Wonder and Confusion

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(Pictured: Bette Midler onstage in the 70s.)

A long time ago I wrote about our fascination with round numbers, and how 50 appeals to us in a way that 49 and 51 do not. So it was predictable that I would choose to listen this week to the American Top 40 show from March 24, 1973. Here’s some of what I heard.

40. “Daisy a Day”/Jud Strunk
39. “A Letter to Myself”/Chi-Lites
38. “One Less Set of Footsteps”/Jim Croce
37. “Good Morning Heartache”/Diana Ross
36. “Cook With Honey”/Judy Collins
35. “Hello Hurray”/Alice Cooper
34. “Master of Eyes”/Aretha Franklin
33. “Give Me Your Love”/Barbara Mason
This show gets off to a dreadful start. Jim Croce and Diana Ross are fine, I guess, but I found myself profoundly annoyed by “A Letter to Myself” and especially “Cook With Honey.” The meandering spoken intro to the former had me saying out loud, “get on with it for chrissakes.” The latter is either a sexual metaphor that doesn’t land or straight-up hippie twaddle, and to hell with it.

32. “Little Willy”/The Sweet
31. “Kissing My Love”/Bill Withers

30. “Peaceful”/Helen Reddy
29. “The Twelfth of Never”/Donny Osmond
28. “Rocky Mountain High”/John Denver

27. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John
This sequence improved my mood significantly. I will always fanboy for “The Twelfth of Never,” which debuts at #29 from #55 the week before. To wrap up the first hour, Casey back-announces “Crocodile Rock” by saying, “After nine weeks in the Top 10, it falls to #13,” which is actually the previous week’s note on the song.

26. “The Cisco Kid”/War
8. “Danny’s Song”/Anne Murray
5. “Last Song”/Edward Bear
One of the things old music can do is to vividly remind us of times, places, and people. These songs do the best job of it on this show. For as long as it takes them to play, I am just past my 13th birthday again, with all of the wonder and confusion that implies.

25. “Do You Wanna Dance”/Bette Midler. Like Neil Sedaka’s 1976 torch-song reinvention of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Midler’s sexy remake of “Do You Wanna Dance” turns it into the song it always should have been.

20. “Space Oddity”/David Bowie
19. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
This juxtaposition is awesome. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” up 10 places this week, would become the #1 song for all of 1973, and a major artifact of the Weird 70s.

16. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”/Vicki Lawrence. Casey tells how songwriter Bobby Russell offered “The Night the Lights Went Out” to Cher but it ended up with its demo singer, “Mrs. Bobby Russell,” TV star Vicki Lawrence. That’s fairly well-known trivia now, but it would have been news when the song was in its third week on American Top 40.

Casey includes some other interesting bits in this show. A listener asks which song dropped out of the Top 40 from the highest position. It was “Crimson and Clover,” which fell from #18 clean off the Hot 100 early in 1970. Another notes that Roberta Flack was the most recent female solo act to hit #1 with back-to-back single releases (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly”) and wondered who was the last male solo act to do it. It was Bobby Vinton with “Blue Velvet” and “There! I’ve Said It Again” in 1963.

14. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners
13. “Call Me”/Al Green
10. “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I’ve Got”/Four Tops
9. “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics
3. “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”/Deodato
2. “Killing Me Softly”/Roberta Flack
1. “Love Train”/O’Jays
Any one of these could be the best record on the show, but it’s probably “Break Up to Make Up,” unless it’s “Love Train.”

For a brief period, the AT40 staff tried to predict what the next week’s #1 song would be. Last week, they expected “Killing Me Softly” to hang on for a fifth week this week, but it did not. This week, they expect “Love Train” to hold on next week—but “Killing Me Softly” will return for another week.

Looking back, I still remember 1973 with a certain degree of wonder and confusion, and I have tried to conclude just what it is about that year and me. But in his new memoir Life’s Work, David Milch writes: “[P]eople try to allegorize experience so that we think we are tending toward some ultimate destination. Probably the biggest lie is the idea that we are entitled to a meaningful and coherent summarizing, a conclusion of something that never concludes.”

Milch might say that my ongoing wonder and confusion over 1973, and never resolving it, tells me something more important about my whole life than anything else I could learn.

15 thoughts on “Wonder and Confusion

  1. “There! I’ve Said It Again” is primarily known as the last song to top the Billboard charts before the Beatles took over the No. 1 slot for most of 1964.

  2. mikehagerty

    If you want real wonder and confusion, JB—try Judy Collins’ version of “Hello Hooray”, from her 1968 album “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”

    Yep—Alice covered Judy Collins five years later.

  3. “Cook With Honey” into “Hello Hurray” would have been a wonderful segue had there not been talking between them — just one record into the next.
    (I happen to like them both, but different strokes, etc.)

    Best song on the chart? Probably “Love Train,” closely followed by “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” with a shared bronze medal to Zarathusra and the Cisco Kid (which are not objectively as good as the first two, but which do it for me.)

  4. Wesley

    Casey noted on a later show that Daisy a Day was the only top 40 hit generated by a regular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Which I think says more of the show’s lack of impact on the music chart than anything else. Incidentally, Jud Strunk did perform his tune straightforward on the show, which also indicated how far the show’s level of irreverence had sunk by 1973, when it usually finished at the bottom of the ratings. (And deservedly so, I’d say from watching the series’ complete DVD set.)

    1. “Laugh-In” was a two-season show at best. Two middle-aged guys in tuxes playing traffic cops between skits with sex and drug references might have been gutsy in ’68 and ’69, but the world moved very quickly after that.

      I remember my amazement and relief when watching the first SNL and realizing it wasn’t just a late-night “Laugh-In.”

  5. I am doing a (very slow) rewatch of Laugh-In at the moment and I’m somewhere in Season 2. I remember feeling a bit more warmly toward the end stage the last time I watched it. IIRC, Lily Tomlin remained funny pretty much the whole time she was on; there’s something about Dennis Allen that amuses me but I can’t say what; and I have a little thing for Barbara Sharma. Now I’m curious how it will play when/if I get there this time.

    1. Wesley

      I’d love to hear your take on it too, jb. Personally I felt it was dumbed down beyond belief, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that Paul Keyes took over as executive producer from George Schlatter that year. Keyes was a Nixon fan and produced the horrible albeit hugely successful John Wayne special Swing Out, Sweet Land in 1970, and his juvenile touch is evident throughout the show, like the woman whose sole purpose is to say “whoopee” in each show. During Schlatter’s heyday, Laugh-In probably would’ve splashed water and dropped the floor on Strunk singing his hit like they did with Sammy Davis Jr. when he scored with “I’ve Got to Be Me.”

  6. porky

    I love the ABC/Dunhill* era of the Four Tops, what great, wistful records. Chalk it up to Levi Stubbs and the guys for sure, but also the team of Lambert and Potter whose names turn up everywhere in that time-frame.

    L&P had Haven/Capitol as their playground, so to speak, bringing back the Righteous Brothers for another chart run and amazing records by Gene Redding and Evie Sands. And the Grass Roots’ scandalous “Mamacita.”

    * Interesting that when the Tops hit with “Keeper of the Castle” Motown dumped nearly the groups’ entire output onto the market via the Motown Yesteryear Series of back to back “oldies.”

    1. JP

      Well, that’s what record labels DO…they reissue their old hits. I don’t think Motown was trying to cash in on the Four Tops’ success at another label. There were a million other acts in the Yesteryear series as well.

  7. Guy K

    I became a Jim Croce fan at age 10 and have been one ever since. “One Less Set of Footsteps” might be my favorite song of his. The man had a gift.

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