(Pictured: the Sylvers.)
As 1977 drew to a close, the staff of American Top 40 got ready to put together its annual year-end countdown. Billboard‘s chart year ran from November to November, which created some of the anomalies I wrote about with the 1976 year-end show. In 1977, the staff faced an additional wrinkle. For reasons now lost to history, Billboard‘s year-end tabulation was delayed. Nevertheless, AT40‘s deadlines remained in place. So AT40 statistician Sandy Stert Benjamin was tasked with compiling the show’s own Top 100 based on the weekly Billboard charts from November 1976 to November 1977. That Top 100 aired on the weekends of December 24 and December 31, 1977. Some notes follow:
98. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart. This show doesn’t contain quite as many long versions as the 1976 show did, but I appreciated hearing this one—even though the 4:32 edit is one of the best edits I know of.
61. “Lucille”/Kenny Rogers
26. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell
17. “Car Wash”/Rose Royce
Casey notes that each of these is “jukebox record of the year” for 1977 in various formats: country, pop, and R&B.
53. “Da Doo Ron Ron”/Shaun Cassidy. Casey says that “Da Doo Ron Ron” made David and Shaun Cassidy the first set of brothers to hit #1 separately since Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey did it in the 40s, which is an excellent bit of trivia. David gets credit for “I Think I Love You,” which was officially credited to “the Partridge Family Starring Shirley Jones and Featuring David Cassidy.”
51. “You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. This record did 10 weeks at #1, from mid-October to Christmas week in 1977, the longest run at the top in 20 years. But the deadline for producing the 1977 year-end show fell relatively early in its #1 run, so Debby’s way down here.
35. “You Are the Woman”/Firefall. What AT40 staffer Scott Paton calls “chart creep,” when arbitrary deadlines distorted the rankings, was so egregious here that they had Casey explain it on the air. Even though this record first charted in September 1976, he says, it racked up enough points in 1977 to rank this high.
32. “Muskrat Love”/Captain and Tennille. Casey says that the Captain and Tennille performed this song for Queen Elizabeth II, and weeks later read a magazine article quoting one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, claiming to have been offended by their song about “animals making love.” Casey says the queen was fine with it, though.
28. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer
11. “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”/Leo Sayer
Casey says that of the artists who scored more than one of the Top 100 in 1977, Sayer’s hits rank the highest. Other stars with more than one include Peter Frampton, the Commodores, the Steve Miller Band, KC and the Sunshine Band, Barry Manilow, Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac, Alice Cooper, the Eagles, Stevie Wonder, and ELO.
15. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. It’s doubtful that any of the Top 100 of 1977 have gone further down the memory hole than “Hot Line.” It went to #5 at the end of January and was a #1 hit at KHJ in Los Angeles, WLS in Chicago, and in other cities including San Diego, Tampa, Tucson, and Fort Lauderdale. But as I remember it—which is not all that reliable a guide, I grant you—it didn’t get much airplay after it dropped off the charts.
2. “Tonight’s the Night”/Rod Stewart
1. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”/Andy Gibb
Scott describes Sandy Stert Benjamin’s 1977 chart as “impeccable”—it differed hardly at all from the official and delayed Billboard Top 100. She ended up with 91 of Billboard‘s 100 on her list, and most of the positions were fairly close. One big difference was that Billboard named “Tonight’s the Night” as #1 for the year with Andy Gibb at #2. Scott says, “Billboard’s chart department chief, Bill Wardlow, was not happy about the discrepancy. I believe we may have had to strengthen a disclaimer that we had already stated in the show about the situation and the reasons behind it. Frankly, I’ve always believed that Sandy’s chart was a more accurate reflection of the popular music scene and radio airplay of 1977. ” Me too.
I got a copy of this show from the vast archive of Dr. Mark at My Favorite Decade. Thank you sir. But thanks most of all to Scott and Sandy for their e-mail contributions and memories. They both point out that in the moment, they were just doing a job, never dreaming that decades hence, they’d be answering questions about it from nerds such as I. But, Scott says, “the happy moments still resonate.” Indeed they do, for the people who worked on the show, and for those of us who enjoy it still.
(Pictured: Eric Clapton grins at the camera, Johnny Cash stands at attention, and Jim Gordon checks out a cymbal during a taping of The Johnny Cash Show in November 1970.)
In recent weeks, I’ve written about “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven,” so it’s only fitting that we bring the classic-rock warhorse troika to completion with a look at “Layla.”
Eric Clapton had written “Layla,” about his unrequired love for George Harrison’s wife Patti, as a ballad. When Clapton and Duane Allman met and started playing together, it was Allman who developed the riff that turned it into a rocker. The song’s second half came from a piece Derek and the Dominos’ drummer/pianist Jim Gordon was working on while the band was making Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The story is told that Gordon was taking advantage of unused studio time for his own solo project; when Clapton found out, he said he wouldn’t make an issue of it if he could have that piano piece. Producer/engineer Tom Dowd got the idea of splicing the rockin’ guitar take to the piano piece, and “Layla” became “Layla.”
At ARSA, a newspaper clipping from Salt Lake City shows a radio station there was ranking “Layla” among its top hits in December 1970, but it didn’t begin to get real traction as a single until March 1971. Although it would get only to #51 on the Hot 100 during that chart run, it was a smash in several cities that spring, most notably at WIXY in Cleveland, where it was #1 for three weeks. It was a Top 10 hit in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Denver, and it got airplay on influential stations including WPGC in Washington, WCFL in Chicago, KOIL in Omaha, and KFRC in San Francisco.
The original single release in 1970 contained the first part of the song only. In the spring of 1972, “Layla” was re-released as a single after being included on the compilation albums History of Eric Clapton and An Anthology by Duane Allman (who had died in a motorcycle crash the previous October). One issue of the single contained the full 7:06 version, but Discogs shows another version with “Layla Part 1” on one side and “Layla Part 2” on the other. For what it’s worth, I don’t remember hearing the full version on the radio when it ran to #10 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1972—only the first part. Every American Top 40 show I have heard from that period includes the short version.
I don’t think I heard the full version of “Layla” until I was in high school, maybe five years after it first came out. In college, all of us considered it a classic. Because the college station played it from History of Eric Clapton, we also considered it a Clapton song (as distinct from Derek and the Dominos), and lots of fans still think of it as one.
Part of that is due to the MTV Unplugged version, which got to #12 on the Hot 100 in the fall of 1992, and won the Grammy that Clapton should have won two decades before. On the record, Clapton is heard saying, “See if you can spot this one,” before breaking into an acoustic version of Allman’s riff. I loved the unplugged “Layla” the first few times I heard it, due to its novelty. Now I hear a version without sweat or emotion, with sound quality so pristine that it sounds vacuum-sealed—a characteristic it shares with other MTV Unplugged recordings in my library.
“Stairway to Heaven” has the graceful lines of a sculpture. “Free Bird” is a sad parting that somehow turns into a fireworks display. In the first half of “Layla,” Clapton roars his pain at everyone within earshot; in the second half is the exhausted knowledge that comes afterward: roar all you want, son, but you love her still.
During several hours on the interstate last week, the second installment of American Top 40‘s Top 100 hits of 1976 made a pretty entertaining travel companion. Here’s some stuff about some of it:
41. “Love to Love You Baby”/Donna Summer
24. “Get Up and Boogie (That’s Right)”/Silver Convention
14. “Fly Robin Fly”/Silver Convention
Casey notes that Donna Summer took a five-word phrase, repeated it 28 times, and ended up with a hit. But Donna also had some verses to sing. Silver Convention’s entire lyric output over two songs is four phrases: “get up and boogie,” “that’s right,” “fly robin fly,” and “up up to the sky.”
For what it’s worth, I will ride to the end of the line with both Silver Convention records. Few records open in a more arresting fashion than “Get Up and Boogie,” and “Fly Robin Fly” is a terrific production. One criticism is that it’s too repetitive. Maybe for some people. In my library, I have a 10-minute remix that’s barely enough for me.
42. “Deep Purple”/Donny and Marie Osmond. This ranks above several songs that hit #1 (albeit #1 hits that skated the line between chart years), and that just seems wrong. It peaked at #14, although it did run 23 weeks on the Hot 100, and as we’ll see below, a long chart run counted for a lot.
38. “Turn the Beat Around”/Vicki Sue Robinson
30. “Love Rollercoaster”/Ohio Players
As he’d done in part 1, Casey used some extra-long versions to help fill time on the show.
34. “Moonlight Feels Right “/Starbuck. Casey tells the story of how band members went from radio station to radio station across the South in 1975 delivering copies of their song and trying to get airplay. One station said they’d play it, but not until summertime, since it sounded like a summer hit. Which it turned out to be.
EXTRA: “Nadia’s Theme (The Young and the Restless)”/Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin Jr.
EXTRA: “Happy Days”/Pratt and McClain
The repeat that aired around the country over the 2019 holidays included some extras that didn’t make the original year-end list. Most surprising among them was “Happy Days,” which ran to #5 in the summer. It lasted 14 weeks on the Hot 100, 10 in the Top 40, and five in the Top 10. (Something had to be #101, and I’m betting this was it.) Meanwhile, “Nadia’s Theme” made #8 during a 22-week Hot 100 run, although it peaked after the November 1976 cut-off. (It didn’t make the 1977 chart either.)
11. “Sara Smile”/Hall and Oates
10. “A Fifth of Beethoven”/Walter Murphy
9. “Love Is Alive”/Gary Wright
8. “Love Machine”/Miracles
6. “Kiss and Say Goodbye”/Manhattans
4. “December 1963″/Four Seasons
“Sara Smile,” “A Fifth of Beethoven,” and “Love Machine” tied for the longest chart run of the year: 28 weeks on the Hot 100. Casey notes that “Love Machine” set a chart record for the longest climb to reach #1. It hit #1 in its 13th week in the Top 40 and its 20th week on the Hot 100. “A Fifth of Beethoven” had the longest run in the Top 40: 22 weeks to 19 for “Love Machine.” “Love Is Alive” and “December 1963” did 27 weeks on the big chart; “Kiss and Say Goodbye” 26.
To score big, ride high and last long. And not just on the record charts, I’m told.
5. “Play That Funky Music”/Wild Cherry. Casey says this was the first record by a white group to make #1 on the R&B chart since Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs did it in 1963 with “Sugar Shack,” which is a pretty good piece of trivia.
The first part of this year-end special aired on the weekend of December 25, 1976, and as I noted (and linked to) in my earlier post, it included a montage of every song to hit #1 during the 1976 calendar year. This part of the year-end special aired on the weekend of January 1, 1977, and repeated the montage before the top three hits of the year. Casey teased the latter in spoiler-y fashion, mentioning the titles and then asking, “But in what order?”
3. “Disco Lady”/Johnnie Taylor
2. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Elton John and Kiki Dee
1. “Silly Love Songs”/Paul McCartney and Wings
There’s nothing to argue with here. The three songs did 13 weeks at #1 between them. “Silly Love Songs” did five all by itself, non-consecutive.
And as I said before I started the first part of this, the top three, and the other 97, all play in my head, all the time, with no need for a radio.
(Pictured: Paul Anka strikes a whimsical pose.)
Each year over the holidays, Premiere Radio Networks makes year-end American Top 40 shows available to its affiliates. For the 2019 holiday season one of them was the Top 100 of 1976. This is music that plays in my head without a radio, and music I’ve written about over and over again during the life of this site, so I’ll do my best to think of new things to say about the first installment of the show, from #100 (“Country Boy” by Glen Campbell) to #51, which aired on Christmas weekend 1976.
97. “Disco Duck”/Rick Dees
65. “Island Girl”/Elton John
Casey says that Billboard‘s chart year runs from November to November, although other sources indicate it is sometimes mid-November to mid-November. Either way led to certain anomalies now and then. “Disco Duck” did a week at #1 and 11 weeks in the Top 10 from September to the end of November in 1976, and you’d think that was more than enough to place it higher than several songs that barely scraped into the Top 20 earlier in 1976, but it wasn’t. “Island Girl,” meanwhile, was the fastest-rising #1 hit of 1975, spending three weeks at the top in November. It didn’t make Billboard‘s 1975 list, but according to Joel Whitburn’s ranking system, which goes by Billboard chart peak and weeks charted on the Hot 100 and in Top 40 and Top 10, only two songs were bigger in 1975: the Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention. Putting “Island Girl” in 1976 and short-changing “Disco Duck” are instances of the letter of the law distorting the spirit of the law—although there would have been little for AT40 to do about it at the time. Our friend Scott, who was on the AT40 staff during the late 70s, says records whose runs were divided by the cutoff were “the bane of our existence.”
AT40 faced a similar bane in 1977, when “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart did eight weeks at #1 between mid-November 1976 and early January 1977 and “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone did 10 weeks at #1 between mid-October and Christmas week. And that’s not all the show’s production staff had to deal with that year. There’s a whole post in it, and I hope to get around to writing it in the relatively near future.
91. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”/Neil Sedaka. I believed in 1976 and I still believe today that this MOR version of Sedaka’s 1962 hit is the better one of the two. Hearing it again recently, I’m surprised it’s not considered a standard. Where Sedaka’s cheery 1962 version was his alone, it’s easy to imagine many great singers doing the 1976 arrangement even better than Sedaka did.
88. “Walk Away From Love”/David Ruffin
81. “She’s Gone”/Hall and Oates
73. “Wake Up Everybody”/Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
Casey’s year-end countdowns are always lean and streamlined: no long-distance dedications or other music features, no lengthy stories, just quick intros and outros and on to the next song. But he needed to fill a little bit of time on this show, so the producers used the extra-long album versions of these three songs, and slightly longer album versions of some others. The long “She’s Gone” is the best “She’s Gone,” but I don’t think I’d ever heard the longer “Walk Away From Love” before. Teddy Pendergrass was a master of ad-lib testifying—what he does on the long versions of “The Love I Lost” and “Bad Luck” is epic—but at its full length, “Wake Up Everybody” goes on way too long.
54. “Times of Your Life”/Paul Anka. The Great American Songbook was no longer accepting new submissions by 1976, or else “Times of Your Life” would have made it. I was surprised to hear it all the way up at #54, and to note that it got to #7 on the Hot 100 in February 1976, because I didn’t hear it on the radio much back then, except in Kodak commercials. My main station, WCFL in Chicago, charted it for only three weeks in February before it stopped publishing a survey and changed format in March.
The original first installment of the 1976 countdown ended after #51 (“Dream On” by Aerosmith) with a montage of all the #1 hits of 1976—including “Tonight’s the Night.” The feature was snipped out of the repeat heard on local stations during the 2019 holiday season and offered as an extra. Thanks to the Soft Rock Kid, you can hear it right here.
Watch for a post on the second half of the 1976 year-end survey, eventually.
In every profession, people sit around and tell stories. Car salesmen have stories unique to them. Teachers have theirs. Computer programmers have theirs. Your field, whatever it is, has its stories. And I have mine.
And I suppose that every profession thinks its stories are more colorful than anyone else’s. Radio stories do have certain unique characteristics, though. The job involves more close encounters with celebrities than most other professions. Radio often attracts oddball characters whose personalities range from bent to twisted. Some of my friends and colleagues have partied with rock superstars, seen fellow jocks engage in hilarious or embarrassing behavior (or engaged in it themselves), and have in general had the kind of experiences that you tell about for years after they happen.
My best stories are pretty milquetoast compared to those some of my friends can tell. I did, however, meet some famous people, work with some weirdos, and see some shit. Some of my stories are in the latest episode of my podcast.
—That time a television legend came to my town
—The most surreal job interview I ever had
—The tale of an especially terrible boss
—Brief encounters with curious listeners
You can listen to the episode right here:
Episodes are also available at Google Play, TuneIn and Stitcher, and can also be found at Apple Podcasts, if you swing that way. I appreciate your comments on this episode and others. If you listen on a platform where you can give the episode (or my whole podcast) a like or a positive rating, I hope you will.
(Pictured: Led Zeppelin at work, 1975.)
(Note to patrons: It has been brought to my attention that in last week’s post about “Free Bird,” I misspelled “Lynyrd” every single time. This is a change from my usual practice, which is to misspell “Skynyrd” every single time. Consider it an homage to 14-year-old boys such as I who couldn’t spell either one of them in 1974. Please enjoy today’s post about Lead Zeplin.)
Led Zeppelin released its fabled fourth album (Led Zeppelin IV or Four Symbols or Zoso or Runes or whatever you like to call it) in November 1971. “Black Dog” was released as a single shortly thereafter, and rose to #9 in Cash Box, #10 in Record World, and #15 on the Hot 10. After that, Atlantic Records pressed “Stairway to Heaven” onto 45s for promotional use at radio stations, with the song in stereo on one side and in mono on the other. The existence of this 45 leads to the widespread belief that “Stairway” was released as a commercial 45, but it was not, not in America at least.
According to ARSA, the first station to chart “Stairway to Heaven” was WSRF in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in April 1972, but they’re an outlier. The record didn’t pick up adds in bunches until July and August. CKVN in Vancouver, British Columbia, showed it leaping from #12 to #1 on its chart dated August 7, 1972. It appeared on surveys from such influential stations as WPGC in Washington DC, WCOL in Columbus, Ohio, and WAVZ in New Haven, Connecticut, during the summer. In September, it went to #1 at WAMS in Wilmington, Delaware (just ahead of “Nights in White Satin”). WHYI in Fort Lauderdale made it #1 in September and October; in October and November it was #1 at WFIL in Philadelphia. It was a Top-10 hit in Phoenix, San Diego, and some smaller markets. Another Vancouver station, CKLG, ranked it as the #1 single for all of 1972. WFIL ranked it #7 for the year, and WRKO in Boston had it at #12.
There’s no way to reconstruct the history from ARSA alone, but it would be interesting to know whether these stations played the whole 7:55, or if they cut it shorter. One station that did the latter was WLS in Chicago. But they didn’t do it until 1975.
According to a 2019 post at the WLS Musicradio Facebook group that quotes Jim Smith, who was WLS music director in 1975, management was trying to forestall something they’d seen in other markets—album-oriented rock stations taking audience share away from Top 40s. So WLS elected to start playing some album cuts at night. “Stairway to Heaven” was one of Smith’s first suggestions, but the station’s program director declared that it was too long. (Smith pointed out that the station played other long songs, including “American Pie,” “Mac Arthur Park,” and “Layla,” but was told, “Those were hits.”) Initially, Smith was told to cut it to three minutes. He found a way to cut it to 6:05, and that’s the version that WLS played for a while. He says the station began playing the full-length version only after night jock John Landecker talked to a couple of high-school kids while doing an appearance, found out it was an edit (he didn’t know), and told the program director that the station had to start playing the long version or risk being perceived as un-hip. Smith marveled that listeners had succeeded in persuading the program director where he had not. He was, however, already prepared, he said. “The long version was already on cart, ready and waiting for this inevitable moment.”
As 1975 turned to 1976, Led Zeppelin IV was back on the WLS album chart (with the title Runes). And given how influential WLS was, it’s likely that other Top 40 stations, in markets large and small, followed its lead and added “Stairway to Heaven” to their playlists. (This would have been the time I first heard it.)
At the end of 1976, Atlantic tried to capitalize on the song’s new popularity by releasing another promo 45 of “Stairway to Heaven,” this one featuring the live version from the newly released album The Song Remains the Same. [See comment from our man Yah Shure below; this is another reissue of the original. My bad.] It didn’t go anywhere, but by then, “Stairway to Heaven” didn’t need any additional help. It had become what it remains today.
Recommended Viewing: The documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, which was on CNN earlier this month and is now at Amazon Prime Video and elsewhere. The film is an officially authorized bio and as such is a little bit rose-colored, but it nevertheless does justice to Ronstadt’s historical importance, and just how damn good she was, and it’s mandatory homework for readers of this website.