Mr. Clark Has an Idea

On the American Top 40 show dated March 25, 1972, Casey Kasem took the weekend off. His substitute host: Dick Clark. As Clark explained on the air, Casey was late getting back from a trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and asked Clark if he could fill in.

In the spring of 1972, AT40 had been on the air for less than two years. It was by no means the institution it would become; neither was Casey as famous as he was going to become. Clark, on the other hand, was as big as anybody in American media has ever been. And he offered the producers of AT40 a suggestion that changed the show forever.

From the birth of AT40 in 1970, Casey and crew recorded each segment of the show live in real time. So if Casey flubbed a line, or there was some sort of technical problem, it was necessary for them to go back and re-record the whole segment, redeliver the lines that been OK the first time, sit through the songs again, and so on. According to Rob Durkee, who’s written extensively about AT40 and posted a tribute to Clark at his AT40 forum, when Clark showed up to record his show and found out how it was done, he offered a suggestion: why not record Casey’s intros and outros separately and then edit them into the show?

The producers thought it was a mighty fine idea, but they weren’t ready to adopt it on the fly for Clark’s show. The March 25, 1972, edition of American Top 40 sounds like it was done the old-fashioned way. Clark often seems to be winging it from notes or ad-libbing entirely, although some parts of the show do sound scripted, and you can hear what sounds like an edit here and there. Still, the show has the ad hoc feel that was not uncommon in the early years of AT40—but which disappeared later in 1972, once Casey and his producers adopted Clark’s suggestion.

One of the geeky pleasures of the old shows is that Casey usually played the radio versions of the hits—and some of those radio versions have been lost to history. As we’ve noted before, stations are not rigorous about playing the radio versions anymore: Everybody who plays “American Pie” plays the whole 8:36 now, whereas back in the day Top 40 stations would usually have played something shorter. When I bought my 45 of “American Pie” 40 years ago, the song was split into Part 1 and Part 2, and that’s precisely what it is—the first half of the song on side 1, the second half of the song on side 2. Some stations played Part 1, but Don McLean’s record label also issued a radio version that was a different take entirely. It omits all of the slow verses, removes one of the fast ones (“Helter skelter in a summer swelter/ The birds flew off with the fallout shelter”), and has some slight instrumental differences.

And that’s the one Dick Clark played when he sat in for Casey. That segment is below. The entire Dick Clark show was posted to the AT40: the 70s Facebook group last week; stations airing the 70s repeats will be given the option to run the Clark show this weekend if they choose.

Top 5: The Homecoming

I used to have quite a collection of radio surveys, although I lost them in the big smoky fire we had in the upstairs of our house when I was 14. By that time, WLS Hit Parades had grown scarce in southern Wisconsin, and as a result I’d largely stopped collecting them. Through the late 70s, I would occasionally pick up surveys from WISM, Madison’s legendary Top 40 station, and I am pretty sure that I once had a copy of the survey dated February 26, 1976. Back then, I would have been interested in the songs at the top: Queen and the Eagles and the Four Seasons, Rhythm Heritage and Gary Wright and Paul Simon. Today, the obscurities further down are what I want to hear.

10. “Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye”/Jonathan Cain (down from 8). Only his mother had heard of Jonathan Cain before 1976, although everybody would, eventually, as a future member of the Babys, Journey, and Bad English. I’d hear of him again in a year or so, when a song of his called “Windy City Breakdown” turned up on one of those Warner-Reprise samplers I used to buy. “Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye,” a melodramatic power ballad, made #44 in Billboard, and got Cain a spot on American Bandstand.

16. “Broken Lady”/Larry Gatlin (up from 18). This was Gatlin’s first big country hit, which launched him on an 12-year run of success that would eventually total 17 top-10 hits. “Broken Lady” didn’t make the Hot 100 and it’s got a strong mid-70s countrypolitan feel, but the WISM audience obviously didn’t mind. (Listen to the song, and check out some awesome 1970s country music fashions, here.)

22. “Back It Up”/Benedict (up from 23). This is as obscure a record as we’ve ever come across. The only citations for it online go to this WISM survey and another from two weeks before. I can’t find anything about it in Billboard, or by searching newspapers from late 1975 and 1976. If you know anything about it, help a brother out.

25. “Cupid”/Tony Orlando and Dawn (up from 29)In the early spring of 1976, Tony Orlando and Dawn were coming to the end of the second full season of their TV variety show, and the end of a successful five-year run on the radio. “Cupid,” the old Sam Cooke hit that would be redone by the Spinners in 1980, was the group’s last Top 40 hit, and tries pretty hard to channel the feeling of “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You),” their last #1 a year earlier. They would manage one more Hot 100 hit early in 1977, not long after their TV show was canceled.

26. “The Homecoming”/Hagood Hardy (up from 27). Hardy was an Indiana native transplanted to Canada, where he wrote commercial jingles and scored TV programs. “The Homecoming,” an instrumental featuring piano, guitar, and pillowy soft strings, started as a tea jingle, but was way too good for advertising. Is it sappy and sentimental? Hell and yes. Is that a problem? Remember whose blog you’re reading.

Also of interest on the WISM survey is the cover picture of evening jock Charlie “Rock and Roll” Simon, and the unusual caption, “A bullet in the gun of 1480.” That’s a reference to Elton John’s then-current “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” I hope.

I haven’t been sharing many mp3s around here lately, but because I was so shocked to see that I actually had this one, I can’t control myself.

“Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye”/Jonathan Cain (sound quality is iffy but acceptable; record is out of print)

Not Terrible

In recent weeks, we have been listening to one-hit wonders whose lone American single peaked at #101 on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart. Several of ’em are available for your delectation at the end of this post.

“Friends or Lovers”/Act I (4/7/73, three weeks on chart). This oft-sampled group was assembled and produced by Raeford Gerald, who produced records by Millie Jackson and Joe Simon at the Spring label. Some of their songs were co-written by Funk Brothers guitarist Bob Babbitt. The smooth and soulful “Friends or Lovers” was a mid-chart R&B hit, and another single, “Tom the Peeper,” was big in the UK a year later.

“Changes (Messin’ with My Mind)”/Vernon Burch (2/8/75, six weeks). Burch got a job playing guitar behind the Delfonics when he was 13, and was just 14 when he joined the Bar-Kays in 1971 for a four-year run. When Stax Records assumed room temperature in the mid 1970s, he began the solo career that resulted in “Changes (Messin’ With My Mind).” Today he’s a minister in the Washington, D.C. area, and records gospel music.

“I Can Understand It”/Kokomo (8/16/75, one week). Kokomo was a 10-man pub-rock band that included ex-members of King Crimson and Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. Their reputation preceded them across the puddle: on their first trip to the States, Bob Dylan recruited them to play on sessions for the album Desire; they’re on the track “Romance in Durango.” “I Can Understand It” is a Bobby Womack song; the Kokomo version landed on the R&B charts in addition to its #101 spot.

“Lady of the Lake”/Starcastle (6/12/76, five weeks). If you didn’t see Starcastle open for somebody in the late 1970s, you must not have gotten out very much. They didn’t headline a great deal, although they did play the homecoming concert at my college long about 1978, but only after the originally booked headliner canceled. In its original album configuration, “Lady of the Lake” is over 10 minutes of central Illinois prog-rock fabulousity and has been a great favorite of this blog since always.

“Funky Music”/Ju-Par Universal Orchestra (8/20/77, six weeks). Despite the band’s profoundly awful name and an even worse album cover, Dusty Groove America calls Moods and Grooves “one of THE indie soul treasures of the 70s . . . a sublime batch of electric grooves performed by a core combo of electric keys, bass, and congas.” Clavinet freaks represent, and also, on “Funky Music,” fans of female singers repeating the same phrases over and over.

“(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer”/Wha-Koo (5/27/78, five weeks). Guitarist Danny Douma brought together an eclectic bunch of musicians for his band including David Palmer, formerly of Steely Dan, a onetime member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, and a guy from Savoy Brown.  “(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer” comes from an album called Berkshire, which was produced by Fleetwood Mac co-producer Ken Caillat; Douma would go on to make a solo record featuring several members of Fleetwood Mac, plus Eric Clapton and Garth Hudson of the Band. The song’s title is unfortunate, because it leads you to believe you’re about to hear a disco record, which you are not. And there are several better songs on the album, including the title song, which manages to work the word “juxtaposed” into the lyric.

“I Wanna Live Again”/Carillo (8/19/78, one week). Frank Carillo has enjoyed a long career in the music biz, going back to his work as a guitarist on a couple of early Peter Frampton albums and in a band called Doc Holiday. He also played a lot as an opening act in the late 70s. Recently, he’s collaborated with the current edition of Golden Earring and toured with bluesman John Hammond. “I Wanna Live Again,” overproduced in a familiar late-70s way, features backing vocals by Yvonne Elliman.

In this segment, I could have included Peter Noone, whose “Meet Me on the Corner Down at Joe’s Cafe” reached #101 in 1974 and was his only hit under his own name. I decided that treating him separate from Herman’s Hermits is a distinction without a difference, although his record’s not terrible. In the next installment: a whole lotta disco records.

“I Can Understand It”/Kokomo (out of print)
“(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer”/Wha-Koo (out of print)
“I Wanna Live Again”/Carillo (buy it here)

Doin’ the Christmas Shuffle, Volume 9

Tis the season: time to shuffle up the Christmas library and see what comes out. This is a tradition we started at Christmas of 2007, although it’s not much of a tradition—we managed to do it only once last year, so enjoy this post in case we don’t get around to it again.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”/Bob Dylan/Christmas in the Heart. This album is no less perplexing two years after its release than it was the day it came out. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” features an old-school vocal ensemble of a style that went out of date sometime in the 1950s, and the Poet of a Generation sounds like Tom Waits in the first stages of emphysema.

“Blue Christmas”/Bruce Springsteen/Merry Christmas From Asbury Park (bootleg). Merry Christmas from Asbury Park was assembled from various audience tapes, and attempts to recreate the typical Springsteen show you would have heard at the Asbury Park Convention Hall at Christmastime circa 2000. “Blue Christmas” is done as a straight country song, driven by a fiddle and Springsteen’s best rural honk.

“Old Fashioned Christmas”/Duke Pearson/Merry Ole Soul. I used to play the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack in the middle of the summer because I liked it so much. Duke Pearson’s Merry Ole Soul is another one good enough to play year-round, containing mostly holiday chestnuts rearranged with wit and soul. “Old Fashioned Christmas” is a bonus track from a 2003 Blue Note compilation that collected five of Pearson’s albums released between 1968 and 1970.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”/Partridge Family/A Partridge Family Christmas Card. According to Joel Whitburn’s Christmas in the Charts (which has been entertaining the hell out of me this week), A Partridge Family Christmas Card topped Billboard‘s Christmas albums chart for four weeks in December 1971. The Partridges’ sweet version of this song appeared in the episode broadcast December 11, 1971, in which David Cassidy gets the same treatment as his TV siblings usually got—his lips are moving but his voice isn’t anywhere on the record.

“Silent Night”/Charlie Musselwhite/The Alligator Records Christmas Collection. Musselwhite performs the old carol on a blues harp. This is the most beautiful thing you’re going to hear today.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”/Moog Machine/Christmas Becomes Electric. After the Moog synthesizer became commercially viable in the late 60s, and the album Switched-On Bach proved there was an audience for electronic music, synthesizer albums briefly became a thing. Christmas Becomes Electric was released in 1969. Most of the songs are played fairly straight, although a couple create more adventuresome soundscapes. Listen to several tracks here.

“Christmas Time”/Jimmy McCracklin/Blue Yule: Christmas R&B and Blues Classics. “Christmas Time,” a terrific swaggering blues number, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Which means it’s 50 years of wondering why McCracklin sang the word “Christmas” as “chrismon” every single time.

“Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”/Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings/MOJO’s Festive Fifteen. When I was a kid, I used to wonder how Santa would get in our house, since the only chimney on the roof went straight down into the oil-burning furnace. My mother explained that he came through the front door like everybody else, which was good enough for me. Sharon Jones had a similar question as a young girl, and in 2009, she turned it into a song. “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” was released as a single by Daptone in 2009 and appeared on MOJO’s 2010 Christmas compilation.

“My Little Drum”/Rick Braun/40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas. When the famous TV special and its glorious soundtrack celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2005, a number of smooth jazz artists collaborated on a tribute album. Braun’s trumpet version of “My Little Drum,” Vince Guaraldi’s improvisation on “The Little Drummer Boy,” hits a mellow groove to rival the original.

“I Want to Spend Christmas With You”/Roomful of Blues/Roomful of Christmas. This 1997 album updates some of the greatest R&B Christmas tunes of all time, including this one by Lowell Fulson. Sounds like a party in a box.

“I Want to Spend Christmas With You”/Roomful of Blues (buy it here)

One Road Will Lead You There

Here’s another post from the past, from a series about songs that sound like October to me.

October is, as I’ve said repeatedly over the life of this blog, the month when the temperature falls, the leaves change, and time runs in reverse. It is also the month in which your correspondent becomes even more moony and reflective than usual. Ever since I was a kid, this has been my favorite month of the year, and fate has obliged me since then by packing some of the best (and worst) days of my life into October, or right around it. So now and then throughout this month, I want to feature a few tunes that sound like October to me. Some were hits in the fall, some were not. Some I discovered in the fall. Some I associate with those best or worst days. Some are about the desire to go home, which is a natural part of autumn—go out and see the world in the summer if you want, but just be sure you don’t get caught out there when winter comes. Some are about the act of remembering. A few you’re just going to have to take my word for.

The first two are a set, featured on one of the Warner/Reprise “Loss Leaders” compilations you could buy for a couple of bucks from 1969 until the early 80s, which is how I first heard them some 30 years ago. The first is “Carey” by Joni Mitchell, originally found on the Blue album from 1971, which is one of those songs about going home—or, more precisely, about hearing the call to go home:

The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn’t sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave here Carey
But it’s really not my home

The second is “Oh Papa” by Maria Muldaur, which originally appeared on her self-titled 1974 album:

Home seems so far away
And heaven’s out of sight
One road will lead you there
And one will lead you far into the night

Not only does “Oh Papa” have the whole longing-for-home thing going for it, it also features the ever-popular longing-for-a-love-grown-cold thing, with which a singer can never go wrong in October:

Love is so hard to live
And hard to live without
With nothing more to give
And nothing left to talk about

But there’s a bright side, too, and perhaps even a reason to hope:

Friends from the start
Friends we part

Which is followed by one of the loveliest guitar solos you’re ever going to hear, sounding like the raindrops that are rolling down the window you’re looking out of while you’re thinking about all of this.

(Originally posted on October 1, 2007.)

“Carey”/Joni Mitchell” (WMA file; buy Joni here)
“Oh Papa”/Maria Muldaur (buy Maria here; these files are coming down on Sunday, so if you want ’em, grab ’em now)

Numbers Game

I don’t know if the tale I am about to relate actually happened the way I tell it, but the circumstantial evidence is convincing and this ain’t a court of law, so here we go.

Len Barry was lead singer of the Dovells, a group of high-school pals from Philadelphia who were big for a couple of years in the early 60s. He began his solo career in 1965 with “Lip Sync (to the Tongue Twisters),” which went to #84 during a brief chart run in the summer of ’65 (and is pretty much what you would expect it to be). Barry’s next release was one for the ages, however: “1-2-3,” which went all the way to #2 in the fall of 1965, is one of those 60s pop records everybody used to know. (Vintage TV performance here.) Barry’s next two releases, the “1-2-3” soundalike “Like a Baby” and “Somewhere,” the song from West Side Story, also hit the Top 40, but two more barely scraped into the Hot 100. Another single bubbled under in early 1967.

Flash forward to the summer of 1968. Len Barry, three years removed from his biggest hit, is on a new label, and the new label is looking for a score. The thought process is easy to follow: Len Barry is best known for “1-2-3.” Ergo, if we want to get radio stations to notice his new release, shouldn’t it be called “4-5-6”?

Not an unprecedented thought in the entertainment biz then or now—if people like something once, make it a second time and they’ll probably like it again. But there was a flaw in the plan: Somebody would have to write a song called “4-5-6.” What in the hell would a song called “4-5-6” be about? A house number? An area code? A batting average?

It was at this moment some anonymous record executive was seized with a stroke of brilliance worthy of an era 40 years in the future, when no promotional gimmick is too shameless and people will fall for anything. Barry had recorded a song called “Now I’m Alone,” a weeper about a man who has lost his wife and family. In June 1968, that song was released under the title “4-5-6 (Now I’m Alone).”

Never mind that the numerals 4, 5, and 6 do not appear anywhere in it—a radio programmer who remembered “1-2-3” might be persuaded to give it a listen when it crossed his desk, just because of the title on the label. Perhaps some did, but not enough to make it a hit. “4-5-6 (Now I’m Alone)” did not make the Hot 100, although it showed up on some surveys from WRIT in Milwaukee in the summer of 1968.

Note to Patrons: Posting will continue lighter than normal for the foreseeable. Next one is scheduled for Thursday. In the interim, as always, go play outside.

“4-5-6 (Now I’m Alone)”/Len Barry (out of print; the audio quality of this is sketchy but acceptable)