One Million Years

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(Pictured: John Phillips contemplates his next move.)

Last weekend I was doing my radio station’s all-70s Saturday show and played “Close to You” by the Carpenters. I told the audience it was the #1 song in Madison “exactly one million years ago today.” It’s something I’ve said before in referrring to “Close to You.” It’s so vastly different from what constitutes pop music today, and it was different that summer as well, despite spending a month at #1. I often say that it signaled that the 70s were going to have a far different energy than the 60s, but there’s a perfectly good argument that the signal had already blinked. “Close to You” is no less adult, no less the opposite of what we think of as the 60s vibe, than earlier #1 hits including Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” the year before, or “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Honey” in 1968. Or Frank Sinatra’s #1 hits “Strangers in the Night” and “Somethin’ Stupid” in 1966 and 1967. As I’ve said before, eras don’t break cleanly, and across the totality of history in any field, there is almost never any such thing as a dividing line.

But for me, the summer of 1970 really is a dividing line, or damn close to one. At the end of July 1970, I was a month or six weeks from first discovering popular music and the radio, and thereby setting myself on the course that has brought me to gasbagging at you on this day, in this year.

As it happens, the ARSA database contains a music survey from my radio station’s legendary ancestor WISM, dated July 25, 1970. “Close to You” and Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” occupy the top two spots for a second consecutive week. Moving up on the survey are songs I will experience in real time over the next few months: in the Top 10 there’s “Spill the Wine,” “Make It With You,” “Tighter Tighter” and the Neighborhood’s cover of “Big Yellow Taxi,” which would get to only #29 on the Hot 100. Farther down, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross and “Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who are hitbound, along with “In the Summertime” and “25 or 6 to 4.”

But there’s plenty of adult flavor on this chart, stuff that’s a better fit with “Close to You” than with other hits of the moment. “One Day of Your Life” by Andy Williams is in Billboard‘s Easy Listening Top 10 for July 25, and Al De Lory’s “Song From M*A*S*H (bad link fixed) has just fallen out of it. Mark Lindsay’s “Silver Bird” and “Teach Your Children” by Crosby Stills and Nash are on the Easy Listening chart in this week, and “Big Yellow Taxi” cracks it for the first time. It seems to me that Ronnie Dyson’s joyous “Why Can’t I Touch You” should be doing big Easy Listening business, but it’s nowhere to be found, not with playlist slots reserved for Engelbert Humperdinck (“My Marie”), Dionne Warwick (“Paper Maché”), and the Lettermen (“She Cried”), and one at the bottom of the Easy Listening chart for a slowed-down instrumental cover of “Louie Louie” by Sounds Orchestral.

A couple of songs on the WISM chart from 7/25/70 will eventually make the Easy Listening chart, and I have mentioned both of them before at this blog: “Mississippi” by John Phillips, from his acclaimed-but-forgotten album John, the Wolf King of L.A., and “That’s Where I Went Wrong” by the Poppy Family. “That’s Where I Went Wrong” would eventually reach #7 and “Mississippi” #13. I heard neither of them during that July week, although I would hear them a few times as summer turned to fall, and then forget them as fall turned to winter. But they would find their way back into my life and now, alongside “Close to You” and “Tighter Tighter” and all the rest, they possess a time-traveling mojo that knocks me sideways, one million years later.

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5 thoughts on “One Million Years

  1. Gary

    Just for the record (whatever “record” that is), you have at least one reader — me — who liked these songs when they were hits and still likes them today, although for most it takes a personal playlist to hear them because terrestrial stations and SiriusXM seem to have no place for most of them.

    I recognize and accept that we each have our own favorite type(s) of music. I’ve always skewed towards the softer stuff. Just reading your list today got my mind going in all sorts of directions of music I want to hear again. Thanks!

  2. Wesley

    Your references to Neighborhood’s version of “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Louie Louie” by Sounds Orchestral reminds me of the oddest mini-trend in music in 1970: remaking recent rock hits into more top 40 friendly or easy listening styles. Besides those two, we had the Assembled Multitude’s “Overture from Tommy (A Rock Opera)” that peaked at #16 in Billboard; “Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma” by the New Seekers covering Melanie (#14) and “The Letter” by the Arbors, which appears to have started the movement when it went to #20 in April 1969. These efforts never really caught on, and most if not all of these totally disappeared from radio playlists after their heyday, even getting no love from most oldies stations, as listeners indicated the originals were still the greatest.

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