest debut of the week, way up at #29, was “Convoy” by C. W. McCall. The CB radio novelty had hit the Hot 100 the previous week at #82 and would go 14-7-6 and finally to #1 for the week of January 10, 1976. Also among the debuts: “Winners and Losers” by Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds, which would get only to #21 in January. It’s basically the #1 hit “Fallin’ in Love” played faster, but it gains awesomeness points for its radio-perfect 14-second intro, and for whoever’s playing piano on it.
The show from December 13, 1980, was the one on which John Lennon was memorialized, even though he was murdered after the show had already been mailed to affiliates. (I wrote about it last month for Magic 98; hear Casey’s heartfelt memorial here.) Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” spent the fifth of what would be six weeks at #1, a record that got caught in the changing tides of history. Within a couple of years, after the rise of the MTV bands, Michael Jackson, and Prince, “Lady” (and similar lush adult ballads) would no longer be suitable for Top 40 radio. Also high on the chart that week: Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” which I hadn’t heard in a long while before I heard it on this show. Most people would pick “Bohemian Rhapsody” as Queen’s greatest achievement, but “Another One Bites the Dust” is just as great, for the way it packs one hook on top of another and never lets up for a full 3:32.
With this post, we embark on another calendar year at this blog. I wrote a lot more in 2017 than I expected to at this time last year. We’ll see if that pace continues in 2018.