Primordial Top 40

Last weekend’s American Top 40 repeat broadcast was the first show, from July 4, 1970. At this early stage, the personality Casey Kasem displays is far different from what we’re used to hearing, much more casual than it would eventually become. Sometimes he punches his voice like a classic boss jock while at other times, he speaks softly, almost like an underground FM jock. Sometimes he’ll chuckle at stuff he finds amusing, which can be disconcerting for the listener if he or she doesn’t find it amusing, too.

At the beginning, Casey seems uncomfortable, hurrying through the first couple of segments, short bits delivered quickly, as if he were consistently up against the clock. As I listened, I found myself thinking, “Come on, man, stop talking so fast.” By the last segment of the first hour, he seems more comfortable. The pace is far less frantic. At first I suspected that maybe the show was recorded live in a single take, and that Casey felt more at home as the show went along. But he’s also given more time to stretch out and more things to talk about after the first couple of segments. Some of the stuff sounds scripted, but some of it sounds ad libbed, as you’ll hear below.

The production of the show is also different from what it would become. Casey rarely speaks the chart positions of the songs in the countdown, letting the jingle singers do it instead. It’s almost as if he were trying to do the show in such a way that his intro segments could be cut up and re-used in future shows, when the positions would be different. It would make little sense for him to have done so, but I don’t know what else explains his reluctance to give the chart positions, unless maybe he recorded some of his bits before the chart was officially released.

Contrary to what I wrote last week, the chart Casey counted down on the first show is actually the Billboard chart dated July 11, 1970, which was topped by Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” The Beatles (“The Long and Winding Road”) and Elvis (“The Wonder of You”) are in the Top Ten. The chart contains five records new to the Top 40, including “Ohio” by CSNY at Number 30 and “Make It With You” by Bread, way up at Number 20. It also contains a handful of records that disappeared from history not long after they disappeared from the radio. “End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye anchors the countdown at Number 40, where it would hold for a second week and then drop out. “Check Out Your Mind” by the Impressions at Number 28 and “A Song of Joy” by Miguel Rios at Number 15 didn’t linger on many playlists after the summer of 1970, either.

The segment below contains the last part of the first hour. Casey’s intro of “Ohio” does not include a single word about the song’s explosive subject matter, except to call it “heavy.” The segment also includes an awkward introduction of “Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens, and one of those strange chuckles after “Check Out Your Mind.” The last song of the segment is “Question” by the Moody Blues, which includes my favorite part of the whole first show. Midway through the song, a repeating scratch on the record is clearly audible. If some of the Casey shows have gone through post-production to “fix” them for repeating 30-plus years later, this one hasn’t. More than anything else in the show, that little scratch is evidence of how much radio has changed.

American Top 40, 7/4/70, hour 1, segment 3

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4 responses

  1. Wow! And to think I was 11 years old at the time, playing kickball with the other neighborhood kids in the backyard while we had the radio on and listening to the likes of “25 or 6 to 4″ by Chicago, “Patches” by Clarence Carter, “Love or Let me Be Lonely” by the Friends of Distinction, and “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations. Meanwhile, Casey Kasem was embarking on something that would become an icon in the world of Top 40 radio.

  2. One of the main reasons for the show’s “sound” in the early years was that, as you mentioned, they were up against the clock. The reason for this was that for inexplicable reasons, they actually recorded everything at the same time, the intro, the song, the outro – everything was done “live.” Apparently this went on until Dick Clark substituted in March of ’72 and questioned why the didn’t just record the intros and outros seperately and then edit them into the song. It helps explain why Casey seemed rushed at some points and rambling at other points.

  3. The “Question” single was released four months before the different album version came out on ‘A Question Of Balance’ that September. That recurring scratch is rotating at 33⅓ RPM, meaning that the scratch was on the vinyl AT40 program disc itself, and not on the “Question” source 45.

    While transferring one of my AT40 discs to digital, I noticed a recurring scratch during Jefferson Starship’s “Runaway.” I was ready to start de-clicking it, but then recognized that the scratch was on AT40’s source 45 and not the program disc itself, so I left it in. You can’t get more authentic than that.

    Casey’s widely-varying delivery speeds on that first show are pretty jarring. It’s almost like listening to one’s earliest aircheck tapes several decades later.

  4. According to the book “American Top 40 – The 70’s,” author Pete Battistini, who is one of the most informed sources of information about the show, points out several key facts about the early days of the show. First, it was originally recorded on tape as a live show; meaning that if Casey screwed up an intro/outro or if there were an engineering screw-up they’d have to re-record the whole segment. Second, the show was NOT mastered to vinyl disc until October 1971.

    The remastering of these shows, according to Shannon Lynn, is from the original master tapes with very few exceptions where they were restored from vinyl.

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