Never Heard This on AM Radio Before

While we’re on the subject of American Top 40 countdowns, let’s talk about one of the weirder ones in AT40 history: the “national album countdown,” broadcast on the weekend of August 5, 1972, and repeated last weekend on Sirius/XM. Instead of counting down the week’s top singles, it counted down the 40 biggest albums of the week.

Casey and his producers made what turns out to have been a fateful mistake: When presenting each album, they chose to announce the song holding the corresponding position on the singles chart, and that turned the show into a muddle. For example, the Number 28 album of the week was Too Young by Donny Osmond. As it happened, the title song from that album was in the Top 40, but at Number 26 for the week. Playing “Too Young” at 28 was apparently deemed confusing, so Casey played Donny’s cover of Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy.” (Which sounded as much like Alvin and the Chipmunks as it did Donny Osmond, but I digress.) Then up at Number 26, he announced “Too Young” as the 26th biggest single of the week before playing a track from the Number 26 album, Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers Band, “Melissa.”

But Casey didn’t ignore current hits altogether. Before playing “Lonely Boy,” he announced that the Number 28 song of the week was “Happy” by the Rolling Stones, but then played it when album countdown reached Exile on Main Street at Number Two. Something similar happened, or didn’t, at several points in the countdown: He chose Procol Harum’s “Conquistador” to represent Live With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the album at #5 when “Conquistador” was at #17 on the singles chart, and “School’s Out,” the #7 single of the week, to represent the #2 album by Alice Cooper. But he might have played Elton John’s current hit, “Rocket Man” (#18 on the singles chart), when announcing the Number One album, Honky Chateau (or “Honky Cat,” the forthcoming single from the album), but he chose “Salvation” instead.

In short, the show was all over the place, and it didn’t have to be. Not obligating himself to announce the single sitting at each chart position would have made it possible for Casey to play many more of the week’s current hits, and that would have made for a much better show—for both listeners and program directors.

The oddest song on the countdown probably would have been a track from Amazing Grace, the Number 36 album, by the Fifes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scotch Dragoon Guards, had Casey not chosen to omit it. (According to the show’s original cue sheet, four albums were mentioned on the show but nothing was played from them, including Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu, sitting at Number 8.) As it was, the never-heard-this-on-AM-radio-before award goes to “Marbles,” a track from Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live, the album at Number 14, with a segment of Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick” a close second.

The “national album countdown,” as Casey referred to the show, was never repeated, although in the late 70s, there was a separate series called The National Album Countdown.  There’s precious little about that show on the web—if you google the phrase “national album countdown,” the top link is to a post I wrote about it last summer, which mentioned how there’s precious little about that show on the web. It seems to have premiered in 1976, which is when I remember listening to it. Mentions of the show in editions of Billboard available at Google Books are scarce; one 1977 article says it was heard on 85 stations, but a 1980 article says only that it was currently heard on the Armed Forces Radio Network. The National Album Countdown was produced not by Casey’s company, Watermark, but by Westwood One. (I said in my original post that it used the Billboard chart, but scattered mentions across the web say it used Record World‘s chart. Record World was the stepsister of Billboard and Cash Box, but was influential for a few years in the late 70s.)

If you have made it to the end of this post, thank you. I bet not everybody who started it finished it.

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.