(Pictured: Badfinger. AM radio was not the only thing smokin’.)
This post is based on the American Top 40 show from November 21, 1970, but it’s also a companion piece to my earlier post about the way music sounded on AM radio. Links go to WABC-processed versions except for one.
40. “Black Magic Woman”/Santana. The first few notes of this creep out of any radio. They are especially effective when creeping out of an AM soundscape, and especially especially effective at night.
36. “No Matter What”/Badfinger. If I were to do a list of the five best-sounding AM Top 40 records, this would be on it, and it might be #1. The opening riff (whomp-whomp-whomp-whompity-whomp-whomp) is awesome at any level of fidelity. On a processed AM Top 40 signal, it’s glorious.
35. “Deeper and Deeper”/Freda Payne. Thanks to the sound quality of the AT40 repeat, this sounded a little mushy at first; really busy, with a lot of sounds all at once. Then came Freda rising from the deep, and it’s fabulous.
32. “After Midnight”/Eric Clapton. “After Midnight” comes vividly back to me from my first radio, the green Westinghouse tube-type, at night, all of the arrangement folded down into a single laser beam of sound and sensation. See also #15, “Engine Number 9” by Wilson Pickett, where the guitar is razor-sharp at full fidelity but would slice you to ribbons on AM. Equally bracing: the first five notes of Brian Hyland’s “Gypsy Woman” at #9, which might be the song on this list that’s most strongly evocative of listening to that particular radio at night. See also #28, “One Less Bell to Answer.”
31. “As the Years Go By”/Mashmakhan. Mashmakhan was a band from Montreal whose roots went back to 1960 and which had become appropriately psychedelic by 1970, after being renamed for a strain of marijuana popular in late 60s Toronto. We’ve all got gaps in our musical knowledge, and “As the Years Go By” is one of mine. Although the title and artist are familiar to me from bumping into them in print over the years, I am pretty sure I never heard it until I listened to this show on its recent repeat.
29. “Stand by Your Man”/Candi Staton. A magnificent soul update of Tammy Wynette’s country standard. I wonder how many times in a row I could listen to this before I would want to hear something else.
26. “Candida”/Dawn. As I’ve mentioned many times before, “Candida” was the first record I ever loved. See also #17, “Cracklin’ Rosie,” the second record I ever loved; #6, “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, which may have been my favorite song of the moment in late November of 1970; and inevitably, #1.
22. “Stoned Love”/Supremes. “Stoned Love” was a lost record, one I didn’t hear between its falling-out of regular rotations in 1971 and its repackaging on CD in the early 90s. See also #18, “(5-10-15-20) 25-30 Years of Love” by the Presidents.
19. “Share the Land”/Guess Who. Is this the best song on this entire AT40 show? Possibly. The WABC-processed version sounds so great I can hardly stand it.
10. “Montego Bay”/Bobby Bloom. I think I bought this 45 with Christmas money in 1970. Although it’s frequently heard today in a longer version that ends with a bit of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” that bit wasn’t on the hit version. (Hot damn the WABC remix is fantastic.)
3. “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five. Eternally magical in its 45 mix (of which no good upload exists at YouTube), this hasn’t been processed by the WABC guy yet, which may be a good thing, because if it was, I’d be slain eternally dead.
1. “I Think I Love You”/Partridge Family. Kurt Blumenau, who was not weaned on this stuff the way I was, listened to some of the WABC remixes and said, “It sounds like they’re playing in a train station, and yet I cannot deny the appeal.” The train-station metaphor fits the WABC remix of “I Think I Love You,” but notice how intimate the record suddenly becomes when the harpsichord kicks in.
In an ideal world, radio sound would be precisely faithful to the way artists and producers imagine their art. In this deeply flawed world of ours, radio sound is intended to serve the needs of stations—in many cases, simply to make them louder than other stations on the dial. In the world we used to know, radio sound enhanced the listening experience without intruding on it.
I have never forgotten what it was like to listen to that world, and sweet mama do I miss it.
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