(Pictured: Three Dog Night performs at the Grammys in March 1972.)
Fifty years. I can’t get my brain around the concept, particularly as it relates to songs (and to times) that do not seem so far gone. Travel back with me to the end of summer with the American Top 40 show from August 26, 1972.
40. “Honky Cat”/Elton John
39. “This World”/Staple Singers
38. “Sweet Inspiration–Where You Lead”/Barbra Streisand
37. “Run to Me”/Bee Gees
36. “You’re Still a Young Man”/Tower of Power
This show gets off to a rough start. “Honky Cat” and “Run to Me” are both fine and will become big hits, but “This World” is more shouty than funky, and “You’re Still a Young Man” just kinda sits there. Casey plays all six deadly dull minutes of “Sweet Inspiration” and “Where You Lead,” a medley recorded live at a McGovern-for-president rally earlier in the year. In six minutes you could play Barbra’s vastly superior 1971 studio version of “Where You Lead” twice, and you should.
35. “Gone”/Joey Heatherton. My 45-buying habits 50 years ago are amusing to me today. In 2012, I wrote about buying “Gone”:
It’s not especially difficult to understand what drew me to this record—the horn blast that opens it could knock down the walls of Jericho and it sounded great on the radio. The song had been a big pop and country hit for the splendiferously named Ferlin Husky in 1957, but Heatherton finds drama in it that Husky never perceived. When she comes back one last time with “Oh, what I’d give for the lifetime I’ve wasted,” even a 12-year-old who knows practically nothing about love or girls or any damn thing can tell that whatever the singer is feeling, it’s as serious as a heart attack. So maybe it’s not so peculiar why I bought it, when other things I liked better I never did.
34. “Pop That Thang”/Isley Brothers. Which Casey introduces by suggesting that the Isley’s 1969 hit “It’s Your Thing” helped popularize that particular use of the word “thing.” “This time,” Casey says, “they’re singing it and spelling it with an accent: T-H-A-N-G.”
32. “When You Say Love”/Sonny and Cher
17. “Rock and Roll Part 2″/Gary Glitter
Sonny and Cher don’t sound all that interested in singing “When You Say Love.” Nobody could have known it would have a 50-year afterlife in Budweiser commercials and down unto this very day at the University of Wisconsin, as a popular song at sporting events: “When you say Wis-consin, you’ve said it all.” “Rock and Roll Part 2” also became a sports anthem, although it is frequently banned for inspiring obscene chants. And it hasn’t been on the radio much since Glitter’s 2006 conviction for child molestation.
31. “Lean on Me”/Bill Withers
30. “Too Late to Turn Back Now”/Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
29. “Small Beginnings”/Flash
28. “Go All the Way”/Raspberries
27. “Power of Love”/Joe Simon
26. “How Do You Do”/Mouth and MacNeal
25. “Baby Let Me Take You”/Detroit Emeralds
24. “Beautiful Sunday”/Daniel Boone
There’s glorious AM-radio pleasure right here, although your mileage may vary regarding whether “Small Beginnings” qualifies.
And the pleasure continues:
23. “Black and White”/Three Dog Night. Zooming into the 40 from #47 the week before. Casey introduces it by mentioning songwriters whose careers have been boosted by Three Dog Night, including Harry Nilsson, Laura Nyro, and Randy Newman. He then says that “Black and White” was written by “D. Arkin and E. Robinson” and to “keep your eye on ’em.” But David Arkin, the father of Alan and grandfather of Adam Arkin, never wrote another popular song. Earl Robinson had already written the labor anthem “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” but was known mostly for classical music. A phone call to ABC/Dunhill Records might have been all it took to learn their first names, their significant backstories, and that the song was written years before in response to Brown v. Board of Education, although maybe Casey told those stories in later episodes.
21. “School’s Out”/Alice Cooper
20. “Saturday in the Park”/Chicago
Casey says that “School’s Out” is currently #1 in England, and that “Saturday in the Park” is the biggest mover within the 40 this week, up 13.
A listener asks which artist has hit the Hot 100 the most without cracking the Top 40. The answer: Steve Alaimo, who’s done it nine times. Casey says, “I really hope Steve hits soon with a big one, and he will.” But Alaimo would never hit the Hot 100 again.
Welp, I have reached my entirely arbitrary word limit and we’re only halfway through this show. Please join me for part 2, eventually.