The Static of Decades

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Herb Alpert on stage in 1967.)

Because 2020 is a horror show, let’s seek refuge in the edition of Billboard dated June 3, 1967, the front page of which has a story about the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival, set for June 16-18. It says that artists have consented to play for free, with proceeds going to charity.


—Station owner and Top 40 pioneer Gordon McLendon has been arguing recently for a stricter “code of record standards” to keep questionable content off the air. A recent article about the McLendon campaign brought this comment from a radio executive in Louisville who says it’s necessary to protect young people during their “formative years”: “In reviewing our records at this station, we came across a new record by the Grass Roots, titled ‘Let’s Live for Today.’ This record has a lyric line in it that says: ‘Baby I Need To Feel You Inside of Me.’ Needless to say this record will not be heard on our station.” An executive in Denver is willing to compliment the McLendon stations only up to a point: “It is amazing to us that any operator could have been playing the records of which Mr. McLendon speaks all these years and not realize until now that he has been pandering to the youth of his communities.”

—WOR-FM in New York, in conjunction with several college radio stations, has learned that the most popular “olden goldie” among college kids is “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Tonite Tonite” by the Mello-Kings placed second and third.

—An executive at Los Angeles Trade Technical College is trying to persuade the administration to start “a jukebox class.” The article does not specify exactly what the class would entail, or what jobs one might be better equipped to get after taking it: selling jukeboxes or fixing them.

—From the “Situations Wanted” column: “Third endorsed, 20 yrs. old, English major, now in LA college, will relocate, summer or longer. 8 months’ experience in Top 40 and FM. Ohio: I’ll see you soon. All others bid fast.” Let’s break that down a little. “Third endorsed” refers to a third-class radiotelephone operator’s license with an endorsement that allows you to operate a transmitter. Back then, you needed a third to get on the air practically anywhere; the endorsement involved answering an extra set of technical questions on your FCC exam. So a “third endorsed” is a very basic credential, one step up from “have driver’s license.” The most precious part, however, is thinking that somebody with eight months’ experience is going to spark a bidding war for his services. Yeah, probably not. But ’twas ever thus: young broadcasters overselling their potential and/or raw talent in hopes of getting a job. I did it myself.

—Aretha Franklin sweeps the charts this week: “Respect” is #1 on the Hot 100 and the R&B singles chart, and I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You is #1 on the R&B album chart. The blue-eyed soul of the Young Rascals has broad appeal this week: “Groovin'” is #2 on the Hot 100 and makes a strong move on the R&B singles chart from #22 to #12, while their album Collections sits at #5 on the R&B album chart, even though “Groovin'” isn’t on it.

—The I Never Loved a Man album is #2 on the pop album chart behind More of the Monkees and just ahead of Bill Cosby’s Revenge.

—At #4 on the Hot 100 is “Release Me,” the first big hit by English crooner Engelbert Humperdinck. Although Humperdinck will become one of the superstars of easy listening over the next decade, “Release Me” makes little impact on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart. It’s in its second straight week at #32, after two weeks at #33. (Read more about him in this space next week.) The #1 Easy Listening hit is “Casino Royale” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which has knocked the Sinatras’ “Somethin’ Stupid” to #2 after three weeks at #1. “Somethin’ Stupid,” which spent a month atop the Hot 100 in April and early May, is hanging on at #16 on the big chart in this week.

I couldn’t place “Casino Royale” by its title, but as so often happens with easy-listening hits from the mid 60s, I knew it as soon as I heard it. Mother and Dad’s radio came back through the static of decades, loud and clear.

11 thoughts on “The Static of Decades

  1. mikehagerty

    Backstory on “Casino Royale”: Herb Alpert had just signed Burt Bacharach to A&M Records in 1967. Burt is in London, recording the “Casino Royale” soundtrack and can’t get the sound he wants. The lead is wrong. So he asks Herb if he’ll record a lead trumpet. Herb says “yes”, the tracks get flown from London to L.A., Herb records his part and the tapes go flying back across the Atlantic.

    Because it’s a Columbia Pictures release, Colgems, best known as the Monkees’ label, gets first dibs, but a deal is struck for the single to be released on A&M. And while it’s “Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass” on the label, it’s actually just Herb Alpert, with a British orchestra, conducted by Burt Bacharach.

  2. Alvaro Leos

    It seems bizarre to call songs a year or two old “olden goldies”? When did the term oldies start getting used for 50s/early 60s music, like when I started listening to oldies radio around 1986?

    1. mikehagerty

      Alvaro: The term “oldie”, referring to a non-current musical piece that is still popular dates back to 1874. That’s not a typo. EIGHTEEN-seventy-four. That’s according to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, and all other dictionaries agree.

      There was probably never a time when a radio announcer, even one in the 30s introducing a live musical performance by someone like Bing Crosby, didn’t say, “Now here’s Bing performing an oldie we think you’ll enjoy”.

      By the time Top 40 radio rolled around in the 1950s, programmers found that songs that had fallen off the chart were still popular enough to get requests…so “oldies” became part of the format once or twice an hour. And since rock and roll was in its infancy, most of those songs were anywhere from a few months to a year or two old.

      The term became wedded to early rock and roll largely because of Los Angeles radio DJ Art Laboe, who grasped the popularity of these songs, formed Original Sound records and licensed the hit singles of recent years from the original labels. In 1959, Art released the first of these albums, Oldies But Goodies, Volume 1. It went to #12 on the Billboard album charts and stayed on the chart for 183 weeks. There were 15 volumes, pretty much released at the rate of one or two a year—into the very early 70s.

      Those were so popular that just two years in, Little Caesar and The Romans made it to #9 with a song called “Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You)”:

      Even as more time elapsed, Top 40 stations tended to keep their oldies no more than 3 to 5 years old—after all, the audience was largely in its teens, and wouldn’t remember too far back.

      In 1966 and 1967, several radio stations tried an “all-request” format—and found that the vast majority of requests were for oldies. It wasn’t until 1968, though, that WMOD in Washington, D.C. became the first all-oldies station by design. In 1972, WCBS-FM in New York and KRTH in Los Angeles joined the bandwagon, and as Baby Boomers aged into their prime earning and spending years, oldies radio stations proliferated and prospered. That got the format through the 80s and 90s, but as Boomers aged out of the prime 25-54 sales demo, the format needed revisions (to today’s “Classic Hits”) and the term “Oldies” itself became something of a liability.

  3. Wesley

    The Gordon McLendon quote, oh my God! I had never considered anything like that from the Grass Roots song and I doubt any other sane person would. This mention spurred me to look up his entry on Wikipedia (yes, I know how reliable that can be, but still …), and JB, all I can say is that if you have some time and can stomach it, it might be worth devoting a blog entry or two about the dichotomy of this top 40 pioneer also being a leading figure in conservative politics.

    1. mikehagerty

      Wesley: McLendon was, politics aside, a showman. If there wasn’t a controversy to be had, he’d make one, and then capitalize on it.

    2. mackdaddyg

      Hearing the lyric “Baby I got to feel you inside of me” or whatever it was sung by a woman would have certainly been a bit naughty, but one wonders what this McLendon dude was thinking since the singer was male.

  4. mackdaddyg

    Stating the obvious, mikehagerty. My point is I’m surprised the subject was even broached at that point by this guy.

    1. Mike Hagerty

      “One wonders what this McLendon dude was thinking since the singer was male” didn’t suggest to me that the answer would be obvious, mackdaddyg.

      And, in case you weren’t around in ‘67, the topic got broached a lot. Usually in fear-mongering terms.

      Again: McLendon was a showman. He knew how to work a controversy. And if he could get more listeners in Dallas, Texas by banning a record he doesn’t quite say might be about “that”, than by actually playing the record, that’s exactly what he’d do.

  5. porky

    A few years back “Casino Royale” was used in a skit on SNL. In the pre-wikipedia/pre-Shazam days my kids asked me who did the song. I just now googled it and someone named Peyton Manning was in the skit. Never heard of her.

    It makes you wonder what McLendon thought just a couple of years later when Plant and company wanted to “give you every inch” of their love.

    BTW: Let’s Live for Today has a very interesting back story. Our friends at “Forgotten Hits” have the link.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.