Got to Get You Into My Life

I can’t tell you when I first heard the Beatles. I remember seeing The Beatles cartoon series during its original network run, and the music didn’t seem unfamiliar or strange, but I was also maybe seven years old. As a radio listener in the early 70s, I heard them often enough so that I bought the blue 1967-1970 compilation at some point in maybe 1974.

Neither can I tell you when I first heard the reissued “Got to Get You Into My Life” in 1976. Probably during the first full week of June, when it first appears on the survey from WLS in Chicago (although its first listing at ARSA is from KTKT in Tucson, Arizona, during the week of May 28). It makes the Hot 100 on June 12 at #54 and goes 29-18-12-10 after that. On July 17, it reaches #8, during the same week Paul’s “Silly Love Songs” slips to #9. On July 24, “Got to Get You Into My Life” hits its Hot 100 peak, #7, where it stays for three weeks. (In all of those weeks, it shares the Top 10 with the Beach Boys’ “Rock and Roll Music,” the first time the two bands have been in the Top 10 together since 1966.) On August 14, it slides to #19, and begins a leisurely six-week fall: 23-38-53-60-59-99 and then out, gone from the chart dated October 2, 1976. Final tally is 16 weeks on the Hot 100, 11 in the Top 40, and five in the Top 10.

The song hit #1 at WLS in Chicago on July 7, where it stayed for three weeks. It also recorded local #1s in Louisville, Dayton, and Anniston, Alabama. Between the Fourth of July and the middle of August, you could not have listened to Top 40 radio anywhere in America for more than a couple of hours without hearing it.

(“Got to Get You Into My Life” was the first single from the Rock and Roll Music compilation, which would eventually reach #2 on the Billboard album chart, trailing only Wings at the Speed of Sound.)

A weird little oddment surrounding the chart history of “Got to Get You Into My Life” is that WAKY in Louisville listed the B-side, “Helter Skelter,” without “Got to Get You Into My Life,” on its chart from April 19 through May 24. The songs are listed together on the WAKY chart dated June 7 (although the May 31 chart is missing from ARSA). I’ve read that “Helter Skelter” was originally intended to be the plug side, and the chart listing from WAKY indicates that could be true. But “Helter Skelter” is enigmatic and dark. Its connections to the Manson Family were well-known, thanks to Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 book with the same title and the TV miniseries based on it, which had aired in the spring of 1976. Given all that, it’s unlikely that “Helter Skelter” would have hit the way “Got to Get You Into My Life” did. A hot-n-happy summertime single from the Beatles? Yes please.

If “Got to Get You Into My Life” marked the brief resurgence of American Beatlemania, it was nothing like what happened in the UK during 1976. In March, EMI reissued 22 Beatles singles, seven of which ended up on the British charts: “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “Paperback Writer,” “Get Back,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Help,” and “Back in the USSR.” But I don’t know if any of those songs would have become big American hits in 1976. We’d been there and done that.

However: the novelty of a “new” Beatles song (originally from Revolver) made “Got to Get You Into My Life” a no-brainer for American radio. There’s nothing else in the Beatles’ catalog like it, thanks to the horn section, three trumpets and two tenor saxophones, closely miked. (The horns lead people to describe it as “Motown-influenced,” although it was written and recorded at a time when the Beatles noodled with the idea of recording at Stax.) The song’s hard-hitting introduction jumped off the radio and would not be ignored. Ringo thwacks his kit with authority, George’s lead guitar is jangly and dissonant, and Paul brings it like a soul singer. It sounds like a 70s record.

One of the many things I remember fondly about the summer of 1976 was experiencing the Beatles on the radio in real time, which I had missed by virtue of discovering WLS only weeks after “The Long and Winding Road” dropped off the charts. Decades later, “Got to Get You Into My Life” still has powerful summer-of-76 mojo. If you’re looking for me today, I’ll be over here listening to it again.

(The picture at the top of this post was snagged from the great Retro Music Ads.)

Snapshots From 1983

Forty years ago this spring, I was music director at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa. My role was mostly clerical, but I got to shape the sound of the station in a modest way, and I had a lot of fun doing it. What you see here is the Billboard Hot Country singles chart from May 7, 1983. (Click to embiggen.) Some random observations follow.

1. “José Cuervo”/Shelly West. To use a 2023 term, Shelly West was a nepo baby, the daughter of country star Dottie West. She came to prominence a couple of years earlier in duets with David Frizzell, brother of Lefty. “José Cuervo” is not especially subtle, but it was never not going to be a hit.

2. “Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love”/B. J. Thomas. Thomas had a nice little renaissance in the early 80s, with a couple of #1 country hits, although “Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love,” which also crossed over to adult contemporary, is not as good as I remember.

3. “Common Man”/John Conlee. This is the closest I will ever get to a John Conlee appreciation post, but he deserves one: “Lady Lay Down,” “Backside of Thirty,” “Baby You’re Something,” “Friday Night Blues,” “She Can’t Say That Anymore,” “Common Man,” and “I’m Only in It for the Love” are all terrific. Bonus John Conlee fact: before getting into the music business, he was a licensed mortician and radio DJ, although maybe not at the same time.

14. “Amarillo by Morning”/George Strait. George Strait might be the only artist to emerge in the last 40 years who truly belongs in the pantheon of genre-shaping, world-changing country stars. Although he had been scoring hits for nearly two years by May 1983, “Amarillo by Morning” was his first inarguable classic.

15. “It Hasn’t Happened Yet”/Rosanne Cash
20. “Our Love Is on the Faultline”/Crystal Gayle
If you asked me to name a single favorite Rosanne Cash song (and please don’t), I could ride with “It Hasn’t Happened Yet.” Same for Crystal Gayle and “Our Love Is on the Faultline,” actually. Rosanne has written that her main memory of “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” was being hugely pregnant while recording it and straining to reach the high notes.

23. “American Made”/Oak Ridge Boys. This later became a Miller Beer commercial over the group’s objections, and they supposedly stopped performing it as long as the ad campaign was running.

24. “Stranger in My House”/Ronnie Milsap. Between 1980 and 1990, Milsap hit #1 with 25 of 29 charting singles. “Stranger in My House,” which was not only different from all of his other stuff but from everything else on country radio at the time, was one that didn’t, although it got to #23 on the Hot 100.

48. “Pancho and Lefty”/Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. This is country music for people who say they don’t like country music.

59. “Snapshot”/Sylvia. Sylvia got to #15 on the pop chart with “Nobody” in 1982, and “Snapshot” is a rewrite of it, but with an even better hook. The video at that link is 1983-perfect. Sylvia can’t act at all—she spends most of the video wearing a frowny stare that’s probably intended to be sexy—but she’s got some impressive 80s hair.

I remain immensely grateful for my experience at KDTH. Even though I was a young idiot whose gaze was firmly locked on his own navel, it taught me a lot. I learned what it meant to be a pro by watching talented pros. I learned how powerful local radio can be when it’s truly committed to its community. And I learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like Willie Nelson and those who are wrong.

On Gordon Lightfoot: I first heard “If You Could Read My Mind” at the end of 1970, in that liminal space of time where I was becoming what I was going to be. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” means more to me than it does to many, since I actually saw that ship at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the summer before she went down. When I got to college, I heard “Dreamland” and “Daylight Katy” for the first time, and they became favorites. And in the early 90s, Gordon Lightfoot played live in our town, and we sat in the theater for two hours wrapped in that warm, resonant voice like it was a blanket.

I have written before about how as we sail on our way, certain people stand like beacons on the shore. We don’t always think about them, but if we look back, they’re always there. Only when those beacons wink out do we realize what they meant to us.

It’s Unbearable

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(Pictured: One of many things people did in the 80s that seemed like a good idea at the time.)

A while back I wrote about the American Top 40 show from February 1, 1986. Here’s some of the Bottom 60 from that week, with links to official music videos.

41. “Separate Lives”/Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
52. “Broken Wings”/Mr. Mister
“Separate Lives” had done a week at #1 in early December 1985, followed by “Broken Wings” for two weeks. They were still in the Top Five when Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me” (still at #5 on the 2/1/86 chart) hit #1 for Christmas. I like “Broken Wings” just fine. There’s never been anything else that sounds quite like it. But “Separate Lives” is utterly generic and a black hole on the radio besides, killing your station dead for four minutes.

42. “Stages”/ZZ Top
73. “Sleeping Bag”/ZZ Top
ZZ Top’s 1983 album Eliminator had a huge cultural reach thanks to MTV, but only “Legs” was a significant Top 40 hit. On the Hot 100, “Gimme All Your Lovin'” peaked at #37 and “Sharp Dressed Man” got only to #56. The singles on Afterburner actually did better in the aggregate: four made the Top 40, although each one did less well than the first: “Sleeping Bag” had peaked at #8, “Stages” would reach #21, “Rough Boy” (a ballad on which the band sounds like Survivor on quaaludes) was #22, and “Velcro Fly” was #35. It’s as if the fans (and radio stations) figured out that ZZ Top was simply repeating itself. And almost as if the band meant to acknowledge it, they called their next album Recycler.

54. “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”/John Cougar Mellencamp. The highest-debuting single on the Hot 100 this week, and a great record to have on your radio station as spring arrived.

56. “The Super Bowl Shuffle”/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew. The week after the Bears’ 46-10 demolition of New England in Super Bowl XX, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” took a leap from #84 in its fourth week on the chart. It would eventually top out at #41. I was working at a radio station in an Illinois college town where a significant percentage of the student body was from the Chicago area, so we had to play it. Rap hadn’t become a mainstream thing yet, so it sounded fresh, and its novelty value was undeniable. But today, the awkwardness of the whole thing is almost intolerable. Unbearable, even.

63. “Secret”/OMD. “Secret” was probably my favorite song of the moment in February 1986, in which OMD piles hook on top of hook but couldn’t get higher than #63.

77. “Manic Monday”/Bangles. “Walk Like an Egyptian” is the Bangles record that’s on the air the most these days, but “Manic Monday” was, and remains, a better one.

80. “I’m Not the One”/Cars. “Tonight She Comes” (on this chart at #29) was a new track on a greatest-hits album released late in 1985. It’s pretty thin, and the band sounds tired. “I’m Not the One,” was a remix of a track from Shake It Up, and was available only on the cassette and later the CD release of the greatest hits album. (According to Wikipeda, so who the hell knows.) The Cars would make make one more album (Door to Door in 1987) before splitting up.

85. “The Big Money”/Rush. You do not think of Rush as a singles band, although they hit the Hot 100 eight times, and some of those singles were their most famous songs: “Closer to the Heart,” “Limelight,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Fly By Night.” Their lone Top 40 hit was “New World Man” in 1982. “The Big Money” was in its 13th week on this chart after peaking at #45. It would be the last of the Rush singles to make the Hot 100, and I’m pretty sure I never heard it until today.

91. “Calling America”/ELO. In the winter of 1986, it had been nearly three years since ELO hit #19 with “Rock and Roll Is King.” “Calling America,” which nicely updates the signature ELO sound to reflect mid-80s fashions, would get to #18 and be the band’s last Hot 100 hit.

After my original post about the Top 40 of this week, I noticed that I’d done a lot of hatin’ and resolved to be nicer the next time. I kinda was, I think, although it was a challenge. MTV and the Second British Invasion had blasted us out of the 1980-81 doldrums, but the innovations they had wrought were getting stale. Just as pop music needed a creative jolt in 1982, in 1986 it needed another one, and soon.

Through Your Eyes

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The music of January 1976 is emblematic of the listener I had become by then, and of the one I would be forever after. I was never going to be a metalhead; neither was I going to be somebody on the prowl for the next big thing. I was a creature of the radio, and specifically of Top 40 radio. While my horizons broadened some over the years— making room for prog rock while I was still a teenager and straight jazz after I turned 40—I still remain the kind of listener I was in January 1976: I want to hear the hits, and I want to hear them again and again. The list below is from Radio and Records.

1. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
2. “I Write the Songs”/Barry Manilow
Simon’s cool and clever wordplay is miles ahead of “I Write the Songs” composer Bruce Johnston’s sometimes-shaky “I am music” metaphor, but the latter is redeemed by these lines about the power of music to renew itself: “Now when I look out through your eyes / I’m young again even though I’m very old.”

3. “Theme From S.W.A.T”/Rhythm Heritage. We have noted before how several themes from ABC shows became radio hits in 1976, including S.W.A.T., Happy Days, Welcome Back Kotter, Baretta, and Laverne and Shirley.

And speaking of the latter, the death of Cindy Williams this week should remind us all that she and Penny Marshall are, in character, still among the most recognizable figures of the 1970s. It’s also worth remembering how Laverne and Shirley detonated in popular culture during the very period I’m writing about here. The first episode, on January 27, 1976, was #1 in the ratings that week. The show’s 15-episode first season did well enough to rank #3 for the entire 1975-1976 TV season, behind All in the Family and the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (which debuted in the same week). For the 1976-1977 season it was #2 behind Happy Days, which preceded it on Tuesday nights. For the next two seasons, it was #1.

4. “Love to Love You Baby”/Donna Summer
7. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”/Neil Sedaka
12. “Love Hurts”/Nazareth
13. “Convoy”/C. W. McCall
23. “Slow Ride”/Foghat
26. “Paloma Blanca”/George Baker Selection
30. “Dream On”/Aerosmith

31. “The White Knight”/Cledus Maggard
If my taste was/is small-c catholic, I came by it organically. Look at the variety among the 40 songs on this chart, and think about the willingness of mass appeal radio stations to play all of it: “Yeah, we already got Donna Summer pretending to get laid, Neil Sedaka doing a lounge number, and two CB radio novelty songs. Damn right we want Foghat and Aerosmith. And get us a polka too while you’re at it.”

5. “Evil Woman”/Electric Light Orchestra
6. “Love Rollercoaster”/Ohio Players

9. “Sing a Song”/Earth Wind and Fire
10. “Take It to the Limit”/Eagles

11. “You Sexy Thing”/Hot Chocolate
18. “Fanny”/Bee Gees
25. “Walk Away From Love”/David Ruffin
36. “Tracks of My Tears”/Linda Ronstadt
Any of these could be the best song on the list, although with the exception of “The White Knight” and Helen Reddy’s incredibly stiff version of “Somewhere in the Night,” every song has something to recommend it. Of course, the best song on the list might also be:

28. “Winners and Losers”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds. There are songs that sound better on the radio than in any other environment. Imagine that you are 15-going-on-16 and listening to your favorite DJ on your favorite radio station. He makes a wisecrack, jingles out of it, and then plays this.

You want to be on the radio someday because you want to do that.

32. “Times of Your Life”/Paul Anka. Anka sings, “Suddenly it’s hard to find the memories you left behind.” And I realize that yeah, after all these years, the memories have gotten hard to find. I can’t tell you specifically why the winter of 1976 feels to me like it does, not like I could with the winter of 1977. What is left of being 15-going-on-16 are a few strong images and the retroactive realization that something important was happening to me then.

What it was, exactly, I don’t know.

But it occurs to me that I don’t need to know. As I listen to these songs, the vibe they create all together allows me to feel young again, even though I’m very old. And some of these days, there’s nothing I want more.

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I Remember Everything

The very first post at this blog warned you: “Some of what we get into will likely be so personal that I’ll be the only one who could conceivably be interested in it.” And so here we are in the middle of January 1977. The list, which I playlisted and drove around with this week, was originally posted on Twitter by Retro Music Ads; click to embiggen.

2. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles. Me, 2017: “A few years ago some Internet site I was reading suggested that your life’s theme song is the one that was #1 on your 18th birthday. But there is no goddamn way I’m accepting “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb. I would, however, take the #1 song on my 17th birthday….”

4. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor
5. “Walk This Way”/Aerosmith
“Torn Between Two Lovers” is very 70s, and not just because it’s bland pop cheese that scratched some cultural itch and became an unlikely #1 hit. It’s also quite progressive, in Mary’s suggestion that there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be able to love two people equally, as each one of them provides something she needs and cannot get from the other. That radio stations would play it in the same quarter-hour with “Walk This Way” leaves me woozy with delight.

8. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. Some big hits don’t stay on the radio very long after they drop out of current rotations, but precious few disappeared as fast or as completely as “Hot Line,” which went to #5 on the Hot 100 and was #1 at WLS in Chicago. It ranked #25 on Billboard‘s official year-end Top 100 (and #11 at WLS), but literally dozens of the songs that ranked behind it would be much better remembered and get much more airplay across the years to come.

9. “Dazz”/Brick. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me one of the things wrought by the triumph of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s was the virtual end of the crossover between jazz and Black pop. But before that, in bands from Earth Wind and Fire to MFSB down unto Brick, guys with jazz chops frequently got to show them off on the radio.

12. “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow
17. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck
25. “Stand Tall”/Burton Cummings
28. “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)”/Barbra Streisand
Here I am at peak irrationality about the winter of 1977, although it has far less to do with what’s in the grooves than it does the context in which I was listening. That said, however, neither Manilow nor Streisand ever did anything better.

14. “Tonight’s the Night”/Rod Stewart
22. “Hard Luck Woman”/KISS
Rod sings, “Disconnect the telephone line / Relax baby, enjoy that line,” thereby rhyming “line” with “line.” My man’s got coke-fueled seducin’ to do and no time for poetic details. It’s said that in 1977, people mistook “Hard Luck Woman” for Rod Stewart, although to the extent I hear that, it’s much more so in the backing track, which sounds like it could have been on Gasoline Alley or another early album.

15. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
16. “Somebody to Love”/Queen
20. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
29. “Livin’ Thing”/ELO

The other day on my radio show I played for the first time one of the giant hits of the moment (which I cannot mention by name, alas), a record that’s been getting thousands of spins a week across the country for a couple of months—and friends, it is garbage. It’s so bad that it actually makes me angry. We consumed plenty of empty musical calories back in the day, but from time to time, artists would challenge themselves and us with music that demanded and rewarded attention, and it was good for the soul in ways that endure years later.

30. “More Than a Feeling”/Boston. I have written before about “the climax of ‘More Than a Feeling,’ just as the wall of guitars gives way for that Louie-Louie bass line to kick in for the last time, and where for just a moment I remember everything.

And I do. The angle of the light on those January mornings, and the promise of those days, and the way my future rolled out in front of me, a road leading inevitably over the rainbow, an easy journey as long as I just kept walking.

I would never get over the rainbow, of course. Remembering the time when I was sure I would will have to be enough now.

As with all things at this website, your mileage may vary. We’ve all got music that speaks to us of things only we can understand, on a frequency that only we can hear. This is some of mine.

The Wisconsin Woods

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(Pictured: La Crosse, Wisconsin, was home to the G. Heileman Brewing Company and the World’s Largest Six Pack; the brewery and the six-pack have been renovated, and repainted, since Heileman closed in 2000.)

La Crosse is a city of about 50,000 on the Mississippi River in far western Wisconsin. We have from time to time bumped into radio station WLCX, most recently mentioning their selection of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as the #1 song for the entire year 1976. ARSA, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, has quite a collection of WLCX surveys, and a look through them, especially during the early 70s, reveals some interesting stuff.

La Crosse had a thriving local music scene at the turn of the 70s, and WLCX played local hits. The excellent “Where Do You Want to Go” by Hope was #1 for four weeks in the summer of 1970. Hope was known originally as Jesters III; their earliest releases were on the La Crosse-based Coulee label, although “Where Do You Want to Go” was released on A&M. Hope’s run at #1 was interrupted by the Silver Bullets, with “The Lone Ranger (Overture to William Tell).” The Silver Bullets were the same group of La Crosse-area musicians who recorded as the Ladds and Today’s Tomorrow. The variously named group recorded on several small labels; “The Lone Ranger” came out on Teen Town, based in the Milwaukee suburb of Thiensville, where label owner Jon Hall ran a club called Teen Town. Today’s Tomorrow’s fabulous version of “Witchi Tai-To,” originally released on Teen Town, was licensed nationally to the Bang label and hit the WLCX Top 10 during Hope’s final week at #1.

Another significant group from western Wisconsin was Unchained Mynds, who recorded on the Transaction label, a sister of Coulee. Their trippy “We Can’t Go on This Way” was licensed to Buddah for national distribution. They also released a version of Traffic’s “Hole in My Shoe” on Transaction. WLCX would chart two other local hits on Transaction before the end of 1970, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” by Last Draft and Stone Flour with “Till We Kissed.”

(We are deep in the Wisconsin woods now, but we’ll get you out in a minute.)

Apart from the local acts, WLCX also had a thirst for novelties. At the end of 1970, “Christmas Goose” by Stan and Doug was #1 for a month. It’s a Scandinavian-themed holiday parody of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” which had done six weeks at #1 on WLCX in September and October. It’s easy to understand the appeal of such a thing in western Wisconsin, although Stan and Doug themselves were from Seattle.

In February 1971, WLCX listed Bloodrock’s execrable “D.O.A” at #1 for two weeks. (In both weeks, the #2 song is “Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins, and it occurs to me that every discussion about the incredible variety of 70s radio music could begin and end right there.) Stan and Doug probably never overlapped with “D.O.A.,” which is kind of a shame, but as 1971 rolled on, the novelty hits did too. Later that year, the list of #1 songs at WLCX includes Tom Clay’s montage hit “What the World Needs Now/Abraham Martin and John” and Hudson and Landry’s comedy cut “Ajax Liquor Store.” The year 1972 begins with a run to #1 for the passive-aggressive “Once You Understand” by Think, and the station started 1973 with an uninterrupted eight-week run at #1 for “Dueling Banjos.” In 1975, a five-week run at the top for Ringo Starr’s “No No Song” was followed by three weeks for Benny Bell’s reissued 1946 recording “Shaving Cream.” Later in 1975, “Mr. Jaws” by Dickie Goodman would be #1 for four weeks. Six weeks after that, “Convoy” would begin a seven-week stay at #1, followed immediately by the George Baker Selection’s “Paloma Blanca.” Also in 1976, WLCX would chart Jimmy Dean’s Mother’s Day novelty “IOU” at #1 for four weeks, and Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” for a week.

WLCX went on the air in 1947 and bore the same call letters, except for a brief period in the late 50s, until 1983. The station is known as WLXR now and is running an oldies format, still at 1490 on the AM band, still playing some of the songs it played in the 70s. (Probably not “Witchi Tai-To” or “Shaving Cream” though.) It’s always fun to remember when local radio was truly local, doing its own thing and going its own way, and the WLCX surveys reveal a station doing just that.

(This post owes a lot to Wisconsin music historian Gary E. Myers, whose Do You Hear That Beat (published 1994) and On That Wisconsin Beat (2006) are astonishing references, the first one compiled in the era before e-mail.)