Hot Smoke

On Fridays for the last several years, our man Jeff Ash has been tweeting the top 10 singles of the week from Stiller Music in Green Bay, Wisconsin, as they appeared in the store’s newspaper ads 50 years ago. Seeing this chart has become a welcome signal of the impending weekend, and I have been wanting to blog about it for a while. What follows are some quick notes about some of the songs that moved across Stiller’s counter for 68 cents apiece (equivalent to about five bucks today) in March 1969:

“Galveston”/Glen Campbell. With the Vietnam War at its height, a soldier cleans his gun and dreams of his girl at home. I heard it the other day, unexpectedly on shuffle, and I was reminded of how awesomely good it is, not just Campbell’s singing but the Wrecking Crew backing him up, including Hal Blaine on drums and Joe Osborn playing the iconic bass guitar. (Second thought:  that’s Campbell on the low, twangy guitar, although Osborn is on the record too.) I remember hearing “Galveston” on Mother and Dad’s radio stations long before I had a station of my own, and it never fails to make me think of springtime on the farm.

“Dizzy”/Tommy Roe and “Proud Mary”/Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s widely known that CCR hit #2 on the Hot 100 five times without ever hitting #1. While history has given “Proud Mary” the last laugh, “Dizzy” was clearly the bigger hit back in the day, not just on the Hot 100 but in Green Bay, too, spending four weeks atop the Stiller chart before giving way to Creedence.

“This Magic Moment”/Jay and the Americans. This version of the Drifters’ 1960 hit can’t decide whether it wants to recreate that old soul sound or update it for the bubblegum era, so it tries to have it both ways and accomplishes neither, although it did outdo the Drifters on the Hot 100.

“No Not Much”/Smoke Ring. This is a cover of the Four Lads original by a group from Norfolk, Nebraska, and it did its biggest business on easy-listening radio. “No Not Much” went to #24 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart and #85 on the Hot 100. It hit the Top 20 at KHJ in Los Angeles, KOIL in Omaha, WRKO in Boston, and WHYN in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“Pledge of Allegiance”/Red Skelton. I wrote about this record a few years ago: “On a January 1969 episode of his show, [Red] did a bit about the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, and expressed the fear that since the words ‘under God’ had been added, schools might consider it a prayer and ban it. At the height of the roiling 1960s, with the counterculture in full flower and the antiwar movement riding high, Skelton’s sentiments had broad appeal to Richard Nixon’s ‘silent majority.'” In addition to being sold in stores, “The Pledge of Allegiance” was also distributed by Burger King on a soundsheet. It made #44 on the Hot 100 and #25 on Easy Listening.

“Baby Let’s Wait”/Royal Guardsmen. For most people, the career of the Royal Guardsmen begins and ends with three “Snoopy” records in 1967, but the group made the Hot 100 five other times, including the shimmering bubblegum of “Baby Let’s Wait” (released in 1966 before “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” and reissued to become their last chart entry) at #35 and the trippy “Airplane Song” as #46.

“Hot Smoke and Sassafras”/Bubble Puppy and “Tobacco Road”/Love Society. In the late 60s, the word “progressive” didn’t mean “obtuse, spacy lyrics and showy instrumental virtuosity.” It meant “heavy guitars, distorted riffs, and some organ mixed in now and then.” Both “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” and “Tobacco Road” would have been called “progressive” 50 years ago. The Bubble Puppy were discovered playing a hippie joint in Houston by a producer who promised them they’d be bigger than the Beatles. (Spoiler: nah.) The phrase “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” is supposedly an expression Granny used on an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. Although the song never made it onto many oldies stations, it did go to #14 on the Hot 100 and was #1 in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Denver, Toledo, and a handful of smaller markets. Love Society was from Plymouth, south of Green Bay and west of Sheboygan, and a predecessor of one of Wisconsin’s fondly remembered bands, Sunblind Lion. “Tobacco Road” is the John D. Loudermilk song that a lot of progressive groups covered. Love Society’s version didn’t make the Hot 100, and all but three of its listings at ARSA are from Wisconsin stations.

Jeff’s weekly tweet of the Stiller Music chart is a vestige of his Packers Dynasty Twitter project, which followed the Green Bay Packers through their three consecutive championship seasons in 1965, 1966, and 1967, day by day. Thank you sir.

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