If you choose to quibble with the following assertion, you may be reading the wrong blog: “Cherish” and “Never My Love” by the Association are two of the most perfect records ever made. “Cherish” (1966) is both elegant and trippy at the same time; “Never My Love” (1967) is both powerfully romantic and as solid as a rock. They showed that kids not named Lennon and McCartney could craft pop music every bit as classy and enduring as anything in the Great American Songbook, tapping into emotions that anyone of any age could identify with. Plus, they’re just pretty. Surely they were popular with listeners both young and old.
Except they weren’t. If we search Billboard‘s Easy Listening charts for them, we’ll have a hard time finding them.
“Cherish” spent three weeks on the Easy Listening chart in October 1966, reaching only #38. In its middle week, October 8, the top five Easy Listening hits belonged to Andy Williams, Roger Williams (“Born Free”), Walter Wanderley (“Summer Samba“), Frank Sinatra, and Herb Alpert and the TJB. To our ears today, “Cherish” would sound fine alongside any of these, but to ears then, there was a fairly clear separation between Easy Listening and not. While many of the Easy Listening hits that week crossed over to the pop chart, few were especially big. “Born Free” would eventually make the Top Ten, as would the Sandpipers’ “Guantanamera,” but that’s about it. The rest, if they crossed at all, made the lower reaches of the Top 40 at best, and some missed the Hot 100 altogether.
In the fall of 1967, “Never My Love” didn’t make the Easy Listening chart at all. Songs topping that chart for the week of October 14, when “Never My Love” spent its second week at #2 on the Hot 100, belong to Alpert and the TJB, Vikki Carr (“It Must Be Him”), Eddy Arnold, Al Martino, and Sinatra. The gulf between the kids’ music and what was perceived as adult pop rarely looks wider (although the spectacularly melodramatic “It Must Be Him” would go all the way to #3 on the Hot 100).
That gulf would remain fairly wide until sometime in 1969, when acts including the Fifth Dimension, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Zager and Evans all score #1 hits on the Easy Listening chart with big Hot 100 hits—but in that same year, Frankie Laine, Henry Mancini, and Peggy Lee all hit #1 on Easy Listening too. It’s not until the last half of 1971 that all of the Easy Listening #1s are significant Hot 100 hits.
I did some back-of-the-envelope research a while back and found that the Easy Listening chart (later renamed Adult Contemporary) and the Hot 100 diverged a great deal in the 60s, came together throughout the 70s and 80s, then began to diverge again around the turn of the 90s, when once again some of the top AC hits got relatively less traction on the Hot 100 than AC hits had gotten for two decades before. The split in the 90s had to do with the fragmentation of radio formats; the split in the 60s had to do with the fact that youth culture had yet to complete its conquest of absolutely everything. In the 1960s, adult entertainment did not refer exclusively to pornography, like it does now—it meant a world where young people’s styles and standards did not intrude. The Easy Listening charts, and radio stations that based their playlists on them, were part of that world. Not even music as tastefully done as “Cherish” and “Never My Love” were invited inside.
Not yet. In the late 80s, when I got to the elevator-music station, they were in the music library there, too. And next to Andy Williams, Al Martino, and the Swelling Strings Orchestra, they sounded like they belonged.