Number Please

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(Pictured: the Sylvers.)

As 1977 drew to a close, the staff of American Top 40 got ready to put together its annual year-end countdown. Billboard‘s chart year ran from November to November, which created some of the anomalies I wrote about with the 1976 year-end show. In 1977, the staff faced an additional wrinkle. For reasons now lost to history, Billboard‘s year-end tabulation was delayed. Nevertheless, AT40‘s deadlines remained in place. So AT40 statistician Sandy Stert Benjamin was tasked with compiling the show’s own Top 100 based on the weekly Billboard charts from November 1976 to November 1977. That Top 100 aired on the weekends of December 24 and December 31, 1977. Some notes follow:

98. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart. This show doesn’t contain quite as many long versions as the 1976 show did, but I appreciated hearing this one—even though the 4:32 edit is one of the best edits I know of.

61. “Lucille”/Kenny Rogers
26. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell
17. “Car Wash”/Rose Royce
Casey notes that each of these is “jukebox record of the year” for 1977 in various formats: country, pop, and R&B.

53. “Da Doo Ron Ron”/Shaun Cassidy. Casey says that “Da Doo Ron Ron” made David and Shaun Cassidy the first set of brothers to hit #1 separately since Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey did it in the 40s, which is an excellent bit of trivia. David gets credit for “I Think I Love You,” which was officially credited to “the Partridge Family Starring Shirley Jones and Featuring David Cassidy.”

51. “You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. This record did 10 weeks at #1, from mid-October to Christmas week in 1977, the longest run at the top in 20 years. But the deadline for producing the 1977 year-end show fell relatively early in its #1 run, so Debby’s way down here.

35. “You Are the Woman”/Firefall. What AT40 staffer Scott Paton calls “chart creep,” when arbitrary deadlines distorted the rankings, was so egregious here that they had Casey explain it on the air. Even though this record first charted in September 1976, he says, it racked up enough points in 1977 to rank this high.

32. “Muskrat Love”/Captain and Tennille. Casey says that the Captain and Tennille performed this song for Queen Elizabeth II, and weeks later read a magazine article quoting one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, claiming to have been offended by their song about “animals making love.” Casey says the queen was fine with it, though.

28. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer
11. “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”/Leo Sayer
Casey says that of the artists who scored more than one of the Top 100 in 1977, Sayer’s hits rank the highest. Other stars with more than one include Peter Frampton, the Commodores, the Steve Miller Band, KC and the Sunshine Band, Barry Manilow, Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac, Alice Cooper, the Eagles, Stevie Wonder, and ELO.

15. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. It’s doubtful that any of the Top 100 of 1977 have gone further down the memory hole than “Hot Line.” It went to #5 at the end of January and was a #1 hit at KHJ in Los Angeles, WLS in Chicago, and in other cities including San Diego, Tampa, Tucson, and Fort Lauderdale. But as I remember it—which is not all that reliable a guide, I grant you—it didn’t get much airplay after it dropped off the charts.

2. “Tonight’s the Night”/Rod Stewart
1. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”/Andy Gibb
Scott describes Sandy Stert Benjamin’s 1977 chart as “impeccable”—it differed hardly at all from the official and delayed Billboard Top 100. She ended up with 91 of Billboard‘s 100 on her list, and most of the positions were fairly close. One big difference was that Billboard named “Tonight’s the Night” as #1 for the year with Andy Gibb at #2. Scott says, “Billboard’s chart department chief, Bill Wardlow, was not happy about the discrepancy. I believe we may have had to strengthen a disclaimer that we had already stated in the show about the situation and the reasons behind it. Frankly, I’ve always believed that Sandy’s chart was a more accurate reflection of the popular music scene and radio airplay of 1977. ” Me too.

I got a copy of this show from the vast archive of Dr. Mark at My Favorite Decade. Thank you sir. But thanks most of all to Scott and Sandy for their e-mail contributions and memories. They both point out that in the moment, they were just doing a job, never dreaming that decades hence, they’d be answering questions about it from nerds such as I. But, Scott says, “the happy moments still resonate.” Indeed they do, for the people who worked on the show, and for those of us who enjoy it still.

6 thoughts on “Number Please

  1. Scott Paton

    Thank you for the kind words, JB, and the great distillation of Sandy’s and my memories. As I’ve said on prior occasions, whether your posts touch on past personal endeavors or just music and pop culture at large, they always take me back to times and events that may have otherwise been forgotten. But most importantly, your thoughtful insight helps conjure the emotions associated with those pastimes behind. Much appreciated.

  2. Sandy Stert Benjamin

    Appreciate your interest in AT40, JB, and for reminding everyone–including former staffers–how interesting it was behind-the-scenes on the show.

  3. mikehagerty

    So many little thoughts from this one, JB:

    *Amen on “Year of the Cat”.

    *As I said about “Disco Duck”, if “You Light Up My Life” ends up lower than it maybe should have, I’m strangely fine with that.

    *Muskrat Love. “And the Queen smiled quietly to herself…”(Monty Python, Bruces Sketch)

    *Hot Line. My favorite dumb lyric, maybe ever. “I asked the C-I-A. They said it was okay to use their private phone”.

    1. Chris Herman

      I don’t like the song but I noticed “You Light Up My Life” didn’t even appear on the official 1977 Billboard Top 100 chart (although it did show up on the 1978 chart). Until Billboard began using Soundscan, did any single whose chart run was split by the calendar appear on two consecutive yearly charts?

  4. Wesley

    Props to Sandy Stert Benjamin for coming up with year-end countdown that was probably more accurate in reflecting the biggest hits of the survey period than the actual one Billboard did that year. The 1977 edition is notorious for having at its bottom position “Devil’s Gun” by C.J. and Company. If that song doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because it peaked at #36 in July 1977 with just two weeks in the top 40. But being a #1 disco hit for five weeks apparently helped it enough sales-wise to cling onto the Hot 100 for 29 weeks and generate enough points to secure the #100 spot for Billboard’s official yearly countdown. As the ever reliable Wikipedia notes in its entry for “Devil’s Gun,” “The song would remain the lowest peaked song to appear in the year end for 37 years, and even unmatched for 20 years.”

    I also wonder if this countdown played the full single version of “Da Doo Ron Ron.” As I remember from my faithful listing of AT40 more than 40 years ago, each week the show aired an edited version of the song, which in retrospect makes me think that someone in the production staff had a definite dislike of the remake and was expressing his or her displeasure by having a shortened rendition used. If so, it didn’t stop the single from reaching the top, although as I recall it bordered the “Hot Line” territory of least played in rotation after its peak in 1977 as well.

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