Big Stuff

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(Pictured: Yvonne Elliman and Jeff Fenholt, from the Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar.)

I have mentioned before that the summer of 1971 was my last as a full-time child. I filled my days seeking adventures outside with my brother, taking saxophone lessons, and playing Little League baseball. The next year, I was expected to drive a tractor on the farm, and although Dad did not expect me to do it for free, he did expect me to do it, and so for the first time I did what a friend referred to years later as “trading your life for money.”

I also spent a lot of time listening to the radio in the summer of 1971—not to American Top 40 yet, but to WLS from Chicago, where I heard some, but not all of the songs featured on the AT40 show dated June 26, 1971.

40. “Cool Aid”/Paul Humphrey and His Cool-Aid Chemists. Paul Humphrey was a drummer who first worked as a sideman with a number of New York-based jazz artists including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Jimmy Smith. After relocating to Los Angeles, he became a session player for R&B, pop, and rock acts from Natalie Cole to Steely Dan, and he toured and recorded with Marvin Gaye. While he was based in LA, he also played in Lawrence Welk’s orchestra. “Cool Aid” had made #29 during the week of June 12, 1971, was also a mid-level R&B hit, and got Humphrey’s group on American Bandstand.

37. “Escape-ism (Part 1)”/James Brown. Brown’s airplay on R&B stations drove enormous sales, and as a result he frequently made the pop Top 40 with records that had little pop appeal, like “Escape-ism.”

35. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Yvonne Elliman
23. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Helen Reddy
22. “Superstar”/Murray Head
We reached peak Jesus Christ Superstar during the first half of June 1971, with Reddy and Head topping out at #13 and #14 respectively and Elliman reaching #28. The Superstar album had spent a week at #1 in February and two more in May, and it was still at #5 in this week. For what it’s worth, Elliman’s version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” which appears on the original Superstar album, has got it all over Reddy’s more successful cover, which was her breakthough single.

38. “Draggin’ the Line”/Tommy James
36. “Take Me Home Country Roads”/John Denver with Fat City
33. “Bring the Boys Home/Freda Payne

EXTRA: “I Feel the Earth Move”/Carole King
19. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”/Carly Simon
Casey refers to each of these female artists as “girls,” even though Freda Payne was 28, Carole King was 29, and Carly Simon was 26. He does not refer to 24-year-old Tommy James or 27-year-old John Denver as “boys.”

EXTRA: “Teen Angel”/Mark Dinning. Casey tells the story (which was offered as an optional extra during the recent national repeat of this show) of how Dinning and his family whomped up “Teen Angel” at a family dinner. He says that it was intended as a joke, but a record producer heard it and thought it could be a hit—which it was, going to #1 in February 1960. The joke part of the story isn’t supported by the author of The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, but whatever the case, the fate of “Teen Angel” is an oft-told tale in American pop: a song that is intended to be disposable gets made a little too well to be discarded. Although the lyric is contrived and melodramatic, the tune and arrangement are lovely.

31. “Sooner or Later”/Grass Roots
28. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”/Fortunes
18. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight

The sound of these records, the way they jump off the radio and make you want to sing along, is one of the purest pleasures from the classic Top 40 era.

We’ll need another installment to get this whole show in (plus the obligatory American Bottom 60 to come), and I am not especially surprised. The summer of 1971 is one of my favorite Top 40 seasons, and there’s plenty to say about a lot of that season’s songs.

14 thoughts on “Big Stuff

  1. Tom Nawrocki

    I just came here to agree with you: The Helen Reddy single is a nice, cautious version of the song, while Yvonne Elliman sings the bejesus out of it, so to speak.

    1. Yah Shure

      Yeah, there doesn’t seem to be such a thing. At least some of the correct versions are out there, like the mono mix of “Here It Comes Again” with overdubs that are missing from the stereo mix. That’s what was on the original Press label 45 and mono LP, and when Eric Records requested it for their ‘Hard To Find 45s On CD, Vol. 17: Late Sixties Classics’ compilation two years ago, the American mono master tape surprisingly turned up at the Iron Mountain storage facility in Pennsylvania. At least that one didn’t perish in the 2008 Universal fire.

      Eric had previously issued “You’ve Got Your Troubles” on their ‘Dick Bartley Presents: Classic Oldies 1965-1969’ various artists comp, but that was the stereo mix, which doesn’t pack the same compressed-to-the-gills wallop of the mono one. That one was more than the styrene used to press the Press 45 could handle without distorting severely, so the mono Press LP – on actual vinyl – is the best way to hear it.

  2. John Gallagher

    To me, the Yvonne Elliman version blew Helen Reddy off the charts. Murray Head was an excellent top of the hour song right out of a station ID/Jingle.

    For the purists, 40 Years – The Complete Singles Collection (1966-2006), Collectors’ Choice Music 0965, is the only place to get the mono 45 hit mix of Draggin’ The Line.

  3. Yah Shure

    “Sooner Or Later” went out with custom-sung call letters over the intro to at least some stations, including both of the top-40s in the Twin Cites. “Double-you Deeeee-Geeeee-Whyyy-yyyy, sooner or later” just ahead of the record’s vocals certainly fit a LOT better than “Kaaaaay-Deeeee-Doubleyou-Bee-eeee, sooner or later.”

    James Brown sold oodles of records, but not in Minneapolis-St. Paul. It didn’t help that the only R&B outlet was a 500-watt suburban daytimer at the top of the AM dial, but even it (KUXL) only stuck with the format for a few years in the late ’60s-early ’70s. “Cold Sweat” was on and off of KDWB in three weeks. By the time “Escape-ism” came around, they knew better than to even consider it.

    1. WLS had a custom-intro version of “Sooner or Later,” and I still sing it when I hear the song today. Lacking one letter in the calls, it went “WLS . . . Chicago . . . sooner or later.”

      1. mikehagerty

        Those were called “Pop-Tops”, and they didn’t come from the record companies, but from a specialty jingle house. First time I heard the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, it had a Pop-Top on it (picture the guitar riff a few bars before the vocal “Brown Sugar-Brown Sugar-Ninety-three-K-H-J” —and then the real Mick sings).

        One of the few times in my life I didn’t want to get a KHJ jingle package. They had ones for “Sooner or Later”, “Indian Reservation” and a few others. KCBQ used them too. They were pretty much a 1971 thing, though I may have heard an aircheck of a station still using them in ’72.

        KHJ was intrigued by the concept, though, and tried to take it to its next level in 1974, with this clever re-cut of songs’ actual intros to create the “93/KHJ” logo in the intro. The box says “Spec” and to my knowledge, they were never used:

      2. Yah Shure

        “Sooner Or Later” was the only instance where either KDWB or WDGY used those custom intros during that era, which leads me to believe they were either furnished by ABC/Dunhill or were a demo from someone like Pop Tops.

        The only station in town that did go with those things during the summer of ’71 was the local oldies station, which used them on some of the currents they were playing. Their music director told me they came from an outfit called Up Your Ratings, and the ones I specifically remember were for “Draggin’ The Line” and “Roll On” by the New Colony Six.

        KRSI was an AM-FM stereo simulcast, with all music played from vinyl. Problem was, their cart machines were still mono, so once the UYR intros arrived, those songs instantly went from stereo to mono on the FM. Up Your Ratings equalled Down Your Stereo.

      3. SteveE

        KHJ also used a Pop Top on “Rainy Days and Mondays.” Whoever sang it sounded very much like Karen Carpenter.

  4. When I first heard “Sooner or Later,” I thought the song was sung by a black group on Motown Records. I thought it was similar to “I Just Want To Celebrate” by Rare Earth, which WAS on the Motown label. It just goes to show how talented the Grass Roots and Rare Earth were. They had a unique sound that sizzled on Top 40 AM radio.

  5. Chris Herman

    I was unfamiliar with both Paul Humphrey and “Cool Aid” prior to today’s blog entry. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact the guy responsible for this record would later be part of Lawrence Welk’s orchestra for six years. Also, although I don’t know if he would’ve qualified as a member of either group, it is cool he did session work with both the Funk Brothers and the Wrecking Crew.

  6. Pingback: I’m No Schoolboy But I Know What I Like | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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