Top 5: The Homecoming

I used to have quite a collection of radio surveys, although I lost them in the big smoky fire we had in the upstairs of our house when I was 14. By that time, WLS Hit Parades had grown scarce in southern Wisconsin, and as a result I’d largely stopped collecting them. Through the late 70s, I would occasionally pick up surveys from WISM, Madison’s legendary Top 40 station, and I am pretty sure that I once had a copy of the survey dated February 26, 1976. Back then, I would have been interested in the songs at the top: Queen and the Eagles and the Four Seasons, Rhythm Heritage and Gary Wright and Paul Simon. Today, the obscurities further down are what I want to hear.

10. “Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye”/Jonathan Cain (down from 8). Only his mother had heard of Jonathan Cain before 1976, although everybody would, eventually, as a future member of the Babys, Journey, and Bad English. I’d hear of him again in a year or so, when a song of his called “Windy City Breakdown” turned up on one of those Warner-Reprise samplers I used to buy. “Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye,” a melodramatic power ballad, made #44 in Billboard, and got Cain a spot on American Bandstand.

16. “Broken Lady”/Larry Gatlin (up from 18). This was Gatlin’s first big country hit, which launched him on an 12-year run of success that would eventually total 17 top-10 hits. “Broken Lady” didn’t make the Hot 100 and it’s got a strong mid-70s countrypolitan feel, but the WISM audience obviously didn’t mind. (Listen to the song, and check out some awesome 1970s country music fashions, here.)

22. “Back It Up”/Benedict (up from 23). This is as obscure a record as we’ve ever come across. The only citations for it online go to this WISM survey and another from two weeks before. I can’t find anything about it in Billboard, or by searching newspapers from late 1975 and 1976. If you know anything about it, help a brother out.

25. “Cupid”/Tony Orlando and Dawn (up from 29)In the early spring of 1976, Tony Orlando and Dawn were coming to the end of the second full season of their TV variety show, and the end of a successful five-year run on the radio. “Cupid,” the old Sam Cooke hit that would be redone by the Spinners in 1980, was the group’s last Top 40 hit, and tries pretty hard to channel the feeling of “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You),” their last #1 a year earlier. They would manage one more Hot 100 hit early in 1977, not long after their TV show was canceled.

26. “The Homecoming”/Hagood Hardy (up from 27). Hardy was an Indiana native transplanted to Canada, where he wrote commercial jingles and scored TV programs. “The Homecoming,” an instrumental featuring piano, guitar, and pillowy soft strings, started as a tea jingle, but was way too good for advertising. Is it sappy and sentimental? Hell and yes. Is that a problem? Remember whose blog you’re reading.

Also of interest on the WISM survey is the cover picture of evening jock Charlie “Rock and Roll” Simon, and the unusual caption, “A bullet in the gun of 1480.” That’s a reference to Elton John’s then-current “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” I hope.

I haven’t been sharing many mp3s around here lately, but because I was so shocked to see that I actually had this one, I can’t control myself.

“Til It’s Time to Say Goodbye”/Jonathan Cain (sound quality is iffy but acceptable; record is out of print)

Top 5: If You Believe in Forever

There’s a line in A Charlie Brown Christmas: Linus says, “Maybe Lucy’s right—of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Brown-iest.” The line occurred to me recently as I looked over the newspapers and the record charts from July 1974—of all the 70s summers, 1974 is the 70’s summer-iest. The newspaper headlines were all about Watergate, weapons treaties with the Russians, and rising unemployment. And the radio was all about escapist pop music, typified by the survey from WISM in Madison, Wisconsin, dated July 4, 1974. Here are five noteworthy records from that summer week:

1. “Rock the Boat”/Hues Corporation (up from 7). The further in time we get from 1974, the more I think this record is one of the half-dozen essential singles of the decade, not just because it’s one of the first (if not the first) disco records to hit Number One, but because it typifies its moment in history so well.

9. “Rock and Roll Heaven”/Righteous Brothers (down from 3). I liked this song a lot more in 1974 than I do now—I hear it as cheesy and cliched in a way I didn’t when I was 14—but its mighty singalong power will not be denied.

20. “Keep on Tryin'”/Clicker (up from 32). One of Wisconsin’s most beloved rock bands, whose history has been nicely celebrated by our pal Jeff at AM, Then FM. “Keep on Tryin'” was the hottest record on the WISM survey in this week, moving up 12.

21. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/Elton John (up from 25). This was my favorite song of the moment. I adored it from the first time I heard it, although I didn’t buy it right away. I had quit buying singles by this time, and wouldn’t get a copy of the Caribou album until the fall.

26. “Train of Thought”/Cher (holding at 26). Melodramatic as it is, “Train of Thought” is also a great record, telling its story in two minutes without wasting a second.

I wanted to write about this week for a couple of other reasons beyond the 70s summer-ness of it. There’s a two-part aircheck of WISM from June 9, 1974, at YouTube featuring night guy Charlie Simon, on which he plays several of the tunes on this survey. (Part 1 here, part 2 here.) Charlie is still fondly remembered up here, but this isn’t a particularly great show. (He had nothing to do with putting it on YouTube.) There are a lot of breaks where he sounds like he hasn’t thought out what he’s going to say before he opens the microphone. Notice how often he gives the time—did listeners really need to know the time every three minutes? I suspect it’s a crutch. All that said, however, it’ll give you the flavor of the small-market Top 40 radio that used to be heard everywhere.

Notice too that the call-in contests are restricted to people whose phone numbers end with a certain digit, which strikes me as a practice worth resurrecting.

Be sure to watch the videos while you listen for some vintage pictures of WISM, which was the flagship station of the company I now work for. Those amongst the readership who grew up around here will get off on some of the commercials, too—I am pretty sure the George Holmes Tire jingle is tattooed on our DNA.

Here’s my other reason for writing about this: to lay some vintage Clicker on you.

“Keep on Tryin'”/Clicker (out of print)

One Day in Your Life: August 12, 1977

August 12, 1977, is a Friday. The first space shuttle orbiter, Enterprise, makes its first free flight (unbolted from a 747) over Edwards Air Force Base in California. NASA also launches the first High Energy Astronomy Observatory satellite to study cosmic rays. Following the victory of a secessionist party in national elections, riots break out in Sri Lanka. President Carter writes Congress a letter spelling out his position on the Panama Canal Treaty, which will give the canal to Panama if ratified. Future football star and errant marksman Plaxico Burress is born. Gene Littler leads after the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament in Pebble Beach, California. He will lose to Lanny Wadkins in a sudden-death playoff on Sunday.

On TV, The Merv Griffin Show features a tribute to Jack Benny, with five of Benny’s radio and TV cast members. Celebrity guests on The $10,000 Pyramid are Lucie Arnaz and Bill Cullen. On CBS tonight, it’s the second episode of A Year at the Top, a sitcom starring Paul Shaffer and Greg Evigan as musicians who make a pact with the devil in exchange for one year of success. It will be canceled after three more episodes. Legendary DJ Cousin Brucie Morrow does his final show on WNBC in New York; he’s leaving the air to become co-owner of a station group. Elvis Presley tries to get a print of Star Wars to watch with his daughter Lisa Marie, but he cannot, so he settles for The Spy Who Loved Me instead. In four days, Presley will die. Johnny Winter plays St. Petersburg, Florida. KISS plays Seattle with Cheap Trick opening, and Peter Frampton plays Minneapolis. In Santa Cruz, California, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young play a benefit for the United Farm Workers. Tonight’s edition of The Midnight Special is hosted by the Bay City Rollers, and it features ELO, KC and the Sunshine Band, England Dan and John Ford Coley, and Roger Daltrey.

At WISM in Madison, Wisconsin, “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb holds at Number One. “Higher and Higher” by Rita Coolidge is right behind, and “Best of My Love” by the Emotions makes a strong move from 7 to 3. New songs in the Top Ten include “Just a Song Before I Go” by Crosby Stills and Nash and “Easy” by the Commodores. The fastest mover on the survey is “Swayin’ to the Music” by Johnny Rivers, up to 18 from 25. The highest-debuting new song on the chart is the London Symphony Orchestra’s version of the Star Wars theme, at Number 26. Also debuting are songs by Carly Simon (“Nobody Does it Better”), the Bee Gees (the live version of “Edge of the Universe”), and a Canadian band called Driver (“New Way to Say I Love You”).

In a small town south of Madison, a young radio geek awaits the return of his girlfriend from a month in Europe. He is supposed to go to the airport in Chicago with her parents to pick her up today, but when her return is delayed until tomorrow, he goes out with friends tonight. When he gets home around midnight, there’s a phone message saying that the plane is coming in very early on Saturday morning, and if he wants to ride along to Chicago, he needs to be ready to leave town by 2AM. And he will be.

“New Way to Say I Love You”/Driver (out of print)