(Pictured: Sammi Smith sings with Johnny Cash, 1971.)
I have written a fair amount about the spring of 1971 at this blog, and I was glad to revisit recently it via the American Top 40 show from April 10, 1971.
38. “Friends”/Elton John. This is one of five debut songs on the show, one of which, Casey teases, is way up at #15. “Friends,” the beautiful title song for an obscure film, was the followup to “Your Song” and would get only to #34.
(The other debuts besides the one at #15: John Lennon’s “Power to the People” at #40, “Chick-a-Boom” by Daddy Dewdrop at #39, and Dawn’s “I Play and Sing” at #30.)
Special: “My Way”/Frank Sinatra. Casey mentions Sinatra’s then-recent announcement that he intended to retire, and he plays this as a tribute. As you read earlier in the week, “My Way” was written after Sinatra told lyricist Paul Anka in 1968 that he intended to quit. He did not quit, of course, but he took a year off before returning to work. In the fall of 1973, he released a new album called Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.
20. “Temptation Eyes”/Grass Roots. There were few records on the radio in 1971 that sounded better than the Grass Roots’ three big hits that year, this one, “Sooner or Later,” and “Two Divided by Love.”
Special: “Honky Tonk”/Bill Doggett. I suspect that the vast majority of people who heard “Honky Tonk” on the recent repeat of this show couldn’t identify it. Even I had a hard time placing it for a moment until the sax started honkin’. But in 1971, as Casey told his listeners, it was the largest selling rock ‘n’ roll instrumental in the history of the charts, having moved four million copies in two different chart runs, in 1956 (when it went to #2 for three weeks behind Elvis Presley’s unassailable “Hound Dog”/” Don’t Be Cruel”) and again in 1961.
15. “Never Can Say Goodbye”/Jackson Five. After “Never Can Say Goodbye” vaulted to this lofty position after debuting on the Hot 100 the previous week at #57, Casey says it’s headed for #1, and if you were him, you’d probably say the same thing. But “Never Can Say Goodbye” didn’t make it. It went to #13 the next week, then made another impressive leap to #4, and then #2, where it got stuck for three weeks. Read on to find out what stuck it.
14. “What Is Life”/George Harrison. I got my first 45s for Christmas in 1970, but by the spring of ’71 I was buying them myself, 94 cents apiece at S&O TV in my hometown. At some point late in this winter or in the spring I bought “What Is Life” and three others on this chart: “I Play and Sing” and the Partridge Family’s “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” (at #7 this week) because of course I did, and also Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line,” about which there’s more below.
13. “Where Do I Begin (Love Story)”/Andy Williams. Multiple versions of this song charted during the winter and spring of 1971, and you’ll read more about them next week.
12. “Help Me Make It Through the Night”/Sammi Smith. If you do not dig this, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.
10. “One Toke Over the Line”/Brewer and Shipley. A couple of songs before this, Casey teased that he would explain what a toke is. And although I was skeptical about whether he’d tell the whole truth, he did: “It refers to a puff of a marijuana cigarette in some places.” But he goes on to explain that it can also mean a ticket, and that if you are in Las Vegas and you ask for a toke, you’ll get a gambling chip. Brewer and Shipley meant “one toke over the line” to be an expression of regret for having gone too far, he says. Perhaps, but the lyrics make more sense if a toke is a smoke.
3. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night
2. “What’s Going On”/Marvin Gaye
1. “Just My Imagination”/Temptations
That’s a solid way to end a show. “Joy to the World” had gone from #34 to #11 to #3 this week, and will start at six-week stretch at #1 next week, three of them with “Never Can Say Goodbye” at #2. As for “What’s Going On” and “Just My Imagination,” it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when stuff so magnificent was an everyday thing.