(Pictured: Nat King Cole, circa 1963.)
In past years, we have looked into Billboard magazine’s special Christmas charts for several years of the 60s and 70s. Now let’s take a look at the return of those charts in 1983, 1984, and 1985. In each year, charts for singles and albums have 10 places, which is a far cry from the huge charts from the 60s.
Charts for 1983 appear in the December 17 and December 24 issues. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is #1 on the first Billboard Christmas chart since 1973; the next week, however, it’s taken out by Elmo and Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” first heard at Christmas 1979 but getting its first nationwide release in ’83. Although they swap positions around, nine of the top 10 singles, all returning classics, are exactly the same in both weeks; “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale appears on the 17th but is replaced by Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” on the 24th. Same deal on the album chart: nine of the 10 are the same both weeks. Kenny Rogers’ Christmas Album is #1 on both charts. John Denver and the Muppets’ A Christmas Together appears only on the 17th and Chipmunk Christmas only on the 24th. The newest single on either chart is “Christmas in Dixie” by Alabama, released in 1982; the newest charting albums, by Kenny Rogers and Anne Murray, were released in 1981.
Charts for 1984 appear in the issues of December 15 and 22. New-for-1984 Once Upon a Christmas by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton is #1 both weeks; a new release Billboard lists as Christmas Mannheim Steamroller also appears both weeks, as does the new Christmas at Our House by Barbara Mandrell. But as in 1983, the charts are mostly static from week to week. Christmas With Placido by Placido Domingo shows up only on the 15th; it’s replaced by Frank Sinatra’s 1963 Christmas album on the 22nd. An oddity on the singles chart is that “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole appears only on the 15th; so does “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You” by Billy Squier, first released in 1981. They are replaced on the 22nd by “Another Lonely Christmas” by Prince and “Winter Wonderland” by Dolly Parton. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” tops the singles chart both weeks.
Missing from the 1984 Christmas charts is Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Unlike other Christmas singles, it placed on the Hot 100. It debuted on 12/22/84 at #65, peaked at #13 on 1/19/85, and then spent four weeks on its way off the chart.
In 1985, Billboard publishes just one Christmas chart, in the December 21 issue. It includes two new albums, Alabama Christmas by Alabama, which is #1, and It’s Christmas All Over the World by New Edition. George Winston’s December, first released in 1982, makes its first Christmas chart appearance, and so does a 1983 album by Amy Grant. Two new singles appear in the Christmas Top 10: “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” by Bruce Springsteen. The rest of the slots on both charts are taken up by returning holiday hits.
I will give you one guess what the #1 Christmas single of 1985 was, and it wasn’t Bruce or Bryan.
There’s a spreadsheet with all of the years, titles, and chart positions here. Only 18 songs take up the 50 spots available on the singles charts, with five appearing on all five charts: “White Christmas,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” “Blue Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs appear on four. Twenty-one albums take up the 50 spots. Only two appear on all five charts: A Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand and Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters. Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray, and Luciano Pavarotti appear on four.
In the 80s, it took a superstar event to crack the canon: Kenny and Dolly were that in 1984; Bruce Springsteen, and to a lesser extent, Bryan Adams and Alabama, were that in 1985. Although Christmas singles and albums were released and re-released every year, it often took a year or two before they got much sales or airplay traction, but they were likely to be swamped by music recorded a generation or two before. As a result, the charts remained very predictable every year, and their utility to broadcasters and retailers must have shrunk to almost nothing. It’s not surprising that Billboard‘s Christmas charts vanished for good after 1985.
(Note to Patrons: One Day in Your Life is in the midst of a Christmas post-o-rama, now and through Christmas Day, so stop over.)
Billboard did not publish a Christmas chart in its edition dated December 9, 1972. It did, however, include a feature we have visited before, “What’s Playing,” in which amusement operators list the records they are adding to their jukeboxes, or which are getting big play. From this we can get a modest idea of the demand for particular Christmas hits in that bygone year.
Jukebox operators were well-advised to stock up on Christmas warhorses: at C. S. Pierce Music in Brodhead, Wisconsin, Marie Pierce (someone known to some of my relatives since my mother is from Brodhead) reports big play for Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms. Betty Schott of Western Automatic Music in Chicago says Brenda Lee and Bobby Helms are doing well on jukeboxes catering to the high-school crowd, as are Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and “Silver Bells” by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely, first heard at Christmas 1950. In Jefferson City, Missouri, Lloyd Grice of United Distributors reports patrons are playing four versions of “Blue Christmas” on his soul-music jukeboxes, by Elvis, Russ Morgan, Ace Cannon, and Ernest Tubb. He’s also seeing action on “Jingle Bell Rock” and Bing’s “White Christmas,” which has always done big business among soul and R&B audiences. In Madison, Wisconsin, Pat Schwartz of Modern Specialty Company is stocking country jukeboxes with Nat and Bing, but also with Dean Martin’s version of “Blue Christmas,” the Carpenters’ “Merry Christnas Darling,” and the Harry Simeone Chorale’s “The Little Drummer Boy.” Harry and Bing are pulling big coins on jukeboxes serviced by Lloyd Smalley of Chattanooga Coin Machine Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with Elvis doing “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” and “Blue Christmas,” of course. In Fertile, Minnesota, in the northwestern part of the state, Duane Knutson of Automatic Sales Company has stocked his easy-listening jukeboxes with “White Christmas” and Johnny Cash’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” and is looking ahead by getting Guy Lombardo’s “Auld Lang Syne,” too.
A handful of ethnic novelties are turning up on a few Midwestern jukeboxes in December 1972. In Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, Ruth Sawejka of Coin-Operated Amusement Company has purchased “Yo Ho Hilda’s Christmas” by Jimmy Jenson, a Swedish dialect record that nicks the tune from “Up on the House Top.” Jim and Belle Stansfield of Stansfield Novelty Company of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, are adding Jenson’s version of the Yogi Yorgesson hit “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.” Jenson, known as the Swingin’ Swede, was a popular bandleader and restauranteur in Minnesota from the 1940s into the new millennium. He started doing Swedish dialect records after hearing Yorgesson in the 50s.
The Stansfields in LaCrosse and Robert Hesch of A&H Entertainers in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, are adding another Scandinavian dialect record, “Christmas Goose” by Stan and Doug. Stan Boreson was from Washington state and became a popular kids’ TV host in Seattle. In 1970, he and partner Doug Setterberg released Stan and Doug Yust Go Nuts at Christmas, which featured several versions of Christmas novelties first recorded by Yorgesson; “Christmas Goose,” which revolves around a mild double entendre, is a parody of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” and it scores extra points for rhyming “goose” with “obtuse.”
(The popularity of Scandinavian dialect records in the Upper Midwest should not surprise you. Everybody who did them performed in the shadow of Yorgesson, the Elvis of the form. I wrote about him in 2008.)
Christmas music is not the only thing jukebox patrons want in December, of course. And so the operators are stocking big Top 40 hits, or hits-to-be: Marie Pierce reports “I Wanna Be With You” by the Raspberries, “Keeper of the Castle” by the Four Tops, “Been to Canaan” by Carole King, the Partridge Family’s “Looking Through the Eyes of Love,” “Long Dark Road” by the Hollies, and “Sitting” by Cat Stevens. Also on her list: “I Got a Bag of My Own” by James Brown and “Angel” by Rod Stewart. Betty Schott is spanning genres with Bread’s “Sweet Surrender,” “Rock and Roll Soul” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield, and Three Dog Night’s “Pieces of April.” Going similarly wide, Helen Franklin of Schaffner Music Company of Alton, Illinois, reports “Ventura Highway” by America, Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes,” and Cher’s version of “Our Day Will Come.”
Operators knew the desires of the audiences in the places where their boxes were located; restauranteurs and bartenders could help them tailor their selections. Programming an analog jukebox was both science and art, but certainly both hit and miss as well.
(Pictured: Delaney and Bonnie, bigger with the kids than you might expect.)
Let’s look inside the edition of Billboard dated October 17, 1970, to see what we can see.
Three-month-old syndicated radio show American Top 40, now heard on 30 stations, has sold all of its national commercial inventory for the next six weeks to MGM Records. The label intends to use the buy to promote 10 of its artists: Eric Burdon, Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Bloom, Michael Parks, the Mike Curb Congregation, Hank Williams Jr., the Osmond Brothers, Richie Havens, Lalo Schifrin, and Heintje, an 11-year-old singer from the Netherlands. (An MGM ad elsewhere in the magazine says that Heintje is 14, however.) A different story details another new media venture that’s gaining popularity: the Chicago-based TV series Soul Train. Host Don Cornelius estimates that the show has 100,000 to 150,000 viewers daily at 4:30 in the afternoon. He hopes that the show will soon be picked up for syndication across the country.
Headline toward the bottom of page 8: “Janis Joplin, Queen of Rock, Dies of Overdose of Drugs.” The lede: “Janis Joplin, whose personal philosophy was to do everything possible to enjoy life, was found dead Sunday [(10/4)]. She had been working on her third Columbia album.”
Another headline: “‘What’s Playing’ on Jukebox Often Differs From Charts.” “On any given week,” the magazine reports, “the ‘What’s Playing?’ [chart] reflects the tastes of the record playing public, which generally differ greatly from the record buying public.” Jukebox operators report figures based on the target audience where jukeboxes are located, including teen, adult, and soul. In a recent week, an operator in Glendale, California, said that the most popular songs among her teenaged jukebox patrons were “Soul Shake” by Delaney and Bonnie, “Lola” by the Kinks, and “Funk 49” by the James Gang, none of which was currently placed higher than #40 on the Hot 100. Records often achieve jukebox popularity before they make any noise on other charts; similarly, records often remain hot on jukeboxes after they’ve cooled on the charts.
On the Best Selling Tape Cartridges chart, Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Chicago lead both the 8-track and cassette listings. Other top tapes include Closer to Home by Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and the Woodstock soundtrack. Best Selling Jazz LPs is led by Miles Davis and Bitches Brew. Isaac Hayes has two albums in the jazz Top 10, The Isaac Hayes Movement and Hot Buttered Soul. The Isaac Hayes Movement is also riding high on the Best Selling Soul LPs chart, along with releases by the Jackson Five, Diana Ross, and the Four Tops. Cosmo’s Factory and Mad Dogs and Englishmen are also on the Soul LPs chart. On the Top LPs chart, Cosmo’s Factory is #1 again this week, but Abraxas by Santana makes a strong move to #2 from #8. The new Rolling Stones album, the live Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! debuts at #10.
The Best Selling Soul Singles chart has the same four songs at the top as last week: the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross, “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright, and “Still Water (Love)” by the Four Tops. The #1 song on the Hot Country Singles chart is “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Johnny Cash. Two songs in the country Top 10, “It’s Only Make Believe” by Glen Campbell and “Snowbird” by Anne Murray are major pop crossovers. They sit at #2 and #8 on the Easy Listening chart respectively, where the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” is #1. Two new songs have blasted into the Easy Listening Top 10: “Sweetheart” by Engelbert Humperdinck is at #3 from #17 last week, and Shirley Bassey’s cover of the Beatles’ “Something” is at #7 from #22 last week.
On the Hot 100, “I’ll Be There” hits #1, knocking “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond to #2. “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf is #3. James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” is the lone new entry in the Top 10 at #10. The hottest song within the Top 40 is “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, up 11 spots to #11. The highest debut in the Top 40 is “God, Love, and Rock & Roll” by Teegarden and Van Winkle at #30. The highest debut on the Hot 100 is “Heed the Call” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition at #67; “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles is new at #68.
And finally: a small display ad in the magazine offers wristwatches bearing the faces of Bullwinkle J. Moose or Dudley Do-Right “in five mind-boggling colors! Spiffy up your wrist with this happy watch!” Send $12.95 plus shipping and handling to Jay Ward Productions, Hollywood, California.
Among the front-page headlines: “Disco Music Sounds Undergoing Changes.” Labels and artists have been stung by accusations that “emphasis on basic rhythms and marginal lyric content were mindless and insulting to the intelligence of audiences.” As a result, Billboard contributor Tom Moulton says, “The disco record is no longer all rhythms and a bunch of drums. . . . Consequently there is no longer a single, readily identifiable disco beat but a kaleidoscope of sounds that are melodic and danceable.” Among the artists mentioned as trendsetters of the new sound: Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, the Bee Gees, Lou Rawls, Donna Summer, Double Exposure, and Vicki Sue Robinson.
(Commentary from the present: Moulton’s contention interests me, as I’ve always believed disco, at least the stuff on the radio, was more interesting pre-1977, and that as time went by, the beat got more mindless, not less.)
The magazine’s Disco Forum includes a feature on the growing popularity of mobile discos, which can take the party anywhere. Twenty-one-year-old Bill Alan operates Apollo Disco, a mobile in Minneapolis, and says that when he entertained at a nursing home, he brought his parents’ Longines Symphonette albums, but the residents didn’t want to hear Dorsey, Dean Martin, or Sinatra. “They wanted Earth, Wind and Fire and Van McCoy,” Alan recalls.
Former CBS Records executive Clive Davis has been fined $10,000 for tax evasion but will not receive jail time. Two men and a woman have been arrested in the kidnapping case involving producer Lou Adler, who was held for eight hours early in September. A report by the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy says radio broadcasters could lose up to 15 percent of car listeners to “CB crosstalk” by 1980. The study also predicts chaos if the FCC goes ahead with plans to expand the citizens band without increasing its ability to regulate use of the new channels. A Christian music publisher is suing five Catholic churches in the Chicago archdiocese for using pirated hymnals. In recent years, publishers have stepped up efforts to collect royalties from individual churches, especially since the reforms of Vatican II changed the primary language of the Catholic mass from Latin to English.
A canvas of retail stores in the northeastern United States reveals that despite a standard list price of $6.98, albums are most frequently sold for $3.99. Stores based in malls and discount or department stores tend to sell at higher prices than retail record and tape stores and freestanding stores not connected with a mall. Prices in the New York and Philadelphia metro areas are the highest. The average price across the region is $4.94, although some stores in outlying areas sell $6.98 albums for as little as $2.99. In a related story, retailers would like labels to release more product at a price point of $4.98.
In the Marketplace section, readers can buy spray incense and velvet posters, FCC exam study guides for first- and second-class operator’s licenses, and several different radio comedy services. One guy advertises his service by saying, “Absolutely none can top my original, sophisticated material. Make listeners think you actually finished high school!”
On the record charts, the most-added singles on playlists across the country are “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille, “A Dose of Rock and Roll” by Ringo Starr, and the Bee Gees’ “Love So Right.” Albums getting the most adds to station playlists are Long May You Run by the Stills-Young Band, Year of the Cat by Al Stewart, Modern Music by Be Bop Deluxe, and Robin Trower’s Long Misty Days. Most-requested albums at radio stations are Linda Ronstadt’s Hasten Down the Wind, One More From the Road by Lynryd Skynyrd, and self-titled albums by Boston and the Funky Kings.
Rack jobbers report that 12 of the nation’s 40 best-selling albums are compilations of hit singles; Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 by the Eagles and Greatest Hits by War rank in the Top 10 of all albums sold. The jobbers’ best-selling albums are Frampton Comes Alive! and Fleetwood Mac. Frampton Comes Alive! is #1 on Top LPs and Tape; Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs is #2. “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry leads the sales chart for singles; it’s also #1 on the Hot 100 for a second week. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan and John Ford Coley holds at #2, while Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” and “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees make strong moves to #3 and #4. Both will eventually reach #1, Murphy next week and Dees the week after that.
(Pictured: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page at the first performance of the New Yardbirds, September 1968.)
Fifty years ago this week, an edition of Billboard magazine landed on the desks of radio, music, and vending industry people around the country. Here’s some of the news inside.
—Dot Records is making a significant push to increase its appeal to younger record buyers. The label has signed the following acts: Bugsy Maugh, lead singer of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; San Francisco blues band Mount Rushmore; City Zu, “a Seattle quintet being groomed for the teeny-bopper audience”; and Life, a quartet from Columbus, Ohio. For newly signed singer Val Stecklein, producer Ray Ruff says he already has a plan. Ruff “will emphasize the vocalist’s words by stopping all the instruments and underscoring phrases with one instrument.”
—For the Chuck Barris Syndicate, which has already recorded its first Dot single, “Baja California,” the label has created a character to appear in advertising and direct-mail pieces: Baja Benny. A Baja Benny ad appears on page 27 of the magazine. He is what white readers of 1968 would have expected a Mexican to be, although to a reader in 2018, he hits every offensive stereotype: a sleepy-eyed, overweight man with a big mustache and an even bigger sombrero, a sash over one shoulder, a pistol on his hip, a bottle in his hand, and a cigarette in his mouth. He is seen on the front porch of a tumbledown shack, accompanied by a scantily dressed young woman and a child wearing only a diaper.
—RCA is warning that cassette recorders are a potential threat to both the pre-recorded tape and record businesses. RCA is worried about people recording music off the radio, and has criticized an ad for a Harmon-Kardon stereo system that suggested users could borrow records from friends and record them on blank tapes.
—Record labels are planning to distribute certain classical 45s to easy listening, pop, and rock radio stations. They’re mostly, but not exclusively, themes from popular movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Elvira Madigan, and Rosemary’s Baby.
—A news item says that the reorganized Yardbirds are planning a fall college tour. Billboard says “the group will be billed as the Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page. John Paul Jones and Robert Plante [sic] are new members of the act.” In the same news column, it’s reported that “Van Morrison, who is not presently associated with any personal management firm, can be contacted at 610 Green St., Cambridge, Mass.”
—Billboard‘s Hits of the World feature shows the top singles in Europe, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Argentina. In Britain, “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown takes over the #1 spot from “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells, which falls to #2. “Mony Mony” is #1 in Spain. The Ohio Express takes the top spot in Malaysia and Singapore with “Yummy Yummy Yummy.” In Australia, the #1 hit of the week is “The Orange and the Green” by the Irish Rovers, the group that hit around the world earlier in 1968 with “The Unicorn.”
—On the charts, the #1 song on the Hot 100 is “People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals. “I Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell and the Drells and “Stay in My Corner” by the Dells (the #1 R&B single this week) are new in the Top 10. Two Aretha Franklin songs debut in the Top 40: “The House That Jack Built” (#21) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (#39). Other debuts include Deep Purple’s “Hush” (#38). Cream’s Wheels of Fire is #1 on the Top LPs chart, just ahead of the Rascals compilation Time Peace and Aretha Now, all of which have been on the chart seven weeks and are in the same positions as last week. (“Wheels of Fire” also appears on the R&B album chart.) The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun blasts to #4 from #29 last week. Also making a big move is Feliciano!, up to #6 from #28. On the Hot Country Singles chart, “Already It’s Heaven” by David Houston is #1, knocking “Heaven Says Hello” by Sonny James to #2. The Easy Listening chart is led by Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” which is #1 for a second week. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Mama Cass is at #2, and the Vogues’ “Turn Around Look at Me” is #3. The lone new song in the Easy Listening Top 10 is “The Fool on the Hill” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. An older Sergio Mendes hit, “The Look of Love,” is hanging around at #14.
And then, in the blink of an eye, half of a century goes by.