Keep on Truckin’

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(Pictured: Stevie Wonder, with Grover on Sesame Street, 1973.)

Because AT40 did a Christmas countdown in 1973, its year-end countdown, on the weekend of December 29, covered the year’s Top 40 instead of the Top 80, as in 1972. Here’s some of what was on it:

39. “Love Train”/O’Jays
31. “Dancing in the Moonlight”/King Harvest
29. “Superstition”/Stevie Wonder
27. “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu”/Johnny Rivers
23. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”/Stevie Wonder
15. “Brother Louie”/Stories
11. “Me and Mrs. Jones”/Billy Paul
Is one of these the best record on the show? Probably. Is it by Stevie Wonder, the only act to have two songs on the list? Possibly, unless it’s something else.

38. “Angie”/Rolling Stones
35. “Clair”/Gilbert O’Sullivan
21. “Midnight Train to Georgia”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
17. “Keep on Truckin'”/Eddie Kendricks
Back at the top of the show, Casey noted that the year-end calculation is for a 52-week period ending December 8, 1973. Throughout the show, when songs were still on the charts at the cut-off date, he mentions that they’d rank higher if they weren’t. He also explains that “Clair,” which debuted in October 1972 and peaked that December, did well enough during the survey period to make the 1973 list.

32. “Loves Me Like a Rock”/Paul Simon
25. “We’re an American Band”/Grand Funk
19. “Frankenstein”/Edgar Winter Group
14. “Playground in My Mind”/Clint Holmes

I bought my first albums in 1973, but I was still buying singles too, including these. I’m not sure I have ever admitted here that 13-year-old me bought “Playground in My Mind” (and “Clair” too), or whether I should admit it now.

30. “Wildflower”/Skylark. Many of the songs on the show have been edited, snipping a verse here or a chorus there. “Wildflower” loses all but half a verse and two choruses and runs less than two minutes. (At the same time, at #19, we hear the whole five minutes of “Frankenstein,” which strikes me weird.) Sometimes the edits are from the original shows and sometimes they’re for the modern repeats. It’s sometimes necessary to cut one or two minutes from some hours to accommodate today’s commercial load.

28. “Funny Face”/Donna Fargo. Casey introduces this with an odd remark: “I have a song now that was wrote by an English teacher, and her students used to put her on about the good English she learned them.” As a joke, it’s a lead balloon. I can’t imagine that it’s a slam on Fargo’s country-star twang.

Casey ends the first and second hours of the show by suggesting that listeners phone a friend and tell ’em to tune in.

22. “Little Willy “/The Sweet. Casey calls this British bubblegum in the tradition of “Sugar Sugar.” I’ll allow it.

16. “Delta Dawn”/Helen Reddy
13. “Half Breed”/Cher
Sean Ross’s columns at RadioInsight.com about “lost” hits—big records in their time that get little or no airplay now—are music-nerd heaven. These two are among Sean’s 100 most-lost hits of the early 70s. “Delta Dawn” still sounds really good to me, but “Half Breed” not so much. I’m surprised that a few radio stations are still playing it, considering its stereotypes—the tom-toms and “Indian chant” backing vocals— and the racial slur “squaw” in the lyrics.

6. “My Love”/Paul McCartney and Wings. Casey says that all four Beatles placed songs in the Top 40 at some point in 1973, but only Paul makes the Top 40 of the year. Three hit #1: George’s “Give Me Love,” from early summer, is the only #1 song completely within the survey period that did not make the year-end chart, while Ringo’s “Photograph” was #1 for a week at the end of November and would have been hurt by the cut-off date.

4. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack
2. “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
When I wrote about the 1972 year-end countdown, I mentioned Joel Whitburn’s method of accounting in his Pop Annual series, which ranks all of the #1s ahead of all the #2s, and so on. By that method, “Killing Me Softly,” with five weeks at #1, is the top song of 1973. “Why Me,” which is here for its 38 weeks on the Hot 100 despite never making it above #16 in any given week, ranks #127.

1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando and Dawn. I haven’t got anything to add beyond what I wrote a couple of years ago, when I called this song “an artifact of the weird 70s, when it scratched some sort of itch we couldn’t have described at the time.”

Today, the year 1973 feels like a transitional year for Top 40 music, from the 60s hangover of the early 70s to the goofy and escapist middle part of the decade, just as 1973 itself marked a broader American transition, economically and politically. Its music sounds better than I remember.

[jingle out]

8 thoughts on “Keep on Truckin’

  1. Scott Paton

    (28. “Funny Face”/Donna Fargo. Casey introduces this with an odd remark: “I have a song now that was wrote by an English teacher, and her students used to put her on about the good English she learned them.” As a joke, it’s a lead balloon. I can’t imagine that it’s a slam on Fargo’s country-star twang.)

    That failed attempt at humor was from the hand of show producer/writer, Don Bustany, JB. AT40 was littered with those head-scratchers throughout its first four or five years. When I joined the staff as a writer/researcher a few years later, I would often comb the files for old stories that could be updated for an artist’s new, contemporary release on the chart.

    I would run across these “shaggy dog” stories from the show’s earlier years with some frequency. The one that really stands out in my (fuzzy) memory was one Don had concocted to intro George Harrison’s “What Is Life” in 1971. To paraphrase: “A man spends days scaling the tallest mountain in Tibet in search of the mystical yogi who might share with him the meaning of life, Starved and exhausted, he reaches the peak, and there awaiting him is the yogi. ‘O Great Mystic Yogi, I have come all this way to bask in your wisdom. I beseech you, what is the meaning of life!?

    “‘The meaning of life is a grapefruit.’

    “‘The meaning of life is a grapefruit?!’ he asks increduously.

    “‘The meaning of life is not a grapefruit?!'”

    Cue record.

    As I say, I have paraphrased based on a 44-year-old memory, and the object in the punchline was not a grapefruit, but it was equally inane.

    Impudent young man that I was, I pulled this and a couple of comparable shaggy dog stories out for one of our copy meetings and teased Don mercilessly about them. If I felt he was overly critical of the concept of my one of my stories, I’d counter by saying, “What is life, Don?”

    One Saturday afternoon I dropped by my office, probably to use the company WATS telephone line (free long-distance calls for me). Don was there, going through the files, purging all those questionable, early attempts at humor in lieu of real stories. He admonished me not to tell anyone about the purge, but I think the statute of limitations has run out!

  2. mikehagerty

    Dr. Don Rose at KFRC, San Francisco took the “mystical yogi” story and put himself in it and his own twist on it:

    Rose: “‘O Great Mystic Yogi, I have come all this way to bask in your wisdom. I beseech you, Why? Why? Why am I here?”

    Yogi: “Beats me. I told them to send up a girl.”

    1. Chris Herman

      That’s a slightly better punchline but mostly because it’s different. That said, it was an old joke even back in 1973. (Also, for no explicable reason other than it sounded funnier, the yogi usually has a Yiddish accent.)

      1. mikehagerty

        Chris:

        And how we got to someone deciding it’s funner—well, there may be a missing link. It’s just so damn obscure that even those of us that know our obscure references either don’t know or forgot.

        In 1968, Borscht Belt comic named Joey Forman did a record album, produced by Bill Dana, on A&M, called “THE MASHUGANISHI YOGI”—attempting to cash in on on the recent publicity about the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It’s mid-century Jewish-American standup material, wrapped in the Indian Mystic trappings (with Dana playing Harvey Shankar, sitar player).

        The album is on YouTube, showing that Forman did it in a now horrifically politically-incorrect Indian dialect (he also played Charlie Chan parody “Harry Who” in GET SMART). Could be that as people remembered (or mis-remembered) the bit, perhaps from TV appearances that year, they started to re-tell the jokes in a Yiddish accent:

  3. Wesley

    Best I can figure for the few plays of “Half Breed” is the continuing endurance and popularity of Cher, which definitely hasn’t transferred over to her hits with Sonny. Apart from “I Got You, Babe” and to a much lesser extent “The Beat Goes On,” their music vanished from the airwaves once they got divorced in 1974. It wasn’t until the last 10 years or so when the internet was in full swing that I heard “All I Ever Need is You” and “A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done.” As for “Delta Dawn,” poor Helen really got associated strongly with 1970s MOR, and I’d wager she probably is the least played of any hit artist from the 1960s through 1980s at least.

  4. I love that list of the 100 most-lost records from 1970-74. Many of those are heard frequently around here, which only means that I’m evidently doomed to always be out of step.

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