(Pictured: Donny Osmond, jaded Casanova on the prowl for babes.)
I wrote about an American Top 40 show from late June 1971 earlier this summer, and while a few things had changed by the week of August 21, 1971, I would find myself plowing a lot of the same ground if I did the usual list of songs and comments. So here’s something different.
The cue sheet for this week is not the formal rundown that accompanied the packages that went to radio stations; it appears to be the notes that Casey, producer Don Bustany, and the engineers used as they worked their way through the show—which was recorded in real time for the first couple of years of its existence. Intro times are shown for some songs as “:09+” or “:10+,” which I take to mean that the intros were a bit longer than nine or 10 seconds but not quite 10 or 11 seconds. This matters when you’re trying to run a tight show, and it’s something I notice on the air even now—that nine seconds from first note to the vocal is sometimes just a touch more than nine seconds.
On “You’ve Got a Friend” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, the timing is noted as “:03 ooh/:14.” “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight has the notation “:04 ooh/:10.” For “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band, it’s shown as “:06 drums/:28.” The “ooh”s and the “drums” mark what jocks refer to as a post—a spot in the introduction where something happens, or something changes. The last post is the start of the vocal, but records can have multiple posts, as “Signs” and the others do, and some have more than two. If a record has multiple posts and I don’t need to talk all the way to the vocal, I’ll try to hit at least one of them, if practicable. Sometimes I’ll talk over a record with multiple posts and hit more than one—or maybe all of them. (I’m never gonna hit a home run in a baseball game, but I can damn sure do that.)
In the early days of the show, Casey would spotlight the #1 song from “10 years ago today,” and occasionally 20. When he played “Wheel of Fortune” by Kay Starr and “Come On-a My House” by Rosemary Clooney, I wondered how appealing they were to the 1971 audience, never mind now. The 10-years-ago hits are not much better. The #1 song on August 21, 1961, was “Wooden Heart” by Joe Dowell, which is dreadful. Sometimes these featured songs are snipped from the modern-day repeats. “Wooden Heart” was not, and it made for a pretty rough segment, especially backed up with Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl.”
Donny, debuting on the 40 this week way up at #24, was just off a Top-10 cover of “Sweet and Innocent,” a song in which he ogles a younger woman’s backside, accepts her sweet lovin’, and then tells her to come back when she’s older. “Go Away Little Girl,” a cover of the 1963 #1 by Steve Lawrence, is about another temptation: “I’m not supposed to be alone with you.” The novelty of having 13-year-old Donny record older-man/younger-woman songs was something audiences of 1971 gobbled right up, but they sound pretty skeevy now.
And that’s one reason of several why Casey’s syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks, will offer affiliates an alternate show from later in the 70s when scheduling one of the earliest shows. Many stations that carry Casey have aged their formats past the early 1970s, so a lot of the music is unfamiliar. The high percentage of forgotten hits, stylistic weirdness, and straight-up novelty records can also make the early shows hard to swallow. And it’s not just “Wooden Heart.” The 8/21/71 show also contains “What the World Needs Now/Abraham Martin and John” by Tom Clay, an audio collage featuring news clips from the JFK and RFK assassinations and of Martin Luther King. The thing was a massive hit that summer, although a fast-burning one. Today, its five-minute run time is an eternity.
But after we get past Tom Clay, it’s pretty much pure AM radio pleasure the rest of the show: “Riders on the Storm,” “Spanish Harlem,” “It’s Too Late,” “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” “Draggin’ the Line,” “Indian Reservation,” “Beginnings,” and the rest, all the way up to the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” in its third week at #1. The stations that have dumped oldies from the early 70s—out of the misguided notion that listeners don’t want to hear music they didn’t experience directly—have given up on some music that’s vastly better than a lot of what they’re still playing.