Impossibly Long Ago

(It’s not my intent for this blog to become all American Top 40 all the time, but I suppose I could do worse. And I probably will.)

About a year ago, I wrote about an American Top 40 show from 1972 that made me feel as if I were listening to Emile Berliner explain how the gramophone works. The show and the world in which it was first heard seemed remarkably far removed from everything we are and everything we know today. Recently, Casey did it again, with the show from August 12, 1972.

Part of the way I reacted has to do in part with the way the late summer of 1972 lives on in my head. Songs from that season remain remarkably vivid—I must have had the radio on 18 hours a day in those two or three weeks before school started, hearing the top hits over and over and over again until they made a mark time can’t wash away. Not every season of the 70s is like this, but the late summer/early fall of 1972 definitely is. I can reach back and touch it in a way I can’t do with other periods in my past. So some of the stuff Casey said on the August 12, 1972, show is jarring in 2014 because it makes clear, in a way the music alone does not, just how impossibly long ago 1972 is.

Early in the show, Casey tells about a multi-talented star who had won a Tony, several Grammys, an Emmy, and a Best Actress Oscar, who was nevertheless blackballed when she tried to buy a $240,000 co-op apartment in New York City. The other owners feared that she would bring the wrong element into their building, which was home to Wall Street types and their high society wives. An era in which Barbra Streisand (pictured above) is considered too questionable a sort to hobnob with the Park Avenue swells has to be more than 42 years ago, doesn’t it?

Later, Casey plays Bobby Vinton’s remake of “Sealed With a Kiss,” the teenage summertime anthem that had been a #3 hit for Brian Hyland in 1962. As I listened, with a device in my pocket that can connect me to anyone anywhere in the world in a number of different ways, the lament of a boy separated from his sweetheart for three months and able to communicate only through letters seemed impossibly quaint. Did we ever really live like that?

Still later, Casey refers to Karen Carpenter as “a modern-day Patti Page.” While the metaphor would zoom over the heads of modern listeners on the repeat, it would have resonated with many AT40 listeners in 1972. Page charted her first hit in 1948 and scored steadily from 1950 through about 1963, and in 1972 was only seven years removed from her most recent Top 10 hit, “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.” So to compare her to a contemporary singer in 1972 was little different than comparing somebody who was consistently popular from the late 80s to the early oughts with one of today’s stars. And it’s a fine comparison, really—like Karen Carpenter, Page in her prime had a remarkably pure tone: just listen to her spectacular 1957 hit “Old Cape Cod.” But here in 2014, the comparison knocked me sideways for a second. If this show comes from a time when Patti Page was still relevant, just how long ago a time are we talking about here?

Come August, I am prone to feeling my age. As much as I love fall, the weeks before the seasons change can be hard to take. Maybe it’s a hangover from those days when we’d go back to school late in August and the calendar of life seemed to turn over with a hard and definite click. The clicks seem to come faster now, and there’s been an awful lot of them.

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6 responses

  1. I was 10 that summer…when I talk to my kids about music (or anything else) of that era, I try to keep in mind that 42 years before 1972 was 1930…

  2. Long time, first time. Terrific post, beautifully said, JB. I don’t comment often but always am grateful you keep the blog up and running. Thank you!

  3. I know what you mean about the songs from certain periods being timestamped in our brains. I have fond memories of summer 1972; I was 14 and preparing for ninth grade, which in our school system at the time meant I’d be among the big kids in junior high rather than the little kids of high school, and thankfully, we didn’t return to school until the week after Labor Day. In fact, my entire K-12 and even community college years were always September-to-June; I never experience school in August until I transferred to a university. I can’t fathom how kids have to go back to school in August when it’s still so hot. But I digress. Late summer ’72 found me putting up McGovern signs in neighborhoods, so that was my first political involvement; we all know how that ended up a few months later. And I’ve long felt that the songs of 1972 bring the Top 40 era to a close. I kept listening for about 13 more years and still enjoy most of the hits from those years, but the feel of the hits started to change by ’73. So my golden decade of Top 40 has always been 1963-72.

  4. What a gorgeous piece, Jim! Beautifully written and deeply evocative of that quiet, inner clock that tells us – when we infrequently consult it – that time is marching on faster than we care to admit. In the summer of ’72 I had my first PD job and bought my first brand-new car….a ’72 Mustang Mach 1, for which I still have the window sticker. Loaded with every conceivable option from high-output V8 to FM Stereo radio to air conditioning, it cost a hair under $4200. I wanted to get “clean for Gene” (McCarthy) but had shoulder-length hair and a wicked ‘stache. And the songs we played on the air that summer……well, they can’t possibly be 42 years old now, can they?

  5. I recently took a car trip to Yellowstone and back to Illinois (don’t recommend it) but was able to sample as much radio as possible and happened upon this Casey show. I was able to guess “Streisand” before he gave the answer but thought the story seemed apocryphal. Too lazy to research it.

    Also found an AM station playing a great variety of stuff, among them Page’s “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.” I had to laugh when the DJ said, “coming up, the Bee Gees and the Equals.” Did he say “Equals” or “Eagles?” Sure enough he played the former’s “Baby Come Back,” leaving me speechless.

    And the Page/Carpenters analysis is apt as Patti was one of, if not the first, to stack vocals of herself the way Richard did with those records years later.

    Ironically our family took an epic trip West in ’72 and hearing these songs again in that setting set me back. It was similar to being in the passenger seat teaching my son to drive and hearing “Do You Feel Like We Do” as we passed the mall, the first place I heard the tune. I’m too big to cry but nearly did as the time passage couldn’t have been that fast, could it?

  6. JOEY FREAKIN’ HEATHERTON in at No. 24. Lawd have mercy.

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