(Pictured: Neil Diamond onstage in 1972.)
One thing I am learning from this series of posts on 1973 is that the music is better than I remember. I’m not saying that 1973 is going to supplant 1976 or 1971 as one of my favorite musical years, but it’s better than I remember.
Take for example the American Top 40 show from April 21, 1973. It starts with “A Letter to Myself,” a gorgeous soul record by the Chi-Lites that sounds like a second take of their 1971 hit “Have You Seen Her.” It creates a big ol’ train wreck with #39, the rockin’ good “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, in its first week on the chart. Also sounding really good in the first hour: “Step by Step” by Joe Simon at #37. How it failed to become a smash on the order of “Drowning in the Sea of Love” or “Power of Love” I can’t imagine. Elton John’s “Daniel” is in its first week on at #35, creating another train wreck with #34, “Oh La De Da” by the Staple Singers, a straight-up soul/gospel shouter. (Listeners in 1973 got a commercial break between the two, but listeners to the recent 2018 repeat did not.)
At #38 is Carly Simon’s “The Right Thing to Do,” which Casey introduces as being by “Mrs. James Taylor.” (The two had gotten married the previous November.) This caused a kerfuffle on an AT40 Facebook group I read, as several listeners who hadn’t been paying close attention wondered why Casey had introduced the record as being by James Taylor.
Digression: Facebook fan groups can be marvelous sources of information; in a well-moderated group, members collectively know everything there is to know, and it makes the group worthwhile. But less well-moderated groups can become tedious. I recently bailed on a WKRP in Cincinnati group that had never been especially great, but which got downright stupid once MeTV started repeating the shows. Ill-informed viewers started besieging the group with questions that 10 seconds on Google could answer. What was worse was the flame war that erupted when MeTV chose not to air the episode “Les on a Ledge,” in which Les Nessman contemplates suicide because he fears people think he’s homosexual, and Johnny tells Herb that Jennifer is transgender. Some readers could understand how the episode would play differently 40 years later and that it would indeed be offensive now, but others were quick to call them politically correct libtard snowflake pussies who need to grow up.
As if Facebook needs more of that kind of thing. I’m out.
To return to the topic: Casey shared an interesting bit of trivia in the first hour. Up until this week, he tells us, only one artist has ever taken two songs into the Top 40 twice: Chubby Checker, who did it with “The Twist” (which famously went to #1 on two separate chart runs, in 1960 and 1962) and “Let’s Twist Again.” Each record ran the chart, “became a dead record for a while,” as Casey put it, and then returned to the Top 40. Then Casey says that a second artist has done the deed this week: Neil Diamond. He made the Top 40 with “Solitary Man” in 1966 and again in 1970, and now with “Cherry Cherry,” which charted in 1966 and re-enters the Top 40 this week at #36.
This achievement may be a little less than it appears, however. In the case of “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again,” it was the exact same record making two runs up the chart. First off, it’s arguable whether the version of “Solitary Man” that hit in 1970 was the same one that hit in 1966. I tried figuring it out 10 years ago, and even with the help of the inestimable Yah Shure, I can’t say. As Yah Shure noted, three different versions of “Solitary Man” were released on the Bang label over the years. If the 1970 hit was a remix of the 1966 version, I guess that counts. But the version of “Cherry Cherry” that charted on April 21, 1973, is definitely not the same one that spent nine weeks in the Top 40 in 1966. It’s the one from the live album Hot August Night, and was even labeled as such on the 45: “Cherry Cherry From Hot August Night.” It was listed that way in Billboard, too.
So it’s the same song, if not the same record. Technically, Neil Diamond equalled Chubby Checker’s achievement. As a practical matter, I’m not quite so sure.
I’ll probably have more to say about this edition of American Top 40 in a future post. And this Friday, I’ll discuss a different milestone from the chart dated April 21, 1973.