Long Ago and Far Away

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: James Taylor on The Johnny Cash Show, 1971.)

I said a couple of weeks ago that I was going to listen to the American Top 40 show from November 13, 1971, but maybe not write about it. How silly of me.

Casey opens the show by thanking Dave Hull, who filled in the previous week when Casey was late returning from a film shoot. It was the first time AT40 ever used a guest host; a charming memo included with the cue sheet for the 11/6 show explains that Hull “has logged 69 consecutive weeks of emergency standby status.” The movie in which Casey was acting, which he referred to as That Lovin’ Man Jesus, was eventually released under the title Soul Hustler, but not until 1973. It apparently includes a scene with Casey in a speedo. 

Now on with the countdown:

40. “Cherish”/David Cassidy
21. “Family Affair”/Sly and the Family Stone
13. “Got to Be There”/Michael Jackson
8. “Have You Seen Her”/Chi-Lites
3. “Imagine”/John Lennon
2. “Shaft”/Isaac Hayes

There’s a lot of chart action in this week. “Cherish” and “Family Affair” are in their second week on the Hot 100. “Family Affair” was up 29 spots from #50, but “Cherish” was up 47 from #87. “Got to Be There,” meanwhile, is in its third week on the Hot 100 and has gone 89-39-13, the biggest mover within the Top 40 this week. “Have You Seen Her” has gone 60-21-14-8. “Imagine” debuted on the Hot 10 at #20 three weeks earlier then went 6-4-3, but will go no higher. “Shaft” went 50-9-5-2, and is holding at #2 this week on its way to #1 next week.

36. “Long Ago and Far Away”/James Taylor
31. “A Natural Man”/Lou Rawls
Casey introduces each of these with what the AT40 staff called the “tease and hook.” The one for “Long Ago and Far Away” is a doozy: “Coming up in the next 10 minutes, the current hit by a superstar whose mother nearly died of bee stings because his father was at the South Pole with Admiral Byrd.” Taylor’s father, a physician, was an amateur beekeeper, and he left Taylor’s mother to take care of the bees while he accompanied Byrd on an expedition during the late 50s, during which an accident happened. For “A Natural Man,” Casey says it’s “the current hit by a singing star who lost his memory in a car accident one night and didn’t regain it until he was out of the hospital and back on stage, in the middle of a song.” The tease is pretty much the whole story; at the end of the telling, Casey pretends not to be able to remember Rawls’ name.

26. “Absolutely Right”/Five Man Electrical Band
20. “Only You Know and I Know”/Delaney and Bonnie
15. “Desiderata”/Les Crane

Fifty years’ time means that a lot of this music will sound dated now. But some of it would sound dated within a couple of years.

22. “Rock Steady”/Aretha Franklin
18. “Easy Lovin'”/Freddie Hart
17. “Tired of Being Alone”/Al Green
16. “Everybody’s Everything”/Santana
14. “Do You Know What I Mean”/Lee Michaels
10. “Superstar”/Carpenters
5. “I Found Someone of My Own”/Free Movement
4. “Maggie May”/Rod Stewart

Any one of these could be the best song on the show. OK, “Easy Lovin'” is clearly not the best, but I will always fanboy for it, and the best song might be “A Natural Man” or “Have You Seen Her” anyway. And get a load of “Maggie,” in her ninth week among the top four songs in the land.

12. “Never My Love”/Fifth Dimension. Writing about it last month, I called “Never My Love” a live recording. I’m grateful to our friend Wesley for a correction. “Never My Love” was a studio recording with applause dubbed in, although it appeared on the group’s live album.

EXTRA: “Poor Side of Town”/Johnny Rivers. This is an modern-day extra offered by Premiere Radio Networks to help affiliates fill time. Casey says it’s the #1 song “five years ago today.” But it wasn’t part of the AT40 show dated 11/13/71. It’s taken from the 11/20 show, when it technically wasn’t the #1 song of five years ago anymore, having been knocked out by the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” on the chart dated 11/19/66.

1. “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”/Cher. “I was 16, he was 21 / Rode with us to Memphis / And Papa woulda shot him if he knew what he’d done.” I started wondering the other day if 11-year-old me understood what that meant. I hadn’t gotten the talk yet, I don’t think. I was just another innocent sixth-grader, but one with an obsession, glued to my radio every moment possible, as autumn began to turn toward Christmas.

We’re not quite done with this season yet, I don’t think.

Tale of the Tape

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: record producer Mickie Most in 1975 with a Teac A-3300 tape machine, once a fixture in radio stations and recording studios.)

If you visit the American Top 40 archive at Charis Music Group, you can see the original cue sheets for the shows from the very first one in 1970 to the end of Casey’s run and beyond. For the earliest shows, you see something even more interesting—the rundown sheets used to plan and execute the show. The one for the show dated October 30, 1971, has handwritten calculations of the show’s running time. It also includes master log sheets, which indicate that each hour of the program was delivered on two reels of tape, with the audio on each tape preceded by a series of tones to help radio stations calibrate the output of the tape machines on which the show would play.

Syndicated shows that were delivered on tape often had to be returned to the syndicator so that the tapes could be reused. If that seems a little bit crazy, it probably was, although we didn’t think much about it back then. In an analog world, sound quality was as good as we could make it, and that didn’t necessarily mean it was pristine. Shows like American Top 40 were high-speed duplicates—they were not mastered in real time—and that meant a certain loss of audio quality. And while there were certainly methods of quality control to make sure damaged tapes weren’t reused, it was not unheard-of for a station to receive a copy of a syndicated show that had a splice in the tape, or a distortion from a slightly stretched tape.

At some point in the 70s, it became feasible for shows such as AT40 to be pressed on to vinyl discs. These often had calibration tones, and some shows were lock-banded, meaning that at the end of each segment, the needle would not advance to the next segment without being manually moved.

(In my personal library, I had a vinyl copy of some old show with calibration tones, and I used it to set levels on my cassette deck before making mix tapes. There are people reading this post right now who are nodding and thinking, “Yup, I did that.”)

It was not until the turn of the 90s that it became common for shows to be delivered on CD, although vinyl and even tape delivery continued, depending on what the syndicator chose to do. Today, shows are delivered via an audio server; for American Top 40, you log onto a password-protected website and download it. Some shows are even delivered automatically, directly to whatever automation system a station is using, at a predetermined time.

But back to the handwritten rundown sheets: one of the endearing things about the early days of AT40 was that it was basically a live radio show captured on tape. If Casey flubbed his last line of a segment, they’d go back and record the entire segment, which meant sitting through the records and revoicing the other lines too. (This maybe explains some of the oddball errors and near-mistakes that slip through: “aw hell, it ain’t that bad, leave it in.”) The on-the-fly nature of the early shows is also seen in the handwritten notes on the rundown sheets. They were up against the clock every hour. On 10/30/71 and other shows, rundown sheets have one title scratched out and replaced with another, either for purposes of time or for some other spur-of-the-moment reason.

And there’s also this: during the first year or two of AT40, Casey would sometimes play a track from the #1 album of the week. During the week of October 30, 1971, it was John Lennon’s Imagine. Based on the rundown sheet, it looks like the AT40 staff didn’t decide what cut to play from Imagine until they’d started taping the show. They may have picked “Oh My Love” because it was the right length to help fill out the first hour.

(However they chose it, “Oh My Love,” which credits George Harrison on guitar, is the deepest cut I’ve ever heard on AT40.)

We’ve heard from AT40 staffers who say that at the time, they weren’t thinking about any of the minuscule stuff we notice here—they were just making a radio show. I’ve said myself that the shows were never intended to be examined on a molecular level. But, as you know from your own obsessions, nuts and bolts can take on an incredible fascination. So it is with the most popular syndicated radio music show of all time, and nerds such as we.

Hot Stuff

Embed from Getty Images

Local radio charts were usually ahead of Billboard‘s. It makes sense; Billboard was tabulating data from across the country, gathering it via the telephone and having to adhere to a print deadline. Even in a city the size of Chicago, a music survey was closer to the street, and it included more than just sales information. The fine print on the 10/25/71 WLS survey I posted last week says, “Records listed on the WLS Hit Parade are selected by WLS after evaluating and considering record sales, listener requests, and the station’s own opinion of their audience appeal.”

Billboard‘s data had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was local demand for records created by local airplay. The two hottest records in the country at this moment 50 years ago were John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. “Imagine” is new on the Hot 100 at #20 for the week of 10/23/71, but it’s in its second week on the WLS chart and likely got airplay before it charted. At WLS, “Shaft” was in its third charting week, having gone from #26 to #16 to #9. It had debuted on the Hot 100 at #50 during the week of October 16, and then took a mighty leap to #9 on 10/23.

Elsewhere, “Baby I’m a Want You” and “I Don’t Wanna Live Inside Myself” debut on the Hot 100 in the same week they first appear on the WLS Top 30. Several other records WLS was charting were still making their way into the Billboard Top 40 in the same week. “What Are You Doing Sunday” and “Charity Ball” are at #43 and #44 respectively; “Everybody’s Everything,” “Two Divided by Love,” “Absolutely Right,” and “You Think You’re Hot Stuff” are farther down.

Similarly, several songs that are still in the Billboard Top 40 have left the WLS survey of the same week: “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Smiling Faces Sometimes” (which had been #1 on WLS in late August), “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” and “The Wedding Song” are among those gone. And the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” at #17 in Billboard during the same week, never charted on WLS at all.

I have the American Top 40 show from the week of November 13, 1971, in my collection, which has most of this music on it. I don’t know if I’m going to write about it, but I’m damn sure going to listen to it.

OK, new topic.

November 8 will be the 50th anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album. One of the only music pieces I ever got paid for was a 25th anniversary retrospective on “Stairway to Heaven,” for which I corresponded with Zeppelin fans and interviewed radio people and a history professor about the song’s impact. The story used to be online; some rando transcribed it for his Zeppelin fansite, but the site doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I should have a hard copy in my pile of clips, and if I find the time to dig through the pile in the next couple of weeks, I’ll post it.

The piece ran in the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch, the newspapers that served the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, where we lived at the time. I forget how I developed a relationship with the entertainment editor; I was working at the classic-rock station, and that may have gotten him to take a look at my stuff. It is also entirely possible that he simply bought a story I pitched cold. He also bought the Elvis piece I posted here a few years ago. (First part here, second part here, third part here.)

Somewhere in my clips, there is also a positively fawning piece about me, written at about the same time by a columnist for the Dispatch/Argus, a guy who doubled as a weekend weatherman at one of the local TV stations. Again, I no longer remember how it came about. I remember it played up the fact that I have a stutter, and that it didn’t adversely affect my radio career. (Sure didn’t; I got a part-time job that paid a whole $6 an hour in spite of it.) It was illustrated by the photo you see here. The columnist was so complimentary of my work that people around the office started asking if he and I were dating.

Amusing anecdotes, yes. But also evidence of roads not taken, either by choice or by chance.

Let’s Remember a Guy

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: the man himself, 2008.)

There’s a thing that’s gained popularity lately, thanks mostly to the writers at Defector, who started doing it on slow days at their former website, Deadspin: “let’s remember some guys.” It’s pretty simple: you come up with the name of an athlete from out of the past and discuss your memories of him. They didn’t invent it, however. “Remembering some guys” has been going on for as long as men have had time to talk about sports. (Somebody on Twitter, I forget who, suggested that men talk about guys as a way to have deep and involved conversations without having to discuss emotions, hopes, dreams, and the sort of stuff men are often not comfortable sharing with one another. I think that’s probably true.) 

A related activity involves the collection of unusual names. To do this in the modern world, you walk a line that didn’t exist years ago. You gotta ask whether it’s racist to note the unusual-ness of certain Black athletes’ names that include nonstandard capitalization and punctuation marks. Although it’s worth noting that some of the strangest names you can find right now are among pro golfers and lacrosse players, two of the whitest sports in America. 

So anyway: this piece appeared in its original form at my first blog, The Daily Aneurysm, on May 21, 2006. A slightly revised and edited version has been sitting in my Drafts file for nearly 10 years, going back to when I first had the idea of repeating old Aneurysm posts here. I looked at it the other day after a brief Twitter exchange about great baseball names, and added the link in the first paragraph.

Over the years, I have collected odd names. It’s easier now than it used to be. Some of the names parents hang on kids today seem so strange, and sometimes so flatly cruel, that you can’t help but notice them. I am thinking here of the parents who wanted to name their son Tim, but for whom Tim was simply too pedestrian, so they named him Tymme, or the parents who created future strippers by naming their daughters Wytnee or Lynzi.

I was collecting athlete names first, however. It started way back in the 60s and 70s, with names like Pedro Borbon and Cephus Weatherspoon. But despite my experience with odd names, nothing prepared me for the latest one I found: Boof Bonser. Boof is a pitcher who will make his major-league debut for the Minnesota Twins today [5/21/06] against the Milwaukee Brewers.

In defense of his parents, Boof’s name is self-inflicted. His parents named him John Paul. (John Paul Bonser isn’t a bad rock-star name, actually—a chainsaw lead guitarist in a heavy-metal band, maybe.) Somebody nicknamed him Boof at some point, and he legally changed his name to Boof a few years ago.

When I first heard the jokes about Boof, I laughed along with them. But that was before I realized his name has magical powers. When you speak the name “Boof Bonser” aloud, something happens. You have to smile. Endorphins are released.…All the trouble in the world seems mitigated by the fact that there’s a guy named Boof walking around and sharing it with us.…

Try it.

It’s particularly fun to say if you do it like a ballpark announcer.

Boof Bonser started 60 games for the Twins in three years, including a start in the 2006 ALDS. In 2009, he appeared in only one minor-league game, so I suspect he was injured that year. After the 2009 season, the Twins traded him to the Red Sox, but he appeared in only two games for them in 2010 and was released in June. The A’s picked him up, and he appeared in 13 games, the last one in October 2010, at the butt-end of the season. After that, he was signed by the Mets, Giants, and Cleveland organizations, and pitched in the minors without making it back to the Show. In 2013 he pitched in China and in the independent Atlantic League. Lifetime major league record: 19 wins, 25 losses, earned-run average 5.12, and WHIP 1.459. 

If you would like to remember some other guy, please do so in the comments. 

October 27, 1962: Fight Songs

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: President Kennedy speaks to the nation on Monday, October 22, 1962.)

October 27, 1962, was a Saturday. The American naval blockade of Cuba, technically an act of war, continues in response to the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Today, in another act of war, a U2 spy plane taking reconaissance photos over Cuba is shot down by a surface-to-air missile, killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson of Greenville, South Carolina. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev exchanges messages with President Kennedy following the rejection of Khrushchev’s offer to remove Cuban missiles if American missiles are removed from Turkey. Attorney General Robert Kennedy continues unofficial meetings with the Soviet ambassador. A group of governors meets to discuss civil defense measures, although a large percentage of Americans believes that little can be done to protect them. Air strikes on Cuba have been ordered for Monday; federal government operations are set to move to the secure Mount Weather facility in rural Virginia. Tonight, the president tells administration officials who have been sleeping in their offices all week to go home. He seeks diversion by screening the movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

In college football, most of the top teams in the nation win their games today. Two who do not: top-ranked Texas, which ties Rice 14-14, and #5 Wisconsin, which loses to Ohio State 14-7 in Columbus. Advertisements in the program for the Ohio State/Wisconsin game promote the 1963 Buick Wildcat and the 1963 Super Torque Ford Galaxie. Fans are encouraged to munch a bunch of Fritos and to try New Era scientifically produced and truly digestible potato chips. Another ad ponders the question, “Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a lady?” (Tiparillo cigars are available at the concession stand.) After the game, fans can send one dollar plus proof of purchase from any one of several General Electric small appliances to receive a limited-edition, high-fidelity, 33 1/3 RPM album of college fight songs.

In Bardstown, Kentucky, Herbie Phelps of Old Kentucky Home High School basks in last night’s accomplishment: he ran for 392 yards on 20 carries, scored 10 touchdowns, and kicked eight extra points in his team’s 74-6 win over Aquinas Prep. All are new state records. Four games are played in the NBA tonight; among them, the Chicago Zephyrs, down 16 points at halftime, come back to force the San Francisco Warriors to overtime. The Warriors win it, however, 129-126. Warrior Wilt Chamberlain plays all 53 minutes, scores 46 points, and grabs 23 rebounds.

TV schedules are disrupted today and tonight by news coverage of Cuba. Among the evening programs scheduled are The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (starring Fess Parker in the Jimmy Stewart role), the critically acclaimed legal drama The Defenders with E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed, plus westerns Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke.

At KDWB in Minneapolis, “Do You Love Me” by the Contours is the new #1 song, followed by the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” the double-sided hit “Only Love Can Break a Heart” and “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” by Gene Pitney, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash.” (“Monster Mash” is in its second week at #1 in both Billboard and Cash Box.) Brenda Lee and Sam Cooke are new in the Top 10 with “All Alone Am I” and “Nothing Can Change This Love.” The biggest mover on the chart is “Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, up 10 spots; the highest debut is “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons. Also new is the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.” The #1 album in the Twin Cities is Ramblin’ Rose by Nat King Cole.

Perspective From the Present: October 27, 1962, has been called “the most dangerous day in human history.” Sporting events and movies were lightly attended; streets were largely deserted as Americans stayed home to wait for whatever was coming. The next day, Khrushchev would announce his decision to dismantle the missiles in Cuba, although tensions remained high for weeks thereafter. Eventually, the United States would quietly remove its missiles from Turkey. Herbie Phelps went on to teach and coach at his alma mater, retiring in 2005.

My parents don’t remember much about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Focused as they were on the farm and the family (I was two and my brother was six months old), they say they went about their days as they always did. But like most Americans, they must have gone to bed some nights wondering if they would wake up the next morning, or what they would wake up to.

A Thing Called Love

Behold the music survey from WLS in Chicago dated 50 years ago today. (Click to embiggen.) I wish I had a fuller picture; at some point during the spring or summer of 1971, the station converted its survey from a single long sheet of heavy paper to a folded sheet that allowed a cover with a photo, which opened to reveal the week’s list inside. I have never seen a more pleasing survey design from any radio station anywhere: clean, easy to read, and distinctive in red and blue.

If I were to attempt to rank the seasons of the 70s—a project I really should take on—the fall of 1971 would probably be in the top five. The chart of October 25, 1971, contains songs and stars familiar even to people who can’t remember 1971: Cher, Rod Stewart, “Shaft,” Stevie Wonder, the Carpenters, Marvin Gaye, “Imagine,” Carole King, Santana, Bread, the Bee Gees. But as is our custom here, we’re more interested in the songs that are less well-remembered.

3. “Charity Ball”/Fanny
10. “What Are You Doing Sunday”/Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando
These records barely squeaked into the Billboard Top 40 (#40 and #39 respectively), and only for a brief time (one week each, 11/6 and 11/13/71), but in this week, they are both at their chart peaks on WLS. “Charity Ball” was also a Top-10 hit in Denver and a few other places. “What Are You Doing Sunday” looks to have been a somewhat stronger performer nationwide, although Chicago was its strongest market. (On a survey dated October 21, from WFOM in Marietta, Georgia, they’re #1 and #2.) “Charity Ball” has a Van Halen swagger and is an unjustly lost hit. “What Are You Doing Sunday,” meanwhile, sits at the intersection of cheese and bubblegum. But Tony Orlando, who gets separate billing for the first time, had a gift for selling that very thing. Dawn had bigger hits, but few that were more purely joyful. It’s easy to understand why listeners of 1971 gravitated to it.

(Fifty years later, Fanny is the subject of a new documentary that reveals just how much ground they broke, not just as women in a male-dominated business but as Filipina Americans in a racist society.)

12. “Never My Love”/Fifth Dimension. The Fifth Dimension’s version of the Association’s 1967 classic is a live recording produced by Bones Howe, who also produced the original. It’s far more supper-club than soul music, although we get a hint of what could have been when Marilyn McCoo starts ad-libbing over the last 45 seconds or so (including a spectacular long, high note). It made #1 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart and #12 on the Hot 100.

21. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love”/Denise LaSalle
22. “You Think You’re Hot Stuff”/Jean Knight
It did not hurt WLS one bit to latch on to the housewife appeal of “Never My Love.” Neither would it have been bad for them to play straight-up R&B records. In an era with fewer signals for listeners to choose from, mass appeal was not only possible, it was the goal. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love,” a Willie Mitchell production of a song LaSalle wrote, made the Billboard Top 40. “You Think You’re Hot Stuff” peaked at #57 despite sounding remarkably like “Mr. Big Stuff,” Knight’s #2 hit from earlier in the year. Like “Mr. Big Stuff,” it’s a Wardell Quezergue production licensed by Stax from the Mississippi label Malaco.

The fall of 1971 is less purely magical than the fall of 1970; September to December 1970 will always be a liminal space to me, a wondrous passageway that pointed the little boy I was toward the person I am now. One year later, I had listened through a full procession of the seasons and discovered a powerful link between music and time. For me to even talk about “ranking the seasons” shows how strong is the association between the songs I heard and when I heard them.

But 1971 represented another passageway, another space between. I never wanted to be a farmer like Dad when I grew up, not for a minute. Like many boys, I wanted to be a pro football player for a while. But by the fall of 1971, I had lived a year with the radio in my head. I loved the music, but I was also fascinated with how the music and the jingles and the newscasts and the commercials weaved together to create a complete, enormous thing, orchestrated by the jocks, who seemed like the coolest people in the world to me. And by the fall of 1971, I would say to everybody (even if they didn’t ask), I want to do that.