A Summer With the Radio

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(Pictured: Carole King and Tapestry producer Lou Adler, at work in 1971.)

The summer of 1971, 50 years ago now, was the first summer I ever spent with a radio in my ear. The American Top 40 show from June 5, 1971, creates not memories, not exactly, but a jumble of images that pop up and disappear before I can grasp any one of them. It all adds up to a vibe, however, and that made for a very enjoyable show.

39. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”/Diana Ross
38. “I Don’t Blame You at All”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
A downtempo version of the Four Tops epic seemed like a good idea to somebody, if not to me. “I Don’t Blame You at All,” meanwhile, is a “Tears of a Clown”-level master class in record-making.

EXTRA: “Call Me”/Chris Montez. Casey tells about a 1963 run of shows Montez made in Britain, during which he was billed above the then-unknown Beatles. “Call Me” was written for Petula Clark by her impresario, Tony Hatch, and first released in late 1965, although the Montez version, arranged and produced by Herb Alpert, was bigger, making #22 on the Hot 100 and #2 on Easy Listening early in 1966. “Call Me” was soon recorded in famous versions by Frank Sinatra and Brazilian keyboard star Walter Wanderley (a bright-n-bubbly version on the flip side of his “Summer Samba”), and by lots of other people, although it faded from general popularity in the 70s.

31. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Yvonne Elliman
14. “Superstar”/Murray Head
13. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Helen Reddy
The most-discussed album of 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar, spent only three non-consecutive weeks at #1, one in February and two in May. June, however, marked peak Superstar on the singles chart.

EXTRA: “Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet“/Henry Mancini. Casey’s special report on “the most popular lovers history has ever known” contains a weird production choice. He introduces the bit and then starts listing famous couples, including Sonny and Cher, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara (complete with a brief Clark Gable imitation). His voice fades out while he’s still listing pairs of lovers, and Mancini comes up behind him; at the end of the song, his voice fades back in, still listing pairs of lovers, including David and Julie. If you recognize them, you’re probably old. If you don’t, their identity will be revealed below.

19. “Love Her Madly”/Doors
18. “If”/Bread
17. “Chick-a-Boom”/Daddy Dewdrop
16. “Here Comes the Sun”/Richie Havens
15. “Treat Her Like a Lady”/Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
This is a great AM-radio run right here. Casey says that the Doors have tied Creedence Clearwater Revival for the longest string of certified-gold albums. L.A. Woman becomes their sixth—but 50 years later, does any other Doors album matter to anybody, as an album? I remain gobsmacked at the beauty of “If,” amused by the madness of “Chick-a-Boom,” and impressed by whoever is playing the hot lead guitar on “Treat Her Like a Lady.” And as I have said before, I knew this “Here Comes the Sun” long before I ever heard George Harrison’s.

11. “I’ll Meet You Halfway”/Partridge Family
10. “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo”/Lobo
9. “It’s Too Late”/Carole King
8. “Never Can Say Goodbye”/Jackson Five
7. “Sweet and Innocent”/Donny Osmond
6. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Aretha Franklin
4. “It Don’t Come Easy”/Ringo Starr
3. “Want Ads”/Honey Cone
2. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night

One of these things is not like the others, and it is “Sweet and Innocent.” “It’s Too Late” is up to #9 in only its third week on the show, and it will spend the first of its five weeks at #1 two weeks hence. “Want Ads” will be #1 for the week of June 12.

5. “Rainy Days and Mondays”/Carpenters
1. “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones
By the standards of the analog world, when you had to put on pants and leave your house to buy a piece of plastic with your favorite song on it, these songs were unusually hot. During the week of May 1, “Brown Sugar” came on the Hot 100 at #40, then went 13-6-3 and to #1 for the week of May 29, ending the six-week run of “Joy to the World.” On May 15, “Rainy Days and Mondays” entered at #46 before going 20-11 and to #5 in this week, eventually stalling at #2. In a download world, both would probably have debuted at #1.

On his list of history’s greatest lovers, Casey included David Eisenhower, grandson of the former president, and Julie Nixon, daughter of the current president. They’d known one another since they were children, and they married in 1968, both age 20. They were, in 1971, one of the most famous couples in America. They’re still married today.

5 thoughts on “A Summer With the Radio

  1. T.

    Another testament to the argument that today’s hits completely stink compared to the past.
    Hell, even “CHICK-A-BOOM” is better than anything nowadays !!!!!!!!!
    The world needs more CHICK-A-BOOM !!!!!!

  2. Wesley

    Here are my impressions from this enjoyable entry (aren’t they all?):
    “Reach Out I’ll Be There” was an obvious attempt to recreate the dramatic magic of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I remember first hearing it on a Diana Ross greatest hits LP and recall it being a long, boring 4 minutes or so. Rather amazing that it got to number 29, and probably more for some airplay than sales. On the other hand, yes, “I Don’t Blame You at All” is an underappeciated delight.

    Petula Clark performed “Call Me” as part of an elaborate intro to the 1971 season opener for The Dean Martin Show. A gaggle of celebrities did blackouts (cameos in comic skits) relating to the telephone between Petula singing the song, which was a fairly clever intro for a series getting long in the tooth (this was the seventh of its nine seasons on NBC).

    I like Helen Reddy, both as a singer and an interviewee. But give me Yvonne Elliman’s version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” over hers any day, any time.

    High debuts on the Hot 100 were fairly common from 1964 when the Beatles became hitmakers through 1971. In fact, “Brown Sugar” was the last single to debut in the top 40 until “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder came onto the chart in that position in late 1976. The next one to do so was nearly two years later in November 1978, when The Bee Gees sailed in at number 35 with their eventual number one smash “Too Much Heaven.” Since then, entering in the top 40 has become rather commonplace thanks in part to the way Billboard collects data and streaming and so on.

    And yes, I recognized who David and Julie were immediately, because I’m old.

  3. mikehagerty

    When you’re 15 years old and there’s a song about “a chick in a black bikini”, and how, when you follow her through each door, a part of said bikini is no longer on said chick….what’s not to like?

  4. Douglas Trapasso

    Love these looks back in time! I am sure your memory of ’71 is more accurate than mine, but I’m still going to push you a little:

    >>>The most-discussed album of 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar, spent only three
    >>> non-consecutive weeks at #1, one in February and two in May.

    -Most- discussed? More than “Blue”? More than “Tapestry”? More than “What’s Going on”?

    1. “Blue,” “Tapestry,” and “What’s Going On” were discussed in the music press, yes. But in the newspapers, national news magazines, and other media, “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a far bigger topic. Adults spent a lot of time trying to figure out if it was blasphemous, or if the kids had something to say that was worth hearing. “Superstar” also became part of a broader discussion of religious revival among young people in the early 70s. (FWIW, both of these things reached down to my little Wisconsin town: adults at my family’s church had a meeting where they listened to “Superstar” and talked about it; not long after, the church got caught up in the whole charismatic Christian thing for a while.)

      So yeah, “most discussed,” by a lot.

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