Len Barry, by the Numbers

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(Pictured: the Dovells, with Len Barry on the far left.)

Len Barry came out of Philadelphia at the turn of the 60s, out of Overbrook High School (alma mater of Wilt Chamberlain and other pro sports stars, along with rapper/actor Will Smith and members of the Delfonics) and the Coast Guard, at a time when when record moguls tried to make stars out of any young man who could carry a tune. He joined the Dovells, a vocal group that scored a handful of hits between 1961 and 1963, most famously “You Can’t Sit Down,” “The Bristol Stomp,” and “Bristol Twistin’ Annie.”

In 1965, Barry hit under his own name with “1-2-3,” which was a smash, going to #1 in Cash Box and #2 on the Hot 100. Thanks to oldies radio, it was once one of those records everybody knew, at least until oldies stations stopped playing 60s music. Among the musicians and singers backing Barry on “1-2-3” were guitarist Bobby Eli, a childhood friend and longtime collaborator of Barry’s who became one of Philadelphia’s major studio stars, especially with the group MFSB; keyboard player Leon Huff, future architect of the Philly soul sound; trumpeter Lee Morgan, famed jazz player pickin’ up a check one year removed from his hit “The Sidewinder;” Valerie Simpson, future Motown songwriter; and members of the Tymes, who had hit in 1963 with “So Much in Love.”

Barry continued to chart after “1-2-3,” but nothing broke as big. In 2011, I told the story of what happened next—one of the great moments in record marketing, a speculation on my part that nevertheless has the ring of truth:

Flash forward to the summer of 1968. Len Barry, three years removed from his biggest hit, is on a new label, and the new label is looking for a score. The thought process is easy to follow: Len Barry is best known for “1-2-3.” Ergo, if we want to get radio stations to notice his new release, shouldn’t it be called “4-5-6”?

Not an unprecedented thought in the entertainment biz then or now—if people like something once, make it a second time and they’ll probably like it again. But there was a flaw in the plan: Somebody would have to write a song called “4-5-6.” What in the hell would a song called “4-5-6” be about? A house number? An area code? A batting average?

It was at this moment some anonymous record executive was seized with a stroke of brilliance worthy of an era 40 years in the future, when no promotional gimmick is too shameless and people will fall for anything. Barry had recorded a song called “Now I’m Alone,” a weeper about a man who has lost his wife and family. In June 1968, that song was released under the title “4-5-6 (Now I’m Alone).”

Never mind that the numerals 4, 5, and 6 do not appear anywhere in it—a radio programmer who remembered “1-2-3” might be persuaded to give it a listen when it crossed his desk, just because of the title on the label.

As it turned out, “4-5-6” didn’t become a hit, although a few stations picked it up. At WRIT in Milwaukee, it rose as high as #14 in August 1968.

A more successful Barry project was the 1969 instrumental hit “Keem-o-Sabe” by the Electric Indian. He originally produced it for his label, Marmaduke, which he co-owned with Philadelphia DJ Hy Lit, although it didn’t become a national hit until after United Artists picked it up. Although Barry likely wrote “Keem-o-Sabe” (and recorded a vocal version of it), it’s credited to Bernice Borisoff, Barry’s mother, and another Philadelphia record mogul, Bernie Binnick. The musicians are all Philadelphia studio cats including Eli, Vince Montana, and other future members of MFSB. Wikipedia claims Daryl Hall is on it too.

From the 70s to the new millennium Barry stayed in the entertainment biz, producing and performing, and he even wrote a novel about growing up in Philadelphia. He died in his home town last week at the age of 79. There’s more about his life and career here.

One More Thing: I was on the air Saturday when the major news organizations called the presidential election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, so I got to tell the people about it. I even broke the format to do it—on the country station, talk breaks have been severely curtailed for a couple of months now—but old radio dogs know when to bark, and it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission anyway. Reading that bulletin was one of the highlights of my radio career.

Butterflies and Evergreens

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(Pictured: Dolly Parton, 1974.)

Instead of the usual look at the Bottom 60 of the Hot 100 that follows an American Top 40 post, I’m gonna go back to a chart I’ve wanted to revisit for a while: the Cash Box Looking Ahead chart, more-or-less equivalent to Billboard‘s Bubbling Under. Both are fine sources of the sort of obscure records we like around here, but Cash Box often seems to cast a wider net. Here’s some of what was on Looking Ahead during the week of November 2, 1974.

103. “Love Is Like a Butterfly”/Dolly Parton. Dolly hit #1 on the Billboard and Cash Box country charts three times in 1974: “Jolene” in January, “I Will Always Love You” in June, and “Love Is Like a Butterfly” in November. A fourth single with her old partner Porter Wagoner, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me,” was also #1 during 1974, but only in Billboard.

105. “Voodoo Magic”/Rhodes Kids
124. “Careful Man”/John Edwards
The Rhodes Kids were on the GRC label; John Edwards was on Aware. Both labels were run by one Michael Thevis who, at one time, controlled 40 percent of the legal and black-market pornography market in the United States, an enterprise worth $100 million. (The record labels were legitimate businesses used to launder money; before the whole thing collapsed, GRC would score one gigantic hit: “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns.) The Rhodes Kids, a seven-member family group discovered by Thevis, claimed to have no knowledge of his porn connections, and to have severed their connections with him when they found out. With and without him, they played Vegas, did TV including American Bandstand, and enjoyed some modest success until the late 70s, when the oldest kids decided to go to college instead. There’s more about the Rhodes Kids here. Edwards was in the Spinners from 1977 to 2000, and he’s on their hit versions of “Working My Way Back to You” and “Cupid.” There’s a good overview of Thevis’ career here.

106. “Please Mr. Postman”/Pat Boone Family. Well knock me over with a feather. There is no reason to believe this version of “Please Mr. Postman” would be any good at all, but it kind of is. It catches more of the Marvelettes’ soul than the Carpenters did.

107. “Walking in the Wind”/Traffic
119. “Train Kept A Rollin'”/Aerosmith
125. “Sally Can’t Dance”/Lou Reed
At this time, Looking Ahead and Bubbling Under were sales charts. (Only later did Billboard start incorporating airplay into its big chart calculations.) These songs were far more likely to be heard by, and be of interest to, album fans than buyers of singles. So just how many 45s of each did the record labels have to move in order to make this chart? It couldn’t have been very many.

110. “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right”/Patti Dahlstrom. As it happens, one of the leading experts on the career of Patti Dahlstrom is part of our little circle of nerds, so I refer you to whiteray at Echoes in the Wind.

112. “Evergreen”/Booker T. In 1974, Stax Records had yet to collapse, but Booker T. Jones was already gone. He moved to California and signed with Epic to release Evergreen, which one website calls “a laid-back roots album . . . far from the greasy soul-funk sound of the MGs.” Nevertheless, the instrumental “Evergreen” has that unmistakable Booker T. feel.

115. “Shoe Shoe Shine”/Dynamic Superiors. “Shoe Shoe Shine” not only appears at #115 on the Looking Ahead chart, it’s also at #99 on the regular Cash Box chart in this same week. (Proofreading and fact-checking are hard, a truth proven again and again over the 16-year history of the website you are reading.) The Dynamic Superiors were a Washington, DC-based group on Motown, fronted by Tony Washington, an openly gay man in a time before such a thing became widely accepted. His story and the story of the group, which is mighty interesting, is here.

122. “Roses Are Red My Love”/Wednesday. This group was big in Canada, where their cover of the death-rock classic “Last Kiss” went to #2. It was #34 in the States (in Billboard), but a smash in Chicago, where WLS charted it at #1 for a week in March 1974. The group went back to the well less successfully with “Teen Angel” that summer. “Roses Are Red My Love,” the old Bobby Vinton hit, was their last shot in America.

123. “My Eyes Adored You”/Frankie Valli. In its first week on the Looking Ahead chart, “My Eyes Adored You” would make #1 in both Cash Box and Billboard in the spring of 1975.

A Beautiful Lie

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(Pictured: Kiki Dee on stage in 1974.)

I have written a lot about the fall of 1974 at this website over the years. Were I ranking seasons of the 70s, it’s top-five, and maybe top-three. In reviewing old posts about it, I find that I keep telling a beautiful lie. The fall of 1974 simply could not have been as warm and secure and happy as I remember it. At this distance, however, I’m pretty sure it can’t hurt to remember it that way. We’ll do it with the American Top 40 show from the weekend of November 2, 1974.

40. “You Got the Love”/Rufus
38. “After the Gold Rush”/Prelude
37. “Cat’s in the Cradle”/Harry Chapin

36. “Angie Baby”/Helen Reddy
33. “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)”/Al Green
31. “Wishing You Were Here”/Chicago
26. “When Will I See You Again”/Three Degrees
24. “I’ve Got the Music in Me”/Kiki Dee Band
22. “Longfellow Serenade”/Neil Diamond
21. “Love Me for a Reason”/Osmonds
19. “Everlasting Love”/Carl Carlton
14. “Do It Til You’re Satisfied”/B.T. Express
13. “Carefree Highway”/Gordon Lightfoot
11. “Back Home Again”/John Denver
10. “Tin Man”/America
9. “Stop and Smell the Roses”/Mac Davis
3. “Jazzman”/Carole King
If you are the kind of person whose life has a soundtrack—who can make a playlist that brings vividly back a specific time, person, group, place, or incident—you can understand how this list works on me. I am not a good-enough writer to explain or even describe it. If you know it, you know it. If not, insert shrug emoji here.

35. “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”/Three Dog Night
30. “Rockin’ Soul”/Hues Corporation
12. “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)”/Reunion
You may not remember ’em, or like the ones you do remember, but I will always stan for pure Top-40 pleasures like these.

34. “Second Avenue”/Art Garfunkel
23. “Love Don’t Love Nobody (Part 1)”/Spinners
20. “Overnight Sensation”/Raspberries
These very different records are magnificent achievements in songwriting, production, and performance. “Second Avenue” peaked at #34, “Love Don’t Love Nobody” at #15, and “Overnight Sensation” at #18, but I hope that there is some universe in which they were #1 hits, and I want to go there because it would be better than this one. If you don’t dig ’em, we shouldn’t see each other anymore.

Casey plays the full-length “Overnight Sensation,” which includes a long mid-song fade-out and six seconds of dead silence before it comes back for one more chorus. That’s just mean to weekend radio board operators—the people sitting in the studios playing the AT40 show discs live on the air, back before that became an automated function. Board operators usually listen with only one ear, and they must have freaked out coast-to-coast.

25. “I Can Help”/Billy Swan. The biggest mover on the show this week, up 11 spots. Casey says, “It’s a winner and headed for #1.” In four weeks, his prediction would come true. You cannot fully appreciate how great “I Can Help” sounds until you hear it on an AM radio wave at night, though.

17. “My Melody of Love”/Bobby Vinton. Casey recaps the anomaly of Vinton’s remarkable popularity and his simultaneous anonymity, quoting a magazine article that says nobody knows he sold 11 million records in a recent four-year span. “My Melody of Love,” which features a couple of lines in Polish, will take a mighty leap to #6 next week as it continues to scratch some mysterious American itch of the moment.

15. “Then Came You”/Dionne Warwicke and the Spinners. Casey notes that this record represents only the second time in history that established chart acts paired up to record a #1 hit. (“Somethin’ Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra was the other.) He does not make a big deal about the fact that this was the previous week’s #1 song all the way down here at #15. Maybe because Billy Preston’s “Nothing From Nothing” (on the show at #39) had made the exact plunge two weeks earlier.

8. “Sweet Home Alabama”/Lynryd Skynyrd
7. “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
6. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”/John Lennon
5. “Can’t Get Enough”/Bad Company
4. “The Bitch Is Back”/Elton John
One of these things is not like the others, because it’s the fall of 1974.

2. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive
1. “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”/Stevie Wonder
Back at #39, introducing “Nothing From Nothing,” Casey noted the unusual number of songs on this week’s show with “nothing” in the title. He also teased that there was another new #1 this week, the 30th of 1974, an all-time record. There would eventually be 36, a mark that still stands today and is likely never to be broken.

If you’d like more website content at this time, please leave a message and Jim will return your call when he gets back from 1974. 

November 3, 1964: Leader of the Pack

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(Pictured: Lyndon Johnson goes cow-punching at his ranch on November 4, 1964.)

(While we all go quietly mad waiting for this day to unfold however it’s going to, here’s a brand-new post about a bygone day.)

November 3, 1964, was a Tuesday. It is Election Day. Pre-election headlines in the morning papers include a change at the top in Saudi Arabia, where King Saud has been deposed and replaced by his younger brother, Prince Faisal. Also yesterday, CBS officially acquired the New York Yankees from a pair of hotel magnates, Del Webb and Dan Topping, for $14.4 million. NASA is preparing for the launch of Mariner 3 on Thursday. It is to make the first flyby of the planet Mars. Today, President and Mrs. Johnson cast their ballots in the president’s hometown of Johnson City, Texas, before returning to the LBJ Ranch. There, according to Johnson’s daily diary, they “spent the day resting in bed with no interruptions in preparation for the late hours to come.” In the early evening, Johnson takes a number of phone calls before he and Lady Bird helicopter to the ranch of family friend A. W. Moursund and then to Austin to watch the returns.

On network TV today, schedules are sprinkled with reruns of primetime shows including Father Knows Best, Wagon Train, The Donna Reed Show, I Love Lucy, and The Andy Griffith Show. Game shows include The Price Is Right, Password, Concentration, The Match Game, and Jeopardy. Daytime dramas include General Hospital, Search for Tomorrow, Another World, The Secret Storm, and As the World Turns. Tonight’s regular TV schedules are pre-empted for election coverage, which begins with the early evening newscasts. At the end of the night Johnson is reelected, defeating Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, taking 44 states, 486 electoral votes, and 61 percent of the popular vote. The Democrats will end up with a 295-140 margin in the House of Representatives and 68-32 in the Senate. Among the new senators will be Robert F. Kennedy, who won a seat in New York by defeating incumbent Kenneth Keating. Former Kennedy hand Pierre Salinger, who had been appointed to a Senate seat from California in August, lost his race to Republican George Murphy.

In Berkeley, Calfornia, tonight, moviegoers can see the James Bond film Dr. No, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in Becket or Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, along with Fail Safe, Fate Is the Hunter, Yul Brynner in Invitation to a Gunfighter, and Shoot the Piano Player, directed by Francois Truffaut. In Memphis this afternoon, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson make a live appearance on a local TV show before their show at Ellis Auditorium tonight. Also tonight, the Rolling Stones play Cleveland. Teenage female fans rush the stage, causing police to stop the show only seconds after it begins, although it eventually resumes. During the show, a 17-year-old girl falls from a balcony and suffers minor injuries. The Stones are angry about the small crowd of only about 1,000; local radio station WHK blames Mayor Ralph Locher’s recent ban on future rock concerts, saying many fans with tickets were not permitted to attend. In England, the Hollies and the Tornadoes play Aylesbury and the Honeycombs play the Manchester Odeon.

At KQV in Pittsburgh, “She’s Not There” by the Zombies makes a giant leap from #13 to #1 on the new Finest Forty survey. Last week’s #1, “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las, falls to #3, while “Baby Love” by the Supremes holds at #2. Lorne Greene’s “Ringo” is #4. A double-sided hit by Elvis Presley, “Ask Me” and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You” debuts at #12, just ahead of Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman,” which has fallen out of the Top 10 this week. Other debuts on the chart include “Mountain of Love” by Johnny Rivers, “Big Man in Town” by the Four Seasons, and Jan and Dean’s “Sidewalk Surfin’.” Apart from Elvis, the biggest movers on the chart are “I’m Gonna Be Strong” by Gene Pitney and “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton, both up 15 spots. The Beatles are absent from KQV’s chart for the first time since January.

Perspective From the Present: Mariner 3 malfunctioned after launch and the mission was terminated after eight hours. Sam Cooke’s Memphis TV appearance was his last on live TV before his murder in December. The Beatles would return to the KQV chart within a couple of weeks with “I Feel Fine” and “She’s a Woman.” And on another election day, 56 years on, a lot of us are hoping for a similar landslide, not to confirm the popularity of a sitting president, but to rebuke a president and a party unfit for office and homicidal toward democracy itself.

November 2, 1948: It’s Too Soon to Know

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(Pictured: ABC News covers the 1948 election on radio and local TV.)

(This seemed like a good idea when I started it. Maybe it’s too far back in time to be of interest. You’ll have to tell me.)

November 2, 1948, is a Tuesday. It is Election Day. Although his Gallup poll margin has fallen from 17 points ahead in September to five ahead last week, Republican Thomas E. Dewey, currently the governor of New York, is expected to defeat incumbent Harry Truman for the presidency today. (Elmo Roper, the other major American pollster, stopped polling the race in September, claiming that Dewey’s election was inevitable.) Dewey has the endorsement of over 500 newspapers reprsenting 70 percent of the country; columnist Walter Winchell reports that gamblers are offering 15-to-1 odds against Truman. Having held the lead all summer, Dewey has campaigned cautiously, avoiding controversial issues and rarely even mentioning his opponent’s name. Truman, meanwhile, has attacked the current Republican Congress with a highly partisan, people-vs.-the-powerful message.

Tonight, election returns are broadcast on television for the first time, but audiences are expected to be very small. Like Truman (who will escape his election-night party in Kansas City to follow the returns from a resort in Excelsior Springs, Missouri), most voters follow the returns on radio. CBS coverage features Edward R. Murrow, Lowell Thomas, Eric Sevareid, and others. NBC’s coverage is led by H. V. Kaltenborn and Robert Trout, both former CBS commentators. At midnight, Kaltenborn sees a swing in Dewey’s favor and confidently predicts that while Truman has been ahead all night, late returns will put Dewey over the top.

In the new Associated Press college football poll released yesterday, Notre Dame has taken over the #1 ranking from Michigan, which falls to #2, even though the Wolverines have more first-place votes. Notre Dame blew out winless Navy 41-7 in Baltimore on Saturday while Michigan was squeaking past Illinois at home 28-20. The Basketball Association of America opened its third season last night. The Indianapolis Jets beat the St. Louis Bombers 84-80. No games are scheduled tonight. The New York Knicks will play the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Philadelphia Warriors will meet the Washington Capitols tomorrow night. The defending champion Minneapolis Lakers, Boston Celtics, Providence Steamrollers, Chicago Stags, and Rochester Royals will open later in the week. The National Hockey League is on a week-long break; the league’s second-ever All-Star Game is tomorrow night in Chicago, pitting the league all-stars against the defending champion Toronto Maple Leafs.

This week’s Cash Box Disc Hits Box Score ranks songs by title and lists the versions available by different performers. Several songs are popular in only one version, however, including this week’s #1 song, “A Tree in the Meadow” by Margaret Whiting. Last week’s #1, “It’s Magic,” can be found in versions by Doris Day, Dick Haymes, Tony Martin, and Gordon MacRae. “Twelfth Street Rag” is #3, recorded by Pee Wee Hunt. “Buttons and Bows,” with popular versions by Dinah Shore and the Dinning Sisters, is #4. Other top songs of the week include “My Happiness,” with versions by Ella Fitzgerald, the Pied Pipers, and Jon and Sandra Steele; “Cool Water” by Vaughn Monroe with the Sons of the Pioneers; “Ramblin’ Rose” by Perry Como and the Satisfiers; and “On a Slow Boat to China” by the Kay Kyser Orchestra. “It’s Too Soon to Know” by the Orioles, currently climbing the R&B charts, is at #20. At #23, comedy bandleader Red Ingle has found a way around the current musicians’ union strike against record labels with a country parody of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” that was recorded with non-union musicians playing mostly toy instruments and creating sound effects. “Serutan Yob (A Song for Backward Boys and Girls Under 40)” is credited to the Unnatural Seven. “Serutan Yob” is “Nature Boy” spelled backwards, but Serutan is also a popular brand of laxative widely advertised on network radio to younger people, which accounts for the “under 40” reference in the title.

Perspective From the Present: By 4AM Wednesday morning, Truman was certain he would win; Dewey held out until several large states went for Truman at mid-morning, and he finally conceded by telegram around 11AM. Many newspapers and magazines had prepared Dewey-wins articles in advance, and some published them. The most famous, of course, was the Chicago Tribune, which bannered “Dewey Defeats Truman” on its November 3 front page. Truman won 303 electoral votes to 189 for Dewey and seven for States Rights Democrat Strom Thurmond. His margin in the popular vote was a little over two million.

Seventy-two years and 18 presidential elections later, the Orioles describe our current situation very well. I made my election prediction in today’s Sidepiece. To subscribe, go here

Some Halloween Horrors

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(Pictured: noted occultist Jimmy Page summons up demons or something, while Robert Plant looks on approvingly.)

So it’s Halloween time again, the second-biggest holiday of the year next to Christmas. What follows are some Halloween horrors for your delectation. Some of these I wrote about for Halloween in 2005, and some I did not.

“Monster Mash”/Bobby “Boris” Pickett. The happy comic-book version of Halloween, which reached #1 at Halloween of 1962. Parrot Records tried rereleasing it in 1970, and while it made the Hot 100 again, it didn’t stick around long. In 1973, thanks to a radio DJ in Milwaukee, Parrot got another bite at the apple, and this time, a new generation of 13-year-old record-buyers (of which I was one) pushed it back into the Top 10. In the middle of the summer. Which tells you a lot about the 1970s.

“Sympathy for the Devil”/Rolling Stones. What makes “Sympathy” particularly disturbing is the story of the line “I shouted out ‘who killed the Kennedys?’” It was written as “who killed John Kennedy,” but the recording session took place the morning after Robert F. Kennedy was shot, so Mick made a change on the fly—before RFK actually died. Like “Monster Mash,” another record I bought the year I turned 13 was the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks 1964-1971. “Sympathy for the Devil” was new to me then. I wondered if I’d be going to Hell just for listening to it. Because I am older and wiser now, I know that the answer is yes.

“Tubular Bells”/Mike Oldfield. As used in The Exorcist, this record is a perfect fit. Somber and hypnotic bells explode into chaotically distorted guitar and bass and then return, sounding somehow far more ominous than before. But the radio single is a three-minute excerpt from a longer work. The entire Tubular Bells album is one you really ought to hear: it’s a kaleidoscope of musical sounds and textures that foreshadows new-age music but is far more interesting.

“Captain Howdy”/Simon Stokes. More Exorcist flavor: Nick Stokes was a musician from Reading, Massachusetts, who recorded a bunch of singles under a bunch of names in the 60s. “Voodoo Woman,” credited to Simon Stokes and the Nighthawks, crept onto the Hot 100 at the end of 1969. In 1974, he cut “Captain Howdy” for the relatively new Casablanca label. Although the reference is obscure now, many more people in the summer of 1974 knew what it meant: Captain Howdy was the name of the demon possessing Regan in the movie. The song got airplay on some big stations, including WCFL in Chicago, WIXY in Cleveland, WAKY in Louisville, and WMYQ in Miami, and it reached #90 on the Hot 100.

“Kashmir”/Led Zeppelin. In what pit of sonic hell did Zeppelin find the edgy, menacing sound of this record? Allmusic.com says it’s the drums stomping in 2/4 time while the musical theme plays against it in 3/4 time. Whatever it is, it’s damn creepy. In college, there were DJs who were reluctant to play it late at night if they were alone in the building.

“The Witch”/Rattles. The Rattles formed in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960, and “The Witch” got some airplay in the States in the summer of 1970. It was a Top-10 hit in Rochester, New York, and Wausau, Wisconsin, along with Memphis and Fargo. Despite its demonic laughter, general psychedelic freakout vibe, and copping a bit of the Twilight Zone theme, it somehow resisted becoming a Halloween perennial.

“Witchy Woman”/Eagles. We’ve largely forgotten now, but the Eagles were slow starters. “Witchy Woman” was their first Top 10 hit at Halloween 1972, and they wouldn’t score another until two albums and two years later. “Witchy Woman” is a great radio record because it sounds great whatever it’s next to. The loud guitar bite and tom-tom-style drums in the introduction make a fabulous transition out of practically anything.

“Thriller”/Michael Jackson. Time was that this song got more airplay at Halloween than all of the other songs on this list combined. (That’s probably not true anymore now that so many stations have dropped Jackson’s music over sexual assault allegations.) But it’s really kind of lame. Jackson’s attempt to capture the feel of a classic horror movie sounds like he’s never actually seen one. Better to just surrender to the groove and not think about it beyond that.