Category Archives: Record Charts

What’s Playing

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(Pictured: Delaney and Bonnie, bigger with the kids than you might expect.)

Let’s look inside the edition of Billboard dated October 17, 1970, to see what we can see.

Three-month-old syndicated radio show American Top 40, now heard on 30 stations, has sold all of its national commercial inventory for the next six weeks to MGM Records. The label intends to use the buy to promote 10 of its artists: Eric Burdon, Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Bloom, Michael Parks, the Mike Curb Congregation, Hank Williams Jr., the Osmond Brothers, Richie Havens, Lalo Schifrin, and Heintje, an 11-year-old singer from the Netherlands. (An MGM ad elsewhere in the magazine says that Heintje is 14, however.) A different story details another new media venture that’s gaining popularity: the Chicago-based TV series Soul Train. Host Don Cornelius estimates that the show has 100,000 to 150,000 viewers daily at 4:30 in the afternoon. He hopes that the show will soon be picked up for syndication across the country.

Headline toward the bottom of page 8: “Janis Joplin, Queen of Rock, Dies of Overdose of Drugs.” The lede: “Janis Joplin, whose personal philosophy was to do everything possible to enjoy life, was found dead Sunday [(10/4)]. She had been working on her third Columbia album.”

Another headline: “‘What’s Playing’ on Jukebox Often Differs From Charts.” “On any given week,” the magazine reports, “the ‘What’s Playing?’ [chart] reflects the tastes of the record playing public, which generally differ greatly from the record buying public.” Jukebox operators report figures based on the target audience where jukeboxes are located, including teen, adult, and soul. In a recent week, an operator in Glendale, California, said that the most popular songs among her teenaged jukebox patrons were “Soul Shake” by Delaney and Bonnie, “Lola” by the Kinks, and “Funk 49” by the James Gang, none of which was currently placed higher than #40 on the Hot 100. Records often achieve jukebox popularity before they make any noise on other charts; similarly, records often remain hot on jukeboxes after they’ve cooled on the charts.

On the Best Selling Tape Cartridges chart, Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Chicago lead both the 8-track and cassette listings. Other top tapes include Closer to Home by Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and the Woodstock soundtrack. Best Selling Jazz LPs is led by Miles Davis and Bitches Brew. Isaac Hayes has two albums in the jazz Top 10, The Isaac Hayes Movement and Hot Buttered Soul. The Isaac Hayes Movement is also riding high on the Best Selling Soul LPs chart, along with releases by the Jackson Five, Diana Ross, and the Four Tops. Cosmo’s Factory and Mad Dogs and Englishmen are also on the Soul LPs chart. On the Top LPs chart, Cosmo’s Factory is #1 again this week, but Abraxas by Santana makes a strong move to #2 from #8. The new Rolling Stones album, the live Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! debuts at #10.

The Best Selling Soul Singles chart has the same four songs at the top as last week: the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross, “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright, and “Still Water (Love)” by the Four Tops. The #1 song on the Hot Country Singles chart is “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Johnny Cash. Two songs in the country Top 10, “It’s Only Make Believe” by Glen Campbell and “Snowbird” by Anne Murray are major pop crossovers. They sit at #2 and #8 on the Easy Listening chart respectively, where the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” is #1. Two new songs have blasted into the Easy Listening Top 10: “Sweetheart” by Engelbert Humperdinck is at #3 from #17 last week, and Shirley Bassey’s cover of the Beatles’ “Something” is at #7 from #22 last week.

On the Hot 100, “I’ll Be There” hits #1, knocking “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond to #2. “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf is #3. James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” is the lone new entry in the Top 10 at #10. The hottest song within the Top 40 is “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, up 11 spots to #11. The highest debut in the Top 40 is “God, Love, and Rock & Roll” by Teegarden and Van Winkle at #30. The highest debut on the Hot 100 is “Heed the Call” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition at #67; “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles is new at #68.

And finally: a small display ad in the magazine offers wristwatches bearing the faces of Bullwinkle J. Moose or Dudley Do-Right “in five mind-boggling colors! Spiffy up your wrist with this happy watch!” Send $12.95 plus shipping and handling to Jay Ward Productions, Hollywood, California.

Got a Note Here From the Harper Valley P.T.A.

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(Pictured: Jeannie C. Riley with Johnny Cash on his TV show, 1969.)

For a reader of record charts, it’s an eye-popping sight, and not just because of the song titles. Fifty years ago today, on the Billboard Hot 100 for August 31, 1968, the top two are the same from the previous week: “People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals and “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. At #3, it’s Jose Feliciano’s cover of “Light My Fire,” up from #4. “Hello I Love You” by the Doors is at #4, down from #3. “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge are at #5 and #6 respectively, up from #6 and #11 the week before. At #7 sits “Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley, up from #81 the week before.

Not a typo. It was #81 the week before, and it made the biggest single-week jump in the history of the charts to that point.

“Harper Valley P.T.A.” first shows up at ARSA on August 7 at WBAM in Montgomery, Alabama, but bigger stations got on it in approximately the same week, including WKNR and CKLW in Detroit, KXOK in St. Louis, and WSAI in Cincinnati. The next week, it got adds everywhere, and hit #1 for the first time at WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama, on August 16 and WNAP in Indianapolis on August 18. (At WSGN, it debuted at #1, and likely did so in other cities as well.) Before August 31, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” had already reached #1 in Detroit, San Diego, Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Nashville. During the week of August 31, it hit #1 in Kansas City, Denver, Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Jacksonville, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and in other, smaller markets.

“Harper Valley P.T.A” needed two more weeks to budge “People Got to Be Free” from the #1 spot, moving to #4 and then #2 before reaching the top, but only for a single week, on September 21, 1968. On the Billboard country chart, it jumped from #75 to #23 in this week 50 years ago, reaching #1 on September 28 and staying three weeks. It went to #4 on the adult-contemporary chart during a 10-week run. It would be named Single of the Year by the Country Music Association, and receive a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year.

Other labels rushed out competing versions, but Jeannie C. swept the challengers away. A version by Ricky Page was a significant hit in the Pacific Northwest, hitting #1 in Vancouver and making the Top 10 at both KJR and KOL in Seattle. King Curtis, who seems to have covered everything, made #93 with his version. Ben Colder, the comic persona of singer/actor Sheb Wooley, hit #24 country and #67 on the Hot 100 with a not-at-all-funny parody, “Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day).” (A handful of other parody versions and covers are shown at ARSA.)

As the song climbed toward the top, it was being chased by a bigger hit: the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” which debuted on the Hot 100 at #10 on September 14, went to #3 the next week, and to #1 on September 28. “Harper Valley P.T.A.” held at #2 for three weeks before going 4-8-14-15-35 and out, absent from the chart dated November 23.

“Harper Valley P.T.A.” was too country for good times/great oldies radio. But in 1978, the song began a delayed afterlife, inspiring a theatrical movie starring Barbara Eden, which did $25 million at the box office. A TV series based on the movie (created by Sherwood Schwartz of Gilligan’s Island and Brady Bunch fame) and also starring Eden ran for two seasons starting in 1981 and played in syndication for a few years thereafter.

“Harper Valley P.T.A.” was written by Tom T. Hall and is based on Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” speeded up but with the same chords; Riley sings it with high-powered country sass. She won a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and was nominated for Best New Artist. She would have five more Top-10 country hits by 1972, but even after the hits stopped, she continued to tour and record both country and Christian music.

Jeannie C. Riley and Tom T. Hall are both still with us. She’ll be 73 this fall; he turned 82 last spring. Fifty years on, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” still sounds pretty great, especially when you hear it in this smokin’ hot, processed-for-AM-radio version.

Riley’s mark for biggest single-week jump would stand until the week of February 11, 2006, when “Breaking Free” by Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron went from #86 to #4. But chart methodology was different; it was the Soundscan era by then, with the streaming era soon to follow. Although the charts are far more volatile today, such giant jumps remain rare. There have been only about a dozen of them since 2006.

Baja Benny Rides Again

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(Pictured: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page at the first performance of the New Yardbirds, September 1968.)

Fifty years ago this week, an edition of Billboard magazine landed on the desks of radio, music, and vending industry people around the country. Here’s some of the news inside.

—Dot Records is making a significant push to increase its appeal to younger record buyers. The label has signed the following acts: Bugsy Maugh, lead singer of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; San Francisco blues band Mount Rushmore; City Zu, “a Seattle quintet being groomed for the teeny-bopper audience”; and Life, a quartet from Columbus, Ohio. For newly signed singer Val Stecklein, producer Ray Ruff says he already has a plan. Ruff “will emphasize the vocalist’s words by stopping all the instruments and underscoring phrases with one instrument.”

—For the Chuck Barris Syndicate, which has already recorded its first Dot single, “Baja California,” the label has created a character to appear in advertising and direct-mail pieces: Baja Benny. A Baja Benny ad appears on page 27 of the magazine. He is what white readers of 1968 would have expected a Mexican to be, although to a reader in 2018, he hits every offensive stereotype: a sleepy-eyed, overweight man with a big mustache and an even bigger sombrero, a sash over one shoulder, a pistol on his hip, a bottle in his hand, and a cigarette in his mouth. He is seen on the front porch of a tumbledown shack, accompanied by a scantily dressed young woman and a child wearing only a diaper.

—RCA is warning that cassette recorders are a potential threat to both the pre-recorded tape and record businesses. RCA is worried about people recording music off the radio, and has criticized an ad for a Harmon-Kardon stereo system that suggested users could borrow records from friends and record them on blank tapes.

—Record labels are planning to distribute certain classical 45s to easy listening, pop, and rock radio stations. They’re mostly, but not exclusively, themes from popular movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Elvira Madigan, and Rosemary’s Baby.

—A news item says that the reorganized Yardbirds are planning a fall college tour. Billboard says “the group will be billed as the Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page. John Paul Jones and Robert Plante [sic] are new members of the act.” In the same news column, it’s reported that “Van Morrison, who is not presently associated with any personal management firm, can be contacted at 610 Green St., Cambridge, Mass.”

Billboard‘s Hits of the World feature shows the top singles in Europe, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Argentina. In Britain, “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown takes over the #1 spot from “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells, which falls to #2. “Mony Mony” is #1 in Spain. The Ohio Express takes the top spot in Malaysia and Singapore with “Yummy Yummy Yummy.” In Australia, the #1 hit of the week is “The Orange and the Green” by the Irish Rovers, the group that hit around the world earlier in 1968 with “The Unicorn.”

—On the charts, the #1 song on the Hot 100 is “People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals. “I Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell and the Drells and “Stay in My Corner” by the Dells (the #1 R&B single this week) are new in the Top 10. Two Aretha Franklin songs debut in the Top 40: “The House That Jack Built” (#21) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (#39). Other debuts include Deep Purple’s “Hush” (#38). Cream’s Wheels of Fire is #1 on the Top LPs chart, just ahead of the Rascals compilation Time Peace and Aretha Now, all of which have been on the chart seven weeks and are in the same positions as last week. (“Wheels of Fire” also appears on the R&B album chart.) The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun blasts to #4 from #29 last week. Also making a big move is Feliciano!, up to #6 from #28. On the Hot Country Singles chart, “Already It’s Heaven” by David Houston is #1, knocking “Heaven Says Hello” by Sonny James to #2. The Easy Listening chart is led by Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” which is #1 for a second week. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Mama Cass is at #2, and the Vogues’ “Turn Around Look at Me” is #3. The lone new song in the Easy Listening Top 10 is “The Fool on the Hill” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. An older Sergio Mendes hit, “The Look of Love,” is hanging around at #14.

And then, in the blink of an eye, half of a century goes by.

Ship of Fools

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(Pictured: the Rascals, whose “People Got to Be Free” was on every kid’s radio 50 years ago this week.)

When I started putting posts together for this week, I thought that the theme was going to involve August turning to September. But sometimes the muse has her own ideas, and so this week both of my blogs will feature posts about 1968. They will appear here today, Wednesday, and Friday, and on Tuesday and Thursday at One Day in Your Life.

This week in 1968, the country’s attention was riveted on Chicago and the Democratic National Convention, where all of the frustrations the 1960s caused for three generations—kids, their parents, and their grandparents—sparked up and then exploded. The way it happened was a shock back then, as best I can recall it, but today it seems inevitable. With the benefit of hindsight, we understand both why the kids protested and why the Chicago Police Department went nuclear. Everyone’s nerves had been stretched to a breaking point in 1968 by war and assassination and each side’s reactions to them. They were destined to snap sooner or later in more or less the way they did, and if not in Chicago, then somewhere else, and soon.

At WGLI in Babylon, New York, a small-town station on Long Island, certain hits of August-going-on-September reflected young people’s visions of peace and/or love: “People Got to Be Free,” “Grazin’ in the Grass” (an instrumental, yes, but one that depicts a carefree late-summer idyll), “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “Reach Out in the Darkness.” But other songs celebrated youthful visions that were worrisome to the older generations, including indiscriminate sex (“Hello I Love You”), dropping out of polite society (“Born to Be Wild”) and drugs (“Journey to the Center of the Mind”).

And leave it to the Rolling Stones to grin crazily at all the trouble in the world and call it a gas.

WGLI’s survey dated August 26, 1968, contains some of the oddballs we like around here. It has two versions of “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the monster hit version by Jeannie C. Riley (which we’ll discuss here in greater detail on Friday) and a cover by Bobbi Martin, and two versions of “Mr. Bojangles,” the original by Jerry Jeff Walker and the other by Bobby Cole. Martin had scored a handful of Top-10 Easy Listening hits in the middle of the 60s, but her greatest success was 18 months away: the housewife anthem “For the Love of Him” would go to #1 Easy Listening and #13 on the Hot 100 early in 1970. Cole was a jazz singer well-known in the New York City area, and his “Mr. Bojangles” hit #79 on the Hot 100 and #38 Easy Listening.

Bobby Cole was not the only local artist on WGLI’s playlist. The Hassles are best known for being Billy Joel’s first claim to fame, although he’d been in other bands before, and the Hassles had existed before he joined in 1966. “Four O’Clock in the Morning” was written and sung by Joel and sounds like a cross between Vanilla Fudge and the Beatles. Aesop’s Fables was a Long Island group with two singers and a horn section that made a handful of singles and a couple of albums; their version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is just weird—although it did predate the more famous Supremes/Temptations version by a few months. (Soul singer Dee Dee Warwick had done it first, in 1966.)

WGLI’s pick album of the week is the third album in 12 months by the Cowsills, Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools. It contains “Indian Lake,” which had hit earlier in the summer of 1968 and was likely still in recurrents at WGLI as August turned to September. The title song takes aim at a person who talks a lot but hasn’t really accomplished anything. The kids might have seen eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey in it, but Humphrey’s generation, sitting in their living rooms watching the news from Chicago, might have been thinking the same thing about their kids.

(Coming Wednesday: a look inside Billboard magazine 50 years ago this week.)

Many Bridges to Cross

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In the wake of Aretha Franklin’s death last week, the song I found myself returning to again and again was her version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It’s a glorious thing, exploring an emotional terrain far different from Simon and Garfunkel’s. Aretha’s version of “Bridge” was the most successful cover recorded in the immediate wake of that song’s success, but not the only one. It made good sense for music publishers and songwriters to extend the reach of their properties with cover versions that would appeal to different audiences. The trend reached a peak in the early 1970s, and it’s a trend we’ve mentioned here before.

Several country versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” were cut following its six-week run at #1 in the spring of 1970. Buck Owens scored the biggest country version: his “Bridge Over Troubled Water” went to #9 on the Billboard country chart in the spring of 1971. (It was the title song to an Owens album that included versions of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” and “I Am a Rock,” as well as “Catch the Wind” and “Love Minus Zero—No Limit.”) Skeeter Davis, who was reaching the end of her country chart career, got a little bit of airplay with her version in the fall of 1970. Somebody named Betty Amos did it with Nashville heavyweight Pete Drake producing; that version charted at a single station in the ARSA database, WKCW in Warrenton, Virginia, in August 1970. A pop version by Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds—part of a medley with “You’ve Got a Friend”—also charted on a single station, WBAM in Montgomery, Alabama, in February 1972.

Several versions appear in the ARSA database but are not shown to have charted anywhere. The best-known performers to cut “Bridge Over Troubled Water” without chart success were country stars Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter and jazz alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. A pop singer named Kaye Hart cut a version of it, arranged and produced by Peter Matz, who was also the orchestra leader on The Carol Burnett Show. The most noteworthy thing about Hart’s recording might be that Metromedia Records listed the time of the record as 2:91. Another non-charting pop version was recorded by Artistry in Sound, a project of songwriter and record producer Dick Glasser. The album Dick Glasser Presents Artistry in Sound featured several pop hits of the moment including “Hey Jude,” “Sugar Sugar,” and “Jean,” so I’m guessing it was an easy-listening record, for that would have been in style at the end of 1970. An outfit called the Universal Tabernacle Choir featuring Juliet Freeman recorded “Bridge” too; it would have to be a gospel version, don’t you think?

The weirdest version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” came in 1973. Sam Ervin, the U.S. senator from North Carolina, became famous for chairing the Senate Watergate Committee, and he made a spoken-word album for Columbia called Senator Sam at Home. On the album, he opined about various topics over down-home musical backing. He talked about young people, freedom of speech, patrotism, religion, and Shakespeare (among other things), recited Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” and used “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as part of a meditation on friendship. His version was released as a single but didn’t chart, which will probably not surprise you.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” proved irresistable to R&B performers, and not just Aretha. King Curtis recorded it, and so did Ernie Andrews, singing with the Fuzzy Kane Trio. Andrews’ version, which turns the song into a blues number and is pretty great, was a regional hit in Baltimore and Philadelphia, getting a little airplay at the end of 1970. In the spring of 1971, Aretha did what she did, with 384 chart entries at ARSA, including the #1 position at CKLW in Detroit as well as R&B stations KGFJ in Los Angeles, WVON in Chicago, and KOKA in Shreveport. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” returned for the last time in 1979, when a version by R&B singer Linda Clifford charted on a couple of stations.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” wasn’t exactly an entry in the Great American Songbook, not like “Stardust” or “My Funny Valentine,” not a song that inspired a near-endless variety of interpretations over several decades. It was, however, enough of a shared cultural event to make other performers and producers think, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if we did it like this?” Nobody thinks in those terms about pop songs anymore.

The Top of the Other Charts

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(Pictured: the original caption on this pic claims it’s the Enchanted Garden Disco in New York and not a church basement somewhere.)

(Note about pictures: If you see a caption but no picture, reload the page. Since I switched to the domain, pics don’t always load properly the first time.)

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.

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