Anything You Want

Last weekend Radio Rewinder posted the Record World Top 100 for the week of September 25, 1976. (Click to embiggen.) Right on the edge between summer and fall, it’s got most of the essential Top 40 radio music from both of my favorite seasons. The oldest record, “More More More” by the Andrea True Connection, is in its 29th week, which meant it debuted in March; “Silly Love Songs” by Wings is in its 25th week, and several other songs have been around 20 weeks or more. On the other hand, certain recent debuts will remain popular at least until Christmas; “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. won’t hit #1 until January.

That I playlisted the chart immediately should not surprise you at all. I have 82 of the 100 songs in my digital library. But what about the other 18?

Continue reading “Anything You Want”

The Wind

Embed from Getty Images

The kid gets on the school bus at 6:50 in the morning for the long ride through Clarno and Cadiz Townships. Other kids get on in ones and twos, some older, some younger, some he knows, and some he merely recognizes from other mornings. Some get on from neatly kept farmsteads, others from ramshackle houses or long-parked mobile homes. The gravel roads are rough and narrow, and as they track up and down and around, the kid sometimes worries that the bus, rolling like a ship in a storm, might actually tip over. 

If it were up to the driver, the school bus radio would probably be on local station WEKZ, but by passenger demand, it’s on WLS from Chicago, with Larry Lujack playing the hits. There’s news every half-hour, so the kid hears the Lyle Dean Report twice each morning. In September 1971, he knows about the Attica prison riot and the death of Nikita Khrushchev, even if he doesn’t understand all of the details. He cares more about the baseball scores, and that football season has started for the teams he follows. He plays a little organized football himself.

On certain mornings, the kid wrestles his saxophone aboard the bus. He enjoys honking away in rehearsal, although he already knows he doesn’t have much talent. He’d rather listen to other musicians, and his Ol’ Uncle Lar, on the radio. 

You’ve already read about some of the songs of September 1971. Here are a few more from below the Top 40.

42. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore”/Glass Bottle. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” is an American cover of a concurrent British hit sung by Cliff Richard, co-produced by Dickie Goodman, master of the break-in record. Wikipedia says that the group’s name was chosen to help the glass industry in a PR effort to boost the use of glass soda bottles over plastic ones. While it seems like almost anything else would have been more effective PR, the factoid has proliferated across dozens of websites, so it must be true.

43. “Sweet City Woman”/Stampeders
54. “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready”/Jr. Walker and the All-Stars
68. “Annabella”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
Old man yells at cloud: nobody making records today wants to grab the listener from the first second; producers would rather sneak up on them. (I am sick unto death of fade-ins, a production trick meant for earbuds and not for radio.) So you don’t get the banjo that opens “Sweet City Woman,” or the gloriously exciting 40 seconds that start “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready.” Related: I often can’t tell what people are supposed to remember about the hits of today. Fifty years later, “Annabella” is still right there in my head.

47. “All Day Music”/War
48 “Marianne”/Stephen Stills
These records made #35 and #42 respectively on the Hot 100 but were #4 and #6 at WLS. “All Day Music” is the single best song on the entire list of 100, BTW. It take you to a place you want to go, and if you play it again, you can stay there.

49. “Superstar”/Carpenters. The highest-debuting single on the Hot 100 in this week. To double down on something I’ve said before, had it been as easy to consume music in 1971 as it is today, the Carpenters would have debuted on the singles chart at #1 or close to it, more than once.

65. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love”/Denise LaSalle. There’s a lot of straight-up R&B records on this week’s Bottom 60, few of which got much play on pop radio, although “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” did. I would absolutely read a book about the relationship between R&B radio, the Black audience, and the record business in the first half of the 1970s. There was a whole ‘nother world out there that had little to do with white kids listening to WLS.

93. “Carey”/Joni Mitchell. The lone charting single from Blue is in its lone week on the Hot 100.

The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn’t sleep
Oh you know it sure is hard to leave you, Carey
But it’s really not my home

It will be years before the kid hears the arresting first lines of “Carey.” By then he will know, in a way he was only learning in 1971, that there’s something on the September wind that isn’t there the rest of the year: the knowledge that wherever he finds himself in the Septembers to come, it’s really not his home. Home is on the bumpy rural roads of Clarno and Cadiz, in other Septembers, on other mornings, at the beginning of everything that ever was, and all that will ever be.

Electric Boogaloo

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: the Pointer Sisters at the American Music Awards in January 1985.)

Following up on a post about the American Top 40 show from September 1, 1984, that date was the single most exciting day of my radio career: the day we switched the soft-rock FM station to Top 40. So many songs, inside the Top 40 and out of it, can still bring back that day and the days thereafter, because that’s one of the things songs can do. Here’s some of what was below the Top 40 on that date.

41. “I’m So Excited”/Pointer Sisters
71. “Jump (For My Love)”/Pointer Sisters

Four Pointer Sisters singles were released in 1984, and every one of them smokes: these two plus “Automatic,” which preceded them, and “Neutron Dance,” which followed them and ran the chart into 1985. “I’m So Excited” was on its second go-round; it had made #30 in 1982, but this remix would go all the way into the Top 10.

43. “Infatuation”/Rod Stewart
46. “Some Guys Have All the Luck”/Rod Stewart
Rod’s full strutting cocksman mode, as on “Infatuation,” is insufferable. “Some Guys Have All the Luck” is far more charming and relatable, but if I had my druthers I’d rather listen to “Mandolin Wind” again.

55. “Breakin’ . . . There’s No Stoppin’ Us”/Ollie and Jerry
95. “99 1/2″/Carole Lynn Townes
Ollie and Jerry had taken the title song from the movie Breakin’ to #1 on the dance chart and to #9 on the Hot 100 while “99 1/2” peaked at #77 on the big chart. Breakin’ isn’t as well-remembered now as the parody-worthy title of its sequel: Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

56. “On the Dark Side”/John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Any resemblance to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was probably not coincidental, from Cafferty’s echo-drenched soul shout to the presence in the band of a large, amiable sax player named Michael “Tunes” Antunes. I have mentioned that I got to interview Cafferty before a show in my small Illinois town; I also did a pre-concert phone interview with Antunes, who surprised me by coming off as a regular guy, at a time when I assumed that most rock musicians were not.

58. “The More You Live, the More You Love”/A Flock of Seagulls. I was, in general, left cold by the English bands that proliferated in the early days of MTV’s dominance. Previous singles by A Flock of Seagulls had done nothing for me until “The More You Live” came along. As I wrote in 2009, “It’s the one I’ve never been able to get out of my head. The lead guitar has a haunting urgency that’s clearly conveying something we’d better pay attention to.”

54. “The Last Time I Made Love”/Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
73. “Hold Me”/Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston
Choose your flavor of tender, oh-so-80s R&B duet. “Hold Me” was the first hit Whitney Houston ever sang on, the summer before she released her debut album and ascended into the stratosphere. “The Last Time I Made Love” opens with a great soul-music line: “The first time I made love it wasn’t love at all.”

60. “The Only Flame in Town”/Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I have friends who are genuinely pained by the fact that I just don’t get Elvis Costello. The charm of what he’s doing eludes me. I respect his critical reputation and his body of work that spans nearly 50 years now, but I’d rather listen to quite literally anybody else.

83. “10-9-8″/Face to Face. On the morning of my radio station’s format change, I aired a series of countdown promos: “seven hours to go,” “six hours to go,” and so on, showcasing the hot hits we would be playing after we threw the switch at noon. But we were locked into a sequence provided by the company that syndicated our music, and so the first current-rotation song we played a few minutes after noon was “10-9-8.” It wasn’t exactly “Ghostbusters” or “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

85. “On the Wings of a Nightingale”/Everly Brothers. Written by Paul McCartney and in its first week on the Hot 100, “On the Wings of a Nightingale” would peak at #50 in a 12-week run, although it made #9 on the adult-contempoary chart and even got a little country airplay.

96. “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll”/Huey Lewis and the News. This was the first song we played on the new format. It was never going to be anything else.

Programming Announcement: Tomorrow, another edition of The Sidepiece, my intermittent newsletter repository for stuff not relevant to the gist of this blog, will likely end up in your spam filter. Sign up here if you think it’s something you need. 

Rock and Roll Never Forgets, But I Do

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Magic Dick of the J. Geils Band, on stage in 1977.)

My summer of 1977 was defined by two big things: I had two jobs and eventually lost them both (one I quit, one just sort of fizzled out), and my girlfriend spent a month in Europe while I pined for her at home (a trip I should have been on, and one I passed up for reasons that seem stupid to me now). There were other things, like softball and a family vacation and hanging out with the guys, but the details are all gone in the haze.

I had intended to use what I can still recall to write one of those wistfully philosophical essays of mine, looking back through the lens of Top 40 music to say Something Important about the summer of 1977, or the summer of 2021, or something. But when I tried to write it, there was nothing there. So you get this rundown of what else was on the Hot 100 below the Top 40 during the week of August 20, 1977, instead.

41. “It Was Almost Like a Song”/Ronnie Milsap
57. “Knowing Me, Knowing You”/ABBA
While she and I were very happy in August 1977, it wasn’t long before metaphors started ganging up on us.

42. “A Real Mother for Ya”/Johnny Guitar Watson. Most of the local chart action on  “A Real Mother for Ya” came from R&B stations, but Top 40 station WKTQ in Pittsburgh charted it in the same Top 10 with James Taylor and Andy Gibb. Watson, a long-established blues star and the original Gangster of Love, performed quite literally up until his death in 1996, suffering a fatal heart attack on stage in Japan.

43. “Star Wars Theme- Cantina Band”/Meco
110. “Star Wars Theme”/Dave Matthews
Choose your flavor to enjoy alongside the London Symphony Orchestra version at #21 in this week: disco thump or brassy beat with a guitar solo out of nowhere. (Do I really have to say it’s not that Dave Matthews? Work with me, people.)

44. “Nobody Does It Better”/Carly Simon
49. “Jungle Love”/Steve Miller Band
51. “Boogie Nights”/Heatwave
52. “I Feel Love”/Donna Summer
59. “Cat Scratch Fever”/Ted Nugent

68. “Help Is on Its Way”/Little River Band
73. “Just Remember I Love You”/Firefall
80. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”/Crystal Gayle
Several songs that would dominate the radio until Christmas were lining up outside in the August heat.

46. “The Greatest Love of All”/George Benson. “The Greatest Love of All” was originally heard in the 1977 movie biography of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest. In 1986, Whitney Houston would blow America’s doors off with it; bombastic as it is, her version is better.

47. “Way Down”-“Pledging My Love”/Elvis Presley. Elvis died on Tuesday, August 16, and the 8/20/77 American Top 40 show aired with only the briefest mention of him (“Way Down” was the current #1 country hit). The timing of his death didn’t allow enough time for AT40 to send a special segment to affiliates, like the one sent after John Lennon’s Monday night murder in 1980.

48. “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Failing to make the Top 40 (it peaked at #41 the week before) didn’t keep “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” from becoming one of Seger’s most-frequently-played radio songs over the next couple of decades.

75. “Down the Hall”/Four Seasons. After their successful run of hits in late 1975 and 1976, the Seasons tried to keep their disco/nostalgia hybrid roll going with the album Helicon. If you can find any obvious radio hook in “Down the Hall,” you’re ahead of me.

83. “You’re the Only One”/Geils. From the album Monkey Island, which was credited simply to Geils, and the last J. Geils Band album for Atlantic Records. “You’re the Only One” is an uncharacteristic soft rocker featuring Magic Dick getting his Stevie Wonder on and Seth Justman playing lovely keyboards.

87. “Can’t You See”/Marshall Tucker Band. “Heard It in a Love Song” had been a big hit earlier in 1977, but as time went on, “Can’t You See” became much more famous. When Sirius/XM counted down the top 100 songs of the classic-rock era a few years ago, it was something like #5.

92. “My Cherie Amour”/Soul Train Gang. This was a studio group put together by Soul Train impresario Don Cornelius and partner Dick Griffey. Their album was produced by Simon Soussan, once credited by none other than Casey Kasem as the world’s foremost authority on disco. One member of the Gang, Gerald Brown, would join Shalamar, but leave before their mainstream success around the turn of the 80s. Their version of “My Cherie Amour” is inoffensive, but ultimately unnecessary.

“Inoffensive, but ultimately unnecessary.” That’s not a bad slogan for this website, actually.

Got It and Gone

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: soul singer Margie Joseph in 1973.)

Instead of following up an American Top 40 post by looking at the Billboard Bottom 60, let’s look instead at the Cash Box Looking Ahead chart for the week of July 17, 1971, which is like Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart.

1. “Crazy Love”/Helen Reddy. “Crazy Love,” Reddy’s followup to “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” is Van Morrison’s song.

2. “And When She Smiles”/The Wildweeds. The Carpenters sang this song as early as 1971 as “And When He Smiles,” but the version by the Wildweeds, a band from Connecticut, is the original.

8. “Make It With You”/Ralfi Pagan. Pagan’s falsetto version of “Make It With You,” which had been a #1 hit by Bread a year before, maybe ain’t for everybody, but it got Pagan onto Soul Train and boosted his career as one of the top Latin artists of the early 70s. In 1978, he was murdered under mysterious circumstances while touring in Colombia. The crime was never solved.

9. “That Other Woman Got My Man and Gone”/Margie Joseph.  If “That Other Woman Got My Man and Gone” puts you in mind of Johnnie Taylor’s “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” that was probably the idea.

16. “Leave My Man (Woman) Alone”/Raelettes. In which Ray Charles’ backup singers gender-switch one of his songs. “Leave My Man (Woman) Alone” is advice you’d be wise to take.

17. “Breezin'”/Gabor Szabo and Bobby Womack. Although “Breezin'” was more famously recorded in 1976 by George Benson, this “Breezin'” is the OG.

20. “Good Enough to Be Your Wife”/Jeannie C. Riley. If Carly Simon’s contemporaneous “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” is about the ambivalence many young women felt about being expected to fit into society’s expectations about marriage and domesticity circa 1971, “Good Enough to Be Your Wife” expresses a dissenting view. Jeannie C’s man says marriage doesn’t fit his way of life, but she says (paraphrasing), you want the milk, honey, you best buy the cow.

21. “Near You”/Boz Scaggs. Boz was already on his way to stardom in the San Francisco Bay area by 1971. “Near You” would fit right in with his stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, a period that Boz now refers to as “the Hollywood years.”

22. “Candy Apple Red”/R. Dean Taylor. After throwing shots with the police in a doomed attempt to escape a murder charge in “Indiana Wants Me,” R. Dean Taylor commits suicide over a lost love in “Candy Apple Red.” In a church. His last words are, “Someone please pray for me on Sunday,” and the record goes to the fade with a bit of the Lord’s Prayer. What the hell, R. Dean?

23. “Hymn 43″/Jethro Tull. “Hymm 43” seems like such a weird choice for a single. It’s hard to imagine on it AM radio alongside the likes of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “Draggin’ the Line.”

25. “I Want to Take You Higher”/Kool and the Gang. As long as the original exists, you don’t really need this version of “I Want to Take You Higher,” but it’s fine.

26. “Where Evil Grows”/Poppy Family
27. “K-Jee”/Nite-Liters
28. “Do You Know What I Mean”/Lee Michaels
30. “Where You Lead”/Barbra Streisand
A handful of singles on this week’s Looking Ahead charts would scrape onto various Top 40s and bigtime radio stations. “Do You Know What I Mean” would end up the biggest. “Where Evil Grows” deserved to be bigger. I have for many years fanboy’d over “Where You Lead.” And “K-Jee” is straight-up disco, years before the word came into widespread use.

29. “Call Me Up in Dreamland”/Van Morrison. After the success of “Domino” and “Blue Money” from His Band and the Street Choir, “Call Me Up in Dreamland” was a stiff. It’s got a great chorus, but the verses are lacking and Morrison’s tenor sax is kind of old-timey.

Sometimes I worry A) that I should do better at keeping up with current music trends strictly because playing that music on the radio is my job now and B) that I am missing out on new stuff that’s good and worthwhile. But I remember that there are hundreds and hundreds of good, worthwhile, and/or interesting records from the preceding 130 years or so that I haven’t heard yet. Then I stop worrying and listen to them instead.

Programming Note: A while back, a reader asked a question I am happy to answer. But my answer is going to be a Sidepiece post, for reasons I will enumerate there. It will go out over the weekend. If you’re not a subscriber yet, the Sidepiece is free and worth the price. Find out about it and sign up here. 

Horny Season

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: this website will never miss opportunities to post contemporary pictures of Emmylou Harris. Here she is in April, three weeks past her 74th birthday.) 

Looking over the Bottom 60 from the week of July 12, 1975, there are lots of songs I’ve written about before. In this post, I will try to write about different songs, or say new things.

50. “Philadelphia Freedom” /Elton John. Just out of the Top 40 in its 19th week on the chart. “Philadelphia Freedom” was billed on the label to the Elton John Band, a billing reinforced by the full-band photo on the front of the 45’s picture sleeve. It was a one-shot deal, however. When “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” from Captain Fantastic became a single, it was billed to Elton only.

57. “Fallin’ in Love”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
67. “Fame”/David Bowie
Two records that couldn’t be more different, and would both reach #1 before the end of the summer.

62. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Blood Sweat and Tears
63. “That’s the Way of the World”/Earth Wind and Fire
65. “Sneakin’ Up Behind You”/Brecker Brothers
The summer of 1975 was a very horny season. In the Top 40 this week, Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said” featured a Dixieland-style saxophone; Major Harris got down with a sexy alto sax and Gwen McCrae got up with a whole horn section; Bazuka and AWB did what they did, and “Disco Queen” knocked down Jericho walls. Earth Wind and Fire’s horn section never sounded better than on “That’s the Way of the World.” It was inevitable that BS&T would cut “Got to Get You Into My Life,” although it’s got far less horn punch than the Beatles had, or Earth Wind and Fire’s version would. Randy Brecker was gone from BS&T by 1975, but he and his brother Michael formed their own jazz/soul/fusion outfit. Their self-titled 1975 debut album was nominated for three Grammys, and two tracks from the album remain at least somewhat familiar, “Sneakin’ Up Behind You” and “Some Skunk Funk.” On any list of Names Most Familiar to Nerds Reading the Credits on the Album Cover, the Brecker Brothers would probably be in the Top 10. Other familiar studio cats on “Sneakin’ Up Behind You” include David Sanborn and Will Lee.

79. “Biggest Parakeets in Town”/Jud Strunk. Jud Strunk’s sappy and sentimental “Daisy a Day” rose to #12 in the spring of 1973 at about the same time he was completing his lone season as a member of the cast of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. His Laugh-In persona was a guy from rural Maine, which he was, although he’d been born in New York state. Coming up, he sang in clubs and performed on Broadway, and he made four country-tinged albums between 1970 and 1977. The last one was titled A Semi-Reformed Tequila Crazed Gypsy Looks Back. In 1981, he had a heart attack while flying a private plane and died at the age of 45. “Biggest Parakeets in Town,” a double-entendre novelty recorded live, has a single word of the lyrics bleeped. Even if you remember the words most frequently bleeped in hits of the 70s, you’ll never guess which one gets it here.

81. “Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)”/Johnny Wakelin and the Kinshasa Band. As an indication of just how culturally significant Muhammad Ali was by 1975, you can hardly do better than “Black Superman.” Nobody ever hit so big with a song about Michael Jordan (although rappers loved to name-check him) and even Joe DiMaggio merited only a single verse in “Mrs. Robinson.”

94. “Get Down Tonight”/KC and the Sunshine Band. In its first week on the Hot 100. I heard this the other day and was impressed by it all over again: it smokes.

99. “Honey Trippin'”/Mystic Moods. Record-store browsers of the 70s would have been quite familiar with the Mystic Moods Orchestra, a studio project that mixed instrumentals with environmental sounds (birds, rain, etc.). Although the Mystic Moods albums were intended originally as a showcase for audiophile recording, their stuff eventually assumed another purpose; as Wikipedia puts it, “these were records to serve as the preamble or accompaniment to sexual intercourse.” However, “Honey Trippin'” chugs along too fast for that (ask your wife), and it does so on a solid electric piano groove.

103. “If I Could Only Win Your Love”/Emmylou Harris. “If I Could Only Win Your Love” is my favorite thing by Emmylou, originally written and recorded by the Louvin Brothers in 1958. Emmylou’s version was her first Top 10 country hit; she would have 19 more in the next 15 years.