(Pictured: Carly Simon says hello from the summer of 1971.)
I wrote about the American Top 40 show from June 5, 1971, last month. Now here we are again, six weeks later in that summer (the July 17 show), with more to say about other songs from the ever-more-distant past.
40. “Liar”/Three Dog Night
8. “Draggin’ the Line”/Tommy James
One night in the summer of 1971, my cousin and I decided to camp in his back yard. We were not sleeping rough; we were in a tent 15 feet from the back door of his house, which was located on a fairly busy street in the small town where he lived. I didn’t like it, tossing and turning and wishing that morning would come. Thank goodness I had my little transistor radio, the one I’d gotten for my birthday in February, with the Packers logo and the little earphone, so WLS kept me company through the long night. These two songs bring that experience back.
39. “Stop, Look, and Listen”/Stylistics
37. “If Not for You”/Olivia Newton-John
The first week in the Top 40 for two acts who would spend a lot of time there in years to come.
25. “Get It On”/Chase
24. “Double Barrel”/Dave and Ansil Collins
21. “Signs”/Five Man Electrical Band
15. “Funky Nassau”/Beginning of the End
11. “She’s Not Just Another Woman”/8th Day
Some of these you know, some you might not. (Honk if you remember the Magnificent W-O-O-O. Honk twice if you could live for days in the last verse and fade-out of “Rings.”) They have been a part of me for half a century now, and each of them leaves me with a feeling of awe and wonder at the passage of so much time.
32. “You’ve Got a Friend”/Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
29. “Love the One You’re With”/Isley Brothers
3. “You’ve Got a Friend”/James Taylor
We were approaching peak “You’ve Got a Friend” in this week. I once predicted that James Taylor’s version would still resonate 100 years after its release, and we’re halfway there. I’ve written before about the Flack/Hathaway and Isleys covers, but I don’t think I’ve said how much I like them. The Isleys’ “Love the One You’re With” just might outdo the Stephen Stills version.
31. “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones
30. “Wild Horses”/Rolling Stones
Radio stations probably shouldn’t play “Brown Sugar” anymore, in the era of BLM and #MeToo. That’s fine. But I have adored every lascivious second of it for 50 damn years, so if you come for my personal copy, you’ll have to pry it out of my sticky fingers.
EXTRA: “Maybe Tomorrow”/Jackson Five
EXTRA: “Harbor Lights”/The Platters
“Maybe Tomorrow,” which would chart at the end of July, was a modern-day extra offered to affiliates by Premiere Radio Networks to fill unsold time. The original cue sheet shows “Misty” by Johnny Mathis as an extra, but it’s scratched out and replaced with a handwritten “Harbor Lights.”
20. “Want Ads”/Honey Cone
16. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”/Fortunes
10. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”/Carly Simon
6. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight
4. “Don’t Pull Your Love”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
If you were going to teach a class on songwriting and record production, you could build whole lessons around these. Some are rich in clever, figurative language (“experience in love preferred but will accept a young trainee,” “misty morning eyes I’m trying to disguise the way I feel”), and Carly Simon presents text enough for a whole seminar on the sexual politics of 1971 (“you say we’ll soar like two birds through the clouds but soon you’ll cage me on your shelf”). All have memorable melodies, and the productions stand up to repeated listening—50 years’ worth.
EXTRA: “I Feel the Earth Move”/Carole King
1. “It’s Too Late”/Carole King
The original cue sheet shows that Casey planned to play a cut from Tapestry in the last hour of the show, but it doesn’t specify which one. Since the show was being recorded in real time in 1971, I wonder if they decided on “I Feel the Earth Move” based on the timing of the show as it got close to the end. Introducing “It’s Too Late,” Casey says that it’s only the third time since 1955 that a song by a female artist has spent five or more weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart. Carole joins Gogi Grant (“The Wayward Wind”) and Lulu (“To Sir With Love”). But King was the first to write her song and to play on it, which is a different, and more significant, milestone. (Ralph Schuckett, who played the electric piano that entwines so seductively with the sax and guitar on “It’s Too Late,” died last April at the age of 73.)