Don’t Have a Wooden Heart

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(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.

8 responses

  1. To say “Go Away Little Girl” hasn’t aged well is an understatement. The fact it hit #1 a second time with Donny Osmond makes it even worse. Over at Stereogum, Tom Breihan’s been daily critiquing every #1 since 1958 and for each of GALG’s appearances, he’s awarded 1/10. His dissection of the Donny Osmond version is below.

    That said, I will mention gender-flipped versions of the song actually do manage to improve it. Somehow, a woman singing “Go Away Little Boy” seems less skeevy because it could just as well be about an adult woman dismissing a would-be male suitor who may be the same age but an irresponsible, emotionally-immature manchild.

  2. JB: The radio stations that have phased out 70s music haven’t done so on the belief their audience doesn’t want to hear music they didn’t experience directly. They’ve done it because the music no longer tests well with the audience they’re targeting.

    Let’s use KRTH, Los Angeles as an example, just because I’m most familiar with it of all the Classic Hits stations and because it’s arguably the most successful it has ever been in it 47-year history (#2 overall now, top five consistently), all but nine of it as either an Oldies or Classic Hits station.

    They’re targeting 25-54, which makes the center of the demo 39 1/2. So we’re talking about someone born in the early part of 1980. That should excuse pretty much the entire decade of the 80s from consideration, but in fact, most of the library is 80s, and some 70s cuts survive. Here’s an hour from about a week and a half ago (a Wednesday midday)

    Fleetwood Mac-Don’t Stop
    Duran Duran-Hungry Like The Wolf
    Michael Jackson-Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
    Nena-99 Luftballons
    Bryan Adams-Summer of ’69
    Bee Gees-Stayin’ Alive
    Cars-You Might Think
    Cyndi Lauper-Time After Time
    Supertramp-The Logical Song
    OMD-If You Leave
    Phil Collins-In The Air Tonight
    Human League-Don’t You Want Me

    How’d “Don’t Stop”, “Stayin’ Alive” and “The Logical Song” survive? The audience—even though they’d be too young to remember them—still likes them.

    1. I defer to your expertise, but people can’t like what they don’t hear in the first place. How many test/not-to-test decisions are being made based on, “Well, they don’t seem to like this, so they probably won’t like that”?

      1. JB: A guy I know who knows this stuff better than I do says that over a period of a few years, it all gets a shot, within reason and that there’s no “guilt by association”.

        That said, songs that have produced a strong negative several times in a row get brought back only if there’s a reason there might be a change (renewed popularity of the artist/featured in a movie/commercial, etc.).

        Demographic common sense applies, as does how you want your station to sound. If you’re KRTH, with the list above, do you want to bother seeing if there’s still life in Robert Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”?

        Testing has a lot of detractors, and like all research, it’s all in how it’s applied. But if it didn’t work, neither would the stations.

  3. Donny’s version of “Go Away Little Girl” stayed at #1 for three weeks in 1971, a longer run at the top that year than “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” by the Temptations, “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones and “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. My mind reels from this nugget of knowledge.

    A telling indication of the song’s current status: The hit Broadway musical Beautiful, about the life of the writer who provided the music, Carole King, makes no mention of it whatsoever.

    1. In the case of Janis and the Stones, a lot of people bought the album instead of the 45. Maybe in Isaac and the Temptations’ case, too.

    2. “Donny’s version of “Go Away Little Girl” stayed at #1 for three weeks in 1971, a longer run at the top that year than “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” by the Temptations, “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones and “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. My mind reels from this nugget of knowledge.”

      Never underestimate the power of the 11-15 female demographic. The placement of a now-forgotten song by Donny Osmond on the top of the charts for three weeks in 1971 is just one of many examples of their strength.

  4. Our two kids are millenials, born in 1983 and 1984. They both love 60’s and 70’s music, because they heard it at home growing up when we played our CD’s.

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