The Song Is Too Long

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(Pictured: the Jackson Five.)

Not long ago, I paged through Billboard magazine from the week of November 7, 1970, as one does.

A headline story on page 1 says that in response to the recent drug-related deaths of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Al “Blind Owl” Wilson of Canned Heat, MGM Records president Mike Curb has terminated the contracts of 18 MGM artists he accuses of promoting hard drugs. The artists are not listed by name, although Curb claims that some of them are top sellers. History would show that most of them were marginal at best.

Elsewhere, jukebox operators are concerned about the increasing length of records and its impact on their revenue. More than half of the songs on the current Hot 100 run more than three minutes, and the average song runs 3:32. “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf runs 5:58, and both “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad and “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service run in excess of five minutes. (Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” is the shortest, at 2:08.) Some operators have refused to program the longest popular singles, but most admit that if a record gets big enough, they have no choice. The long-song trend is not expected to reverse. Bill Prutting of jukebox manufacturer Seeburg says, “You can write about long singles until doomsday, but labels cannot tell their artists how long their singles should be.”

The magazine reviews a number of new albums, including Bob Dylan’s New Morning, Greatest Hits by Sly and the Family Stone, and I (Who Have Nothing) by Tom Jones. Several new Christmas albums are reviewed, by the Williams Brothers (Andy and his siblings), Ed Ames, Buck Owens, Charley Pride, and Jose Feliciano. The review of Feliciano’s album says he “adds interesting new dimensions to old Christmas favorites,” but doesn’t mention a new song from the album that will remain on the air for the next half-century: “Feliz Navidad.”

Charley Pride is #1 on the Hot Country Singles chart with “I Can’t Believe That You’ve Stopped Loving Me.” Among the other songs in the Top 10 are “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Johnny Cash and “It’s Only Make Believe” by Glen Campbell, which have crossed over to pop. Other pop crossovers include “Snowbird,” “For the Good Times” by Ray Price, “Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed, and Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden.” The hottest record on the chart, up 30 spots to #37 in its second week on, is “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn. Merle Haggard’s Fightin’ Side of Me is #1 on Hot Country LPs.

Billboard‘s Top Soul LPs chart is dominated by Motown: Third Album by the Jackson Five, Temptations’ Greatest Hits Volume 2, and Still Waters Run Deep by the Four Tops are in the top three positions. Also riding high: Signed Sealed Delivered by Stevie Wonder, the self-titled solo debut by Diana Ross, and Ecology by Rare Earth.

Rare Earth, signed to a Motown subsidiary, is not the only rock act on the Soul LPs chart. Santana is at #6 with Abraxas, Cosmo’s Factory by CCR is #13, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix is at #16, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen is at #24, and Led Zeppelin III debuts at #44. (Led Zeppelin III and Abraxas are #1 and #2 on the Top LPs chart; the Jackson Five and Creedence Clearwater albums are in the Top 10.)

On Easy Listening, “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters continues to dominate, in its fifth week at #1. Also in the Top 10: “It Don’t Matter to Me” by Bread, James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” and the hottest record on the Easy Listening chart, “Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, up 14 spots to #8.

The #1 song in Britain is the Matthews’ Southern Comfort cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” In Canada, it’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond. In Singapore, “Candida” by Dawn is #1, and in Spain it’s “El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel. In the United States, “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five is #1 for a fourth week; “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Fire and Rain” hold at #2 and #3. One song is new in the Top 10: “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, up from #17 last week.

The magazine’s radio column, Vox Jox, runs down the on-air lineup at WLS in Chicago: Larry Lujack, Joel Sebastian, Chuck Buell, Scotty Brink, Kris Stevens, Jerry Kaye, new arrival Steve Lundy, and weekender Bernie Allen. On the other end of the wave in his Wisconsin bedroom, a 10-year-old kid listens to them, and it won’t be long until he wants to be like them.

7 thoughts on “The Song Is Too Long

  1. So much BS from so many places in one magazine, beginning with Mike Curb, who went onto a career in politics and foreshadowed so much of the current GOP douchebaggery. He was Lt. Gov. when Democrat Jerry Brown was governor the first time—and every time Jerry left the state, Mike would whip up an executive order or two that Jerry would have to undo when he first got back.

    As for Sugarloaf—yeah, the album version is long, but those jukebox operators weren’t shoving LPs into the 45 slots of their jukeboxes. The store version of “Green-Eyed Lady” was 3:33. Promo copies ran 2:58 (an edit I don’t think I want to hear).

  2. Wesley

    I think it was both Paul McCartney and Elton John who didn’t give a damn about jukebox complaints and made sure their singles were over 4 minutes just to spite them, e.g., “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (nearly 5 minutes long), “My Love,” “Jet,” “Silly Love Songs” (most stations played the nearly 6-minute version), “Rocket Man,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and many more. And if you’re worried about people playing “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, you’re probably not programming your jukebox correctly.

    One of the “drug acts” Mike Curb dropped was Connie Francis, as I recall too. Hard to say what was worse, the music he produced or the legislation he favored. Why not both?

    1. Tom Nawrocki

      Elton’s cover of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which went to Number One early in 1975, went on for a whopping six minutes and sixteen seconds. The original was only 3:28.

  3. porky

    Good point, Mike. I recently picked up the “Memory Lane” Epic single of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” (b/w “God Gave Rock and Roll to You) as I got excited by the 6:15 length printed on the label. Nope, it’s only 3:15.

    I just discovered that there is an “American Pie” (the back-to-back hits label usually featuring a different group on each side) with the 5:18 version of “Fresh Air.” Of course it came out way later than the article above. It was b/w Sweet’s “Love is Like Oxygen.”

    Cut Mike Curb some slack. He made some cool records that didn’t include the words “Congregation,” “Little Jimmy,” “Donnie and Marie,” or “Debby.” On his Sidewalk label (get it? Curb, Sidewalk?) he cut lots of tuff hot-rod and cycle tunes from exploitation soundtracks that usually dealt in (gasp)…..drugz!!

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