The Motherlode

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(Pictured: kicking out the jams with the MC5, 1969.)

If you looked inside my head, you’d find that it’s filled mostly with empty beer bottles, regret, and record charts. Young me pored over the agate-type baseball statistics in the Sunday sports section, and that same impulse soon led me to treasure the week-to-week minutiae of the record charts. Now that I’m old, several of my chart books are very nearly “clawed to pieces,” as poet W. H. Auden’s copy of the Oxford English Dictionary was said to have been. With so many charts to look at and think about, they tend to blur. But every now and then I see one that makes me sit up and say, “Hot damn, look at that.” So it was the other morning after Radio Rewinder posted the Cash Box chart from April 12, 1969.

In recent months we’ve mentioned, either here or on Twitter, candidates for the greatest Top 10 of all time. The April 12, 1969, chart should certainly be a high seed in the bracket—and if we were crazy enough to try to pick a single best Top 40 of all time, it would be a contender. Apart from the three big easy-listening crossovers, “You Gave Me a Mountain,” “The Way It Used To Be,” and “Johnny One Time” (the latter two aren’t bad, although “You Gave Me a Mountain” hasn’t worn well) that Top 40 is a greatest-hits mixtape with something for everybody, even 52 years later.

I can barely decide where to start talking about the full Top 100, but here goes:

The following seem to me like absolute all-timers. They’re records without which you can’t tell the story of rock and pop, either because of their historical significance (the record or the artist) or their ubiquity in the decades since they first hit: “Aquarius,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Galveston,” “It’s Your Thing,” “Time of the Season,” “Traces,” “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” “Run Away Child,” “Time Is Tight,” “The Boxer,” “Proud Mary,” “My Way,” “Pinball Wizard,” “More Today Than Yesterday,” “These Eyes,” “Grazin’ in the Grass,” and “Kick Out the Jams.”

There are records that ought to be better-remembered than they are, songs that got lost because they didn’t end up big enough, songs that never made it onto oldies radio or weren’t there for long: “Only the Strong Survive,” “Twenty-Five Miles,” “Mendocino,” “Hot Smoke and Sassafras,” “Snatchin’ It Back,” “Sweet Cherry Wine,” “My Whole World Ended” (which gets my vote for most unjustly forgotten Motown single—that thing is astounding), “Atlantis,” “Morning Girl,”  and “Love (Can Make You Happy),” which ranks high on the list of all-time-great dreamy/stoned love songs.

This chart is loaded with significant and/or extremely fun bubblegum records, which is a topic for a future post, possibly right after I get done writing this one: not just the several mentioned in the preceding paragraph but also “Dizzy,” “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’,” “Will You Be Staying After Sunday,” and “Indian Giver,” as well as the Arbors’ version of “The Letter” and “Things I’d Like to Say,” although your mileage may vary on how bubblegummy those last two really are.

I was paying more attention to my hometown radio station by the spring of 1969, because I remember hearing a lot of these: “Galveston” and “Aquarius” for sure, but also “Hawaii Five-O,” “Time Is Tight,” “No Not Much,” both versions of “Happy Heart” (Andy Williams and Petula Clark), and “Seattle,” the Perry Como record at #98 in its first week on. “Seattle,” which was also the theme song for the TV series Here Come the Brides, is a powerful signifier of time and place for me; by the time it reached #2 on the easy-listening chart, it was full glorious springtime on the farm and school was almost out. I can still feel that when I hear “Seattle,” even now.

There are records I would not learn about until years later, some reasonably significant, like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Badge,” and some not, like “Playgirl” by the Wisconsin band Thee Prophets, Red Skelton’s “The Pledge of Allegiance,” “Apricot Brandy” by Rinoceros, “Tricia Tell Your Daddy” by Andy Kim, “Day After Day” by Shango, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself),” on which James Brown is a thang all his own.

The April 12, 1969, Cash Box chart is the motherlode: 100 songs that span the phenomenal spectrum of musical creativity in the late 1960s. There is not one solitary record on the chart that doesn’t spark an interest or tell at least part of a story.

7 thoughts on “The Motherlode

  1. I recommended the Arbors’ cover of “The Letter” the other night to a YouTuber who had just become familiar with the Box Tops and Joe Cocker renditions. Theirs was the first version I heard, thanks to a hand-me-down 45 in kindergarten. I never would have considered “bubblegummy” as a descriptive, but I came close to using “trippy” in my recommendation.

  2. Chris Herman

    “My Whole World Ended” is a perfect example of what I call baroque soul (which is basically an offshoot of [[ baroque pop]]). I don’t know if any music scribes (as opposed to laypeople like me) have used the term before and I’m also not sure if there are enough baroque soul songs out there for it to even qualify as a sub-genre. That said, MWWE fits the definition of baroque soul if there is such a thing (as would The Four Tops’ “Bernadette” and “7 Rooms of Gloom”).

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