During Casey Kasem’s years on American Top 40, his list of fill-in hosts was a who’s-who of radio stars: Robert W. Morgan, Charlie Tuna, Bob Eubanks, Wink Martindale, Humble Harv Miller, Charlie Van Dyke, Sonny Melendrez, and Gary Owens among them. His most famous substitute, however, was Dick Clark, who hosted the show on the weekend of March 25, 1972. Although Clark had started in radio as a teenager during the late 1940s, he’d been primarily a TV personality since the late 50s. And in 1972, he was best known as the guy from American Bandstand.
At the beginning of the show, Clark explains that Casey was delayed returning from a trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and asked him to fill in. [jingle] Now on with the countdown!
40. “Do Your Thing”/Isaac Hayes
39. “Could It Be Forever”/David Cassidy
38. “The Day I Found Myself”/Honey Cone
37. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”/Paul McCartney and Wings
36. “No One to Depend On”/Santana
35. “Every Day of My Life”/Bobby Vinton
34. “Glory Bound”/Grass Roots
33. “Take a Look Around”/Temptations
This chart doesn’t get Clark off to a flying start. “Every Day of My Life” would end up the #1 jukebox hit of 1972, so people liked it then, even if it sounds like something from the Jurassic Period today. “The Day I Found Myself” and “No One to Depend On” are terrific, but the show doesn’t generate much interest until:
EXTRA: “Me and Bobby McGee”/Janis Joplin
32. “Day Dreaming”/Aretha Franklin
31. “Taurus”/Dennis Coffey
30. “Don’t Say You Don’t Remember”/Beverly Bremers
29. “Sweet Seasons”/Carole King
Now we’re talkin’. Clark pays tribute to Janis one year after “Bobby McGee” hit #1, and tells the story of how Beverly Bremers went from sitting in the audience at a performance of Hair to a solo spot in the show to the lead role on Broadway, all within two years.
Clark does Casey-style bits and teases, and even uses some of Casey’s positioning liners for the show, but his energy is different. He’s kind of dry at the beginning, although he gets more comfortable as he goes. After this show, he would suggest to the producers that the talk segments could be pre-recorded and mixed with the music later (and presumably scripted too), so that a mistake wouldn’t ruin a whole segment being recorded in real time.
22. “American Pie”/Don McLean. Clark says that “American Pie” has been on AT40 longer than any other song in the nearly two-year history of the show, 17 weeks. This is its final week.
17. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”/Roberta Flack
14. “Rockin’ Robin”/Michael Jackson
Roberta Flack has the highest-debuting record of the week, zooming in from #42 the week before. It would go to #10 and then to #3 before spending six straight weeks at #1, eventually becoming Billboard‘s #1 song for all of 1972. “Rockin’ Robin” makes the biggest move within the countdown, up from #33 the week before.
18. “Betcha By Golly Wow”/Stylistics
16. “Rock and Roll Lullaby”/B. J. Thomas
12. “Precious and Few”/Climax
9. “Everything I Own”/Bread
As an adjective describing music, the word “pretty” is loaded. It can be used to damn with faint praise, to suggest that something is decent if you like that kind of thing, but not worth serious attention. But consider this: classic AM Top 40 radio was, to a great degree, built on pretty songs, pleasing melodies earnestly performed, for people to sing along with and/or fall in love to, and this is a pack of songs that are just straight-up pretty. There’s probably an entire essay in the idea of “pretty music,” and I hope to get around to it next week.
4. “Puppy Love”/Donny Osmond. On March 15, 1972, at KHJ in Los Angeles, Robert W. Morgan played “Puppy Love” for 90 minutes straight one morning, hoping to burn it out for the teenyboppers who kept calling to request it. Concerned listeners called the police, fearing Morgan was the victim of some sort of bubblegum terrorism.
2. “Heart of Gold”/Neil Young
1. “A Horse With No Name”/America
This show began with a string of now-forgotten songs, but it finishes with two that people would still be listening to an unimaginable 49 years in the future.
Dick Clark would eventually become a radio fixture just as he was on TV, with his own weekly countdown show and the long-running oldies show Rock, Roll and Remember. His 1972 fill-in on American Top 40 is merely a footnote to his remarkable career—but we always read the footnotes.
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