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.