(Pictured: the original caption on this pic claims it’s the Enchanted Garden Disco in New York and not a church basement somewhere.)
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On American Top 40, Casey Kasem would frequently say, “Before we hear the #1 song, let’s take a look at the top of the other charts.” From the edition of Billboard dated July 31, 1976 (in which “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans is in its second week atop the Hot 100), here are the tops of some of the other charts.
The Top Box Office chart does not refer to movies, but concerts. Billboard puts them in three categories and ranks by grosses. “Stadiums and Festivals” are shows in venues that seat 20,000 or more; the list is topped by a bill starring Yes, Peter Frampton, Gary Wright, and Gentle Giant, which grossed $550,000 at Anaheim Stadium in California on July 17. (The same show in San Diego the next day is #2 on the list.) “Arenas” are venues that seat from 6,000 to 20,000; Elton John’s show in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on July 19 was the top grosser at just under $149,000. Two Wisconsin appearances by Fleetwood Mac and Starcastle are on this list, in Green Bay on July 16 and Madison on July 17. “Auditoriums” are venues that seat less than 6,000. A six-night stand in San Francisco by the Grateful Dead tops this list. Tickets for most shows regardless of venue size ranged primarily from $5.50 to $8; the festival shows in Anaheim and San Diego cost $10 to get in. None of that seems like very much now, but it seemed pricey then: a movie ticket was generally around $2 in 1976; when I bought my first “real” concert ticket in 1977 for $7.50, it seemed like a fortune.
The Disco Action chart ranks by sales figures from various retailers and “top audience response” from discos in various cities. Top sellers are the eponymous album Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and the singles “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees and “The Best Disco in Town” by the Ritchie Family. “You Should Be Dancing” leads the audience response charts in New York and in the combined Los Angeles/San Diego area; in Washington, it’s “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” by Tavares. The charts appear on the same page with an article headlined “Is the Disco Scene in a Rut?” The answer is, of course, yes and no. One radio insider says, “Disco hits aren’t crossing over [from clubs to radio] the way they used to.” But even if the music becomes less popular, he says, discos themselves will remain popular places to go because they represent “an adult record hop.”
(The lead single from the Dr. Buzzard album, “Cherchez la Femme,” hasn’t charted yet, but it will. If you can get past the misogynistic lyric—which is hard to do, I grant you—it sounds great, and this performance from the Tony Orlando and Dawn TV show is fun to watch.)
The top four songs on the Hot Country Singles chart are in the same positions as last week: Red Sovine’s novelty “Teddy Bear” is #1 for a third week, followed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette on “Golden Ring,” “Say It Again” by Don Williams, and “The Letter” by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. (“Golden Ring” will go to #1 the next week and “Say It Again” the week after that.) There’s not much action on Hot Country LPs. From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee by Elvis is #1 again this week. United Talent by Loretta and Conway moves up to #2 with a bullet. The only other album getting a bullet in the Top 10 is Are You Ready for the Country by Waylon Jennings at #4.
Billboard‘s Hits of the World chart covers several countries. The #1 song in Britain is “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee, which will reach #1 on the Hot 100 next week; the top album in Britain is 20 Golden Greats by the Beach Boys. “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers is the #1 single in West Germany and Switzerland. In Sweden, the #1 hit is “Barretta’s Theme” by Sammy Davis Jr.
Starting on page 43, a feature in the Tape/Audio/Video section spotlights WISM-FM in Madison and its successful, automated MOR/gold/easy rock format, which is also running on the company’s stations in Oshkosh and LaCrosse. The station creates its own automation tapes, a process which the article describes in great detail. In 1976, I listened to that station occasionally. Forty-two years later, I work at that station’s direct descendant. Occasionally.
(Pictured: John Phillips contemplates his next move.)
Last weekend I was doing my radio station’s all-70s Saturday show and played “Close to You” by the Carpenters. I told the audience it was the #1 song in Madison “exactly one million years ago today.” It’s something I’ve said before in referrring to “Close to You.” It’s so vastly different from what constitutes pop music today, and it was different that summer as well, despite spending a month at #1. I often say that it signaled that the 70s were going to have a far different energy than the 60s, but there’s a perfectly good argument that the signal had already blinked. “Close to You” is no less adult, no less the opposite of what we think of as the 60s vibe, than earlier #1 hits including Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” the year before, or “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Honey” in 1968. Or Frank Sinatra’s #1 hits “Strangers in the Night” and “Somethin’ Stupid” in 1966 and 1967. As I’ve said before, eras don’t break cleanly, and across the totality of history in any field, there is almost never any such thing as a dividing line.
But for me, the summer of 1970 really is a dividing line, or damn close to one. At the end of July 1970, I was a month or six weeks from first discovering popular music and the radio, and thereby setting myself on the course that has brought me to gasbagging at you on this day, in this year.
As it happens, the ARSA database contains a music survey from my radio station’s legendary ancestor WISM, dated July 25, 1970. “Close to You” and Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” occupy the top two spots for a second consecutive week. Moving up on the survey are songs I will experience in real time over the next few months: in the Top 10 there’s “Spill the Wine,” “Make It With You,” “Tighter Tighter” and the Neighborhood’s cover of “Big Yellow Taxi,” which would get to only #29 on the Hot 100. Farther down, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross and “Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who are hitbound, along with “In the Summertime” and “25 or 6 to 4.”
But there’s plenty of adult flavor on this chart, stuff that’s a better fit with “Close to You” than with other hits of the moment. “One Day of Your Life” by Andy Williams is in Billboard‘s Easy Listening Top 10 for July 25, and Al De Lory’s “Song From M*A*S*H“ (bad link fixed) has just fallen out of it. Mark Lindsay’s “Silver Bird” and “Teach Your Children” by Crosby Stills and Nash are on the Easy Listening chart in this week, and “Big Yellow Taxi” cracks it for the first time. It seems to me that Ronnie Dyson’s joyous “Why Can’t I Touch You” should be doing big Easy Listening business, but it’s nowhere to be found, not with playlist slots reserved for Engelbert Humperdinck (“My Marie”), Dionne Warwick (“Paper Maché”), and the Lettermen (“She Cried”), and one at the bottom of the Easy Listening chart for a slowed-down instrumental cover of “Louie Louie” by Sounds Orchestral.
A couple of songs on the WISM chart from 7/25/70 will eventually make the Easy Listening chart, and I have mentioned both of them before at this blog: “Mississippi” by John Phillips, from his acclaimed-but-forgotten album John, the Wolf King of L.A., and “That’s Where I Went Wrong” by the Poppy Family. “That’s Where I Went Wrong” would eventually reach #7 and “Mississippi” #13. I heard neither of them during that July week, although I would hear them a few times as summer turned to fall, and then forget them as fall turned to winter. But they would find their way back into my life and now, alongside “Close to You” and “Tighter Tighter” and all the rest, they possess a time-traveling mojo that knocks me sideways, one million years later.
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(Pictured: Billy Preston, 1974.)
Not gonna lie: the most obscure tunes on American Top 40 repeats make my old program director’s spidey senses tingle a little, and might cause current PDs to reach for the antacids. The show from the week of July 14, 1973, contains a remarkably large number of them. Some were unfamiliar even to me. And if a geek such as I doesn’t know something, chances are good that a casual listener isn’t going to know it either.
I decided to see how many of that week’s Billboard Top 40 never charted on WLS, the Top-40 giant from Chicago, which was what I listened to that summer. The following did not:
40. “Plastic Man”/Temptations
39. “Swamp Witch”/Jim Stafford
36. “Goin’ Home”/Osmonds
35. “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
33. “Where Peaceful Waters Flow”/Gladys Knight and the Pips
28. “Satin Sheets”/Jeanne Pruett
22. “Doing It to Death”/Fred Wesley and the JBs
A few other songs charted briefly: “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by the Intruders (#38) for two weeks, “Misdemeanor” by Foster Sylvers (#25) for three, and Gladys Knight’s “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” (#24) for five.
It’s possible that WLS may have played some of the missing songs for a short time without charting them. Whatever the case, some of the missing and semi-missing are pretty good. “I’ll Always Love My Mama” is a Gamble and Huff production, and those are always welcome. “Misdemeanor” might put you in mind of the Jackson Five, a circumstance almost certainly intentional. “Where Peaceful Waters Flow” seems a lot more commercial and appealing than the more successful “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare.” WLS had charted the Osmonds’ hard-rockin’ “Crazy Horses” and “Hold Her Tight” for only five weeks each in 1972 and must have figured that “Goin’ Home” wouldn’t measure up to them.
“Why Me” did just fine without airplay on WLS, with one of the longest and strangest chart Billboard chart runs in history. Somebody who was there in 1973 would have to explain the crossover appeal of “Satin Sheets,” which sounds to me like plain old hard country. Its chart profile at ARSA is similar to that of “Doing It to Death,” actually: each had lots of listings on country/R&B stations and got a little bit of traction at a few major Top 40 outlets. Maybe that was enough to push both records up the Hot 100. What appealed to anybody at any station about “Swamp Witch,” I have no idea; it’s dreadful.
Although we hear some certifiable killers in the first half of the show, including “Frankenstein,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” and “One of a Kind (Love Affair),” it takes 90 minutes before the 7/14/73 show consistently features songs a casual listener is going to know, and I can’t remember another edition like that.
Once the show gets to the Top 20, however, it’s pretty solid, and the stretch from #21 to #8 is pretty much all-killer, no filler, although your mileage may vary on “Monster Mash.” People underrate “Touch Me in the Morning” and “So Very Hard to Go”—I can’t think of a way one might improve on either one of them. “Money” and “Behind Closed Doors” back-to-back is a quintessential AT40 train wreck, in a good way. I am not particularly a fan of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” but with “Pillow Talk” and “Behind Closed Doors,” it completes a very horny quarter hour. “Long Train Running,” “Right Place Wrong Time,” and “Smoke on the Water” have been so familiar for so long that it takes some effort to remember they were once current hits jockeying for position like everything else. The very top of the chart is only just OK: “Playground in My Mind” and “Yesterday Once More” don’t do much for me; the rest are decent (yes, even the frequently reviled “My Love,” which I don’t mind), but pretty crispy after 45 years.
Casey notes what he calls one of the most amazing bits of chart trivia ever: Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles” is #1 this week, having followed Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Love” into the #1 spot. In 1969, the #1 hit “Get Back” was credited to the Beatles with Billy Preston. If it had been three official members of the Beatles with consecutive #1 hits, Casey says, it would be easier to understand, but the oddity of Preston being co-credited with the Beatles on a single hit makes it a remarkable longshot.
(Pictured: KC and the Sunshine Band on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, December 31, 1977.)
Recently I mentioned that I was not willing to listen to a full American Top 40 show from May 1978 because I was not eager to relive my last month of high school. However, I recently decided to risk the one from June 24, 1978.
40. “If Ever I See You Again”/Roberta Flack. Well shit, maybe this was a bad idea after all.
38. “Dance Across the Floor”/Jimmy “Bo” Horne and 36. “It’s the Same Old Song”/KC and the Sunshine Band. The best KC record on this countdown is credited to some other guy, Jimmy “Bo” Horne, a Florida native who kicked around the Miami music scene in the 70s. “Dance Across the Floor” was, however, produced by Harry Casey and Richard Finch. KC and the Sunshine Band had been an unstoppable force between 1975 and 1977, with four #1 hits, but their momentum cooled in 1978. “Boogie Shoes” deserved better that its #35 peak in the spring, but “It’s the Same Old Song” was lucky to get that far. It just kinda happens for three minutes and then it’s over and you don’t remember it.
35. “Runaway”/Jefferson Starship. On certain days, I like this better than “Miracles.”
32. “Deacon Blues”/Steely Dan. An unlikely Top 40 hit, just off its chart peak of #19. The single edit seems kind of pointless, mostly by shortening the sax solo to cut the total length from 7:37 to 6:40.
28. “Almost Summer”/Celebration Featuring Mike Love. I hadn’t heard “Almost Summer” in a long time before it turned up on this countdown, and I was positively shocked at how flimsy it is. It sounds like it took five minutes to write and one take to record, which may actually have been the way Mike Love preferred to work.
27. “Wonderful Tonight”/Eric Clapton. If I were to make a list of songs I never never ever need to hear again, this might be #1. The single edit of 3:13, which is what I think Casey played, helps it a great deal, though.
24. “Oh What a Night for Dancing”/Barry White. Before playing this song, Casey runs down White’s chart accomplishments, having produced 12 gold records in a single year between his groups Love Unlimited, the Love Unlimited Orchestra, and his own solo work. You’d be better off listening to any one of those than to “Oh What a Night for Dancing.”
22. “I Was Only Joking”/Rod Stewart. I have written before of my fondness for this record, and the way I heard it in the summer of 1978, although it occurs to me now that my interpretation of it doesn’t match the plain words on the page. But the regret in Rod’s voice is real, as was mine in the summer of 1978.
20. “Last Dance”/Donna Summer. The week of May 6, 1978, was the first week without a Donna Summer song on the Hot 100 since “I Feel Love” charted the previous August. “Last Dance” charted the next week, May 13, and there would not be another Summer-less week on the Hot 100 for almost exactly two years, until “On the Radio” fell off in May 1980. That’s 142 out of 143 weeks. It may surprise you to learn that “Last Dance” never made #1 on the Hot 100. It peaked at #3 in August.
11. “The Groove Line”/Heatwave. This band could play. First hit “Boogie Nights” is iconic, or ought to be. Their second hit, “Always and Forever” was the soundtrack to thousands of lost virginities (“the best slow jam of all time,” My Favorite Decade says), and “The Groove Line” is a burner.
9. “Still the Same”/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. I wrote about this song a few years ago, and when I heard it the other day, it gave me a strong sense of the kid I was that summer, working at the gas station with no customers, absorbing the radio hour after hour, poised on the edge between past and future.
7. “Use Ta Be My Girl”/O’Jays and 6. “You Belong to Me”/Carly Simon. Will say again: maybe relistening to this countdown this wasn’t such a good idea.
2. “Baker Street”/Gerry Rafferty and 1. “Shadow Dancing”/Andy Gibb. A few years ago, we got acquainted with former AT40 staffer Scott Paton. He told us how “Baker Street,” which famously spent six consecutive weeks at #2 on the Hot 100 behind “Shadow Dancing,” was actually #1 for maybe 18 hours, until some shenanigans took place. It’s quite a tale.
(Pictured: Tanya Tucker onstage in 1975.)
Radio and Records is a now-defunct industry trade paper. It was founded in 1973 (according to Wikipedia, one of its founders was Robert Kardashian—yeah, that guy) and ceased publication in 2009. In its heyday, its music charts were highly influential. Chances are, the radio station you listened to in the 80s and 90s either reported to R&R or took its airplay cues from the magazine. Radio Rewinder recently posted the Radio and Records Pop 40 chart from June 12, 1975. It’s an adult-contemporary chart, although it lists many of the big Top 40 hits of the moment. Melissa Manchester’s lovely “Midnight Blue” is at #1, one week before it would get to the same spot on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart. The R&R chart gains bonus points for the oddball records appearing on the list. Including:
11. “Lizzie and the Rainman”/Tanya Tucker. Tucker was a country superstar in 1975, and “Lizzie and the Rainman” was her fourth #1 in the last two years, although she’d first hit with “Delta Dawn” in the summer of 1972, when she was only 13 years old. All of her country #1s in this period crossed to the pop charts, but “Lizzie and the Rainman” was the only one to make the Billboard Top 40, hitting #37 in the same week R&R published this chart. It peaked at #7 on the Easy Listening chart, and it’s got some monster hooks: “I betcha I can make it rain” and “Step back non-believers, or the rain will never come.”
Digression: 1975 was a big year for crossover country. Ten of the year’s #1 country singles were major pop hits, and six of those made #1 on the Hot 100: “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by B. J. Thomas, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” by Freddy Fender, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “I’m Sorry,” Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and “Convoy” by C. W. McCall, which hit #1 country in December and topped the Hot 100 in January 1976.
16. “I Dreamed Last Night”/Justin Hayward and John Lodge. As the Moody Blues got ready to make the followup to Seventh Sojourn, Michael Pinder, Ray Thomas, and Graeme Edge opted out. Because the group owed its record label something, Hayward, Lodge, and producer Tony Clarke made Blue Jays—an album I remember seeing in many, many cutout bins in the late 70s. “I Dreamed Last Night” made #47 on the Hot 100 and #29 Easy Listening.
20. “Ding-a-Dong”/Teach-In. I’d never heard of this record until the moment I saw this chart, but it turns out that “Ding-a-Dong” was the Netherlands entry and eventual winner of the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest. It’s catchy, but it disappears like cotton candy, and its resemblance to an ABBA record is almost certainly intentional. It didn’t make the Hot 100 but went to #22 Easy Listening.
21. “Please Tell Him I Said Hello”/Debbie Campbell. In June 1975, Billboard described Debbie Campbell as “a young and cute rock refugee.” She had played in an all-girl band called the Kandy Kanes in the 60s, and in the early 70s with a country-rock band called Buckwheat. “Please Tell Him I Said Hello” didn’t make either the Hot 100 or Billboard‘s country Top 40, although it did have a 13-week run up to #12 on the Easy Listening chart. BTW, Glen Campbell had a daughter named Debbie who was a singer, but this isn’t her; this Debbie Campbell was a favorite around Tulsa, Oklahoma, and died young.
34. “Susanna’s Song”/Jerry Cole and Trinity. Jerry Cole was in the Champs for a while, and he played on lots of records in the 60s as a session guitarist, including work with Them, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and Phil Spector. He also made several albums of space-age/bachelor-pad pop in the middle of the 60s. He has a spectcularly detailed Wikipedia entry with an exhaustive list of credits, but that list doesn’t include anything with a group called Trinity. Still, he seems to have recorded three singles under that name. “Susanna’s Song,” which is not available at YouTube, went to #20 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart but didn’t make the Hot 100.
Writing about a song so obscure that it isn’t even on YouTube: geek achievement unlocked.
(Pictured: Ronnie Milsap on stage in the 70s.)
The movie Urban Cowboy, which is often credited with sparking a pop-country boom, was released on June 6, 1980, but the pop-country trend had been strong for a while by then. “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer” by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes, #3 on this chart, was #4 pop in the same week, and is country only in terms of where Rogers was filed in the record store. Anne Murray’s “Lucky Me” (#9) is one of several crossover hits she scored in 1979 and 1980, although it was less successful on the pop charts (#42) than previous singles had been. Mickey Gilley was climbing the country chart with two records, both remakes: “True Love Ways” (#15) and “Stand By Me” (#45), and both eventual pop crossovers, with “Stand By Me” going all the way to #22. Although neither side of Ronnie Milsap’s current #1 single, “My Heart”/”Silent Night,” crossed over to pop, both of them certainly could have; Milsap would hit the Hot 100 13 times between 1977 and 1984. And down at #24 was the familiar soulful swing of Crystal Gayle on “The Blue Side.”
In 1974, Marilyn Sellars had a #10 hit with the country-gospel song “One Day at a Time.” This chart contains a poppier version of it that ended up a bigger hit. Cristy Lane, the Academy of Country’s Music’s Best New Female Vocalist of 1979, had five Top-10 country hits before her take on “One Day at Time.” It would spend only a week at #1 later in June, but its overtly religious theme opened a second career for her as a Christian-music artist; later albums and her biography were hawked endlessly on TV, always referring to “One Day at a Time.”
A band that would skate the line between pop and country for a couple of years in the process of becoming one of the biggest country acts in history was breaking into the Top 40 this week: “Tennessee River” by Alabama was at #36. It was their third record in six months to make the country Top 40, but this one would be their first to go to #1, in August. After that, their next 20 singles would hit #1—every last one that charted—until a 1987 release peaked at #7. Not to worry, however. After that, they’d hit #1 with nine of their next 10 singles, which gets us to 1991. By the end of the century they scored 32 #1 country hits in all. Seven of those #1s would cross to the Hot 100. In 1981 and 1982, “Feels So Right,” “Love in the First Degree,” and “Take Me Down” all made the Top 20.
That’s not to say that more traditional country was dead or dying. The 6/7/80 chart includes a record that some writers, including me, consider to be the best, most-emblematic country record of all time: “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, at #9 this week on the way to #1 in July. It’s built on a metaphor that could easily became maudlin, with a weeping steel guitar and flourishing strings, but Jones is the perfect communicator for it, right down to his absolutely convincing sale of the spoken-word bit toward the end. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” earns its profound sadness legitimately. It has the emotional depth of a short story, which it kind of is.
On the subject of short stories: Don Williams was at #2 in this week with “Good Ole Boys Like Me.” Songwriter Bob McDill was as capable as anyone in Nashville of turning out disposable song product, but “Good Ole Boys Like Me” is positively literary:
Then Daddy came in to kiss his little man
With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand
He talked about honor and things I should know
Then he’d stagger a little as he went out the door
Any song that name-checks Uncle Remus, Stonewall Jackson, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe, and legendary Nashville DJ John R just gots to be cool. As delivered by Don Williams, who scored hits with several Bob McDill songs over the years, “Good Ole Boys Like Me” has an intelligence, warmth, and depth that’s been AWOL from Music Row in Nashville for years now.
I wasn’t doing country radio in June of 1980—I’d started my summer gig at the album-rock station by then. But I’d be back in the fall, catching up on the hits of the summer.