(Pictured: Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in The Man With the Golden Arm, 1955.)
(It is my usual practice to do date-centric posts like these on or close to their anniversaries. This one I’m not saving til next March.)
Before the rock era, the song was often more important than the performer. During the pre-1920 Pioneer Era, major labels frequently advertised records by title only. Well into the 1950s, it was common for labels to release competing versions of songs at the same time. One hit would spawn several other recordings of the same song, and all of them would duke it out in the marketplace. And on the Billboard Top 100 of March 14, 1956, there was a whole lot of duking going on.
There are a lot of rock ‘n’ roll classics on that chart: “The Great Pretender,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Bill Haley’s “See You Later Alligator,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Heartbreak Hotel” among them. But we’re not interested in those here.
The Billboard Top 100 was one of four influential charts the magazine published at the time. And on 3/14/56, Les Baxter was #1 with “Poor People of Paris.” If Baxter wasn’t your style, there were versions of the same song by big-band star Russ Morgan (#41), by Lawrence Welk (#53), and by country guitarist Chet Atkins (#92). At #2 was the Nelson Riddle Orchestra with “Lisbon Antigua,” which also charted at #31 in a version by Mitch Miller. Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This” (#9) was also available in a version by Gale Storm (#89). Record buyers could also choose among three charted versions of “Mr. Wonderful,” by Peggy Lee, Teddi King, and Sarah Vaughan. Two versions of “It’s Almost Tomorrow,” by the Dream Weavers and Jo Stafford, were on the chart in this week; two more would soon chart. Two versions of “Innamorata” charted, by Jerry Vale and Martin.
The practice of white acts covering black R&B hits also added to number of contestants in the ring. Frankie Lyman’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” was at #7; white cover versions by Gale Storm, the Diamonds, and Gloria Mann were at #15, #23, and #86 respectively. The white folks were having the better of some other songs, however. Teresa Brewer’s cover of “Bo Weevil” sat at #23 while Fats Domino’s was down at #48. R&B duo the Teen Queens had “Eddie My Love” at #26 behind versions by the Fontane Sisters (#20) and the Chordettes (#21).
“Poor People of Paris” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” were not the only songs with four versions during that week in 1956. Main title music from The Man With the Golden Arm appeared on the chart in versions by bandleaders Richard Maltby, Dick Jacobs, Elmer Bernstein, and Billy May. Three more versions of the Golden Arm theme would chart by summer: by Les Elgart, Buddy Morrow, and the McGuire Sisters. The latter, called “Delilah Jones,” was a vocal that set lyrics unrelated to the movie to the Golden Arm theme. The Man With the Golden Arm starred Frank Sinatra as a drug addict fighting to stay clean, and was up for three Oscars to be awarded in the spring of 56.
But neither “Poor People of Paris,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” nor “The Man With the Golden Arm” was the chart champion for the week of March 14, 1956. That was “Moritat (Theme From The Threepenny Opera).” Using various titles, six different versions were on the March 14 chart, by the Dick Hyman Trio (#9), Richard Hayman and Jan August (#16), Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars (#22), Lawrence Welk and His Sparkling Septet (#31), Les Paul (#57) and Billy Vaughn (#63). The Threepenny Opera, which had been written in 1931 and first performed in Germany, had been a hot ticket in New York since 1954 as an off-Broadway production. It would win two Tonys in April.
When the battle was over, Hyman’s version of “Moritat” ended up the biggest chart hit, but the song had even greater popularity ahead. In 1959, “Moritat” would become one of the longest-running #1 hits of the pre-Soundscan era under the title “Mack the Knife,” recorded by Bobby Darin. It would spend nine weeks atop the Hot 100 and win Record of the Year at the Grammys.
There were other weeks like this in the late 50s, and simultaneously charting movie themes would be a thing well into the 70s. But I’ve been down this rabbit hole long enough for now.
(Billboard‘s online archive doesn’t include pre-Hot 100 charts, so if you want to see the whole 3/14/56 chart, find a .doc file here. Many chart positions are shown as ties, which is how Dean Martin and Dick Hyman can both be at #9, and the Diamonds and Teresa Brewer can both be at #23. Don’t @ me.)
(Pictured: Canadian singer Ginette Reno, who has come out of semi-retirement several times in recent years to sing national anthems during the NHL playoffs, seen here in 2017.)
ARSA, frequently mentioned here, is the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. It has over 91,000 radio station music surveys in its collection now, an unmatched resource for the history of popular music and pop radio in last half of the 20th century. The other day, while looking for something else, I found a year-end survey for 1970 from CKLG in Vancouver, British Columbia. CKLG was at 730 on the AM dial, but instead of listing the Top 73 for the year, CKLG listed the Top 173. And it’s actually even bigger than that: CKLG’s Top 173 includes six two-sided hits, so it’s actually 179 songs. Three of the six are by Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Travelin’ Band”/”Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door””/”Long As I Can See the Light,” and “Up Around the Bend”/”Run Through the Jungle.” Three others are by the Guess Who: “American Woman”/”No Sugar Tonight,” “Share the Land”/”Bus Rider,” and “No Time”/”Proper Stranger.”
CKLG’s Top 173 of 1970 includes a number of Canadian acts besides the Guess Who with hits south of the border: Anne Murray, Andy Kim, the Poppy Family, Mashmakhan, Gordon Lightfoot, Edward Bear, the Original Caste, Tom Northcott, and Ronnie Hawkins (who was born in America but has lived most of his life in Canada). The 1970 list also has a couple of acts that would eventually hit in America but hadn’t yet, including the Bells and Terry Jacks (who was part of the Poppy Family). But what interests us more are those Canadian acts who remain unknowns down here. Such as:
71. “I Must Have Been Blind”/The Collectors. A Vancouver act with a handful of late 60s hits in Canada, the Collectors eventually morphed into the better-known and more-successful Chilliwack.
91. “One Way Ticket”/McKenna Mendelson Mainline. A blues band made up of musicians from four prominent Toronto bands whose album bore the rather unfortunate title Stink. By the time 1970 had dawned, the band had already begun to fall apart. Future funk legend Rick James was a member for a while during its later stages.
123. “Life Is a Song”/Gainsborough Gallery. The lone black member of this five-piece group left soon after they recorded their album, allegedly because certain American clubs didn’t want to book a mixed-race band. Their album, described as “experimental melodic and psychedelic garage pop,” was produced by Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, at the same studio where Buddy Holly recorded. “Life Is a Song” is about as substantial as a soap bubble, and you can hear it at the bottom of this page.
124. “We Were Happy”/Jason Hoover. A meandering bit of prog rock that’s credited incorrectly on the CKLG survey. This band was properly known as The Trials of Jayson Hoover, one of several identities assumed by various combinations of Vancouver musicians of the 1960s, always fronted by one Jayson Hoover.
125. “My Home Town”/Seeds of Time. Another Vancouver act, some members of which would move on to the more successful group Prism, best known in America for “Don’t Let Him Know,” as well as the ridiculous and awesome “Armageddon” and “See Forever Eyes.” “My Home Town” is the first song on this list so far that I’d be interested in hearing again.
129. “Beautiful Second-Hand Man”/Ginette Reno. Reno is from Quebec and would become a much-decorated star of music, movies, and TV through the course of her long career, which began in the 60s. Thanks to her anthem performances at National Hockey League playoff games over the last several years, she might be the best-known performer on this list. Celine Dion considers Reno one of her idols.
142. “Ten Pound Note”/Steel River. It’s not correct to say this Toronto band was utterly unknown in the States. We’ve mentioned them at this blog once before, during one of our earlier forays into Canadian content. Two of Steel River’s singles, including “Ten Pound Note,” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and 1971.
158. “We Will Find Love”/Ann Attenborrow. This record was produced by Tom Northcott, whose fingerprints were on a fair number of Canadian hits of this period. Apart from that, the Internet knows nothing.
172. “As Feelings Go”/Spring. Still another Vancouver band, Spring seems never to have recorded an entire album, only a few singles in 1969 and 1970. “As Feelings Go” sounds like Badfinger, and I like it.
If you are interested in the Vancouver music scene (scoff if you must, but somebody amongst the readership might be), there’s plenty here.
(Pictured: Aerosmith, 1977.)
Because no good idea ever goes unrepeated around here, let’s look at what was below the Top 40 on the chart from April 16, 1977, which I wrote about on Friday.
45. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner
49. “Tie Your Mother Down”/Queen
57. “Do Ya”/Electric Light Orchestra
58. “Sleepwalker”/The Kinks
61. “Margaritaville”/Jimmy Buffett
70. “Back in the Saddle”/Aerosmith
74. “The Whistler”/Jethro Tull
76. “Sound and Vision”/David Bowie
77. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac
81. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
92. “Arrested for Driving While Blind”/ZZ Top
98. “Go Your Own Way”/Fleetwood Mac
The spring and summer of 1977 were seasons in which a lot of the classic-rock radio canon was first laid down. “Hotel California,” “Carry on Wayward Son,” “Lido Shuffle,” and “Fly Like an Eagle” were already in the Top 40 in this week. “Dreams” would make #1 in June; “Feels Like the First Time” and “Margaritaville” would make the Top 10, and both “Night Moves” and “Go Your Own Way” had already been there; “Do Ya” had been up to #24; “Back in the Saddle” would make #38. “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Sleepwalker,” “The Whistler,” “Sound and Vision,” and “Arrested for Driving While Blind” wouldn’t crack the Top 40, but they got Top 40 airplay in a few places in 1977 before getting it on classic-rock radio in far more places for years thereafter. And this was only the beginning: by the middle of May, “Jet Airliner,” “Solsbury Hill,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “Peace of Mind” would also debut on the Hot 100, on the way to a highly crankable radio summer.
51. “Old Fashioned Boy (You’re the One)”/Stallion. “Old Fashioned Boy” is a record I liked a lot more in 1977 than I do now, but the refrain remains the distilled essence of 70s radio pop: “You’re the one that I’ve been lookin’ for forever / The one who makes my life seem so much better.” It would spend two weeks in the Top 40, peaking at #37.
55. “Sailing Ships”/Mesa
56. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor
90. “Sad Girl”/Carl Graves
91. “Rock and Roll Star”/Champagne
“Torn Between Two Lovers” had been #1 in February. Mesa was a five-piece band of session players; Graves was a Canadian soul singer who had been in Skylark, famous for the 1973 hit “Wildflower”; Champagne was Holland’s attempt to recreate ABBA (and what a remarkably faithful attempt it was). What they all have in common is the Ariola America label, which was (wait for it) the American subsidiary of the European Ariola label. Its most prolific hitmaker was singer/songwriter Gene Cotton. Other artists with hits on the label in the late 70s included Billy Ocean, the disco group Chanson, and the heartland rock band Prism. This week may have represented peak Ariola America, although the label would get to #1 in 1979 thanks to Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood.”
62. “Theme From Charlie’s Angels“/Henry Mancini
83. “Roots Medley”/Quincy Jones
100. “Deeply”/Anson Williams
Even though synergy between television and the pop charts was extremely strong at this moment in time (as mentioned on Friday, and be sure to read the comments on that post, which elaborate on it), not everything from the tube became a big radio hit. The Charlie’s Angels theme would peak at #45; “Roots Medley” had reached #57 the week before this; “Deeply,” sung by the guy who played Potsie on Happy Days, had topped out at #93.
93. “Whatcha Gonna Do”/Pablo Cruise. From this debut position, “Whatcha Gonna Do” would slow-cook its way up the chart, losing its bullet (Billboard‘s signal of strong upward movement) a couple of times along the way. It crept into the Top 40 on June 11 at #39 and peaked at #6 for the weeks of August 20 and 27. It would stay on the Hot 100 until October, 26 weeks in all. Despite all the classic rock on here, if I were to pick one song that sums up the way the summer of 1977 sounds in memory, “Whatcha Gonna Do” might be it.
97. “Phantom Writer”/Gary Wright. Wright’s album The Dream Weaver had been one of the big hits of 1976 with two singles that hit #2. “Phantom Writer,” from the album The Light of Smiles, had peaked at #43 the week before. (They loved it in Bangor, Maine, though, where WGUY took it up to #9.)
104. “Theme From Rocky“/Current. This studio group got to the chart with its Casio keyboard version of “Gonna Fly Now” before versions by Bill Conti and Maynard Ferguson (both of which would leap over it and into the Hot 100 the next week). It was produced by Joe Saraceno, who had produced records by the bushel since the early 60s, including a few surf-rock classics by the Marketts (“Out of Limits”) and the Ventures (“Hawaii Five-O” and their Christmas album).
Please imagine a clever, poignant, or insightful concluding sentence here, because I got nothin’.
(Pictured: Thelma Houston at Motown 60. She’s still got it and she knows it.)
I have written about other weeks from the spring of 1977, but I don’t think I’ve written about the AT40 show from April 16, 1977, so here you go.
40. “Spring Rain”/Silvetti
39. “Uptown Festival (Part 1)”/Shalamar
This is not the most scintillating way to start a radio show. “Spring Rain” (which is at #40 for a second straight week) has some nice piano, but that’s it; “Uptown Festival,” a medley of Motown songs set to a disco beat, never catches fire.
34. “Dancin’ Man”/Q. Late in April 1984—I forget the precise date—my best friend died, after the third open-heart surgery of his short life. We never talked about it, but I suspect that he always knew he wasn’t going to live as long as the rest of us, which would explain why he lived the way he did: with no limits and no regrets. “Dancin’ Man” was a song he liked, and every time I hear it, I can see him improvising a dance step to the radio, grinning beneath the white-guy Afro he sometimes wore.
33. “Sometimes”/Facts of Life
30. “At Midnight”/Rufus
28. “New York, You Got Me Dancing”/Andrea True Connection
25. “Free”/Deniece Williams
A lot of the songs on this chart (“Spring Rain” and “Uptown Festival” too) weren’t on the radio stations I was listening to that spring.
32. “Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow”/Tom Jones
3. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell
Both of these had been to #1 on the Billboard country chart earlier in the spring. Ten of the year’s #1 country hits would cross over. Another of the #1s, Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille,” will debut on the 40 next week.
23. “I Like Dreamin'”/Kenny Nolan. Casey says that Nolan wrote “I Like Dreamin'” out of anger, after his songs were rejected by prominent performers even after he’d written two #1 hits, “My Eyes Adored You” and “Lady Marmalade.” Only in the sensitive 70s would an angry man channel that emotion into an ultra-sappy love song.
22. “Your Love”/Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. A #1 hit like “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” was the kind of record that made careers back in the day, and as the summer of 1977 glimmered in the distance, it must have seemed like Marilyn and Billy would become Captain-and-Tennille-level stars. “Your Love” was climbing the chart, and they’d landed a limited-run summer variety show on CBS. But it didn’t happen: “Your Love” stalled at #15, “Look What You’ve Done to My Heart” got only to #51 in the summer, and they never hit the Hot 100 again. Still, they won at life: this summer, they’ll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
17. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs
16. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band
15. “I Wanna Get Next to You”/Rose Royce
14. “Carry On Wayward Son”/Kansas
13. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer
12. “Tryin’ to Love Two”/William Bell
11. “Right Time of the Night”/Jennifer Warnes
That’s some serious Top 40 pleasure right there. As much as I love #17, #16, #15, and #13, “Tryin’ to Love Two” might be the best song on the show.
8. “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”/Barbra Streisand
6. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
After spending three weeks at #1 in March and starting on its way down, “Evergreen” is actually up one spot this week, its 12th straight week in the Top 10. Lots of people would be surprised to learn “Dancing Queen,” last week’s #1, was #1 for only a week, and that it came and went in a hurry compared to other top hits of 1977.
2. “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/Thelma Houston. If you saw the Motown 60th anniversary special a couple of weekends back, you saw Thelma Houston, age 72, blow singers young enough to be her grandchildren right off the stage. I tweeted something to that effect during the show using the Motown 60 hashtag, and it ended up with 32 retweets and 187 likes from around the world, which would make it the single most popular thing I ever said on that hellsite. Perhaps I should quit now. Perhaps all of us should.
1. “Don’t Give Up on Us”/David Soul. In a three-channel universe with mass-appeal radio stations, we all watched and listened to pretty much the same stuff. “Don’t Give Up on Us” got a weekly boost on TV every time Starsky and Hutch was on, even if the song had nothing to do with the show. If I had a longer attention span, I might research the synergy between TV and the record charts in the last half of the 1970s. A better work ethic wouldn’t hurt, either.
(Pictured: Loretta Lynn is not here for any of your nonsense.)
On Wednesday I wrote about the American Top 40 show from April 12, 1975. The rest of the Hot 100 from that same date has some records worth hearing and discussing. Some of them had been in the Top 40 earlier in the year and some of them would make it later, while others would not.
41. “Young Americans”/David Bowie
42. “Beer Barrel Polka”/Bobby Vinton
How could a juxtaposition such as this fail to spark joy?
45. “Shaving Cream”/Benny Bell. This 1946 novelty would eventually make #30 on the Hot 100 as one of the weirdest one-shots ever. Credited to Bell but sung by Paul Wynn (who later got label credit, although few radio stations were all that precise about mentioning his name), its first listing at ARSA is from KQV in Pittsburgh at the end of January 1975. WAKY in Louisville and WNBC in New York were on it in late February. In March, it took three weeks for “Shaving Cream” to hit #1 at CKLW in Detroit, and in May it would stay #1 for four weeks at WLCX in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. WLCX also ranked it at #9 for the entire year, which makes me think that in 1975 at least, the portal to Hell was somewhere in western Wisconsin.
58. “The Immigrant”/Neil Sedaka. According to Wikipedia (so who knows), lyricist Phil Cody wrote this song about his father. According to Sedaka himself, it’s about John Lennon’s struggle to get his green card. Sedaka said that Lennon called it “beautiful,” and I have no reason to doubt him. But Sedaka’s cheery, begging-to-be-liked delivery undercuts its message, and it’s positively painful to listen to.
79. “Pinball”/Brian Protheroe. At Allmusic, the estimable Stephen Thomas Erlewine calls “Pinball” “exquisite.” And it is in fact pretty damn great, although it would be hard for me to dislike a song that starts with the lines “I have run out of pale ale / And I feel like I’m in jail.”
97. “The Pill”/Loretta Lynn. I could write a whole post about Maren Morris, who used her spectacular 2016 country single “My Church” as an entree into pop music (most famously “The Middle” with Zedd), and has never recorded anything remotely as good since. Her current single, “Girl,” is being praised as a female empowerment anthem, partly because its sentiments are entirely absent from mainstream country right now, and so it’s a positive development for that reason. Were it on adult-contemporary radio, however, that audience wouldn’t find it much different from records of similar ilk by Rachel Platten, Sara Bareilles, Kelly Clarkson, and others over the last half-dozen years. In 1975, “The Pill” was a feminist empowerment anthem with practical, real-life effects in some parts of rural America among women who had never before considered birth control as an option for them.
99. “All Right Now”/Lea Roberts. You will want to play this R&B cover of the 1970 hit by Free as loud as you can. It’s the first track on Roberts’ 1975 album Lady Lea, which is fabulous. Other covers on the album include “She Don’t Love You,” a gender-flipped version of Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart” by way of Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain,” which comes off far more romantic than his version. (Had she tried, she could not have failed to improve “The Immigrant.”)
109. “Pick Up the Pieces One by One”/A.A.B.B. A.A.B.B. stands for “Average American Black Band.” Larry Grogan told the story of this record way back in the day, and you should go read his post. The short version is that James Brown supposedly disliked the way the Average White Band had pilfered his style for “Pick Up the Pieces” earlier in 1975, so he made his own answer record under the A.A.B.B name.
The whole summer of 1975 was outside the Top 40 during that April week, full of songs that will, 44 years later, remind a listener of what it was like back then, “Bad Time,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Bad Luck,” “Only Women,” “Magic,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Black Superman,” “Wildfire,” and “Dynomite” among them, his last summer without a car or a driver’s license, on the edge of one life and close to beginning another.
(Note to Patrons: There’s a new post at One Day in Your Life today. If you are not a regular reader and subscriber over there, please become one. And if there’s a particular date coming up that you’d like me to write about, find my e-mail address at the top of this post, make a request and we’ll see if we can get it on for you. Also please honk if you get the radio joke in the preceding sentence.)