Top 5: Easy Listening

The other day I was fooling around with some data from Billboard‘s adult contemporary charts. Billboard first published the chart in July 1961, and for much of that time, it was known as the Easy Listening chart. Today it’s called “Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks”—and now that we’re in the Soundscan era, records tend to stay on it forever. For example, “Breakeven” by the Script and “Hey Soul Sister” by Train are at Numbers Three and Four this week, in their 51st and 61st week on the chart respectively. But we’re not concerning ourselves with the new millennium here. Let’s grab five records that hit the top of the chart in mid-March during bygone years.

“Got a Hold on Me”/Christine McVie (1984, four weeks at Number One). I am a big Christine fan, as you may know, but her late-period solo stuff has never done much for me. (Her early solo record, on the other hand—The Legendary Christine Perfect Album—is one I keep returning to again and again.) “Got a Hold on Me” was a great radio song, although some critics have written that her performances can seem passionless. This video won’t disabuse anybody of that notion.

“Give It All You Got”/Chuck Mangione (1980, three weeks). This was ABC’s theme music for the 1980 Winter Olympics, which had just got done consuming most of the media oxygen as winter turned to spring that year. We were hungry for diversion then, tired of the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran—which was about to get worse with the failed rescue attempt in April. (I can still remember my roommate coming back to the dorm with a look on his face I’d never seen before: “They tried to get ’em out, but they couldn’t,” he said.)

“I’ve Been This Way Before”/Neil Diamond (1975, one week). Sometimes a record could top the AC chart (known as Easy Listening in the 1970s) without getting much traction on the pop charts. This was one of them. “I’ve Been This Way Before” spent but a single week in the Top 40 and seven weeks on the Hot 100.

“Danny’s Song”/Anne Murray (1973, two weeks). Murray was huge on this chart throughout the 1970s, of course. For what it’s worth, I have always thought her covers of Loggins and Messina’s songs (this one and “A Love Song”) were better suited to a female singer than they were to Kenny Loggins. Here’s a live performance of “Danny’s Song” from The Midnight Special:

“You Gave Me a Mountain”/Frankie Laine (1969, two weeks). The Easy Listening chart was born, of course, in response to the noisy kids’ music that had taken over the pop charts by 1961. And while pop hits did top the chart in the 60s, so did people like Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, Jack Jones, Al Martino, the Ray Conniff Singers, Perry Como, Ed Ames—and even 50s crooner Frankie Laine as late as 1969. “You Gave Me a Mountain” is a bombastic weeper written by Marty Robbins, which bears an amazing resemblance to his “My Woman My Woman My Wife.”

But  in the spring of 1969, the reign of the crooners was soon to be ended. Blood Sweat and Tears would top the chart with “Spinning Wheel” in August, and they were displaced by by Zager and Evans’ “In the Year 2525.” The Adult Contemporary chart was friendlier to the kids’ music after that. The Beatles would manage their lone AC Number One in 1970 with “Let It Be.” It wasn’t a clean break, though. Tom Jones and Perry Como had chart-toppers in 1970; Andy Williams and Engelbert Humperdinck would hit the top in 1971. By 1972, however, the list of adult-contemporary Number One songs looks like a subset of the Hot 100.

Recommended Reading: At Popdose, 20 versions of “Into the Mystic,” some superlative. Get there before Van Morrison finds out they’re up.