It’s Your Thing

(Pictured: the Rascals. Clockwise from top left: Felix Cavaliere, Dino Danelli, Eddie Brigati, and Gene Cornish.)

I have another reader question to answer, from Bean Baxter, former morning guy at KROQ in Los Angeles, now in London: “What’s the greatest Top Ten Billboard chart of them all?”

My official answer is: “I don’t know.” It would take a vast amount of time and effort to look at and rank every one of them. But Bean pointed in the right direction when he observed, “Gotta be one of those Stones, CCR, Supremes, Aretha, etc. lists from the sixties, right?” I should think so. I can think of one off the top of my head that’s a pretty good candidate: September 24, 1966. Take a look at this:

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

But the thing is, you can grab any week practically at random from the last half of the 1960s and see something similar. Here’s August 17, 1968:

1. “People Got to Be Free”/Rascals
2. “Hello I Love You”/Doors
3. “Classical Gas”/Mason Williams
4. “Born to Be Wild”/Steppenwolf
5. “Light My Fire”/Jose Feliciano
6. “Stoned Soul Picnic”/Fifth Dimension
7. “Turn Around, Look at Me”/Vogues
8. “Sunshine of Your Love”/Cream
9. “Grazing in the Grass”/Hugh Masekela
10. “Hurdy Gurdy Man”/Donovan

October 9, 1965:

1. “Yesterday”/Beatles
2. “Hang on Sloopy”/McCoys
3. “Treat Her Right”/Roy Head
4. “Eve of Destruction”/Barry McGuire
5. “The ‘In’ Crowd”/Ramsey Lewis Trio
6. “Catch Us If You Can”/Dave Clark Five
7. “You’ve Got Your Troubles”/Fortunes
8. “Baby Don’t Go”/Sonny and Cher
9. “You Were on My Mind”/We Five
10. “Do You Believe in Magic”/Lovin’ Spoonful

July 1, 1967:

1. “Windy”/Association
2. “Groovin'”/Young Rascals
3. “Little Bit o’ Soul”/Music Explosion
4. “San Francisco”/Scott McKenzie
5. “She’d Rather Be With Me”/Turtles
6. “Respect”/Aretha Franklin
7. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”/Frankie Valli
8. “Let’s Live for Today”/Grass Roots
9. “Come on Down to My Boat”/Every Mother’s Son
10. “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”/Petula Clark

Regarding 7/1/67, whether you agree with the greatness of the list might come down to how you feel about “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” which I happen to like, even as I acknowledge it’s not in the same league with “Windy,” “Groovin’,” and “Respect.” And as I go randomly poking around amongst the charts, I frequently find instances in which one song unbalances an otherwise exceptional list, as on April 19, 1969:

1. “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In”/Fifth Dimension
2. “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”/Blood Sweat and Tears
3. “It’s Your Thing”/Isley Brothers
4. “Hair”/Cowsills
5. “Only the Strong Survive”/Jerry Butler
6. “Twenty-Five Miles”/Edwin Starr
7. “Galveston”/Glen Campbell
8. “Time Is Tight”/Booker T and the MGs
9. “Dizzy”/Tommy Roe
10. “Sweet Cherry Wine”/Tommy James and the Shondells

“Dizzy” had been in the Top 10 since February, and it kept “Proud Mary,” “Traces” by the Classics IV, and “Time of the Season” from getting to #1, so it’s got a lot to answer for.

Similarly, September 25, 1971, which is a punchbowl with something floating in it:

1. “Go Away Little Girl”/Donny Osmond
2. “Maggie May”-“Reason to Believe”/Rod Stewart
3. “Ain’t No Sunshine”/Bill Withers
4. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”/Joan Baez
5. “Spanish Harlem”/Aretha Franklin
6. “Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey”/Paul and Linda McCartney
7. “Smiling Faces Sometimes”/Undisputed Truth
8. “Superstar”/Carpenters
9. “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”/Dramatics
10. “I Just Want to Celebrate”/Rare Earth

(Digression: It is hard for me to judge weeks in the 1970s because I can’t always separate the quality of the songs from the quality of the associations I have with them. On that basis, I nearly chose July 10, 1976, as the answer to Bean’s question, but that ain’t right and I’m not doing it.)

Similar to that 9/25/71 chart is this one from June 16, 1984, with one song that fouls it up. You’ll have to guess which one.

1. “Time After Time”/Cyndi Lauper
2. “The Reflex”/Duran Duran
3. “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”/Deniece Williams
4. “Oh Sherrie”/Steve Perry
5. “Sister Christian”/Night Ranger
6. “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll”/Huey Lewis and the News
7. “Self Control”/Laura Branigan
8. “Jump (For My Love)”/Pointer Sisters
9. “Dancing in the Dark”/Bruce Springsteen
10. “Borderline”/Madonna

I could go on pulling charts like this all day, but it doesn’t have to be me. If you have sufficient time on your hands to get into it, nominate some other week for all-time-best-top-10, in the comments. (Billboard‘s Hot 100 site can be searched by date.)

Weekend Listening: If you were interested in Kent Kotal’s Top 3333 Most Essential Classic Rock Songs list when it was unveiled back in March, you may be interested in hearing a series of programs about it this weekend. They’ll be right here starting this afternoon (Friday 5/22) at 3PM US Central.

One Last Thing: Check the comments on yesterday’s post for stories about ways radio stations used CB radio back in the day.

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.

End of the Line

(Pictured: Charlie T. and Lucky Wilbury.)

After listening to the Shadoe Stevens-hosted American Top 40 show from April 8, 1989, it’s now time to see what was outside the Top 40 in that same week.

42. “Soldier of Love”/Donny Osmond. I am not sure anybody foresaw the 1989 Donny Osmond comeback; he hadn’t charted since 1977, and he hadn’t made the Top 10 since “The Twelfth of Never” in 1973. But “Soldier of Love” would go all the way to #2 on the Hot 100. The video, featuring leather-clad, lip-curling Donny intercut with hot babes dancing, is most of the 80s in four minutes.

47. “Wind Beneath My Wings”/Bette Midler. This song was hugely popular for several years after its 1989 run to #1, a period during which The Mrs. and I were wedding-reception DJs. We enjoyed it a lot; the guy who owned the equipment did the setting-up and the tearing-down, so all we had to do was show up and run the party. I felt like we were pretty good at it; my radio background made me conscious of the need to actually put on a show, instead of just segueing songs one after the other, which is what I often hear when I’m attending a DJ’d party today. But back in that day, “Wind Beneath My Wings” was a popular choice for father/daughter dances, during which Dad, reared on sock-hop music from the 60s and 70s, tried to sway along with his girl at a tempo too lugubrious for dancing. Bette’s version is the most famous, but neither the first nor the best; it should not surprise you that Lou Rawls did it very well.

54. “Let the River Run”/Carly Simon. In the early 00s, the software company I worked for adopted “Let the River Run” as some kind of anthem, and I believe they even paid Carly Simon to appear at a corporate event, or in videos, or something. I don’t remember the details. By the time that happened, I had ceased to care about anything that wasn’t my immediate responsibility, and very little about much of that.

58. “Hearts on Fire”/Steve Winwood. The Roll With It album hit #1 in the States, and the title song was a #1 single. But apart from “Roll With It” and “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do,” the rest of the album is a blur. The songs all sound pretty much the same to me, and whenever it pops up on shuffle, I’m usually ready for it to be over long before it’s over.

62. “It’s Only Love”/Simply Red. This band’s American singles discography is feast-or-famine. They hit the Hot 100 seven times betwen 1986 and 1992. Two of those went to #1: “Holding Back the Years” in 1986 and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” in 1989. Three other singles stalled in the 20s, and two, including “It’s Only Love,” missed the Top 40 altogether.

87. “Come Out Fighting”/Easterhouse. This band had some success in England, but by the time “Come Out Fighting” was released in the States, its original lineup was down to the lead singer alone. The song would spend four weeks on the chart, peaking at #84 despite being pretty good.

88. “Baby Baby”/Eighth Wonder. This British group was more successful in continental Europe and Japan than in either their homeland or the United States. “Cross My Heart” had run to #56 in 16 weeks on the Hot 100 earlier in 1989; “Baby Baby” would peak at #84. Both of them sound more like Madonna than Madonna.

91. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”/Figures on a Beach. I was today years old when I learned about the existence of this cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive original. I think I was a marginally happier person when I didn’t know about it.

95. “End of the Line”/Traveling Wilburys. This and Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” up at #12 are outliers on this chart, throwing back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and the stars who built it. The balance of the hits of April 8, 1989, put a listener in 2020 much more in mind of pop music’s future than its past. I didn’t hear most of it at the time it was popular. I would learn about it in retrospect when I got out of elevator music and back into mainstream adult contemporary in 1990, but I didn’t love much of it.

“How Can You Run When You Know?”

(Pictured: Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, 1970.)

The 50th anniversary of Kent State just sort of slipped by last week. I didn’t even find time to listen to “Ohio,” one of the most powerful artifacts of that time.

The story of “Ohio” is in this excerpt from Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne (which you should read in its entirety). Neil Young wrote it on May 19. It was recorded in two takes on May 21, sent immediately to Atlantic Records in New York, and first played on stage at New York’s Fillmore East on June 2.

I don’t know who played “Ohio” first, but KPOI in Honolulu, WMCA in New York, and WIXY in Cleveland first charted it during the second full week of June. In mid-July, “Ohio” spent two weeks at #1 at KADI in St. Louis, and a week topping the chart at KINK in Portland, Oregon. Although many influential stations charted it, some of the biggest did not, including WLS in Chicago, WABC in New York, and KHJ in Los Angeles.

(There’s a chart from KWHP in Edmond, Oklahoma, dated June 1 that would make it the first station in the nation to chart it, but it’s dated June 1 through July 8. I’m sure that “June” is a typo, and the chart is actually from the first week of July.)

“Ohio” debuted on the Hot 100 at #58 during the week of June 27, then went to #49 before debuting in the Top 40 at #30 on July 11. (That July 11 chart is the one used for the first episode of American Top 40 during the July 4 weekend; Casey referred to “Ohio” as “heavy.”) It went to #26 and then 18-17-14 (its peak, during the week of August 8), then 21-24 and out, gone from the Hot 100 for the week of August 29, 1970. Its swift arrival and departure is fitting, in a way. In its time, “Ohio” was not so much a song as it was a news story, and while the news cycle didn’t move as swiftly then as it does now, it still moved.

I used to be a political blogger and I remain an amateur historian, so we’re going there, on the flip.

Continue reading ““How Can You Run When You Know?””

Home to You, San Francisco

(Pictured: San Francisco’s Tony Bennett statue.)

Last weekend, people in San Francisco and around the world were invited to join in a mass singing of Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” It’s one of those songs everybody seems to know; it’s another of those songs I knew before I knew that I knew it, although I may not have played it on the radio until I got to the elevator-music station in the late 80s.

The song was written in 1953 by George Cory and Douglass Cross. The story goes (according to Wikipedia, so who the hell knows) that it was first performed by California-born opera singer Claramae Turner, and was offered to and turned down by Tennessee Ernie Ford. It eventually found its way to Bennett’s accompanist and musical director, Ralph Sharon. Bennett first sang it at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in December 1961. He recorded it in January 1962, and Columbia Records released it in February as the B-side of “Once Upon a Time.”

Imagine that single arriving at a radio station in San Francisco. Columbia may be plugging “Once Upon a Time,” but if you’re programming one of those stations, there’s no way you’re not at least listening to that B-side. San Francisco stations KYA and KEWB were the first stations to chart it, according to ARSA; they were on it by the end of March. The next two were CJAD in Montreal and KSTT in Davenport, Iowa, who were on it by the end of April.

“(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco,” as the title was punctuated on the 1962 Columbia single, didn’t make #1 in its namesake town, at least not on KYA or KEWB. It reached #3 as April turned to May, ranking behind “Stranger on the Shore” by Mr. Acker Bilk and “Twistin’ Matilda” by Jimmy Soul at both stations. At about the same time, the song bubbled under the Hot 100 for four weeks, reaching #108 in May.

KYA and KEWB dropped “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” from their surveys in June, even as it was picking up adds in small-but-steady numbers across the country. Those steady numbers enabled the song to crack the Hot 100 during the week of August 11, 1962, at #87. It broke into the Top 40 at #32 on September 29 and reached its chart peak, #19, during the week of October 20. In that same week, other legendary records above it on the chart included “Monster Mash,” “Sherry” by the Four Seasons and “Do You Love Me” by the Contours, “He’s a Rebel” and “Green Onions” and “Surfin’ Safari.”

After hitting #19, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” spent the next several weeks going down and then up and then down again: 27-24-22-27-38-25-50-46-57-63 and out, appearing for the final time on December 29, 1962. Its highest rank on a local chart was #2, at WOKY in Milwaukee, for the week of November 2, behind Gene Pitney’s “Only Love Can Break a Heart.” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” spent 21 weeks on the Hot 100 in all, 10 of those in the Top 40, plus those four on Bubbling Under. It was Bennett’s first entry on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, which was created in 1961 and changed its name to Middle Road Singles during the song’s summer-to-fall chart run, which topped out at #7.

In May 1963, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” won Record of the Year and Best Solo Male Performance at the Grammys, beating out records by Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., and Mel Tormé, among others. It became a mid-chart hit in the UK in 1965. San Francisco named it the city’s official song in 1969. It made the RIAA’s “Songs of the Century” list in 2001, and was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2018. Although Cory and Cross never wrote another hit, they didn’t need to; “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” made them rich. They won the Towering Song Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003; by that time, however, they were both long dead, tragically, Cory by suicide and Cross by alcoholism.

Tony Bennett is 93 years old now, and still singing. (He had to cancel a show here in Madison last summer for which The Mrs. and I had tickets, which remains a great disappointment.) On Saturday, he led the singalong of his signature song at the Fairmont Hotel, where he’s honored with a statue outside.

Next week, you’ll read about another famous song that made the National Recording Registry earlier this year.

Pop for Adults

(Pictured: Juice Newton.)

Last week, after I wrote about the incredible lightness of Top 40 radio in April 1981, our friend Mike Hagerty dropped some pertinent comments that I hope you saw. They help explain why ostensible “rock” stations got so soft at the dawn of the 80s:

FM, especially album rock, ate most of the males over 16 (and a good chunk of the females), disco died and the backlash hit R&B artists hard and ad budgets aimed at teens evaporated—leaving radio station GMs wanting 25-54 adults, resulting in Top 40 stations morphing into Adult Contemporary, going Country or going Talk. . . I’ve described this period as choking on Air (Supply) and drowning in Juice (Newton). 

Mike says it wouldn’t take much to turn the Radio and Records National Airplay 30 I wrote about into an adult-contemporary chart:

If I’d just parachuted into a station and needed a first-week playlist, I’d have ditched Clapton, REO Speedwagon, April Wine, Styx (“Too Much Time”), John Cougar and The Who, and played everything else (though I had to look up the John O’Banion record).

(“Love You Like I Never Loved Before” by John O’Banion, which would get to #24 on the Hot 100 in mid-May, is the sort of thing that would have gotten instant airplay in a year like 1981. Even if you’ve never heard it before, you’ve heard it before. It’s well-produced radio pop, and it’s catchy for three minutes but then disappears entirely until you hear it again three hours later.)

This discussion made me think it would be a good idea to compare the National Airplay 30 to the same week’s Pop/Adult Airplay 30, the magazine’s adult contemporary chart, to see what we can see. I made a spreadsheet if you want to take a look, but to summarize: there are 13 songs on the 4/17/81 Pop/Adult chart that weren’t on the National Airplay 30 in the same week. Some of those had certainly been there previously, or would be: “What Kind of Fool,” “Hello Again,” “Crying,” “Woman,” and “Sukiyaki.” (All were Top-10 hits on the Hot 100.)

Radio and Records also listed “New and Active” records on its Pop/Adult page, songs that were getting airplay on AC stations but not enough to chart yet. Among the songs from the current National Airplay 30 on that list are the Stars on 45 medley, “Ain’t Even Done With the Night,” and “I Missed Again.” In the same section, under the subheading “Others Getting Significant Action,” there’s “I Can’t Stand It,” “Sweetheart,” “Love You Like I’ve Never Loved Before,” “Take It on the Run,” and “Just Between You and Me.” Several songs on the National Airplay 30 that aren’t on the Pop/Adult chart almost certainly either had been (like “The Best of Times”) or could have been at some point.

The National Airplay 30 page also lists “New and Active” songs on Top 40 stations (which were starting to be known this era as CHR stations, for “contemporary hit radio”). Songs coming over from the Pop/Adult side include “Blessed Are the Believers,” “I Loved ‘Em Every One,” and “Lonely Together.” “Others Getting Significant Action” lists “I Don’t Need You” and “Mister Sandman.” I’m mildly surprised not to find “Super Trouper,” but it might have been there in some other week.

Of the 13 Pop/Adult hits not on the National Airplay 30, “What’s in a Kiss” by Gilbert O’Sullivan and “Alice Doesn’t Love Here Anymore” by Bobby Goldsboro are the least likely to have made it, considering that they missed the Billboard Hot 100 entirely (although they charted on Billboard‘s AC and country charts respectively).  Like “Love You Like I Never Loved Before,” “What’s In a Kiss” will seem familiar even if you’ve never heard it, but its cloying sweetness will test your patience by the end of its 2:40 running time. You might also be tempted to throw a heavy object at the bridge: “And anytime you need a light refreshment / Baby you can count on me / I am your very own delicatessen / Well equipped to supply you with your every need.” “Alice Doesn’t Love Here Anymore,” the tale of a middle-class marriage gone cold, is gold-standard schlock. In the first four lines it rhymes “awaken” with “bacon” and “places” with “interfaces”; in the last verse, Alice abandons her husband and children while they’re at the circus.

So yeah, your average Top 40 station had clearly gone in search of the 25-to-54 audience by 1981, and a female-leaning one at that. Something on the order of 80 percent of the hit songs of April 1981 were getting at least some airplay on both Top 40 and adult-contemporary radio. Both charts were blindingly white, too, but that’s a subject for another time.