Half the Story

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(Pictured: Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.)

I spent some time this week at ARSA reading through random radio surveys as October turned to November, so here’s a fragmentary look at some of those bygone weeks:

WGEM, Quincy, Illinois, 1966 1967: This chart is is topped by “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things” by the Cowsills, a song we dig around here. “Let It Out” by the Hombres and Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” both blast into the Top 10, as does “That’s Just Half the Story” by Herman Grimes. Grimes was a popular local act in St. Louis (a couple of hours from Quincy) and was inducted into the St. Louis Classic Rock Hall of Fame in 2017 alongside such luminaries as REO Speedwagon and Miles Davis.

(Digression: this year’s inductees to the St. Louis Classic Rock Hall of Fame include longtime St. Louis and Kansas City radio jock and friend of the blog Randy Raley. It’s an honor well-deserved. I wish my career had produced 10 percent of the stories Randy’s has, some of which he’s told at his own blog, From the Rearview Mirror. Here’s one about dinner with Alan Parsons and the bathroom break that wasn’t.)

WCFL, Chicago, 1973: The Rolling Stones’ “Angie” goes to #1 on this chart, taking out Cher’s “Half-Breed.” Making a strong move into the Top 10 is “Rubber Bullets,” the first American chart hit by 10cc, which made #73 on the Hot 100. Crosstown rival WLS charted it for nine weeks and it got as high as #23. Also outperforming its national number (#33) in Chicago: the fantastic “Jimmy Loves Mary Anne” by the Looking Glass, which is at #6 at WCFL this week after peaking at #5. It went to #2 at WLS.

WIRB-FM, Enterprise, Alabama, 1975: Enterprise, Alabama, is roughly equidistant from Montgomery, Alabama, and Tallahassee, Florida. WIRB’s survey touts “10,000 watts of stereo rock,” which you can inject straight into my veins, especially “Miracles,” “Lady Blue,” “It Only Takes a Minute,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Games People Play.” At #12 is the debut single by the Canadian band Trooper, “Baby Woncha Please Come Home.” If you know them at all, it’s probably for “Raise a Little Hell” in 1978.

WPDH-FM, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1978: This station charts approximately 80 albums, including all the expected chart-toppers of the day. No self-respecting album station of the 70s would fail to play jazz and fusion, so WPDH also charts Jean Luc Ponty’s Cosmic Messenger, Chuck Mangione’s Feels So Good and Children of Sanchez, Images by the Crusaders, Sea Level’s On the Edge, and Mr. Gone by Weather Report. And just to make sure the spectrum gets completely spanned, the station is also playing Talking Heads, Waylon Jennings, and the FM soundtrack. I’d listen to it.

KKBQ-FM, Houston, 1983: There’s not much to get me excited on this chart, although “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton is damn near perfect. Debuting at #24 is “Superstar” by Lydia Murdock, which includes a bassline you will recognize and the words “I’m Billie Jean and I’m mad as hell / I’m a woman with a story to tell.” It didn’t make the Hot 100, and its 20 listings at ARSA come from three stations: KKBQ, KIQQ in Los Angeles, and CKGM in Montreal, where it made the Top 10.

WHTT-FM, Boston, 1985: The summer of 1985 was a glorious era for radio music. By the fall, things weren’t quite so glorious, although this week’s #1, “Take on Me” by a-ha is an all-timer, and you can’t listen to the radio for very long today without hearing “Part Time Lover,” “Money for Nothing,” “You Belong to the City,” or “Broken Wings.” But this chart also includes “Oh Sheila” by Ready for the World, which had been one of the weakest Hot 100 #1s ever, and plenty of other records that disappointed me back then: Godley and Creme’s bizarre “Cry,” one of the worst momentum killers in radio; “Communication” by Power Station and “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” by Paul Young, which were not remotely as good as the hits those artists had charted earlier in the year; and “Sleeping Bag,” with which ZZ Top began their descent into self-parody.

KDWB-FM, Minneapolis, 1989: I often talk about the crazed variety of Top 40 radio in the 70s, but that decade’s got nothing on this week. The KDWB Top 10 includes Europop, dance music, a blues guitarist, hard rock, a pop power ballad, and two hits by New Kids on the Block. Go a little farther down and get you some hair metal and hip-hop too.

Cherry-picking the charts doesn’t really tell the whole story of any given week. But it got us up to the word count, didn’t it?

5 responses

  1. Mine were among the ears reached by KKBQ and “Superstar” 35 Octembers ago. Sure, I heard it no more than twice, but I’ve never forgotten it (most likely on account of that bassline). The underdog on that survey is the anchoring #30, a song introduced to me one Friday evening by that very station. It’s one of the biggest reasons 1983 stands out in the decade and my lifetime, music- and otherwise.

    In other sentimental synth-pop news, I’ll pretend you never said that about “Cry”.

  2. Miles Davis is in the St. Louis Classic Rock Hall of Fame?

    Ah yes, Mr. Gone, the album that got a one-star review from Down Beat (after WR had won, like, five straight Down Beat Album of the Year awards).
    One star was harsh, but three would have been generous.

    The KKBQ chart reminds me there was a time when “Old Time Rock n’ Roll” was actually a new/current song, and not yet an inescapable warhorse.

    I must still have been listening to Top 40 in fall ’85 because I remember a whole bunch of those songs –including the guilty pleasure I’ve grown into admitting, “Freedom.”
    (One did not like Wham! as a middle-school boy in 1985. Simply wasn’t done.)

  3. Typo note: The WGEM chart is from 1967. Not ’66. One of my favorite times in music.

    1. An error? At this blog? Unpossible. (Fixed.)

  4. I was listening mainly to R&B radio in San Diego when “Superstar” hit, and I remember it very well. It was a pretty big hit in the R&B realm, as was another “Billie Jean” based song, the medley of “Billie Jean/Do it Again”, of which there were two competing versions, one by Italo-disco outfit Clubhouse, the other by a Detroit group called Slingshot. The Clubhouse version prevailed on the Hot 100 and in the UK (it did about equally well as Superstar…top 20 in the UK and a low-charter on the U.S. Hot 100), the Slingshot version was the bigger hit on the dance and R&B chart.

    The Clubhouse singer is no Michael (or Donald Fagen), but I always thought it was a pretty seamless medley.

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