(Pictured: Chicago’s horns and rhythm section, on stage in 1976.)
To my knowledge, in all the years my radio station was carrying American Top 40, affiliates were offered only two shows not hosted by Casey Kasem: Dick Clark on March 25, 1972, and Gary Owens on September 12, 1981. (The Clark and Owens shows were offered as optional shows after each man’s death, and I suspect that few stations carried them. Mine didn’t. For modern-day affiliates, Casey is as much the attraction as the music.) But during the show’s heyday, once or twice each year, Casey would take a week off, and his substitute list over the years is a who’s-who of legendary Los Angeles radio jocks, including not just Clark and Owens but Robert W. Morgan, Wink Martindale, Bob Eubanks, Humble Harve Miller, Charlie Tuna, Don Bowman (Casey’s most-frequent substitute in the early years of the show), and Charlie Van Dyke (who substituted more than anyone else).
On the show dated August 7, 1976, Casey’s substitute was Sonny Melendrez, who was in the midst of a 13-year run at various Los Angeles stations, sandwiched between successful stints in San Antonio. Today, he’s still with us at age 74, and he’s a DJ honoree in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And here’s some of what he played on the show.
40. “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking”/Supremes. This is the end of an era—the final chart entry for the Supremes, now made up of Mary Wilson, Scherrie Payne, and Susaye Greene, who came on board after Cindy Birdsong left during the making of the group’s 1976 album. All four of them are on “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking,” which will spend only this week in the Top 40.
EXTRA: “On Broadway”/Drifters. When I was originally drafting this post, the inclusion of this 1963 hit and Sonny’s name-checking of Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Leiber and Stoller, and Phil Spector got me thinking about how our shared popular-culture universe—the movies, music, TV, books, and celebrities that absolutely everyone knows—is so much smaller now than it used to be, and how it causes people to overvalue what’s new, diminishes our sense of history, and as a result, makes it harder to understand ourselves. One of these days I’ll finish those thoughts, and maybe you’ll get to read them. But for now: “On Broadway” still sounds great.
37. “Wham Bam (Shang-a-Lang)/Silver
36. “Lowdown”/Boz Scaggs
35. “A Little Bit More”/Dr. Hook
27. “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel”/Tavares
24. “Say You Love Me”/Fleetwood Mac
9. “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”/Lou Rawls
5. “You Should Be Dancing”/Bee Gees
Every year, there are moments in August when I catch something—an angle of the light, a certain puff of breeze, a particular scent on that breeze—and I think to myself, there it is, that’s autumn coming. Those moments are always followed by another moment in which I think to myself, no, it’s too early. Or is it?
“AT40 is heard coast-to-coast and around the world on great radio stations like KTSA in San Antonio.” That’s where Sonny came from before moving to Los Angeles. While he comes across as extremely friendly and welcoming all the way through the show, this is one place where you can actually hear him smiling.
34. “More More More”/Andrea True Connection. The oldest record in the countdown, in its 16th week, which means that it debuted on the show in late April. It’s been on the Hot 100 since mid-March.
33. “Who’d She Coo”/Ohio Players
25. “Sophisticated Lady”/Natalie Cole
15. “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)”/Parliament
There’s more straight-up funk music on this show than there is straight-up rock music.
32. “Another Rainy Day in New York City”/Chicago. Sonny says that Chicago holds the distinction of having more Top 10 hits without reaching #1 than any other act. The band’s next hit, “If You Leave Me Now,” will make the Hot 100 the next week, and in October, it will erase that distinction.
22. “Play That Funky Music”/Wild Cherry. The fastest mover in the countdown this week, up 12 spots. YOU CAN’T STOP IT FROM GOING TO #1, PEOPLE.
19. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”/England Dan and John Ford Coley
13. “Get Closer”/Seals and Crofts
Sonny says that after Jim Seals of Seals and Crofts moved from Texas to California and joined the Baha’i faith, the family back home was concerned. So his brother England Dan Seals went out to “rescue” him—but ended up becoming Baha’i himself.
In the next installment: fireflies, baked brie, and the songs of the summer of ’76.