(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.