The Wind

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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.

A Summer With the Radio

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(Pictured: Carole King and Tapestry producer Lou Adler, at work in 1971.)

The summer of 1971, 50 years ago now, was the first summer I ever spent with a radio in my ear. The American Top 40 show from June 5, 1971, creates not memories, not exactly, but a jumble of images that pop up and disappear before I can grasp any one of them. It all adds up to a vibe, however, and that made for a very enjoyable show.

39. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”/Diana Ross
38. “I Don’t Blame You at All”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
A downtempo version of the Four Tops epic seemed like a good idea to somebody, if not to me. “I Don’t Blame You at All,” meanwhile, is a “Tears of a Clown”-level master class in record-making.

EXTRA: “Call Me”/Chris Montez. Casey tells about a 1963 run of shows Montez made in Britain, during which he was billed above the then-unknown Beatles. “Call Me” was written for Petula Clark by her impresario, Tony Hatch, and first released in late 1965, although the Montez version, arranged and produced by Herb Alpert, was bigger, making #22 on the Hot 100 and #2 on Easy Listening early in 1966. “Call Me” was soon recorded in famous versions by Frank Sinatra and Brazilian keyboard star Walter Wanderley (a bright-n-bubbly version on the flip side of his “Summer Samba”), and by lots of other people, although it faded from general popularity in the 70s.

31. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Yvonne Elliman
14. “Superstar”/Murray Head
13. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Helen Reddy
The most-discussed album of 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar, spent only three non-consecutive weeks at #1, one in February and two in May. June, however, marked peak Superstar on the singles chart.

EXTRA: “Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet“/Henry Mancini. Casey’s special report on “the most popular lovers history has ever known” contains a weird production choice. He introduces the bit and then starts listing famous couples, including Sonny and Cher, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara (complete with a brief Clark Gable imitation). His voice fades out while he’s still listing pairs of lovers, and Mancini comes up behind him; at the end of the song, his voice fades back in, still listing pairs of lovers, including David and Julie. If you recognize them, you’re probably old. If you don’t, their identity will be revealed below.

19. “Love Her Madly”/Doors
18. “If”/Bread
17. “Chick-a-Boom”/Daddy Dewdrop
16. “Here Comes the Sun”/Richie Havens
15. “Treat Her Like a Lady”/Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
This is a great AM-radio run right here. Casey says that the Doors have tied Creedence Clearwater Revival for the longest string of certified-gold albums. L.A. Woman becomes their sixth—but 50 years later, does any other Doors album matter to anybody, as an album? I remain gobsmacked at the beauty of “If,” amused by the madness of “Chick-a-Boom,” and impressed by whoever is playing the hot lead guitar on “Treat Her Like a Lady.” And as I have said before, I knew this “Here Comes the Sun” long before I ever heard George Harrison’s.

11. “I’ll Meet You Halfway”/Partridge Family
10. “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo”/Lobo
9. “It’s Too Late”/Carole King
8. “Never Can Say Goodbye”/Jackson Five
7. “Sweet and Innocent”/Donny Osmond
6. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Aretha Franklin
4. “It Don’t Come Easy”/Ringo Starr
3. “Want Ads”/Honey Cone
2. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night

One of these things is not like the others, and it is “Sweet and Innocent.” “It’s Too Late” is up to #9 in only its third week on the show, and it will spend the first of its five weeks at #1 two weeks hence. “Want Ads” will be #1 for the week of June 12.

5. “Rainy Days and Mondays”/Carpenters
1. “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones
By the standards of the analog world, when you had to put on pants and leave your house to buy a piece of plastic with your favorite song on it, these songs were unusually hot. During the week of May 1, “Brown Sugar” came on the Hot 100 at #40, then went 13-6-3 and to #1 for the week of May 29, ending the six-week run of “Joy to the World.” On May 15, “Rainy Days and Mondays” entered at #46 before going 20-11 and to #5 in this week, eventually stalling at #2. In a download world, both would probably have debuted at #1.

On his list of history’s greatest lovers, Casey included David Eisenhower, grandson of the former president, and Julie Nixon, daughter of the current president. They’d known one another since they were children, and they married in 1968, both age 20. They were, in 1971, one of the most famous couples in America. They’re still married today.