(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.
(Pictured: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.)
This week marks the end of the line for Tales of ’73. The question of just what it was about that year remains mostly unanswered. One thing I did achieve, however, is a greater appreciation for the music of that year. I still wouldn’t rank it with my favorite musical years, but it was better than I remembered. So here’s a year-end music survey from KSTT in Davenport, Iowa. Several Hall-of-Fame radio talents walked through its doors as young men, including Chicago jock Spike O’Dell, Los Angeles DJ and programmer Bobby Rich, and Magic 98 creator Bill Vancil. I’m gonna write about the Top 50, but you can see the whole list of 100 here.
50. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners. You may remember Moira, the unattainable girl I fell in love with when I first got to junior high. I saw her at my class reunion this past summer. I wondered if she would remember me. To my mild surprise, she did.
49. “Ramblin’ Man”/Allman Brothers Band. In a year that seems jumbled and confused, it’s fitting that a proto-jam band would find its way onto the radio with a single that didn’t sound like anything else that year.
48. “Cover of the Rolling Stone”/Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. “I got a freaky old lady name of Cocaine Katy,” and she was on the radio every couple of hours in that less-uptight era.
47. “Smoke on the Water”/Deep Purple. If I’m recalling correctly, a lot of radio stations played the live version, from Made in Japan, while the song was on the charts, and it’s the one you want. The studio version, from Machine Head, tells you the story. The live version puts you in the middle of the fire, although the remastered recording at that link sounds a little dry compared to other versions of it I’ve heard.
46. “Daniel”/Elton John. I’d rank this among my half-dozen favorite Elton songs of all time.
45. “Angie”/Rolling Stones. There are not many Stones songs I like less than “Angie,” but on a close listen earlier this year, it got to me anyway.
44. “Dancing in the Moonlight”/King Harvest. Certain songs on this list make me remember not only who I was in 1973, but who I wanted to be, and the realization, then and now, that I wasn’t ever going to be that other person.
43. “I’m Doin’ Fine Now”/New York City. I am a big fan of Tom Moulton’s remixes of Philly soul classics because who isn’t, and “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” is one of his masterworks.
42. “Neither One of Us”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. Soul music was still going strong in this year.
41. “If You Want Me to Stay”/Sly and the Family Stone. Funk music, too.
40. “Last Song”/Edward Bear. I left the light on for you, Moira.
39. “Daddy’s Home”/Jermaine Jackson. A decent version of a doo-wop classic, albeit a strange choice for a guy who was barely 18 when it was recorded.
38. “Long Train Runnin'”/Doobie Brothers. Should you need to sum up the Doobie Brothers’ pre-Michael McDonald sound in a single song, this is it.
37. “Diamond Girl”/Seals and Crofts. During the first half of the 70s, the best five days every summer were spent at the county fair. This is one of the songs that was on the radio constantly during that week in 1973.
36. “Natural High”/Bloodstone. This song had one of the weirder chart profiles you’ll ever see, spending three straight weeks at #23 on its way out of the Hot 100.
35. “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose”/Tony Orlando and Dawn. I wrote about this one at Popdose a few years ago: “as subtle as a pie in the face followed by a spritz from a seltzer bottle.”
34. “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby”/Barry White. At some point around the turn of the 70s, I learned about the birds and the bees. My parents gave us a set of books and said, “Read these.” The books were quite good, actually, explaining in non-euphemistic terms exactly how the process worked. But those were the science lessons. Barry White taught about the art.
Look for more in the next installment, which will be on Friday.
(Pictured: a house alight at Christmas 1972. One year later, things would not be so merry or bright.)
The series Tales of ’73 hasn’t really turned out like I hoped it might, but I want to return to it before 2018 is over. Back in 2013 and 2014, I wrote about Christmas in America at the end of 1973. This next is a reboot of bits from both.
In October 1973, the United States aided Israel in the Yom Kippur War against Egypt and Syria, and as a result, OPEC countries deployed the oil weapon against us. By the holidays, officials right up to President Nixon were predicting hard times and requiring difficult choices. Lines formed at service stations, and “sorry no gas” signs appeared; eventually, Nixon requested that stations voluntarily close from Saturday night through Monday morning. The Senate came eight votes short of instituting gas rationing; the order had already been given to print the coupon books. Some schools extended Christmas vacation to save energy; in Massachusetts and Connecticut, kids stayed out for all of December and January. Christmas lights became an extravagance many communities and families could not afford.
On Monday, December 24, 1973, all the trouble in the world was on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal, starting with “Persian Gulf Oil Prices Doubled.” OPEC’s Christmas gift to the West was to announce that effective January 1, the new price per barrel would be $11.65, up from the current price of $5.11, which had represented a huge increase when it was announced in October, just after the Yom Kippur War. Related, at the bottom of the page, is the headline “Kissinger to Push Talks,” over a story about the latest Middle East peace efforts. Inside the paper is an article about preparations for the return of daylight time in January as an energy-saving measure.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, it happened while Nixon was beleaguered by Watergate—the fabled Saturday Night Massacre happened in October while the Middle East was at war, and while a full-blown Constitutional crisis was averted at that moment, impeachment resolutions were introduced in Congress, and nobody could be sure what twists were ahead.
By year’s end, some commentators felt a sense of looming disaster—that something earth-shatteringly terrible was about to engulf the country. Nobody could predict what it would be, although in retrospect, what it was seems obvious—not some grand conflagration, but a transformation nonetheless: the end of America as we’d known it since the winning of World War II. Soon we would live in a different country.
It occurs to me now that the greatest gift my parents gave us for Christmas in 1973 was to protect us from even noticing the possibility of disaster. As best I can recollect, the energy crisis did not have a grave effect on us. If we put up fewer Christmas lights that year, I don’t recall it. I don’t remember us having trouble getting gasoline, either, or the gas shortage affecting our travel requirements much. Dad kept tanks of regular and diesel on the farm for his tractors, his truck, and the family car; the only concession he made to the energy crisis was to put locks on the tanks after we heard that people were stealing gas from farmers at night.
The worst I had to endure in that year was being 13 years old, and all the complications that being 13 will cause in anybody.
There is less ominous news inside the paper on 12/24/73, the kind of thing that would have interested me more than the front page. A winter storm is moving through the central part of the country, and what the weather service calls a “travelers’ advisory” has been posted for southern Wisconsin, with a threat of freezing rain and snow. One article is headlined “Big Foot Might Exist.” The Skylab astronauts are spending Christmas in orbit. Pairings are set for the NFC and AFC Championship games on December 30th after Minnesota, Dallas, Oakland, and Miami won playoff games over the pre-Christmas weekend.
Also in the paper is an Associated Press story headlined, “This Year’s Christmas Is Only Outwardly Dim,” which quotes a couple of religious leaders on the crisis facing America. “We seem to be surrounded by a creeping ugliness in our affairs,” says one. “The hard truth is that a sense of desolation has come upon many.” But as religious leaders do, they remain optimistic: “The hope and eternal promise of Christmas are ours today as in all the years past. The fulfilling of them is up to ourselves.”
As it was, and ever shall be.
(Pictured: Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.)
Comedy albums sold decently well in the 60s and 70s, but only a handful of acts sold ’em like rock stars. Bob Newhart hit #1 twice between the summer of 1960 and the spring of 1961 with his Button-Down Mind albums. In 1965, the ethnic comedy album You Don’t Have to Be Jewish went to #9; a few months later, Welcome to the LBJ Ranch!, which featured the actual voices of Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen, Robert Kennedy, and other prominent political figures mashed up for comedic purposes, went to #3. (It was held out of the #1 spot around Christmastime by the Tijuana Brass album Whipped Cream and Other Delights and the soundtrack from The Sound of Music.) Impressionist David Frye’s I Am the President, featuring his Nixon impersonation, made the Top 20 in 1970. Richard Pryor scored several substantial hits on the album chart between 1974 and 1982 including the #12 Is It Something I Said? in 1975. Eddie Murphy: Comedian was double-platinum in 1984 and topped out at #35. (Late update: Bill Cosby belongs on this list too; see this comment below.) But apart from Newhart, nobody rode the charts higher than Cheech and Chong. In 1972 and 1973, their albums Big Bambu and Los Cochinos both made #2 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
In the fall of 1973, Cheech and Chong’s “Basketball Jones,” from Los Cochinos, became a monster single. It first hit the radio in September and peaked at #15 on the Hot 100 in October, although it was a Top-10 hit in Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, and some smaller cities. It was probably biggest of all in Chicago, where it went to #2 at WLS and WCFL and #1 on FM rocker B96. (There was an animated video that went with it, which I’m not going to link to. No good version exists online, and the video’s casual racism and sexism, which was no big deal 45 years ago, is pretty offensive now.)
On November 24, 1973, one week after “Basketball Jones” dropped off the Hot 100, Cheech and Chong charted again. Despite the success of Los Cochinos, the duo’s label chose to take another run at radio airplay with “Sister Mary Elephant” from Big Bambu. It had been released as a single the year before but went nowhere (except at WDRC in Hartford, where it was their #1 request for a while). But this time, in my town, “Sister Mary Elephant.” became the hottest thing to hit the eighth grade. I bought it, most likely sometime in December as it headed to the top in Chicago (#3 on WLS, #2 on WCFL) and #24 on the Hot 100, and (I think) the last spoken-word comedy cut to become a significant hit single. But by then, lots of people I knew were talking about the Big Bambu album. I borrowed a copy from a friend who had one, and then went out and got one of my own.
In 1973, parents of small-town eighth-graders wanted their kids to grow up right, but they didn’t give a damn what we listened to. I suspect now that if they’d paid attention to Big Bambu, they’d have confiscated it. Take, for example, “The Bust,” in which a couple of dealers flush their stash, a radio spot in favor of the legalization of marijuana featuring a stoner named Ashley Roachclip, or a game show called “Let’s Make a Dope Deal.” At the time, however, it never occurred to me, or to anybody else in the eighth grade, that adults would have the slightest interest in the frivolous crap we liked.
Cheech and Chong’s most successful single was yet to come: “Earache My Eye,” which went all the way into the Billboard Top 10 (and to #1 on WLS and at KHJ in Los Angeles) in the fall of 1974. The album containing “Earache My Eye,” Cheech and Chong’s Wedding Album, would go to #5. The duo would hit the singles chart five more times; “Framed” and “Bloat On” would both peak at #41. Their movie career began in 1978 with Up in Smoke, and they were fairly reliable box-office performers for the next seven years. Their record-chart career ended with “Born in East L.A.,” a Bruce Springsteen parody, in 1985.
Although Big Bambu‘s content would give parents and school officials an attack of the vapors today, it’s doubtful that it warped anybody I knew. To us, it was just funny. It certaintly didn’t make a stoner out of me. The giant-size rolling papers that came with the album, featuring a picture of Cheech and Chong, are still inside my copy today.
(Extensively rebooted from a post first appearing in 2004.)
(Pictured: Charlie Daniels in the 70s.)
Forty, as in Top 40, is an arbitrary number. It goes back to the days when a radio format was first devised that would repeat the most popular songs of the moment over and over. If I’m recalling correctly, 40 represented the number of songs a radio station could play in approximately three hours before starting to play them again.
There are people in radio and out of it who will tell you that as a practical matter, only 10 or 15 songs are truly “popular” at any given moment. And even a song that rides high on the chart might not be all that popular with the audience. Radio people have talked for years about “turntable hits,” records that get airplay without inspiring people to buy them. (This phenomenon still exists in country music today, where a song can top the airplay chart while barely scraping the lower reaches of the sales chart.) So in any given week, the Top 40 contains songs that are popular, songs that were popular but aren’t so much anymore, songs that may become popular eventually—and maybe even songs that are never especially popular at all.
We saw this phenomenon the last time we looked at an American Top 40 show from 1973, and that long list of songs that were on the show but not charted at WLS in Chicago, one of the country’s leading Top 40 stations. We could make a similar list from the show dated August 25, 1973: “Future Shock” by Curtis Mayfield, “There It Is” by Tyrone Davis, “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out” by Bobby Womack, “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In” by Don Covay, and “Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson. These songs were popular in some places and on some formats—all except for Kristofferson were significant R&B chart hits—but they weren’t broad-based pop hits and they didn’t stick around long (again, with an exception for Kristofferson).
I would have guessed that several other songs found on this week’s Top 40 never charted on WLS, like “Cleopatra Jones” by Joe Simon, “The Hurt” by Cat Stevens, or “Believe in Humanity” by Carole King, but they did—and in the case of Stevens and King, for nine and seven weeks respectively. I don’t remember hearing them, though. Whether I remember hearing a song is probably not the best metric, however: “I Believe in You, You Believe in Me” by Johnnie Taylor charted 10 weeks and made #10 on the WLS chart, and I don’t remember hearing that one, either.
Another thing that struck me listening to this show was the relative lack of movement. True, the debut songs come zooming in as usual (all except “Future Shock,” which crept from #41 to #40 (and would go to #39 on September 1 and then out of the 40) and several declining songs fall the customary eight or 10 or a dozen places. But among the 40 there are seven songs in the same positions as the previous week; “Live and Let Die” by Wings (#2) and Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider” (#9) are in their third week at the same spots. Five songs move one place (two up, three down), and seven songs move two places (four up, three down). It would take somebody with better data analysis skills than I have—and a better work ethic—to tell how that compares to a typical week, but it seems a little slow to me. “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich holds at #36 on its way out of the 40, which seems weird, but not as weird as what Bloodstone’s “Natural High” had done. The record had peaked at #10 on July 21, then fell to #15 and then to #23, where it stayed for three straight weeks before sliding to #37 in this week.
But back to the idea of relative popularity: songs that are popular for a moment don’t necessarily endure through time. Certain songs on this chart certainly have: “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” “We’re an American Band,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Diamond Girl,” and “My Maria” seem like all-timers to me, although your mileage may vary. But other high-riding hits seem out of time now. “The Morning After” was a #1 hit, but if it got much radio play after it left current rotations, it was because a running time of a little over two minutes made it useful for timing up to the network news at the top of the hour. And though “Delta Dawn” also hit #1, when the last time you heard it on the radio?