On With the Countdowns

After this post, we’re going on hiatus for a while, to work on things we get paid for, to spend some time with the family, and maybe even to disconnect from the Internet for a while. There should be a new post here on Tuesday, July 20.

Listening to American Top 40 last weekend, and the countdown dated July 10, 1976, I could remember hearing it when it originally ran 34 years ago. I could easily picture the 1976 me, sitting on my bed in my room upstairs at home, pencil and paper close at hand, writing down the titles and artists song by song. In those pre-Internet days, it was tough for a chart geek to get the information he craved. Our local newspaper would occasionally publish the Billboard Top 10, and I can remember running to the mailbox on the days I thought it was going to appear, and being crushed when it didn’t. What else was I going to do? It was either subscribe to Billboard or listen to Casey, although WCFL in Chicago counted down its survey on Friday afternoons (with Larry Lujack) for a while toward the end of its life as a Top-4o station.

AT40 never aired on a station I listened to regularly; I always had to search it out. Often, I’d catch it on an AM station from Rockford, Illinois, which cut its power at sundown, and which frequently left me trying to pick out fragments through the static in order to get the last of the countdown.

AT40 wasn’t the only countdown I was addicted to in 1976. I also listened religiously to something called The National Album Countdown, hosted by “Humble Harv” Miller, a veteran of KHJ and other Southern California stations. There’s precious little information about the show online, but Harv would count down the top 20 or 30 (I forget) albums on the Billboard chart, playing different tracks each week.

AT40 featured an album countdown on one show early in its history. According to Watermark on the Web, which is loaded with fascinating stuff about AT40 and other programs syndicated by Watermark, Inc., a special countdown dated August 5, 1972, was called “The National Album Countdown” and featured songs from the week’s top 40 albums. The show started with “Rock and Roll Crazies” by Stephen Stills and Manassas, and concluded with “Salvation” by Elton John from Honky Chateau. It included both the Stones’ Exile on Main Street and the Hot Rocks 1964-1971 compilation, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu, both of which were in the Top 10, a live album by Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles, classic albums such as Harvest, Eat a Peach, and Tapestry, and an inordinate number of records by the Osmonds—three in all. And it must have been fairly cool to hear Casey play “Thick as a Brick.”

Based on the cue sheet for the show, it looks as if Casey didn’t play a song from every album, and some of the choices seem mighty odd. Why would the show have omitted Billy Preston’s “Outa-Space,” a current hit that summer, and have included “Salvation” instead of either “Rocket Man,” which was on its way out of the singles chart, or “Honky Cat,” which was on its way in?

Just to complete the circle, Humble Harv filled in for Casey on AT40 on the show dated July 13, 1974. I don’t remember listening to that one—but it doesn’t mean I didn’t.