Category Archives: American Top 40

Tell the Story of How Great a Love Can Be

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(Pictured: Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, stars of Love Story.)

Honk if you remember how big a deal Love Story was.

The novel, by Erich Segal, hit the top of the New York Times Fiction Bestsellers List in May 1970 and stayed there for 41 straight weeks, into February 1971. Just before Christmas 1970 came the film adaptation of the novel, starring Ali MacGraw as Jenny and Ryan O’Neil as Oliver, with a screenplay by Segal. It topped the grosses for 11 non-consecutive weeks from December to March and got seven Oscar nominations: three for acting, one each for direction, screenplay, and score, and for Best Picture. And in early 1971, the movie’s theme song was inescapable. Four different versions charted on either the Hot 100 or the Bubbling Under chart.

—The first to hit was Henry Mancini’s version, which made the Easy Listening chart on December 19, bubbled under the Hot 100 on 12/26/70 and 1/2/71, and cracked the big chart on January 9, 1971.

—Francis Lai, who had scored the movie, charted with his version of the theme on January 30.

—Andy Williams charted a vocal version of the theme, officially titled “Where Do I Begin,” on February 6.

—Tony Bennett bubbled under the Hot 100 for five weeks in February and March, never getting above #114.

Mancini’s version made the Top 40 on February 6. It climbed swiftly, from #30 in its first week to #21, then #14 for the week of February 27. In that same week, the Francis Lai and Andy Williams versions both cracked the Top 40 for the first time, at #33 and #35 respectively. The three versions rode the Top 40 together for four weeks in all, through the week of March 20.

How did American Top 40 handle this glut of Love Story themes? As it happens, I have the February 27 show in my archives. Introducing Andy Williams, Casey says, “Here’s the first vocal of a song to hit the Top 40 that’s a hit in three different versions. We got two more to go.” Moments later, he introduces Francis Lai, also debuting that week, by saying, “We’ve already heard one version of ‘Theme from Love Story.’ Here’s the second of three versions.” Later on Casey says, “The countdown continues with the third version we’ve heard today of the song from the motion picture Love Story. First, it was Andy Williams with the new vocal version. Then Francis Lai with the soundtrack from the picture. And now here’s Henry Mancini with his arrangement of that same theme.” I also have the March 13 show, and Casey played all three versions on that show too. Based on the cue sheets from the shows, I’m pretty sure he did the same on March 6 and March 20.

According to listings at ARSA, other versions of the Love Story theme got some airplay, including versions by Roger Williams, Peter Nero, and, inevitably, the Ray Conniff Singers. Roy Clark performed a version that’s not very country, and Eddie Holman did an R&B version. I would really like to hear “(The Answer) To a Love Story” by a group called Brand X, which got a one-line mention in Billboard and two weeks of airplay at WAVZ in New Haven, Connecticut, in June of ’71, but the Internet knows nothing apart from those two factoids.

The final Billboard scoreboard: Andy Williams topped out at #9, Mancini at #13, and Lai at #31. America reached peak Love Story during the week of March 20, when both Williams and Mancini were in the pop Top 20, and Williams spent the first of four non-consecutive weeks at #1 Easy Listening. (Mancini peaked at #2 on Easy Listening, Lai at #21.)

Unless I’m missing something (which is always a possibility), I believe it would be 1977 before multiple versions of the same movie theme again charted so high together. For three weeks in May, three versions of “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky, by Bill Conti, Maynard Ferguson, and Rhythm Heritage, were on the Hot 100 at the same time; in June, Conti and Ferguson would run the Top 30 together. In September, two versions of the Star Wars theme, the disco version by Meco and the main title by John Williams, were in the Top 20 at the same time. In February 1978, the same two artists put themes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind into the Top 30 at the same time.

There have been other instances of multiple versions of the same song running the charts at the same time, especially in the 50s and 60s, but you don’t want to read a 2,000-word post today and I don’t especially want to write it. So we’ll deal with that another time.

Over the Line

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(Pictured: Sammi Smith sings with Johnny Cash, 1971.)

I have written a fair amount about the spring of 1971 at this blog, and I was glad to revisit recently it via the American Top 40 show from April 10, 1971.

38. “Friends”/Elton John. This is one of five debut songs on the show, one of which, Casey teases, is way up at #15.  “Friends,” the beautiful title song for an obscure film, was the followup to “Your Song” and would get only to #34.

(The other debuts besides the one at #15: John Lennon’s “Power to the People” at #40, “Chick-a-Boom” by Daddy Dewdrop at #39, and Dawn’s “I Play and Sing” at #30.)

Special: “My Way”/Frank Sinatra. Casey mentions Sinatra’s then-recent announcement that he intended to retire, and he plays this as a tribute. As you read earlier in the week, “My Way” was written after Sinatra told lyricist Paul Anka in 1968 that he intended to quit. He did not quit, of course, but he took a year off before returning to work. In the fall of 1973, he released a new album called Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.

20. “Temptation Eyes”/Grass Roots. There were few records on the radio in 1971 that sounded better than the Grass Roots’ three big hits that year, this one, “Sooner or Later,” and “Two Divided by Love.”

Special: “Honky Tonk”/Bill Doggett. I suspect that the vast majority of people who heard “Honky Tonk” on the recent repeat of this show couldn’t identify it. Even I had a hard time placing it for a moment until the sax started honkin’. But in 1971, as Casey told his listeners, it was the largest selling rock ‘n’ roll instrumental in the history of the charts, having moved four million copies in two different chart runs, in 1956 (when it went to #2 for three weeks behind Elvis Presley’s unassailable “Hound Dog”/” Don’t Be Cruel”) and again in 1961.

15. “Never Can Say Goodbye”/Jackson Five. After “Never Can Say Goodbye” vaulted to this lofty position after debuting on the Hot 100 the previous week at #57, Casey says it’s headed for #1, and if you were him, you’d probably say the same thing. But “Never Can Say Goodbye” didn’t make it. It went to #13 the next week, then made another impressive leap to #4, and then #2, where it got stuck for three weeks. Read on to find out what stuck it.

14. “What Is Life”/George Harrison. I got my first 45s for Christmas in 1970, but by the spring of ’71 I was buying them myself, 94 cents apiece at S&O TV in my hometown. At some point late in this winter or in the spring I bought “What Is Life” and three others on this chart: “I Play and Sing” and the Partridge Family’s “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” (at #7 this week) because of course I did, and also Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line,” about which there’s more below.

13. “Where Do I Begin (Love Story)”/Andy Williams. Multiple versions of this song charted during the winter and spring of 1971, and you’ll read more about them next week.

12. “Help Me Make It Through the Night”/Sammi Smith. If you do not dig this, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.

10. “One Toke Over the Line”/Brewer and Shipley. A couple of songs before this, Casey teased that he would explain what a toke is. And although I was skeptical about whether he’d tell the whole truth, he did: “It refers to a puff of a marijuana cigarette in some places.” But he goes on to explain that it can also mean a ticket, and that if you are in Las Vegas and you ask for a toke, you’ll get a gambling chip. Brewer and Shipley meant “one toke over the line” to be an expression of regret for having gone too far, he says. Perhaps, but the lyrics make more sense if a toke is a smoke.

3. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night
2. “What’s Going On”/Marvin Gaye
1. “Just My Imagination”/Temptations
That’s a solid way to end a show. “Joy to the World” had gone from #34 to #11 to #3 this week, and will start at six-week stretch at #1 next week, three of them with “Never Can Say Goodbye” at #2. As for “What’s Going On” and “Just My Imagination,” it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when stuff so magnificent was an everyday thing.

A Piece of the Action

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(Pictured: David Bowie onstage in Detroit, February 29, 1976.)

I have several American Top 40 shows riding with me in the car these days. First up is the one from March 27, 1976. (Bad link fixed. –Ed.) I have written a lot about this season in the past, so I’ll do what I can to avoid repeating myself.

40. “Fopp”/Ohio Players
39. “Lorelei”/Styx
38. “He’s a Friend”/Eddie Kendricks
37. “Livin’ for the Weekend”/O’Jays
36. “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”/ABBA
35. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”/Freddy Fender
34. “Looking for Space”/John Denver
33. “Love Fire”/Jigsaw
32.  “Inseparable”/Natalie Cole
The first two segments of this repeat are fine if you’re a pop nerd, but an average listener might get a little impatient. ABBA and John Denver at least sound familiar, and “I Do” did make it to #15. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” and “Inseparable” are pretty good, but neither “Fopp,” “He’s a Friend,” nor “Livin’ for the Weekend” is remotely close to its performer’s best work. And more people know “Love Fire” from being anthologized over the years than they do from hearing it on the radio in ’76. The best-remembered record of the bunch nowadays is probably “Lorelei,” although it wasn’t a particularly big hit back then, peaking at #27.

31. “Slow Ride”/Foghat
30. “Only Love Is Real”/Carole King
29. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
28. “Theme from SWAT“/Rhythm Heritage
27. “Love Hurts”/Nazareth
That’s how the first hour wraps up, and it’s much better. Thank the gods that “Inseparable” and “Slow Ride” were separated by a commercial break, both in 1976 and on the recent repeat. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is weirdly holding at #29 for a second straight week; “SWAT” and “Love Hurts” also on their way off the chart.

23. “Action”/The Sweet
19. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen
11. “Golden Years”/David Bowie
Each of these three was my favorite song of the moment in the spring of 1976, depending on the moment.

22. “Cupid”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
13. “Only Sixteen”/Dr. Hook
A Sam Cooke revival was on and we barely knew it. “Cupid” was the last Top 40 hit for Dawn; they’d scored 14 of ’em since “Candida” in the fall of 1970. Three went to #1, including “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which was Billboard‘s #1 single for all of 1973.

9. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale
8. “Let Your Love Flow”/Bellamy Brothers
Casey says that “Right Back Where We Started From” has the chart action of a #1 record, having gone from #25 to #14 to #9 this week, although he doesn’t say that about “Let Your Love Flow,” which has gone 28-17-8 in the same period. But come May 1, it would be “Let Your Love Flow” at #1 and “Right Back Where We Started From” at #2. And although she would spend eight weeks in the Top 10, Maxine would never get above #2.

1. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons. Casey notes that this record, in its third and final week at #1, is the Four Seasons’ biggest hit since 1963 (when “Walk Like a Man” spent three weeks at #1). Its fall out of the 40, which will begin next week, is weird: it goes from #1 to #8, then to #14 for three straight weeks, then to #16, then to #25, and finally to #44. It will linger below the Top 40 for seven weeks after that, including three straight weeks at #95 and a final week—June 26—at #98. It had debuted on December 27, 1975, and would spend 27 weeks on the Hot 100 in all.

There are some enduring hits on this chart (“Dream Weaver,” “Dream On,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Show Me the Way”), a couple of under-appreciated gems (“Sweet Thing,” “Sweet Love”), and some guilty pleasures (“Lonely Night,” “Money Honey,” “Fanny”), but in the interest of keeping this post from being 2,000 words long, I’m gonna leave ’em un-mentioned. And I could go on: among the indelible 1976 hits outside the Top 40 ready to debut within the next couple of weeks include “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” “Sara Smile,” “Strange Magic,” “Rhiannon,” “Misty Blue,” and “Welcome Back.”

One More Thing: My hometown, Monroe, Wisconsin, briefly had a record label. During the 1920s, a local businessman founded Helvetia Records, which released traditional Swiss, German, and Austrian music. University of Wisconsin folklorist Jim Leary and Archeophone Records searched quite literally the entire world to find 36 Helvetia sides recorded between 1920 and 1924, which Archeophone has released in a collection called Alpine Dreaming. I went home last night to attend a talk about the album given by Leary, whose liner notes were nominated for a Grammy. The talk was held in the same hall where The Mrs. and I had our wedding reception 36 years ago . . . to the day.

Wonderland

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(Pictured: Isaac Hayes, 1980.)

The American Top 40 show from February 2, 1980, was a recent weekend repeat, and as I listened, I was surprised at how vividly it put me back in the studios of KDTH and D93 in Dubuque, where I’d worked since the previous April. I think I was working two shifts a weekend by then, playing country from 6PM til KDTH signed off at midnight, then automation-tending Top 40 D93 until it signed off at 2. Surely there are other images that the show should bring back: I was getting involved with the woman who would become The Mrs., and I was the new program director of the campus radio station. But that stuff doesn’t come back as fast as the KDTH/D93 memories do.

Some of the songs on the 2/2/80 show are pretty obscure now. Let’s tackle a few.

35. “You Know That I Love You”/Santana. From 1977 until about 1982, Santana recorded a number of reasonably successful singles, but they’re completely generic. Even the biggest of them, “Winning” and “Hold On,” sound like they could be by anybody. And so does “You Know That I Love You.”

34. “Wonderland”/Commodores
30. “Do You Love What You Feel”/Rufus and Chaka
I couldn’t recollect “Wonderland” when Casey front-announced it, and I soon realized why: it leaves no impression whatsoever. It’s barely there while it’s on, and after it’s over, it’s gone. Similarly, if it is possible to love four minutes of wondering when a record is going to be over, then I do indeed love what I feel.

Extra: “Him”/Rupert Holmes. Voiceover announcer Larry Morgan refers to Holmes as a British singer. True, he was born in the UK to an American soldier and his British wife, but was raised in suburban New York City from the age of six. Holmes holds dual citizenship, but he’s hardly a crumpet-munching limey.

29. “Working My Way Back to You”/Spinners
20. “Daydream Believer”/Anne Murray

Casey plays a snippet of the Four Seasons’ 1966 original before he brings on the Spinners, and they blow the Seasons away. The reverse happens with “Daydream Believer”—10 seconds of the Monkees’ original beats three minutes of Murray’s cover by many miles.

28. “Forever Mine”/O’Jays. Gamble and Huff had gotten aboard the disco train by 1979, but “Forever Mine” is a pleasant throwback to Philly soul’s still-recent heyday.

27. “Why Me”/Styx. Casey says that according to a new Gallup poll, American kids aged 12 to 19 have a new favorite rock band. For the last two years, it’s been KISS. But in the latest poll, that group has fallen to #4 behind Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees, and the new #1, Styx.

25. “September Morn”/Neil Diamond
24. “Fool in the Rain”/Led Zeppelin

23. “Third Time Lucky”/Foghat
After “September Morn,” Casey teased a story about a rock star who liked to fish and caught a shark. Having peeked ahead on the cue sheet, I knew “Fool in the Rain” was next, and the first thought that flashed into my mind was “oh god no.” Fortunately, the story turned out to be about Foghat’s Roger Earl (although it happened at the same place as the Zeppelin incident).

18. “Don’t Let Go”/Isaac Hayes. The radio stations I was listening to in 1980 weren’t playing this, and I never paid enough attention to it to realize that it’s a remake of the old R&B song: “Ooh wee / This thing is killin’ me / Aw shucks / Can’t stop for a million bucks.”

17. “Longer”/Dan Fogelberg. Casey says that Fogelberg was up for the job in the Eagles that Joe Walsh got, but that he wasn’t disappointed to lose out. “I get a lot more sleep than they do,” Dan says. Then Casey introduces “Longer” by saying, “Here’s the slumbering Dan Fogelberg.” Sounds about right.

32. “Voices”/Cheap Trick
10. “Don’t Do Me Like That”/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
7. “Sara”/Fleetwood Mac
One of these is the best record on the show, and I can’t decide.

3. “Coward of the County”/Kenny Rogers
2. “Do That To Me One More Time”/Captain and Tennille
1. “Rock With You”/Michael Jackson
Behold yet again the crazed variety of Top 40 radio in America. These three were in the same positions as the previous week, and they would hold the next week as well. It was Michael’s third of four weeks at the top. “Do That to Me One More Time” would spend eight straight weeks among the Top Three and hit #1 two weeks hence.

(For more on this show and the music of this week, including a handwritten copy of the list, visit Wm.’s site here.)

The Best of Intentions

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(Pictured: Styx in the 70s.)

I’ve said before that it’s probably not fair to listen to American Top 40 on the molecular level. Casey Kasem and his staff were just making a show from week to week, one that they hoped would be A) entertaining and B) profitable. They didn’t realize they were creating an institution, one that nerds would continue to obsess over even after Casey left this plane of existence for the Great DJ Booth in the Sky.

But here we go anyhow.

This blog has made its share of mistakes over the years, and has proliferated plenty of misinformation. I’ve done it on the radio, too. There’s less justification for errors in the Internet age because it’s easier to fact-check than it used to be. But AT40 did not have the benefit of such a miraculous resource. Like DJs in other places (and bloggers in modern times), the AT40 staff went ahead with the best of intentions, hoped to get things right, and sometimes did not.

Some feats of research accomplished by the AT40 staff were positively heroic in an age before searchable electronic databases. By the time the show reached its height of influence and popularity, a lot of the features came from original reporting, from exclusive interviews with stars and record-industry people. But even those interviews could lead to misinformation, most famously John D. Loudermilk’s tale of how he came to write “Indian Reservation.” That dramatic story was a fabrication concocted for the benefit of an AT40 researcher. Casey repeated the story a couple of times over the years, even after it should have been possible to debunk it.

As former AT40 staffer Scott Paton told us a few years ago, AT 40 also relied on popular music magazines for content. Those magazines also hoped to get things right, but sometimes they didn’t either.

Most often, mistakes involved little things. On the show dated February 1, 1975, Casey mentioned that members of Styx, then rising with their first hit, “Lady,” had been in the Trade Winds, who had recorded the 1964 hit “New York’s a Lonely Town (When You’re the Only Surfer Boy Around).” But they weren’t. The Trade Winds (two words) were from Providence, Rhode Island. Chicago-area teenagers John Panozzo, Chuck Panozzo, and Dennis De Young were in a band called the Tradewinds (one word), but they changed their band’s name to TW4 after “New York’s a Lonely Town” hit.

Casey had made a similar error in 1971. He told listeners that James Taylor had been in the Flying Machine, a group that had hit in 1969 with the bubblegum classic “Smile a Little Smile for Me.” James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine had banged out some demos in 1966 but they weren’t released until 1971. And that Flying Machine had nothing to do with “Smile a Little Smile for Me.”

I know from bitter experience myself that erroneous leaps of logic like those are fabulously easy to make.

The very first thing people ever knew about Barry Manilow besides the fact that he sang “Mandy” was that he wrote and sang on many famous commercial jingles. On the 2/1/75 show, with “Mandy” still on the chart, Casey mentions one of those jingles: “you deserve a break today” for McDonalds. That bit of trivia actually has a narrative arc: for a long time, it was believed to be true; then it was believed to be false, and pedants such as I would point out that one McDonalds jingle Manilow really did write was the somewhat less famous “you, you’re the one.” Today, most sources say it’s unclear whether he wrote “you deserve a break today,” although he definitely sang it on a number of ads.

There’s no malice in these mistakes. They’re just part of making a show, day to day or week to week. You do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes you just get stuff wrong.

On Another Matter: AT40‘s modern-day repeats contain extra segments that affiliates can use to fill unsold commercial time. Most of these are voiced by the show’s announcer, Larry Morgan, and they’re usually highly familiar hits that are a week or two away from hitting the countdown. The 2/1/75 show included Neil Diamond’s “I’ve Been This Way Before” which, compared to the usual run of extras, is fairly obscure. It debuted on the Hot 100 at #73 that week, and would peak at #34 in a three-week run on the Hot 100. It was a #1 Easy Listening hit, however, and it’s easier to imagine it there than on your typical Top 40 blowtorch.

A Hard Luck Woman After the Lovin’

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(Pictured: Rose Royce, fronted by lead singer Gwen Dickey.)

“I am entirely irrational about the songs on the radio during the winter of 1977,” I wrote three years ago. “Most of them sound great to me, and you can’t persuade me otherwise.” So I enjoyed the recent repeat of the American Top 40 show from January 29, 1977. In this post, I hope to say some new things about the hits of that season.

37. “It Keeps You Runnin'”/Doobie Brothers 
35. “You Got Me Runnin'”/Gene Cotton
“It Keeps You Runnin'” wasn’t the first big hit by Doobies Mark II—that was “Takin’ It to the Streets” the previous summer. We still didn’t quite know what to make of the new sound, however; this is as high as “It Keeps You Runnin'” would get. Cotton recorded steadily for years before breaking onto Top 40 radio with hits in 1977 and 1978, none of which get much airplay anymore: “You’ve Got Me Runnin,'” “Before My Heart Finds Out,” and a duet with Kim Carnes called “You’re a Part of Me.” Cotton’s 1978 single “Like a Sunday in Salem,” which was less successful than the other three, is obliquely about the McCarthy/blacklist era of the 1950s, and is pretty dang good.

In the first hour of the show, Casey welcomes some new stations to the AT40 family including WLSD in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and the fact that they weren’t running an underground rock format was a great lost opportunity. (I can hear the jocks now: “You’re trippin’ on WLSD, Big Stoned Gap.”) The call letters have nothing to do with the drug: according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), they stand for the four counties served by the station, which went on the air in 1953 and still exists today, with the same set of calls, playing Southern gospel.

31. “Save It for a Rainy Day”/Stephen Bishop. Like “You Got Me Runnin'” and several others on this chart, “Save It for a Rainy Day” is a light-and-easy feel-good pop song. This kind of thing would grow in popularity as the boomers hit their mid-30s.

26. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
25. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
24. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
These three songs ran the chart in a clump for several weeks, as you’ll see if you look at the 2016 post linked above. Hearing them in the context of their time once again was strangely moving. While I’m sometimes sorry to have missed the musical 60s, I feel lucky to have grown up with the music of the 70s.

20. “Hard Luck Woman”/KISS
19. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck
There are no words for how much I love this train wreck.

10. “Walk This Way”/Aerosmith
9. “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”/Barbra Streisand
Or this one. “Evergreen” was up 11 spots this week.

(Digression: I have heard the Oscar-nominated song from last year’s remake of A Star Is Born, “Shallow,” only a couple of times, but I have opinions. One, the crowd noise on it is pretty obviously fake, as if the producers were trying to subliminally suggest to us, “This song is really good! Just listen to people liking it!”) And two, you can hear how hard Bradley Cooper is working to be an adequate singer. When Lady Gaga comes in, her virtuosity reveals how limited he is. The fact that non-singing actors aren’t dubbed anymore isn’t a victory for artistic integrity, it’s the triumph of ego.)

11. “Enjoy Yourself”/The Jacksons. After the Jacksons left Motown, their first album for CBS/Epic was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble says they taught Michael and his brothers a lot about songwriting and production. While “Enjoy Yourself” has a spiky beat that falls in line with the sound the Jacksons had established during the Motown years, a better indication of what might have been, had Gamble and Huff continued to produce them, is the followup single “Show You the Way to Go.”

3. “Dazz”/Brick
2. “I Wish”/Stevie Wonder
1. “Car Wash”/Rose Royce
This is a pretty solid ending to the show. One of these three songs was on the radio literally every hour between December 1976 and March 1977. Brick had been in the Top 10 for five weeks at this point; Stevie was coming off a week at #1. As for “Car Wash,” if you haven’t seen the movie, go find it. It captures the look and attitude of a particular moment of the 1970s, and it features a lot of actors whose faces you’ll recognize (Franklin Ajaye, Ivan Dixon from Hogan’s Heroes, Professor Irwin Corey, and Melanie Mayron, who would be in the cast of thirtysomething), plus Richard Pryor and George Carlin too. (See a clip of the title song here.)

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