(Pictured: Bette Midler onstage in the 70s.)
A long time ago I wrote about our fascination with round numbers, and how 50 appeals to us in a way that 49 and 51 do not. So it was predictable that I would choose to listen this week to the American Top 40 show from March 24, 1973. Here’s some of what I heard.
40. “Daisy a Day”/Jud Strunk
39. “A Letter to Myself”/Chi-Lites
38. “One Less Set of Footsteps”/Jim Croce
37. “Good Morning Heartache”/Diana Ross
36. “Cook With Honey”/Judy Collins
35. “Hello Hurray”/Alice Cooper
34. “Master of Eyes”/Aretha Franklin
33. “Give Me Your Love”/Barbara Mason
This show gets off to a dreadful start. Jim Croce and Diana Ross are fine, I guess, but I found myself profoundly annoyed by “A Letter to Myself” and especially “Cook With Honey.” The meandering spoken intro to the former had me saying out loud, “get on with it for chrissakes.” The latter is either a sexual metaphor that doesn’t land or straight-up hippie twaddle, and to hell with it.
32. “Little Willy”/The Sweet
31. “Kissing My Love”/Bill Withers
30. “Peaceful”/Helen Reddy
29. “The Twelfth of Never”/Donny Osmond
28. “Rocky Mountain High”/John Denver
27. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John
This sequence improved my mood significantly. I will always fanboy for “The Twelfth of Never,” which debuts at #29 from #55 the week before. To wrap up the first hour, Casey back-announces “Crocodile Rock” by saying, “After nine weeks in the Top 10, it falls to #13,” which is actually the previous week’s note on the song.
26. “The Cisco Kid”/War
8. “Danny’s Song”/Anne Murray
5. “Last Song”/Edward Bear
One of the things old music can do is to vividly remind us of times, places, and people. These songs do the best job of it on this show. For as long as it takes them to play, I am just past my 13th birthday again, with all of the wonder and confusion that implies.
25. “Do You Wanna Dance”/Bette Midler. Like Neil Sedaka’s 1976 torch-song reinvention of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Midler’s sexy remake of “Do You Wanna Dance” turns it into the song it always should have been.
20. “Space Oddity”/David Bowie
19. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
This juxtaposition is awesome. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” up 10 places this week, would become the #1 song for all of 1973, and a major artifact of the Weird 70s.
16. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”/Vicki Lawrence. Casey tells how songwriter Bobby Russell offered “The Night the Lights Went Out” to Cher but it ended up with its demo singer, “Mrs. Bobby Russell,” TV star Vicki Lawrence. That’s fairly well-known trivia now, but it would have been news when the song was in its third week on American Top 40.
Casey includes some other interesting bits in this show. A listener asks which song dropped out of the Top 40 from the highest position. It was “Crimson and Clover,” which fell from #18 clean off the Hot 100 early in 1970. Another notes that Roberta Flack was the most recent female solo act to hit #1 with back-to-back single releases (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly”) and wondered who was the last male solo act to do it. It was Bobby Vinton with “Blue Velvet” and “There! I’ve Said It Again” in 1963.
14. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners
13. “Call Me”/Al Green
10. “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I’ve Got”/Four Tops
9. “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics
3. “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”/Deodato
2. “Killing Me Softly”/Roberta Flack
1. “Love Train”/O’Jays
Any one of these could be the best record on the show, but it’s probably “Break Up to Make Up,” unless it’s “Love Train.”
For a brief period, the AT40 staff tried to predict what the next week’s #1 song would be. Last week, they expected “Killing Me Softly” to hang on for a fifth week this week, but it did not. This week, they expect “Love Train” to hold on next week—but “Killing Me Softly” will return for another week.
Looking back, I still remember 1973 with a certain degree of wonder and confusion, and I have tried to conclude just what it is about that year and me. But in his new memoir Life’s Work, David Milch writes: “[P]eople try to allegorize experience so that we think we are tending toward some ultimate destination. Probably the biggest lie is the idea that we are entitled to a meaningful and coherent summarizing, a conclusion of something that never concludes.”
Milch might say that my ongoing wonder and confusion over 1973, and never resolving it, tells me something more important about my whole life than anything else I could learn.