Top 5: Your Tricks With Fruit Was Kinda Cute

Here’s a fascinating radio survey from WLRA in Joliet, Illinois, a college station licensed to Lewis University, from this week in 1973. At first glance, it looks a bit schizophrenic, but if you take a moment to transport yourself back to the musical world of 1973, it makes perfect sense. Back then, Seals and Crofts, Jim Croce, Bette Midler, and Art Garfunkel would not have sounded especially odd next to the day’s top rock acts, even though we consider them housewifey soft rock today. Eddie Kendricks sticks out a bit (he’s the only R&B act on the list unless you want to count Deodato), but album stations of the early 70s weren’t yet afraid to play records by R&B acts. And like noncommercial stations down unto the present day, WLRA was happy to play music that wouldn’t get on the air in many other places.

2. “Stealin'”/Uriah Heep. “Easy Livin'” was an actual Top 40 hit the year before, but “Stealin'” made it only to Number 91 despite being immeasurably better. Maybe it starts off too quiet and finishes too loud, I dunno, but damn, it sounds great to me.

5. “Bright Blue Tango”/Captain Beyond. A band composed of veterans of Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, and Johnny Winter’s band, Captain Beyond made three albums in the mid 70s. “Bright Blue Tango” is from Sufficiently Breathless, the highest-charting of the three, and sounds like a Santana outtake.

6. “Roller Coaster”/Blood Sweat and Tears. This is the first track on No Sweat, the band’s second album after the departure of lead singer David Clayton-Thomas, and it features three future members of the house band at Saturday Night Live: Lou Marini, Tom “Bones” Malone, and George Wadenius. “Roller Coaster” was probably too cool for the radio in 1973, and is a candidate for sampling today.

10. “Star Star”/Rolling Stones. Lewis University was (and is) a Catholic institution, which did not keep the staff of WLRA from playing one of the Stones’ most notorious songs. (Perhaps the station’s 250-watt mono signal didn’t reach the administration building.) Much more interesting than “Angie.”

15. “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”/Hank Wilson. Leon Russell was one of the hottest properties in music in 1973. He’d ended 1972 with a smash album (Carney) and single (“Tight Rope”). He even charted a Christmas single that year. In 1973, Leon Live was a top-10 hit, and Billboard named him the year’s top concert attraction. But right in the middle of all this, he released an album of country covers under an assumed name. Hank Wilson’s Back featured a cast of top Nashville players performing songs made famous by Hank Williams and George Jones, among others. A classic American song that sounds insanely great, “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” managed to make the Hot 100 late in 1973.

It occurs to me that this survey reads like one from a slightly altered universe in the fall of 1973, one where Cher’s “Half Breed” and Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses” did not exist. In other words: not a bad one.

Top 5: All Our Tomorrows

On Valentine’s weekend in 1982, I had an engagement ring burning a hole in my pocket.

It hadn’t cost very much—in fact I can remember the guy at the jewelry store cracking wise about how little I was paying for it—but I had spent as much as I could justify, making $185 a week with no credit card and almost nothing in the bank. She had been expecting a ring for a while. When she didn’t get it at Christmas or her birthday, she figured Valentine’s Day was the next likely date. That was my plan, too. She was coming over to spend the weekend with me in my new place, and I thought that I would give the ring to her on Valentine’s Day, which was Sunday. When she arrived on Friday night, she brought a few housewarming gifts, odds and ends, things I’d said I needed in the new place, and I suddenly decided I couldn’t wait until Sunday. So on Friday night, in the living room of my crappy furnished apartment, I whipped out the ring and proposed to her.

She said yes.

I was a little baby disc jockey only a couple of weeks into my first full-time radio job at KDTH in Dubuque. My responsibilities also included the care and feeding of the automation system for D93, the FM Top-40 station. And on the Cash Box chart dated February 13, 1982, were a lot of  the songs D93 was playing, a few that were heard on KDTH, and a few I wouldn’t discover until years later. The stuff as the top is either burned out from years of exposure or was rather undistinguished to begin with, but there’s more interesting stuff further down.

14. “Waiting on a Friend”/Rolling Stones (holding at 14). A song with a remarkable history, the instrumental track for “Waiting on a Friend” was born in 1970, and the Stones tried recording it on the sessions that resulted in the 1973 album Goats Head Soup. It sat in the can for seven years, until the band’s co-producer started scouting for songs to go on Tattoo You. Mick Jagger wrote lyrics for it, and the band rounded up jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins for a solo. But some of what we hear is that original instrumental track from years before, including Mick Taylor on guitar.

20. “Through the Years”/Kenny Rogers (up from 23). I’d never been much of a Kenny Rogers fan. His late 70s material sounded cheap and tossed off, so I welcomed the craftsmanship I heard in his collaborations with Lionel Richie as producer. “Through the Years” doesn’t sound much different from anything else he’d done, at least not until about two minutes into the record. At that point, he starts singing with a conviction I’d never heard before—and then, at about 3:25 in, he goes up and gets a beautiful high note and proceeds to sing the hell out of the rest of the song. It blew me out of the chair in the radio studio the first time I heard it. This is the only Kenny Rogers record you need.

32. “All Our Tomorrows”/Eddie Schwartz. (holding at 32). D93 played a lot of records of dubious value in hopes of being among the first stations in the country to break a new hit. We probably played “All Our Tomorrows” more than any station outside of Schwartz’s native Canada, but it was worth the attention.

36. “Trouble”/Lindsey Buckingham (down from 22). In which Buckingham’s gift for massive hooks, which had served Fleetwood Mac so well since 1976, is deployed on his own behalf. If “Trouble” lasted 10 minutes, I’d listen to every second.

60. “Do You Believe in Love”/Huey Lewis and the News (up from 83). If you remember the winter of 1982, you remember that the country was deep in a recession. In Dubuque, a factory town tied to the cratering farm economy, times were especially hard. But there was something encouraging about the tight, radio-ready sound of this new band. As long as you believed in love, they seemed to be saying, you’d be OK.  For a young couple pledging their troth in that season, the answer to “Do You Believe in Love” was an emphatic yes.

“All Our Tomorrows”/Eddie Schwartz (This and other songs by Schwartz are back in print on a new compilation that includes his demo of the Pat Benatar song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” which he wrote. As a result, this song will be up only over the weekend. Buy the album here.)

Top 5: My Summer With Marlo

After all these years of blogging, I never know precisely what will strike a chord. I didn’t expect last week’s Top 5 post about 1981 to be one of the most-commented in ages, but it was. Perhaps you people are more into the 80s than I imagined, so let’s grab this week’s Top 5 from 1980.

The last week of August 1980 was my last week of fulltime work as the night guy on WXXQ in Freeport, Illinois, before I went back to college. I did most of my shows that week live from the Winnebago County Fair. As I recall, they weren’t very much fun, because nobody seemed to know who I was or care very much about the station, so I ended my tenure wondering whether the work we had put in that summer had been worth the effort. In retrospect, I know that it was—if only because that summer now stands as one of my all-time favorites. Here are five albums that bring it back, based on the chart from CHUM-FM in Toronto dated August 30, 1980. (Last Monday, Echoes in the Wind looked at the Top 40 side of this week.)

1. Emotional Rescue/Rolling Stones. The jocks at WXXQ did not quite know what to make of the title song from this album, which seemed very un-Stones-like and was quite the momentum killer on the air besides. We’d moved on to “She’s So Cold” by the end of the summer, which was more satisfying to us. (I’ve linked to it before, but I really like this post from Kinky Paprika on the link between the title song  and The Great Gatsby.)

6. Empty Glass/Pete Townshend. We played “Rough Boys” every couple of hours all summer.

We avoided the big single from Empty Glass, “Let My Love Open the Door” until we absolutely had to play it. I remember a listener, a middle-school age girl, who used to call up and request it, although she called it “Let Marlo Open the Door.” Every radio station has regular callers—people who want to make song requests or just chat. I can’t remember too many from WXXQ, although the afternoon jock had one who was just a couple of clicks removed from being a stalker. If she missed him during the day (and even if she didn’t), she would call me just after I’d taken over at 6:00 and ask if Jeff was there. I would always say I didn’t know, even if he was standing next to me.

12. Just One Night/Eric Clapton. Once, live albums and best-of compilations from superstar acts were guaranteed smashes on the order of brand-new releases. Think of the way greatest-hits albums from Elton John, Chicago, America, and the Eagles became Number-One hits, or the way live albums such as this one (and One For the Road by the Kinks, also on this chart) got into heavy rotation at album stations. Just One Night did give us an excuse to play “Tulsa Time” and “Blues Power” over and over, which is not a bad thing.

15. The Blues Brothers/Soundtrack. We may have overplayed this album that summer, although I swear it wasn’t because the station’s music director (me) loved the movie so much—we weren’t alone. Album stations across the country were all over multiple cuts from it. All these years later, “Gimme Some Lovin'” still sounds pretty good to me. That big horn section gives it a punch the Spencer Davis original—which is plenty punchy its own damn self—doesn’t have.

19. Women and Children First/Van Halen. I had ended the school year back in the spring by destroying Van Halen in a campus newspaper column that generated tons of hate mail from pissed-off fans. I can’t say I had made peace with the band by the end of summer 1980, although 30 years later, I have—mostly by ceasing to care about them one way or the other. It’s not worth the effort anymore. I doubt that it ever was.

The last song I played on WXXQ at the end of my show that last Friday night was “How Does It Feel to Be Back” by Hall and Oates (which everybody forgets was the lead single from their career-making album Voices). I suppose I was ready to get back to school, but I also must have known I’d never have a summer like that again.

Island Motel, Island Resort

Which performers have the largest number of songs on my Desert Island list? Two have four apiece. One was no surprise when I began analyzing the list, and one was.

I have never considered myself a major Rolling Stones fan, and I never listened to their catalog much beyond the radio hits until relatively recent times; nevertheless, the four songs on the list have been there for a while. While I might add a few if I were assembling the list today (particularly “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but also “Let It Bleed” and “Dead Flowers”), I wouldn’t scrap any that are already on board.

“Brown Sugar”: Four minutes of concentrated nasty. Possibly the greatest 45 ever made by anybody.

“Tumbling Dice”: The sound of a party breaking out. If Exile on Main Street is the apex of the Stones’ career, and “Tumbling Dice”  is the apex of Exile on Main Street, well, you do the math.

“Fool to Cry”: The sad, reflective electric piano that opens this record absolutely kills me every time. The sound befits the Black and Blue album, which despite its controversial marketing (see a couple of examples here), was actually a pretty somber affair. At the time of its release, the Stones were in their mid 30s, bickering, and worn. Which is why they would put a song on the album like . . .

“Memory Motel“: On that night 32 years ago when I reluctantly graduated from high school, this is the song I cued up for the drive home. It’s about the never-ending road that takes us further and further from the people and places we love the most—a road all of us travel at one time or another.

Despite high-falutin’ rock critic dislike of the Eagles that now stretches into a second millennium, I’m probably not the only person who would pack away a few of their tunes for the long, lonely haul.

“Lyin’ Eyes”: Despite the sad tale of loveless marriage and adultery in the lyric, “Lyin’ Eyes” is the ultimate feel-good radio record. One night from the stage I heard Glenn Frey say that he could never get tired of playing the song, and I can’t imagine getting tired of hearing it.

“New Kid in Town”: It’s said that your life’s theme song is the Number-One single on your 18th birthday. Since I don’t want “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb, I’ll take this, which topped the Hot 100 on my 17th birthday. No matter how popular you are, the song goes, you can be replaced, and you probably will be, eventually. The lesson wasn’t lost on the 17-year-old me, and it hasn’t been lost ever since.

“The Last Resort”: A song about Manifest Destiny and what comes afterward: “Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.” Even if we were to succeed in remaking the world so that it reflects our conception of perfection—liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between—the odds that we’ll be satisfied with it are somewhere between slim and none.

“The Sad Café”: What I said here still goes.

The only Eagles song I might add to the list is “Ol’ 55,” the Tom Waits number from On the Border. (If forced to choose a single Eagles album for the journey, that might be the one.) Here’s a live performance of “Ol’ 55” from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974. Leaving aside the personal or musical failings of later years that can color our perceptions of them now, the Eagles were capable of creating music of stunning beauty. Stuff like this is the reason why they’ll be by my side for as long as it takes me to get wherever it is I’m going.

Recommended Reading: Kinky Paprika finds the link between The Great Gatsby and “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones. It’s one of the best things I’ve read anywhere in a long time.