Star Babies

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(Pictured: the Guess Who, 1974.)

It’s time we did another installment of One Week in the 40, the series examining songs that spent a single week in the Top 40 of Billboard‘s Hot 100, thereby gaining a sort of immortality they would be denied had they peaked at #41.

The insanely great “Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano was a monster in some parts of the country, especially in California, as well as in Tucson, where it hit #1, and I heard it a lot on WLS in Chicago, where it reached #21. It went from #46 to #40 for the week of December 22, 1973, before falling back to #45 the next week.

Sometimes records hit at different times in different places, and national chart numbers were lower as a result. The Guess Who’s “Star Baby” took 10 weeks to creep to #39 and another nine weeks to fall out of the Hot 100, going from #39 (on April 27, 1974) to #47, #52, #57, #57, #52, #46, #55, #55, #57, and out, absent from the chart dated June 29, 1974. Despite that relatively lackluster national position, “Star Baby” was a huge hit on both WLS and WCFL in Chicago. Although it didn’t chart on WLS until the week of May 11, it stayed on the WLS survey until the end of July.) “Star Baby” was also huge in Philadelphia and Miami, where WQAM didn’t drop it until the end of September. (There is an argument, which I would be happy to get into, that “Star Baby” is the best damn thing the Guess Who ever did.)

Certain songs that got a lot of play on album-oriented stations had enough momentum to squeeze into the Top 40. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band did an excellent version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night” as a followup to “Blinded by the Light,” and made the Top 40 for the week of June 4, 1977. “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya” by New England, is a song we’ve discussed here before. It made #40 for the week of June 16, 1979. (Vintage video here.) And Meat Loaf’s “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” made #39 for the week of January 20, 1979.

Success on the country charts frequently led to pop-chart placing as well. C. W. McCall was a character created for a series of bread commercials by advertising man Bill Fries, with music written by Chip Davis, later to become the maestro of Mannheim Steamroller. Twelve McCall singles hit the country charts between 1974 and 1977; four hit the Hot 100. “Convoy” was the most famous, but the genuinely funny “Wolf Creek Pass,” about a couple of truckers running chickens down a steep mountain highway, charted first, hitting #40 for the week of March 29, 1975. On the subject of chickens, there’s the Henhouse Five Plus Too doing a version of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” which hit #40 for the week of February 5, 1977, with Ray Stevens doing the clucking.

The only explanation for the relative success of “In the Mood” is that it was the 1970s and we couldn’t help ourselves.

“Wolf Creek Pass” made #13 on Billboard’s country chart and “In the Mood” hit #39. Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” was a much bigger success. It was #1 for three weeks beginning July 17, 1976—big enough to push it to #40 on the Hot 100 for the week of August 28, 1976. It’s a tearjerker about a disabled boy who talks to truckers on CB radio and gets a big surprise. CB was probably the biggest fad of 1976, so that connection couldn’t have hurt, but America’s thirst for sentimental junk can’t be ruled out, either.

While we can explain “Teddy Bear” and “In the Mood,” some things we can’t explain. Like the way 10cc’s “People in Love,” the band’s followup to “The Things We Do for Love,” failed to become a smash. It didn’t seem to get much traction anywhere, and all it could manage was #40 for the week of June 25, 1977—although it did go all the way to #6 at KJOY in Stockton, California.

There will be more of this kind of thing to come, so stay tuned.

Forever

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(Pictured: Kenny Loggins, 1985.)

How much quantitative difference was there between #40 and #41 on the Hot 100 back in the day, do you suppose? How many copies sold separated the two in a typical week? How much radio action? It couldn’t have been very much.

Yet the term Top 40 has great meaning to us. Songs that cross the line have a claim on history denied to those that do not. So here we go with another installment of One Week in the 40, the poorly named feature that shines a light on records that crossed the line for a single week between 1964 and 1986. This batch spans from the 60s to the 80s.

—Andy Williams charted steadily on the Hot 100 from 1956 until 1976, with 27 Top 40 hits. He scored big on the adult-contemporary chart too, and was a TV star from the 60s to the 80s. “Ain’t It True,” which is by no means the kind of thing you’d expect from Williams, hit #40 for the week of October 16, 1965—and plunged right off the Hot 100 from there.

—Another artist with a long string of varied credits is Perry Como, who began as a big-band vocalist and became a star of radio and TV. He scored hits consistently from the late 40s to the late 50s and was not slowed all that much by the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. (It may surprise you to learn he hit the Top 10 as late as January 1971 with “It’s Impossible.”) He makes this list for “Seattle,” which was the theme from the TV series Here Come the Brides (based on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), and which spent the week of May 31, 1969, at #38.

—The Four Seasons are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Frankie Valli is not. He’s on our list, however: the unjustly forgotten “(You’re Gonna) Hurt Yourself” hit #38 for the week of February 12, 1966.

—Like Valli, Art Garfunkel is a member of the Rock Hall as part of an act, but not by himself. He makes our list with “I Shall Sing,” which moved from #45 to #38 for the week of February 9, 1974, then dropped back to #45 the following week. (“I Shall Sing” was written and recorded by Van Morrison during the sessions that resulted in the 1970 album Moondance, but not released by Van until the deluxe Moondance reissue of 2013.)

—Your list of people who should be in the Rock Hall—but aren’t—likely includes the Doobie Brothers, and this list includes them too. “Sweet Maxine,” from the album Stampede, spent the week of August 30, 1975, at #40. It would be the last time the Doobies hit with their original biker-band sound until “The Doctor” in 1989.

—A lot of people would argue in favor of the Meters for the Rock Hall, too. They’re on this list with “Sophisticated Cissy,” which leaped from #41 to #34 for the week of March 22, 1969, before falling back to #45 and then out of the Hot 100, replaced a week later by the Meters’ biggest hit, “Cissy Strut.”

—Chic has been a Rock Hall nominee in recent years. Their “Everybody Dance,” which fell between “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” and “Le Freak,” hit #38 for the week of June 17, 1978.

—Steve Perry of Journey was among the top solo acts of 1984, scoring four Top 40 hits, all from the album Street Talk. You remember “Oh Sherrie” and “Foolish Heart.” The ones you may not remember are “She’s Mine” (#21) and “Strung Out,” which I think is the best of the four. It reached #40 for the week of October 27, 1984.

—Kenny Loggins was never off the radio in the 80s, although he had but four Top-10 hits. Eight other singles made the Top 40, including the generic power ballad “Forever,” #40 during the week of July 20, 1985.

We will continue to meander through this list in similar fashion in future installments, so stay tuned.

Lay It Down

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(Pictured: the Los Angeles band Ratt. This is why they called it “hair metal.”)

If you are not as old as I (and some days, I feel like nobody is as old as I), allow me to take you back only as far as the 80s for the latest installment of One Week in the 40, a series about records to last a single week in the Billboard Top 40. See what’s on the flip.

Continue reading “Lay It Down”

Monsters

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(Pictured: John Kay and Steppenwolf. History does not record whether they had to be restrained from smoking the backdrop.)

Since the last installment of One Week in the 40 dealt entirely with songs from the 1960s (all but one), let’s look at some 70s entries from the list. As before, all of these records spent a single week in the Billboard Top 40—so not big hits, but not complete busts, either.

In 1970, three songs made the list, including “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics, which was the non-60s ringer in our previous installment. “Cupid” by Johnny Nash, a reggae take on the familiar Sam Cooke original, hit #39 on January 24, 1970. Two weeks later, something completely different occupied the #39 position: Steppenwolf’s “Monster.” Edited to 3:45 from an original running over nine minutes, “Monster” strongly criticizes the way America’s founding idealism had been corrupted by imperialism and war by 1970: “It’s a monster and will not obey.”

Of the 10 songs on the list from 1971, we’ve already mentioned four, by Ashton Gardner and Dyke, B. B. King, Freddie North, and James Taylor. Of those remaining, two are particular favorites of mine: “Charity Ball” by Fanny may have only made #40 for the week of November 6, 1971, but it went all the way to #3 on WLS and WCFL in Chicago. It was also Top 10 in Denver, Cleveland, and Wichita, among other places, and #1 at Wonderful WFOM in Marietta, Georgia. And no wonder: even in one of the Top 40’s finest seasons, it absolutely smoked everything else on the radio. The same week “Charity Ball” hit #1 in Marietta, the #2 song in town was “What Are You Doing Sunday” by Dawn. It, too, was a big hit in Chicago (#3 on WCFL and #10 on WLS), made the Top 10 in Milwaukee, Honolulu, Tucson, and Vancouver, and was #1 at WENY in Elmira, New York. “What Are You Doing Sunday” came at the end of a 14-month period in which Dawn put five singles into the Top 40. There was even a video, in which Tony Orlando appears to propose to both of his singing partners in Dawn—but the song is such perfect pop cheese that it doesn’t seem weird at all.

Although many scholars (and low-rent amateurs such as I) place the beginning of the disco era circa 1974, you could make a decent argument for—and here’s that season again—the fall of 1971. “K-Jee” by the Nite-Liters, which spent the week of September 11, 1971, at #39, has the formula in the test-tube. (“K-Jee” would appear in Saturday Night Fever later in the decade, in a version by MFSB.) But disco’s time was not quite yet; more traditional forms of R&B were still dominant, such as the sweet soul of the Stylistics. “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” hit #39 on July 17, 1971, but it spent the next two months trying to get back that high, bouncing up and down in the 40s. One month after it left the Hot 100, “You Are Everything” would make its debut, and eventually become the Stylistics’ first Top 10 hit.

In 1971, Barbra Streisand was a rock singer. She’d started the year with a Top-10 version of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” and on August 28, her version of Carole King’s “Where You Lead” spent a single week at #40. Although it would briefly return to the Top 40 one year later in a medley with “Sweet Inspiration,” the 1971 single is the one you want. It’s from the album Barbra Joan Streisand, which includes covers of John Lennon’s “Mother” and “Love” and King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” as well as “I Mean to Shine,” a song written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker before anybody knew who they were.

Lee Michaels hit the Top 10 in the fall of 1971 with “Do You Know What I Mean.” On the chart dated December 25, 1971, “Can I Get a Witness” sneaked to #39. If your reaction as you listen is, “Damn, I want to hear more Lee Michaels,” you’re coming correct.

There are many songs from the 70s on my list, and I’ll cover more in the next installment.

In the Sunshine

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(Pictured: Roger Miller, whose string of mid-60s hits includes several you would probably know: “Dang Me,” “King of the Road,” and “England Swings” among them.)

After a holiday break, it’s time for another installment of One Week in the 40, a series devoted to songs that spent a single week in the Billboard Top 40 between 1964 and 1986. Certain artists have accomplished the feat more than once—we have already mentioned B. B. King and the Beach Boys in this regard—and this post is devoted to the rest, all but one song from the 1960s.

Glen Campbell is on the list twice, and one of his entries is a song you’d never guess: the Grammy-winning “Gentle on My Mind,” which was Campbell’s TV theme and signature song. It peaked at #39 for the week of November 2, 1968, having gone from #50 to #39 and back to #50 again. It outperformed its Hot 100 number on both the Easy Listening chart (#8) and the country chart (#30). His version of “Let It Be Me,” a duet with Bobbie Gentry, was also much bigger on the other charts—#7 Easy Listening and #14 country—reaching a Hot 100 peak of #36 on March 8, 1969.

On the subject of famous songs, two Monkees B-sides are here: “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” made #39 on April 15, 1967, while the A-side, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” was in the Top 10. A year later, “Tapioca Tundra” went from #49 to #34 to #45, reaching its peak on March 30, 1968, while its A-side, “Valleri,” was in the Top 10.

On the subject of successful acts crossing over, country humorist Roger Miller is on the list with two songs following in the wake of his most excellent year (five Top-10s between the summer of ’64 and the end of ’65, and five Grammys for 1965 as well). The goofy “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” was at #40 on July 23, 1966. The more conventional “Walkin’ in the Sunshine,” which hit the Top 10 on both Easy Listening and country, topped out at #37 on the Hot 100 on May 6, 1967. I am pretty sure I hadn’t heard it since the 60s, but I recognized it immediately the other day.

Gene Chandler appears on the list with back-to-back hits. “Bless Our Love,” a gorgeous slow dance, hit #39 on November 14, 1964, while “What Now,” a song written by Curtis Mayfield, reached #40 on January 16, 1965. So does Chubby Checker, whose better-than-you’d-guess “Lazy Elsie Molly” spent the whole month of July 1964 hovering in the low 40s, hitting #40 for the week of July 11. An attempt to cash in on the British Invasion, “Let’s Do the Freddie,” made #40 on May 22, 1965. It’s got nothing to do with Freddie and the Dreamers’ “Do the Freddie,” which sat at #24 the very same week, and Chubby sounds fairly disinterested in the whole thing.

Another Philadelphia act, the Delfonics, put two hits into the 40 for a single week. “Ready or Not Here I Come,” which you probably wouldn’t spot as a Thom Bell production, was #35 for the week of January 25, 1969. “Trying to Make a Fool of Me,” the followup to the exquisite “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” hit #40 for the week of July 25, 1970.

I was sorry to hear of the recent death of William Guest, a member of Gladys Knight and the Pips from the day the group was formed in 1952. When I was a kid, I couldn’t decide if I’d rather be a Pip or a Spinner and now that I’m old I still don’t know. Gladys and the Pips hit the 40 for a single week with “Giving Up,” which hit #38 on July 4, 1964, and “It Should Have Been Me,” which must have sounded great on the radio during one of radio’s greatest summers. It hit #40 on July 6, 1968.

Nobody remembers it now, but Bobby Vinton was one of the most successful stars of the 60s, with a string of smashes that included three #1 hits between the summer of 1962 and the end of 1964. Changing fashions kept him away from the top of the chart after that, although he continued to hit the middle of the charts into the middle of the 1970s. One way to get there was with socially relevant lyrics: the folk-rockish “What Color (Is a Man)” hit #38 for the week of October 16, 1965; another record with a folk-rock feel, “Dum-De-Da,” hit #40 on May 28, 1966.

We have scarcely begun exploring this list, so watch for future installments.

The Best Part

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(Pictured: Jerry Lee Lewis in the 70s, using all necessary body parts to play.)

The most recent post in this series started with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members who put a single into the Billboard Top 40 that stayed there for just one week. Here’s the last part of the list, organized loosely by theme and jumping around in time.

There are more songs on this list from 1964 than from any other year. “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up” by the Ronettes made #39 for the week of May 16, 1964. I haven’t got a lot of say about it, except that three minutes spent with Ronnie and the Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra can never be wasted. I chose 1964 as the beginning date because I had to cut it off somewhere, and that year, beginning of the British Invasion and all, made sense to me. Had I gone further back, the Miracles would appear on the list twice. Their 1962 hit “I’ll Try Something New” spent a single week at #39. “That’s What Love Is Made Of,” in which Smokey Robinson plunders nursery rhymes for his lyric, reached #35 during the week of October 10, 1964.

There’s plenty of Motown on this list apart from Smokey: the Supremes’ “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking” reached #40 for the week of August 7, 1976. It marked the return of Brian and Eddie Holland to the Motown fold, and it was the last time the Supremes would ever reach the Top 40. The Temptations’ “Happy People” marks a collision of eras, where the first generation of Motown superstars meets the second. “Happy People” was co-written by Lionel Richie, and the Commodores are said to have considered recording it themselves. As well they might: it sounds much more like the Commodores than it does the Temptations, and it reached #40 for the week of February 1, 1975. Stevie Wonder makes the list with “I Don’t Know Why,” the B-side of “My Cherie Amour,” which made #39 for the week of March 22, 1969.

Otis Redding’s version of “Amen,” a spiritual number that might be familiar, manages to be churchy and swingin’ at the same time. “Amen” went to #36 for the week of July 27, 1968. The B-side, “Hard to Handle” (later made famous by the Black Crowes), charted separately and reached #51. Another familiar song, “Love Me Tender,” beautifully sung by Percy Sledge, made #40 for the week oif July 22, 1967.

I have been preaching the gospel of Rod Stewart’s early 70s material for years. It’s some of the finest music anybody ever made, and Rod’s recording of “Angel,” written by Jimi Hendrix, is a representative example of why it’s so great. It charted at #40 for the week of December 16, 1972—but it didn’t appear on that week’s American Top 40 show. Casey played the B-side, “Lost Paraguayos,” by mistake.

Jerry Lee Lewis exploded with a string of classics in the late 50s, songs that were hits on both the pop and country charts. After his early 60s years in the wilderness, he never regained his pop stature, but he was a big deal on the country charts, scoring 12 straight Top-10 country hits between 1968 and 1970. “Me and Bobby McGee” was the B-side of his #1 country hit “Would You Take Another Chance on Me,” and it ran up the pop chart to #40 for the week of January 15, 1974.

“Country Road” by James Taylor is one of those songs that’s pretty famous despite reaching only #37 on the Hot 100 (March 20, 1971). During its chart run, most radio stations played the version from the album Sweet Baby James. There’s also a “single version” that was a completely different recording made after Sweet Baby James, but by the time the record label got it out, the album version was already a hit. Also pretty famous: “Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which ran the Hot 100 for 17 weeks but made it only as high as #40 for the week of February 18, 1978.

I believe that covers all of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members to appear on this list. There are many more records left to cover, so stay tuned for further installments.