Fragments of a Bygone Afternoon

(Pictured: Lionel Richie in the early 90s.)

I cleaned off the desk in my home office the other day. It wasn’t exactly the Augean Stables, but I found a lot of buried stuff. One was a handwritten list of songs on a few sheets of legal pad headed “Top 10 AC/not on Hot 100.” If I’m recalling correctly, it’s the product of an afternoon killed shortly after I got a copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Contemporary 1961-1993. What follows is not the whole list, but some notable entries.

I wrote a few years ago that I could find only one song that went all the way to #1 on Billboard‘s AC chart without hitting the Hot 100: “Cold,” by crooner John Gary, which spent two weeks at #1 starting on December 23, 1967. Three other songs from 1967 went to #2 without cracking the big chart: “Step to the Rear” by Marilyn Maye, “Timeless Love” by Ed Ames, and “You Made It That Way” by Perry Como. This doesn’t seem to have happened again until 1990, when Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” and Smokey Robinson’s “Everything You Touch” went #2 AC without making the Hot 100. Those six records reflect a broader reality about the AC chart versus the Hot 100: throughout the 70s and 80s, the biggest AC hits tended to make the Hot 100 too, but in the late 60s and again by the early 90s, records could do big AC business without making the Hot 100 at all.

(Stewart put a version of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” from his album Atlantic Crossing into the Hot 100 in 1977; the 1990 version was recut for the Storyteller box set.)

I labored in the vineyards of elevator music and adult contemporary radio between 1987 and 1993, so a lot of records on this list give me flashbacks, and not always in a good way: “Better Not Tell Her” by Carly Simon, “Between Like and Love” by Billy Vera, Dan Hill’s “I Fall All Over Again,” “Set the Night to Music” by Jefferson Starship, “The Real Thing” by Kenny Loggins, and Michael Bolton’s “Steel Bars” are either songs I disliked or they remind me of radio days I did not enjoy. But some of them I liked a lot: Fleetwood Mac’s “Skies the Limit,” “My Destiny” by Lionel Richie, “It’s Alright” by Huey Lewis and the News (an acapella cover of the Impressions’ original not to be confused with Huey’s later cover of J. J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright”), and Hall and Oates’ superlative “Starting All Over Again.”

Several artists are on this list more than once: Neil Diamond, Kenny Loggins, Henry Mancini, Marilyn Maye, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, James Taylor, the Baja Marimba Band, Perry Como, and Barry Manilow among them. (One of Manilow’s songs is “When October Goes,” from 1984, which is pretty great.)

The most interesting stuff on this list is (wait for it) from the mid 70s.

“I Don’t Know What He Told You” – “Weave Me the Sunshine”/Perry Como (1974)
“Hot Sauce”/Jan Davis Guitar (1975)
“Ice Cream Sodas and Lollipops and a Red-Hot Spinning Top”/Paul Delicato (1975)
“The Last Picasso”/Neil Diamond (1975)
“Star Trek”/Charles Randolph Greane Sound (1975)
“Beautiful Noise”/Neil Diamond (1976)
“Gladiola”/Helen Reddy (1976)
“Every Time I Sing a Love Song”/John Davidson (1976)
“Goodbye Old Buddies”/Seals and Crofts (1977)
“Circles”/Captain and Tennille (1977)
“One Life to Live”/Lou Rawls (1978)

Paul Delicato and John Davidson are on the list of artists who made the AC chart the most without ever hitting the Hot 100. Greane’s Star Trek theme is a disco version, in case that’s something you think you need. I think I’ve said that “Circles” is one of my favorite things by the Captain and Tennille. “One Life to Live” is on Rawls’ album When You’ve Heard Lou, You’ve Heard It All. It’s not the theme to the TV soap; it’s a breezy bit of encouragement that may not be the greatest Lou Rawls song you’ve ever heard, but it’s Lou Rawls so shut up.

I don’t know if my list is complete or not. That would require me to reconstruct a bygone afternoon from years ago. But it serves as a reminder that what gets on the Hot 100 is only a fraction of the music that’s out there, and of the music that leaves impressions on the sands of time.

9 thoughts on “Fragments of a Bygone Afternoon

  1. Chris Herman

    How many of these songs were album cuts that were not released as singles? Maybe that was the reason why some of them didn’t make the Hot 100.

    1. mikehagerty

      Chris: I think everything that made the Adult Contemporary chart had to be available as a 45. Whether you could ever find that 45 in a store is another matter entirely.

      I’ve expressed before my near-complete lack of faith in Billboard’s Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary chart as anything other than a list of songs. The fact that Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” made it to #6 on that chart was enough to shred its credibility.

      I programmed Adult Contemporary from 1974-1981, and very rarely played records from that chart that weren’t also charting significantly on the pop charts. In fact, from JB’s list above, the only ones I played (or for that matter, remember) are the two Neil Diamonds.

      1. Wesley

        The Billboard AC chart did start including album cuts as early as 1977 with “Isn’t She Lovely” from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life album, as did many pop stations, but since it never was released as a 45, it never cracked the Hot 100. The first album cut to make #1 AC was “Love Will Keep Us Alive” from the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over LP in 1995.

  2. David

    This makes the AC chart look like the Senior PGA tour — a place to enjoy past-their-prime hit-makers no longer capable of matching previous highs before they stop making new music entirely, get released from their labels, and become legacy acts that tour on the basis of independently-released cover albums/live albums/re-recorded greatest hits.

    Since I’m far from an expert in this, how does one tell exactly when a song is “Adult Contemporary”? Seems a bit easier to label something as rap/hip hop, dance, rock, pop, etc. And are certain artists AC irrespective of what they release, or is the AC label judged solely by the characteristics of the individual song? In other words, are late 1980s Richard Marx up-tempo songs like “Don’t Mean Nothing” and “Satisfied” necessarily “adult contemporary” because Marx’s usual product falls within whatever definition fits AC, or do we reserve the AC label for something like “Right Here Waiting” and exclude other work by Marx? Or is something AC simply because its whatever an AC station decided to play, and I’m thinking too much about this?

    1. mikehagerty

      David: “Adult Contemporary” is a format description, not a type of music.

      It was used as far back as the late 60s to describe a format that differentiated itself from Middle-of-the-Road (MOR) by playing mostly contemporary hits, with the hardest songs from the Top 40 left out, and with oldies libraries that were largely based on late 50’s/early 60’s Top 40 hits.

      People began confusing it with a type of music when Jhani Kaye at KOST, Los Angeles had great success with “Continuous Soft Hits”…mostly love ballads. It was a necessary evolution for adult radio at the time, because the MTV revolution had changed the Top 40 and made simply cherry-picking it to create an AC playlist unviable.

      KOST was a huge success, most AC stations went that direction and so Gloria Estefan and Michael Bolton became “Adult Contemporary music” in people’s minds.

      Those days are over, though, and Adult Contemporary is whatever 37 year olds (mostly women) want to listen to. If enough of them were to want to hear Five Finger Death Punch, that would be Adult Contemporary.

  3. Wesley

    “Starting All Over Again” by Hall and Oates probably would’ve fared better on the Hot 100 if it was the second single released from their 1990 LP Change of Season after “So Close” rather than the fourth one.

    Rather shocking that “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” didn’t crack the Hot 100 despite the exposure on VH1’s Storyteller series, which was doing well at the time. I remember hearing that several times while turning the FM dials (or was it punching the buttons?) in my car at the time.

    And the fact that a disco version of the Star Trek theme cracked the AC top 10 in 1975 again indicates to me how much the music scene was changing that year to favor younger and more “contemporary” sounds than previous AC stalwarts. For example, Dean Martin and Andy Williams wouldn’t make the chart again after 1976. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, separately and together, found themselves cold and unable to make the AC chart again until one exception, 1979’s “Hallelujah” when billed as “Parker & Penny.” Perry Como would do so only twice and neither could go beyond #44 AC. Al Martino had just three post-1976 AC entries (although “The Next Hundred Years” did make #6 there). Same for Bobby Goldsboro, with his sole AC top 10 out of three after 1976 being “Me and the Elephants.” Bobby Vinton made it only six times after 1976, including tellingly “Disco Polka” in 1979, and of those just one, “Make Believe It’s Your First Time” entered the AC top 40. Hell, even Frank Sinatra got only five entries past 1976, and only “Theme from New York New York” made the AC top 10 (or AC top 25, for that matter). I think I’ve made my point, and I think I’ve typed too much, so I’ll stop here.

    1. mikehagerty

      Wesley: Many of the old-line artists lost their major label recording contracts during the middle part of the 1970s.

      Back issues of Billboard magazine (available for free reading at AmericanRadioHistory.com) show that the decline in what the industry liked to call “good music” was becoming a commercial problem as early as 1963, and it only accelerated after the Beatles.

      All but six of Andy Williams’ 17 albums on Columbia Records in the 1960s went top ten. Of those that didn’t, two were Christmas albums.

      But the 70s rolled around, and if it hadn’t been for his hit with the themes from “Love Story” and “The Godfather”, peaking at #43 would have been his high-water mark. And after 1974, he couldn’t even get into the Top 200 album chart.

      The only artists I’m aware of from that era that kept their major label deals and continued to record albums on a regular basis through the 1970s were Perry Como and Johnny Mathis. Como signed 10-year deals with RCA—his last one in 1979. Mathis was saved by his hit with Deniece Williams (“Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”) in 1978. Remarkably, he’s still signed to Columbia.

  4. Alvaro Leos

    Some of my fave AC only hits from the early 90s
    “I Stand For You”, Micheal McDonald
    Don Henley’s version of “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”
    “Water From The Moon”, Celine Dion (yeah you heard me)
    “Tomorrow’s Girls” by Donald Fagen(!)

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