(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.