Bustin’ Loose

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(Pictured: Rod Stewart in the studio, 1979.)

Here’s a look inside Billboard magazine for the week of February 24, 1979.

—In Bowling Green, Ohio, music store Schoolkids Records has launched a new program. Owner Thom Abbott says, “I try to deliver records like pizzas—within 30 minutes after the order is phoned in.” Abbott’s target customers are the students at Bowling Green State University. “The store-to-door gambit isn’t as decadent as it appears,” Billboard says. “Usually Bowling Green winters are so fierce that only musical die-hards battle the icy stretches between the campus’ main dorm complex and the record stores.” Customers pay a buck or two over the in-store price per delivered album, but Abbott offers a price break for orders of two or three albums.

—Toto’s first single, “Hold the Line,” is at #98 on the Hot 100 this week, its 21st week on the chart. A review of the band’s February 8 club debut at the Roxy in Los Angeles is highly complimentary of the group’s musicianship, as befits a group of LA’s top session cats, but it doesn’t compliment much else. Ed Harrison writes, “None of Toto’s songs have any guts, all lacking that certain depth that separates them from the countless other songs churned out each year. Fortunately, ‘Hold the Line’ has such an engaging melody, coupled with multiple lyrical and instrumental hooks, that radio programmers couldn’t help but take notice. The remainder of Toto’s material is average, relying on intentional commercial devices and trite lyrics.” Harrison concludes by saying, “Until the band grows, which it does show potential to do, it will remain only a lightweight outfit with marginal depth, despite any success it achieves.”

—A full-page display ad touts a contest sponsored by A&M Records, the grand prize of which is a $20,000 customized Styx van, “loaded inside and out,” with the band’s logo on the hood and album covers painted on the sides. (See it on page 18 of the PDF at the link above.) Other prizes include Toshiba 5310 Beta-format video units, $1500 home stereo systems, Styx tour jackets, and Styx picture discs. The contest is apparently aimed at retailers and not consumers.

—Among the top-grossing bills currently on tour: Rose Royce with the Bar Kays, Michael Henderson, and Evelyn “Champagne” King; Steve Martin with Steve Goodman; the tripartite Parliament, Funkadelic, and Brides of Funkenstein; Heart with Firefall; and the J. Geils Band with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. (Note from the present: sweet mama that last one would have been one hell of a show.) Heart is also doing some dates backed by Wet Willie. Santana is on the road with a couple of different openers, Sad Café and Seawind.

(Further note from the present: Sad Café, which featured future Mike and the Mechanics singer Paul Young, who is not the “Every Time You Go Away” Paul Young, was just ending a seven-week chart run in this week with “Run Home Girl,” a generic light-pop single. My college radio station had been playing the vastly different and far-better “Strange Little Girl.”)

—Bob James’ Touchdown is #1 on the Jazz LPs chart. “Bustin’ Loose” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers is #1 on Hot Soul Singles. C’est Chic is atop the Soul LPs chart. C’est Chic was recently repackaged for release in the UK as Tres Chic, with a new cover and the addition of two earlier Chic hits, “Dance Dance Dance” and “Everybody Dance,” but Atlantic Records apparently did so without the consent of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. For that reason, the album has been withdrawn.

—Eddie Rabbitt’s “Every Which Way But Loose,” from the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, is #1 on Hot Country Singles. The Gambler by Kenny Rogers is #1 on Hot Country LPs. “I Just Fall in Love Again” by Anne Murray is #1 on Easy Listening.

—Rod Stewart and the Bee Gees are dominating the main singles and album charts. “Do You Think I’m Sexy” is #1 on the Hot 100 for a third week, and “Tragedy” is #6, up from #19 last week after debuting on the Hot 100 at #29 the week before. Stewart’s album Blondes Have More Fun is #1 on Top LPs and Tape, but the Bee Gees’ Spirits Having Flown is up to #2 after debuting last week at #4.

Forty years ago this week, I was only a few weeks removed from my first real live radio shift the past December. I had a regular gig on the campus radio station, but all was not entirely rosy there. That story will appear here on Friday.

Wonderland

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(Pictured: Isaac Hayes, 1980.)

The American Top 40 show from February 2, 1980, was a recent weekend repeat, and as I listened, I was surprised at how vividly it put me back in the studios of KDTH and D93 in Dubuque, where I’d worked since the previous April. I think I was working two shifts a weekend by then, playing country from 6PM til KDTH signed off at midnight, then automation-tending Top 40 D93 until it signed off at 2. Surely there are other images that the show should bring back: I was getting involved with the woman who would become The Mrs., and I was the new program director of the campus radio station. But that stuff doesn’t come back as fast as the KDTH/D93 memories do.

Some of the songs on the 2/2/80 show are pretty obscure now. Let’s tackle a few.

35. “You Know That I Love You”/Santana. From 1977 until about 1982, Santana recorded a number of reasonably successful singles, but they’re completely generic. Even the biggest of them, “Winning” and “Hold On,” sound like they could be by anybody. And so does “You Know That I Love You.”

34. “Wonderland”/Commodores
30. “Do You Love What You Feel”/Rufus and Chaka
I couldn’t recollect “Wonderland” when Casey front-announced it, and I soon realized why: it leaves no impression whatsoever. It’s barely there while it’s on, and after it’s over, it’s gone. Similarly, if it is possible to love four minutes of wondering when a record is going to be over, then I do indeed love what I feel.

Extra: “Him”/Rupert Holmes. Voiceover announcer Larry Morgan refers to Holmes as a British singer. True, he was born in the UK to an American soldier and his British wife, but was raised in suburban New York City from the age of six. Holmes holds dual citizenship, but he’s hardly a crumpet-munching limey.

29. “Working My Way Back to You”/Spinners
20. “Daydream Believer”/Anne Murray

Casey plays a snippet of the Four Seasons’ 1966 original before he brings on the Spinners, and they blow the Seasons away. The reverse happens with “Daydream Believer”—10 seconds of the Monkees’ original beats three minutes of Murray’s cover by many miles.

28. “Forever Mine”/O’Jays. Gamble and Huff had gotten aboard the disco train by 1979, but “Forever Mine” is a pleasant throwback to Philly soul’s still-recent heyday.

27. “Why Me”/Styx. Casey says that according to a new Gallup poll, American kids aged 12 to 19 have a new favorite rock band. For the last two years, it’s been KISS. But in the latest poll, that group has fallen to #4 behind Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees, and the new #1, Styx.

25. “September Morn”/Neil Diamond
24. “Fool in the Rain”/Led Zeppelin

23. “Third Time Lucky”/Foghat
After “September Morn,” Casey teased a story about a rock star who liked to fish and caught a shark. Having peeked ahead on the cue sheet, I knew “Fool in the Rain” was next, and the first thought that flashed into my mind was “oh god no.” Fortunately, the story turned out to be about Foghat’s Roger Earl (although it happened at the same place as the Zeppelin incident).

18. “Don’t Let Go”/Isaac Hayes. The radio stations I was listening to in 1980 weren’t playing this, and I never paid enough attention to it to realize that it’s a remake of the old R&B song: “Ooh wee / This thing is killin’ me / Aw shucks / Can’t stop for a million bucks.”

17. “Longer”/Dan Fogelberg. Casey says that Fogelberg was up for the job in the Eagles that Joe Walsh got, but that he wasn’t disappointed to lose out. “I get a lot more sleep than they do,” Dan says. Then Casey introduces “Longer” by saying, “Here’s the slumbering Dan Fogelberg.” Sounds about right.

32. “Voices”/Cheap Trick
10. “Don’t Do Me Like That”/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
7. “Sara”/Fleetwood Mac
One of these is the best record on the show, and I can’t decide.

3. “Coward of the County”/Kenny Rogers
2. “Do That To Me One More Time”/Captain and Tennille
1. “Rock With You”/Michael Jackson
Behold yet again the crazed variety of Top 40 radio in America. These three were in the same positions as the previous week, and they would hold the next week as well. It was Michael’s third of four weeks at the top. “Do That to Me One More Time” would spend eight straight weeks among the Top Three and hit #1 two weeks hence.

(For more on this show and the music of this week, including a handwritten copy of the list, visit Wm.’s site here.)

Dust

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(We are way off-topic today. Read this or not, your choice, as always.)

Continue reading →

The Best of Intentions

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(Pictured: Styx in the 70s.)

I’ve said before that it’s probably not fair to listen to American Top 40 on the molecular level. Casey Kasem and his staff were just making a show from week to week, one that they hoped would be A) entertaining and B) profitable. They didn’t realize they were creating an institution, one that nerds would continue to obsess over even after Casey left this plane of existence for the Great DJ Booth in the Sky.

But here we go anyhow.

This blog has made its share of mistakes over the years, and has proliferated plenty of misinformation. I’ve done it on the radio, too. There’s less justification for errors in the Internet age because it’s easier to fact-check than it used to be. But AT40 did not have the benefit of such a miraculous resource. Like DJs in other places (and bloggers in modern times), the AT40 staff went ahead with the best of intentions, hoped to get things right, and sometimes did not.

Some feats of research accomplished by the AT40 staff were positively heroic in an age before searchable electronic databases. By the time the show reached its height of influence and popularity, a lot of the features came from original reporting, from exclusive interviews with stars and record-industry people. But even those interviews could lead to misinformation, most famously John D. Loudermilk’s tale of how he came to write “Indian Reservation.” That dramatic story was a fabrication concocted for the benefit of an AT40 researcher. Casey repeated the story a couple of times over the years, even after it should have been possible to debunk it.

As former AT40 staffer Scott Paton told us a few years ago, AT 40 also relied on popular music magazines for content. Those magazines also hoped to get things right, but sometimes they didn’t either.

Most often, mistakes involved little things. On the show dated February 1, 1975, Casey mentioned that members of Styx, then rising with their first hit, “Lady,” had been in the Trade Winds, who had recorded the 1964 hit “New York’s a Lonely Town (When You’re the Only Surfer Boy Around).” But they weren’t. The Trade Winds (two words) were from Providence, Rhode Island. Chicago-area teenagers John Panozzo, Chuck Panozzo, and Dennis De Young were in a band called the Tradewinds (one word), but they changed their band’s name to TW4 after “New York’s a Lonely Town” hit.

Casey had made a similar error in 1971. He told listeners that James Taylor had been in the Flying Machine, a group that had hit in 1969 with the bubblegum classic “Smile a Little Smile for Me.” James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine had banged out some demos in 1966 but they weren’t released until 1971. And that Flying Machine had nothing to do with “Smile a Little Smile for Me.”

I know from bitter experience myself that erroneous leaps of logic like those are fabulously easy to make.

The very first thing people ever knew about Barry Manilow besides the fact that he sang “Mandy” was that he wrote and sang on many famous commercial jingles. On the 2/1/75 show, with “Mandy” still on the chart, Casey mentions one of those jingles: “you deserve a break today” for McDonalds. That bit of trivia actually has a narrative arc: for a long time, it was believed to be true; then it was believed to be false, and pedants such as I would point out that one McDonalds jingle Manilow really did write was the somewhat less famous “you, you’re the one.” Today, most sources say it’s unclear whether he wrote “you deserve a break today,” although he definitely sang it on a number of ads.

There’s no malice in these mistakes. They’re just part of making a show, day to day or week to week. You do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes you just get stuff wrong.

On Another Matter: AT40‘s modern-day repeats contain extra segments that affiliates can use to fill unsold commercial time. Most of these are voiced by the show’s announcer, Larry Morgan, and they’re usually highly familiar hits that are a week or two away from hitting the countdown. The 2/1/75 show included Neil Diamond’s “I’ve Been This Way Before” which, compared to the usual run of extras, is fairly obscure. It debuted on the Hot 100 at #73 that week, and would peak at #34 in a three-week run on the Hot 100. It was a #1 Easy Listening hit, however, and it’s easier to imagine it there than on your typical Top 40 blowtorch.

A Hard Luck Woman After the Lovin’

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(Pictured: Rose Royce, fronted by lead singer Gwen Dickey.)

“I am entirely irrational about the songs on the radio during the winter of 1977,” I wrote three years ago. “Most of them sound great to me, and you can’t persuade me otherwise.” So I enjoyed the recent repeat of the American Top 40 show from January 29, 1977. In this post, I hope to say some new things about the hits of that season.

37. “It Keeps You Runnin'”/Doobie Brothers 
35. “You Got Me Runnin'”/Gene Cotton
“It Keeps You Runnin'” wasn’t the first big hit by Doobies Mark II—that was “Takin’ It to the Streets” the previous summer. We still didn’t quite know what to make of the new sound, however; this is as high as “It Keeps You Runnin'” would get. Cotton recorded steadily for years before breaking onto Top 40 radio with hits in 1977 and 1978, none of which get much airplay anymore: “You’ve Got Me Runnin,'” “Before My Heart Finds Out,” and a duet with Kim Carnes called “You’re a Part of Me.” Cotton’s 1978 single “Like a Sunday in Salem,” which was less successful than the other three, is obliquely about the McCarthy/blacklist era of the 1950s, and is pretty dang good.

In the first hour of the show, Casey welcomes some new stations to the AT40 family including WLSD in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and the fact that they weren’t running an underground rock format was a great lost opportunity. (I can hear the jocks now: “You’re trippin’ on WLSD, Big Stoned Gap.”) The call letters have nothing to do with the drug: according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), they stand for the four counties served by the station, which went on the air in 1953 and still exists today, with the same set of calls, playing Southern gospel.

31. “Save It for a Rainy Day”/Stephen Bishop. Like “You Got Me Runnin'” and several others on this chart, “Save It for a Rainy Day” is a light-and-easy feel-good pop song. This kind of thing would grow in popularity as the boomers hit their mid-30s.

26. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
25. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
24. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
These three songs ran the chart in a clump for several weeks, as you’ll see if you look at the 2016 post linked above. Hearing them in the context of their time once again was strangely moving. While I’m sometimes sorry to have missed the musical 60s, I feel lucky to have grown up with the music of the 70s.

20. “Hard Luck Woman”/KISS
19. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck
There are no words for how much I love this train wreck.

10. “Walk This Way”/Aerosmith
9. “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”/Barbra Streisand
Or this one. “Evergreen” was up 11 spots this week.

(Digression: I have heard the Oscar-nominated song from last year’s remake of A Star Is Born, “Shallow,” only a couple of times, but I have opinions. One, the crowd noise on it is pretty obviously fake, as if the producers were trying to subliminally suggest to us, “This song is really good! Just listen to people liking it!”) And two, you can hear how hard Bradley Cooper is working to be an adequate singer. When Lady Gaga comes in, her virtuosity reveals how limited he is. The fact that non-singing actors aren’t dubbed anymore isn’t a victory for artistic integrity, it’s the triumph of ego.)

11. “Enjoy Yourself”/The Jacksons. After the Jacksons left Motown, their first album for CBS/Epic was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble says they taught Michael and his brothers a lot about songwriting and production. While “Enjoy Yourself” has a spiky beat that falls in line with the sound the Jacksons had established during the Motown years, a better indication of what might have been, had Gamble and Huff continued to produce them, is the followup single “Show You the Way to Go.”

3. “Dazz”/Brick
2. “I Wish”/Stevie Wonder
1. “Car Wash”/Rose Royce
This is a pretty solid ending to the show. One of these three songs was on the radio literally every hour between December 1976 and March 1977. Brick had been in the Top 10 for five weeks at this point; Stevie was coming off a week at #1. As for “Car Wash,” if you haven’t seen the movie, go find it. It captures the look and attitude of a particular moment of the 1970s, and it features a lot of actors whose faces you’ll recognize (Franklin Ajaye, Ivan Dixon from Hogan’s Heroes, Professor Irwin Corey, and Melanie Mayron, who would be in the cast of thirtysomething), plus Richard Pryor and George Carlin too. (See a clip of the title song here.)

The Other Possibilities

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(Pictured: Conrad Keely of the band And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead gets body-passed in 2002.)

In an attempt to keep feeding the content maw, I dug back into the archives to find some ancient posts from the earliest days of this blog that I haven’t repeated already. Here’s one, originally posted on January 15, 2005, and edited slightly.

Last night I was reading a review of the latest album by a group called And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. It got me to thinking about great and/or stupid band names I have known. I am not talking about well-known groups, particularly—some of the best names have become so familiar that we can’t appreciate them anymore. For example, “Beatles” is one of the greatest musical puns ever coined, but who notices that now?

The bubblegum era gave birth to many great/stupid names, from the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the 1910 Fruitgum Company to the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus. Groups with rock pretensions, such as Chocolate Watchband and Lothar and the Hand People made records, too, but didn’t sell so many. (Somewhere, I believe I have a single by Lothar and the Hand People.) About the same time, according to the Book of Rock Lists, there was a group called Detroit Edison White Light Company. This was not the group’s original name, however. They were first going to be known as Charging Tyrannosaurus of Despair, until the drummer announced he didn’t want anything to do with despair.

One reliable way to create a weird group name is to be Someone and the Something Outrageous or Catchy. For instance, one band that plays frequently around my town is called Reverend Raven and the Chain-Smokin’ Altar Boys. Other representative examples of the same include Biff Hitler and the Violent Mood Swings, Jim Jones and the Kool-Aid Kids, and Big Dick and the Extenders.

My favorite band name of all time is one of the latter: The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities.

“Big Dick and the Extenders” is an example of a contemporary phenomenon—the risque/tasteless/obscene band name. You wouldn’t have seen these much before the 1990s. Such names often give you a clue to a particular group’s genre, depending on how risque/tasteless/obscene the name is. For instance, Buster Hymen and the Penetrators would likely be a blues band, whereas Fuck Me Suck Me Call Me Helen is more likely to be punk. The Well Hungarians may be a polka band; Well Strung, on the other hand, is almost certainly bluegrass.

Punks occasionally get carried away with their punkiness. The Do I Look Like I Give a Fucks are a bit too literal, while Electric Vomit is an example of punkers trying way too hard. Other bands from the Almost Certainly Punk File: Sucking Chest Wound, Immaculate Infection, and Grim Skunk. [Or death metal. —Ed.]

Some contemporary band names take their names from celebrities: Barbara’s Bush, for example, or Drew Barrymore’s Dealer, or the Fat Chick from Wilson Phillips, or Kathleen Turner Overdrive. The latter represents a nice segue into the name that plays on somebody else’s name, such as John Cougar Concentration Camp, REO Speed Dealer, or Earthpig and Fire.

Some names, like And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, go on just a bit too long. Other examples include Gee That’s A Large Beetle I Wonder If It’s Poisonous, The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac, and Nearly Died Laughing While Shaving My Butt. Better to make your point and get out in a hurry, like Lawnsmell, Schlong, or the Shit—three more for the Almost Certainly Punk file.

In the many years since this post first appeared, band names have come even further unmoored from any need to make sense. The Canonical List of Weird Band Names has many. I am sure you have a favorite, so hit the comments if you do.

Additional Note to Patrons: Last December, I wrote about the book Madison in the Sixties, a civic and political history of my town. Part of my radio gig involves producing a talk show for one of the stations in our group; since I’d read and adored the book, the host of the show let me interview the author, local historian and broadcaster Stu Levitan. I am not much of a talk-show host, but Stu made it easy. If you’d like to listen to the interview, it’s here.

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