(Pictured: Melanie, on stage in 1971.)
When Casey Kasem introduced the American Top 40 show from January 29, 1972, by saying, “There’s not a lot of chart action this week,” I thought, “If you want to make people listen, you should probably think of something else to say.” And as I listened, that teaser seemed even stranger.
Not a lot of chart action? Six new songs debuted on the 40 in that week. Three of them would become sizable hits: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John, “Bang a Gong” by T. Rex, and “Down by the Lazy River” by the Osmonds. One sticks in history (my version of history, at least) as a notable oddball: “Floy Joy” by the Supremes, in which Jean Terrell continues to sound exactly like Diana Ross and delivers a monster earworm. One had a longer afterlife in classic rock than on Top 40, “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker, and one didn’t last much beyond its chart run, “Together Let’s Find Love” by the Fifth Dimension.
Not a lot of chart action? Several songs took enormous drops within the 40: “Once You Understand” by Think (a record we’ve written about before and that must be heard to be believed) was down 12 to #35; “Hey Big Brother” by Rare Earth was down #15 to 34. Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be There” was down 12 to #31 and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” by Honey Cone was down 13 to #30. The double-sided hit “Hey Girl” and “I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond was down 10 to #26. (And of the six songs that fell out of the 40, four fell clear out of the Hot 100.)
Not a lot of chart action? The single biggest mover in the countdown was an absolute rocket: “Hurting Each Other” by the Carpenters had hit the Hot 100 just two weeks before at #76; it went to #38 for the week of January 22 and was at #13 this week. And at #15 and #16 sat “Joy” by Apollo 100 and “Precious and Few” by Climax, up 20 and 18 places respectively.
But the truth of Casey’s tease became apparent as the countdown reached the Top 10. Seven of the 10 were in the same positions as the week before, including the top 5. The top 4, “American Pie,” Melanie’s “Brand New Key,” “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, and “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards, remained locked in those positions for a third consecutive week. “Brand New Key” had done three weeks at #1 starting in late December; it would be either the #1 or #2 song on the Hot 100 for seven straight weeks; “American Pie,” with four weeks at #1 in January, would be #1 or #2 for seven weeks in a row as well.
Some other factoids:
On this show, Casey plays two versions of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” The New Seekers’ version is at #12 and the Hillside Singers’ version is at #19, both on the way down. In an AT40 Facebook group run by show historian Pete Battistini, he recently noted that when two versions of the spoken-word hit “The Americans” were in the Top 40 in early 1974, Casey eventually started playing only one of them. In March 1971, three versions of the theme from the movie Love Story spent three straight weeks in the Top 40, by Henry Mancini, Andy Williams, and Francis Lai. From looking at the original cue sheets for those shows, it’s not clear to me whether Casey played all three every week, or whether he played just a clip from one or more of them from time to time.
The 1/29/72 show features one of the all-time great AT40 train-wrecks: at #23, Casey plays Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” which is immediately followed by Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” at #22. On the original show, a commercial break followed Pride; the next segment opened with #21, “Stay With Me” by Rod Stewart and Faces. If forced to defend my love for Top 40 radio and Top 40 music of the 1970s, that three-set right there might be the hill I’d die on.
No radio jock likes every song that he or she plays. We don’t usually come right out and tell you, although you can sometimes pick it up. Casey rarely betrayed it, but I suspect he disliked Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” which was down to #18 on this week’s show. When it hit #1 the previous December, he’d announced it with a weirdly flat affect, and on this show, I thought I heard something in his voice again.
You can listen to American Top 40 in its totality, or you can listen for the little things. Either way, it’s three hours of fascinating chart action, guaranteed.