I keep writing these Life on Lockdown pieces and then not posting them because I decide that they won’t do anybody any good. Neither will this one, probably.
(Pictured: the Soul Clan. L to R: Ben E. King, Joe Tex, Don Covay, Wilson Pickett, and Solomon Burke.)
The Cash Box Archives are a fabulous resource for chart nerds. They disappeared from the interwebs for a time, but they’ve been back for a while now and are even better. They now include pop, country, and R&B/soul charts going back to late 1944 (I wrote about the first pop chart last fall) through the magazine’s demise in 1996. It’s vastly superior to anything you can get online from Billboard, and its only rival is the ARSA database of local radio charts.
The revised site includes listings for what Cash Box called “Looking Ahead,” equivalent to Billboard‘s Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart. So let’s poke around various late-July dates from bygone years to see what we can see.
July 29, 1961: this chart has a couple of songs that would endure a little bit (Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp,” Dick and Dee Dee’s “The Mountain’s High”), a country smash (“Tender Years” by George Jones), big stars with forgotten hits (Ray Charles, the Miracles, Gene Pitney), the first appearance of a future star (Tony Orlando) and some deep weirdness. Chicago DJ Dick Biondi discovered an old rockabilly-ish song called “There’s a Fungus Among Us,” had it recut by a Chicago group called Hugh Barrett and the Victors, and turned it into a promotion. (The story is here.) “Song of the Nairobi Trio” by the Fortune Tellers is a version of the music Ernie Kovacs used for a famous recurring bit on his TV shows.
July 30, 1968: at #1 on the chart is “Soul Meeting” by the Soul Clan, a supergroup with a mind-boggling lineup: originally Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, and Joe Tex. Before the group could record, Redding died (replaced by Arthur Conley) and Pickett left (replaced by Ben E. King). The latter lineup eventually made an album, each member recording his part separately, pieced together by Covay. The group had plans to be not just a recording act but a collective engaged in building an autonomous black business empire. But Atlantic Records was not interested in empire building, “Soul Meeting” foundered, and eventually the Soul Clan did too, although its legacy lives on. This 2017 story from the Oxford American tells the tale.
July 25, 1970: this chart (which is down to 40 positions from 50) contains several records we’ve mentioned here in the past, by Ten Wheel Drive, the Rattles, Elephant’s Memory, and Jim Campbell, as well as two that got entire posts, “Mill Valley” and “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore.” Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan, whose unlikely smash “Tennessee Birdwalk” has been a twisted favorite around here since always, were back on the chart with “Humphrey the Camel,” which is similarly bent, was another big country hit if not such a big pop crossover this time, and kinda racist.
July 29, 1972: now a 35-position chart, this one has some famous songs (“Rock Me on the Water,” “Delta Dawn,” “Garden Party, “Misty Blue,” “Walk on By”), 75 percent of Crosby Stills Nash and Young (“Southbound Train” and “Rock and Roll Crazies”) and a not-terrible cover of the Bee Gees “I.O.I.O” by Butch Patrick. Yup, Eddie Munster.
July 28, 1973: this chart (which is down to 30 positions and numbers them from #101 to #130, a change from earlier practice) is headed by Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” and “Rock and Roll Heaven” by the group Climax, famed for “Precious and Few.” Their version predates the Righteous Brothers by a year, but is not remotely as good. The chart also includes “The Answer” by Connie Francis, subtitled “Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree?”, which I invite you to listen to for as long as you can stand it. Same with “Old Betsy Goes Boing Boing Boing” by the Hummers, which was inspired by a Mazda commercial of the time.
July 27, 1976: the chart is down to 20 positions now. There are a couple of pretty good country-pop records on it: “Rocky Mountain Music” by Eddie Rabbitt and “Stranger” by Johnny Duncan, plus T. G. Sheppard’s cover of “Solitary Man,” all of which were country chart-toppers that summer. And any chart with “Kid Charlemagne” and “Cherry Bomb” is OK with me.
By the summer of 1977, the Looking Ahead chart was pared to 10 positions. It began to appear intermittently starting in 1979, later shrinking to three entries before being dropped entirely in 1982 and resurrected in 1990. Because we thirst after the kind of obscurities found thereon, we’ll probably dip back into it at some future time.
(Pictured: the King Sisters with some of the rest of the family.)
I cannot say how anybody else’s blogging process works, but mine frequently goes like this: I’ll see something and think, “Hmm, that might be interesting to write about.” Sometimes I follow through right away, but more often, I don’t, and the idea vanishes. When I do follow through, however, it’s often because I saw the same thing again in some other context a day or two later. And that is why you are reading this:
You need to be relatively elderly for the King Family to ring a bell. They came out of California in the 1930s as the Four King Sisters, who had been performing with other family members since they were children. In the late 30s, they were featured singers with Horace Heidt’s big band, and later with the band led by Alvino Rey, who was Louise King’s husband. Between 1941 and 1945, they charted a few singles under their own name, although the records tended to be competing versions of songs that were more popular by other artists. They also appeared in several movies. By 1953, the group had expanded beyond the sisters and was being billed as the King Family. In 1958, their album Imagination got a Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus.
The King Sisters had appeared on Alvino Rey’s TV show as early as 1953. In 1963, Yvonne King pitched ABC on a variety series for the family. The network didn’t bite at first, but when a 1964 appearance on Hollywood Palace generated thousands of fan letters, ABC gave the King Family a special and eventually, a weekly series, beginning in January 1965. In its two seasons, The King Family Show would include 39 family members ranging in age from seven months to 79 years. Four of them spun off into a group called the Four King Cousins, who became regulars on the Kraft Summer Music Hall in 1966. (The show’s head writer was a guy named George Carlin; one episode included another up-and-comer named Richard Pryor. Read about it here.) The family’s 1967 Thanksgiving and Christmas specials were big hits, and were repeated annually for years thereafter. They got another brief weekly series in 1969, but their main presence on TV was in specials, which ran through 1974.
Apart from those hit singles in the early 40s, the Kings’ only other chart appearances came in 1965, when two albums made the Billboard chart on the strength of their TV show. The more successful, The King Family Show!, went to #34 in a 16-week run.
By the dawn of the disco era, the King Family was no longer the kind of thing that drew big network numbers, but they remained a popular concert attraction for a few years. They played Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985. Their last performance was at Yvonne King’s funeral in 2010. Marilyn King, the last of the original sisters, died in 2013. The Four King Cousins were still performing occasionally as recently as 2016.
The King Family dropped stones into the pop-music pond that are still creating ripples. King Cousin Tina Cole became a regular on My Three Sons toward the end of the 60s. Alyce King’s son, Lex De Azevedo, was a successful composer, arranger, and bandleader. (I first learned of him at the elevator-music station, where his orchestra provided custom music for the programming service we used.) Luise King’s grandsons, Win and Will Butler, are members of Arcade Fire. Several King Family specials have been released on DVD. The family has a website and a YouTube channel, as well as a presence on social media. Christmas With the King Family was revived by PBS in 2009, and is still being repeated annually on the GetTV diginet.
A half-century ago, if a comedian wanted an easy punch line lampooning A) square white-bread Americans or B) large families, the King Family was sitting right there. (Although as regards wholesomeness, all those brothers and sisters and cousins implied that the patriarchs and matriarchs of the King Family were horizontally bopping as enthusiastically as the hippies were.) Nevertheless, in the chaos of the late 60s, the King Family presented an oasis of old-fashioned entertainment, where rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles did not intrude and longhairs did not agitate for anarchy. Its appeal to the Silent Majority is easy to understand.
A clip from the 1965 premiere of The King Family Show, introduced by Bing Crosby, is here. A 1966 performance of “Yesterday” by the King Sisters is here. The Four King Cousins perform a 1969 medley keyed to the Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know” here. The opening of the 1967 Christmas special is here.
(Pictured: Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin on stage in 1976.)
Having spent two posts on the American Top 40 show from July 17, 1976, it’s time to look at the Bottom 60 songs on the Hot 100 for that date. But here’s a spoiler alert before we begin. I mentioned last week that there were two summer-of-76 shows missing from my collection that I have now acquired. One was the July 17 show; the other is the show dated August 7, only three weeks later. I’ll be writing about that show during the first part of August. To keep from repeating myself any more than I already do, I’ve chosen to write about Bottom 60 songs from the July 17 chart that won’t be on the August 7 show.
41. “Framed”/Cheech and Chong. These gentlemen made the Billboard Top 40 three times with “Basketball Jones,” “Sister Mary Elephant,” and “Earache My Eye,” and they just missed at #41 two other times. “Framed” is technically a cover of the Leiber and Stoller song of the same name, but with some new lyrics. As Kurt Blumenau discovered, “Framed” was #1 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for the week of July 17. (Their other single to peak at #41 was “Bloat On,” their parody of the Floaters’ “Float On,” early in 1978.)
49. “Hot Stuff”-“Fool to Cry”/Rolling Stones. During the week of June 19, this record, then listed as “Fool to Cry”-“Hot Stuff” sat at #21 on the Hot 100. The next week, listed as “Hot Stuff”-“Fool to Cry,” it fell to #63. From there, it began climbing again, going to #59 and #53 before hitting #49 in this week. Next week, it will fall to #96, then bounce to #89, and be gone entirely from the chart dated August 7, 1976.
51. “Roots, Rock, Reggae”/Bob Marley and the Wailers. Marley’s album Rastaman Vibration was an enormous hit in 1976, going to #8 on the Billboard album chart. “Roots, Rock, Reggae” would spend three of its six weeks on the Hot 100 at #51.
58. “Good Vibrations”/Todd Rundgren. As remarkable as it was to have the Beach Boys (“Rock and Roll Music”) and Beatles (“Got to Get You Into My Life”) back in the Top 40 during the summer of 1976, “Good Vibrations” was there too, for three weeks. Rundgren’s album Faithful was intended as a tribute to 60s rock, but the covers on the first side are not covers as much as they are note-for-note recreations of songs by the Beach Boys, Beatles, Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix.
74. “Hell Cat”/Bellamy Brothers
78. “Gotta Be the One”/Maxine Nightingale
These two artists had ridden the Top 40 together to #1 and #2 back in the spring with “Let Your Love Flow” and “Right Back Where We Started From,” but neither’s followup had the power to do it again. It would be 1979 before either act got back into the pop Top 40.
88. “Ode to Billie Joe”/Bobbie Gentry. The 1967 hit was in its first week back on the charts on July 17, 1976, thanks to the success of a theatrical movie based on it. A new recording of the old song, also by Gentry, would chart in two weeks.
91. “Hey Shirley (This Is Squirrely)”/Shirley and Squirrely. Over the years, I have written about several records inspired by the CB craze. I have always forgotten to mention “Hey Shirley,” but that’s OK because it’s awful. (America’s thirst for speeded-up rodent voices once seemed inexhaustible.) “Hey Shirley” made #28 on the country chart in a five-week run and #48 on the Hot 100.
93. “You to Me Are Everything”/The Real Thing
94. “You to Me Are Everything”/Broadway
The Real Thing version of “You to Me Are Everything” was a #1 hit in the UK in June 1976 and it’s fantastic, but its impact in the States was blunted by competing versions. And it wasn’t just the group Broadway to do it. On July 31, 1976, a third version of “You to Me Are Everything” would chart, by a group called Revelation, produced by Freddie Perrin and sounding almost exactly like the Real Thing’s recording. The Real Thing would get to #64; Broadway would peak at #86 and Revelation at #98.
Programming Note: This would, in a normal year, be opening day of the Green County Fair in my hometown of Monroe, Wisconsin. I did a podcast episode earlier this year about the fair and the farm I grew up on. It was accidentally yanked from Soundcloud a while back, but I’ve reposted it today. If you didn’t hear it then, you can listen now, at that link or at the usual spots.
(Pictured: Kiki Dee and Elton John sing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” 1977.)
The radio station I work for has recently stopped running both the 70s and 80s American Top 40 countdowns. I’d like to know what’s happening to the affiliate numbers across the country. With more and more AC and classic-hits stations dropping 70s music altogether, the 70s repeats can’t have much shelf-life remaining. Except around here. In an earlier installment, we started listening to the show from the week of July 17, 1976.
Jingle: “Now on with the countdown!”
25. “You Should Be Dancing”/Bee Gees
23. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Elton John and Kiki Dee
22. “Let ‘Em In”/Paul McCartney and Wings
These are all debuts on the show, coming in so high that Casey teased their coming arrival at the end of the first hour. “You Should Be Dancing” was up from #51, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” from #46, and “Let ‘Em In” from #43. All were in their third week on the Hot 100. With “Let ‘Em In,” Casey says that Paul McCartney is the second performer to sing on three hits in the same Top 40 since Paul did it with the Beatles in 1964. You could guess all day without identifying the other performer, so I’ll save the answer for the end of this post.
14. “If You Know What I Mean”/Neil Diamond. “From another time / From another place / Do you remember it babe” HELL YEAH MAN SING IT
10. “Rock and Roll Music”/Beach Boys. I don’t mind the Beach Boys’ version of this when it pops up in isolation. On this show, Casey plays it as an edited medley with the versions by Chuck Berry and the Beatles, and it suffers a lot in comparison.
9. “Silly Love Songs”/Paul McCartney and Wings
8. “Got to Get You Into My Life”/Beatles
Casey notes another chart milestone for Paul McCartney: the first time that the same person has sung lead for two different groups in the same Top 40. I suspect this has probably happened on other occasions since 1976, especially given the proliferation of featured artist credits in the last two decades, but I don’t know.
A listener asks which male and female artist have the most double-sided hits. The male answer, Casey says, is obvious: Elvis, with 57. The leader among female artists is Brenda Lee, with 19.
3. “I’ll Be Good to You”/Brothers Johnson. The seventh and last duo in the countdown (along with the Captain and Tennille, Seals and Crofts, Hall and Oates, Elton and Kiki, the Carpenters, and England Dan and John Ford Coley). Casey notes that the Brothers Johnson album Look Out for Number One was certified gold seven weeks after its release, that one of the songs has been chosen as the new theme for NBC’s show Tomorrow, and two others are featured in an upcoming movie. I suspect I had bought my copy by July 1976, or shortly thereafter. “I’ll Be Good to You” was my favorite song of the moment—but the rest of the album didn’t do much for me.
Before we get to the #1 song of the week, here’s the trivia answer: the only artist besides Paul McCartney to sing lead on three hits in the same Top 40 between 1964 and 1976 is Melanie. “Brand New Key,” “Ring the Living Bell,” and “The Nickel Song” were all in the Top 40 during the week of February 26, 1972.
Jingle: “Billboard‘s number one!”
1. “Afternoon Delight”/Starland Vocal Band. I have, in the past, referred to songs from the summer of 1976 as icons in the religious sense—they have objective characteristics we can describe in real-world terms, but their true meaning is in what they represent. Among the objective characteristics of “Afternoon Delight” is that it is a ripe slab of 70s cheese. That is a real thing I cannot help but acknowledge. But what “Afternoon Delight” represents transcends that. Everything the summer of 1976 meant to me, the stuff I can remember and the stuff I can no longer recall, what it really felt like at the time and the feelings I have grafted on in the 44 summers since, it’s all encoded in those three minutes and 12 seconds. And if, in those three minutes and 12 seconds, I can live in my favorite summer again, who’s going to tell me I shouldn’t?
(Pictured: Lou Rawls looks out into space and time.)
Last summer, I ran you through my collection of American Top 40 shows by month and year. One of the things I learned was that I had a nearly complete collection of summer 1976 shows from late May through late September, with a couple of exceptions. I now have the exceptions, thanks to Dr. Mark of My Favorite Decade. And I am pretty sure that on the weekend of July 17, 1976, I was listening to Casey, picking the last few songs out of the static after my local affiliate cut its power at sunset.
40. “Love Hangover”/Diana Ross. I cannot say how many times in the history of the show the #40 song was a former #1 hit. It can’t have happened often.
39. “Another Rainy Day in New York City”/Chicago
7. “Shop Around”/Captain and Tennille
I also can’t say whether the copy of the show I am listening to is in mono or stereo. If it’s stereo, it’s not separated very much. And even though I am listening digitally, I am pretty sure this copy was sourced from vinyl. The whole thing sounds great, but these two songs were especially good.
38. “Today’s the Day”/America
24. “I’m Easy”/Keith Carradine
16. “Get Closer”/Seals and Crofts
While each of the 40 songs on this list is emblematic to me of one thing or another from the summer of 1976, a few of them take me to places I do not have the words to describe.
A listener asks which song spent the most consecutive weeks at #2 on the Billboard chart. Answer: “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds, which did seven weeks in 1957. Billboard published four different charts back then; the Diamonds’ achievement came on the Best Sellers chart. The Diamonds were a white group from Canada, and “Little Darlin'” was intended as a parody of the R&B style of many African-American groups. (Is that equivalent to wearing blackface?) In any event, Casey played a bit of “Little Darlin’,” which you have likely not heard in ages, so here it is.
36. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”/England Dan and John Ford Coley. The first of seven duos in the countdown. Casey says he’s not sure if that’s a record, but “it seems like a lot.”
33. “Something He Can Feel”/Aretha Franklin
32. “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”/Lou Rawls
Casey observes that each of these artists has been absent from the charts for a while. Here’s how long: Aretha’s previous Top 40 hit was “I’m in Love” in 1974, and it had been a full year since she’d made the Hot 100, the longest stretch of her career to date. Rawls hadn’t hit the Hot 100 since “A Natural Man” at the end of 1971.
29. “Sophisticated Lady”/Natalie Cole. “Sophisticated Lady” was as funky as Natalie Cole ever got, singing about a woman who “is hip to politics but loves her jazz” and who “sticks close to her lover / She obeys God’s rules.”
26. “Last Child”/Aerosmith
19. “Turn the Beat Around”/Vicki Sue Robinson
5. “Moonlight Feels Right”/Starbuck
4. “More More More”/Andrea True Connection
I’m listening to this show as it was heard in 1976, and not on the modern-day syndicated repeats. The repeats are sometimes edited in ways the original shows were not—but on this original show, these four songs were cut short. As we’ve noted before, the clock is a tyrant. The show has to be a certain length within a few seconds, and editing a verse or a chorus from a song is the easiest way to cut time. Casey wasn’t picky. “Moonlight Feels Right” made the biggest leap within the 40 this week—eight spots—but it got edited anyhow.
Related: because I’m listening to this show as it was originally provided to stations in 1976, I get all of what the show’s cue sheet calls “theme up and under.” Casey used an instrumental theme under his last talk segment of each hour. On the syndicated repeats, that theme ends and is followed by commercials as soon as Casey is done talking. As originally provided, the theme continues to play, sometimes for as much as 15 or 20 seconds. Local stations can use it to fill out their own hours, or drop out of it as they see fit. At the end of the last hour, the “Shuckatoom” theme provides the same function, and sometimes continues to play for a minute or more.
Over the theme at the end of the first hour, Casey teases the fact that three of the week’s debut records are still to come. And so they are, in the next installment of this post, on Monday.