(Pictured: the Jackson Five, 1971.)
In a recent post, I ran down some of the reasons people listen to old American Top 40 shows. But I missed one: you can listen to these shows looking for little moments of weirdness and/or lost radio history.
Take for example the show from July 29, 1972, which was a recent repeat. In this week, the Jackson Five’s “Looking Through the Windows” debuted at #38. Casey front-announced it by saying, “If this were the first record introducing the Jackson Five, it would put them right into the Top 10.” Which doesn’t make all that much sense, really—there’s nothing stopping the record from eventually making the Top 10, and none of the Jackson Five’s other singles had debuted within the Top 10. And in fact, I suspect that if “Looking Through the Windows” had been the first Jackson Five hit, it wouldn’t have had nearly the impact of “I Want You Back,” which is one of the most impressive debut singles made by anyone in any era. “Looking Through the Windows” eventually peaked at #16 in an eight-week run within the Top 40, so America didn’t dig it quite as much as Casey did. And he seriously did: he comes out of it by saying, “That’s really putting it all together!”
At #14 is Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” In the original 7/29/72 broadcast, Casey did a bit about Elton’s real name, which he gave as “Reg Swight.” Which it is not—it’s Reg Dwight. Casey’s modern-day producers fixed the error, but owned up to it in one of the show’s optional extra segments, even playing the original mispronunciation.
Digression: the Twitter feed Dano Loves Music has been doing tournaments in which followers pick their favorite songs of various years by voting in head-to-head matchups. In the recently concluded 1972 tournament, “American Pie” was the winner, which was probably a foregone conclusion. “Rocket Man” was the other finalist, which I would not have guessed before the tournament began.
The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” is at #12 this week. I have noted before Casey’s tendency to call them just “Eagles.” That is, after all, the way they are listed on all of their records, without the definite article, but even the band members themselves used “the Eagles” when talking about the band, so Casey’s quirk seems, well, quirky. “Take It Easy” is heard in its 45 configuration, which is fairly rare nowadays. It’s snipped from the album length of 3:34 to a single length of 3:21 by tightening up the ending—cutting out some “ooh-ooh-oohs” and removing “oh we got it easy,” then cutting right to “we oughta take it easy” and the cold ending. (I hope this description is sufficient since I can’t find the 45 version at YouTube.) As our friend Yah Shure has reminded us, record labels would make the smallest of tweaks if they thought it would increase a record’s chances of becoming a hit.
At #10 is a record we know today as “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies. Although it appears on the Hollies’ album Distant Light with its full title, the song was listed in Billboard as “Long Cool Woman.” That’s what everybody called it back then, and how Casey introduced it on this show.
“Too Late to Turn Back Now” by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose is an all-time favorite of mine and one of the sweetest sing-along songs ever to hit the radio. The rest of the country dug it too: it had crashed into the Top 40 at #23 on June 17, went to #10 the next week, then 5-4-2-2 before dropping back to #3 this week. Every biography of the group lists the group’s membership as brothers Carter and Eddie Cornelius and their sister Rose, who were joined by another sister, Billie Jo, after “Too Late” had hit. But when introducing “Too Late to Turn Back Now” on this show, Casey says the group is “10 guys, five girls, ages 11 to 43, from Florida.” Carter, Eddie, and Rose were three kids from a family of 15 siblings, but I can’t find one single source that says all 15 Cornelius kids were part of the group. Casey and his staff must have misinterpreted a bit of biographical information.
While these old shows are a fascinating window into the past, it’s probably not fair to examine them on the molecular level. Casey and his staff were just making a show back then; they didn’t know they were making history, or that the shows would survive Casey himself. But it’s fun.