(Pictured: the Soul Clan. L to R: Ben E. King, Joe Tex, Don Covay, Wilson Pickett, and Solomon Burke.)
The Cash Box Archives are a fabulous resource for chart nerds. They disappeared from the interwebs for a time, but they’ve been back for a while now and are even better. They now include pop, country, and R&B/soul charts going back to late 1944 (I wrote about the first pop chart last fall) through the magazine’s demise in 1996. It’s vastly superior to anything you can get online from Billboard, and its only rival is the ARSA database of local radio charts.
The revised site includes listings for what Cash Box called “Looking Ahead,” equivalent to Billboard‘s Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart. So let’s poke around various late-July dates from bygone years to see what we can see.
July 29, 1961: this chart has a couple of songs that would endure a little bit (Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp,” Dick and Dee Dee’s “The Mountain’s High”), a country smash (“Tender Years” by George Jones), big stars with forgotten hits (Ray Charles, the Miracles, Gene Pitney), the first appearance of a future star (Tony Orlando) and some deep weirdness. Chicago DJ Dick Biondi discovered an old rockabilly-ish song called “There’s a Fungus Among Us,” had it recut by a Chicago group called Hugh Barrett and the Victors, and turned it into a promotion. (The story is here.) “Song of the Nairobi Trio” by the Fortune Tellers is a version of the music Ernie Kovacs used for a famous recurring bit on his TV shows.
July 30, 1968: at #1 on the chart is “Soul Meeting” by the Soul Clan, a supergroup with a mind-boggling lineup: originally Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, and Joe Tex. Before the group could record, Redding died (replaced by Arthur Conley) and Pickett left (replaced by Ben E. King). The latter lineup eventually made an album, each member recording his part separately, pieced together by Covay. The group had plans to be not just a recording act but a collective engaged in building an autonomous black business empire. But Atlantic Records was not interested in empire building, “Soul Meeting” foundered, and eventually the Soul Clan did too, although its legacy lives on. This 2017 story from the Oxford American tells the tale.
July 25, 1970: this chart (which is down to 40 positions from 50) contains several records we’ve mentioned here in the past, by Ten Wheel Drive, the Rattles, Elephant’s Memory, and Jim Campbell, as well as two that got entire posts, “Mill Valley” and “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore.” Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan, whose unlikely smash “Tennessee Birdwalk” has been a twisted favorite around here since always, were back on the chart with “Humphrey the Camel,” which is similarly bent, was another big country hit if not such a big pop crossover this time, and kinda racist.
July 29, 1972: now a 35-position chart, this one has some famous songs (“Rock Me on the Water,” “Delta Dawn,” “Garden Party, “Misty Blue,” “Walk on By”), 75 percent of Crosby Stills Nash and Young (“Southbound Train” and “Rock and Roll Crazies”) and a not-terrible cover of the Bee Gees “I.O.I.O” by Butch Patrick. Yup, Eddie Munster.
July 28, 1973: this chart (which is down to 30 positions and numbers them from #101 to #130, a change from earlier practice) is headed by Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” and “Rock and Roll Heaven” by the group Climax, famed for “Precious and Few.” Their version predates the Righteous Brothers by a year, but is not remotely as good. The chart also includes “The Answer” by Connie Francis, subtitled “Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree?”, which I invite you to listen to for as long as you can stand it. Same with “Old Betsy Goes Boing Boing Boing” by the Hummers, which was inspired by a Mazda commercial of the time.
July 27, 1976: the chart is down to 20 positions now. There are a couple of pretty good country-pop records on it: “Rocky Mountain Music” by Eddie Rabbitt and “Stranger” by Johnny Duncan, plus T. G. Sheppard’s cover of “Solitary Man,” all of which were country chart-toppers that summer. And any chart with “Kid Charlemagne” and “Cherry Bomb” is OK with me.
By the summer of 1977, the Looking Ahead chart was pared to 10 positions. It began to appear intermittently starting in 1979, later shrinking to three entries before being dropped entirely in 1982 and resurrected in 1990. Because we thirst after the kind of obscurities found thereon, we’ll probably dip back into it at some future time.