The kid gets on the school bus at 6:50 in the morning for the long ride through Clarno and Cadiz Townships. Other kids get on in ones and twos, some older, some younger, some he knows, and some he merely recognizes from other mornings. Some get on from neatly kept farmsteads, others from ramshackle houses or long-parked mobile homes. The gravel roads are rough and narrow, and as they track up and down and around, the kid sometimes worries that the bus, rolling like a ship in a storm, might actually tip over.
If it were up to the driver, the school bus radio would probably be on local station WEKZ, but by passenger demand, it’s on WLS from Chicago, with Larry Lujack playing the hits. There’s news every half-hour, so the kid hears the Lyle Dean Report twice each morning. In September 1971, he knows about the Attica prison riot and the death of Nikita Khrushchev, even if he doesn’t understand all of the details. He cares more about the baseball scores, and that football season has started for the teams he follows. He plays a little organized football himself.
On certain mornings, the kid wrestles his saxophone aboard the bus. He enjoys honking away in rehearsal, although he already knows he doesn’t have much talent. He’d rather listen to other musicians, and his Ol’ Uncle Lar, on the radio.
You’ve already read about some of the songs of September 1971. Here are a few more from below the Top 40.
42. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore”/Glass Bottle. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” is an American cover of a concurrent British hit sung by Cliff Richard, co-produced by Dickie Goodman, master of the break-in record. Wikipedia says that the group’s name was chosen to help the glass industry in a PR effort to boost the use of glass soda bottles over plastic ones. While it seems like almost anything else would have been more effective PR, the factoid has proliferated across dozens of websites, so it must be true.
43. “Sweet City Woman”/Stampeders
54. “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready”/Jr. Walker and the All-Stars
68. “Annabella”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
Old man yells at cloud: nobody making records today wants to grab the listener from the first second; producers would rather sneak up on them. (I am sick unto death of fade-ins, a production trick meant for earbuds and not for radio.) So you don’t get the banjo that opens “Sweet City Woman,” or the gloriously exciting 40 seconds that start “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready.” Related: I often can’t tell what people are supposed to remember about the hits of today. Fifty years later, “Annabella” is still right there in my head.
47. “All Day Music”/War
48 “Marianne”/Stephen Stills
These records made #35 and #42 respectively on the Hot 100 but were #4 and #6 at WLS. “All Day Music” is the single best song on the entire list of 100, BTW. It take you to a place you want to go, and if you play it again, you can stay there.
49. “Superstar”/Carpenters. The highest-debuting single on the Hot 100 in this week. To double down on something I’ve said before, had it been as easy to consume music in 1971 as it is today, the Carpenters would have debuted on the singles chart at #1 or close to it, more than once.
65. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love”/Denise LaSalle. There’s a lot of straight-up R&B records on this week’s Bottom 60, few of which got much play on pop radio, although “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” did. I would absolutely read a book about the relationship between R&B radio, the Black audience, and the record business in the first half of the 1970s. There was a whole ‘nother world out there that had little to do with white kids listening to WLS.
93. “Carey”/Joni Mitchell. The lone charting single from Blue is in its lone week on the Hot 100.
The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn’t sleep
Oh you know it sure is hard to leave you, Carey
But it’s really not my home
It will be years before the kid hears the arresting first lines of “Carey.” By then he will know, in a way he was only learning in 1971, that there’s something on the September wind that isn’t there the rest of the year: the knowledge that wherever he finds himself in the Septembers to come, it’s really not his home. Home is on the bumpy rural roads of Clarno and Cadiz, in other Septembers, on other mornings, at the beginning of everything that ever was, and all that will ever be.