A Sign of the Times

There’s an interesting little list tucked away in the back of Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Contemporary Hits 1961-1993 with the heading “Most Adult Contemporary Hits Only.” These are artists who scored at least five hits on the Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary chart without ever making the Hot 100.

We’ve already met the #1 star on this list: Marilyn Maye, who charted on AC eight times between 1966 and 1970. One of the others will be familiar to people of a certain age: John Davidson, ubiquitous TV personality of the 1970s and 1980s, who charted seven AC singles, including the AC Top 10 hit, “Every Time I Sing a Love Song,” in 1976. Some especially elderly readers might dimly recall another act on the list, Sandler & Young, who were seen widely on TV variety and talk shows, especially in the 1960s, and who charted five times between 1966 and 1969.

The other two were completely unknown to me until I picked up Whitburn’s book, so let’s expand our knowledge base together, shall we?

Between 1966 and 1969, King Richard’s Fluegel Knights scored six hit singles on the AC chart. This was a golden era for pop instrumentals; the woods were full of orchestras and combos and groups and agglomerations doing light-n-jazzy versions of standards and covering the top hits of the day. That was Richard (Dick) Behrke’s gig; he recorded at least three albums with collaborator Bob Thompson which frequently featured, as you might guess, the flugelhorn. Their biggest hit, “Everybody Loves My Baby” has a definite Herb Alpert and the TJB feel—and tympani solo breaks. Their cover of Petula Clark’s “A Sign of the Times” is less distinctive. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine why this stuff was relatively popular in the late 60s—songs with a high degree of familiarity and a light style with some interesting production flourishes combine to produce a enjoyable, non-challenging 30 minutes per album.

Dick Behrke was a lifelong friend of Bobby Darin’s and eventually became Darin’s conductor and arranger. He worked on the music for the Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, and has done other film score work over the years.

Paul Delicato scored five AC chart hits, two in the Top 10, without ever hitting the Hot 100. What makes his achievement especially interesting is that all of his hits came in 1975 and 1976, a time when the biggest AC hits tended to make the pop chart almost without exception. Delicato, a bass player from St. Louis, played on sessions with some R&B superstars during the 1960s, including Ike & Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, as well as blues stars Little Milton and Albert King. In the summer of 1975, the nostalgic “Ice Cream Sodas and Lollipops and a Red-Hot Spinning Top” went to #7 AC. He would hit the AC top 10 again a few months later with a disco version of Jay & the Americans’ “Cara Mia,” if that’s something you think you need.

Delicato eventually ended up in country music. His version of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” was a minor country hit, and his last AC hit was a cover of a Merle Haggard song. He later performed in and produced country revues in Las Vegas and Branson, and today he owns his own music theater.

We often think—and blogs like mine often leave the impression—that the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and/or the Billboard 200 album chart encompass the totality of what people listen to. This isn’t true now, and it wasn’t back in the day, either. It’s wrong to say the adult contemporary chart opens a portal into an alternate universe—but at the very least it’s a largely unexplored region of the universe we think we know.