Category Archives: Record Charts

1984: Glory Days

(First in a series of posts about 1984.)

The Billboard chart dated September 1, 1984, is pretty fabulous, loaded with iconic 80s stars and memorable 80s hits. Just look at the Top 10:

1. “What’s Love Got to Do With It”/Tina Turner
2. “Missing You”/John Waite
3. “Stuck on You”/Lionel Richie
4. “Ghostbusters”/Ray Parker Jr.
5. “When Doves Cry”/Prince
6. “She Bop”/Cyndi Lauper
7. “Sunglasses at Night”/Corey Hart
8. “Let’s Go Crazy”/Prince
9. “If This Is It”/Huey Lewis and the News
10. “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again”/Peabo Bryson

If you turn on your local good-times/great-oldies radio station, it won’t be long before you hear something from 1984. A friend of mine considers it Top 40’s best year in the 80s. It’s hard to argue that it isn’t one of the best of all time. Also in the Top 40 during this same week: “Drive” by the Cars, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and “Lucky Star” by Madonna, none of which have been off the radio since.

Those and other records on this chart remain highly evocative of their times even after 30 years.

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Why This?

(Above: Kris Kristofferson, singer, songwriter, actor, and more handsome than anybody.)

It seems like an easy way to calculate the year’s top hits based on chart performance: give 100 points to the #1 song each week, 99 to #2, 98 to #3, and so on all the way down to the #100 song, which gets only one point. Over the course of a year, the song with the most points is the top song of the year. It’s generally a fine system that balances chart peak with longevity, but it’s one that can get badly fubar’d by a record with an extremely long chart life. I do not know for certain whether that kind of fubaring is what happened to Billboard magazine when calculating their top hits of 1973, but something weird certainly did.

1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando & Dawn
2. “Why Me”/Kris Kristofferson
3. “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”/Jim Croce
4. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack
5. “Let’s Get It On”/Marvin Gaye
6. “My Love”/Paul McCartney & Wings
7. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John
8. “Will It Go Round in Circles”/Billy Preston
9. “You’re So Vain”/Carly Simon
10. “Touch Me in the Morning”/Diana Ross

One of those things is not like the others.

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Some Kind of Wonderful

(Pictured: Grand Funk, whose “Some Kind of Wonderful” was #6 for all of 1975, equaling the year-end position of “The Locomotion” in 1974. You want trivia, you got it.)

The second half of the American Top 40 year-end countdown for 1975 was officially scheduled for the week of January 3, 1976. Like the first part, it was a special four-hour show. A station running it back then would have had to find an extra hour for it. Not until 1978 would the show go to four hours regularly.

If your local AT40 affiliate repeated the 1975 countdown today, it could be cut up strangely. When Premiere Radio Networks sends four-hour 70s shows to affiliates today, the first hour contains no national commercials, so stations are not obligated to run it. If an affiliate airs the show in a three-hour window, they pick it up at the beginning of the second hour, and the first hour goes unheard. So if a station with a three-hour window were rebroadcasting the eight-hour Top 100 of 1975 show over two weeks, they’d have started the countdown at #88 (the beginning of hour #2) and carried it through to #51, then picked it up again the next week at #36 (the beginning of hour #6).

I made some observations about the first half of this show in an earlier post. Here are a few thoughts about the second half:

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Never Can Say Goodbye

(Pictured: 70s revelers see in a new year, while geeky teenagers stay home and listen to the countdown.)

American Top 40‘s year-end countdowns varied in length between 1970 and 1973—the top 80 in 1970 and 1972, the top 40 in 1971 and 1973—but by 1974, Casey and company had settled on the top 100, broadcast in two parts, eight hours in all, over two weekends around Christmas and New Year’s. I have been listening to the year-end countdown from 1975 lately, and it might be my favorite edition of AT40 ever. It’s almost all killer and no filler. The crazed variety that made Top 40 radio so much fun in the 70s is clearly evident, and clunkers are few. In addition, although one of the strengths of AT40 in any given week is the balance between Casey and the music, the 1975 countdown seems especially well-constructed: anecdotes are brief, mostly recaps of a record’s chart performance or a quick bit of trivia about the artist’s career, and then it’s back to the hits. There are no lengthy stories or extras to slow the show’s momentum.

A few other observations:

—The survey year covered November to November, so a few key hits from the preceding year would always appear, and some from late in the current year would be missing. Casey reminds the audience of this repeatedly—I lost count after he mentioned it a half-dozen times.

—In compiling the top 100, Billboard listed several ties for year-end positions: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” by BTO and “Third Rate Romance” by the Amazing Rhythm Aces at #97, “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor and “Cut the Cake” by AWB at #71, and others. This strikes me weird, and it makes me wonder about the methodology used to compile the chart. If there had been a tie for #1, I am guessing they would have found a way to resolve it, but maybe not.

—And how is it that “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” which hit #1, comes in well behind other songs, some of which failed to make the top 10 at all?

—When playing John Denver’s “I’m Sorry” and “Calypso,” the two-sided hit from that summer, Casey notes a survey taken among Miss USA contestants in 1975. They were asked to pick the “best man in the world.” The winner, with eight votes: Henry Kissinger. (Dear sweet naïve days of the 1970s, we miss you so.) In second place, with three votes: then-president Gerald Ford. In third place, with two votes each, a tie: Billy Graham and John Denver.

—At one point in the countdown, Casey remarks that 250 different songs made the Top 40 in 1975. The top 100 therefore represents 40 percent of the year’s radio music—a larger percentage than I would have guessed.

—At #63, Casey introduces “Only Women” by Alice Cooper by saying that it’s a change from Cooper’s usual brand of outrageousness, mock executions and so forth. Casey calls the song “a touching tribute to women.” And that is a monumental misreading of Cooper’s intentions. The song’s actual title is “Only Women Bleed,” but when it was issued as a single, Cooper’s record label titled it “Only Women,” and that’s how it was known during its run on the radio. By 1975 standards, it’s pretty graphic in its description of the life of an abused wife (“slaps you once in a while and you live in love and pain”, “black eyes all of the time . . . come watch me bleed”). It has the feel of a ballad, but Cooper’s delivery is more creepy than touching, and in fact, “Only Women Bleed” is as much a horror show as “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “I Love the Dead,” or Cooper’s other transgressive songs. Casey was not alone in misreading it: in 1975, almost everybody really really really wanted to believe it was about something other than it is.

I’ll have more about the 1975 year-end countdown in a future installment, probably.

Frankenstein Meets Brenda Lee

(Pictured: Tracey Dey, protege of Four Seasons’ producer Bob Crewe, who recorded a handful of singles 50 years ago, and whose appearance here proves that Getty Images has something on almost everybody.)

The first week of August 1964 was a momentous one. It was the week of the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the famous Congressional resolution it inspired, which led to the escalation of the Vietnam War. The bodies of murdered civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney were discovered in Mississippi. The Ranger VII spacecraft had just sent back the first close-up pictures of the moon’s surface. A country superstar died in a plane crash (about which more below). Some of the most famous music of the 1960s was on the radio, as we noted on Friday.

That post could have been twice as long if I’d spent time looking at the 35 songs that made up the Bubbling Under chart for the week of August 1, 1964. Some of the songs bubbling under 50 years ago this week became legitimate hits: the Newbeats’ “Bread and Butter” (#115) and “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett (#116), while “Haunted House” by Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (#131) and “20-75″ by Willie Mitchell (#132) are mainly of interest to the kind of geek who reads this blog.

If you are that kind of geek, you should see what’s on the flip.

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A Foregone Conclusion

(Pictured: four visitors get a look at America from a hotel balcony in August 1964.)

Once a month since April, we have been comparing Beatlemania and the British Invasion as it appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 with the way it was heard on a representative local station, WOKY in Milwaukee, 50 years ago. In our last installment, the Beatles were absent from WOKY’s survey, although they returned with a bang in a matter of days: “A Hard Day’s Night” debuted at #20 in Milwaukee for the week of July 11th and zoomed to #1 on the 18th, where it would remain for the weeks of the 25th and August 1. Billboard, always a little behind the street, showed “A Hard Day’s Night” for the first time on its chart dated July 18 up at #21. It would take a mighty leap to #2 the next week, and hit #1 on August 1, possibly the greatest foregone conclusion in the history of popular music. It would reign for only two weeks, however, dethroned by Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody,” which would be weirder if Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” hadn’t taken out “Can’t Buy Me Love” back in May.

Not since the spring had there been so many Beatles singles on the charts: August began with six on the Hot 100, although only “A Hard Day’s Night” would make the Top 10. “Ain’t She Sweet” blasted into the top 40 in its third week on the Hot 100; “I’ll Cry Instead” debuted at #62; “And I Love Her” moved to #65 from #80 in its second week on; “I Should Have Known Better” (the B-side of “A Hard Day’s Night”) was at #66 in its second week after debuting at #75; “If I Fell” debuts at #92. The B-side of “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” had yet to chart, although a dreamy instrumental version credited to George Martin and His Orchestra was bubbling under at #105. (It wouldn’t make the Hot 100.) AT WOKY, in addition to “A Hard Day’s Night,” the station was charting “I’ll Cry Instead” and its B-side, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” together at #21 (up from 29) and “And I Love Her” at #32 in its first week on. “Ain’t She Sweet” would join the list the next week. There are seven other British acts in the Top 40, most of whom are moving down.

We are, as always, equally intrigued by what’s happening elsewhere on the WOKY chart.

3. “Wishin’ and Hopin'”/Dusty Springfield (up from 9). If you don’t dig it, we shouldn’t see each other anymore.

10. “Where Did Our Love Go”/Supremes (up from 33). This will be WOKY’s #1 song in another week, and will top the Hot 100 for two weeks bridging August and September. It’s the first of five straight Hot 100 #1s for the Supremes, and the first of five straight hundred-years-from-now classics to hit #1 in Billboard, along with “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” and “Baby Love.” If you want a sixth, include “Leader of the Pack,” too.

12. “Sugar Lips”/Al Hirt (up from 17). The New Orleans trumpeter was having his best year in 1964 with the Top 10 hit “Java,” “Cotton Candy,” and “Sugar Lips,” his last Top 40 hit. His success and that of Armstrong, Martin, Barbra Streisand, Jack Jones, the Ray Charles Singers, “The Girl From Ipanema,” and others shows again that while the kids’ music was big, it wasn’t the only thing selling or getting airplay.

27. “Johnny Loves Me”/Florraine Darlin (holding at 27). I couldn’t find much on the web about Florraine Darlin, and neither could our pal whiteray when he went looking for her. I like her voice OK, but “Johnny Loves Me” presents your basic earworm/icepick situation.

35. “Because”/Dave Clark Five (debut). My hometown radio station must have played the hell out of this throughout the 60s, because I can’t remember when it wasn’t familiar to me. If Lennon and McCartney didn’t envy it, they should have. I have been addicted to the sound of the organ in popular music practically from the beginning, and it may be because of  “Because.”

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