Top 5: The Way We Were

There’s a delightfully odd music survey at ARSA from WNBC in New York, dated May 30, 1975. In the middle of the 1970s, WNBC was sometimes referred to as everybody’s second-favorite station in New York, behind Top 40 giant WABC and others despite being home to a couple of NYC radio legends, Don Imus and Cousin Brucie Morrow (who had moved over from WABC in 1973). The tag line on the survey is “contemporary adult music for New York,” and the music mix reflects it—although the early summer of 1975 was not a hard-rockin’ season generally, Hot 100 hits of the moment by the likes of Grand Funk, Chicago, and Elton John are missing.  The records on the survey appear in alphabetical order by title, and here are five of them:

“Are You Ready for This”/The Brothers. “Are You Ready for This” is an instrumental characteristic of the early disco period, in which R&B feel had yet to give way to mindless thump. Our friend Larry Grogan tells me it was produced by Warren Schatz, who made records with mid-70s disco stars including Vicki Sue Robinson and Evelyn “Champagne” King. Not surprisingly, “Are You Ready for This” was more popular on the dance floors of 1975 than it was on the radio.

“El Bimbo”/Bimbo Jet. Although Bimbo Jet is tagged as a Euro-disco group, there’s no much that’s disco about “El Bimbo.” There’s a lively Spanish/flamenco/salsa thing going on with the band, if the singers would shut up and let us hear it. Although it just missed the Top 40 in the States, “El Bimbo” was a #1 hit across much of Europe.

“Everybody Likes My Fanny”/Benny Bell. The actual title of this, the followup to “Shaving Cream,” seems to be “Everybody Wants My Fanny.” When I was researching “Shaving Cream” a few years ago, I learned that there’s some confusion over precisely whether Bell sings on the records credited to him. Here’s one reason why: The singer of “Everybody Wants My Fanny” doesn’t sound much like the singer of “Shaving Cream.”

“Judy Mae”/Boomer Castleman. In some alternate universe, maybe Castleman and his songwriting partner, Michael Murphey, are as well-remembered as the Monkees. On our planet, Monkees mastermind Don Kirshner picked Castleman and Murphey to expand the Colgems Records brand in a group called the Lewis and Clarke Expedition, which flopped. So the two were cast in a Monkee-style comedy pilot, which flopped. By 1975, however, both guys were doing fine. Murphey’s “Wildfire” appears on the WNBC chart and made the Billboard Top Ten. The memorably weird “Judy Mae” sneaked into the Top 40. (Live performance here.)

“The Way We Were”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. Like most of the rest of Wisconsin, I watched a little of the season finale of Dancing With the Stars to see if Packers wide receiver Donald Driver would win it. Knight, who had been a contestant on the show earlier in the season, returned to the finale to sing “The Way We Were.” In 1975, however, her version of the song was paired with “Try to Remember,” the hit song from the musical The Fantasticks; the medley went to #11 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the Billboard AC chart. The two songs work remarkably well together, and Gladys is so talented that she can convincingly sell the somewhat cheesy spoken bit with which she opens. She observes, “As bad as we think they are, these will be the good old days for our children.”

Somewhere behind me, a boy just concluding his freshman year in high school prepares to spend another summer with his ear to the radio. Perhaps he dimly understands that what Gladys is saying might be true. Years later, he’ll know she is right. “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” Of course not. “Or has time rewritten every line?” Yes it has. “And if we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we?” Probably. “Could we?” Thankfully, no.