In My Room

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(Pictured: Janis Ian in the 70s.)

Although I got off the farm just as fast as I could, it is a wonderful place to be from. When I walk the place in memory, it is frequently summertime. The light had a different quality depending on the time of day: clear and bright in the morning, relentlessly radiating on the hottest afternoons, soft and mellow as the evening sun sank behind the barn. Summer had its particular smells too, from the clean, organic scents of turned earth and fresh-cut hay to the still organic but less pleasant bouquet of cow manure. (I am more than 40 years gone from the farm but I can still instantly identify the different manure smells: cow is not pig is not chicken.)

In the summer of 1975, I have had my own room for two or three years, upstairs, on the south side of the house, with a balcony outside–but it has a tin floor painted black and it takes very little sun to make it griddle-hot, so I quite literally never go out there. I have a table and a typewriter (having just taken a typing class the previous spring, the single most useful course I ever took in any discipline; I have never needed algebra and 90 percent of the classes I took in college, but I type every damn day). The cheap little stereo I bought the previous spring sits on a dresser with the speakers on the floor. And as I listened recently to the American Top 40 show from July 12, 1975, I found myself back in that room, on a summer evening. I can’t remember if I would have heard this particular show, but I surely heard the songs, on stations from Chicago by day and Madison or Freeport by night.

39. “Just a Little Bit of You”/Michael Jackson. There’s nothing special about “Just a Little Bit of You,” except for its early disco sound and the fact that it captures Michael’s voice changing from the one that sang on all those #1 hits with the Jackson Five to the one that would sing on all those #1 hits later on.

38. “At Seventeen”/Janis Ian. Pop music is full of songs by and about losers and outcasts, but “At Seventeen” feels particularly truthful (if a bit self-consciously literary). The brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs says of the beautiful people, “Pity please the ones who serve / They only get what they deserve.” But we’ve all known people, or have been people, whose oh-hell-no dismissals were actually sour grapes, or which barely concealed a desperate wish to be part of the in-group. And “Those of us who knew the pain of valentines that never came / And those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball” is a painfully accurate description of the out-group, and how they/we saw them/ourselves.

36. “Fight the Power”/Isley Brothers. In which the lyrical “bullshit” gets blanked. On later shows, Casey’s producers would edit in a “woo!” from elsewhere in the song.

32. “Disco Queen “/Hot Chocolate
30. “Cut the Cake”/Average White Band
Sweet mama the “Disco Queen” groove is ferocious, and never more than right at the end, when it’s just four-on-the-floor drums and horns going to the fade. “Cut the Cake” gets down pretty good, too.

31. “(It’s All Down To) Goodnight Vienna”/Ringo Starr. I don’t remember hearing “Goodnight Vienna” on the radio, and it wasn’t around long. The Goodnight Vienna album had a memorable TV commercial narrated by John Lennon, but I don’t know where it ran or for how long.

26. “Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High)”/Charlie Rich. Although “Every Time You Touch Me” would get to #19 pop and go to #3 country in this summer, its autumnal vibe belongs on the radio in September and October.

25. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”/Elton John. In the same week “Philadelphia Freedom” drops off the show, Elton’s new single, from the week’s #1 album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, makes the highest debut. At over six minutes, it was always going to present a challenge for AT40. Elton never authorized an official edit, although many radio stations made their own. The edit heard on this show (whether from 1975 or modern times, I don’t know) is pretty rough.

I never expect these AT40 summaries to require two posts when I start them, but insert shrug emoji here. Next part coming soon.

12 thoughts on “In My Room

  1. TN

    We’re not supposed to say this, because everybody loves Ringo and John was of course a genius, but “Goodnight Vienna” is not much of a record. George gave Ringo much better material than John ever did (see also “I’m the Greatest,” which isn’t).

    1. Agreed. John and Ringo were both carousing pretty hard at that point; there’s not much of a melody to “Goodnight Vienna” but you can just about smell the brandy.
      This is the point at which Ringo’s short-lived success as a chart-topping solo performer takes the off-ramp south.

      1. mikehagerty

        Peaked at #31. Worst chart performance since “Beaucoups of Blues” five years before (which only made #87). Lennon pretty much crashed Harry Nilsson’s hitmaking career into a tree in ’74 and followed up with Ringo in ’75.

    2. Wesley

      In the book The Beatles on Record, author Mark Wallgren writes of “Goodnight Vienna,” “By rights, this should’ve been one of the most prosperous [singles from the album Goodnight Vienna].’Goodnight Vienna’ was re-edited so as to include the reprise from side two of the album which, in effect, created a brand new full-length version of the song. ‘Oo-Wee’ was also a hit in many markets, making this another double A-sided release.”

      Now, Wallgren generally does an excellent job of cataloging all Beatles singles and albums in this book from 1982, but I question these statements. This was the third single that went first released was off an album that had been out 7 months, which was an eternity in those pre-Frampton Comes Alive days. And claiming “‘Oo-We’ was also a hit in many markets” is simply untrue for a record that lasted only 7 weeks on Billboard. Cashbox didn’t even list the B-side, letting the record peak at #29, while in Record World got it up only to 54. In any event, Ringo ended up saying goodnight to the top 40 after this one.

  2. So, this elicits a series of quick takes:

    I feel the same way about Bishop, California as you do about the farm. I couldn’t wait to get out, but I can’t deny its beauty.

    Michael Jackson had fallen into enough of a gap that KHJ in Los Angeles added “Just A Little Bit Of You”, but never said the artist’s name, simply referring to him as “MJ”, which pretty much nobody was doing in 1975.

    I’ve come full circle on “At Seventeen” after a middle period of burnout and dismissal. It nails the uncool teen life. And I should know. I think a couple of pickup basketball games on the playground went one player short rather than calling me.

    At KKDJ in Los Angeles, where they carted their music, production director Don Elliott recorded the 45 onto a reel of tape at 15ips, took the word “bullshit”, edited it out, turned the word around and edited it right back in, and then carted it. Turns out you CAN say “bullshit” on the radio if you say it backwards.

    Gary Owens at KMPC at least once back-announced “Charlie Rich—and Everytime You Touch Me, I Get Hives.”

    And the National Lampoon, which wrote its own letters to the editors, once published this gem:

    Sirs,

    Someone shaved my wife tonight.

    Elton John
    London

  3. porky

    JB, when you reference these Casey shows are they over-the-air shows played by a terrestrial local station (which is how I hear mine)? If so I’ve noticed that the years are different. Casey is heard on Sunday mornings and my local station played the show from July 15, 1972 (which was all kinds of awesome BTW).

    1. My radio station carried AT40 from the time I started there in 2008 until it dropped the show in 2019. If there was a show some weekend that I was interested in, I’d make a copy. I wish I had made copies of all of them (because there’s not much in my library from 1979 through 1983). The ones I have been writing about for the last year or so are ones from my library that I’ve never written about. And I have LOTS of them, so I’ll be doing it for a long time to come.

  4. Tim M

    Typing class. Like you, I’ve typed pretty much every day of my adult life, and have yet to use Algebra to solve a problem. In my tiny graduating class of 88 members in the Fox Valley, only two males took the typing class. We were the subject of much (most of it good-natured, but some downright homophobic) verbal abuse. “Only girls who want to be secretaries take typing class,” was the conventional wisdom.

    By the way, the other guy who was in typing class with me and about 36 girls? Founder and CEO of a very successful investment firm.

    1. And I zoned typing class (in addition to a line making it clear that “bullshit” was in “Fight the Power” and not “At Seventeen”).

      Same here—-including the abuse Tim mentions. Within a year, I was typing up a playlist every week for my first radio station, and within ten, I was crafting news copy on deadline.

      I see the guys who questioned my (and the handful of other guys who took the class) masculinity on Facebook. I sure hope they’re not as dumb as their typos.

    2. Wesley

      Another “qwerty” taker in high school here. Definitely much appreciated. Don’t know how I would’ve survived doing a hunt and peck across the keyboards every day.

      And jb, you’re coming in clear and easy here in central North Carolina. Love the job you’re doing on Magic 98 daily and hoping you guys only have storms tonight as your forecast just indicated.

  5. “I can still instantly identify the different manure smells: cow is not pig is not chicken”

    JB, you’ve been providing lessons in bullsh!t for 17 years now, but this time, you’ve taken it to new levels.

    (I’m sorry – I couldn’t resist…)

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