(Pictured: B. J. Thomas, 1970.)
A couple of years ago I wrote about the American Top 40 show from September 5, 1970, and described Casey Kasem’s performance as “ragged and weird.” So I listened to the show from the next week to see if that continued, or if things got better.
40. “Lola”/Kinks. In its earliest days, AT40 was recorded in real time, essentially a live radio show on tape. Fixing a mistake meant re-recording a whole segment. So if Casey launched an odd ad lib over an intro, like “Lola rhymes with cola,” and did so while being half drowned-out by the music, they were inclined to leave it in.
39. “Express Yourself”/Charles Wright
35. “Out in the Country”/Three Dog Night
33. “Closer to Home”/Grand Funk Railroad
31. “Long Long Time”/Linda Ronstadt
30. “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith
Casey introduces “Closer to Home” with a story about GFR’s block-long, hundred-thousand dollar billboard in New York City, says something nearly inaudible about Linda Ronstadt and Tucson over the intro of her song, and calls Michael Nesmith “a nice guy.” Although there are other candidates later on, any one of these could be the best song on the show.
37. “I Want to Take You Higher”/Ike and Tina Turner
36. “Tell It All Brother”/Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
34. “Peace Will Come”/Melanie
32. “Sex Machine”/James Brown
Elsewhere in the first hour, the contrasts between hard R&B and lame hippie twaddle can give a guy whiplash.
29. “Neanderthal Man”/Hotlegs. This website recently suggested that Godley and Creme’s 1985 hit “Cry” should be shot into the sun. It would like to suggest the same destination for Godley and Creme’s 1970 hit “Neanderthal Man.”
26. “All Right Now”/Free
25. “It’s a Shame”/Spinners
24. “I Just Can’t Help Believing”/B. J. Thomas
23. “Why Can’t I Touch You”/Ronnie Dyson
22. “Cracklin’ Rosie”/Neil Diamond
21. “Solitary Man”/Neil Diamond
20. “Groovy Situation”/Gene Chandler
This is a solid 20 minutes. “All Right Now” would become one of the most-played songs in the history of radio, although there was little reason to think so in September 1970. “It’s a Shame” is produced by Stevie Wonder, who also plays all the instruments. “Why Can’t I Touch You” and “Groovy Situation” have been favorites of this website since always. “I Just Can’t Help Believing” is always welcome, and the two Neil Diamond songs are probably the six best minutes of the whole 20.
19. “Hi-De-Ho”/Blood Sweat and Tears
13. “Signed Sealed Delivered”/Stevie Wonder
In which Casey gets off a couple of nice bits of jock-craft, talking around the horn fanfare that opens “Hi-De-Ho” and getting out of the way of Stevie’s verbalizing in the intro of “Signed Sealed Delivered.”
18. “Rubber Duckie”/Ernie (Jim Henson)
17. “Hand Me Down World”/Guess Who
16. “I Know I’m Losing You”/Rare Earth
We all love the Muppets, but sweet mama “Rubber Duckie” is intolerable. Thank goodness the Guess Who and Rare Earth are here to hose out the bathtub afterward.
15. “I (Who Have Nothing)”/Tom Jones. On early AT40s, Casey sometimes made cringeworthy remarks about Jones’ effect on the ladies, although he didn’t do it here. My favorite, which would come on the September 26 show, is “Something happens to a woman over 35 when she hears the voice of Tom Jones.”
10. “Spill the Wine”/Eric Burdon and War
9. “Make It With You”/Bread
8. “Close to You”/Carpenters
7. “Julie Do Ya Love Me”/Bobby Sherman
Casey had started the third hour with an awkward tease about an artist who was discovered at a Hollywood party attended by Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Roddy McDowall, and Sal Mineo. Seven songs later, he got to the artist in question: Bobby Sherman.
From #11 on up to #1, this is where it all begins for me, songs I heard during my first few weeks as a listener, the ones that quite literally changed my life.
6. “Patches”/Clarence Carter
5. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/CCR
4. “25 or 6 to 4″/Chicago
3. “In the Summertime”/Mungo Jerry
2. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Diana Ross
1. “War”/Edwin Starr
Casey refers to “In the Summertime” as “reggae fron England.” His engineer lays the “Billboard‘s number one” jingle over the drum-roll intro of “War,” but the level is too low and it gets buried.
Working out the obvious technical bugs (and there were several others) would be critical to the show’s development. So would a greater emphasis on scripting and timing. At this point, 10 episodes in, the staff was relying mostly on Casey’s radio skills and his gift of gab to carry the show, but it wouldn’t be long before they figured out the advantages of more rigorous preparation. As I wrote two years ago, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the show became The Show and the man became The Man only after that.”