Talking Loud and Saying Nothing

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(Pictured: James Brown on stage, 1972.)

OK, let’s do that thing where after we listen to an American Top 40 show, we look at the Bottom 60 of the same week’s chart to see and hear what there. This is from March 25, 1972.

42. “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing (Part 1)”/James Brown
44. “King Heroin”/James Brown
James Brown put 15 singles on American Top 40 between 1970 and 1974, but it was his enormous popularity in the R&B market that got him there. The people buying “King Heroin” weren’t the same ones buying “Puppy Love” and “Horse With No Name,” but they were buying it in numbers sufficient to make it competitive.

45. “I Can’t Help Myself”/Donnie Elbert. Elbert hit the Hot 100 four times in two years, but “Where Did Our Love Go” and “I Can’t Help Myself” made #15 and #22 respectively. Each one takes the Motown groove of the 60s and updates it in a uniquely 70s way. They don’t improve on the originals because how could they, but they’re pretty good on their own.

47. “Tiny Dancer”/Elton John. Surely “Tiny Dancer” was a big hit, as it is one of Elton’s more familiar songs. But it was not, peaking at #29 in Cash Box and #41 in Billboard. It made local Top 10s in Honolulu, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, and some smaller markets. There are no ARSA listings for it from any station in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

49. “Suavecito”/Malo. There is nothing about “Suavecito” that isn’t great, although I think it’s one of those cases where the single edit is superior to the long version. In either version, however, it sounds like the first bright, warm days of spring.

55. “Son of My Father”/Giorgio
91. “Son of My Father”/Chicory
That’s Giorgio Moroder, future pioneer of electronic and dance music, most famously with Donna Summer. His “Son of My Father” sounded unlike anything that had been on stateside Top 40 radio before. The Chicory version had been to #1 in the UK in February, about the time both versions first charted in the United States. Giorgio would get to #46 here, but Chicory (known as Chicory Tip in the UK before the tip was snipped for the American market) was done at #91.

58. “Iron Man”/Black Sabbath. What’s this doing here? It’s doing pretty well, actually. Down from a peak of #52 and in its ninth week on the Hot 100, “Iron Man” would go all the way to #1 at Seattle’s KSEA in San Diego in May, in a Top 10 that also featured “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Rockin’ Robin,” and Don McLean’s “Vincent.” It was #2 in San Diego, #4 in Louisville, and #8 in Minneapolis/St. Paul. But again, there’s no record of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles Top 40 airplay at ARSA.

63. “Rock and Roll”/Led Zeppelin. “Black Dog” had been a #15 hit earlier in the year, and “Rock and Roll” seems more commercial, but it would stall out at #47. Its highest position at ARSA is #9 at WFRS, an AM station in Big Rapids, Michigan, which is up in the middle of nowhere but is also the home of Ferris State University, which might account for its wildly eclectic playlist.

78. “Baby Blue”/Badfinger
79. “The Family of Man”/Three Dog Night
Badfinger and Three Dog Night are debuts in this week, both great AM radio records that come out of the gate at full force and never let up. “Baby Blue” was remixed from the Straight Up album for American single release, and that’s the version you want. It punches you in the face, but in a good way.

82. “Nice to Be With You”/Gallery. This record will require 10 weeks just to crack the Top 40 but only four more to make the Top 10, finally peaking at #4 at the end of June. It’s one of the records that takes me most vividly back to the first days of that summer: school’s out and the swimming pool is in the dooryard, but for the first time, I am also expected to drive a tractor on the farm whether I want to or not. It’s my first experience with the world of work as it would be forever after.

A lot of books have been written about individual years in music, mainly from the 60s, and there’s a new one about 1984. But surely there’s material enough for a book about 1972: the ongoing crossfade between 60s and 70s styles, the rise of soft rock and prog rock, the underrated soul music of the time, and the historical forces that would, by 1974, transform the pop-music landscape into something entirely different. I’m not the person to write it, but I’d read it.

The Guy From American Bandstand

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During Casey Kasem’s years on American Top 40, his list of fill-in hosts was a who’s-who of radio stars: Robert W. Morgan, Charlie Tuna, Bob Eubanks, Wink Martindale, Humble Harv Miller, Charlie Van Dyke, Sonny Melendrez, and Gary Owens among them. His most famous substitute, however, was Dick Clark, who hosted the show on the weekend of March 25, 1972. Although Clark had started in radio as a teenager during the late 1940s, he’d been primarily a TV personality since the late 50s. And in 1972, he was best known as the guy from American Bandstand.

At the beginning of the show, Clark explains that Casey was delayed returning from a trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and asked him to fill in. [jingle] Now on with the countdown!

40. “Do Your Thing”/Isaac Hayes
39. “Could It Be Forever”/David Cassidy
38. “The Day I Found Myself”/Honey Cone
37. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”/Paul McCartney and Wings
36. “No One to Depend On”/Santana
35. “Every Day of My Life”/Bobby Vinton
34. “Glory Bound”/Grass Roots
33. “Take a Look Around”/Temptations
This chart doesn’t get Clark off to a flying start. “Every Day of My Life” would end up the #1 jukebox hit of 1972, so people liked it then, even if it sounds like something from the Jurassic Period today. “The Day I Found Myself” and “No One to Depend On” are terrific, but the show doesn’t generate much interest until:

EXTRA: “Me and Bobby McGee”/Janis Joplin
32. “Day Dreaming”/Aretha Franklin
31. “Taurus”/Dennis Coffey
30. “Don’t Say You Don’t Remember”/Beverly Bremers
29. “Sweet Seasons”/Carole King
Now we’re talkin’. Clark pays tribute to Janis one year after “Bobby McGee” hit #1, and tells the story of how Beverly Bremers went from sitting in the audience at a performance of Hair to a solo spot in the show to the lead role on Broadway, all within two years.

Clark does Casey-style bits and teases, and even uses some of Casey’s positioning liners for the show, but his energy is different. He’s kind of dry at the beginning, although he gets more comfortable as he goes. After this show, he would suggest to the producers that the talk segments could be pre-recorded and mixed with the music later (and presumably scripted too), so that a mistake wouldn’t ruin a whole segment being recorded in real time.

22. “American Pie”/Don McLean. Clark says that “American Pie” has been on AT40 longer than any other song in the nearly two-year history of the show, 17 weeks. This is its final week.

17. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”/Roberta Flack
14. “Rockin’ Robin”/Michael Jackson
Roberta Flack has the highest-debuting record of the week, zooming in from #42 the week before. It would go to #10 and then to #3 before spending six straight weeks at #1, eventually becoming Billboard‘s #1 song for all of 1972. “Rockin’ Robin” makes the biggest move within the countdown, up from #33 the week before.

18. “Betcha By Golly Wow”/Stylistics
16. “Rock and Roll Lullaby”/B. J. Thomas
12. “Precious and Few”/Climax
9. “Everything I Own”/Bread
As an adjective describing music, the word “pretty” is loaded. It can be used to damn with faint praise, to suggest that something is decent if you like that kind of thing, but not worth serious attention. But consider this: classic AM Top 40 radio was, to a great degree, built on pretty songs, pleasing melodies earnestly performed, for people to sing along with and/or fall in love to, and this is a pack of songs that are just straight-up pretty. There’s probably an entire essay in the idea of “pretty music,” and I hope to get around to it next week.

4. “Puppy Love”/Donny Osmond. On March 15, 1972, at KHJ in Los Angeles, Robert W. Morgan played “Puppy Love” for 90 minutes straight one morning, hoping to burn it out for the teenyboppers who kept calling to request it. Concerned listeners called the police, fearing Morgan was the victim of some sort of bubblegum terrorism.

2. “Heart of Gold”/Neil Young
1. “A Horse With No Name”/America
This show began with a string of now-forgotten songs, but it finishes with two that people would still be listening to an unimaginable 49 years in the future.

Dick Clark would eventually become a radio fixture just as he was on TV, with his own weekly countdown show and the long-running oldies show Rock, Roll and Remember. His 1972 fill-in on American Top 40 is merely a footnote to his remarkable career—but we always read the footnotes.

(Note to Patrons: a new Sidepiece went out this morning. Check your spam filter. Your comments on it are welcome.) 

Come on Over

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(Pictured: Olivia Newton-John, in a promotional shot for her November 1976 TV special.)

I have written so much about 1976 over the years that I couldn’t possibly say anything new in the customary Bottom 60 companion piece to my earlier post about the American Top 40 show from March 13, 1976. There’s only one thing to do when you’re in a corner like that: try to write your way out of it.

47. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”/Creedence Clearwater Revival. This is a shortened version of the classic track from Cosmo’s Factory, released as a single to promote the two-disc Chronicle compilation that had come out in January. It would peak at #43 on the Hot 100 and #47 in Cash Box. At the ARSA database, fewer stations charted “Grapevine” as a single in 1976 than had done so as an album cut in 1970. Its highest position was #6 at WDNG in Anniston, Alabama.

57. “Sara Smile”/Hall and Oates
78. “Rhiannon”/Fleetwood Mac
Pick any random week of the 70s or 80s and you’ll find new records that haven’t been off the radio in all the years since.

59. “Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan)”/Charlie Ross. I have previously mentioned “Without Your Love,” a fabulously cheesy cheatin’ song with a twist. What I didn’t mention, I don’t think, is that in the early days of the pandemic last year, I got an e-mail from Charlie Ross himself, who had come across my post about it, and who sent thanks and greetings. He said he’s back in Mississippi, working in radio, and still playing music.

70. “Highfly”/John Miles. On March 15, 1976, WCFL in Chicago made what is probably the best-remembered format change in history, from Top 40 to elevator music. The station published its last survey sometime in February, if I’m recalling correctly, but I remember hearing new songs on the station right up until the end. “Highfly” was one of them.

71. “Strange Magic”/Electric Light Orchestra. Make me choose one favorite ELO song and it will be the woozy, dreamy “Strange Magic.” Jeff Lynne is not the most expressive vocalist, but I’m not sure he ever sang anything better than “Oh I’m never gonna be the same again / I’ve seen the way it’s got to end / Sweet dreams, sweet dreams.”

74. “Mozambique”/Bob Dylan. I have read that “Mozambique” came about after Dylan and a collaborator wondered how many words ended with “ique.” “Mozambique” is a more conventional single than “Hurricane,” its predecessor from the Desire album, but no less a product of Dylan’s unique (yeah, I said it) vision.

76. “Mighty High”/Mighty Clouds of Joy. How the magnificent “Mighty High” stalled out at #69 on the Hot 100 and #77 in Cash Box I do not know. It wasn’t even especially big on the soul charts, #15 in Cash Box and #22 in Billboard. It was probably too pop for their gospel fans, and maybe too gospel for pop fans, but it’s Philly-soul fire, and we play it loud every time.

79. “The Game Is Over (What’s the Matter With You)”/Brown Sugar. “The Game Is Over” is more excellent Philadelphia soul, produced by Vince Montana, former member of MSFB, who was at #26 in this week with the Salsoul Orchestra on “Tangerine.” Brown Sugar was a trio fronted by Clydie King, whose name will be familiar to liner-note readers. She started as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, and backed artists ranging from Elton John and Barbra Streisand to the Rolling Stones and Steely Dan. Dylan called her his ultimate singing partner; it was rumored that they were secretly married for a time, although none of the obituaries I read after her death in 2019 had anything to say about that.

83. “Come on Over”/Olivia Newton-John. “Come on Over” was written by Barry and Robin Gibb and was on the Bee Gees’ 1975 album Main Course. It continued ONJ’s dominant run on the adult-contemporary chart as her sixth straight #1 hit. It got to #23 on the Hot 100 and #5 on Billboard‘s country chart.

89. “Eh! Cumpari”/Gaylord and Holiday. “Eh! Cumpari” was most famously recorded by Julius LaRosa in 1953, and was recut by Gaylord and Holiday for an Alitalia Airlines commercial in 1975, and eventually as a novelty song. It contains a long Italian-dialect bit in the middle, to which I stopped paying attention long before the punchline. Gaylord and Holiday (neither of whom was actually named either Gaylord or Holiday) had scored some extremely minor hits in the 50s under the name of the Gaylords.

Someday we might run out of stuff to say about 1976. Not today and maybe not tomorrow, but someday. Maybe.

Teardrops and Laughter

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(Pictured: Rufus, 1976.)

“Surely, Jim, you must have written about all of the American Top 40 shows from 1976 by now.” Oh, surely not. Not March 13, 1976. Not in detail, anyway.

37. “Show Me the Way”/Peter Frampton. Part of the appeal of old AT40 shows is witnessing history in real time. This is a debut; Frampton Comes Alive was about to become an inescapable phenomenon. As Mike Myers said in Wayne’s World II: “Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.”

34. “Inseparable”/Natalie Cole
27. “Just You and I”/Melissa Manchester
Both of these are fine, highly polished adult-contemporary presentations, although I can’t remember a thing about them, and it seems like there’s a nonzero chance they’re the same record.

32. “Good Hearted Woman”/Waylon and Willie
31. “Love Is the Drug”/Roxy Music
23. “Sweet Love”/Commodores
One of these is the best record on the show, although “Love Is the Drug” was edited to two minutes. (I wrote about the large number of edited songs on this show a few years back.) Listening to “Good Hearted Woman,” I was struck by the line “through teardrops and laughter they’ll pass through this world hand-in-hand.” It’s a simple thing. If, when the world ends, we have had someone, a spouse or a partner or a child or a sibling or a friend or a parent who was beside us for all of it, how could we ask for more?

28. “Let Your Love Flow”/Bellamy Brothers
25. “Right Back Where We Started From”/Maxine Nightingale

13. “Money Honey”/Bay City Rollers
12. “Disco Lady”/Johnnie Taylor
These are the hottest songs of the week. “Right Back Where We Started From” is a debut, zooming in from #45 the previous week. “Let Your Love Flow” and “Money Honey” are up 10. (Casey says “Money Honey” might make #1, but it will stall at #9.) “Disco Lady” is up 14 spots in its second week among the 40.

22. “Bohemian Rhapsody”/Queen. AT40 never edited “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to my knowledge. To play it for six minutes basically means finding room for an extra song, but the way this show plays out, that could have been done without editing so many others. The original 1976 broadcast included Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” as an extra, which was cut from the repeat. Casey’s modern-day producers kept an extended feature on Wayne Newton, including “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.”

(Digression: In the late 80s, when I worked at the elevator-music station, we helped promote a Wayne Newton show in our town, and several of us attended. I was skeptical about whether I would enjoy it. I expected old-school showbiz on steroids, and at times, it was cheesy bordering on cringeworthy. But no entertainer ever worked harder to win over an audience, or succeeded so spectacularly. By the end, we were all eating out of the palm of his hand. Even me.)

11. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”/Paul Simon
10. “Junk Food Junkie”/Larry Groce
9. “Sweet Thing”/Rufus
8. “Love Hurts”/Nazareth”
7. “Theme From SWAT”/Rhythm Heritage
6. “Lonely Night (Angel Face)”/Captain and Tennille
5. “Dream Weaver”/Gary Wright
4. “Take It to the Limit”/Eagles
3. “Love Machine”/Miracles
2. “All By Myself”/Eric Carmen
1. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”/Four Seasons
I listened to the last hour of this show driving back to Madison from a funeral visitation in my hometown. I hadn’t seen Joel in years, and I went to his visitation mostly for the sake of his mother, who has now buried two sons and a husband in the past three years. When they were all young marrieds, she and her husband, my parents, and a handful of other couples attended the same church and frequently socialized together. All of them had multiple children at about the same time. Four of us would end up graduating in the same high-school class. I said to her, “We were babies together,” thinking not just of Joel, but of that entire flock of kids born around the turn of the 1960s.

American Top 40 not only gives us a chance to witness history as it unfolded in real time, it can remind us of how much history we have been through ourselves. As I listened, I thought about teardrops and laughter, and the journey from babies together to teenagers in 1976, and now to the place in adulthood where we are required to bury our friends.

That’s probably not the ending you were expecting when you started. Me neither.

Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kids

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(Pictured: Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in a colorized still from the 1946 film The Big Sleep.)

Welcome to another edition of Short Attention Span Theater, with bits that never made it into a full post. Last summer I started writing about an American Top 40 show that played the Drifters’ “On Broadway” as an extra, and I went off on a tangent about shared popular culture that I ended up cutting. Here’s a bit of it: 

Nowadays we actively hunt for something to watch on TV, and in a universe with so many channels, we almost always find something. In the three-channel days, we watched whatever was on. Your show got over and you stuck around for what was next because there wasn’t much else (and if you wanted to change the channel, you’d have to walk across the room to do it). Each of us who grew up in that time can remember how, late at night or on a weekend afternoon, we’d find ourselves engrossed in some old movie. And as the years went by, we all saw Casablanca and Double Indemnity and Rebel Without a Cause and The Maltese Falcon and Singing in the Rain, film noir and screwball comedy, Bogart and Bacall, the Hope and Crosby Road pictures,  the Universal movie monsters—we engaged with one of the 20th century’s richest pop-culture texts, the films of classic Hollywood. Nobody gets that education passively nowadays—you gotta go and look for it, if you can find it, and most people won’t. Something like 80 percent of the movies on Netflix have been made since 2010, and I’ve actually heard people under the age of 40 say they simply cannot watch black-and-white.

But does a person need to be conversant with old-school Hollywood today? Probably not. If you want to appreciate modern Hollywood, you’re better off boning up on the DC and Marvel Comics universes, which have swallowed the movie industry whole. 

There’s another fragment on the flip. 

Continue reading “Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kids”

Joyride

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(Pictured: Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson of Roxette, 1991.)

After listening to the American Top 40 show from the weekend of March 9, 1991, here’s the usual look at what else was on that week’s Hot 100.

41. “Joyride”/Roxette. I was working at an adult-contemporary station as 1990 turned to 1991, and we played “Listen to Your Heart” and “It Must Have Been Love” past the point of all human endurance. We didn’t play “Joyride” at all, but now I think it’s the best thing Roxette ever did, by a lot.

46. “Play That Funky Music”/Vanilla Ice

69. “I’m Not in Love”/Will to Power
76. “Unchained Melody 1990″/Righteous Brothers
91. “The Shoop-Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)”/Cher
Lots of remakes are in the Hot 100 this week in addition to Tesla’s “Signs” at #16 and Robert Palmer’s “Mercy Mercy Me”/”I Want You” medley at #30. The original 1965 “Unchained Melody” became a hit again thanks to its inclusion in the movie Ghost, but the Righteous Brothers and their current label had no legal rights to that recording, so they recut it. The original 1965 “Melody” peaked at #13 in October 1990; the recut version peaked at #19 a month later.

(“It Never Rains in Southern California” by Tony! Toni! Tone! is at #66 in this week but it’s a different song, and not a remake of the 1972 Albert Hammond hit, although that might have been better.)

48. “Ride the Wind”/Poison
51. “Easy Come, Easy Go”/Winger
74. “Spend My Life”/Slaughter
79. “Call It Rock and Roll”/Great White
86. “Don’t Treat Me Bad”/Firehouse
96. “Miles Away”/Winger
The early 90s were the golden age of hair metal and bands that were hair-metal-adjacent. Besides these, Tesla and Warrant (“I Saw Red” at #27) are in the Top 40 this week.

54. “Give Peace a Chance”/Peace Choir. “Give Peace a Chance” is another artifact of the Gulf War era, a reboot of the the Plastic Ono Band chant from 1969, spearheaded by Lenny Kravitz and Sean Lennon, then 15 years old. Members of the Peace Choir included Tom Petty, Al Jarreau, Bruce Hornsby, Bonnie Raitt, MC Hammer, Cyndi Lauper, LL Cool J, Little Richard, Michael McDonald, Randy Newman, Peter Gabriel, and Yoko Ono, among others. It got more mileage on MTV than it did on the radio; #54 was its debut position on the Hot 100, and its peak. It spent the next three weeks slipping down and out.

59. “Moneytalks”/AC-DC
94. “Highwire”/Rolling Stones
99. “Give It Up”/ZZ Top
All of these records make history of a sort. “Moneytalks” is AC/DC’s most successful Hot 100 hit, having peaked earlier in 1991 at #23. They would make the Hot 100 only one more time to date. “Highwire” would get to #57. Although the Stones put many other singles onto Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart in the 90s, they have not gotten any higher on the Hot 100 since “Highwire.” “Give It Up” is the last Hot 100 single to date for ZZ Top.

71. “From a Distance”/Bette Midler
82. “Night and Day”/Bette Midler
In addition to the Peace Choir and Top 40 hits “The Star-Spangled Banner” (#32 in this week) and “Show Me the Way” (#5), “From a Distance” was also very much a Gulf War hit, about the hope for peace in a world at war. It spent nine weeks in the Top 10 from November 1990 into January 1991 and peaked at #2. Its extended popularity probably tamped down “Night and Day” (which is not the Cole Porter song). It had made #62 in February.

79. “I Touch Myself”/Divinyls. Your mileage may vary and I could be totally wrong, but it seems to me there are only a couple of records on this Hot 100 for which the word “iconic” fits, in the sense that everybody knew them then and they are still fondly remembered now. “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C + C Music Factory (#7) is one of them, and “I Touch Myself” is the other. This is its debut week; it would eventually get to #4.

80. “Don’t Hold Back Your Love”/Hall and Oates. H&O’s historic hot streak largely ended after 1986, apart from “Everything Your Heart Desires” (1988) and “So Close” (1990). “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” peaked at #41 despite being insanely great.

The musical 90s is not my decade; I didn’t experience it the way I did the 70s and 80s, and I can’t talk about it in the same way. All I can say for sure is that 1991 sounds a hell of a lot better to me than 1990 did.

Note to Patrons: I wrote a thing about the first anniversary of the pandemic for the Sidepiece and then decided not to send it because we’ve all had enough of the pandemic. May we always remember those who got sick and died, and those who got sick and didn’t. And never forget those working to make things better, or forgive those who made things worse.