Diggin’ the Cat on the Radio

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(Pictured: Kiki Dee, 1973.)

The fall of 1974 is, as I’ve written several times over the years, a favorite season of mine. The American Top 40 show from October 19, 1974, was pretty powerful stuff on these recent autumn afternoons, making the door to the portal back in time, a door that periodically materializes in my middle distance, feel pretty close.

39. “Longfellow Serenade”/Neil Diamond. Me, 2014: “I am pretty sure you can’t get anywhere with a girl by reading her Longfellow. I am not sure you could get all that far 40 years ago, either.”

38. “Second Avenue”/Art Garfunkel. Two versions of this charted at the same time, one by Garfunkel (as he was billed on the single) and one by Tim Moore, who wrote it.

Then all the things that we felt
Must eventually melt and fade
Like the frost on my window pane
Where I wrote, “I am you”
On Second Avenue

37. “Higher Plane”/Kool and the Gang. If you dig the groove on “Jungle Boogie,” here’s more of it, and in a good way.

36. “I’ve Got the Music in Me”/Kiki Dee Band. Me, 2014: “Imagine not-yet-famous Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting by the radio in Seattle in 1974 going ‘damn, THAT’S the stuff.'”

35. “Clap for the Wolfman”/Guess Who. “Aw, you know, she was diggin’ the cat on the radio.”

30. “Overnight Sensation”/Raspberries. Casey tells the story of the woman who passed out in a record store due to the strong smell from the scratch-and-sniff sticker on the cover of the band’s debut album—a story he told almost exactly two years earlier, to the week, when he played “Go All the Way.”

29. “Straight Shootin’ Woman”/Steppenwolf. This was last of 13 Hot 100 hits for Steppenwolf, going back to 1968.

28. “The Need to Be”/Jim Weatherly. Me, 2014: “in which a man of the Me Decade disappears up his own external orifice.”

26. “Beach Baby”/First Class. If one is nostalgic for the era of a song that expresses nostalgia for a still earlier era, how far is he from Inception, really?

22. “Carefree Highway”/Gordon Lightfoot. The warmth in Gordon Lightfoot’s voice on this record is the aural equivalent of autumn.

20. “Give It to the People”/Righteous Brothers. I must have heard this record before listening to this show recently, but I don’t remember it. It’s another entry in the genre of what it’s like to be a rock star, which is highly relatable content.

19. “Back Home Again”/John Denver
18. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”/John Lennon
17. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive
16. “Tin Man”/America
15. “Sweet Home Alabama”/Lynryd Skynyrd
You want the radio turned off, turn it off yourself. I ain’t gonna do it.

14. “Do It Baby”/Miracles. The first Miracles hit without Smokey Robinson. I am pretty sure I never heard it until I started doing Saturday at the 70s on the radio a decade ago.

13. “Skin Tight”/Ohio Players
12. “You Little Trustmaker”/The Tymes
11. “Stop and Smell the Roses”/Mac Davis

I told you once, I ain’t turning it off.

10. “Love Me for a Reason”/Osmonds. But I might step out of the room for a bit.

9. “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)”/Tony Orlando and Dawn. I can’t find a link for it, but I remember somewhere describing Orlando’s style as the 70s went on as “overacting like Fozzie Bear.” This is one of the less egregious examples of it, and since I’m halfway through the time portal by this point in the show, I’ll allow it.

7. “Never My Love”/Blue Swede. Blue Swede decorated “Hooked on a Feeling” with the “ooga-chucka” hook (which they nicked from Jonathan King); their tactic on “Never My Love” was to play it twice as fast as the original.

6. “The Bitch Is Back”/Elton John. Contrary to urban legend. Casey did mention the title of this, both going into and coming out of it, although he sounds a little embarrassed. Old-school radio jocks could be that way; I still remember the first time I deliberately said “hell” on the air (as an intensifier and not as a noun), and wondering afterward whether I should have done it.

1. “Nothing From Nothing”/Billy Preston. Throughout the show, Casey teases the fact that the week’s new #1 song would be the 28th of 1974, breaking a record for most #1 songs in a year. The record of 27 was set in 1966 and equaled in 1973. Before 1974 ended, 36 songs would hit #1. As best I can tell, that’s still the all-time record for #1 hits in a year.

The feeling of family warmth and security I remember from the fall of 1974 is almost certainly a lie, but a harmless one after all this time. And in this horrid fall of 2019, each of us needs all the warmth and security we can get.

15 responses

  1. 19. “Back Home Again”/John Denver
    18. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”/John Lennon
    17. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive
    16. “Tin Man”/America
    15. “Sweet Home Alabama”/Lynryd Skynyrd

    Nothing says the Fall of ’74 than that group right there. And 4 out of 5 still sound good today.

  2. Random thoughts:

    Neil Diamond went from “Cherry Cherry” to “Longfellow Serenade” in just seven years. Actually, the move from innocuous pop (everything he recorded after “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” on UNI/MCA) to overblown MOR only took four—he was a goner once he signed with Columbia and did the “Johnathon Livingston Seagull” soundtrack.

    How “I Got The Music In Me” wasn’t a top five record, I’ll never understand.

    Amen about Gordon Lightfoot. Applies to pretty much everything beginning with “Beautiful” to just before “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

    I first heard “Skin Tight” on KCBQ, San Diego, which in the fall of ’74 was playing its 45s at somewhere around 49. The electric piano sounds like Morse code.

    And I’m right there with you on the swear words in titles. I was at KIBS in Bishop, California—a town of 3,000 people—all of whom had known me since age 9 (actually, some younger, since I’d been visiting family there since birth), and all of a sudden, I have to back announce “One Hell of a Woman?” Thank God I was in San Luis Obispo by the time Elton hit with “The Bitch Is Back”.

    1. So did stations back then announce the title of “The Bitch Is Back” back in 74? Heck I remember in 1997 when Meredith Brooks hit with “Bitch” a few radio stations still wouldn’t mention the title.

      1. Alvaro: Some did, some didn’t. The first couple of times I played it, I didn’t—instead, just before the fade, when Elton sang “Bitch!”, I’d say “WHAT?”, Elton would sing “Bitch!”, I’d say “OH!” and Elton would sing “The Bitch Is Back” and I’d say “That’s the name of the song, folks….”

        I loosened up within a day or two.

      2. I heard an aircheck recently from back in the day where they edited the song, but not because of the title. They took out the line “I get high in the evening sniffing pots of glue” and replaced it with “it’s the way that I move, the things that I do.”

        I guess it sounded okay but after hearing this song for decades uncensored, it was kind of jarring yet amusing.

      3. Bonneville (the broadcasting arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints) owned stations in Phoenix a couple of times while I was there. I think the best edit I heard was “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed. They took out “and the colored girls go” and the singers just come in with “doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo….”

        I mean, that was a line NOBODY complained about that I was aware of—but the entire PREMISE of the song should have kept Bonneville from playing it.

  3. I don’t remember the autumn of ’74 as fondly as some others, but reading this made me realize the music on the radio was better than I often recall. Amen on Lightfoot, and also to “Second Avenue” (though I prefer Tim Moore’s version; I shelled out a fairly large amount for a double CD of his first two albums just to have a good copy of “Second Avenue”).

  4. For me “Overnight Sensation” has two goose-bump moments; first when the “sound” of the record playing over the air comes on and the other when there’s a pause and the drummer comes in with guns blazing.

    I recently got a copy of their final LP “Starting Over” which is great, rocks a little harder than the others. I’ve loved the band since “Go All the Way” and still have my sister’s copy of “I Wanna Be With You” with her 8th grade handwriting on it (maybe she took it to a slumber party?). Shoot, I’m even in possession of a copy of Floyd Cramer’s “Class of ’73” LP for his version of “Let’s Pretend.”

    1. My favorite quote was from drummer Michael McBride in the liner notes to r.p.m.’s 1996 CD reissue of the ‘Side 3’ and ‘Starting Over’ albums:

      “I remember that Shelly Yakus, our engineer, said that the drum part at the end of ‘Overnight Sensation’ sounded like somebody pushing a refrigerator down the stairs.”

      1. I’ve thought the exact same thing, but to my ears that’s a good thing! Any vinyl lovers out there should pick up an early pressing of Raspberries Best. It has a multi-fold jacket with tons of great press clippings/ephemera related to the band.

        And the Raspberries Capitol Collectors Series CD has two very cool radio spots promoting “Fresh Raspberries” and “Starting Over.” Anyone remember hearing those back in the day?

  5. Re. “Tin Man”: I recently decided it would be a fun project to build my own America mix on MP3, based on my fondness for most of the America tunes I hear on the radio. There must be some album tracks out there that could join the hits for an assembly of mellow-gold pleasure. Haven’t had time to make good on this idea yet.

    1. I’ve always had a soft spot for “To Each His Own,” the B-side to “Don’t Cross The River.”

      1. thanks! I’ll check it out.

  6. 36 is indeed the record for most #1 songs in a calendar year on the Billboard pop chart. The longest stay for chart toppers that year was only three weeks, and oddly it was achieved by three songs most would consider among the weakest (or if you prefer worst) hits of the year–“Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks, “The Streak” by Ray Stevens and “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka and Odia Coates.

    1. Yeah, the weakest and worst—but also the “stickiest”. 1974 was the peak year for singles sales in the U.S.—it dropped off fast after that. But it had already been passed by album sales five years earlier, meaning a lot of people stopped buying singles—they usually got two or three (in advance, if they bought early) by buying the LP.

      Teen males and young adults of both genders tended to buy albums and increasingly, it was pre-teen and teen females buying the singles. So a LOT of stuff—especially in ’74, ’75 and to some extent, ’76 that was pretty cringeworthy did well on the singles charts.

      Smart programmers started factoring album sales into their charts—but that didn’t really catch on until ’77.

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