(Pictured: young Bruce, 1978.)
The excellent Radio Rewinder Twitter feed recently tweeted, in pieces, a list of the Top 43 album cuts of all time, compiled in 1978 by Radio & Records, the now-defunct trade magazine. (Why 43? Just being quirky, as I recall.) As I was digging into my archives to find my copy of the list, I found another interesting one. In late 1979, R&R polled album-rock stations asking them to name their top tracks of the 1970s and created a Top-50 list out of it.
A spreadsheet with the lists is here. The top songs on both lists are exactly the same: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Free Bird,” and “Layla,” and I suspect if you asked classic-rock stations to rank their top songs today, 40 years later, the same three would lead the lists. Also atop both charts are “Roundabout” (#4 Top 43, #6 Top 50) and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (#6 Top 43, #5 Top 50). Twelve songs on the Top 43 wouldn’t qualify for the Top 50 because they were released before 1970. From the Top 10 that includes “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “A Day in the Life,” “Light My Fire,” and “Hey Jude.” One of the Top 43’s Top 10 (this nomenclature is gonna get confusing, isn’t it) doesn’t make the Top 50 at all: “Nights in White Satin.” (Technically, it was made in the 60s but didn’t become a hit until 1972, so I’m leaving it in the 70s.)
Eight songs released after 1970 appear on the Top 43 list but not on the Top 50. Apart from “Nights in White Satin,” none of these exclusions look all that weird to me. In fact, the inclusion of “She’s Gone” (#31 on the Top 43) and “Your Song” (#35 on the Top 43) strike me weirder than anything from the 70s that got left off of the Top 50 list two years later, except maybe “Nights in White Satin.”
Eleven of the Top 50 didn’t qualify for the Top 43 list because they were released in 1978 or 1979. Several pre-1977 songs on the Top 50 didn’t make the Top 43, among them “Brown Sugar,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Band on the Run,” “China Grove,” “Magic Man,” and “Slow Ride.” The highest-ranking song on the Top 50 that was available to the Top 43 but not on it is “Dreams” at #17. “Dreams” would have been a relatively recent hit at the end of 1977, but “Hotel California” went to #1 at nearly the same time, and it’s on the Top 43. (The highest-ranking song on the Top 50 not found on the Top 43 is “Miss You,” released in 1978.)
In the archive where I found these lists, I found another list I made myself, sometime back in the early 80s, which is titled “Top Ten Artists From Both Lists Compiled by Me One Afternoon in May.” (Oh for chrissakes, Jim.) They’re as follows: Zeppelin, Springsteen, the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, the Who, Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Bob Seger, and Steely Dan. I noted that the Stones have twice as many songs as any other band on the lists, so why they weren’t #1, I don’t know, because I can’t recall the criteria I used.
Other observations about the two charts:
—“Born to Run” grew in stature as Bruce Springsteen did between 1977 and 1979, from #21 on the Top 43 list to #4 on the Top 50. So did “Hotel California,” going from #40 on the Top 43 to #8 on the Top 50, but it’s the only Eagles tune on either list. “More Than a Feeling” squeaked into the Top 43 at #42, but was #11 two years later.
—“Miracles,” which ranks high on both lists, was considered a lot more “classic” at the end of the 70s than it would be today. Ditto “School,” “Year of the Cat,” “Stranglehold,” and possibly even “Roundabout.” I bet “Just the Way You Are” and “It’s Too Late” aren’t on many classic-rock stations today, either.
—The inclusion of Aerosmith’s “Train Kept A-Rollin'” on the Top 43 list seems really weird now, especially at the expense of “Sweet Emotion” or “Dream On.” Also weird: the complete omission of Aerosmith from the Top 50.
—Other omissions: no “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or anything else by Queen, on either list? No love for Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” or “Whole Lotta Love”? No Allman Brothers?
One thing is for sure: the right crowd would party all night with either one of these lists, and in college, we did. I created a segued tape counting down one list or the other, and when we played it, over five hours pausing only for a single tape-flip, absolutely nobody went home until it was over, because the music kept getting better.
I ride certain hobby-horses at this blog that you might find inexplicable. My obsession with “Afternoon Delight” is one of them. And I think maybe my praise of C. W. McCall’s “Convoy” represents another. That extremely well-told story of truckers crossing the country dodging the cops is one I’ve heard a million times since 1975 without getting tired of it.
C. W. McCall was a character created for bread commercials in the Midwest and sung by adman Bill Fries. Jingles, and later songs, were co-written with Chip Davis of eventual Mannheim Steamroller fame. Four McCall records were mid-level country hits in 1974 and 1975; two made the Hot 100: “The Old Home Filler-Up an Keep-on-Truckin’ Cafe” and “Wolf Creek Pass.” The latter spent a single week (March 22, 1975) at #40 and is legitimately funny. And then came “Convoy.”
To understand why “Convoy” detonated in American popular culture, recall how citizens band radio was becoming a thing at the end of 1975. It had long been a tool of truckers. After the oil shock of 1974, they communicated by CB to find cheap fuel and after the national speed limit was lowered to 55 in 1975, to help avoid speed traps. They also used CB to organize protests against new traffic laws and high gas prices. The outlaw spirit of the open-road truckers was appealing, and before long, people other than truckers wanted CBs in their vehicles. Radio Shack and other retailers were advertising CB radios heavily. So CB was cool and exotic, and in a golden era for mass-appeal novelty records, “Convoy” was right on time.
“Convoy” first appears at ARSA on a survey from WIXY in Cleveland dated November 14, 1975. It hits the Billboard country chart at #79 on November 29, and country stations across the nation are reporting it as one of their top adds. (It’s already #1 at one Top 40 station, WZGC in Atlanta.) On December 6, it roars up to #28 on the country chart and debuts on the Hot 100 at #82. The week of December 13, it’s #1 at WLCX in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and KCPX in Salt Lake City, and it gets adds at prominent Top 40 stations, including WLS in Chicago. On the country chart, it moves to #12 and blasts into the Top 40 at #39. On December 20, “Convoy” makes a giant leap from #12 to #1 country. It also makes the Easy Listening chart for the first time at #49, and goes to #14 on the Hot 100. During that pre-Christmas week, it hits the top in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Louisville, and Birmingham.
“Convoy” goes to #1 in Kansas City on Christmas Day 1975, and in the next week records #1s at WLS and at KTLK in Denver. On the Hot 100, it slows its roll over the holidays, going to #7 and #6 before taking the #1 spot on January 10, 1976. In that week, still #1 country, it peaks on the Easy Listening chart at #19.
But after a single week, “Convoy” falls to #2, then #3, #7, and back up to #6 on February 7. By then, it was or had been #1 in Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Philadelphia, and in other cities large and small. On February 14, it falls to #11 and then to #29 on February 21 (a week when it was still #1 in Hartford, Connecticut). From there it goes 55-62-72-93 and out, gone from the Hot 100 dated March 27, 1976. (It spent six weeks atop the country chart, through the week of January 24.)
By the time “Convoy” completed its chart run, the FCC office responsible for issuing CB licenses was backlogged with a million applications a month, so thousands of CB owners went on the air without one.
“Convoy” was big enough in December 1975 to appear on a few year-end radio surveys. It was #8 for the year at WLCX in LaCrosse and #19 at WLS. Many more stations ranked it among the top songs of 1976; it was in the year’s Top 10 at KILT in Houston, WIND in Chicago, and in a couple of smaller cities. On Billboard‘s year-end list for 1976, it was #57. CB radio inspired a few other hit songs, but none had the astounding impact of “Convoy.”
I’m not the first to suggest that CB was the first social medium. You broadcast yourself to both friends and strangers; as on Facebook and Twitter today, maybe other people would respond to you and maybe they wouldn’t. You used a “handle” rather than your name, so you could be relatively anonymous. And while the social communication fostered by CB could be useful and valuable, it could also be vapid and annoying. So not much has changed in 40 years, then.
Although I never owned a CB, a friend had one I used when riding with him, so I adopted my own handle: “Captain Fantastic.” What else?
(Pictured: KC and the Sunshine Band.)
I wrote a few years back how Kurt Vonnegut was onto something with the concept of foma, or harmless untruths. What does it matter if your memory of some personal event is wrong, as long as the memory makes you happy and nobody gets hurt? Behold the soundtrack for one of my foma, the American Top 40 show from December 20, 1975. The family was happy, I was doing well in school, and I was secure in my friendships—because at this distance, why not?
39. “Fire on the Mountain”/Marshall Tucker Band. This song would become an album-rock radio staple, but this is its only week on AT40. It would peak at #38 the week of 12/27 and then fall out of the 40, but the 12/27 show was the first part of AT40‘s 1975 year-end countdown.
35. “Winners and Losers”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds. There is nothing about “Winners and Losers” that’s not awesome, and if you do not dig it, we shouldn’t see each other anymore. It’s a great big Hollywood production with the piano player getting his Liberace on amidst an oceanic orchestra arrangement. Also, the introduction dares a radio jock to be great.
33. “Volare”/Al Martino. In which one of the great Italian-American saloon singers hits a mid-70s pop chart with a famous Italian song. Might it be a disco version of said song? Hell and yes. (See also Frankie Valli’s disco version of “Our Day Will Come” at #11.)
The original 1975 broadcast of this show contained two Christmas warhorses: “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Feliz Navidad,” both of which were edited from the pre-Christmas repeat. Subject for further research: how AT40 programmed Christmas music during its heyday.
24. “You Sexy Thing”/Hot Chocolate. This is the good stuff right here.
19. “The Way I Want to Touch You”/Captain and Tennille. When I wrote about C&T last week, I mentioned that I didn’t like this song much in 1975. It liked me, however, and now it’s one of the songs that most strongly evokes my late-’75 foma.
18. “The Last Game of the Season”/David Geddes. The story of a scrub football player who performs heroically after his blind father dies during the game. Asked why he played so well he says, “It’s the first time my father’s seen me play.” Geddes, just off the craptastic “Run Joey Run,” sings “The Last Game of the Season” with the same melodramatic manliness, backed by the same angel chorus. In storytelling terms it makes “Run Joey Run” sound like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”—but schlock sells, and it always has.
14. “Convoy”/C. W. McCall. “Convoy” was, at Christmas of 1975, the one record nobody could get enough of, and I’ll have more to say about it on Monday.
10. “Nights on Broadway”/Bee Gees. What you want is the radio edit, without the verse in the middle (“I will wait / Even if it takes forever”), because that way, the Bee Gees’ hellaciously good band never has to let off the throttle.
4. “Saturday Night”/Bay City Rollers. Casey talks over the “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!” cold vocal opening here.
3. “Fly Robin Fly”/Silver Convention. On both the original shows and the repeats, songs are sometimes edited to save time. “Fly Robin Fly” is loaded with obvious edit points, so I have no idea why this show used a smash cut so abrupt it sounds like the record skipped.
1. “That’s the Way I Like It”/KC and the Sunshine Band. My memory is either full or failing, so I didn’t remember that this song made #1 for a week, spent three weeks out of the top spot (falling as far as #4), and then went back for a week. Casey calls it a “yo-yo” record. Second subject for further research: how many yo-yo records there were during the rock era, and how far they bounced.
The truth, as 1975 turned to 1976, school wasn’t so great. I had a chemistry course in which I was barely hanging on, a speech class I didn’t like, the tedious classroom part of driver education, and the routine horror of physical education. A couple of my friends were prone to turn on me when we were in a group. I could talk to girls, but couldn’t bring myself to ask one of them out. And our family, with two teenage boys whose desires were occasionally selfish, was every bit as fractious and no more harmonious than any other. But all of that is overshadowed now by the songs that were on the radio, because that’s the way I like to remember it.
(Pictured: I never need a reason to post a picture of Linda Ronstadt.)
I had so many Christmas and end-of-the-year posts lined up in the last half of December that there was no room to write about one of the American Top 40 shows rebroadcast around the country during that time. The show from December 17, 1977, was ridiculously entertaining.
—We know that at some moments in history, radio music is better than at other moments. It’s important to define “better” or “good”—I’m not talking about records that speak to us personally in some way, or that recapture a time, or perform some other sort of psychological function in our lives. I’m talking about records that are critically acclaimed, or are otherwise “good,” with a timeless, mass-appeal sound. (We can recognize certain records as “good” without adding them to our personal canon, and that’s the kind of thing I mean.) As reader Mike pointed out before Christmas, the 60s had that mark of quality, when the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and the like were firing on all cylinders. As 1977 turned to 1978, the top acts of that era made it similarly hard to turn the radio off. Your mileage may vary, but I count at least 15 records that represent the best work of the artists who recorded them, or close to it: “Turn to Stone,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Your Smiling Face,” “Swingtown,” “You’re in My Heart,” “Come Sail Away,” “Sentimental Lady,” “Isn’t It Time,” “Slip Slidin’ Away,” “You Make Lovin’ Fun,” “Baby Come Back,” “We’re All Alone,” “Blue Bayou,” and “How Deep Is Your Love.”
—I didn’t like Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” as 1977 turned to 1978, but it sounded surprisingly good to me here, at #10.
—The 12/17/77 show originally contained three Christmas songs, one per hour, although only one of them was heard on the recent repeat: Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys were snipped, although the segments were offered to stations as optional extras. By the week of December 17, 1977, most AT40 affiliates would have been playing a good bit of Christmas music, and I suspect most program directors welcomed those three songs.
—On the original show, “Blue Christmas” was followed by the Elvis version of “My Way,” which was sitting at #28 in that week. (It would peak the next week at #24.) Elvis had been singing “My Way” on stage for several years, including on the Aloha From Hawaii special in 1973. The hit version had been recorded in June, less than two months before his death. It would go to #2 on the Billboard country chart and #6 on Easy Listening. I hadn’t heard it in years before this show, and it’s better than I remember. A lot of Elvis performances toward the end of his life are big and airy but emotionally empty; on “My Way,” he seems to be really feeling it.
—The week of 12/17/77 was the high-water mark for Linda Ronstadt, with two singles at their peaks in the Top Five, and her album Simple Dreams at #1 for the third of what would be five weeks. “Blue Bayou” (#3) and “It’s So Easy” (#5) had been released as separate singles; “Blue Bayou” had debuted on the Hot 100 on September 10 and “It’s So Easy” on October 8, which was the week “Blue Bayou” cracked the Top 40. Each song spent four weeks at its peak position; for three of those weeks, they peaked together (12/17 and 12/24, plus a third week’s credit for the frozen chart of 12/31).
—As sometimes happens with AT40 shows, the #1 hit is a fizzle: Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” which is in its 10th week at the top, the longest run at #1 since 1957. Four songs made it to #2 during those 10 weeks and failed to knock Debby out, but the fifth, the Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love,” #2 in this week, would hit #1 on the chart dated December 24, 1977. Although the song would hold the top spot for three weeks, it would be heard at #1 on only one AT40 show, for the week of January 7, 1978; the shows for the weeks of 12/24/77 and 12/31/77 counted down the year’s top 100 hits.
It’s a waste of time defending opinions about what’s good, of course. We are all chauvinistic about the music of the times we love best. Forty years from now, some guy will wax lyrical about how the very best time to listen to music was when he was 17, when Drake and Ariana Grande ruled.
He’ll be wrong, of course. I’ll be long dead, and still right.
(Pictured: Carly Simon.)
For this final post of 2018, here are the top 10 songs of 1973—the year I turned 13—as listed by KSTT in Davenport, Iowa.
10. “Touch Me in the Morning”/Diana Ross. A classmate of mine died last week. We were close in grade school, but by the time we were 13, we’d drifted apart. It’s a pattern many of us repeat all our lives. Some friendships we deliberately break; others just stop. A few crumble in slow motion; like Diana Ross in “Touch Me in the Morning,” we know it’s over, or soon will be, but we resolve to hang on to it just a little bit longer.
9. “Playground in My Mind”/Clint Holmes. I had a “girlfriend” in kindergarten. I lost track of her when we moved to different schools, but our town had only one junior high, so when we got to seventh grade, there she was again. We went on a single date at some point that year. As we talked, it came out that she had no memory of me from kindergarten. We never went out again.
8. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”/Vicki Lawrence. My seventh-grade English teacher required us to keep a journal in which we could write anything, as long as we wrote two pages a week. I wrote stories almost exclusively. Even though I no longer have the journals, I’m pretty sure they were pretty terrible. As an adult writer, I admire “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” although it didn’t make sense to me at first. I was never sure exactly who was dead or who committed adultery with who.
7. “You’re So Vain”/Carly Simon. Teachers liked me, administrators like me, most other kids liked me, their parents liked me, and I knew it. So I was not lacking in self-esteem, and it made me an insufferable ass as years went by. If there is one fault I have worked to eradicate in adulthood, it’s to rid myself of that level of ego. But I have two blogs in which I talk about myself constantly, so there’s still work to do, apparently.
6. “Will It Go Round in Circles”/Billy Preston. My only contact with black people came through listening to soul music and watching black athletes, with one exception. One summer (1969?), an inner-city kid from Milwaukee spent a week on the farm through some program our church was sponsoring. It was not an exchange program; we did not get to spend a week in the ‘hood, however enlightening it might have been to do so. And however racist it might have been that we didn’t.
5. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John. Me, earlier this year, upon re-listening to this song: “Its goofy extravagance—not so much in sound as in attitude—came from a well Elton would return to repeatedly over the next several years.”
4. “My Love”/Paul McCartney and Wings. I don’t hate this record, although we’re all supposed to.
3. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack. All I remember of the ed psych I took is that adolescents often perceive themselves as actors on a stage with everyone watching, and often the part one plays is not one’s true self. That’s what made certain friends so important: you could drop the mask with them and let them see right through you, in all your dark despair.
2. “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”/Jim Croce. Maybe I’ve repressed memories of the worst of it, but I don’t remember being bullied in any significant way when I was a kid. A handful of socially prominent jocks used to lord their position and their prowess over those of us who possessed neither. My main defense mechanism was my smart mouth and a willingness to make jokes with it, and a lot of the time, it worked.
1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando and Dawn. “I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time / And I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine.” At the end of this year in which I hoped to figure out why my 1973 seems jumbled and confused, I’m right back where I started: the year was jumbled and confused because that’s what it is to be 13 years old, dealing with a world that is bigger and more complicated than you ever suspected, making up your life as you live it, day by day.
(Please visit One Day in Your Life today for a new post, and for a programming announcement.)
(Pictured: Gladys Knight and the Pips.)
We continue here with a look at the Top 50 of 1973, from the year-end survey of KSTT in Davenport, Iowa, a place The Mrs. and I lived from 1987 to 1997. The station had ceased to be by then; with different call letters, the signal was home to a low-rent sports talk operation through most of that time. But in 1973, KSTT was playin’ the hits.
33. “Danny’s Song”/Anne Murray. I will always fanboy hard for this. I was never gonna grow up to be a metalhead.
32. “Shambala”/Three Dog Night. Either this or “Easy to Be Hard” was the farthest this band ever got down the hippie trail.
31. “Love Train”/O’Jays. Universal brotherhood was no closer in 1973 than it is today, but unlike now, it felt like maybe there was a chance.
30. “The Morning After”/Maureen McGovern. The Poseidon Adventure made quite an impression on me back in the day, but I haven’t seen it in adulthood. I wonder how it plays now.
29. “Stuck in the Middle With You”/Stealers Wheel. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Junior high, man.
28. “Rocky Mountain High”/John Denver. I had no opinion on this record in 1973 that I can remember, and none now.
27. “Loves Me Like a Rock”/Paul Simon. I bought the 45 in the summer of ’73, and I liked it a lot more then than I do now.
26. “Superstition”/Stevie Wonder. I don’t know how KSTT placed songs on its surveys, whether it had something to do with local sales, requests, callout research, a programmer’s ear, or some combination of them. But this is the first song I’ve seen among the Top 50 that seems to be ranked too low.
25. “Wildflower”/Skylark. Me, earlier this year: “The girl in ‘Wildflower’ clearly needed a man like me, because ‘she’s faced the hardest times you could imagine / And many times her eyes fought back the tears.’ Thirteen-year-old me promised himself that he would never do anything to make her cry. But that free and gentle flower was not growing wild in any field I knew of.”
24. “Midnight Train to Georgia”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. Not much in this world is perfect. But this is.
23. “Right Place, Wrong Time”/Dr. John. Almost too cool for AM radio. This is the kind of thing you would expect to discover on the local underground station at 2AM. Like the rest of Dr. John’s catalog.
22. “We’re an American Band”/Grand Funk. As subtle as a punch in the face. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
21. “Pillow Talk”/Sylvia. That this was on the radio at more-or-less the same time as “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” by Barry White was not helpful to 13-year-old me. Not at all.
20. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”/Stevie Wonder. See #24.
19. “Swamp Witch”/Jim Stafford. Me, earlier this year, in response to a reader comment : “Had I been a music director listening to ‘Swamp Witch’ and deciding whether to add it, I would have yanked it from the turntable and thrown it in the discard pile after that line about ‘sausage on a smokehouse wall.'”
18. “Little Willy”/The Sweet. You can hear this as a dick joke if you want, although if you didn’t, now you will.
17. “That Lady”/Isley Brothers. I don’t know where they got that buzzy guitar that’s on several of their records around this time, but I dig it.
16. “Frankenstein”/Edgar Winter Group. What hooked me about this record was not so much that opening guitar riff as it was the saxophone, an instrument I had been playing for a couple of years in 1973, without much success.
15. “Let’s Get It On”/Marvin Gaye. Marvin, Sylvia, Barry, for cryin’ out loud, give a boy a break.
14. “Drift Away”/Dobie Gray. Last fall, I heard a classic hits station on the East Coast play the 2003 Uncle Kracker cover of this amidst all their other stuff from the 70s and 80s. I assumed it was some kind of error, but I am told it isn’t uncommon for such stations to do that. But that doesn’t mean it’s not stupid and wrong.
13. “Half Breed”/Cher. Can a record that’s meant to decry racism be unconsciously racist itself? Discuss.
12. “Brother Louie”/Stories. The ass-kickingest record of 1973, and whatever came second (“Frankenstein”? “Smoke on the Water?” “We’re an American Band”? “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, which is on this chart at #67?) wasn’t close.
11. “Delta Dawn”/Helen Reddy. Earlier this year I looked back on the career of Helen Reddy, who was a much bigger star than we all remember. Likewise, “Delta Dawn” is better than you remember.
Coming in the final installment on the final day of 2018: KSTT’s Top 10 of 1973.