Which Way You Goin’?

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(Pictured: Melanie.)

On January 2 and 9, 1971, American Top 40 counted down the Top 80 hits of 1970. During the second installment, Casey keeps talking about “a holiday special,” even though the holidays, for most people, were long gone by January 9. But considering the show was recorded in December and the AT40 offices were likely festooned with Christmas decorations, we’ll give the man a break. Now on with the countdown:

40. “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes”/Edison Lighthouse. Casey will tout the number of Jackson Five records on this show (below) but there are at least three in the Top 80 featuring studio titan Tony Burrows: “Love Grows” (best song on the show, BTW) and two from earlier, “United We Stand” by Brotherhood of Man at #64 and “My Baby Loves Lovin'” by White Plains at #62.

38. “Something’s Burning”/Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. I have read that “Something’s Burning” was resisted by American radio for being too sexy. A better reason might be that it takes forever to get to the hook. I am not sure anybody with a major reputation made two records in 1970 that were more tedious than “Something’s Burning” and “Tell It All Brother.”

37. “Rainy Night in Georgia”/Brook Benton
35. “Patches”/Clarence Carter
These are magnificent deep-soul records of course, but they’re country songs, too. Here in the new millennium, mainstream country’s ongoing struggle to maintain its apartheid system is not only unfair to Black artists, it cuts off bountiful streams of creative energy.

33. “Venus”/Shocking Blue
32. “Ride Captain Ride”/Blues Image
22. “Spirit in the Sky”/Norman Greenbaum
14. “Hitchin’ a Ride”/Vanity Fare

Do kids listening to mopey indie pop or hip-hop sing along with the records? Is it even possible?

28. “I Want You Back”/Jackson Five
16. “The Love You Save”/Jackson Five
15. “ABC”/Jackson Five
7. “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five
A remarkable run of success, and four of the nine Motown hits among the year’s top songs.

26. “Which Way You Goin’ Billy”/Poppy Family
23. “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”/Melanie
10. “Band of Gold”/Freda Payne
6. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Diana Ross
We noted only four female vocalists in what Casey called the “back 40,” and the Top 40 isn’t much better. Diana Ross was the only female performer to hit #1 in 1970, although the Carpenters (see below) made it too.

18. “Candida”/Dawn
17. “Cracklin’ Rosie”/Neil Diamond
Songs from the beginning of everything, and 45s I received for Christmas in 1970.

12. “Everything Is Beautiful”/Ray Stevens. For a song that reached #1, “Everything Is Beautiful” dropped down the memory hole in a hurry. Even in the 70s, I don’t remember hearing it much. Today it’s easily the most-forgotten big hit on this chart.

9. “Let It Be”/Beatles. American Top 40 overlapped the Beatles for only a moment. “The Long and Winding Road” dropped out of the Top 40 from #21 during the week of July 25, 1970. Introducing “The Long and Winding Road” back at #41, Casey called the Beatles the most important act of the 20th century. Probably, but there’s an argument for Bing Crosby, who was the first to achieve mass multi-media stardom; for Frank Sinatra, who was the first to turn young people into the arbiters of popular culture; and for Elvis, who was the first rocker to blow the minds of young people not just with music but with kinetic energy.

Also: regarding the Get Back documentary, it is both too much and not enough. I can’t imagine a casual fan like The Mrs. sitting through the whole thing, but the Beatles’ creative process is so interesting, and they’re just so damn likeable (even John, who was prone to monstrous behavior elsewhere), that a fan such as I wanted to keep hanging out with them after it was over.

8. “Get Ready”/Rare Earth
3. “American Woman”/Guess Who
It’s a genuine surprise to see “Get Ready,” which peaked at #4, rank higher than 10 songs that made #1. “American Woman,” meanwhile, did three weeks at #1 but places higher than “I’ll Be There” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which were #1 longer.

4. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”/B. J. Thomas
2. “Close to You”/Carpenters
1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Simon and Garfunkel
Cherry-picking the charts in support of a idea is a bad practice, but it is also my jam, so here we go. The top of this chart is a strong indication that the 70s are going to vibe a lot differently than the 1960s did. It’s hard to hear any of these three records in the context of, for example, 1968, but much easier to imagine them getting traction at any point during the next several years.

Apart from an entirely predictable One Day in Your Life on Friday, this will be the final post of 2021. Thanks again for your continuing support of this Internet feature. 

7 thoughts on “Which Way You Goin’?

  1. Amen to “Rainy Night in Georgia” (which I loved) and “Patches” (which I didn’t) being both deep-soul and country.

    And as much as I love Brook Benton’s version of “Rainy Night in Georgia”, and as little a fan of country as I am (in general, but I could name 100 exceptions), Conway Twitty and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave bowled me over with their version in the 90s (which I missed until tripping over it on SiriusXM maybe ten years ago):

  2. Wesley

    The Billboard methodology for ranking singles at the end of each year (or rather November-November in the period we’re discussing here) supposedly emphasizes chart longevity as well as (or maybe even more than) peak positions on the chart. That’s why Get Ready apparently made the top 10 for the year. Or, even more ridiculously, why Devil’s Gun by C.J. & Company made number 100 for all of 1977 even though it peaked at number 36.

    Some other chart observers have gone back and noted the discrepancies in how Billboard claimed to rank songs versus the results by supposedly using that methodology. The most notorious “over ranking,” so to speak, had to have been in 1961 when Patsy Cline’s I Go to Pieces, which peaked at 12 on the Hot 100, finished second for the year. I refuse to believe that was accurate.

    Oh, and thanks for another great column, jb, as we bid farewell (and maybe good riddance) to 2021.

  3. With no disrespect meant to “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes,” which I always thought was great (did Rosemary hang out with the “Tracy” whom the Cuff Links sang about?), but calling it the best song on a show that also includes “I Want You Back,” which was one of the most perfect singles ever recorded, should at least be open to debate.

  4. porky

    I’ve seen “Patches” turn up on worst pop songs of all time lists. I wouldn’t go that far, but….

    Whoever is playing bass on “United We Stand” is almost James Jamerson level. Fantastic.

    I like the Conway version of “Rainy Night” but the stars aligned with the perfect song, perfect production and amazing singer when Brook Benton took it on. One of my all-time favorites and that’s saying something. Shame Brook is almost forgotten today. Kids from around here WHERE HE GREW UP have no idea who Dan Fogelberg is. Brook doesn’t stand a chance in these times.

    1. It happens to them all, or most of them, Porky. Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole are just about at the point where they’re only famous for their Christmas songs. Elvis impersonators are about the only thing keeping Elvis in the sightline of younger generations. I have personally met two people who, when the name Elton John came up, only knew him from The Lion King.

  5. Aaron McCracken

    Re: Casey calling this a “holiday special”, it’s because the two-parter originally aired on the weekends of 12/26/70 and 1/2/71. The discrepancy with the dates you provided is probably due to AT40’s airdates being a week ahead of the Billboard chart date through (I think) May 1971, after which they synced up to give themselves a bit more show production time.

    That’s my theory at least.

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