(Pictured: the Moody Blues onstage in 1972.)
I have been listening to the American Top 40 show from May 13, 1972. I don’t know if I’m going to write about it beyond the first hour, but here’s what I’ve heard so far.
—New among the 40 this week is the Moody Blues’ “Isn’t Life Strange” at #39. Although there was a promo edit that ran 4:25, Casey played the whole six minutes—and as lovely a song as it is, it’s a long six minutes. It’s one of my favorite songs on Seventh Sojourn, but even so, an edit could only help it.
—In the early 70s, it wasn’t uncommon for major pop hits to be covered by R&B acts. Such covers made pretty good business sense for songwriters and publishers, extending the reach of already-popular properties. Just off the top of my head for 1971 and 1972, I can think of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway doing “You’ve Got a Friend” and the Isley Brothers doing both “Love the One You’re With” and “Summer Breeze.” In this week, Gladys Knight’s version of “Help Me Make it Through the Night” debuts at #38. The song had gone #1 country and #8 pop for Sammi Smith in 1971. The sparse arrangement is beautiful, and although I could do without the spoken introduction, it’s generally aces.
—At #37, in its last week not only among the Top 40 but on the Hot 100, is Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” which charted between “Without You” and “Coconut,” and which I missed completely in 1972. I didn’t know it until I heard it on the legendary Freedom Rock compilation in the late 80s. Freedom Rock was sold on TV with a memorably cheesy ad, but coming as it did at the moment when the Baby Boomers were upgrading vinyl to CD, it represented an easy way to build a classic-rock collection, and you could still party to it today.
—Another of the week’s debut records was “Ask Me What You Want” by Millie Jackson at #36. It’s right in the pocket for the summer of 1972 and was the first of her two Top 40 hits (although she would make the Hot 100 several more times, and the R&B charts more times than that). Today, Millie Jackson is remembered for a string of R- or X-rated albums with titles like Live and Outrageous (Rated XXX), E.S.P. (Extra Sexual Persuasion), and Back to the S**t!, which is Internet-famous for its cover photo, apparently real. From 1999 to 2012, she did an afternoon radio show on a soul station in Dallas.
—Sometimes we listen to old music because we choose to revisit a time and place we remember. But sometimes old music takes us places involuntarily. I wrote about this phenomenon just last week, about being unable to listen to an AT40 show from May 1978 because of the time-travel trip it was likely to inspire. The 5/13/72 show sent me briefly back in time as well, thanks to the #34 song of the week, “It’s Going to Take Some Time” by the Carpenters. I started playing organized park-and-rec baseball in the summer of 1969, if I’m recalling correctly. By the summer of ’72 it would have been clear that I was never going to be any good. But my enthusiasm was immune to that reality, and I kept at it. So Mother and/or Dad would take time out from their busy summer days to chauffeur me to the park for practice or a game and then come get me an hour or two later. On those trips, I would always ask if I could turn the car radio to WLS, and they would oblige me. At some point that summer—probably more than one point—we heard the Carpenters’ “It’s Going to Take Some Time.” For reasons I can neither understand nor explain, the memory of having heard it there and then has stuck with me, and it pops into my head when I hear the song again so many years later.
Isn’t life strange?
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