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I was amusing myself the other day at American Radio History, as one does, poking through the edition of Radio and Records dated May 21, 1976.

Item: “Dean Hallem, PD of WRNW of Westchester, New York, has done some heavy investigative reporting and claims to have discovered that the cut ‘Memory Motel’ on the current Rolling Stones album is in fact a real place in Montauk, Long Island. He called the owner, invited her to the radio station, and conducted an in-depth interview in which she shared with the station’s listeners an extensive history of the motel. One of the fascinating points that she brought up is the fact that many years ago a young boy had died at the motel and that’s why it’s called Memory Motel. There’s even a plaque on the premises commemorating the situation. Dean doesn’t want to hog this valuable information so he taped the interview and is willing to share it with other [album-rock radio stations] around the country. Stations wishing to obtain a free [copy] should call him. . . .”

Comment: One hopes Hallam’s “in-depth interview” eventually got to the interesting parts of the story. The Stones spent some time at Andy Warhol’s estate in Montauk during 1975, and they caused quite a stir. They supposedly visited the Memory Motel bar one night to drink and play pool. The owners didn’t like them, but Mick and Keef found the place memorable enough to title a song after it.

Item: “As any good production man knows, editing is actually quite an art. Witness the new action on the Manhattans release ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye.’ Before the edited version, it was tough getting Pop/Adult airplay. Things now seem much brighter for continued airplay.”

Comment: The edit to which R&R refers involves snipping off the original’s long, spoken introduction and starting the record after the last of it: “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye,” which made the record a lot more palatable to adult-contemporary and Top 40 stations. It worked: “Kiss and Say Goodbye” would end up one of the biggest hits of the year.

Item: “KFXM/San Bernadino’s new CB request line is serving a dual purpose for the station. During peak traffic periods in the area, listeners can use their CBs to call the station with trafic conditions. Reports can’t be directly rebroadcast over the air, so the caller’s name and report are taken off the CB and mentioned on KFXM.”

Comment: I am not entirely sure how a CB radio request line would have worked; presumably the station was monitoring a single CB channel and telling listeners to use it to contact them. I suppose that once I got used to it, having to respond to CB radio calls in the studio would be no worse than answering the telephone, although maybe the newsroom was monitoring CB chatter just as they would have done with police scanner traffic. That would, however, require a busy reporter to take time out of the day to tell me that Becky from San Berdoo wants to hear “Boogie Fever.”

Item: Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the big chart on the back page of the magazine (seen at the top of this post; click to embiggen) was fairly static. Songs receive a bullet if they are gaining in popularity among reporting stations, but only 14 of 40 songs on the chart get one. “Silly Love Songs” by Wings holds at #1 for a second week but maintains its bullet; “Welcome Back,” “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” and “Shannon” continue to hang on right behind. “Disco Lady,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Show Me the Way,” three of the biggest hits of the spring, are still getting airplay, as is “December 1963,” which first charted in the winter.

Also on the back page is a list of active album cuts, which many Top 40 stations would have been mixing in, especially at night. It includes three cuts from Led Zeppelin’s Presence: “Hots on for Nowhere,” “Candy Store Rock,” and “Royal Orleans.” (Although it’s now considered a minor entry in the Zeppelin catalog, Presence was extremely popular on radio in 1976.) The list also includes Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” which would have been the live version from his then-current Here and There album.

Comment: If I ever think of anything new to say about the hit music of 1976, you’ll be the first to know.

Honor Roll

(Pictured: Pee Wee King and his group, originators of “Tennessee Waltz,” one of the 20th century’s biggest hits.)

We’ve mentioned here a time or two the battery of “main” charts Billboard published in the 1950s: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys, and Most Played in Jukeboxes. But from 1945 through 1963, Billboard also published a weekly Honor Roll of Hits. It was a listing by song title, showing the various versions that were available for sale. The Honor Roll of Hits reflects a reality of American popular music from the birth of recorded sound until the 1960s: the song was often more important to record buyers than the artist. In their ads from the pre-1920 Pioneer Era, record companies frequently touted which songs were available with no mention of who recorded them. From the 20s to the early 50s, competing versions of popular songs frequently charted at the same time.

“The Tennessee Waltz” is a representative example, but by no means the only one of its kind. Several versions hit big on the country charts in 1948, the biggest by Pee Wee King, but also in recordings by Cowboy Copas and Roy Acuff. In late 1950, Patti Page released a pop version that became a generational smash, eventually doing 13 weeks at #1. During the week of February 3, 1951, Page’s version was #1 on Best Selling Pop Singles and Most Played in Jukeboxes. It was #2 on the cumbersomely named Most Played Jukebox Folk (Country and Western) Records chart. And it brought 18 other versions trailing behind it onto the Honor Roll of Hits. The 1948 recordings by King, Acuff, and Copas were reissued, and Copas also cut a duet version with Ruby Wright. Other versions that charted were by Guy Lombardo, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, Spike Jones, the Fontane Sisters, and Anita O’Day. And there were eight other versions beyond that.

“Tennessee Waltz” was also #1 on Best Selling Sheet Music during the week of 2/3/51, but beyond the evidence of the charts, that week’s Billboard contains a note that vividly illustrates its popularity: a radio station in Utica, New York, did a fundraiser for the March of Dimes in which a listener who made a donation could request a song. They got so many requests for “Tennessee Waltz” that the DJ on the air raised the price to $50. Billboard reports: “He got five $50 contributions for the M.O.D.” By one online calculator, $50 in 1951 is equivalent to more than $500 today.

I really need to write about Patti Page sometime. A pioneer of multi-track recording, Page made several records in the 50s that everybody would have known: not just “Tennessee Waltz” but “Mockingbird Hill,” “Doggie in the Window,” “Cross Over the Bridge,” and the spectacularly beautiful “Allegheny Moon” and “Old Cape Cod.” She hit the Top 10 as late as 1965 with “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.” Her “Tennessee Waltz” moved six million copies; she’s said to have sold over 100 million in her career.

This post started out to be about one thing and turned into something else, and now I don’t have a good way to tie it all together, so I’m just gonna dump out the last of it and be on my way.

—By the end of the Honor Roll of Hits era, there wasn’t much to see. On the chart issued December 29, 1962, for example, there’s only one version shown for 28 of the 30 entries.

—On the same page of Billboard that has the 12/29/62 Honor Roll of Hits are a pair of charts headed Best Selling Phonographs, Radios, and Tape Recorders, one for monaural equipment and the other for stereo. A note in the headline explains: “These are the nation’s best sellers by manufacturers based on results of a month-long study using personal interviews with a representative national cross-section of record-selling outlets (only) that also sell phonographs, radios and/or tape recorders.” Rankings are based on a weighted point system, the methodology of which is not clearly explained. Charts are published every three months, although Billboard is careful to specify that they reflect sales only during the past month. In this particular week, the top brand on both charts is Webcor. Other brands listed include some you’d recognize, like Decca, Sony, Ampex and RCA Victor, and some you might not, like Voice of Music, Roberts, and Telectro.

If you are looking to get lost for hours as we stay on lockdown, I recommend the Billboard magazine archive at American Radio History. It offers a limitless supply of rabbit holes to crawl into.

Unstreakable

(Pictured: Robert Shaw, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman in The Sting.)

The March 23, 1974, edition of Billboard magazine featured several stories on various efforts by Congress and the record industry to stop piracy. Various firms have been selling tapes of copyrighted music, taking advantage of loopholes in the law. The FCC is considering whether copyright information could be electronically encoded within the audio of records, tapes, commercials, and other broadcast material to deter pirates. Officials at the CBS and ABC radio networks are in favor of the idea, but they want at least a year to test out potential effects of encoding on audio quality, as well as its effect on the networks’ own encoded signals, which are used to send alerts to affiliates, and to switch programs automatically.

In other news:

—Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson have signed a deal with producer Michael Viner to appear in and provide music for a mixed live-action/animated movie called Ringo’s Night Out. Viner and Nilsson have already collaborated on Til Sex Do Us Part, which Viner describes as “a highly artistic X-rated movie which has been well-received in Europe.”

—A number of DJs have either been streaked by someone while on the air, or gone streaking themselves. Exorcist Records released “Streaking” by Zona Rosa and had it delivered to progressive FM stations in Los Angeles by a streaker. The story concludes: “If you haven’t been personally streaked this past week, perhaps it’s only because you’re un-streakable.”

—The ninth annual Academy of Country Music Awards show will be on March 28 and broadcast on tape delay as part of ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment late-night series. It’s the first-ever telecast of the awards. Charlie Rich and Merle Haggard lead the nominations with five each. Roger Miller will host; presenters will include Dennis Weaver, Bob Eubanks, and Barbi Benton.

—The “Talent in Action” section reviews a Long Island performance headlined by Humble Pie with Spooky Tooth and Montrose; Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie at Carnegie Hall; Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in Oxnard, California; and a New York City showcase for an unsigned bluegrass band called Breakfast Special, which is opened by Buckingham Nicks, which “offered both promise and problems in a brief but telling set.” After remarking that Lindsey Buckingham’s role as lead guitarist and lead vocalist “seems a bit taxing,” reviewer Sam Sutherland says, “Ms. Nicks also encounters problems, chiefly in her solo style, which points up the occasional roughness of her voice and the strident quality to her top end that makes duets bracing but proves less fruitful when she takes the stage alone.”

—Since last August, eight Canadian acts have appeared in Billboard‘s “New on the Charts” feature, giving Canada more than any other country including England. David Foster of the Vancouver-based group Skylark says that he believes Canadian musicians would take as predominant a position in 70s pop as English musicians did during the 60s. Apart from Skylark, the new Canadian hitmakers include Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bill Amesbury, Wednesday, Ian Thomas, newsman Gordon Sinclair (whose spoken-word tribute “The Americans” had been a hit earlier in the year), and Terry Jacks.

—Jacks is just off three weeks at #1 on the Hot 100, but it’s likely that most popular musician in America at the moment is one who’s been dead since 1917. Three albums of Scott Joplin rags are in the Top 10 of the Best Selling Classical LPs chart; Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” recorded by Marvin Hamlisch, debuts on the Hot 100 this week at #88. The album “The Entertainer” comes from, the original soundtrack of the movie The Sting, is at #15 on Top LPs and Tape. That chart is topped by Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were; Greatest Hits by John Denver is #2. The top 10 on the album chart also includes Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves, Band on the Run, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes. The new #1 on the Hot 100 is “Dark Lady” by Cher. “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks is at #2.

Perspective From the Present: This same week, Cash Box reported that Til Sex Do Us Part would be released in New York and other cities in April. That doesn’t seem to have happened, and in fact, I can’t find any evidence of a movie called Til Sex Do Us Part being released anywhere until 2002, and it’s not the one Viner and Nilsson supposedly produced. As for Ringo’s Night Out, Viner spent $15,000 on a “pilot” for the film, which got a screening for potential investors in June 1974, but it didn’t impress enough of them, and the full film was never made.

As It Happened

(Pictured: pop-culture icons collide in August 1977.)

Let’s take a look inside the edition of Billboard magazine dated August 13, 1977.

There’s been a drastic fall-off in patronage at certain New York City discos due to the .44 Caliber Killer, or as he’s better known, Son of Sam. Although at least four of Sam’s victims have been shot after leaving discos, police don’t think he’s targeting disco patrons specifically. It’s more likely that discos provide easy access to his preferred type of young victim. Police have increased patrols around discos in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Meanwhile, clubs in Manhattan and on Long Island have seen increased patronage, likely from people fearful of patronizing clubs in their own neighborhoods.

As it happened, the killer, real name David Berkowitz, was captured on August 10.

On September 1, New York’s WNBC will switch to a rock format, according to new program director Bob Pittman. Pittman, age 23, is best known for his recent success at country station WMAQ in Chicago; he’s bringing WMAQ personality Ellie Dylan with him to do mornings on WNBC. The current WNBC air staff, including morning host Don Imus, has been sacked, although WNBC will continue to be the national radio flagship for NBC News. Another prominent WNBC personality, Cousin Brucie Morrow, broke off contract talks after being told the new format “didn’t require a high-priced voice.” He plans to continue contributing music features to WNBC-TV and to write an autobiography. He also wants to “shop around for a metro-area radio station he can own and operate the way he thinks radio should be run.”

Among the winners at the recent 10th annual International Radio Programming Forum Awards in Toronto: WROK in Rockford, Illinois, as the Grand International Radio Station of the Year, “for its community leadership and its high levels of programming excellence.” Gary Owens of KMPC in Los Angeles was honored as Grand International Personality of the Year. The award for major-market Top 40 personality of the year was a tie between John Landecker of WLS in Chicago and Dan Ingram of WABC in New York. American Top 40 took the award for best regularly scheduled syndicated program. In a related item, American Top 40 has once again been named the most popular program on Armed Forces Radio by AFRTS program directors around the world.

An all-day bill headed by Peter Frampton smashed the concert attendance record at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium on July 31, drawing nearly 60,000 fans. Also on the bill that day: the Steve Miller Band, Styx, and Rick Derringer. Ticket prices ranged from $10 to $12.50. Other recent top-drawing shows included Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, who attracted 40,000 during a four-night stand in suburban Detroit, and Emerson Lake and Palmer with opening act Journey, who drew 10,000 on one night in Vancouver and 15,000 the next night in Seattle. Other major bills on tour at the moment: Bad Company with the Climax Blues Band, Alice Cooper with Burton Cummings, and America with Poco.

On the Hot 100, the top three songs are the same this week as last: “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb, “I’m in You” by Peter Frampton, and “Best of My Love” by the Emotions. The highest debut within the Top 40 is the London Symphony Orchestra recording of the Star Wars theme at #28. The highest Hot 100 debut is “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent at #70. On Top LPs and Tape, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is #1 again. CSN by Crosby Stills and Nash makes a strong move to #2. Barbra Streisand’s Superman, Frampton’s I’m in You, and Love Gun by KISS round out the Top Five.

On Billboard‘s Hits of the World charts, “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer is #1 in Britain. On the Hot Soul Singles chart, “Float On” by the Floaters takes over the #1 spot from the Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23,” which slips to #2. The top two songs on the Easy Listening chart are the same this week as last: “My Heart Belongs to Me” by Barbra Streisand at #1 and “It’s Sad to Belong” by England Dan and John Ford Coley at #2. “Rollin’ With the Flow” by Charlie Rich is #1 again on the Hot Country Singles chart, just ahead of Elvis Presley’s double-A sided hit “Way Down”/”Pledging My Love.”

As it happened, Elvis would die on August 16.

A correction of a story from the August 6 edition says that contrary to what was reported, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” is not in the public domain. “A federal judge ruled that the tale of the old tree is not copyrightable. The song is.”

Meaningful Comments

(Pictured: the Fifth Dimension.)

I have been writing a lot about 1969 lately, and here I go again. (If you think this is overkill, wait until it’s 50 years since the 70s.) What follows are some odds and ends from Billboard magazine 50 years ago this week:

—KLAC and KMET-FM in Los Angeles are coping with an engineers’ strike, as DJs and newsmen who are members of AFTRA won’t cross the engineers’ picket line. The strike began one day before KLAC was set to change format from talk to contemporary middle of the road music, but parent company Metromedia went ahead with the change anyhow. The strike is over Metromedia’s desire to have KLAC and KMET DJs run their own turntables, as they do at some other Metromedia stations. Currently, engineers start the records at the DJs’ direction. The company stresses that engineers will not be losing their jobs. They will still run the control boards. Metromedia managers with on-air experience are filling in for the regular DJs, some having to be flown in from other cities. It’s a method that was used in New York City earlier this year during a brief strike at Metromedia’s WNEW and WNEW-FM. Billboard says that the subsitutes are being “told to keep their chatter to meaningful comments, and to know such production values as how long the introductions and endings of the cuts run.”

Fifty years later: the “record turner” remained a presence at major-market stations long after 1969, although as this item indicates, that person often was responsible for running the control board, too.

—Bobbie Gentry is working on Christmas songs in hopes that they can be packaged as part of a TV special. She is just about to leave Nashville for London, where she will tape six episodes of Bobbie Gentry Presents for the BBC. When she returns, she will finish her second album with Glen Campbell. Her future plans include a Spanish-language album; she’s already recorded a version of “Fool on the Hill” in Japanese for Capitol Records to release over there.

Fifty years later: Best I can tell, the Bobbie Gentry Christmas special never happened. Neither did a full-blown Christmas album, although a 1969 Capitol Records Christmas compilation marketed by tire company B. F. Goodrich includes her performances of “Away in a Manger” and “Scarlet Ribbons.” (Both appear on the new box set of Gentry’s music, released last year.) The Spanish album never came to pass either, although she did record a single featuring “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Here, There, and Everywhere” in Spanish.

—Buck Owens will star in a new TV show to premiere in June as a summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers. The show, titled He Hah, will showcase major country stars and be produced by former Jonathan Winters Show producers John Aylesworth and Frank Tiatt.

Fifty years later: Billboard got a lot wrong here. The show was titled Hee Haw, was hosted by Owens and fellow country superstar Roy Clark, and its producers were John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt, veteran writers and producers on both Canadian and American TV. The Laugh-In-inspired Hee Haw was successful enough during its summer run to get a regular slot on CBS, but it would last only two seasons on the network, becoming a victim of the “rural purge.” It returned in syndication in the fall of 1971 and ran for 22 seasons, often in an early-Saturday-evening timeslot. (It also got a brief late-90s reboot on the Nashville Network.) Everybody who was anybody in country music appeared on Hee Haw, and a number of the recurring comedy bits became iconic. Repeats of Hee Haw are still running on the RFD cable channel, and it’s surprising how well they hold up.

—Atop the record charts:

Rhythm and Blues Singles: “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers
Rhythm and Blues LPs: Cloud Nine by the Temptations
Classical LPs: Switched-on Bach by Walter Carlos
Hot Country Singles: “Galveston” by Glen Campbell
Hot Country LPs: Galveston by Glen Campbell, with Campbell’s Wichita Lineman at #2 and Gentle on My Mind at #5; Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell is at #9.
Easy Listening: “Galveston”
Jazz LPs: Fool on the Hill by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
Hot 100: “Aquarius”/”Let the Sunshine In” by the Fifth Dimension
Top LPs: the original cast recording of Hair

Fifty years later: [We apologize, but the proprietor is unable to get his mind around this stuff being 50 years old. Regular programming will resume as soon as possible. —Ed.]

Bustin’ Loose

(Pictured: Rod Stewart in the studio, 1979.)

Here’s a look inside Billboard magazine for the week of February 24, 1979.

—In Bowling Green, Ohio, music store Schoolkids Records has launched a new program. Owner Thom Abbott says, “I try to deliver records like pizzas—within 30 minutes after the order is phoned in.” Abbott’s target customers are the students at Bowling Green State University. “The store-to-door gambit isn’t as decadent as it appears,” Billboard says. “Usually Bowling Green winters are so fierce that only musical die-hards battle the icy stretches between the campus’ main dorm complex and the record stores.” Customers pay a buck or two over the in-store price per delivered album, but Abbott offers a price break for orders of two or three albums.

—Toto’s first single, “Hold the Line,” is at #98 on the Hot 100 this week, its 21st week on the chart. A review of the band’s February 8 club debut at the Roxy in Los Angeles is highly complimentary of the group’s musicianship, as befits a group of LA’s top session cats, but it doesn’t compliment much else. Ed Harrison writes, “None of Toto’s songs have any guts, all lacking that certain depth that separates them from the countless other songs churned out each year. Fortunately, ‘Hold the Line’ has such an engaging melody, coupled with multiple lyrical and instrumental hooks, that radio programmers couldn’t help but take notice. The remainder of Toto’s material is average, relying on intentional commercial devices and trite lyrics.” Harrison concludes by saying, “Until the band grows, which it does show potential to do, it will remain only a lightweight outfit with marginal depth, despite any success it achieves.”

—A full-page display ad touts a contest sponsored by A&M Records, the grand prize of which is a $20,000 customized Styx van, “loaded inside and out,” with the band’s logo on the hood and album covers painted on the sides. (See it on page 18 of the PDF at the link above.) Other prizes include Toshiba 5310 Beta-format video units, $1500 home stereo systems, Styx tour jackets, and Styx picture discs. The contest is apparently aimed at retailers and not consumers.

—Among the top-grossing bills currently on tour: Rose Royce with the Bar Kays, Michael Henderson, and Evelyn “Champagne” King; Steve Martin with Steve Goodman; the tripartite Parliament, Funkadelic, and Brides of Funkenstein; Heart with Firefall; and the J. Geils Band with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. (Note from the present: sweet mama that last one would have been one hell of a show.) Heart is also doing some dates backed by Wet Willie. Santana is on the road with a couple of different openers, Sad Café and Seawind.

(Further note from the present: Sad Café, which featured future Mike and the Mechanics singer Paul Young, who is not the “Every Time You Go Away” Paul Young, was just ending a seven-week chart run in this week with “Run Home Girl,” a generic light-pop single. My college radio station had been playing the vastly different and far-better “Strange Little Girl.”)

—Bob James’ Touchdown is #1 on the Jazz LPs chart. “Bustin’ Loose” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers is #1 on Hot Soul Singles. C’est Chic is atop the Soul LPs chart. C’est Chic was recently repackaged for release in the UK as Tres Chic, with a new cover and the addition of two earlier Chic hits, “Dance Dance Dance” and “Everybody Dance,” but Atlantic Records apparently did so without the consent of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. For that reason, the album has been withdrawn.

—Eddie Rabbitt’s “Every Which Way But Loose,” from the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, is #1 on Hot Country Singles. The Gambler by Kenny Rogers is #1 on Hot Country LPs. “I Just Fall in Love Again” by Anne Murray is #1 on Easy Listening.

—Rod Stewart and the Bee Gees are dominating the main singles and album charts. “Do You Think I’m Sexy” is #1 on the Hot 100 for a third week, and “Tragedy” is #6, up from #19 last week after debuting on the Hot 100 at #29 the week before. Stewart’s album Blondes Have More Fun is #1 on Top LPs and Tape, but the Bee Gees’ Spirits Having Flown is up to #2 after debuting last week at #4.

Forty years ago this week, I was only a few weeks removed from my first real live radio shift the past December. I had a regular gig on the campus radio station, but all was not entirely rosy there. That story will appear here on Friday.