It’s Your Thing

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(Pictured: the Rascals. Clockwise from top left: Felix Cavaliere, Dino Danelli, Eddie Brigati, and Gene Cornish.)

I have another reader question to answer, from Bean Baxter, former morning guy at KROQ in Los Angeles, now in London: “What’s the greatest Top Ten Billboard chart of them all?”

My official answer is: “I don’t know.” It would take a vast amount of time and effort to look at and rank every one of them. But Bean pointed in the right direction when he observed, “Gotta be one of those Stones, CCR, Supremes, Aretha, etc. lists from the sixties, right?” I should think so. I can think of one off the top of my head that’s a pretty good candidate: September 24, 1966. Take a look at this:

1. “Cherish”/Association
2. “You Can’t Hurry Love”/Supremes
3. “Sunshine Superman”/Donovan
4. “Yellow Submarine”/Beatles
5. “Bus Stop”/Hollies
6. “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”/Temptations
7. “Black Is Black”/Los Bravos
8. “96 Tears”/? and the Mysterians
9. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”/Beach Boys
10. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”/Four Tops
11. (bonus track) “Eleanor Rigby”/Beatles

But the thing is, you can grab any week practically at random from the last half of the 1960s and see something similar. Here’s August 17, 1968:

1. “People Got to Be Free”/Rascals
2. “Hello I Love You”/Doors
3. “Classical Gas”/Mason Williams
4. “Born to Be Wild”/Steppenwolf
5. “Light My Fire”/Jose Feliciano
6. “Stoned Soul Picnic”/Fifth Dimension
7. “Turn Around, Look at Me”/Vogues
8. “Sunshine of Your Love”/Cream
9. “Grazing in the Grass”/Hugh Masekela
10. “Hurdy Gurdy Man”/Donovan

October 9, 1965:

1. “Yesterday”/Beatles
2. “Hang on Sloopy”/McCoys
3. “Treat Her Right”/Roy Head
4. “Eve of Destruction”/Barry McGuire
5. “The ‘In’ Crowd”/Ramsey Lewis Trio
6. “Catch Us If You Can”/Dave Clark Five
7. “You’ve Got Your Troubles”/Fortunes
8. “Baby Don’t Go”/Sonny and Cher
9. “You Were on My Mind”/We Five
10. “Do You Believe in Magic”/Lovin’ Spoonful

July 1, 1967:

1. “Windy”/Association
2. “Groovin'”/Young Rascals
3. “Little Bit o’ Soul”/Music Explosion
4. “San Francisco”/Scott McKenzie
5. “She’d Rather Be With Me”/Turtles
6. “Respect”/Aretha Franklin
7. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”/Frankie Valli
8. “Let’s Live for Today”/Grass Roots
9. “Come on Down to My Boat”/Every Mother’s Son
10. “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”/Petula Clark

Regarding 7/1/67, whether you agree with the greatness of the list might come down to how you feel about “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” which I happen to like, even as I acknowledge it’s not in the same league with “Windy,” “Groovin’,” and “Respect.” And as I go randomly poking around amongst the charts, I frequently find instances in which one song unbalances an otherwise exceptional list, as on April 19, 1969:

1. “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In”/Fifth Dimension
2. “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”/Blood Sweat and Tears
3. “It’s Your Thing”/Isley Brothers
4. “Hair”/Cowsills
5. “Only the Strong Survive”/Jerry Butler
6. “Twenty-Five Miles”/Edwin Starr
7. “Galveston”/Glen Campbell
8. “Time Is Tight”/Booker T and the MGs
9. “Dizzy”/Tommy Roe
10. “Sweet Cherry Wine”/Tommy James and the Shondells

“Dizzy” had been in the Top 10 since February, and it kept “Proud Mary,” “Traces” by the Classics IV, and “Time of the Season” from getting to #1, so it’s got a lot to answer for.

Similarly, September 25, 1971, which is a punchbowl with something floating in it:

1. “Go Away Little Girl”/Donny Osmond
2. “Maggie May”-“Reason to Believe”/Rod Stewart
3. “Ain’t No Sunshine”/Bill Withers
4. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”/Joan Baez
5. “Spanish Harlem”/Aretha Franklin
6. “Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey”/Paul and Linda McCartney
7. “Smiling Faces Sometimes”/Undisputed Truth
8. “Superstar”/Carpenters
9. “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”/Dramatics
10. “I Just Want to Celebrate”/Rare Earth

(Digression: It is hard for me to judge weeks in the 1970s because I can’t always separate the quality of the songs from the quality of the associations I have with them. On that basis, I nearly chose July 10, 1976, as the answer to Bean’s question, but that ain’t right and I’m not doing it.)

Similar to that 9/25/71 chart is this one from June 16, 1984, with one song that fouls it up. You’ll have to guess which one.

1. “Time After Time”/Cyndi Lauper
2. “The Reflex”/Duran Duran
3. “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”/Deniece Williams
4. “Oh Sherrie”/Steve Perry
5. “Sister Christian”/Night Ranger
6. “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll”/Huey Lewis and the News
7. “Self Control”/Laura Branigan
8. “Jump (For My Love)”/Pointer Sisters
9. “Dancing in the Dark”/Bruce Springsteen
10. “Borderline”/Madonna

I could go on pulling charts like this all day, but it doesn’t have to be me. If you have sufficient time on your hands to get into it, nominate some other week for all-time-best-top-10, in the comments. (Billboard‘s Hot 100 site can be searched by date.)

Weekend Listening: If you were interested in Kent Kotal’s Top 3333 Most Essential Classic Rock Songs list when it was unveiled back in March, you may be interested in hearing a series of programs about it this weekend. They’ll be right here starting this afternoon (Friday 5/22) at 3PM US Central.

One Last Thing: Check the comments on yesterday’s post for stories about ways radio stations used CB radio back in the day.

Welcome Back

I was amusing myself the other day at American Radio History, as one does, poking through the edition of Radio and Records dated May 21, 1976.

Item: “Dean Hallem, PD of WRNW of Westchester, New York, has done some heavy investigative reporting and claims to have discovered that the cut ‘Memory Motel’ on the current Rolling Stones album is in fact a real place in Montauk, Long Island. He called the owner, invited her to the radio station, and conducted an in-depth interview in which she shared with the station’s listeners an extensive history of the motel. One of the fascinating points that she brought up is the fact that many years ago a young boy had died at the motel and that’s why it’s called Memory Motel. There’s even a plaque on the premises commemorating the situation. Dean doesn’t want to hog this valuable information so he taped the interview and is willing to share it with other [album-rock radio stations] around the country. Stations wishing to obtain a free [copy] should call him. . . .”

Comment: One hopes Hallam’s “in-depth interview” eventually got to the interesting parts of the story. The Stones spent some time at Andy Warhol’s estate in Montauk during 1975, and they caused quite a stir. They supposedly visited the Memory Motel bar one night to drink and play pool. The owners didn’t like them, but Mick and Keef found the place memorable enough to title a song after it.

Item: “As any good production man knows, editing is actually quite an art. Witness the new action on the Manhattans release ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye.’ Before the edited version, it was tough getting Pop/Adult airplay. Things now seem much brighter for continued airplay.”

Comment: The edit to which R&R refers involves snipping off the original’s long, spoken introduction and starting the record after the last of it: “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye,” which made the record a lot more palatable to adult-contemporary and Top 40 stations. It worked: “Kiss and Say Goodbye” would end up one of the biggest hits of the year.

Item: “KFXM/San Bernadino’s new CB request line is serving a dual purpose for the station. During peak traffic periods in the area, listeners can use their CBs to call the station with trafic conditions. Reports can’t be directly rebroadcast over the air, so the caller’s name and report are taken off the CB and mentioned on KFXM.”

Comment: I am not entirely sure how a CB radio request line would have worked; presumably the station was monitoring a single CB channel and telling listeners to use it to contact them. I suppose that once I got used to it, having to respond to CB radio calls in the studio would be no worse than answering the telephone, although maybe the newsroom was monitoring CB chatter just as they would have done with police scanner traffic. That would, however, require a busy reporter to take time out of the day to tell me that Becky from San Berdoo wants to hear “Boogie Fever.”

Item: Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the big chart on the back page of the magazine (seen at the top of this post; click to embiggen) was fairly static. Songs receive a bullet if they are gaining in popularity among reporting stations, but only 14 of 40 songs on the chart get one. “Silly Love Songs” by Wings holds at #1 for a second week but maintains its bullet; “Welcome Back,” “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” and “Shannon” continue to hang on right behind. “Disco Lady,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Show Me the Way,” three of the biggest hits of the spring, are still getting airplay, as is “December 1963,” which first charted in the winter.

Also on the back page is a list of active album cuts, which many Top 40 stations would have been mixing in, especially at night. It includes three cuts from Led Zeppelin’s Presence: “Hots on for Nowhere,” “Candy Store Rock,” and “Royal Orleans.” (Although it’s now considered a minor entry in the Zeppelin catalog, Presence was extremely popular on radio in 1976.) The list also includes Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” which would have been the live version from his then-current Here and There album.

Comment: If I ever think of anything new to say about the hit music of 1976, you’ll be the first to know.

The Before Times

In your home, right now, you can probably look up from your device and see objects that you have invested with meaning: the anniversary picture on a wall, the family heirloom on a bookshelf, the concert or game ticket tacked to a bulletin board. Your eyes skim over them frequently on the way to looking at something more compelling. But if you look and linger, you sometimes find yourself feeling what you felt when those objects came into your life, remembering what they represent.

The BBC recently asked people to share the last “normal” photo on their cameras, taken before the virus crisis began. The picture at the top of this post is mine. It was taken on Sunday March 8, when The Mrs. and I were in Minneapolis to watch the Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team.

It was the end of a busy week. The preceding Saturday, February 29, was my birthday; Sunday March 1 was the first birthday party I’d had since I was eight. Wednesday the 4th I traveled to Minnesota for what was supposed to be a three-week trip; on Friday the 6th, Ann came up to join me for the hockey weekend, a trip we’ve made several times in the last few years.

We knew about the virus by then. We were already washing our hands umpteen times a day. But we didn’t fear crowds yet. On Saturday the 7th we pregamed in a bar where people were shoulder-to-shoulder (pictured), and we postgamed at places that were equally crowded. After the game on Sunday we drove an hour up the road to where I would be teaching on Monday; Monday morning we had breakfast in a restaurant with whiteray and his Texas Gal before The Mrs. headed back to Madison. That night after class, I sat elbow-to-elbow with fellow barflies in a brewery taproom. On Tuesday the 10th, I had dinner in a crowded restaurant, once again at the bar. By the next day, the United States was starting to shutter. On Saturday the 14th, I taught what turned out to be my last class. The next day I went home, my trip cut short; my final dine-in restaurant meal was breakfast at a McDonalds by the interstate. I would work a week of radio after that, but since Wednesday, March 24, I’ve been on lockdown.

Back on the Friday of the hockey weekend, while waiting for me to get to Minneapolis from rural Minnesota, Ann went shopping, and she bought me a couple of sweaters. On March 1, to decorate for the party, she got me a bouquet of birthday balloons. On February 29, when we visited Madison’s Working Draft Beer Company, I put a brewery sticker on my phone case.

I find myself wearing those sweaters a lot more than my other clothes these days. One of the balloons, pictured here on April 26, stayed aloft for over two months. It has since sunk down behind the TV, but it’s still visible from where I sit in the living room. The sticker is still on my phone case, and I find myself fingering the edge of it while I use the phone. Like the pictures in this post, they are artifacts of the Before Times, when life was what life always was, before it started on the way to whatever it will become.

The sticker will fall off, eventually. The deflated balloon will have to be tossed. The sweaters will be put away until fall. New objects will come into my life and yours, and they will have new meanings. In the After Times, we hope that there will be new pictures to take and new tickets to tack up. But when—or whether—that will happen, we don’t know.

We just don’t.

Lots of people believe that the After Times are here, that states “reopening” this week means that the virus has been beaten and that normalcy is returning. But there’s little or no evidence for that, other than fairy tales told by self-serving policitians, and our own fond and forlorn wishes.

These are still the Before Times.

We are still a long, hard road away from whatever we are one day going to be.

Honor Roll

(Pictured: Pee Wee King and his group, originators of “Tennessee Waltz,” one of the 20th century’s biggest hits.)

We’ve mentioned here a time or two the battery of “main” charts Billboard published in the 1950s: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys, and Most Played in Jukeboxes. But from 1945 through 1963, Billboard also published a weekly Honor Roll of Hits. It was a listing by song title, showing the various versions that were available for sale. The Honor Roll of Hits reflects a reality of American popular music from the birth of recorded sound until the 1960s: the song was often more important to record buyers than the artist. In their ads from the pre-1920 Pioneer Era, record companies frequently touted which songs were available with no mention of who recorded them. From the 20s to the early 50s, competing versions of popular songs frequently charted at the same time.

“The Tennessee Waltz” is a representative example, but by no means the only one of its kind. Several versions hit big on the country charts in 1948, the biggest by Pee Wee King, but also in recordings by Cowboy Copas and Roy Acuff. In late 1950, Patti Page released a pop version that became a generational smash, eventually doing 13 weeks at #1. During the week of February 3, 1951, Page’s version was #1 on Best Selling Pop Singles and Most Played in Jukeboxes. It was #2 on the cumbersomely named Most Played Jukebox Folk (Country and Western) Records chart. And it brought 18 other versions trailing behind it onto the Honor Roll of Hits. The 1948 recordings by King, Acuff, and Copas were reissued, and Copas also cut a duet version with Ruby Wright. Other versions that charted were by Guy Lombardo, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, Spike Jones, the Fontane Sisters, and Anita O’Day. And there were eight other versions beyond that.

“Tennessee Waltz” was also #1 on Best Selling Sheet Music during the week of 2/3/51, but beyond the evidence of the charts, that week’s Billboard contains a note that vividly illustrates its popularity: a radio station in Utica, New York, did a fundraiser for the March of Dimes in which a listener who made a donation could request a song. They got so many requests for “Tennessee Waltz” that the DJ on the air raised the price to $50. Billboard reports: “He got five $50 contributions for the M.O.D.” By one online calculator, $50 in 1951 is equivalent to more than $500 today.

I really need to write about Patti Page sometime. A pioneer of multi-track recording, Page made several records in the 50s that everybody would have known: not just “Tennessee Waltz” but “Mockingbird Hill,” “Doggie in the Window,” “Cross Over the Bridge,” and the spectacularly beautiful “Allegheny Moon” and “Old Cape Cod.” She hit the Top 10 as late as 1965 with “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.” Her “Tennessee Waltz” moved six million copies; she’s said to have sold over 100 million in her career.

This post started out to be about one thing and turned into something else, and now I don’t have a good way to tie it all together, so I’m just gonna dump out the last of it and be on my way.

—By the end of the Honor Roll of Hits era, there wasn’t much to see. On the chart issued December 29, 1962, for example, there’s only one version shown for 28 of the 30 entries.

—On the same page of Billboard that has the 12/29/62 Honor Roll of Hits are a pair of charts headed Best Selling Phonographs, Radios, and Tape Recorders, one for monaural equipment and the other for stereo. A note in the headline explains: “These are the nation’s best sellers by manufacturers based on results of a month-long study using personal interviews with a representative national cross-section of record-selling outlets (only) that also sell phonographs, radios and/or tape recorders.” Rankings are based on a weighted point system, the methodology of which is not clearly explained. Charts are published every three months, although Billboard is careful to specify that they reflect sales only during the past month. In this particular week, the top brand on both charts is Webcor. Other brands listed include some you’d recognize, like Decca, Sony, Ampex and RCA Victor, and some you might not, like Voice of Music, Roberts, and Telectro.

If you are looking to get lost for hours as we stay on lockdown, I recommend the Billboard magazine archive at American Radio History. It offers a limitless supply of rabbit holes to crawl into.

Brand-Name Madison

A while back, when I asked what you’d like to read about on here, our good brother HERC asked for some stories about The Lake, the classic-rock station I worked for from 2006 to 2008. I’ve told a few over the years. Here are some more.

—The picture with this post is me, younger and thinner and on remote with the station vehicle, a 1968 VW bus. Its extra-long, on-the-floor gearshift and tricky clutch meant I needed a driving lesson before I could take it out. It wouldn’t get much above 40 on the highway, but everybody who passed you honked and waved.

—I started in mid-June 2006, and I had done maybe two shows before I was asked to host a private wine-and-cigars party for four listeners aboard a sponsor’s boat. If they were disappointed that their host was not one of the brand-name Madison jocks they heard every day but the extremely new weekend guy, they never betrayed it.

—I used only my first name, just Jim, like Cher, or Madonna. No reason; as I recall, it was a spontaneous decision just before I did my first break on the air. When I went to work for another station in the building with another Jim on it, I had to take my last name back, although I still use just Jim on some breaks now and then.

—We did not regularly play new music, but when certain core artists of the classic-rock format released new records, we mixed them in: Aerosmith, Rush, and Bob Seger are three I can remember. For a while, we played one side of a classic album every night at 11:00, and one weekend we played a side at the top of every hour. They had been digitized for use with the station’s automation, but were sourced from vinyl with clicks, pops, and noise intact, some straight from the jocks’ personal collections. I have never told my wife this, but I took in her copy of Billy Joel’s The Stranger only to have it locked into somebody’s office and then packed off to storage or some damn place, and I haven’t seen it since.

—For a while, the station did a noontime feature called Lunch With Little. Jonathan Little was Madison’s most recognizable radio voice from the 60s to the 90s, a Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer, somebody who saw and did everything a radio guy could see and do, and he told stories about it on the show. The first time I was on before him, I ended my last break by saying, “As a kid who grew up listening to Madison radio, I have been waiting all my life to say this: Jonathan Little is next.”

—In 2007, the station hosted a stage at Taste of Madison, the annual Labor Day weekend food festival held on the Capitol Square. At one point, several of the Lake jocks, weekday people and weekenders, were on stage at the same time, firing up the crowd. To be a part of that group was a thrill.

Backstage that day, I talked with Larry Hoppen from Orleans, Robbie Dupree, and others. Joe Lynn Turner from Rainbow told a group of us about being on tour with Ted Nugent, and how one night he spiked the notorious teetotaler’s drink, causing the Motor City Madman to create a scandalous scene in a hotel swimming pool.

—As I understood it, the Lake’s goal was not to win a particular demographic, but to shave enough share points off a crosstown classic-rock competitor to allow another rock station in our building to win the demographic. The Lake had to do this without shaving share points from other stations in our building at the same time. It could not have been an easy needle to thread, but it lasted five years before the company decided to pull the plug, which is about four years longer than a lot of companies might have given it. (By the time that happened—2008—I was working for another station in the building, and two years after that, I started on a second one.)

In January 2019 I wrote, “Just as every radio jock has stories about working at the badly run station in the nowhere town, we all have stories about the most fun we ever had, the best place we ever worked. The Lake is mine.”

We take requests here. If there’s something you’d like me to do—answer a question, write about a song or artist, rank the cuts on an album, dig into a date for the One Day in Your Life treatment, or something else entirely—let me know. 

End of the Line

(Pictured: Charlie T. and Lucky Wilbury.)

After listening to the Shadoe Stevens-hosted American Top 40 show from April 8, 1989, it’s now time to see what was outside the Top 40 in that same week.

42. “Soldier of Love”/Donny Osmond. I am not sure anybody foresaw the 1989 Donny Osmond comeback; he hadn’t charted since 1977, and he hadn’t made the Top 10 since “The Twelfth of Never” in 1973. But “Soldier of Love” would go all the way to #2 on the Hot 100. The video, featuring leather-clad, lip-curling Donny intercut with hot babes dancing, is most of the 80s in four minutes.

47. “Wind Beneath My Wings”/Bette Midler. This song was hugely popular for several years after its 1989 run to #1, a period during which The Mrs. and I were wedding-reception DJs. We enjoyed it a lot; the guy who owned the equipment did the setting-up and the tearing-down, so all we had to do was show up and run the party. I felt like we were pretty good at it; my radio background made me conscious of the need to actually put on a show, instead of just segueing songs one after the other, which is what I often hear when I’m attending a DJ’d party today. But back in that day, “Wind Beneath My Wings” was a popular choice for father/daughter dances, during which Dad, reared on sock-hop music from the 60s and 70s, tried to sway along with his girl at a tempo too lugubrious for dancing. Bette’s version is the most famous, but neither the first nor the best; it should not surprise you that Lou Rawls did it very well.

54. “Let the River Run”/Carly Simon. In the early 00s, the software company I worked for adopted “Let the River Run” as some kind of anthem, and I believe they even paid Carly Simon to appear at a corporate event, or in videos, or something. I don’t remember the details. By the time that happened, I had ceased to care about anything that wasn’t my immediate responsibility, and very little about much of that.

58. “Hearts on Fire”/Steve Winwood. The Roll With It album hit #1 in the States, and the title song was a #1 single. But apart from “Roll With It” and “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do,” the rest of the album is a blur. The songs all sound pretty much the same to me, and whenever it pops up on shuffle, I’m usually ready for it to be over long before it’s over.

62. “It’s Only Love”/Simply Red. This band’s American singles discography is feast-or-famine. They hit the Hot 100 seven times betwen 1986 and 1992. Two of those went to #1: “Holding Back the Years” in 1986 and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” in 1989. Three other singles stalled in the 20s, and two, including “It’s Only Love,” missed the Top 40 altogether.

87. “Come Out Fighting”/Easterhouse. This band had some success in England, but by the time “Come Out Fighting” was released in the States, its original lineup was down to the lead singer alone. The song would spend four weeks on the chart, peaking at #84 despite being pretty good.

88. “Baby Baby”/Eighth Wonder. This British group was more successful in continental Europe and Japan than in either their homeland or the United States. “Cross My Heart” had run to #56 in 16 weeks on the Hot 100 earlier in 1989; “Baby Baby” would peak at #84. Both of them sound more like Madonna than Madonna.

91. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”/Figures on a Beach. I was today years old when I learned about the existence of this cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive original. I think I was a marginally happier person when I didn’t know about it.

95. “End of the Line”/Traveling Wilburys. This and Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” up at #12 are outliers on this chart, throwing back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and the stars who built it. The balance of the hits of April 8, 1989, put a listener in 2020 much more in mind of pop music’s future than its past. I didn’t hear most of it at the time it was popular. I would learn about it in retrospect when I got out of elevator music and back into mainstream adult contemporary in 1990, but I didn’t love much of it.