Keep on Truckin’

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(Pictured: Stevie Wonder, with Grover on Sesame Street, 1973.)

Because AT40 did a Christmas countdown in 1973, its year-end countdown, on the weekend of December 29, covered the year’s Top 40 instead of the Top 80, as in 1972. Here’s some of what was on it:

39. “Love Train”/O’Jays
31. “Dancing in the Moonlight”/King Harvest
29. “Superstition”/Stevie Wonder
27. “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu”/Johnny Rivers
23. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”/Stevie Wonder
15. “Brother Louie”/Stories
11. “Me and Mrs. Jones”/Billy Paul
Is one of these the best record on the show? Probably. Is it by Stevie Wonder, the only act to have two songs on the list? Possibly, unless it’s something else.

38. “Angie”/Rolling Stones
35. “Clair”/Gilbert O’Sullivan
21. “Midnight Train to Georgia”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
17. “Keep on Truckin'”/Eddie Kendricks
Back at the top of the show, Casey noted that the year-end calculation is for a 52-week period ending December 8, 1973. Throughout the show, when songs were still on the charts at the cut-off date, he mentions that they’d rank higher if they weren’t. He also explains that “Clair,” which debuted in October 1972 and peaked that December, did well enough during the survey period to make the 1973 list.

32. “Loves Me Like a Rock”/Paul Simon
25. “We’re an American Band”/Grand Funk
19. “Frankenstein”/Edgar Winter Group
14. “Playground in My Mind”/Clint Holmes

I bought my first albums in 1973, but I was still buying singles too, including these. I’m not sure I have ever admitted here that 13-year-old me bought “Playground in My Mind” (and “Clair” too), or whether I should admit it now.

30. “Wildflower”/Skylark. Many of the songs on the show have been edited, snipping a verse here or a chorus there. “Wildflower” loses all but half a verse and two choruses and runs less than two minutes. (At the same time, at #19, we hear the whole five minutes of “Frankenstein,” which strikes me weird.) Sometimes the edits are from the original shows and sometimes they’re for the modern repeats. It’s sometimes necessary to cut one or two minutes from some hours to accommodate today’s commercial load.

28. “Funny Face”/Donna Fargo. Casey introduces this with an odd remark: “I have a song now that was wrote by an English teacher, and her students used to put her on about the good English she learned them.” As a joke, it’s a lead balloon. I can’t imagine that it’s a slam on Fargo’s country-star twang.

Casey ends the first and second hours of the show by suggesting that listeners phone a friend and tell ’em to tune in.

22. “Little Willy “/The Sweet. Casey calls this British bubblegum in the tradition of “Sugar Sugar.” I’ll allow it.

16. “Delta Dawn”/Helen Reddy
13. “Half Breed”/Cher
Sean Ross’s columns at about “lost” hits—big records in their time that get little or no airplay now—are music-nerd heaven. These two are among Sean’s 100 most-lost hits of the early 70s. “Delta Dawn” still sounds really good to me, but “Half Breed” not so much. I’m surprised that a few radio stations are still playing it, considering its stereotypes—the tom-toms and “Indian chant” backing vocals— and the racial slur “squaw” in the lyrics.

6. “My Love”/Paul McCartney and Wings. Casey says that all four Beatles placed songs in the Top 40 at some point in 1973, but only Paul makes the Top 40 of the year. Three hit #1: George’s “Give Me Love,” from early summer, is the only #1 song completely within the survey period that did not make the year-end chart, while Ringo’s “Photograph” was #1 for a week at the end of November and would have been hurt by the cut-off date.

4. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack
2. “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
When I wrote about the 1972 year-end countdown, I mentioned Joel Whitburn’s method of accounting in his Pop Annual series, which ranks all of the #1s ahead of all the #2s, and so on. By that method, “Killing Me Softly,” with five weeks at #1, is the top song of 1973. “Why Me,” which is here for its 38 weeks on the Hot 100 despite never making it above #16 in any given week, ranks #127.

1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando and Dawn. I haven’t got anything to add beyond what I wrote a couple of years ago, when I called this song “an artifact of the weird 70s, when it scratched some sort of itch we couldn’t have described at the time.”

Today, the year 1973 feels like a transitional year for Top 40 music, from the 60s hangover of the early 70s to the goofy and escapist middle part of the decade, just as 1973 itself marked a broader American transition, economically and politically. Its music sounds better than I remember.

[jingle out]

The Story Was the Song

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(Pictured: John, December 6, 1980.)

Although the second week of December 1980 would eventually be dominated by one of the biggest stars in music history, it didn’t start off that way. Here’s what radio stations were playing the week John Lennon died, from the edition of Radio and Records dated December 5, 1980, the Friday before.

In that week, Lennon’s album Double Fantasy and single “(Just Like) Starting Over” were big, but the week’s biggest star was Kenny Rogers. “Lady” had been #1 on the magazine’s main chart, the National Airplay 30, for six straight weeks; “More Than I Can Say” by Leo Sayer had been at #2 for five straight. “Starting Over” was #6, also trailing Neil Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks,” “Never Be the Same” by Christopher Cross, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” One song was new in the Top 10: “The Tide Is High” by Blondie, at #9 in only its third week on the chart. The biggest mover on the chart was “I Made It Through the Rain” by Barry Manilow, which was up eight spots to #19. Only one song was new: “I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt at #30.

Rogers, Cross, Diamond, and Sayer topped the AC chart, which included two Barbra Streisand records among the top 11, and “I Made It Through the Rain” blazing up to #12. (“Starting Over” moved from #25 to #19 in this week.) “The Tide Is High” and “Tell It Like It Is”  by Heart debuted on the AC chart; so did Boz Scaggs’ “Miss Sun” and “Hungry Heart.”

(Considering that “I Made It Through the Rain” is about the most middle-of-the-road thing Barry Manilow ever did, its airplay numbers tell you a lot about the historical direction pop radio was taking in late 1980 and would continue to take in 1981, which we’ve discussed here before.)

On the Album Airplay 40, Bruce Springsteen’s The River was #1 and dominant, although Rod Stewart’s Foolish Behaviour made a big leap from #11 to #2. Double Fantasy sat at #4; album stations were playing “Starting Over,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Watching the Wheels.” Steely Dan’s Gaucho was #5: top tracks were “Hey Nineteen,” “Time Out of Mind,” “Glamour Profession,” and the title track. The highest debut on the album chart was REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity; the top track was “Keep on Lovin’ You.” Album stations did not shy away from power ballads in those days, or from music that we wouldn’t even consider to be rock today: for example, Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” was getting airplay on a few stations. So was Stevie Wonder’s album Hotter Than July. Live albums got a lot of radio traction in that bygone day, which accounts for the success of Eagles Live and Supertramp’s Paris, both of which made the Top 10 of the airplay chart. College radio favorites also charting: Dire Straits’ Making Movies, AC/DC’s Back in Black, and the Jim Carroll Band’s Catholic Boy, featuring “People Who Died,” which you should hear if you haven’t.

I don’t remember a lot of the songs on the Country Airplay 40. “Lady” fell to #11 in this week, but another pop crossover, “Smokey Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap, was in its third week at #1. “I Love a Rainy Night” was #12. I wasn’t working much at KDTH in the fall and early winter of 1980; I’d given up my part-time gig to work at the album-rock station all summer with the understanding that KDTH would take me back in the fall, provided I went to the bottom of the seniority pole.

When these charts were compiled, we didn’t know John Lennon was going to die suddenly that week. We didn’t know anything else, either. Not the big stuff, certainly: about how and where the currents of history were going to carry us, or about what would endure and what would not. That’s nobody’s fault. It was life as it was and ever shall be.

At the risk of straining a metaphor (too late, maybe?), in that moment, we twentysomething college kids were the rollergirl in Dire Straits’ “Skateaway,” the most-played track from Making Movies. We ordered our lives in ways that made sense to us and waited to see what would happen next, all the while hoping things would work out—and all the while with music in our heads.

She gets rock and roll
And a rock and roll station
And a rock and roll dream
She’s making movies on location
She don’t know what it means
But the music make her want to be the story
And the story was whatever was the song what it was
Rollergirl, don’t worry
DJ plays the movies all night long
All night long

A Beautiful Lie

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(Pictured: Kiki Dee on stage in 1974.)

I have written a lot about the fall of 1974 at this website over the years. Were I ranking seasons of the 70s, it’s top-five, and maybe top-three. In reviewing old posts about it, I find that I keep telling a beautiful lie. The fall of 1974 simply could not have been as warm and secure and happy as I remember it. At this distance, however, I’m pretty sure it can’t hurt to remember it that way. We’ll do it with the American Top 40 show from the weekend of November 2, 1974.

40. “You Got the Love”/Rufus
38. “After the Gold Rush”/Prelude
37. “Cat’s in the Cradle”/Harry Chapin

36. “Angie Baby”/Helen Reddy
33. “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)”/Al Green
31. “Wishing You Were Here”/Chicago
26. “When Will I See You Again”/Three Degrees
24. “I’ve Got the Music in Me”/Kiki Dee Band
22. “Longfellow Serenade”/Neil Diamond
21. “Love Me for a Reason”/Osmonds
19. “Everlasting Love”/Carl Carlton
14. “Do It Til You’re Satisfied”/B.T. Express
13. “Carefree Highway”/Gordon Lightfoot
11. “Back Home Again”/John Denver
10. “Tin Man”/America
9. “Stop and Smell the Roses”/Mac Davis
3. “Jazzman”/Carole King
If you are the kind of person whose life has a soundtrack—who can make a playlist that brings vividly back a specific time, person, group, place, or incident—you can understand how this list works on me. I am not a good-enough writer to explain or even describe it. If you know it, you know it. If not, insert shrug emoji here.

35. “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”/Three Dog Night
30. “Rockin’ Soul”/Hues Corporation
12. “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)”/Reunion
You may not remember ’em, or like the ones you do remember, but I will always stan for pure Top-40 pleasures like these.

34. “Second Avenue”/Art Garfunkel
23. “Love Don’t Love Nobody (Part 1)”/Spinners
20. “Overnight Sensation”/Raspberries
These very different records are magnificent achievements in songwriting, production, and performance. “Second Avenue” peaked at #34, “Love Don’t Love Nobody” at #15, and “Overnight Sensation” at #18, but I hope that there is some universe in which they were #1 hits, and I want to go there because it would be better than this one. If you don’t dig ’em, we shouldn’t see each other anymore.

Casey plays the full-length “Overnight Sensation,” which includes a long mid-song fade-out and six seconds of dead silence before it comes back for one more chorus. That’s just mean to weekend radio board operators—the people sitting in the studios playing the AT40 show discs live on the air, back before that became an automated function. Board operators usually listen with only one ear, and they must have freaked out coast-to-coast.

25. “I Can Help”/Billy Swan. The biggest mover on the show this week, up 11 spots. Casey says, “It’s a winner and headed for #1.” In four weeks, his prediction would come true. You cannot fully appreciate how great “I Can Help” sounds until you hear it on an AM radio wave at night, though.

17. “My Melody of Love”/Bobby Vinton. Casey recaps the anomaly of Vinton’s remarkable popularity and his simultaneous anonymity, quoting a magazine article that says nobody knows he sold 11 million records in a recent four-year span. “My Melody of Love,” which features a couple of lines in Polish, will take a mighty leap to #6 next week as it continues to scratch some mysterious American itch of the moment.

15. “Then Came You”/Dionne Warwicke and the Spinners. Casey notes that this record represents only the second time in history that established chart acts paired up to record a #1 hit. (“Somethin’ Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra was the other.) He does not make a big deal about the fact that this was the previous week’s #1 song all the way down here at #15. Maybe because Billy Preston’s “Nothing From Nothing” (on the show at #39) had made the exact plunge two weeks earlier.

8. “Sweet Home Alabama”/Lynryd Skynyrd
7. “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
6. “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”/John Lennon
5. “Can’t Get Enough”/Bad Company
4. “The Bitch Is Back”/Elton John
One of these things is not like the others, because it’s the fall of 1974.

2. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive
1. “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”/Stevie Wonder
Back at #39, introducing “Nothing From Nothing,” Casey noted the unusual number of songs on this week’s show with “nothing” in the title. He also teased that there was another new #1 this week, the 30th of 1974, an all-time record. There would eventually be 36, a mark that still stands today and is likely never to be broken.

If you’d like more website content at this time, please leave a message and Jim will return your call when he gets back from 1974. 

Makin’ It

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(Pictured: Doris Troy takes five, 1969.)

(Before we begin: if you indicated interest in my e-mail thing last week, check your e-mail today for something from jb titled “Hello and Welcome to the Sidepiece.” Check your spam filter, too. It maybe knows better what’s worthwhile.)

Back on One Hit Wonder Day, my post included the top one-hit wonder in each year from 1955 through 1986. Later, I fell down a rabbit hole looking at other one-hit artists who made the Billboard Top 10 during the same period. The list follows. If a year is missing, the song shown on the other list was the only Top-10 one hitter in that year. Again, this is far longer than I like my posts to be, but insert shrug emoji here. If I missed any, I trust you’ll tell me.

Continue reading “Makin’ It”

Hold Me

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(Pictured: Fleetwood Mac.)

Regular reader Wesley e-mailed a while back: “When the Hot 100 went into effect in 1958, it was rare for any record to stay at the same position from #11 to #40 for more than three weeks for the chart’s first 23 years.” And then he shared his list.

It turns out that two records stuck in the same spot for five weeks: “Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers at #11 and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Joe Simon at #25, both in 1968.

Eight songs held for four weeks in the same spot:

“Honey Chile”/Martha and the Vandellas (#11, 1967)
“Neon Rainbow”/Box Tops (#24, 1967)
“Take Me for a Little While”/Vanilla Fudge (#38, 1968)
“Question”/Moody Blues (#21, 1970)
“Never Ending Song of Love”/Delaney and Bonnie (#13, 1971)
“You Can’t Turn Me Off (In the Middle of Turning Me On)”/High Inergy (#12, 1977)
“How You Gonna See Me Now”/Alice Cooper (#12, 1978)
“Touch Me When We’re Dancing”/Carpenters (#16, 1981)

(The complete randomness of that list is delightful.)

But come 1982, Billboard‘s methodology changed. The magazine introduced a “super star” or “super bullet,” a clear bullet distinct from the traditional solid-colored bullet. I have not been able to learn a great deal about how it worked, but as I understand it, the super bullet indicated a greater degree of strength and potential for future upward movement than the regular bullet. Although there might have been other methodology changes in the background, it seems at the very least that Billboard became more likely to change the color of the bullet than to move a record up or down, which led to some remarkable instances of stasis.

And so in 1982, Wesley says, Rick Springfield’s “What Kind of Fool” did six straight weeks at #21. Several others did five weeks in the same spot between #11 and #40:

“Love Will Turn You Around”/Kenny Rogers (#13)
“What’s Forever For”/Michael Murphey (#19)
“Missing You”/ Dan Fogelberg (#23)
“You Dropped a Bomb on Me”/Gap Band (#31)

Four weeks:

“It’s Raining Again”/Supertramp (#11)
“Shadows of the Night”/Pat Benatar (#13)
“Take Me Down”/Alabama (#18)
“Hot in the City”/Billy Idol (#23)
“Kids in America”/Kim Wilde (#24)
“Voyeur”/Kim Carnes (#29)
“A Penny for Your Thoughts”/Tavares (#33)

I dug into the 1982 charts below #41 to find some more:

“I Gotta Try”/Michael McDonald (#44, four weeks)

“Bad Boy-Having a Party”/Luther Vandross (#55, five weeks)
“Psychobabble”/Alan Parsons Project (#57, four weeks)
“The Elvis Medley”/Elvis Presley (#71, four weeks)
“Over the Line”/Eddie Schwartz (#91, four weeks)

In addition, there were far more three-week holders in 1982 than ever before.

Wesley also notes: “And as for the top 10 itself, ‘Muscles’ by Diana Ross spent six weeks at #10. ‘Hold Me’ by Fleetwood Mac spent seven weeks at #3. Both were new records for those positions.” And also: “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Ebony and Ivory” each did seven weeks at #1. “Eye of the Tiger” and “Centerfold” were six weeks at #1, and “Open Arms” by Journey six weeks at #2. “Rock This Town” by the Stray Cats did five weeks at #9 and “Take It Away” by Paul McCartney five weeks at #10. Wesley again: “Let’s not forget how 1982 began with ‘Physical’ ending a 10-week run at the top that kept ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’ by Foreigner at #2 for ten weeks as well—again, another record.”

During the run of “Hold Me,” on August 28, 1982, the top 12 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were in the exact positions as the previous week. And there was little movement in weeks around that: during the week of August 14, the top five were the same; the week of the 21st, the top seven.

In 1983, the wackiness continued: Billy Joel’s “Allentown” spent six straight weeks at #17; Kenny Loggins’ “Heart to Heart” five weeks at #15; “Synchronicity II” by the Police four weeks at #16, and “I’m Alive” by Neil Diamond four weeks at #35. Below the Top 40, “Always” by Firefall did five weeks at #59, and “Love Me Again” by the John Hall Band spent four weeks at #64.

In 1983, Billboard sacked its chart director, Bill Wardlow, amid fears about the credibility of the magazine’s charts; the Wardlow era was famed for all kinds of statistical shenanigans. Whether the weirdness of 1982 and 1983 had anything to do with his ultimate adios, I don’t know. Neither can I guess how it might have served Wardlow’s purposes to hold records for long runs at seemingly random chart positions.

At the top of the charts, it seems entirely plausible to say yes, this song has been the most popular for five or eight or ten straight weeks. But farther down, the concept gets shaky. Given all of the moving parts involved, how plausible is it that exactly 16 songs were more popular than “Allentown” (and 83 less popular) for six consecutive weeks?

Thanks to Wesley for getting this started, and for doing the heavy lifting. 

Out of the Long Ago

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(Pictured: the Supremes deplane, 1966.)

Back at the beginning of the summer, we noodled with the idea of the greatest single Top 10 of all time. There are lots of candidates, as we found, but I keep going back to the one dated September 24, 1966. To refresh your recollection:

1. “Cherish”/Association
2. “You Can’t Hurry Love”/Supremes
3. “Sunshine Superman”/Donovan
4. “Yellow Submarine”/Beatles
5. “Bus Stop”/Hollies
6. “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”/Temptations
7. “Black Is Black”/Los Bravos
8. “96 Tears”/? and the Mysterians
9. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”/Beach Boys
10. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”/Four Tops
11. (bonus track) “Eleanor Rigby”/Beatles

It wasn’t just a killer Top 11. The rest of the Top 40 was studded with classics as well:

14. “Cherry Cherry”/Neil Diamond
15. “Sunny Afternoon”/Kinks
17. “Wipe Out”/Surfaris
21. “Sunny”/Bobby Hebb
22. “Turn Down Day”/Cyrkle
23. “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted/Jimmy Ruffin
24. “Land of 1000 Dances”/Wilson Pickett
25. “Psychotic Reaction”/Count Five
26. “Last Train to Clarksville”/Monkees
27. “Working in the Coal Mine”/Lee Dorsey

Sweet mama look at that. And this:

33. “7 and 7 Is”/Love
37. “Summer in the City”/Lovin’ Spoonful
39. “God Only Knows”/Beach Boys
40. “Walk Away Renee”/Left Banke

And below the Top 40:

41. “Just Like a Woman”/Bob Dylan
47. “Blowin’ in the Wind”/Stevie Wonder
50. “With a Girl Like You”/Troggs
53. “See See Rider”/Eric Burdon and the Animals
72. “Poor Side of Town”/Johnny Rivers
73. “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing”/Lou Rawls
89. “Knock on Wood”/Eddie Floyd
90. “Mr. Spaceman”/Byrds
96. “I’m Your Puppet”/James and Bobby Purify

It was an exceptional week for easy listening music on the Hot 100 as well.

30. “Flamingo”/Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
32. “Summer Wind”/Frank Sinatra

44. “Summer Samba”/Walter Wanderley
49. “In the Arms of Love”/Andy Williams
54. “Born Free”/Roger Williams
86. “Mas Que Nada”/Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Over on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, all six of those are in the Top 10, along with more of the easy-listeningest music of all time:

3. “Guantanamera”/Sandpipers
13. “Somewhere My Love (Lara’s Theme)”/Ray Conniff Singers

17. “The Impossible Dream”/Jack Jones

But Easy Listening is really winning on the Top LPs chart. Revolver is #1, but:

2. Doctor Zhivago/Soundtrack
3. Somewhere My Love/Ray Conniff Singers
4. The Sound of Music/Soundtrack
5. What Now My Love/Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
6. Whipped Cream and Other Delights/Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
7. Strangers in the Night/Frank Sinatra
11. Going Places/Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
13. Sinatra at the Sands/Frank Sinatra

Those big movie soundtracks, Sinatra albums, and the historic Tijuana Brass threesome make for an interesting mix with Revolver and the others in the Top 13: Best of the Beach Boys, the Stones’ Aftermath, Gettin’ Ready by the Temptations,  and Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Although the biggest rock acts are able to consistently break through, the album market is still dominated by acts selling to adults, although that will start to change within a year or so.

Digression: I am pretty sure that no famous movie has gone further down the memory hole than Doctor Zhivago. Adjusted for inflation, it’s still one of the top-grossing films of all time, but it never turns up on cable. It’s on several streaming services, but I suspect there are not a lot of people under the age of 70 who are willing to pony up $2.99 on a Saturday night for a three-hour epic set during the Russian Revolution. But in September 1966 it was still popular in theaters. The score had won an Oscar, and “Lara’s Theme,” heard only as an instrumental in the movie but with lyrics added by three-time Oscar winner Paul Webster, was a smash. Conniff’s version was #1 on Easy Listening for a month and had made #9 on the Hot 100.

“Somewhere My Love” also contains a lyric line that stops me in my tracks every time: “You’ll come to me out of the long ago.” As many of the most precious things often do.

The Hot Country Singles chart for the week of 9/24/66 is not the bonanza of eternal classics that the Hot 100 is, but it’s led by a record that didn’t get off the radio for years thereafter: “Almost Persuaded” by David Houston. Although he is forgotten now, David Houston was one of the biggest stars in country between 1965 and 1971, with seven Billboard #1 hits. The nine weeks “Almost Persuaded” spent at #1 country was the longest run of any record since 1963, and it wouldn’t be surpassed until the download era. It’s also at #29 on the Hot 100 in this week, on its way to #24.

It’s well known that terrestrial radio stations, even ones specializing in oldies or classic hits, have largely dumped 60s music. But it’s not because music of later decades is consistently better, cuz it ain’t. And the chart from 9/24/66 is Exhibit A.