Got to Get You Into My Life

I can’t tell you when I first heard the Beatles. I remember seeing The Beatles cartoon series during its original network run, and the music didn’t seem unfamiliar or strange, but I was also maybe seven years old. As a radio listener in the early 70s, I heard them often enough so that I bought the blue 1967-1970 compilation at some point in maybe 1974.

Neither can I tell you when I first heard the reissued “Got to Get You Into My Life” in 1976. Probably during the first full week of June, when it first appears on the survey from WLS in Chicago (although its first listing at ARSA is from KTKT in Tucson, Arizona, during the week of May 28). It makes the Hot 100 on June 12 at #54 and goes 29-18-12-10 after that. On July 17, it reaches #8, during the same week Paul’s “Silly Love Songs” slips to #9. On July 24, “Got to Get You Into My Life” hits its Hot 100 peak, #7, where it stays for three weeks. (In all of those weeks, it shares the Top 10 with the Beach Boys’ “Rock and Roll Music,” the first time the two bands have been in the Top 10 together since 1966.) On August 14, it slides to #19, and begins a leisurely six-week fall: 23-38-53-60-59-99 and then out, gone from the chart dated October 2, 1976. Final tally is 16 weeks on the Hot 100, 11 in the Top 40, and five in the Top 10.

The song hit #1 at WLS in Chicago on July 7, where it stayed for three weeks. It also recorded local #1s in Louisville, Dayton, and Anniston, Alabama. Between the Fourth of July and the middle of August, you could not have listened to Top 40 radio anywhere in America for more than a couple of hours without hearing it.

(“Got to Get You Into My Life” was the first single from the Rock and Roll Music compilation, which would eventually reach #2 on the Billboard album chart, trailing only Wings at the Speed of Sound.)

A weird little oddment surrounding the chart history of “Got to Get You Into My Life” is that WAKY in Louisville listed the B-side, “Helter Skelter,” without “Got to Get You Into My Life,” on its chart from April 19 through May 24. The songs are listed together on the WAKY chart dated June 7 (although the May 31 chart is missing from ARSA). I’ve read that “Helter Skelter” was originally intended to be the plug side, and the chart listing from WAKY indicates that could be true. But “Helter Skelter” is enigmatic and dark. Its connections to the Manson Family were well-known, thanks to Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 book with the same title and the TV miniseries based on it, which had aired in the spring of 1976. Given all that, it’s unlikely that “Helter Skelter” would have hit the way “Got to Get You Into My Life” did. A hot-n-happy summertime single from the Beatles? Yes please.

If “Got to Get You Into My Life” marked the brief resurgence of American Beatlemania, it was nothing like what happened in the UK during 1976. In March, EMI reissued 22 Beatles singles, seven of which ended up on the British charts: “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “Paperback Writer,” “Get Back,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Help,” and “Back in the USSR.” But I don’t know if any of those songs would have become big American hits in 1976. We’d been there and done that.

However: the novelty of a “new” Beatles song (originally from Revolver) made “Got to Get You Into My Life” a no-brainer for American radio. There’s nothing else in the Beatles’ catalog like it, thanks to the horn section, three trumpets and two tenor saxophones, closely miked. (The horns lead people to describe it as “Motown-influenced,” although it was written and recorded at a time when the Beatles noodled with the idea of recording at Stax.) The song’s hard-hitting introduction jumped off the radio and would not be ignored. Ringo thwacks his kit with authority, George’s lead guitar is jangly and dissonant, and Paul brings it like a soul singer. It sounds like a 70s record.

One of the many things I remember fondly about the summer of 1976 was experiencing the Beatles on the radio in real time, which I had missed by virtue of discovering WLS only weeks after “The Long and Winding Road” dropped off the charts. Decades later, “Got to Get You Into My Life” still has powerful summer-of-76 mojo. If you’re looking for me today, I’ll be over here listening to it again.

(The picture at the top of this post was snagged from the great Retro Music Ads.)

June 2, 1953: I’m Walking Behind You

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Too far back? Let’s do it anyway. 

June 2, 1953, is a Tuesday. Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in London’s Westminster Abbey. It is the first coronation ever to be televised. American TV networks compete to be the first to show it; NBC wins the race by 13 minutes. It’s revealed today that two members of a British expedition to Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, reached the summit last Friday. They are the first people ever to do so; their expedition is the first to succeed after eight failed attempts. Also today, President Eisenhower receives a memo summarizing public opinion on the Korean War. Each of four polls taken since October of 1952 shows that over 50 percent of Americans believe the war has not been worth fighting. Although a narrow plurality of respondents believes an armistice along the current battle line represents a failure of the war effort, a strong majority would approve if the war ended along that line. At Taegu Air Base in South Korea, a court martial begins for Air Force Staff Sergeant Guiseppe Cascio, the first American accused of espionage during the Korean War. Future pro golfer Craig Stadler and future academic Cornel West are born.

In Waycross, Georgia, Saunders Super Market offers US good round steak for 79 cents a pound, Sunnyland sugar cured hams for 69 cents a pound, and Swift’s premium franks for 59 cents in a one-pound package. The Lyric theater in Waycross is currently showing Titanic starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. At the Ritz, moviegoers can see The Thief of Venice starring Maria Montez and Paul Christian. In South Carolina’s Fourth Congressional District, Democrat Robert T. Ashmore is chosen in a special election to replace Representative Joseph Bryson, who died in office last March. The Michigan legislature passes a bill regarding the funding of public libraries. In Minnesota, a new state regulation makes it illegal for a member of a city council to also serve as a county weed inspector.

For your entertainment tonight, NBC-TV’s lineup includes The Milton Berle Show and the game show Two for the Money, which is also heard on NBC radio. Also on NBC radio tonight are episodes of Fibber McGee and Molly and The Martin and Lewis Show. CBS-TV highlights include City Hospital and the anthology show Suspense; CBS radio presents People Are Funny, hosted by Art Linkletter, Mr. and Mrs. North, and My Friend Irma. ABC’s TV lineup includes the sitcom Beulah; on radio, ABC presents the first episode of the adventure series Space Rangers.

In the majors, the Milwaukee Braves beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 3-2 at Ebbets Field to take a half-game lead in the National League thanks to Andy Pafko’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth; Lew Burdette gets the win in relief. In the American League, the first-place Yankees get a win with late-game heroics of their own. A ninth-inning home run by first baseman Joe Collins, his second circuit clout of the game, pushes New York past the Chicago White Sox 4-3. The Sox get two hits in the bottom of the ninth off Allie Reynolds in relief of starter Eddie Lopat but can’t score.

On the Cash Box singles chart dated May 30, “Song From Moulin Rouge” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra is #1 for a fourth straight week. “April in Portugal” by Les Baxter and His Orchestra is #2; a version by Richard Hayman and His Orchestra is listed along with Baxter. Hayman’s recording of “Ruby” is #3. Eddie Fisher’s “I’m Walking Behind You” makes a strong move from #10 to #4. Frankie Laine is at #5 with “I Believe,” co-listed with a version by Jane Froman. Also among the top songs this week are “Pretend” by Nat King Cole at #7 and former #1 hit “The Doggie in the Window” by Patti Page at #9 (with a parody version by Homer and Jethro at #22). Bill Haley and Haley’s Comets are at #29 with “Crazy, Man, Crazy.” The oldest record on the chart is “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” by Perry Como, in its 26th week. It was #1 for three weeks back in January.

Perspective From the Present: At the end of July, the Korean War would end with an armistice; Guiseppe Cascio was found guilty of spying and sentenced to 20 years at hard labor. “Song From Moulin Rouge” would spend four more weeks atop the Cash Box chart before “I’m Walking Behind You” started a five-week run. “Crazy, Man, Crazy” was Bill Haley’s first national hit. It contains the DNA of rock ‘n’ roll, still in the test tube.

Creativity and Boundaries

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Last week, I wrote that ChatGPT and other large language AI models are “world changing technology on the scale of the wheel and the light bulb, and we’re treating it like it’s Candy Crush on our cell phones.” The snowballing enthusiasm for AI art shows just how unprepared we are for AI’s implications. We are already seeing attempts to recreate the work of dead artists or “improve” existing works of art. Sure, some of it looks cool, or sounds cool. And for the average distracted citizen of this poor ruined world, that’s enough to make it a good thing.

But it’s not good, because AI art is not art. It’s a magic trick that devalues all art and all artists. Not only that, it turns the promise of AI on its head: wasn’t AI (or automation, as it was known in analog days) supposed to replace all of the menial jobs and free human beings to create art and music, instead of doing exactly the opposite?

In a recent story in Spin by digital entrepreneur Les Borsai suggests that artists could use AI tools to keep performing music at a high level even as they age. What he does not overtly say, but which is implied by the piece, is after artists die, AI could continue to produce “new” music by them. Borsai concludes, “So let’s raise a glass to the future of music, where creativity transcends boundaries, and artists can achieve a unique form of immortality!”

Louder for the people in the back: fuck that.

It is a sad thing when artists lose their fastball as they age, or when they die, but using AI to keep them viable, or “alive,” would not represent an artistic triumph to celebrate. In life, it’s fraudulent. In death, it’s grave robbery. Many of those who are excited by it are excited about the revenue streams flowing from AI art without caring about the art itself. These people are enemies of art, who should be fought as hard as we’d fight any other enemy trying to destroy what we believe in and value.

Some other stuff that you might find interesting is on the flip:

Continue reading “Creativity and Boundaries”

Measuring Life

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“It’s graduation week at my old school.” I wrote that line in a post 13 years ago this week, and it’s true again. I had a nephew graduating from my old school then; this week it’s a niece. Here’s more of that old post, with commentary. Some links have been updated or added.

The Mrs. and I have no children of our own, so we watch our nephews and nieces grow, and we measure our lives by theirs. It’s not just living vicariously through their experiences. It’s re-living too.

Another of our nephews is ending his junior year. At the end of that year, I was in love, and I felt like I had life pretty much figured out. That was the summer I started off by working at the gas station and the grocery store, but early August I had quit one job and been fired from the other. Got your life figured out? Not so fast, kid.

That nephew is one of the lucky people who set his eye on a very specific dream job and then got it. It’s too soon to know how everything will turn out for him, but so far, so good.

Still another nephew is wrapping up eighth grade. Sometime that spring—and it might as well have been the last week of May—we had that fire in our house, the one that reshaped the whole summer.

I used to believe that nephew was going to become either a novelist or a stoner. He is neither today, but he still has a unique personality among our entire brood.

A couple of our nephews just turned 10. Like they are, I would have been wrapping up fourth grade. One of them is deeply into sports, as I was. The other is a bright, earnest little guy who reminds me of myself, nurturing his pet obsessions and eager to be liked. Let’s hope for his sake he doesn’t go full geek over the next several years, as his uncle did.

The one who was deeply into sports still is, a talented college baseball player who graduated this week and now has to figure out what’s next beyond baseball. The “bright, earnest little guy” did not go full geek; he soon became the coolest person in any room he walked into, and he still is.

I have one niece and one nephew who are turning eight this year; one is finishing second grade and the other first. In my life, those years were time without a calendar, as all time was before the fall of 1970. In first grade and half of second, I rode the bus to Lincoln School … Midway through second grade, many of my friends and I transferred to newly built Northside School, which seemed like a great adventure then, but was also a lesson in the profound effects of change.

The niece is now in college. The nephew went to tech school and got off to a rocky start in his chosen career, but things are better now. I have no doubt that he’s been imbued with the same sense of responsibility his father and his uncles got growing up, and he’ll be fine.

How many kids are left to count? A nephew who’s six, a niece who’s five, a nephew who’s four—representing years that are hazier still, first days of kindergarten and days before that, toys on the dining room floor, overnights at Grandma’s house, and back to the very beginning of everything.

The nephew who was six grew up believing he was bound for college, then decided college was not his proper path and found a better one. The nephew who was four is an athlete like his brother. Since my original post was written, we added one more niece, who will soon be 12, and we look forward to seeing who she’s going to be.

The nephew who graduated in 2010 is married now and is one of the good people in this world. The niece who was five in 2010 is the one graduating this weekend, bound for the college The Mrs. and I attended, which pleases us greatly.

I worry for these kids. Their futures are deeply uncertain, through absolutely no fault of their own. I have not asked any of them if they’re worried, however, and I don’t plan to. When you are young, the future is what it is. You face it a day at a time, and you do the best you can in the moment. I hope these kids will do better with their moments than my generation did with ours.

The Robots Are Coming

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(Necessary disclaimer: opinions are my own and not my employer’s or anyone else’s, not now and not ever.)

Do I need to explain what radio voicetracking is? That’s when a jock records their talk bits hours or days ahead of when the bits will actually air. Hit the record button, listen to the last few seconds of whatever precedes our track, say what we’re going to say when the little light goes on, then hit another button when we’re done talking to trigger the next element. By not having to sit through the songs and the commercials, it is possible to track a show that’s several hours long in vastly less time. It is also possible for voicetrackers to be heard on stations in markets far distant from where they live.

A hill on which I would die is that doing a radio show is crafting, like building a birdhouse or throwing a pot. So I prepare a tracked show just like a live one. Whether it’s just one hour or several, I script everything in advance. I have recommended this approach to other jocks, but they tell me it would take them too much time. (I always wonder why a person would go into radio if not to spend time doing radio things, but I guess that’s none of my business.) A voicetracker can walk into a studio and bang out a five-hour show in a relatively few minutes, but it’s gonna be mostly rote DJ stuff, which does little to really command a listener’s attention. Like any other craft, the result you get out of your work is proportional to the time you put into it.

I am forever concerned that my tracked shows don’t sound the same as my live ones. Doing a show in real time means that my talk breaks have a more lively and positive energy than voicetracked breaks, which tend to be more sterile. I am not actor enough to fake that energy to my own satisfaction, although honesty compels me to report that I don’t know if my listeners perceive a difference.

People want to debate whether voicetracking is good, but that ship sailed years ago. What we ought to be debating right now is AI.

Last week, Fred Jacobs published a guest post at his site from veteran radio executive Tom Langmyer, talking about what artificial intelligence might mean for radio, especially as it relates to voicetrackers. One point I had not considered is the ability of an AI “voicetracker” to respond to events on the fly. Langmyer tells about one radio station group that pulled all of the Gordon Lightfoot songs it had scheduled on the weekend after his death because the voicetracking was already done, and it would sound weird to play a Lightfoot song without mentioning that he had died. (At least they cared enough to do that much.) An AI “voicetracker” could have accounted for this, and could certainly update other stuff in real time as well. Certainly this would be a vast improvement over the by-necessity-generic nature of conventional voicetracks.

Langmyer doesn’t mention the very first thing I thought of, however: if an AI “voicetracker” is good, why not replace all of the jocks with AI, which will work for free (after the initial expense), never take vacation or sick days, and won’t bitch about anything ever?

The promise of voicetracking was that a station in West Overshoe could sound like it had major-market talent, which did not turn out to be true everywhere. AI offers a similar promise, only at a more sophisticated level. Will it deliver? I don’t know. Will stations—especially the major chains, drowning in debt with worthless stock—embrace it regardless of whether it delivers what it promises, because of the cost savings?

Yeah, about five minutes after it becomes practical.

Afterword: I have watched the rise of ChatGPT and similar large language AI models with absolute horror. We are not remotely ready for the implications of them. Corporations and entrepreneurs alike are forging ahead with such applications in search of financial windfalls without giving a single microscopic damn about the havoc it is likely to cause. Even if you aren’t concerned about rogue AI exterminating humanity, you ought to have practical and ethical concerns: about the proliferation of deepfakes, about plagiarism, and about whether we really need to hear the Beatles doing Kanye West songs or some shit.

This stuff is world-changing technology on the scale of the wheel and the light bulb, and we’re treating it like it’s Candy Crush on our cell phones. 

A Soundtrack for Everyday People

Earlier this week, I wrote that the way we perceive 1968—as a time of turmoil and change—is not necessarily the way it felt to many people living through it. Millions of Americans worked their jobs and raised their families and went on day-by-day without feeling continually buffeted by the currents of history. As for the music of 1968, we remember it as a wildly creative time. The greatest stars were at the peak of their powers, from London to Detroit to Los Angeles.

But just as each day did not feel like an entry in the history books to those who were living them, daily listening didn’t necessarily feel like it either. Behold the Billboard Easy Listening chart dated May 18, 1968, pictured at the top of this post. (As always, click to embiggen.) Consider it the soundtrack for everyday people, born in the first third of the 20th century, going about their lives with the radio on.

The list is extremely light on the pop stars we remember as the titans of the age, the ones favored by the kids who grew up to write the histories of 1968. Simon and Garfunkel have two hits on the list, “Mrs. Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair,” but that’s it. A trippy hippie might gravitate to the folky/ethnic sound of “The Unicorn,” or to “Master Jack” by Four Jacks and a Jill, Spanky and Our Gang’s “Like to Get to Know You,” and “Goin’ Away” by the Fireballs. But there are no Beatles, no Motown stars, and no Laurel Canyon folkies on the list.

But wait a minute: five of the top 11 songs on Easy Listening during this week were also in the Top 10 of the Hot 100: “Honey,” “The Good the Bad and the Ugly,” “The Unicorn,” “Do You Know the Way to San José,” and “Mrs. Robinson.” “Honey” and “Love Is Blue” had been #1 on the Hot 100. “This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, new on the Easy Listening chart in this week, would spend a month at #1 on the Hot 100 in the summer. The distinctions we’d make today between the kids’ music and older styles weren’t always the distinctions the kids made themselves in 1968. It would have not been remotely uncommon for a teenager to walk out of a record store with “Lady Madonna,” “Mony Mony,” and “Honey” during this week.

However, apart from the Hot 100 hits, the Easy Listening chart is full of stuff with mainly adult appeal, the sort of thing that would have been a staple of shows like Dick Whittinghill’s on KMPC in Los Angeles, mentioned in my earlier post. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and Sammy Davis Jr. are all in the Top 20. Al Martino is riding high with his version of “Lili Marlene,” which is another song I knew before I knew that I knew it, absorbed and remembered thanks to Mother and Dad’s radio, same as “The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. Popular nightclub and TV acts of the moment such as the Lettermen, Jack Jones, Ed Ames, Jerry Vale, and Nancy Wilson share space with stars of an older generation, Margaret Whiting and the Mills Brothers. There are prominent bandleader/composers and instrumentalists, not just Herb Alpert and Paul Mauriat but Henry Mancini, Roger Williams, and Raymond Lefevre. Young Tom Jones and young Engelbert Humperdinck are here; so is rising star Glen Campbell and early 60s pop mainstays Bobby Vinton and Connie Francis. Ethnic flavor comes from Trini Lopez, although his song is as countrypolitan as Eddy Arnold’s; Erroll Garner adds a bit of jazz. The great Memphis impresario Willie Mitchell is on the chart under his own name with “Soul Serenade.” So are King Richard’s Flugel Knights, an act we have discussed at this website before. Dick Behrke’s studio group hit the Easy Listening chart six times without ever making the Hot 100, which is among the most ever.

The appeal of this stuff to a salesman listening on his car radio as he calls on clients, or to his wife listening on the kitchen radio as she tries to finish her daily chores before the kids get home from school, should be obvious. It’s tasteful and melodious and relatable. It expresses adult emotions in adult ways. If it doesn’t place great intellectual demands on the salesman or his wife, that’s fine. They’ve got enough things to think about already.