No Mountain High Enough

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(Pictured: Diana Ross.)

I have already written over 1500 words about the American Top 40 show from September 5, 1970, and here are a few hundred more.

EXTRA: “Second Hand Rose”/Barbra Streisand
EXTRA: “Mr. Businessman”/Ray Stevens

When this show originally aired in 1970, it contained several extra songs beyond the week’s Top 40. They included “Hey Little Girl” by Dee Clark and “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, which were snipped from the modern-day repeat, along with CCR’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was probably spotlighted as a track from the #1 album that week, Cosmo’s Factory, something Casey did regularly during the show’s earliest days. “Second Hand Rose” was left in the repeat, however, and before playing it, Casey explains that Barbra’s then-husband, Elliott Gould, fell in love with her partly because she reminded him of a combination of his two favorite people: Sophia Loren and former New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle. With “Mr. Businessman,” Casey says that Ray Stevens is the great-great grandson of Alexander Stephens, who was the vice-president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Although Stevens has gone full Trumper in recent years, “Mr. Businessman” criticizes the soulless pursuit of success in period-appropriate fashion.

I wrote last week about how American Top 40 was developing in real time during 1970 and 1971, gradually becoming the show we know today. Beyond extra songs, there’s other stuff in the earliest shows that is edited out of the repeats. Teases for those extra songs are only a part of it. In the show’s first year or so, certain promos and national commercials were placed outside of the local break structure. They are usually removed from the repeats, although there was one show from May 1971, if I’m recalling correctly, that left ’em in, and it was fascinating to hear them. I am guessing there were some in the 9/5/70 show, although they aren’t shown on the cue sheet (which may be a modern-day recreation of the original). Because Casey talks so fast on this show, some of the edits are very abrupt. I’m not sure the average listener would notice them, but I do.

13. “Julie Do Ya Love Me”/Bobby Sherman. Have I ever admitted at this website that that this was one of the first 45s I ever owned?

10. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/CCR. The fifth and final CCR hit to eventually stall at #2. Despite its success, it was never played live, apparently—not until John Fogerty put it into a solo setlist in 1989.

9. “Spill the Wine”/Eric Burdon and War. I said on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that there is not enough alcohol in the world to get me to do karaoke, but if there was, “Spill the Wine” would be my song.

8. “Why Can’t I Touch You”/Ronnie Dyson
7. “Patches”/Clarence Carter
6. “25 or 6 to 4″/Chicago
5. “Close to You”/Carpenters
4. “In the Summertime”/Mungo Jerry
3. “Make It With You”/Bread
Top to bottom, the variety on this show is impressive, typified by this stretch: a glorious pop/soul production, a deep Southern soul story song, the hardest-rockin’ hit of the week, a Burt Bacharach/Hal David joint made immortal by a brilliant singer/producer duo, some thoroughly English pop oddness, and the template for 70s soft rock, one after the other.

2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Diana Ross. Up from #9 last week and headed for #1 two weeks hence, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” does not unstick me in time like other songs on this chart do. I’ve heard it too many times in 50 years for that to happen anymore. But it might be the best thing on the show nevertheless.

1. “War”/Edwin Starr. In 2020, a year of unchecked pandemic, economic ruin, racial hatred, and the looming threat of a fascist takeover, popular music has doubled down on escapism, to the point at which turning on the radio can be an embarrassment. Who are these vapid, singing nitwits, and what planet do they live on? Look, I get it. Music is a diversion for most people, a way to stop having to think about our collapsing society. But there’s a point at which seeking nothing but diversion becomes a lie you tell to yourself.

Here in 2020 there is no equivalent to “War,” a massive hit record that cries out in disbelief while it churns with rage. There is nothing, and there likely will be nothing, that says, “You might have the power to kill us, but we won’t go without telling how much we hate you.”

But there damn well ought to be.

6 thoughts on “No Mountain High Enough

  1. mackdaddyg

    1. Ray Stevens has, indeed, morphed into a giant jackass over time.

    2. Your thoughts about “War” are spot on. The song has lost a lot of its power to me because I’ve heard it so much, and that’s a shame. The message was spot on then and sadly it is just as relevant today. Have we learned nothing over the past 50 years?.

  2. I was taking notes on how many things here I wanted to say “Amen” to.

    Turns out to be the whole damn column.

    One comment of my own: How is it possible that “Julie Do Ya Love Me” isn’t and hasn’t been a staple of drunken Karaoke nights worldwide?

  3. Wesley

    Seconding what mackdaddyg and mikehagerty have said here. This is the best blog entry I’ve read this Labor Day weekend, from facts I didn’t know to opinions I heartily concur. Only thing I can add is the selection of “Second Hand Rose” seems odd for a Barbra Streisand pick, since it was nowhere near as big a hit as “People.” Of course, it was on her greatest hits album in 1970 and runs about a minute less than the latter, so that might have made a difference.

    Also, regarding this excellent assessment, I think you’ve made a compelling argument for this week to merit a mention in the greatest Top Ten Billboard chart of them all that you discussed in the “It’s Your Thing” entry of May 22, 2020.

  4. Maybe in 1970 there were fewer jackasses than there are now. More people could find enjoyment in an American Top 40 program then as opposed to now. The divide in our country in 1970 could be healed by the recent accomplishment of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969, then Americans pulling for the safe return of Apollo 13 in 1970. Later that year we shared in the grief of the Kent State shootings and the hideousness of the Sterling Hall bombing. Today, our nation is extremely divided between tolerance and intolerance. Not even a Casey Kasem countdown could heal our nation today in the way it could in 1970.

    1. The mass popularity of “War” doesn’t indicate unity to me, exactly. When the National Guard shot the students at Kent State in May, public opinion polling showed that a majority of Americans backed the guard’s actions, and commentators on both sides in the weeks after Kent State feared that further civil unrest might tip over into open rebellion by protesters and strong government repression of it in response. “War” spoke to and for large numbers of young people then, but there were certainly many of their elders who would have dismissed it as noise, or as claptrap from people who didn’t know what they were talking about.

      My point is only that “War” responded to what was going on in society in 1970, that response resonated with an audience, and something similar is unlikely to happen today. But I’ve had an afterthought: it occurs to me that in equating 1970 with 2020, I failed to account for an important difference. Mass popular culture doesn’t function the same way it did back then. We’re in isolated bubbles now in a way we were not back then, when there were three TV networks and maybe five radio formats. There’s really not enough critical mass in any of our bubbles today for a protest anthem to break through on the scale of “War.” Unless maybe Taylor Swift does it.

      Thanks, everybody, for your kind words about this post. Every once in a while, I find an acorn.

      1. Just want to back up all of the praise for this excellent brilliant entry.

        Reading “Nixonland” for the first time right now and just finished the chapter on 1970 and it’s interesting how many parallels there are between then and now, in terms of the divisiveness and racial hatred. Only difference sadly is despite all of the talk about LEFT WING MEDIA, pop culture has been so politically defanged in the past forty years.

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