(Pictured: the Staple Singers on The Midnight Special.)
I’m hunkered down at home avoiding the pandemic and killing time by writing, so there’ll be a new post here every day this week, starting with some stuff about about the second part of American Top 40‘s Top 80 of 1972 countdown.
40. “Burning Love”/Elvis Presley
39. “Garden Party”/Rick Nelson
14. “My Ding-a-Ling”/Chuck Berry
For four weeks in October and November 1972, these first-generation rock ‘n’ roll stars were in the Billboard Top 10 together. Elvis had made the Top 40 in each of the last 17 years. It’s a streak that would not be broken until 1978, after his death. Nelson, meanwhile, hadn’t been in the Top 10 since 1964. “My Ding-a-Ling” was Berry’s only #1, and his biggest hit since “You Never Can Tell” in 1964.
36. “Sunshine”/Jonathan Edwards
29. “You Are Everything”/Stylistics
20. “Heart of Gold”/Neil Young
16. “Scorpio”/Dennis Coffey
As I mentioned in the earlier installment about this countdown, I was still buying 45s exclusively in 1972, and these were among them.
35. “Go All the Way”/Raspberries. Before playing this, Casey name-checks affiliate stations including WYXE in Madison, Wisconsin. It signed on in April 1972 as a FM competitor for AM giant WISM, licensed to suburban Sun Prairie. The signal has had a number of different call letters and formats over the years (its Wikipedia entry entertainingly describes them); today it’s running one of iHeart’s jockless national formats. It also has American Top 40 again, after my station dropped the repeats earlier this year.
32. “Popcorn”/Hot Butter. Casey describes the process by which a studio group is created, without mentioning any names. The names involved in “Popcorn” include synthesizer pioneer Gershon Kingsley, who wrote it and recorded it in 1969. Hot Butter was assembled by Stan Free, who had played in Kingsley’s First Moog Quartet.
30. “Song Sung Blue”/Neil Diamond
27. “Slippin’ Into Darkness”/War
25. “I Can See Clearly Now”/Johnny Nash
9. “I Gotcha”/Joe Tex
Casey says that “Song Sung Blue” is the first #1 hit to appear on the countdown, which it is not; Three Dog Night’s “Black and White” was a #1 hit back at #66. Casey also says that “Song Sung Blue” ranks #30 because of its relatively short (13-week) Hot 100 run. “Slippin’ Into Darkness” peaked at #16 but rode the chart for 22 weeks, so it comes in higher. “I Gotcha” peaked at #2, but thanks to nine weeks in the Top 10, it ranks higher than 13 of the songs to hit #1 in this year.
We have seen previously how long chart runs can distort year-end rankings. I prefer the system Joel Whitburn uses in his Pop Annual books: all of the #1s, ranked by weeks at peak, then weeks in the Top 10, Top 40, and Hot 100, followed by all of the #2s, and so on. By that accounting, “Song Sung Blue” is #20 for the year, “Black and White” #21, “I Gotcha” #22, and “Slippin’ Into Darkness” #139, which seems like a better indication of their relative popularity. Meanwhile, “I Can See Clearly Now” was #1 for a month, but that month was November 1972, so it doesn’t get year-end credit for its entire run. By the Pop Annual method, it’s #5 for the year.
EXTRA: “Old Man”/Neil Young
Announcer Larry Morgan introduces “Old Man” by running down Billboard‘s Top Five albums of 1972: Hot Rocks by the Rolling Stones (a compilation, in the year of Exile on Main Street), Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens, American Pie, Tapestry, and at #1, Harvest.
21. “Betcha By Golly Wow”/Stylistics
19. “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right”/Luther Ingram
17. “Oh Girl”/Chi-Lites
13. “I’ll Take You There”/Staple Singers
11. “Let’s Stay Together”/Al Green
7. “Lean on Me”/Bill Withers
Will say again: 1972 was the last great year for soul music.
3. “American Pie”/Don McLean. Casey says this is the longest record ever to hit #1, but the version he plays is about 30 seconds shorter than full length, starting with “bye bye Miss American Pie” and not “a long, long time ago.”
2. “Alone Again (Naturally)”/Gilbert O’Sullivan
1. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”/Roberta Flack
Casey says the race at the top was very close, with both songs doing six weeks at #1 and 18 weeks on the Hot 100. It’s closer than that. Both did 15 weeks in the Top 40 and 11 weeks in the Top 10 as well. The difference might have come down to the six weeks at #1 by “Alone Again (Naturally)” being non-consecutive. After a month at #1, it gave way for one week to “Brandy” by the Looking Glass (on this show at #12) before retaking #1 for two more weeks.
The top of the chart is kind of a fizzle. Today, I’ll bet “American Pie” gets more airplay than the rest of the Top 10 combined. Lots of the Top 80 is beginning to fall into obscurity now, unplayed by radio and beloved only by antiquarians such as we.