(Pictured: Marilyn McCoo fronts the Fifth Dimension, 1972.)
The American Top 40 show from March 3, 1973, was a recent weekend repeat. Since I am doing an ongoing series this year about 1973 (basic theme: “just what was it about that year, anyhow?”), here are some notes:
40. “Soul Song”/Joe Stampley. For a handful of years in the middle of the 1970s, Joe Stampley was a fixture on the country charts. He’d hit #1 on the country chart three times between 1973 and 1976, most famously with “Roll on Big Mama” in 1975. “Soul Song” had gone to #1 in January and would manage to squeak to #37 on the Hot 100. His country twang, which is not all that soulful, made for a big ol’ train wreck with the next song in the countdown.
39. “Good Morning Heartache”/Diana Ross. A torchy, jazzy number from Lady Sings the Blues, in which Miss Ross gets her Billie Holiday on.
37. “Living Together, Growing Together”/Fifth Dimension. This marks a historic moment: the final Top 40 week in the career of the Fifth Dimension, a group responsible for a number of straight-up classics over the preceding six years, including “Up Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “Aquarius,” along with the less-classic-but-still-mighty-good “One Less Bell to Answer” and “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All.” The Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Living Together, Growing Together” is not a classic; it’s bland inspirational cheese that makes the Johnny Mann Singers sound like James Brown. (See below.)
32. “Give Me Your Love”/Barbara Mason. It doesn’t happen often, but I occasionally hear a song on these AT40 repeats that I can’t recall hearing before. “Give Me Your Love” is one of them. It would eventually peak at #31, Mason’s biggest hit since “Yes I’m Ready” in 1965. If it wasn’t remixed or re-released in the disco era, it should have been; the ingredients are in the test tube.
27. “I Got Ants in My Pants (And I Want to Dance)/James Brown. One of the all-time-great Casey introductions: “Here’s a man whose music is as recognizable as Lawrence Welk. A-one, two, three”—after which the JBs come in on the fourth beat and the joint starts jammin’.
25. “Why Can’t We Live Together”/Timmy Thomas. In 2003, Steve Winwood covered “Why Can’t We Live Together” on his album About Time, and it’s fabulous.
22. “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics. The highest-debuting song on the 40 this week, zooming in from #42 the week before, another ridiculously beautiful Thom Bell production.
16. “Jambalaya”/Blue Ridge Rangers and 14. “Do It Again”/Steely Dan. In what universe does something as sonically and lyrically obtuse as “Do It Again” belong in the same quarter-hour of radio with a Louisiana hoo-rah sung in John Fogerty’s screechy twang? And it’s not just that they clash with each other. Each record sounds out of place compared to most of what surrounds them (see also #8, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato, and #2, “Dueling Banjos,” by Weissberg and Mandel). I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but still.
15. “Oh Babe What Would You Say”/Hurricane Smith. This show is from the week I turned 13. I had already noticed the interesting ways in which certain girls were becoming curvy and/or bumpy, and the physical processes that happen to 13-year-old boys were beginning to happen to me. But I was not like some of my male classmates, who were obsessed with girls at the grossest and most physical levels, and who talked about it all the time. I probably engaged in those conversations with the guys sometimes, even though I couldn’t really imagine the physical part of love happening to me just then. Like Hurricane Smith, what I wanted for the most part was simply the opportunity to make some pretty girl happy. But I kept that to myself.
10. “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”/Lobo and 3. “Last Song”/Edward Bear. Enough with the songs about unrequited love already.
1 “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack. Casey says that Roberta Flack is the first female artist to hit #1 with back-to-back releases since Connie Francis and Brenda Lee in 1960, which is a pretty good piece of trivia.
During the previous week’s show, Casey and the AT40 staff predicted that “Killing Me Softly” would hold at #1 this week. They make the same prediction this week, and they will be right again. The song will eventually spend six weeks at #1, and it will be over three years—not until Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” at the end of 1976—before another record stays at the top as long.
(Pictured: Carly Simon, 1972.)
We continue here with a rundown of the American Top 40 show from the week of January 20, 1973, at the beginning of an intermittent series about 1973.
26. “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”/Lobo. All of the elementary schools in our town fed into a single junior high, so when I got to seventh grade, there were lots of new people to meet, and many of them were girls. I wrote about one of them in 2006.
She had all the necessary attributes—short brown hair framing a pretty round face, a body that curved in all the best places and a wardrobe that proved it. From the moment I saw her in math class, I was head-over-heels in like. However, if I had developed a crush on someone from another planet, I’d have had about the same chance I had with [her]. Never mind the gulf between us in terms of social class. . . . My immediate problem was that I knew that even if I lived to be 100, I was never going to work up the courage to talk to her.
She eventually faded out of the picture, as crushes do. A friend who searches for former classmates on Facebook told me recently that he had found her. I am not sorry to say I went and stalked her profile. I don’t think I would have recognized her, but I can’t be sure. I am not tempted to friend her, though. Not even a little bit.
(I notice I haven’t said anything about “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend.” Or have I?)
For a brief time in 1972 and 1973, when Casey name-checked affiliate radio stations, he gave their call letters as if they were words. Sometimes this worked fine, as with KERN in Bakersfield, California. On this show, Casey mentioned “wixy in Madison, Wisconsin,” and it took me a moment to remember he was referring to WYXE, which was actually licensed to suburban Sun Prairie. It put a Top 40 format on the air in 1972 and was an FM competitor for market leader WISM-AM. The station did indeed refer to itself as “wixy” occasionally, as on this aircheck of overnight guy Bob Billings from March 1973.
18. “Do It Again”/Steely Dan
17. “I Wanna Be With You”/Raspberries
16. “Keeper of the Castle”/Four Tops
15. “The World Is a Ghetto”/War
14. “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”/James Taylor
13. “Trouble Man”/Marvin Gaye
12. “Hi Hi Hi”/Wings
Here’s another stretch of songs that bring home the remarkable variety of music on the radio in those days, and how much fun it was to listen. Depending on you feel about “Funny Face” by Donna Fargo at #11 (which I do not dislike, but it’s weird in this company), you could extend the streak even farther:
10. “Oh Babe What Would You Say”/Hurricane Smith
9. “Why Can’t We Live Together”/Timmy Thomas
8. “Superfly”/Curtis Mayfield
In the midst of all this, Casey answers a listener question about which day of the week is mentioned in the greatest number of song titles. This is something that would have taken a great deal of effort to find in the days before searchable electronic databases—and the AT40 staff apparently didn’t invest too much. Casey says that they don’t have exact figures, but that there are “about 12” songs mentioning Saturday and “about 20” mentioning Sunday. I would have bet on Monday, myself.
6. “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”/Johnny Rivers. Casey flubs his introduction, saying the record is at #7 and then correcting himself to say #6. Several months after guest host Dick Clark proposed the idea of voice-tracking the show instead of doing it live on tape, the idea hadn’t taken hold yet.
4. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John. During this very week in 1973 (January 26th, to be exact), Elton released Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. It’s not as good as Honky Chateau or the four studio albums that would follow it, but it’s not bad, either. Today, nobody needs to hear “Crocodile Rock” again, but it sounded pretty good in the winter of ’73.
3. “Me and Mrs. Jones”/Billy Paul
2. “Superstition”/Stevie Wonder
1. “You’re So Vain”/Carly Simon
The top three are unchanged from the previous week; Carly and former #1 Billy hold their positions for the third week in a row while Stevie holds at #2 for a second week. “Superstition” will go to #1 the next week. “You’re So Vain” will spend the next four weeks at #2.
I have said that 1973 is my least-favorite year for 70s music, but you couldn’t tell it by this list. There’s some serious AM radio pleasure here. Nearly all of it first charted in 1972, but still.
(Pictured: Dick Nixon celebrates at his inaugural ball on January 20, 1973.)
I turned 10 in 1970 and 20 in 1980, so the 70s were quite neatly the decade I grew up in. Each year of the decade has a narrative I can relate to you: 1970, year of discovery; 1971, last year of full-time childhood before other people started putting in a claim on my time; 1972, going to junior high, with all the discoveries that entailed; 1974, freshman year of high school; 1975, first date; 1976, learned to drive and fell good and truly in love for the first time; 1977, got my first paying jobs off the farm and discovered that work is not always an easy thing, nor love either; 1978, graduated from high school and went to college; 1979, started my radio career and met the woman who is now my wife.
But 1973 is more absent than present in my personal history. I know I was there, but my memories of it are jumbled and random. I suspect this is because turning 13, for a boy at least, is accompanied by a form of insanity. Our bodies go haywire and our brains struggle to keep up. Everything we thought we knew is transformed, and we’re forced to deal with shit we never saw coming. Narrative is hard to maintain when every day is reset to something new.
Because it’s been 45 years now since 1973, that’s round number enough to make me think this blog should take a closer look at 1973, to see if all that time permits me to see what I missed. Maybe I’ll find that the music is better than I generally remember it. (It’s always been my least-favorite year for 70s music.) Maybe I’ll find a narrative for the year beyond the complete lack of one.
What follows is the first installment of what will be an intermittent series for as long as it takes, or as long as it lasts, which is not exactly the same thing. Maybe it will drive you around the bend with 180-proof solipsism, but I’ve already taken my best shot at that and you’re still here, so maybe not.
We’ll start with the American Top 40 show dated January 20, 1973. That was a remarkable week in American history. On Saturday the 20th, President Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second term. On Tuesday the 22nd, the Supreme Court announced the Roe v. Wade decision, former president Lyndon Johnson died, and George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier (with sportscaster Howard Cosell famously shouting, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”) to win the heavyweight boxing championship. On Wednesday the 23rd, Nixon announced an agreement to end the war in Vietnam, and on Saturday the 27th, the Paris Peace Accords were signed. And among the big radio hits were these:
40. “I’ll Be Your Shelter (In Times of Storm)”/Luther Ingram. Before hearing this show I would have bet my house that Ingram had only one Top 40 hit, the 1972 smash “I Don’t Want to Be Right.” But here he is, spending his first of two weeks at #40 with “I’ll Be Your Shelter,” which is good old 60s Southern soul emotion, even as the backing track looks forward into the 70s.
39. “The Relay”/The Who. A non-album single known in the UK as simply “Relay,” it was originally intended for Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse project. It’s in the second of its two weeks at #39.
38. “You Ought to Be With Me”/Al Green. In which Casey name-checks producer Willie Mitchell and the congregation say “Amen.”
37. “Harry Hippie”/Bobby Womack. The hippie ideal of dropping out of materialistic modern society did not resonate much with African Americans. Their struggle was to become part of the American mainstream the kids were rejecting, and to get their share of the postwar economic bonanza the hippies believed they could live without. In “Harry Hippie,” Bobby Womack is happy to let Harry do his own thing, but not willing to do for Harry what he believes Harry should be doing for himself.
31. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners and 22. “Dancing in the Moonlight”/King Harvest. Just as they have always done, these songs zap me back to the winter of 1973. I was in seventh grade. I was equipment manager of the basketball team. I would have told you then it was because I wanted to be around the games and I knew I couldn’t play. But also, the coach was my favorite teacher—who would turn out to be one of my favorite teachers of them all, one of the people who made me a writer—and that may have been the main reason.
Read more about the 1/20/73 AT40 show on Monday.