(Pictured: Fleetwood Mac in the summer of 1977.)
People listen to American Top 40 for lots of reasons. You’re guaranteed three or four hours of highly familiar music and interesting oddities. Casey Kasem’s personality is engaging, and his feature bits are usually interesting. I enjoy all of those things, but I also use the shows to try and project myself back in time, to feel what it was like to live in that bygone week, whenever it was.
I have been listening to the American Top 40 show from the week of July 30, 1977, and in that bygone week, life was difficult, or it seemed that way to 17-year-old me. My girlfriend was in Europe and I missed her. While she was there, I lost both of my part-time jobs off the farm, each in the span of a couple of weeks. (I didn’t like either one of them, but still.) I must have spent the first couple of weeks of August, before my GF got home, lonely and feeling sorry for myself.
So I believe I will tread lightly around this show and try to think of some things I haven’t already said about the songs of that summer.
40. “Float On”/Floaters. I don’t recall hearing “Float On” on the radio stations I was listening to back then, even after its unlikely rise to #2 on the Hot 100 in September. I hated it when I finally heard it, although now I respect its easy groove and the earnestness of the individual Floaters describing the kind of girl they like.
39. “Christine Sixteen”/KISS. In 1977, “Christine Sixteen” wasn’t a cultural outlier; rapey crap of this type was mainstream. In the #MeToo Era, it’s unacceptable.
31. “Black Betty”/Ram Jam. One of the classic-rock stations I worked for used to play this as part of its Southern rock weekends, even though Ram Jam was formed in New York City. Fine by me.
29. “Smoke From a Distant Fire”/Sanford-Townsend Band. This is a record that cannot be improved upon, and its very existence in a state of such perfection is a sort of miracle.
25. “Give a Little Bit”/Supertramp. Casey played the 45 edit, which is labeled at 3:20, and which I had completely forgotten.
24. “Telephone Man”/Meri Wilson. “Telephone Man” would make #18 on the Hot 100 later in August. It’s the kind of novelty that’s mildly humorous once, annoying the second time, and get-it-the-fk-off-my-radio after that. By the time it reached its Hot 100 peak, however, it had been to #1 at WCOL in Columbus and WKTQ in Pittsburgh, as well as at stations in Kalamazoo and Muskegon, Michigan. In an era when many Top 40 stations played their top hits every 75 to 90 minutes, you can imagine the horror of that.
22. “Don’t Stop”/Fleetwood Mac
21. “Jet Airliner”/Steve Miller Band
This is a damn fine stretch of music right here, even though the AT40 engineer, either in 1977 or today, made a godawful edit in “Barracuda.”
Casey delivers more news than usual on this week’s show. He does a feature on the world’s most expensive single record, a 10-inch 78 of “Stormy Weather” by the Five Sharps, for which its owner recently turned down an offer of $2,000. (I found a couple of recent articles suggesting that the value of “Stormy Weather” is now $25,000, and there are only three copies in existence.) He updates the condition of Jackie Wilson, who suffered brain damage after a heart attack in 1975 and was still, as of 1977, confined to a rehabilitation center. And in a particularly rare move, he plugs two acting roles he has on NBC in the coming week, on Police Story and Quincy. (Late edit: be sure to read the comment from our friend and former AT40 staffer Scott Paton about these parts of the show.)
15. “Undercover Angel”/Alan O’Day. Call this 70s cheese if you want, but the last verse, in which Alan hits the sheets with his girl, hoping to see the angel again, strikes me as truthful in a particular way. He tells her his story, to which she responds, “Whaaaat?” He says, “Ooo-wee.” She says, “All right!” The exclamation point is critical. She’s not angry or confused by his wild-ass story; she’s happy to go with it because she is ready and willing to get it on as he is. How many pop songs depict sex as playful, or fun? Songwriters are usually most comfortable imbuing it with more “significant” emotions—passion, contentment, regret. They’re less likely to acknowledge, as O’Day does here, that sometimes, we make love with laughter in our hearts.
Coming in the next installment: the room where most of the summer of ’77 happened, and more of what I heard there.