Longshots

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(Pictured: Billy Preston, 1974.)

Not gonna lie: the most obscure tunes on American Top 40 repeats make my old program director’s spidey senses tingle a little, and might cause current PDs to reach for the antacids. The show from the week of July 14, 1973, contains a remarkably large number of them. Some were unfamiliar even to me. And if a geek such as I doesn’t know something, chances are good that a casual listener isn’t going to know it either.

I decided to see how many of that week’s Billboard Top 40 never charted on WLS, the Top-40 giant from Chicago, which was what I listened to that summer. The following did not:

40.  “Plastic Man”/Temptations
39.  “Swamp Witch”/Jim Stafford
36.  “Goin’ Home”/Osmonds
35.  “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
33.  “Where Peaceful Waters Flow”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
28.  “Satin Sheets”/Jeanne Pruett
22.  “Doing It to Death”/Fred Wesley and the JBs

A few other songs charted briefly: “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by the Intruders (#38) for two weeks, “Misdemeanor” by Foster Sylvers (#25) for three, and Gladys Knight’s “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” (#24) for five.

It’s possible that WLS may have played some of the missing songs for a short time without charting them. Whatever the case, some of the missing and semi-missing are pretty good. “I’ll Always Love My Mama” is a Gamble and Huff production, and those are always welcome. “Misdemeanor” might put you in mind of the Jackson Five, a circumstance almost certainly intentional. “Where Peaceful Waters Flow” seems a lot more commercial and appealing than the more successful “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare.” WLS had charted the Osmonds’ hard-rockin’ “Crazy Horses” and “Hold Her Tight” for only five weeks each in 1972 and must have figured that “Goin’ Home” wouldn’t measure up to them.

“Why Me” did just fine without airplay on WLS, with one of the longest and strangest chart Billboard chart runs in history. Somebody who was there in 1973 would have to explain the crossover appeal of “Satin Sheets,” which sounds to me like plain old hard country. Its chart profile at ARSA is similar to that of “Doing It to Death,” actually: each had lots of listings on country/R&B stations and got a little bit of traction at a few major Top 40 outlets. Maybe that was enough to push both records up the Hot 100. What appealed to anybody at any station about “Swamp Witch,” I have no idea; it’s dreadful.

Although we hear some certifiable killers in the first half of the show, including “Frankenstein,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” and “One of a Kind (Love Affair),” it takes 90 minutes before the 7/14/73 show consistently features songs a casual listener is going to know, and I can’t remember another edition like that.

Once the show gets to the Top 20, however, it’s pretty solid, and the stretch from #21 to #8 is pretty much all-killer, no filler, although your mileage may vary on “Monster Mash.” People underrate “Touch Me in the Morning” and “So Very Hard to Go”—I can’t think of a way one might improve on either one of them. “Money” and “Behind Closed Doors” back-to-back is a quintessential AT40 train wreck, in a good way. I am not particularly a fan of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,”  but with “Pillow Talk” and “Behind Closed Doors,” it completes a very horny quarter hour. “Long Train Running,” “Right Place Wrong Time,” and “Smoke on the Water” have been so familiar for so long that it takes some effort to remember they were once current hits jockeying for position like everything else. The very top of the chart is only just OK: “Playground in My Mind” and “Yesterday Once More” don’t do much for me; the rest are decent (yes, even the frequently reviled “My Love,” which I don’t mind), but pretty crispy after 45 years.

Casey notes what he calls one of the most amazing bits of chart trivia ever: Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles” is #1 this week, having followed Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Love” into the  #1 spot. In 1969, the #1 hit “Get Back” was credited to the Beatles with Billy Preston. If it had been three official members of the Beatles with consecutive #1 hits, Casey says, it would be easier to understand, but the oddity of Preston being co-credited with the Beatles on a single hit makes it a remarkable longshot.

6 responses

  1. Hooks and Harmony | Reply

    Hehe – We’re doing almost the same thing. I have to admit that my knowledge of obscure 70s hits is limited, so most of my Songs that Didn’t Make the Top 40 are 80s songs. You’ll have to give me a primer on the lesser-known songs of that time.

  2. “Black water Hattie lived back in the swamp
    Where the strange green reptiles crawl
    Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees
    Like sausage on a smokehouse wall…”

  3. The popularity of Jim Stafford on the top 40 from 1973-75 remains one of the decade’s enduring mysteries to me. As for “So Very Hard to Go,” that one holds up just dandy and should’ve made the top 10 instead of schlock like “Playground in My Mind.” And I’ve always thought that “I’ll Always Love My Mama” would’ve been a bigger hit if released in advance of Mother’s Day.

    1. Had I been a music director listening to “Swamp Witch” and deciding whether to add it, I would have yanked it from the turntable and thrown it in the discard pile after that line about “sausage on a smokehouse wall.” I have no issue with “Spiders and Snakes” because it’s a hook monster, and I still find “Wildwood Weed” to be entertaining. But yeah, the rest of Jim Stafford’s success is kind of inexplicable.

  4. 40. “Plastic Man”/Temptations
    39. “Swamp Witch”/Jim Stafford
    36. “Goin’ Home”/Osmonds
    35. “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
    33. “Where Peaceful Waters Flow”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
    28. “Satin Sheets”/Jeanne Pruett
    22. “Doing It to Death”/Fred Wesley and the JBs

    All of which pretty much should put to death the term “Top 40 hit”. If it didn’t make the top 15—and in some weeks, the top 10, it was just there because even Rick Sklar and Buzz Bennett couldn’t quite bring themselves to have a 15-record playlist.

  5. Swamp Witch, which I’d never heard before, is bad. It sounds like a tossed-away B side. But it’s still not as dreadful as Undecided, Jim Stafford’s B side to Spiders & Snakes. Undecided could be the worst thing ever committed to vinyl.

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