The Return of Mr. Cool

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(Pictured: Perry Como with Tom Jones and Debbie Reynolds on This Is Tom Jones, November 1970.)

As documented here, American Top 40 as it existed in the fall of 1970 was a slapdash work-in-progress, but it didn’t take long for Casey and his producers to figure things out. By December 5, 1970, his weird ad-libs and non-sequiturs are mostly gone, and the show is tighter and cleaner than it was only a month or two before.

40. “Do It”/Neil Diamond
31. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”/Neil Diamond
Casey mentions that “Do It” keeps Diamond with two songs in the countdown after “Cracklin’ Rosie” dropped off, and it’s pretty good. “He Ain’t Heavy,” on the other hand, is a weirdly lugubrious performance. He doesn’t seem to be feeling it at all until the very end.

39. “One Man Band”/Three Dog Night
29. “Green Eyed Lady”/Sugarloaf
22. “Be My Baby”/Andy Kim
21. “After Midnight”/Eric Clapton

20. “Stoned Love”/Supremes
18. “Indiana Wants Me”/R. Dean Taylor

17. “Black Magic Woman”/Santana
12. “See Me, Feel Me”/The Who
10. “Share the Land”/Guess Who
9. “Heaven Help Us All”/Stevie Wonder
4. “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five
3. “Gypsy Woman”/Brian Hyland

I couldn’t have articulated it after only a few months as a listener, but it wasn’t just the music that I loved, it was the way that music sounded on WLS. As I wrote a few years ago, it was “larger than life, better than real.”

36. “It’s Impossible”/Perry Como. Few people today grasp how big Perry Como was, and for how long. Casey calls him “the original Mr. Cool.” He came up in the 1940s during the musicians’ strike, so his first hits came fronting vocal groups. He was also a pioneer of television, with regular series starting in 1948 and continuing into the early 60s; after that, he did holiday-themed specials every year until the late 80s. His peak years as a hitmaker were the late 1950s, but “It’s Impossible” would make the Top 10 in January 1971, and he would return to the Top 40 one more time in 1973 with “And I Love You So.” Como died in 2001, but he routinely charts every year at Christmas, as his most famous holiday songs are discovered anew.

34. “Can’t Stop Loving You”/Tom Jones. There is no better indication of the growing maturity of American Top 40 than the fact that Casey does not feel compelled to make a cringey remark about Jones’ effect on his female listeners.

30. “Cry Me a River”/Joe Cocker. We have previously noted Casey’s tendency to pronounce “Sunday” and “Monday” as “sundee” and “mondee.” Another of his pronunciation quirks is “Joe Caulker.”

EXTRA: “Take Good Care of My Baby”/Bobby Vee. Which Casey introduces with a story about how Bobby Vee employed a young Bob Dylan for a while, but fired him to save money. In later years, Vee would say that he did not fire the young pianist, who called himself Elston Gunnn (with three n’s). Vee auditioned him and put him on stage for one show (at a badly out-of-tune piano), but then decided “it wasn’t gonna work.” Later, Vee said, he was walking down a New York street and saw an album in a record store window with “Bob Dylan” on it. “I thought to myself, ‘looks a lot like Elston Gunnn.'”

13. “My Sweet Lord”/George Harrison
11. “Patch It Up”/Elvis Presley
“My Sweet Lord” makes the highest debut of the week, up from #72. Casey notes that the flip side, “Isn’t It a Pity,” is also a hit. Two songs later, he plays “Patch It Up,” the other side of the much better “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Somebody with a better work ethic should look into the history of Casey playing both sides of double-sided hits.

8. “No Matter What”/Badfinger
7. “One Less Bell to Answer”/Fifth Dimension
“My Sweet Lord” isn’t the only record zooming up the chart. Badfinger was #24 the previous week and the Fifth Dimension #25. Casey notes that little is known about Badfinger beyond the first names of the members. He says, “A few people have come up with the theory that this song is an old Beatle recording released under the name of a non-existent group.” He doesn’t think that’s likely, however. After “One Less Bell,” Casey says, “Ahh, that’s so beautiful.”

2. “Tears of a Clown”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
1. “I Think I Love You”/Partridge Family
It’s the third week at #1 for the Partridges. Smokey will take over for two weeks starting on December 12.

Although some of the oddball stuff from AT40’s earliest days would persist for a little while yet, by the end of 1970, the show is clearly on its way to becoming an institution we would still care about a half-century later.

9 thoughts on “The Return of Mr. Cool

  1. Aaron McCracken

    I don’t claim to have a better work ethic than you jb, but it’s worth pointing out one notable double-sided hit where Casey did *not* play the b-side. “Beginnings”/”Color My World” by Chicago had both sides listed on the Hot 100 during its entire run within the Top 40 in 1971, and yet to my knowledge Casey never once even mentioned the flip side (never mind playing it). “Color My World” did finally get played on AT40 a few times as an LDD, beginning with the third four-hour show in 1978.

  2. Wesley

    Mr. C, er, Perry Como did his last Christmas TV special on Dec. 6, 1986. Upset that ABC virtually buried the show in a lousy time slot (it came on at the last hour before local news on a Saturday), he vowed never to do one again. Of course, that didn’t really matter much to network executives since his recording career was coming to a close, as RCA dropped him after 40 years. Ironically, Como would be on TV the day after Christmas in the following year as one of the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.

  3. mackdaddyg

    If memory serves, “Do It” was an old track that his former label put out for whatever petty reason. Actually, I think Bang Records released quite a few Neil Diamond singles after he left for UNI.

    And yeah, his version of “He Ain’t Heavy” isn’t a high point. I think the album it’s from is Touching You Touching Me, which had a few covers on it. Maybe he had a brief bout of writer’s block at the time?

    1. porky

      Correct regarding the BANG label, run by mob figures used to strong-arm tactics, though I believe it was a common practice by labels to try to “step on” and confuse the market by releasing old, in-the-can material. As one example, Cadence did it to the Everly Brothers after they signed with Warner Bros.

      Good point about writer’s block as I wondered why Neil was leaning on covers, though his version of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go” fits him like a glove (and is such a well-written song it’s hard to screw up).

  4. mikehagerty

    Just a couple of weeks after this, in L.A. for Christmas vacation, I took my saved-up allowance money and bought every single on the KHJ Boss 30 for the week of December 16, including the three Hitbounds. At 53 cents a single at Crane’s Records in Inglewood, that was $17.49 before tax, and since I walked in with $40, I also walked out with an armload of albums, including George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”, which ate $6.39 of the tab.

    And as for WLS, yeah—where the record got played made a big difference in the sound. Some of that was science (audio processing), some of it art (staging and presentation).

  5. mikehagerty

    By the way, if you haven’t heard it, or heard it in a while, Perry Como’s version of Don McLean’s “And I Love You So” is just remarkable. One of the rare MOR artists doing then-contemporary material well:

    1. porky

      Mike, glad you brought this one up, always been a favorite. I also discovered one from his Chet Atkins sessions, “Dream on Little Dreamer” which is great, sounds like the records Ann-Margret was making in Nashville a bit earlier.

      And not sure if I heard “Seattle” (Theme from Here Come The Brides) on WLS or perhaps the easy listening station my folks always had on, but another great smooth Como item.

  6. Pingback: We’re All Gonna Go – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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